West Ham 1-0 Cardiff City

Bobby Zamora's late strike earned Hammers a vital three points to keep the push for promotion bubbling along nicely against Cardiff City at Upton Park.


The afternoon had been in danger of producing another bout of frustration for Alan Pardew's men, as a host of glorious goalscoring chances went begging in the second half, but their patience paid off as the 23-year-old striker marked his home debut with a 73rd minute winner.


It was the least the hosts deserved after another determined and attacking display that saw them boss the game from start to finish, with only the combination of some wasteful finishing, stout defending and questionable refereeing decisions denying Hammers a more comfortable victory.


With a full squad to choose from, Pardew made four changes to his starting line-up after Tuesday's FA Cup fifth round replay defeat to Fulham. Tomas Repka returned to the centre of defence after illness, while Jon Harley, Nigel Reo-Coker and Bobby Zamora all became available again to make it the same 11 that began last week's 1-1 draw at league leaders Norwich City.


And just as they had done at Carrow Road, Hammers made the livelier start, penning the opposition in their own half and creating several good early chances. Indeed, Michael Carrick thought he had broken the deadlock just five minutes in, when he volleyed home David Connolly's knock-down, only to be denied by the offside flag.


Matt Etherington then saw a fierce effort deflected just wide for a corner, before the visitors began to exert some influence of their own on the game. The constantly dangerous Robert Earnshaw saw one shot deflected just wide and was then foiled by Stephen Bywater, who dived bravely at the striker's feet in the 22nd minute to keep the scores level.


That ultimately turned out to be Cardiff's one and only real opportunity in front of goal and, just a minute later, it seemed that Hammers would get the reward their early efforts deserved. Zamora broke clear from his marker Gabbidon who, in an apparent act of desperation, hauled the striker back as he advanced to the edge of the penalty area.


A free-kick expectedly followed, but not the red card, as referee George Cain seemed to be the only person inside Upton Park not to have deemed Gabbidon's offence a professional foul that denied Zamora a clear goalscoring opportunity.


To rub salt in the wound, Connolly blasted the resulting free-kick high over the bar, but Hammers refused to let the injustice get the better of them and continued to attack, twice going narrowly close before the break.


On 36 minutes, Reo-Coker played in Etherington, whose low shot was superbly tipped round the post by Alexander in the Cardiff goal, before Reo-Coker himself came even closer three minutes later, sending in a deceiving effort that cannoned off the post and rolled agonisingly across the face of goal before drifting out for a goal-kick.


On the stroke of half-time, all Hammers' hard work almost came undone when Repka reacted angrily to the referee's calls to move the ball back when taking a free-kick just inside his own half. Insisting that he had placed the ball correctly, the Czech defender appeared to lean his head towards the face of the official when further questioned, yet surprisingly received just a yellow card for the offence.


Thankfully, Repka had calmed down and managed to curb his temper once the second half restarted, and Hammers carried on where they had left off, advancing forward and peppering the Cardiff goal with shots whenever possible.


After a fairly quiet first 45 minutes, it was Zamora who led the charge this time, twice creating excellent chances for himself in the opening 10 minutes. First he collected Connolly's lay-off before turning a defender and slamming a shot against the angle of post and crossbar, then he brilliantly tricked his way past Gabbidon but sent his effort inches wide of the post.


With Carrick again pulling the strings from midfield, though, and Reo-Coker displaying boundless energy to support the strikers, the chances kept coming. Etherington was denied what looked a clear penalty when he was tripped just inside the area, before Harewood saw a left-foot shot tipped round the post for a corner and Zamora headed the resulting kick just over the bar.


When the former Spurs striker then had a header cleared off the line and Christian Dailly sliced the rebound wide, a sense of déjà vu began to fill the air as the Upton Park faithful painfully remembered Tuesday's FA Cup exit, when just as many chances went begging.


However, as a blizzard began to swirl around a freezing Boleyn Ground, Zamora popped up to make it snow joke for Lennie Lawrence's team with just 17 minutes remaining.


An attempted Cardiff clearance cannoned off Connolly and dropped perfectly into the path of the lifelong Hammers fan, who raced into the area before confidently drawing Alexander and slotting the ball into the net.


The feeling of relief among another 30,000-plus crowd was clear for all to see, and perhaps the only surprise was that Hammers didn't go on to add further goals to their tally in the closing stages as Cardiff chased an equaliser.


Pardew sent on Adam Nowland, Brian Deane and another home debutant, Jobi McAnuff, in place of Harewood, Connolly and Zamora, but his troops seemed content to wind down the clock by keeping possession and not committing too many men forward - perhaps a slightly dangerous approach considering the threat of Earnshaw.


Thankfully, the Welsh international's team-mates were unable to create even a sniff of an equaliser for the First Division's top scorer, and Hammers held on to make it five league games without defeat, ensuring they didn't drop out of the play-off places.