West Ham United 1 Preston North End 2

West Ham somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as Preston North End grabbed a 2-1 win to make it another dismal day at Upton Park.


After David Connolly's 19th minute opener, Alan Pardew's men appeared to be heading comfortably towards a third successive win before somehow throwing it all away as the visitors hit twice in the space of three minutes midway through the second half.


Strikes from Ricardo Fuller and David Healy condemned Hammers to their sixth home defeat of the season and made it another woeful afternoon for the Boleyn Ground faithful, who looked on in horror as their team once again failed to kill off their opponents and threw away a decent lead - the 10th time this campaign they have done so.


Pardew had made two changes to the starting line-up following the FA Cup victory at Wigan Athletic a week ago. The first - enforced - saw Christian Dailly make his first start since returning from illness, in place of the suspended Tomas Repka, while Don Hutchison came in for Kevin Horlock to add an attacking presence on the right side of midfield.


However, Hammers found themselves having to worry more about their defensive duties early on. After Michael Carrick's second minute effort had been palmed away by Preston keeper Jonathan Gould, the visitors settled down and came close on a number of occasions to opening the scoring in the first 15 minutes.


In the sixth minute, striker Cresswell turned Hutchison in the six-yard box and fired in a low cross that Fuller somehow missed, allowing Dailly to clear the dangerous, while, moments later, Hutchison was forced to hack clear from a similar position after Lucketti had headed across goal.


O'Neill then headed just wide, before Preston wasted a glorious chance in the 14th minute when Fuller beat the offside trap and raced clear but touched the ball too far ahead of him and James bravely dived down to block the effort.


Five minutes later, Fuller and his team-mates paid for their profligacy in front of goal as Hammers took the lead. Just as he had done in our last home match, against Ipswich, David James played a major part in the build-up with another superb quick throw after collecting a cross. This time he released Etherington, who skipped down the left before sliding an inviting cross into the six-yard box for Connolly to slot home his 10th goal of the season.


Neither side came close to adding to the score-line before the break, although James did well again to hold a curling free-kick from Healy just moments after Connolly's strike.


The goal certainly calmed Hammers' early nerves, though, and, with Carrick and Mullins controlling the centre of midfield and Matt Etherington always looking dangerous, a return to the top six seemed likely.


The early stages of the second half gave no signs to suggest any different. The pacy Etherington went close with a mazy run and powerful shot that flew just past the post, while Connolly's neat turn nearly set-up a second goal in successive games for Hayden Mullins, who fired just wide, and Carrick almost brought the house down with a stinging left-foot drive that just cleared the angle of post and crossbar.


Suddenly, though, the tide began to turn. In the 61st minute, James had to be alert to keep out a point-blank header from the unmarked Lucketti but, unfortunately, Hammers didn't respond in the right way to the warning signs.


Three minutes later, Hutchison was penalised for a foul on O'Neill near the halfway line and the ensuing free-kick again reached Lucketti, who rose at the far post to head back across goal and hand Fuller the simplest of tasks to draw Preston level.


As that sinking feeling once again engulfed Upton Park, the visitors pounced again almost immediately. After Fuller had been denied his second by a smart block from James, the resulting short corner found Healy, who controlled at the near post before sending a low shot through the pack and into the far corner of the net.


Pardew responded instantly by sending Brian Deane - back after an ankle injury - on as a substitute for Hutchison but the change failed to halt Preston's resurgence, as Cresswell twice came within a whisker of making it an even more embarrassing scoreline for Hammers.


First he skipped easily past Stockdale before crashing a shot against the crossbar, then he collected a clearance in space on the edge of the penalty area and curled in a shot that clipped the post and bounced out for a goal-kick.


The arrival of Neil Mellor with seven minutes left created a four-pronged attack in the closing stages but Hammers simply couldn't find the breakthrough to produce a comeback they should never really have had to even consider.


The defeat leaves Hammers in eighth place but still just two points off the play-off zone and Pardew will be hoping that a return to our travels equals a return to winning ways at fellow promotion-hopefuls Sheffield United next Saturday.