West Ham got back to winning ways thanks to a superb first half performance that set up a convincing 4-2 victory over Crewe Alexandra at Upton Park on Wednesday night.
A double strike from Marlon Harewood and one apiece from former Wimbledon pair Nigel Reo-Coker and Jobi McAnuff sent Hammers cruising to a 4-0 lead after just 40 minutes, and although the visitors hit back with two goals after the break, the three points were already safely in the bag.
It was the perfect response after the weekend's disappointing 2-0 defeat at Sunderland and proved that Alan Pardew's men do indeed have the firepower to cope without the attacking threat of Matt Etherington and David Connolly.
The influential pair were both missing for the visit of Dario Gradi's men - Connolly with the thigh strain that ruled him out at the Stadium of Light and Etherington still nursing a badly-bruised shin following Stephen Wright's crunching challenge on Saturday.
However, their absence was soon forgotten as Hammers opened the scoring after just six minutes. After Bobby Zamora had seen a snapshot tipped round the post by Crewe keeper Clayton Ince, Michael Carrick's inswinging corner was headed in by Harewood inside the six-yard box.
Zamora was denied by another smart save from Ince soon after but, on 20 minutes, Harewood claimed his second. Receiving Reo-Coker's lay-off with his back to goal, the striker cleverly held off his marker and let the ball run across his path before smashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net from the edge of the area.
Despite the hosts' early dominance, Crewe weren't shy to push men forward in search of an immediate response and, in actual fact, their attacking approach paved the way for Hammers to exploit the gaps left behind.
One of the few sides to visit Upton Park this season and attempt to actually win the game by playing some decent football and not placing 10 men behind the ball, Crewe should be congratulated for their positive attitude. That will have been no consolation for boss Gradi, though, who saw his side ripped apart by Hammers' pace, power and free-flowing football.
Zamora saw a hat-trick of half-chances go begging near the half-hour mark, but the former Spurs man turned provider 10 minutes before the break when he neatly touched Jon Harley's cross back to Reo-Coker, who fired a blistering effort into the roof of the net from 20 yards out.
Five minutes later, his former Wimbledon team-mate McAnuff just nicked the goal of the night award with a superb solo effort for his first goal in a Hammers shirt. Collecting the ball on the halfway line, he surged past three men into the penalty area before slotting a left-foot shot in off the post.
There was a slight scare for Hammers just before the break when Harewood raced down the left and crossed from the by-line, only for his momentum to take him over the advertising hoardings and into the lower tier of the Centenary Stand, where he was left in a crumpled heap among some empty seats. Club Physiotherapist John Green administered some treatment while a handful of stewards stepped in to prevent any supporters asking for an autograph and the two-goal hero thankfully returned to the action nursing nothing more than wounded pride.
Having hit a brace inside 20 minutes, Harewood certainly wasn't going to miss the opportunity to claim a possible hat-trick and, as the second half began, it would have taken a brave man to bet against him achieving that aim.
Within moments of the restart, McAnuff saw a fierce shot tipped over by Ince - who, although no relation, was humorously greeted with cries of: 'Judas!' by certain sections of the Bobby Moore Stand lower tier throughout the second half - while Zamora's frustrations at not finding the net grew when he fired an effort just inches wide of the target.
However, with nothing to lose, Crewe continued to push forward and, against the run of play, pulled one back just after the hour mark. When an apparent foul on McAnuff on the edge of the penalty area went unpunished, Hammers seemed to freeze as the visitors broke away and released young striker Steve Jones, who slotted confidently past Stephen Bywater.
The four-goal advantage should have been restored moments later, when Harewood stormed into the penalty area and cut the ball across the six-yard box towards an unmarked Zamora, but the striker's fruitless evening was summed up as he somehow diverted the ball wide when it seemed easier to score than miss.
With 18 minutes remaining, Crewe grabbed a slim lifeline when Jones grabbed a second as he beat the offside trap and rounded Bywater before cutting the ball in from an extremely cute angle but, with their two strikes turning out to be the Railwaymen's only efforts on target all night, it would have been a travesty had they produced a miracle comeback.
French midfielder Sebastien Carole was handed his Hammers debut late on as a substitute for McAnuff, while 16-year-old Chris Cohen also made an appearance and almost capped off the evening with a measured volley that was palmed out by substitute keeper Tomlinson, on as an 85th minute substitute for the injured Ince.
The victory made it nine goals in the last two home matches and, more importantly, pushed Hammers back into third place - pole position among the play-off zone. Victory against fellow promotion hopefuls Millwall at the New Den on Sunday would certainly be a huge boost in the race for the Premiership, and Pardew will be hoping that it's a case of 'After the Lord Mayor's Show' for the Lions following their FA Cup quarter-final victory at Tranmere on Tuesday night.
By Danny Francis