Fletcher's Late Show Sinks Cardiff

A LAST gasp goal from Car Fletcher has given West Ham United a 1-0 win over Cardiff City, after a hard-fought contest at Upton Park.

The game was played at a pace befitting the crackling atmosphere inside the Boleyn Ground, and there was nothing to choose between the teams, until Fletcher's glancing far post header ensured that three points would be staying in East London.

Alan Pardew made two changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Sheffield United, Bobby Zamora coming in for Luke Chadwick and Nigel Reo-Coker returning in place of the suspended Tomas Repka, which saw Hayden Mullins return to right-back.

Stephen Bywater kept his place in goal to start his first League game since the 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United last month.

Hammers started the game well, but it was Cardiff who had the first attempt on goal, Bluebirds striker Peter Thorne volleying straight into the arms of Stephen Bywater from 10 yards out.

Two minutes later good work from former Hammer Jobi McAnuff created a shooting chance for Japan international Junichi Inamoto, and his rasping 20 yard drive stung the palms of Bywater.

West Ham's trio of front-men, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora and Teddy Sheringham, were causing Cardiff plenty of problems, but Sheringham's volley over the bar and Mark Noble's shot that was blocked by the head of Graham Kavanagh was all the home side had to show for their opening 20 minutes of football.

Malky Mackay headed over from Noble's corner as Alan Pardew's men began to dictate the tempo, before Zamora struck a free-kick well over and Nigel Reo-Coker dragged a shot wide.

West Ham had the better of the closing stages, but despite constant probing they could not breach the stubborn Cardiff defence.

Carl Fletcher's goal-bound strike was deflected to safety by Danny Gabbidon and Sheringham was inches away from connecting with Harewood's tempting right-flank cross.

At the other end, Alan Lee wriggled past Hayden Mullins and forced a good near post save out of Bywater, but the first-half ended as evenly as the 0-0 scoreline suggested.

HT: 0-0

Cardiff's Alan Lee certainly made a bright start to the second-half, surging into the Hammers penalty area before being foiled by a combination of Stephen Bywater and his defenders.

Richard Langley then broke through the midfield, before unleashing a dipping 25 yard drive that Bywater acrobatically tipped around the post.

After their sluggish start to the second-half, Hammers slowly regained a foothold in the game. It was still Cardiff doing most of the pressing though, and Lee should have done more than shoot high and wide when put through by Inamoto.

With an hour gone, Marlon Harewood fashioned a great opening for himself, turning inside the box before firing in a shot that was well blocked by Gabbidon.

Pards introduced Luke Chadwick after 61 minutes, Bobby Zamora making way, but Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Alexander remained merely an interested spectator.

Hammers were lucky to survive a poor double miss from Alan Lee after 72 minutes. First he miskicked from Jobi McAnuff's cross and then after Langley had dragged his shot across goal could only prod the ball wide.

It was a let off that Hammers very nearly made the most of when Sheringham bent a wonderful 20 yard free-kick just wide of Alexander's left hand post.

Five minutes later it was another Sheringham free-kick causing Cardiff problems. The former England striker's effort struck the wall and looped into the penalty area. Alexander came out, but missed his punch and the ball dropped agonisingly wide of the post.

From the resulting corner Mackay powered in a header that was just too high.

Sergei Rebrov replaced Mark Noble with five minutes remaining to try and unlock the stubborn Cardiff rearguard.

But it was Cardiff that very nearly took the lead, Alan Lee rifling just wide from 12 yards out.

The miss proved to be the decisive stroke in the game as Hammers scored with their very next attack.

Midfielder Carl Fletcher was the man that struck the crucial blow, just as the clock registered the game's 90th minute. Chris Powell, one of the game's outstanding players, swung over a cross that Fletcher met with his head and guided beyond the despairing dive of Alexander to register his second goal for the Club in as many League games.

It was the perfect end to a hard-fought game for Alan Pardew's Hammers, and gave them their first League win at Upton Park in 2005.