Hammers Freeze Out Gills

MARLON Harewood's 13th minute goal has secured a 1-0 win for the Hammers against Gillingham at Priestfield.

The striker's 16th goal of the season was enough to see off galant Gillingham and secure West Ham United's position in the Play-off places.

The rigours of the 5-0 win over Plymouth just three days ago took their toll on Alan Pardew's squad, and the Hammers boss made four changes from the side that beat the Pilgrims.

Hayden Mullins (groin), Mark Noble (hamstring) and Sergei Rebrov (calf) were replaced by Nigel Reo-Coker, Steve Lomas and Matty Etherington, who was making his first appearance since January after a groin operation.

After scoring twice against Plymouth Teddy Sheringham was rested, dropping to the bench for Bobby Zamora.

With the pitch thinly dusted with snow on a freezing February evening at the Priestfield, it was the Hammers that made the brighter start.

Lomas shot wide with just four minutes gone, and the Northern Ireland international's effort was shortly followed by a long range Marlon Harewood effort that Steve Banks saved with plenty of effort to spare.

Gills were quickly into their stride though and with ten minutes gone Matthew Jarvis blasted high over Stephen Bywater's goal, before Barry Ashby headed just wide from Nicky Southall's corner.

But barely a minute later, a quick-fire breakaway had given Hammers the lead. With 13 minutes gone Matty Etherington shuttled down the left flank and showed West Ham fans what they had been missing with a low cross that picked out Harewood, who tucked the ball away from close range.

Five minutes later the striker had another sight at goal, his shot from a tight angle gathered in by Banks at the second attempt with Zamora lurking.

On 23 minutes Bywater was finally called upon to thaw out, flying to his left to push away Andrew Crofts 20 yard shot.

Gills were suddenly on top, and forcing the Hammers defence to repel a torrent of home pressure. But repel it they did, blocking a host of goal-bound strikes.

Zamora headed straight at Banks on the half hour mark, before Michael Flynn's 30 yard free-kick brought another good save out of Bywater diving low to his right.

Lomas' half-volley was comfortably saved by Banks on 40 minutes, but Gillingham's pressure was making it difficult for Alan Pardew's men to advance into the opposition's penalty area.

The Gills continued to push as the half drew to a close, but Hammers held firm for their advantage, leading 1-0 at the break.

HT: 1-0

Hammers began the second-half with a change, Teddy Sheringham replacing Matty Etherington, who was feeling the strain after more than a month and a half on the sidelines.

The former England striker's arrival saw the Hammers begin to re-establish their dominance. Zamora stabbed the ball wide from Marlon Harewood's low-cross, before Harewood unleashed a thunderous right-foot volley from 20 yards that Steve Banks did well to palm around the post.

Gills were still a threat though and their captain Paul Smith proved as much with a superb 20 yard effort of his own, which dipped just over the bar with Bywater well-beaten.

Darius Henderson's drilled effort was a lot further wide, but his bulleted header whistled just over the West Ham crossbar.

With an hour gone Alan Pardew replaced Zamora with Chris Cohen, deploying the young Academy graduate on the left of midfield, with Sheringham partnering Harewood in attack.

On 70 minutes Sheringham came within a crossbar of adding to West Ham's advantage. His beautifully curled free-kick beat Banks before rebounding back off the bar to the dismay of the brilliant Hammers travelling contingent who were braving the open-air stand behind Banks' goal. From the rebound Harewood and Reo-Coker both failed to turn the ball goalwards, before referee Phil Crossley blew for a foul.

Gavin Williams made his first appearance after spraining his ankle against Derby when he replaced Reo-Coker on 77 minutes.

At that point, the game was still finely poised, Gillingham still probing for an equaliser and Hammers constantly pressing to secure the three points.

Paul Smith was the next man to go close, drilling in a half-volley that bounced just wide of Bywater's right hand post.
With barely five minutes to go, Gillingham began to press Alan Pardew's team back and had a great effort through substitute John Hills who brought a fine save out of Bywater at his near post.

Snow began to pile down on Priestfield as the final whistle approached, but there would be no silver lining for the Gills as Alan Pardew's Hammers held firm to celebrate their third successive League win.