Hammers Lose Out In Tense Clash

AN incident packed promotion clash at Upton Park has finished 2-1 to Preston, Bobby Zamora's late goal not enough to save ten-man Hammers from defeat.

Dave Nugent and Patrick Agyemang scored for the visitors, while Hammers had Tomas Repka sent off in the first-half of this ill-tempered clash.

Alan Pardew's one change from the defeat at Leeds was forced on him by the absence of Anton Ferdinand with a hamstring injury, Hayden Mullins coming in at right-back and Tomas Repka switching to the centre of defence.

Youth-team star Hogan Ephraim was named among the substitutes for the first time and Chris Cohen made up a duo of Hammers Academy graduates to make the first team bench.

The game started brightly, with both sides showing plenty of attacking endeavour. Hayden Mullins found space in the box but should have done better in picking out Teddy Sheringham when his far post cross floated well-clear of the Hammers striker.

Brian O'Neil had a hopeful drive from all of 30 yards easily saved by Stephen Bywater, but the Hammers goalkeeper looked anything but comfortable when he ballooned his clearance from Chris Powell's back-pass under pressure from Paul McKenna.

Hammers had a great chance with 13 minutes gone, but it was Preston full-back Graham Alexander that turned Steve Lomas' back post cross towards goal, the ball trickling just wide of the post.

Then, less than five minutes later, an awful aberration by Bywater gave Preston the lead. Malky Mackay played the ball back to his goalkeeper, but Bywater's touch was heavy and it allowed Dave Nugent to steal in and roll the ball into the unguarded net.

Hammers rallied to try and cancel out the mistake of their teammate, but it was Bywater himself making amends for the error on 26 minutes. Chris Sedgwick hit a venomous 25 yard drive that the 'keeper did well to parry and regained his balance to make a superb point-blank block from Nugent, although the goal would have been ruled out in any case for offside.

West Ham continued to enjoy plenty of the attack, but a succession of crosses failed to beat the first defender, while O'Neil's header for Preston drifted well wide.

With 39 minutes gone Marlon Harewood's shot was well-blocked by Preston captain Chris Lucketti and from the resulting corner Carl Fletcher hit a shot on the turn that drove through the crowded penalty box, but was well saved by a sprawling Chris Day in the visitors' goal.

Two minutes later Day had to be alert again as Harewood chased a long clearance from Bywater, but couldn't get enough of a touch to divert it beyond the goalkeeper.

With three minutes to go until half-time Alan Pardew's problems were compounded when Tomas Repka clashed with Brian O'Neil off the ball and Repka was shown the fourth red card of his Upton Park career for lashing out at the Preston midfielder.

Already on a knife-edge, the Upton Park atmosphere exploded as the players from both sides became embroiled in an ugly melee that saw Harewood and Chris Sedgwick booked.

The half-time whistle couldn't come soon enough to quell some heated tempers as the Hammers left the field trailing 1-0.
HT: 0-1

Down to 10 men and a goal behind, Hammers emerged for the second-half with it all to do. Bobby Zamora replaced Teddy Sheringham during the break with Carl Fletcher switching to central defence.

But it was Preston who had the ball in the net barely a minute after the re-start. It was another nervy moment for Bywater as he spilled Alexander's drive and Nugent pounced again to turn the ball home, only for the offside flag to rule out the effort.

With their man advantage Preston were doing all the pressing. Nugent was denied by Chris Powell's excellent tackle in the six-yard area, before a miss-kick from Hayden Mullins allowed Nugent to break through on goal. One on one with Bywater, the Preston goalscorer tried to round him, but this time the Hammers goalkeeper came out on top, diving at Nugent's feet to tip the ball away for a corner.

Alexander and Eddie Lewis were both off target with efforts soon after, but Hammers were beginning to raise the tempo and their desire was epitomised by Harewood fighting to win back the ball in midfield and charging at the Preston defence before his run was ended by Matt Hill.

Matty Etherington hit a cracking 25 yard volley that Day watched all the into his arms, and then swung over the corner from the left that Lomas flew in to meet, but glanced his effort well wide.

Defender Malky Mackay was replaced by Nigel Reo-Coker on 69 minutes as Hammers desperation for an equaliser increased. On the other hand, Preston showed their desire to close up the game by bringing on defender Claude Davis for Eddie Lewis.

But it was the visitors' next substitution that sealed all three points for Preston. Patrick Agyemang replaced Nugent and within a minute the gangly forward was twisting past Mullins and beating Bywater with a cool finish to make it 2-0.

Hammers looked out of it, but that certainly didn't show in their performance as Alan Pardew's men continued to surge forward in search of a way back into the game.

With four minutes remaining Hammers scored the goal that their application deserved. It was some goal, too. Harewood's pace and strength dealt with Youl Mwaene, giving him time to pick out Zamora at the far post, and he dispatched a sizzling volley into the far corner of the net, giving Day no chance.

Upton Park was suddenly alive again with visions of a sterling comeback. Hammers gave it all they had, but Steve Lomas was off target with his effort and Zamora had a shot well blocked by the Preston defence.

Passions were running high in both camps as the final whistle approached, but it was on the bench where they finally spilled over as Preston manager Billy Davies was sent from the dug-out.

He missed seeing his side celebrate a 2-1 victory at Upton Park and what could prove a very important three points.