Hammers v Portsmouth

Heavyweight defender Linvoy Primus landed two knock-out blows to ensure a painful Boxing Day defeat for West Ham United.

The Portsmouth centre-half headed two first half goals that left Hammers reeling on the ropes and, although substitute Teddy Sheringham pulled one back in the 80th minute to set up a frantic finish, it wasn't enough to prevent Alan Curbishley from suffering his first defeat since taking over as manager.

Following Saturday's hard-fought 0-0 draw at Fulham, Curbs made two changes to his starting line-up for the visit of Harry Redknapp's men. Danny Gabbidon returned from a hamstring injury to take his place alongside Anton Ferdinand in the centre of defence, while Yossi Benayoun replaced Lee Bowyer in midfield.

Hammers made a bright start, as Bobby Zamora tested former Hammers keeper David James with a measured volley in the very first minute, before Harewood almost broke free moments later, only for Sol Campbell to get across and clear the danger.

However, after weathering that early storm, Portsmouth began to stamp some authority on the game and, with their first real attack of the game, opened the scoring on 16 minutes. A deep Mendes corner from the left reached the far post, where Primus climbed above Harewood to send in a firm downward header that beat Green and was only headed into the roof of the net by Gabbidon as it crossed the line.

Five minutes later, the visitors should have doubled their lead, when another Mendes corner caused panic in the Hammers penalty area and Davis's acrobatic overhead kick was cleared off the line by Mullins, straight to Campbell, who somehow fired over from eight yards out.

Having survived that scare, Hammers rallied briefly, and almost grabbed an equaliser when Benayoun dribbled into the area and managed to get a shot away as he went to ground, but the effort was deflected over for a corner, and things soon went from bad to worse.

Just eight minutes before the break, Pompey extended their lead and Primus doubled his tally, with an almost identical goal. This time, Mendes swung in a free-kick from the left, and the big defender was virtually unchallenged as he nodded the ball into the net from just four yards out.

Ferdinand was then booked for a foul on Kanu as Hammers' frustration threatened to boil over, and the boos ringing around Upton Park as the two teams walked off at the break gave Curbs a clear indication that the honeymoon period was well and truly over.

Change was clearly needed, and it came at the interval, as Curbishley introduced Carlos Tevez and Sheringham in place of Etherington and Harewood, to add some much-needed creativity and imagination in attack.

The Argentinean striker immediately lifted the crowd with a crunching tackle on another former Hammer, Glen Johnson, that set up an attack in the opening minute of the half, and when Sheringham forced James into a save moments later, it appeared that the double switch might just pay off.

However, Portsmouth haven't reached sixth place in the Premiership without possessing a ruthless streak when in front, and with Campbell and Primus holding firm at the back, Mendes pulling the strings in midfield, and Kanu holding the ball well in attack, Hammers were finding it difficult to break through.

Christian Dailly replaced Jonathan Spector with 20 minutes remaining to provide extra aerial threat at set-pieces, but it was the cultured skill of Tevez that almost dragged Hammers back into the game, as he first fired an inviting cross along the six-yard box, then curled a 20-yard free-kick just inches over the bar.

The 34,913 crowd were beginning to resign themselves to defeat when Hammers grabbed a lifeline 10 minutes from the end. Ferdinand's challenge on James saw the ball run loose to Sheringham and, from an acute angle, the 40-year-old brilliantly executed a lobbed finish that Johnson could only help into the net as he tried desperately to clear.

That was the cue for a rousing finale, and Hammers threw everything they had at Portsmouth in the hope of rescuing a point. Hayden Mullins fired an effort just over, while James was forced to smother a loose ball just as Sheringham was about to pounce, and Zamora saw an attempted cross deflected on to the roof of the net.

Sadly, though, the second breakthrough didn't arrive and, with the final whistle signalling a fourth home defeat of the season for Hammers, Alan Curbishley was left facing the task of lifting his players for what is now a vital battle against fellow strugglers Manchester City here on Saturday.