Hammers v Blackburn

A surge of relief and confidence reverberated around Upton Park as goals from Teddy Sheringham and Hayden Mullins secured a vital 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Sunday afternoon.

After eight successive league and cup defeats, a 21st minute header from Sheringham and a close-range strike from Mullins with 11 minutes remaining were enough to stop the rot and provide a crucial three points that moved Hammers out of the bottom three and up to 16th place.

And although David Bentley's strike in stoppage time ensured a nervy final few moments, Alan Pardew's battling troops held on to give their under-fire manager a much-needed boost after a week in which his future had been the subject of intense media speculation.

Pardew made four changes to the team that started Tuesday night's 2-1 Carling Cup defeat at Chesterfield. Sheringham came in for Marlon Harewood to add some guile and experience in attack, while Yossi Benayoun and Matthew Etherington returned on the flanks, and Jonathan Spector replaced John Pantsil at right-back.

The manager had issued a passionate plea to the Upton Park faithful before the match, asking for a rousing reception as Hammers searched for their first Premiership win since the opening day of the season.

The supporters of course answered that call, and after a fairly quiet opening five minutes on the pitch, Pardew's players responded, too. First Zamora headed just over the bar after Anton Ferdinand had flicked on Benayoun's corner, then Hayden Mullins saw a fierce low effort well saved by Brad Friedel.

On 17 minutes, Hammers looked to have found an opening when Sheringham's flick released Etherington clear on the left, but the winger lifted his cross too high for Benayoun at the far post. Reo-Coker then sent a low 18-yarder just wide of the target and, just as the 33,833 crowd began to raise the sound levels up a notch or two, the vital breakthrough finally arrived.

A long kick from Robert Green was flicked on by Sheringham to Zamora, who laid the ball off for Benayoun on the right, and the Israeli midfielder picked out the near-post run of his 40-year-old team-mate with an inch-perfect cross that Sheringham expertly guided into the top corner from eight yards out for his first goal of the campaign.

Just eight minutes later, Rovers were dealt another blow when striker Jason Roberts was stretchered off with a suspected fractured metatarsal and, as the half drew to a close, it was clearly Hammers who were in the driving seat. Reo-Coker almost doubled the advantage minutes before the break, but was denied by a last-ditch tackle from Michael Gray as he shaped to shoot, and the hosts had to settle for just the single goal lead as the half-time whistle blew.

Not surprisingly, visiting manager Mark Hughes sent his team out for the second half in more determined mood, and their early pressure almost paid off as Hammers battled to regain their momentum.

On 52 minutes, striker Benni McCarthy - who almost joined Hammers from Porto last year - had a fierce effort well saved by Green, before finding the net with a low shot four minutes later - only to see the goal ruled out for a foul on Anton Ferdinand.

With an understandable touch of nerves creeping into their game as the lead came under more intense pressure, the hosts had to dig deep from then on, and were lucky to escape on 68 minutes when defender Zura Khizanishvili somehow planted a free header from a corner wide of the target.

Six minutes later came the most amazing incident of the game, as both sides wasted glorious opportunities within the space of 30 seconds. First Blackburn thought they had found an equaliser when a cross from the left found it's way through to Lucas Neill just six yards out with the goal at his mercy - only for Green to somehow beat away his point-blank effort.

From the clearance, Etherington escaped on the counter-attack and released Zamora through the middle with a superb pass but, in his eagerness to produce a killer second goal, the striker showed too much of the ball to Friedel and the Rovers keeper was able to clear the danger.

Moments later, goal hero Sheringham left to the field to a standing ovation and it wasn't long before his replacement, Marlon Harewood, had played his part in the move that led to the crucial second goal.

The Hammers substitute produced a bustling run down the right and low cross that was turned behind for a corner. From Etherington's resulting kick on the right, the ball was flicked on at the near post and Mullins arrived with perfect timing to stab home from six yards out.

Like Sheringham, the midfielder also celebrated what was his first goal of the season, and as Upton Park exploded into scenes of delight, Hammers got ready to savour the glorious experience of victory for the first time in more than two months.

However, under Hughes, Blackburn have never been the type of team to throw in the towel and, two minutes into stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes, they grabbed a lifeline. McCarthy's low shot was spilled by Green, and Bentley was on hand to convert an easy chance from eight yards out to set up an anxious finish.

Thankfully, though, Hammers showed the character needed and, willed on by the cheers and whistles of a packed Boleyn Ground, were able to celebrate a much-needed and deserved victory when the final whistle blew.