Ilan keeps Hammers' hopes alive

West Ham's season of struggle was given a shot in the arm when Araujo Ilan's goal secured a desperately needed 1-0 win against Sunderland at Upton Park here on Saturday.

Victory moved West Ham onto 31 points - four above the Premier League relegation zone with four games to play. Brazilian striker Ilan, who saved the day against Everton to earn a point last week, popped up again to convert Carlton Cole's knock-down from a free-kick in the 51st minute.

We've improved our position but there is still a long way to go and we need to maintain our focus.
West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola

Substitute Guillermo Franco had a late second ruled out for handball, but West Ham had done enough to ease the pressure on manager Gianfranco Zola, whose side had lost their three previous games at their Upton Park home.

"The players put a lot of passion in," Zola told the BBC. "We got the three points we needed and deserved. "We've improved our position but there is still a long way to go and we need to maintain our focus. The circumstances can change completely, but we made a lot of sacrifices to make things change."

Sunderland, unchanged from their win against Tottenham the week before, started brightly. Kieran Richardson's useful ball through to top scorer Darren Bent almost opened up the fragile Hammers. But England hopeful Bent, with 22 Premier League goals already this season, poked the ball over Robert Green's goal.

The Hammers began to haul themselves into the game though and Valon Behrami's fine shot from outside the area after 16 minutes was saved at full stretch by Craig Gordon. The Scotland goalkeeper was fortunate moments later when his clearance hit the back of Hammers striker Carlton Cole but bounced to safety.

Former West Ham defender Anton Ferdinand made a decisive block on Ilan's shot after Cole's break on the right after 37 minutes. And the Hammers were unlucky three minutes later when Gordon, already booked for handling outside the area, avoided being sent-off and conceding a penalty when he wrestled Cole to the ground.

The Hammers were finally rewarded six minutes after the interval, however, when they nudged themselves ahead. Manuel da Costa struck a long free-kick from the right-hand touchline, Cole won the header and Ilan got ahead of Paulo Da Silva to steer the ball home.

Steve Bruce, whose Sunderland team have won just once on the road in the league this season, winced on the touchline and his mood wasn't helped soon afterwards when Bent tripped when put through by substitute Kenwyne Jones. Bruce had several run-ins with Hammers owners David Sullivan and David Gold during their time together at Birmingham. The Sunderland boss has not forgiven them and would have wanted to get one over the pair.

Sunderland miss their chances
All the visitors needed was for Bent to find his shooting boots. Cole, his rival for an England striking berth, was impressing at the other end with his strength and ability to hold the ball up. Sunderland should have drawn level after their best move of the match but midfielder Lee Cattermole, who was having an off day, fired just wide of Green's post following Bent's neat flick.

Jones was making all the difference to Sunderland but the Hammers, with Matthew Upson and da Costa on top of their game, were holding on. They had Green to thank after 77 minutes when he tipped away Jordan Henderson's free-kick, which was dipping into the top corner. And Behrami produced an excellent block from substitute Bolo Zenden's shot.

Franco beat Gordon at the death but had clearly handled the ball as he controlled it. His celebrations were curtailed, but the Hammers' joy at the finish was unconfined. A first win in eight, coupled with Hull's 4-1 defeat by Burnley, gave them more than a fighting chance of avoiding the drop.