Sakho strike a suckerpunch for Adovcaat on Sunderland bow
Dangerman Diafra Sakho made the difference with a last gasp goal to ensure West Ham took all three points in a hard fought 1-0 win over struggling Sunderland.
Both teams could claim to feel aggrieved, after industrious Mark Noble had two penalty claims dismissed, and the unlucky Black Cats were denied a free kick in the build up to Sakho’s match-winning strike.
New boss Dick Advocaat is famed for disappointing club debuts but, while the travelling Wearside team will be disappointed to leave empty handed, there was promise in this display.
Just one point above the drop zone before this Upton Park encounter, Sunderland burst quickly out of the blocks with a new-look system.
Jermain Defoe spearheaded a three-pronged attack, with support provided by Steven Fletcher and a reinvigorated Connor Wickham, who thrived in a role with more freedom than usual.
The change worked well and Wickham in particular impressed with his workrate, power, pace and tricky feet. The Black Cats certainly had the better of the opening exchanges, in a game where clear cut chances were few and far between.
Hosts the Hammers found it difficult to deal with former West Ham man Jermain Defoe, duly booed by home fans, and the striker found plenty of space on the break. If not for uncharacteristically wayward finishing from the former Spurs star, Sunderland could easily have taken the lead and will now rue a handful of missed chances.
Raking balls from deep, provided by Barcelona-born Jordi Gomez and Sweden star Sebastian Larsson, troubled the Upton Park outfit several times, in the absence of sidelined centrebacks James Tomkins and Winston Reid.
As for the Hammers, Alex Song almost provided a highlight reel moment with an instinctive volley from distance, but custodian Costel Pantilimon palmed away superbly.
As Sakho, fed on scraps for the majority of the match, failed to convert a series of crosses, the game seemed certain to end on even terms.
Stewart Downing and Aaron Cresswell, who was always a danger down the flank, repeatedly pumped balls into the box to no avail. This tactic may have borne fruit with battering ram Andy Carroll up top, but Sakho was clearly struggling.
However, Big Sam’s tinkering after half time allowed the Hammers to pose a far greater threat. After replacing wingman Matt Jarvis with Carlton Cole, and switching back to the diamond formation that allowed for so much success at the start of the season, both Downing and Sakho looked notably brighter.
Frustrated Noble’s hard work finally paid of in the 87th minute, as he tussled for the ball before finding sharpshooter Sahko in the box with a lovely lofted pass. The Senegal striker was quick to capitalise on the Black Cats’ panic and lashed home to claim his 12th of the season.
Advocaat and his new charges should not leave disheartened, however, as Sunderland displayed an adventure and spirit not seen for sometime.
Flying fullback Patrick van Aanholt illustrated potential at both ends of the pitch, while Wickham and Gomez also showed the type of desire that could yet save Sunderland’s season. Advocaat has much work to do, but Premier League survival is far from mission impossible.