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West Ham’s Diafra Sakho strikes late to ruin Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland start
Jacob Steinberg at Upton Park for the Guardian
Published Saturday 21 March 2015 19.33 GMT
Dick Advocaat has been around long enough to know football is a cruel game. It had looked like Advocaat’s first game in charge of Sunderland was going to end in a dull goalless draw at Upton Park and there were a few encouraging signs for his new side, a missed chance here, a flowing move there, even a hint of something approaching defensive cohesion.
Sunderland were a threat in the first half and although their level dropped after the break they were resilient until Diafra Sakho plunged a dagger into their heart by snatching West Ham United’s first league win since 18 January with his 88th-minute winner.
The twist in the gut for Advocaat and Sunderland was that the referee, Lee Mason, missed an obvious foul on Sebastian Larsson by the West Ham substitute, Nene, in the moments before Sakho’s goal. “I did not expect a goal from West Ham because everything was under control,” Advocaat said. “All my players said it was a foul but I don’t want to start with blaming somebody.”
Sam Allardyce agreed it was a foul, not that he had much sympathy for Sunderland. “About time something went our way, rather than against us,” the West Ham manager said.
Advocaat does not have time to worry about refereeing decisions. He has eight matches to secure Sunderland’s Premier League status and the international break means the latest Dutch manager to join an English club now has a fortnight to prepare for Newcastle United’s visit to the Stadium of Light. Advocaat smiled when the derby was mentioned. “The good thing is we don’t have so many international players,” he said.
There was also support for Adam Johnson who was on the bench after Sunderland lifted his suspension following his recent arrest on suspicion of sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl. The West Ham fans sent loud boos in Johnson’s direction after his introduction in the 73rd minute, and there were a few tasteless chants from both sets of supporters throughout. “Life goes on and he did well,” Advocaat said. “He is a very good player.”
The frustration for Sunderland, who remain a point above the bottom three, was their failure to build on a promising start. Their initial approach was adventurous with Connor Wickham dangerous in a roving role behind Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe, and the visitors twice went close to taking the lead in the opening 15 minutes.
Injuries to Winston Reid and James Tomkins forced Allardyce to play Cheikhou Kouyaté, who is primarily a midfielder, alongside James Collins in central defence and West Ham were uncertain in the early stages. Wickham stung Adrián’s palms with a volley and Defoe fired over after beating the offside trap.
You would have put your house on Defoe scoring as he drew back his right foot and prepared to shoot, but it was a poor miss from the former West Ham striker, one that betrayed Sunderland’s anxiety.
Another problem for Sunderland was seeing Wes Brown limp off after 12 minutes. He was replaced by the jittery Santiago Vergini in the visitors’ back four and West Ham began to create a few chances.
Sunderland’s 4-3-1-2 formation meant there was space on the flanks and West Ham almost fashioned a winger-to-winger goal, Matt Jarvis inches away from connecting with Stewart Downing’s fizzing centre from the right before Sakho’s glancing header flew just wide. Pantilimon also had to push away Alex Song’s volley from 25 yards.
After last Saturday’s debacle against Aston Villa, at least a goalless first half represented progress of sorts for Sunderland.
That 4-0 defeat against Villa cost Gus Poyet his job and it was an afternoon when Sunderland’s players suffered a collective loss of application and discipline, their first-half performance so miserable that it caused a mass walk-out at the Stadium of Light.
This time their effort could not be faulted but Sunderland’s fluidity disappeared in the second half and West Ham, who beefed up their attack at half-time by bringing on Carlton Cole for the disappointing Jarvis, capitalised with two minutes left.
Nenê flattened Larsson, Mark Noble’s clever lofted pass illuminated a game that was sorely lacking in technical ability and Sakho drilled the ball past Pantilimon.