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Everton 3 West Ham United 1

Filed: Saturday, 16th May 2009
By: Staff Writer

West Ham United's hopes of qualifying for Europe are over following a disappointing afternoon on Merseyside.

The Hammers went down 3-1 at Goodison Park this afternoon despite taking an early lead through Radoslav Kovac - a result that leaves them five points adrift of seventh-placed Fulham (who won 1-0 at Newcastle today) with just one game of the season left to play.

As has been the case in recent weeks the Hammers simply failed to produce enough in the final third of the field; Kovac's 22nd minute strike was United's only effort on goal in the entire first half, whilst they could only conjure up three further efforts on target after the break.

Admittedly Gianfranco Zola's side were hampered somewhat having been reduced to ten men with the dismissal of James Tomkins as the first half neared its end - but that failure to produce enough in front of goal has been one of the main causes behind the failure to land seventh spot, despite still being in the driving seat as recently as a fortnight ago.

Many will look to the sale of - and subsequent failure to replace - Craig Bellamy, who was sold to Manchester City for 14million as the reason for that failure. Indeed, since the January transfer window closed West Ham have managed to score more than a single goal in just one game - the 2-0 victory against lowly Sunderland at the start of April.

Zola's forced reliance on the front pairing of the quite frankly awful Diego Tristan and David Di Michele can also account for much of the blame; if either of these players are still wearing claret and blue come August there has to be something seriously wrong.

Italian Di Michele will be remembered more for his embarrassing dive against Liverpool last week and doing his shoelaces up in the opposition penalty area than his goalscoring exploits - whilst Tristan at least has his free kick at Stoke to point to.

Not the greatest return for a season's-worth of appearances - and Zola finally appeared to click when he replaced both at half time today after yet more anonymous performances.

The Hammers started the game poorly but hopes of Europe were briefly rejuvenated when Radoslav Kovac scored a goal out of nothing on 22 minutes - his first for the club and one of the goals of the season. The Czech midfielder picked up the ball around the halfway line before surging forward and unleashing an unstoppable drive from some 35 yards to give the Hammers a lead which, on the run of play, they hardly deserved.

That lead was to last for just fifteen minutes as Louis Saha restored parity from the penalty spot after James Tomkins was adjudged to have tripped Tim Cahill as the Australian midfielder surged into the penalty box. With Tomkins acting as last man referee Phil Dowd showed no hesitation in reaching for his pocket and delivering the young centre half the first red card of his professional career. TV replays showed that contact, if any, was minimal.

As mentioned Zola withdrew both strikers at the break to be replaced by the returning Carlton Cole and Jon Spector in a forced reshuffle aimed no doubt at holding on to a point. But Everton had other ideas and were in front just three minutes after the restart when Joseph Yobo fired through a crowd of defenders from close range having been left totally unmarked for a corner.

West Ham responded with chances for Matthew Upson, Luis Boa Morte and substitute Junior Stanislas but the game was put to bed on 76 minutes when Louis Saha - yet again unmarked - notched his second of the afternoon with a tap in from Steven Pienaar's cross.

But for Rob Green's late double save from Saha and Cahill it could have been even worse for the Hammers, and the final whistle was a welcome respite from a torrid second half in which the United had looked overrun at times.

So to next Sunday and the final game of the season; West Ham now need to beat Middlesbrough (themselves still in with a chance - however slim - of avoiding relegation) in order to stand a hope of leapfrogging Tottenham who are now three points above United thanks to a 2-1 win over Manchester City today.

All in all it has been a disappointing climax to a season that has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs - although most Hammers fans, if asked at the start of the season, would probaly have taken another top ten finish which, barring a goal fest for 'Boro and Stoke next weekend, is guaranteed.

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by Tell it how it is Charley
08:07PM 16th May 2009
''Boa Morte is a complete waste of time too, let's hope he is off as well. You're too pessimistic, West Ham are not ready for Europe but to finish in the top 10 is a major achievement in West Ham's history. If we went into Europe next season we would just be making up the numbers, the squad just doesn't have the backbone for all these extra games.

The main thing is financial wellbeing for the club and that's a Premier League place every season. The last time we qualified for Europe we nearly went down. Build on the Premier League and then think of Europe. Even the likes of Aston Villa (very thin squad), Tottenham and Everton have found the UEFA Cup very hard going. Look at Villa's form at the end of the season! If it were not for Europe perhaps Villa could have won the Premier League.''

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