Sunderland survival hopes suffer Hammer blow
West Ham United’s English striker Andy Carroll (R) celebrates after scoring the opening goal with West Ham United's English midfielder Mark Noble at The Stadium of Light in Sunderland, northeast England, on March 31, 2014 - by Ian MacNicol, Ian MacNicol
Andy Carroll, formerly a striker with Sunderland's arch north-east rivals Newcastle, headed West Ham into an early lead and Mohamed Diame made it 2-0 to the London club shortly after half-time.
Sunderland substitute Adam Johnson pulled a goal back for the hosts in the 65th minute to the joy of the Stadium of Light crowd but they were unable to add to that.
Victory took 11th placed West Ham onto 37 points, three short of the traditional survival mark of 40, but the result meant Sunderland stayed second bottom on 25 points, four shy of safety with eight games remaining.
The goal was only the second scored by Carroll, a £15 million ($25m, 18m euros) signing from Liverpool, this season.
Nevertheless Hammers manager Sam Allardyce suggested that, as a classic old-fashioned centre forward, Carroll could yet add something to England manager Roy Hodgson's squad for this June's World Cup finals in Brazil.
"If you want alternatives, Andy gives you one," Allardyce told Sky Sports.
"He's unique in many ways. Not many can receive the ball and head a ball as good as he does, especially with quality balls in the box...If he plays every week, scores goals, hopefully he'll go to Brazil."
- Eight-game run -
Allardyce also thanked Hammers co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold for standing by him rather than changing managers as have several top-flight sides this term.
"From our point of view, the co-chairmen have always been solid and never made me feel under any pressure.
"We've had an eight-game run and got 15 points, which is fantastic at this stage of the season. It's got us out of trouble and we will now strive to see how many more points we can pick up."
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet insisted his side hadn't played like a team threatened with the drop.
"It's difficult to accept, sometimes when you see a team at the bottom they have no spirit, heart and give up. I don't think it's possible to see my team giving up. "
The game was only nine minutes old when Carroll rose highest to head in Mark Noble's corner.
But Sunderland were convinced they should have had a penalty when Hammers midfielder Kevin Nolan appeared to handle inside his own area.
But referee Howard Webb rejected Sunderland's pleas for a spot-kick.
"It was clear, deliberate," said Poyet. "He (Nolan) tried to play the ball with his hand.
"You would need to ask the referee. It was easy to see but that's the way it's been," the former Uruguay midfielder added.
"I hope we get some luck; a decision from the ref or a deflected shot goes in. It's about winning now. We have a chance and will go to the end."
West Ham, whose fans booed Allardyce after the end of their last game despite a 2-1 win against Hull at Upton Park, doubled their lead five minutes after the break when Diame's deflected shot from 12 yards out beat Vito Mannone, the Sunderland goalkeeper.
Mannone though kept Sunderland in the match by preventing the Hammers going 3-0 up when he turned away Stewart Downing's shot after a ball over the top left him clean through on goal.
The worth of that save became clear when Johnson, who'd already looked sharp during his few minutes on the field, gave Sunderland renewed hope.
Connor Wickham flicked the ball to Craig Gardner and his resulting through ball was struck into the top corner from just inside the penalty area by Johnson.
Sunderland nearly made it 2-2 when Hammers keeper Adrian couldn't hold South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-yeung's low strike from 20 yards.
The Spaniard redeemed himself though by blocking Wickham's follow-up effort.
Sunderland then pushed everyone forward, including Mannone, but couldn't find an equalising goal.