West Ham United leapfrogged Norwich City in the Premier League courtesy of a 2-1 win at Upton Park.
Mark Noble gave the hosts the lead from the penalty spot after three minutes before Joey O’Brien doubled the advantage with 26 minutes gone.
An improved second-half showing from the Canaries was rewarded with a 90th minute volley from Russell Martin to cut the arrears, but, despite a stoppage time onslaught, the men from Norfolk were unable to salvage a draw.
Norwich will point to some contentious decisions from Mark Clattenburg as key to their defeat – their fourth on the spin in the league.
Promising Premier League starts from both teams had been somewhat undermined by a festive programme that had seen neither side register a point – however, strong early season form saw both sitting comfortably in mid-table coming into this New Year fixture.
Of the two, the Hammers have had the more arduous finish to the year and were without captain and top goalscorer Kevin Nolan as Sam Allardyce’s men looked to improve on a record of one win in eight. James Collins was also suspended while Andy Carroll and Mohamed Diame remained sidelined by injury.
Norwich had to do without injured strikers Grant Holt and Steve Morison, so on-loan Tottenham forward Harry Kane led the attack as the Canaries sought to bring a run of three straight losses to an end.
There was almost no time for either side to stamp any sort of authority on the game when Clattenburg awarded the Hammers a pretty soft penalty for a perceived foul on Winston Reid by Ryan Bennett.
Captain for the day Noble expertly dispatched the penalty to give the hosts a third minute lead.
Norwich, already hamstrung by an extensive injury list, struggled to muster any sort of response as Kane cut an isolated figure up front while the hosts continued to make use of the space in the channels.
Despite this, the Canaries could have twice been level. First a Robert Snodgrass free-kick came back off the post with Jussi Jaaskelainen relegated to the role of spectator before Clattenburg turned away what looked like a pretty strong penalty claim when Reid appeared to handle in the box.
The Norwich backroom staff were incandescent on the sidelines as the referee waved away the protestations of the visiting side but their anger only intensified when he elected not to bring the play to halt following a coming together between Alexander Tettey and Carlton Cole – allowing West Ham to break and double their advantage.
O’Brien followed up a loose Norwich clearance to fire past Mark Bunn from close range following a jinking run from Noble with 26 minutes gone.
It was becoming an abject Norwich performance as the Hammers had the run of the midfield and Cole put forward a contender for miss of the season when he contrived to fire a Guy Demel square ball over the bar from inside the six-yard box with under ten minutes of the half to go.
Despite offering very little going forward, Hughton elected not to make a change at half time and the decision should have paid immediate dividends when Kane was tripped in the box by James Tomkins but Clattenburg again waved away the appeals.
An increase in intensity from the visitors opened the game up, and, having weathered an early second half barrage from Hughton’s men, the Hammers were again in the ascendancy and could have made sure of the points with 66 minutes gone but Ricardo Vaz Te’s header came off the post.
The 70th minute introduction of Simeon Jackson gave the visitors more of a cutting edge up front and they built momentum as the game drew to a close but without really threatening the goal of Jaaskelainen.
Norwich’s superiority in terms of possession as the half drew to a close was finally rewarded when Martin volleyed Elliott Bennett’s enticing centre past Jaaskelainen to set up a barnstorming finish but the hosts were able to see out the remaining minutes of stoppage time to secure an important win.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
Guy Demel, West Ham – offered an almost constant threat down the right but also was solid in defence.
West Ham: Jaaskelainen 6, Demel 8, Reid 6, Tomkins 6, O'Brien 7, Noble 7, Collison 7, Taylor 6, Jarvis 6, Vaz Te 6, Cole 6. Subs: Spence 5, O'Neil 5, Maiga 5.
Norwich City: Bunn 6, Martin 6, Bassong 6, Turner 5, R.Bennett 5, Snodgrass 7, Howson 5, Tettey 6, Pilkington 5, Hoolahan 5, Kane 5. Subs: E.Bennett 6, Fox 5, Jackson 5.
- Sports & Recreation