Sunderland end season on a high

Last updated : 22 May 2011 By Northern Echo

As frustrated West Ham United supporters faced up to life in the Championship, Sunderland took charge and ended the campaign with a deserved three points that lifted them up in to the Premier League's top ten - just.

With the Hammers likely to be the new occupants of the Olympics Stadium after next summer's London Games, this could well be Sunderland's last visit to Upton Park.

And while West Ham were unable to deliver small consolation for a dreadful year by winning what is likely to be their last Premier League fixture at a ground stooped in history, Sunderland's trip to the East End was far more enjoyable.

It was Bolo Zenden, playing his last game for Sunderland after indicating a desire to leave this summer, who headed his team in front in the 17th minute with his second of the season ' both scored in May.

Stephane Sessegnon, the Benin international, then struck a sweet second six minutes after half-time to make sure Sunderland were on course for a second victory in their last three matches to climb above Newcastle United.

And, with seconds remaining, even Cristian Riveros piled on the misery for a West Ham crowd that stayed behind to get behind their fallen heroes by hammering in a third.

It might have been an occasion when West Ham would have preferred a number of their Academy graduates to shine under the caretaker management of Kevin Keen. It was also soon apparent the display of one of Sunderland's youngsters would be key.

Jack Colback, a 21-year-old central midfielder, was asked to start as a left-back and that meant a reshuffle down the right flank, where Phil Bardsley operated behind Ahmed Elmohamady.

It was not long before Colback was tested either when a fixture that looked pretty meaningless at the outset opened with an array of good opportunities at both ends.

Asamoah Gyan, back in the team after shrugging off a hamstring problem, was guilty of wasting the first two when he failed to connect properly with half volleys that were easy to gather for goalkeeper Robert Green.

It was the same outcome when Nedum Onuoha, playing his last game before the end of a loan from Manchester City, also acrobatically stretched a leg to meet a loose ball that bounced around in the area.

Sunderland's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was more seriously tested when he was forced to make solid stops to deny efforts from both Zavon Hines and Freddie Sears.

He did spill a powerful free-kick from Thomas Hitzlsperger, but Onuoha showed his defensive quality by making a terrific block from a rebound when James Tomkins looked certain to score.

But in a sold-out venue where plenty of West Ham supporters had clearly decided to stay away following the confirmation of relegation seven days earlier, Sunderland's bright start earned its rewards.

While Bruce opted against handing John Mensah one last appearance before his loan from Olympique Lyonnais expired, he could not resist the opportunity to let Zenden go out on a high.

And the Dutchman, whose only other goal this season arrived at Bolton 15 days earlier, obliged. When Elmohamady centred from the right touchline, Zenden timed his run to perfection before jumping to turn the delivery high beyond Green with a neat header, although there was a hint it came off his shoulder.

There were initially wild celebrations in front of the travelling supporters in subdued surroundings, but soon there was an eerie feel about a place already coming to terms with the reality of relegation.

With the exception of a few angry forays in to the technical area for Keen and Bruce, that was about as exciting as it got in any of the Upton Park boxes until the dying seconds of the first half.

When West Ham striker Frederic Piquionne, followed closely throughout the game by former Hammer Anton Ferdinand, was given the space to centre, Hines took a touch before shooting and finding that Mignolet was equal to it.

But after the restart it did not take Sunderland long to deservedly increase their advantage when West Ham's problems on the pitch were all too apparent.

There was still a lot for Sessegnon to do when he picked up the ball just inside his own half. He was allowed to run and run before picking out the bottom right corner of Green's net with a perfect low finish.

The second arrived six minutes after half-time and effectively brought an end to the game as a contest, although Colback's marauding run from the right-back almost earned him a goal but he was denied by Green.

As a strong police and steward corden was required to line up in front of a strong contingent of West Ham fans that had congregated in one area, the events on the pitch almost became a sideshow.

Mignolet had to make a couple more strong stops as the half wore on, but with seconds ticking down on West Ham's life in the Premier League the stage was set for Riveros to complete the victory.

The Paraguayan, who has struggled to make an impact since his move to Wearside, was on hand to control Jordan Henderson's cross from the right and power a drive? beyond Green. His first in English football was enough to take Sunderland up in to the top ten for the first time in ten years, where Bruce wanted his team to be nine months ago.

Source: Northern Echo

Source: Northern Echo