West Ham 3 Brighton 0
West Ham finally lifted the gloom around Upton Park as last season’s beaten finalists moved into the fourth round of the FA Cup with a 3-0 win over Brighton.
Manager Alan Curbishley had made sweeping changes following a third straight Barclays Premiership defeat which left them deep in relegation trouble, and there was no place in the squad for skipper Nigel Reo-Coker – a reported target for Tottenham.
The Hammers eventually made the breakthrough when teenager Mark Noble – who had been out on loan at Ipswich – grabbed his first goal for the club at the start of the second half.
Another from recalled striker Carlton Cole soon followed and Hayden Mullins headed in a third during stoppage time to secure Curbishley’s men safe passage into the next round at the expense of the plucky, but outclassed Coca-Cola League One side.
The Seagulls, FA Cup finalists in 1983, had brought with them a noisy contingent of some 5,000-strong fans, who packed out the Centenary Stand.
With the Hammers struggling to hit the heights of last season, a shock was most definitely on the cards.
An early run down the left and cross by Brighton winger Alexandre Frutos saw the ball deflected up over Roy Carroll’s crossbar.
The home side soon settled.
On six minutes, a break down the West Ham left by new £5m (€7.4m) signing Luis Boa Morte fed the ball to Carlos Tevez on the edge of the penalty area.
The Argentina forward jinked his way into space for a shot and it took a brave block from Seagulls captain Dean Hammond to charge down his fierce drive.
There was a renewed determination about this much-changed West Ham side, albeit against a less ruthless opposition then they face in the Premiership.
In the 11th minute, Boa Morte went down under a clumsy challenge from Joe O’Cearuill just inside the penalty area, but referee Mark Halsey was unimpressed and waived play on.
West Ham were dominating possession, but could not find a telling ball in the final third.
A deep free-kick into the Brighton area was headed over by Cole as the half-hour mark passed.
With the rain now sheeting down, direct passes to feet were at a premium as neither side was able to get hold of the ball for any prolonged spell.
West Ham were forced into a change in the final minute of the first half when Anton Ferdinand hobbled off with what looked a thigh problem, to be replaced by American defender Jonathan Spector.
The home side started the second half well, and took the lead on 49 minutes.
A looping cross from Boa Morte on the left was headed back up into the penalty area.
Tevez simply nodded the ball back down into the path of Noble, who dispatched a cool finish into the bottom right corner for his first West Ham goal.
The visitors had a great chance to level when a deep cross from the right bounced all the way through to the six-yard box.
Alex Revell had timed his run perfectly – but made a complete hash of an attempted diving header and missed the ball with the goal at his mercy.
Brighton had to go for it now, and enjoyed a spell of possession.
However, they looked vulnerable on the counter-attack, and so it proved as West Ham doubled their lead after 58 minutes.
Tevez broke down the right, and his low centre went across goal, where Boa Morte picked it up.
The Portuguese midfielder chipped the ball back into the six-yard box, where Cole was on hand to volley in – with the visitors appealing for offside.
As the tie was now all but over, the Hammers were able to relax and began to pass the ball around with renewed confidence, the rain finally having cleared.
The lively Tevez was denied a goal when his angled drive was blocked at the near post by keeper Wayne Henderson.
West Ham continued to press for a third, and midfielder Mullins glanced the ball in during stoppage time from Shaun Newton’s left-wing cross.