West Ham gave their European ambitions a timely boost as a superb second-half display saw the Hammers thrash struggling Hull 3-0 at Upton Park.
Sam Allardyce’s side were booed off at half-time after a dismal opening period but Hull paid the price for some lacklustre finishing as Andy Carroll, Morgan Amalfitano and Stewart Downing all found the net after the interval.
The result sees West Ham climb above Liverpool into seventh and puts more pressure on Hull manager Steve Bruce, who has now overseen just two wins in 15 Barclays Premier League games.
West Ham were dreaming of the Champions League when they sat fourth in the middle of December but four league games without a win, including draws against West Brom and Swansea, had dampened expectations.
This victory, however, puts the Hammers back in touch with the top four and was particularly important given their next seven fixtures include Liverpool, Manchester United, Southampton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Kevin Nolan’s return was the only change to the West Ham side that played 120 minutes before beating Everton on penalties on Tuesday and it showed, as the hosts were sluggish throughout the first half.
Hull’s Sone Aluko proved a menace for the Hammers’ back four with his speedy runs in behind and the visitors should have been ahead early on when his cut-back found Ahmed Elmohamady free in the area, but the Egyptian dragged wide.
Aaron Cresswell saw a long-range shot swerve narrowly wide of the post and James Tomkins headed over from a corner but otherwise West Ham’s first-half display was riddled with mistakes and mishit passes.
Hull should have capitalised. In the 24th minute, Aluko’s latest spin around Tomkins put the striker in on goal but he took too long and allowed Collins to block the finish.
Moments later, the Nigerian was in again and fed Jake Livermore in the box, but the midfielder failed to find Elmohamady, who was free outside him, and West Ham emerged unscathed.
Enner Valencia saw his back-post header loop over Allan McGregor and drop onto the crossbar at the end of the first period but that was not enough to spare the home side from a smattering of boos at the half-time whistle.
The Hammers came out with renewed vigour after the break and should have scored when Downing pulled back for Nolan but the midfielder fired his half-volley over.
In the 49th minute, however, West Ham did take the lead. Valencia unleashed a stinging shot from 25 yards and as Tigers goalkeeper Allan McGregor parried, Carroll outmuscled Curtis Davies to prod home his fifth goal of the season.
Having already made two substitutes, Bruce threw 21-year-old defender Harry Maguire up front with half an hour to play but Hull never really troubled their opponents.
Instead, it was the home side who looked the more threatening and in the 69th minute so it proved as Valencia slid in Amalfitano and the midfielder coolly dinked the ball over McGregror to double West Ham’s lead.
Three minutes later they made it three. Alex Song released Downing with a brilliant through ball and the winger held his nerve, tucking home his fifth goal of the campaign.
Hull were on the ropes and West Ham could have had a fourth late on.
Downing’s clipped ball released Nolan, but the midfielder hit the crossbar from a tight angle and Carroll also went close but the Hammers had to settle for three goals and another valuable three points.