West Ham eased their relegation fears with a 3-0 victory over fellow strugglers Southampton.
Two goals from Marko Arnautovic and one from Joao Mario moved the Hammers five points clear of the drop zone and, more importantly, calmed a previously mutinous crowd.
A day which had the potential to be another dark one for West Ham, on and off the pitch, instead ended in misery for Southampton and their manager Mark Hughes.
After West Ham’s 3-0 home defeat by Burnley was overshadowed by pitch invasions, missile-throwing and protests in front of the directors’ box, there were fears of more trouble and the possibility of being forced to play subsequent home games behind closed doors.
But what a difference three weeks, and three goals, makes. A peaceful protest against the board took place outside the ground before kick-off but once inside the fans heeded the advice of Sir Trevor Brooking and Mark Noble, among others, and got behind the team.
Defeat would have plunged West Ham into the relegation zone and darkened the mood around the club further, but instead Southampton remain in the bottom three – and on this evidence they will not be getting out any time soon.
To add insult to injury for Hughes his former Stoke player Arnautovic – with whom he clashed when West Ham beat the Potters in December – seemed eager to make a point by celebrating his goals in front of him.
The fall-out to the ugly scenes against Burnley led to an increased police presence in and around the ground and security barriers erected in front of the directors’ box, where David Sullivan had been struck by a coin.
Sullivan and fellow owner David Gold were in attendance, although they judiciously took seats further back than usual.
The first goal was always going to be crucial, in more ways than one after Burnley’s opener sparked all the trouble three weeks ago.
So the relief was palpable among the players, supporters, and no doubt the authorities, when West Ham took a 13th-minute lead.
Noble sent Cheikhou Kouyate raiding down the right and the Senegal midfielder crossed for Mario, the loan signing from Inter Milan, who took a touch before crashing his first goal for the club into the top corner from 18 yards.
Four minutes later it was 2-0, Mario the provider this time with a cross which Arnautovic headed straight at Saints keeper Alex McCarthy before snaffling the rebound.
In first-half stoppage-time Edimilson Fernandes, on for the injured Michail Antonio, fed Arthur Masuaku who was making his first appearance since his six-match spitting ban.
Masuaku swung a superb, deep cross behind the Southampton defence where Arnautovic had peeled away before volleying first time into the net.
Arnautovic went in search of his hat-trick after the break but curled one effort wide and another too close to McCarthy, while it was Aaron Cresswell who went closest to adding to the lead when he hit the crossbar in stoppage time.
Southampton, by contrast, did not manage to test Joe Hart once in a desperate display which will only increase their fears of relegation.
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