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African ace gives West Ham welcome boost

HAMMER TIME: United's Senegalese midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate celebrates his winner against Swansea

THE RAUCOUS outpouring of relief from the locals at the final whistle was the final act of a tense contest. Cheikhou Kouyate's fizzing effort just before the half-time interval was enough to give West Ham a valuable three points and move Slaven Bilic's side eight points clear of the relegation zone.

It was a rare moment of quality in a match between two imperilled teams struggling with Premier League gravity. Their tentative play was understandable.

The manner of the victory was of little concern to Bilic, whose side ended a run of five consecutive defeats and helped ease immediate fears about his own position.

There are numerous questions to be answered at the end of a disappointing campaign but the east Londoners should now retain their top-flight status. Their run-in, which includes trips to Stoke and Burnley, as well as visits to the London Stadium for Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool, suggest that if they were to stop the rot then at home to Swansea - who are still without a win since February 11 - was the place to do it.

The hosts enjoyed the best of the first half but the tension rose with the departure of Michail Antonio, who had also been withdrawn at half time at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening. The culprit then was illness, here it was his hamstring that forced him off after 40 minutes.

Antonio was replaced by Jonathan Calleri as Bilic opted not to risk Andy Carroll, who also left the field early in West Ham 3-0 reverse at Arsenal.

The first half saw chances for West Ham, most notably for Andre Ayew and Robert Snodgrass. The latter forced Lukasz Fabianski into an acrobatic intervention on the goal line. The Pole, however, could do little to prevent what turned out to be Kouyate's winner.

The Senegalese enjoyed a solid afternoon's work in his favoured midfield role and his low, powerful finish from 20 yards capped a rare move of fluency. West Ham captain Mark Noble, who was making his 400th appearance for his boyhood club, slipped the ball to Snodgrass with the outside of his foot and the Scot back-heeled the ball into the path of the onrushing Kouyate.

His spontaneous and relief-filled celebration - hugging West Ham fans in the first row - was deemed excessive and worthy of a yellow card. It was a crass interpretation of the law.

Swansea's remaining fixtures do not have the same ominous hue as West Ham's but few would currently back them to bag the necessary points. Defeat here leaves them in 18th place and two points from safety.

Paul Clement replaced Tom Carroll and Wayne Routledge after the interval with Fernando Llorente and Luciano Narsingh. They were later joined by Jefferson Montero when Jack Cork picked up an injury. The changes brought enough improvement to ensure that West Ham were never comfortable in their lead but the better chances still fell to the home side.

Ayew was twice denied by Fabianski, before being replaced by Soufiane Feghouli, while Calleri should have made it 2-0 when he was put through by Manuel Lanzini.

It was not to matter despite the fourth official indicating five minutes of additional time.

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