Julien Faubert (left) and Zavon Hines celebrate West Ham's dramatic late winner
By Les Roopanarine
A thrilling last-gasp victory over 10-man Aston Villa hauled West Ham out of the Premier League drop zone for the first time since late September.
Mark Noble converted a West Ham penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Ashley Young had a spot kick saved by Robert Green just after the break, but levelled soon afterwards with a curling effort that was more cross than shot.
Habib Beye saw red late in the game before substitute Zavon Hines prodded home from close range at the death.
After a torrid start to the campaign, West Ham's first home victory in the Premier League this season - and first league win anywhere since the opening day - should do much to lighten the mood in E13.
But Villa manager Martin O'Neill will be desperately disappointed by his side's failure to reap greater benefit from a first-half spell in which West Ham were twice forced to regroup in the wake of injuries at both ends of the pitch.
Defensive lapses have repeatedly proved costly for West Ham since James Collins' defection to Villa two months ago, a situation which manager Gianfranco Zola sought to address by drafting in Julien Faubert and Manuel Da Costa, for Jonathan Spector and James Tomkins respectively.
But the Hammers were thrown into early disarray when left-back Herita Ilunga pulled up with a hamstring problem, ending Spector's demotion to the bench after just eight minutes.
The resulting reshuffle seemed to unsettle West Ham and encourage Villa in roughly equal measure.
Zola's side had started in auspicious fashion, creating an early shooting opportunity for Noble before Jack Collison's weaving run allowed Noble to test Brad Friedel with a meaty low drive.
But Villa regained the initiative with a succession of corners, and gained further momentum when Carlton Cole - like Ilunga before him - pulled up clutching his hamstring, paving the way for the introduction of Hines.
Zola 'delighted' with home win
Stiliyan Petrov and Gabriel Agbonlahor both forced Green to palm over, but Villa's dominance proved fruitless - and with the interval approaching they were made to pay for their profligacy.
Scott Parker, who delivered an authoritative performance in midfield on his return from suspension, found Guillermo Franco just inside the final third, and the quick-thinking Mexico international released Hines.
As Hines sprinted goal-wards with Beye in hot pursuit, the Villa defender thrust an arm into the youngster's back, upending Hines and prompting referee Steve Bennett to award a penalty.
Noble made no mistake, smashing the ball high to Friedel's right, but Villa were unhappy with Bennett's decision and there were heated exchanges as the players headed for the tunnel, resulting in yellow cards for both Young and Collins.
The drama continued after the break as Villa rapidly won a spot kick of their own.
O'Neill disappointed to drop points
Contesting a high ball with Collins on the edge of the area, Da Costa's heels clipped the back of his former team-mate's head, prompting Bennett to award what looked a harsh penalty.
West Ham's protests had scarcely subsided when Young stepped up, firing low to Green's left only to watch in dismay as the England keeper extended a firm hand to claw the ball away.
With England manager Fabio Capello watching from the stands, it was a moment to send Green's international stock rising and Young's hopes of a World Cup place plummeting.
But football offers infinite chances for redemption, and three minutes later Young atoned for his error in spectacularly unpredictable fashion.
The winger posed no obvious threat when he rounded Valon Behrami from a position deep on the left wing, but his curling cross swept unerringly into Green's top left-hand corner.
West Ham responded vigorously, setting up a frantic finale which saw Beye dismissed for a second bookable offence after upending Spector.
Beye was the second Villa right-back to see red in successive games following Carlos Cuellar's weekend dismissal at Everton, but there was worse to come for O'Neill's side.
With seconds of stoppage time remaining, West Ham mounted another desperate attack, Parker leading the charge into the Villa area.
On an evening that will have given Capello plenty of food for thought, the England man wriggled through the Villa defence to find Hines, whose flicked shot eluded a cluster of static defenders before nestling in the back of Friedel's net.
As the delirium of an unlikely victory gripped Upton Park, West Ham's financial woes and the recent news of Alan Curbishley's victory in his case against the club for constructive dismissal briefly seemed unimportant.
For Villa, failure to win a game that might have lifted them into fourth place will have seemed anything but.
West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola: "I'm delighted with the win, but I expect to get three points more regularly.
"It was a massive win, because the confidence it will give to the players will be big.
"I looked at the video of the penalty, and it said it was a definite penalty."
Villa boss Martin O'Neill: "I was disappointed by the result, but nothing surprises me in football.
"We should have got something from the game, but we didn't.
"I thought when we equalised we might take the game, so I'm particularly disappointed to lose all three points in the fashion that we did."
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