Defence are working Rover-time for point
Blackburn Rovers 1 West Ham Utd 1 GOALSCORER Mark Noble summed up just what many of his fellow West Ham fans had been thinking after Saturday s battling 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers – Six months ago we would have lost our last two
Blackburn Rovers 1 West Ham Utd 1
GOALSCORER Mark Noble summed up just what many of his fellow West Ham fans had been thinking after Saturday's battling 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers - "Six months ago we would have lost our last two games!" - writes DAVE EVANS.
He was absolutely right. The draws against West Brom and Rovers may have enabled Wigan to overtake the Hammers and move into seventh place, as well as giving Fulham a chance to close the gap, but two points out of six could have been a whole lot worse.
"We've got a lot of problems at the moment with injuries," reflected Noble. "Diego Tristan made his first start in about eight months, Luis Boa Morte has had a hamstring injury and 'Specs' hasn't played for a long while, but as you know we are still battling hard and picking up points."
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Gianfranco Zola's patched-up team gave their all at an intimidating Ewood Park. James Tomkins and Lucas Neill were superb in the absence of Matty Upson, while Noble himself was excellent in a slightly more advanced midfield role.
Rovers illustrated why they are struggling against relegation in the first half of this match. They had plenty of possession, but it was the Hammers who looked much more likely to score when they broke with pace.
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El Hadji Diouf had the ball in the net in the first half, but was well offside, while both Benni McCarthy and Morten Gamst Pedersen were denied by blocks from Neill and Tomkins respectively, but it was at the other end where the real action took place.
David Di Michele shot straight at Paul Robinson after a fine passing move engineered by Noble, while another Noble cross caused chaos between the keeper and Chris Samba. If Tristan had been more alert, he would have poked it home instead of watching the proceedings as if he was sitting in the stand behind the goal.
On 32 minutes, Di Michele broke quickly and fed Boa Morte, but when the winger found Tristan in acres of space he was wrongly adjudged to be offside - though his shot was saved in any case.
Three minutes later the linesman got it wrong again. This time Noble sprinted from inside his own half before releasing the fractionally offside Boa Morte with a superb pass which the Portuguese winger pulled back for Tristan. He dabbed it back into the path of Noble and the midfielder fired into the far corner with the outside of his boot.
It was another magnificent team goal; reminiscent of the strike at Wigan, and Sam Allardyce's whining over Boa Morte being a fraction offside was lost on Zola.
"Mark Noble scored a very good goal," said the boss. "To be honest, I didn't expect it because I thought that he was crossing the ball!"
Allardyce changed things at the break, bringing on midfielder Keith And-rews for defender Andre Ooijer and it did the trick within six minutes of the restart.
Pedersen's long throw was only partially cleared by Herita Ilunga's header as he tangled with Neill, and Andrews was on hand to drill the ball low through a crowd of players and into the corner of the net.
The crowd came to life, cheering and chanting instead of the endless booing of former Rover Neill, and the ridiculous calls of handball whenever the ball went near the body of a West Ham player.
The Hammers knew they must have been in for a frantic last 40 minutes and so it proved, but it is much to their credit that they managed to weather the storm.
McCarthy nodded down for Pedersen to fire wide with Green motionless, while two minutes later Jason Roberts' header found Samba, whose shot was superbly saved by the West Ham keeper. Diouf fired in the rebound, but once again he was well offside, despite his protests.
At least four times the magnificent Tomkins hurled his body in front of a shot to keep Rovers at bay, while Neill also put himself on the line as the pressure continued.
Tomkins was beaten for once by McCarthy on the left flank, but when the striker crossed low the ball evaded everyone, including the well-placed Diouf on the far post.
It seemed only a matter of time before Rovers grabbed the winner, but Zola brought on Walter Lopez and Kieron Dyer and their fresh legs and pace took the momentum out of the home side and allowed the Hammers to see out the remaining minutes.
Indeed, West Ham could even have nicked the points, as first Tristan ballooned a shot well over the bar and then Dyer causing Samba all sorts of problems, the defender wrestling him to the ground in the box.
The referee waved play on, but Zola wasn't so sure: "I thought it might have been a penalty when Kieron Dyer was challenged by Christopher Samba - it was very close," he said.
What he was sure of was that this was an excellent performance by his injury-savaged side.
"I think that I am happier with today than Sam Allardyce. When you look at all the problems we have injury-wise and with players not being 100 per cent fit, I have to consider this to be a very good result," said the manager.
"Our defending was really, really good today but, to be honest, you have to play like that because Blackburn Rovers put so many big bodies into the box. So many big ones!
"In the second half, Blackburn had the momentum. They kept getting the ball back and putting it in the box. It was very difficult in those conditions and it became a very tiring game. After half-time we just couldn't set the tone and that was the difference."
Despite all that, West Ham held on for a valuable point. There were still problems; Tristan showed that he is not up to the job of back-up striker, Radoslav Kovac continues to baffle as to what his role in the team is, while Di Michele continues to frustrate with his ability to give the ball away so cheaply.
West Ham's strike partnership on Saturday had an amazing 66 years between them, surely the oldest combination in a Premier League renowned for being a young man's game.
However, most fans would have settled for a point at Ewood Park, and after Rovers equalised so early in the second half, few would have predicted with any confidence that they would get one.
West Ham: Green, Spector, Ilunga, Tomkins, Neill, Noble, Kovac, Parker, Boa Morte (Lopez 79), Di Michele (Dyer 82), Tristan (Payne 90). Unused subs: Lastuvka, Sears, N'Gala, Stanislas.
Attendance: 21,672. Referee: Chris Foy.