Hammers let it slip at freezing Fratton Park
Portsmouth 1 West Ham United 1 NEW OWNERS David Gold and David Sullivan have already declared that money s too tight to mention, writes STEVE BLOWERS. And goals and points were hardly in abundance either, at freezing Fratton Park on Tuesday evening, wher
Portsmouth 1 West Ham United 1
NEW OWNERS David Gold and David Sullivan have already declared that money's too tight to mention, writes STEVE BLOWERS.
And goals and points were hardly in abundance either, at freezing Fratton Park on Tuesday evening, where Matthew Upson's deflected 52nd-minute opener was wiped out by Danny Webber's equaliser with a quarter-hour remaining.
"We played a good game and it's getting better and better, but I haven't taken the result very well," admitted a disappointed Gianfranco Zola after seeing Hammers first match under the fresh regime return just a solitary point to the club's new investors. "It was a very important match because we were playing a team behind us in the table so it was also vital not to lose.
"Portsmouth fought hard until the very end, but I also think we deserved something more from the game.
"I'm pleased with the players I have and I can only praise them for their attitude and the way they're playing," continued the Hammers boss, heading off full-time speculation that goal-getters Benni McCarthy and Eidur Gudjo-hnsen are Upton Park-bound.
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"Maybe we'll have some more quality in the future and that'll benefit everybody, but whoever comes in, will have to show the same attitude because that's the key to success."
Looking for their first away win since the opening day victory at Wolver-hampton Wanderers, the Hammers, in 16th spot, made just one change from the side that drew at Aston Villa as Alessandro Diamanti came in for Scott Parker (hamstring).
That meant a repeat of the 4-5-1 formation that had served Zola so well at Villa Park and, again, Frank Nouble was asked to go it alone up front, although this time the Italian did have the welcome comfort of the fit-again, seven-goal, Carlton Cole all ready to step up from the bench.
And as the travelling band of visiting supporters opened proceedings with a cheeky chant of 'We've got more debts than you!' the young striker wasted no time in using his raw strength to steamroller along cash-strapped Pompey's by-line and fire over a cross that the well-placed Asmir Begovic gratefully held at the near post.
During a sluggish ope-ning, Valon Behrami also sent a 20-yard snap-shot high and wide, while Diamanti's woefully wayward effort from similar range posed more threat to Solent shipping than the Portsmouth keeper.
The New Year cold-snap had meant that, so far, bottom-placed Pompey had been restr-icted to FA Cup football only in 2010, and after back-to-back wins over Coventry and Sunder-land, Avram Grant made a trio of changes from the side that had progre-ssed into the fifth round, with victory over the Black Cats at the weekend.
Ex-Hammer Hayden Mullins, Angelos Basinas and Steve Finnan came in for Papa Bouba Diop, Michael Brown and substitute Anthony Vanden Borre, who took his place on injury-hit Portsmouth's reduced six-man bench.
On 18 minutes, Pompey mustered up their first serious raid of the evening, when Hermann Hreidarsson sent an awkward low cross into the six-yard box, where Frederic Piquionne was only a bootlace away from breaking the deadlock.
With the game now bursting into life, the impressive Behrami soon responded by sending Nouble striding clear, but the rookie striker's shot cannoned off the legs of Begovic, who recovered to parry Diamanti's follow-up.
At the other end, Robert Green was in equally defiant mood as he stretched to tip Aaron Mokoena's low 20-yarder around the base of his right-hand post and when the consequent corner was met by Younes Kaboul, Mark Noble was on hand to clear the goalbound volley off the line.
Moments later, Jack Collison carved his way deep into Portsmouth territory, where he played a neat one-two with Nouble, before h unleashed a low 15-yarder that Begovic brilliantly palmed to safety to the dismay and disappointment of the Wales international, who surely thought that he had made the breakthrough in a first-half that, curiously, was subsequently devoid of any more real chances.
Seven minutes into the second half, though, West Ham took the lead with a goal that was as messy as the club's finances, when Diamanti clipped the ball towards the far post, where Kaboul, having climbed with Upson, saw the ball loop back off his head and clear Begovic, on its way into the net.
Buoyed by that opener, the breaking Behrami then fired across goal and, shortly afterwards, Basinas was booked for felling the Swiss international as he embarked upon another gallop forward.
"I thought we had control of the game and I couldn't see them scoring because we were defending so well," declared Zola, who later saw Mokoena cautioned for tripping Behrami, too. "Going forward we were creating chances and I really was expecting us to score another goal."
On the hour, Noble also saw yellow for tugging back Kevin-Prince Boateng, who was then booked for dissent, shortly afterwards.
Midway through the second period, Marc Wilson wastefully headed over from point-blank range, while at the other end, the tireless Nouble was thwarted by Begovic's legs for a second time.
With 20 minutes remaining, Julien Faubert's slip left Boateng with an age to pick his spot, but the midfielder merely succeeded in compounding the agony for Pompey's frost-bitten fans, when he sent his low 15-yarder just an inch or so wide.
That was the cue for Grant to bring on Webber for Piquionne, while Zola introduced Cole in place of the understandably tiring Nouble.
"It's very good to see Carlton Cole come back," confirmed Zola. "It was important to give him a few minutes, but it was also difficult to take off Frank Nouble because he really played well and I was delighted with his performance."
Sadly for the Hammers, though, it was the Pompey switch that was to have an instant impact.
With just a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, the climbing Boateng, arms everywhere, pole-axed James Tomkins as he nodded down for John Utaka, whose inch-perfect pass sent Webber behind the pushed-up Hammers defence and the substitute coolly swept the ball beyond the hopelessly-exposed Green to rescue a precious point for Pompey.
West Ham: Green, Faubert, Upson, Tomkins (Da Costa 79), Spector, Behrami, Kovac, Noble, Collison, Diamanti (Stanislas 87) Nouble (Cole 73). Unused subs: Stech, Daprela, Jimenez, Sears.
Att: 18,322. Referee: Andre Marriner (6).