Baggies end run of three defeats with hard-fought draw
ALBION ended a run of three successive defeats with a hard-fought draw.
The Baggies shaded this tightest of encounters and no-one would have argued had they secured a first win in four after the luckless James Morrison twice hit the woodwork after the break.
Steve Clarke would have taken heart from both the performance and a first clean sheet in seven games as his side moved level on points with fifth-placed Everton.
Sixth entertained 11th in today’s live TV encounter, with the newly-promoted Hammers, who have made an excellent start to life back in the top flight, just four points behind the Baggies.
Clarke made two enforced changes for the visit of the club where he assisted Gianfranco Zola between 2008 and 2010.
Injured duo Liam Ridgewell and Steven Reid both made way for Goran Popov and Billy Jones. The Hawthorns encounter also came too soon for Ben Foster (groin) and Claudio Yacob (hamstring).
Sam Allardyce made one change – also enforced – as Gary O’Neil came in for the injured Mohamed Diame. The Hammers boss also named only six substitutes.
Albion started well and a flowing move spearheaded by Peter Odemwingie in the fourth minute forced Winston Reid into an acrobatic near-post clearance to deny Shane Long a simple header from Chris Brunt’s left-wing centre.
A minute later, the East Londoners created their first moment of note when Matthew Taylor looped a header onto the roof of Boaz Myhill’s net from Carlton’s Cole’s diagonal ball.
Albion kept prodding and probing for an early breakthrough and won a free-kick in a dangerous position on 13. However, Brunt could only hammer the opportunity into the West Ham wall.
Two minutes later, Odemwingie created room for a shot 25 yards out and Jussi Jaaskelainen did well to clutch the Nigerian’s awkward drive, which bounced right in front of him.
A moment of sloppiness from Albion enabled Taylor to get in behind the Baggies defence on 17 but the former Portsmouth player’s low centre was easily dealt with by Myhill.
Albion were being forced to work hard to get any change out of the Hammers defence and after a long period of possession, Morrison dragged a shot wide from 25 yards.
But the Baggies were getting closer and Long beat Jaaskelainen all end ups with a low left-footed drive from just inside the box which crept inches wide of the near post. Long had created the opening by collecting Jones’ lay-off and skipping past Mark Noble.
Brunt was the next to try his luck on the half-hour mark and the skipper sent a rising 30-yarder into Jaaskelainen’s midriff.
However, West Ham underlined their potency from set-pieces by almost snatching a 32nd-minute lead when Reid swivelled in the Baggies’ six-yard box to hook over James Collins’ knock-down from Noble’s corner.
Back came Albion and Long turned Reid on the edge of the West Ham box from the lively Zoltan Gera’s pass before shooting wide from 20 yards.
Myhill was called on to make his first difficult save of the game on 36 when he pushed away Cole’s fierce 20-yard effort after the Baggies had conceded possession deep inside their own half.
That proved the final action of a tame first 45 – but Albion stormed out of the blocks after the break, winning four corners in quick succession.
Morrison was unlucky to see his improvised volley clip the top of the bar after Gera had nodded Brunt’s deep flag-kick into the danger-zone.
Moments later, Morrison could only miscue an inviting volley harmlessly wide after Gera had again directed a Brunt corner to a team-mate.
On 51, it was the visitors’ turn to go close when O’Neil curled a delicious 20-yarder inches wide from Matt Jarvis’ tee-up.
Neat Albion build-up then created a shooting chance for Youssouf Mulumbu but the central midfielder side-footed wide from the edge of the box.
At the other end, Kevin Nolan swivelled and shot well wide after Cole had bundled Jarvis’ free-kick into his path.
This was a tight contest to call and Albion were relieved to see Reid head wide at the near post from Noble’s corner.
Back came Albion and Gera tested Jaaskelainen with a 25-yard rocket which swerved all over the place. The ex-Bolton keeper could only parry the shot but the rebound fell behind Long, who directed a tame effort straight back at him.
Albion were getting plenty of joy from Odemwingie running at right-back Guy Demel and Reid did well to turn over a dangerous centre from the ex-Lille forward. From Brunt’s ensuing corner, Gera rose highest but headed over.
West Ham threatened next on 68 when Joey O’Brien, at full stretch, sent a terrific volley just over from Noble’s deep free-kick.
There was agony at the other end when the unmarked Mulumbu attempted a cheeky back-heel in the box in an attempt to find a team-mate instead of going for goal after being found in acres of space by Gera.
And that feeling intensified on 74 when Morrison crashed a terrific header against the bar from Brunt’s corner.
Clarke made his first change on 75 when he replaced the excellent Gera with Romelu Lukaku.
Albion kept pushing for a breakthrough and put the Hammers’ goal under concerted pressure in the dying stages.
But despite all their endeavour, Albion could not unlock the Hammers’ defence and their last chance came and went when sub Markus Rosenberg blasted a 20-yard free-kick into the wall.
The Baggies had one final scare when a long Jaasekelainen punt fell neatly for Cole on the edge of the area, but Myhill was equal to the England striker’s half-volley.
ALBION (4-4-2): Myhill; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Popov; Gera (Lukaku 75), Morrison, Mulumbu, Brunt (c); Odemwingie, Long (Rosenberg 83). Subs not used: L Daniels (gk), Dorrans, Fortune, Tamas, Dawson.
WEST HAM (4-3-2): Jaaskelainen; Demel (Tomkins 81), Reid, Collins, O’Brien; O'Neil, Noble, Nolan; Taylor, Cole, Jarvis (Maiga 76). Subs not used: Spiegel (gk), Spence, Moncur, Lletget.
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Jones (foul 74), Mulumbu (unsporting behaviour 84), Olsson (dissent 90+4). WEST HAM – O’Brien (foul 30), Nolan (unsporting behaviour 84), Tomkins (foul 86).
REFEREE: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
ALBION STARMAN: Zoltan Gera.