Tensions mount for Hammers and Baggies

Posted by Peter Thorne

West Ham were held to a draw against West Brom meaning they haven't won in six league games.PA PhotosWest Ham were held to a draw against West Brom meaning they haven't won in six league games.

Some say that football is a religion, the crowd are a congregation and that the stadiums are the church. Those people then would have been happy to hear the reverential silence that greeted Nicolas Anelka's two goals just before half-time that turned West Bromwich Albion's 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. Despite the cheers from the Baggies fans packed into the Trevor Brooking stand, the hush that descended on the home supporters was something I've rarely heard from an Upton Park crowd. When resignation is worse than anger, then you know you're in trouble.

• Report: West Ham 3-3 West Brom

This pulsating 3-3 draw had so many twists and turns, it was difficult to keep up with everything at times. But nothing could detract from the fact that this was a nervy affair between two teams low on confidence and short on flair. Every attack produced jitters, both on and off the field, and it says much that, although both sets of fans will be disappointed with a point, at 90 minutes both would have been happy to settle for what they had.

If indecision and nerves played a part on the pitch then you had only to look at what was decided off it, with Jussi Jaaskelainen returning between the posts for West Ham after previous custodian Adrian had gifted Arsenal their first goal on Boxing Day. As a decision it looked eminently sensible, but there was still a sense that Sam Allardyce wasn't entirely happy with either keeper and was perhaps hoping the 'rest' would boost the big Finn. Jussi couldn't be faulted for any of the goals, but it is apparent that any 'keeper is going to have trouble keeping a clean sheet behind this injury-wracked Hammers rear-guard.

The pattern of the game was decided early on with Chris Brunt's volley flying just wide for West Brom after good work by James Morrison. Brunt should really have done better and it looked as if the Midland’s club would pay when Joe Cole put the Hammers 1-0 up seconds later. The goal, nice interplay between Cole and Kevin Nolan after Carlton Cole had flicked on a Jaaskelainen goal-kick, was probably what you'd expect to arise from a mixture of Big Sam's more direct approach and the Academy attributes on which Joe Cole was weaned and, as the half progressed, West Ham looked good value for their 4th minute lead.

The pivotal part of the match though may have occurred after 10 minutes, when James Tomkins limped off to be replaced by Guy Demel; everyone is talking about West Ham's problems up-front but Allardyce now has no recognised centre-backs left to play and was forced to move George McCartney into the middle to partner Razvan Rat. West Ham's defensive core is now made up of converted full-backs.

Not that it seemed to matter for West Ham as they looked the more enterprising side for most of the first-half. It wasn't as if anything particularly decisive occurred, just that the home side looked a bit sprightlier and the visitor's devoid of ideas. Perhaps an unimportant part of play in the 32nd minute was a good indication of what was happening. A powder- puff West Brom attack was snuffed out by McCartney who played the ball back to his keeper, pointing to an unmarked Joey O'Brien wide for Jaaskelainen to pass the ball too. The keeper's pass was too fierce though and O'Brien struggled to maintain possession, happy to pass it sideways to colleagues under pressure as the West Brom forwards tried to hassle the West Ham defence, with the fans screaming to any player to boot it anywhere. At that point a Baggies player picked up the loose ball, looked up and allowed the intended cross to trickle out for a Hammers throw-in. "Good job they are as bad as us", someone commented. It just about summed the game up.

Carlton Cole came close with a shot on the turn that hit the outside of the post and then came Anelka's goals just before the break. Brunt's through ball past a static Hammers defence found the former Arsenal player and his slow toe-poke seemed to just roll into the net. The crowd were stunned but worse was to follow as the 45 minutes came up. Joe Cole -- despite fierce appeals by player and crowd -- was adjudged to have had last touch on a ball that Morrison had raced onto following a West Ham corner that broke for the opposition, Brunt's corner was headed on, Carlton Cole nudged it off the line to Anelka and the forward stabbed it over the line. The fact it was the Frenchman's first goals since joining West Brom only served to rub salt into the wound.

Confidence was low in the ground as the second-half started and the substitution of Modibo Maiga for Carlton Cole was met with almost utter indifference. "Maiga on? Well, that makes me feel better" one fan remarked as the half got under way. However, the Malian was to make an enormous contribution.

Firstly though, West Ham had to be resolute as West Brom attempted to take the game away from them. Anelka had a half-chance from close-in -- Jaaskelainen getting down easily -- before Saido Berahino shot low and just wide before Maiga struck. Just after the hour, Rat's high ball found the striker whose curling shot was superbly saved by Ben Foster in the West Brom goal, but Maiga wasn't to be denied. Five minutes later Cole and Nolan combined to allow the 26-year-old to shoot low from just outside the box, finding the corner with a deceptive bounce that, nevertheless, Foster should have done better with.

Two minutes later and West Ham were astonishingly 3-2 in front, pressure mounted as the Hammers played the ball in the penalty area before Maiga leapt to head down a Mark Noble cross allowing Nolan to poach a volley into the roof from a yard out. Suddenly the atmosphere changed as the home fans sensed a win -- but it was a short-lived expectation. Just two minutes later Berahino turned Demel in the box and struck a low shot that hit the far post and bounced in.

It could have been worse, the same player saw an excellent free-kick strike the woodwork after a poor Mo Diame tackle on the edge of the box. The final 10 minutes saw hearts in mouths as both sides tried to find a killer touch but instead managed to create mayhem in a series of rugby-type scrums, the ball flying about with little purpose and no end result, but always with the fear that someone was going to make a vital mistake. Fortunately for both sets of fans though, further worries were avoided.

As I mentioned previously, these 'must win' games have an annoying tendency to drift into draws and it's unlikely either manager will be happy with this scoreline. Of more concern though is the attitude of the Hammers fans who are starting to turn as crisis follows calamity. The injury list is mounting and two vitally important league games against Fulham and Sunderland are due. Supporters desperately need the boost a good signing can make and few can stand much more of the nerve-shredding tension this match racked up. This transfer window is crucial.


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