Five in a row as West Ham held by Middlesbrough
Championship: West Ham United 1 Middlesbrough 1
The Hammers were held to a fifth successive home draw at Upton Park, where Sam Allardyce’s side threw away a glorious chance to regain an automatic promotion place at the expense of Reading.
After a blank first half, Abdoulaye Faye’s freak header looked to have got West Ham back to winning ways in this hard-fought encounter but the defender’s first-ever goal for the club was wiped out by substitute Bart Ogbeche, whose 83rd-minute leveller that condemned Big Sam’s side to their fourth 1-1 draw on the spin.
Kicking-off in third place with 67 points, Allardyce’s troops had extended their unbeaten streak to eight matches with a late, late leveller of their own at Leeds United on Saturday and, after seeing his side rescue that point, the Hammers boss had made just one switch as Carlton Cole came in for the benched Jack Collison in an attacking 4-4-2 line-up.
Joint top-scorer, Kevin Nolan was also invited to link-up with the Hammers strike-duo at every opportunity but it was the visitors, who enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges with the breaking Kevin Thomson seeing an early shot loop just wide off fortress Faye, while Adam Hammill also tried a couple of efforts from range, too.
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A 0-3 reverse at Birmingham City at the weekend left Boro in sixth-spot, eight points behind the Hammers and, following their Midlands mauling, Tony Mowbray had made two changes as Richard Smallwood and Marvin Emnes replaced substitutes Tony McMahon and Julio Arca.
Midway through the half, clever footwork by the recalled Emnes allowed Lukas Jutkiewicz to unleash a low 18-yarder but, yet again, Faye stood firm and the ball ricocheted to safety.
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Apart from seeing Matt Taylor’s low, angled shot blocked, the Hammers had conjured up little to threaten Jason Steele but, on 25 minutes, Maynard finally scorched the visiting keeper’s gloves with a sizzling 25-yarder that was gratefully grappled into the turf.
At last, West Ham were discovering some initiative and impetus as Mark Noble fired inches wide and then a whisker over, while the overlapping Joey O’Brien saw Steele claw an unexpected shot out from the base of his near post.
James Tomkins then saw his goal-bound header blocked by the shoulder of Matthew Bates as his desperate cries for a penalty fell on the deaf ears of referee Scott Mathieson, while Cole’s cracking curler was just too high.
Even George McCartney – encouraged by his collector’s item conversion at Cardiff City – attempted a low bobbler but Steele comfortably denied him a fourth career goal to keep it goalless at the interval.
Just after the restart, Nicky Bailey and Emnes quickly drew Robert Green into the action, while at the other end, Maynard chipped onto the roof of the net.
With news filtering through that second-placed Reading were trailing at plucky Peterborough United, East End expectations were rising just like the wayward Tomkins’ shot that flew high into the Bobby Moore Stand.
As the claret and blue fans in the crowd of 27,250 showed their impatience at the midfielder’s ambitious effort to put his side into the lead, Big Sam strode into the technical area and demanded that his side simply calm down.
Taking his time, Nolan then saw an angled shot cannon into Bates’ shins but with West Ham lacking the creativity to carve through Boro’s five-man midfield chances were becoming few and far between, once more.
But midway through the half, the Hammers eventually broke the deadlock in bizarre fashion, when McCartney launched a distant, diagonal ball from his left-back position, deep into the Boro box.
Outjumping Joe Bennett 12 yards out, the fortuitous Faye merely looked to be nodding into the direction of the supporting Cole but nobody was complaining, when the ball looped over the stranded Steele and under the far angle.
The embarrassed, shocked Senegal defender capped his hands over his mouth, while the Boleyn Ground erupted in delight at seeing him open his Hammers account with what looked like the winner.
There should have been yet more cheers as Tomkins saw his header tipped onto the bar and Taylor hooked wide from close range but instead it proved to be another night of jeers, when late substitute Ogbeche collected the ball on the edge of the area before unleashing a curling 18-yarder that flew in-off Green’s right-hand post to equalise.
That late leveller denied the Hammers a return to the top two but it could have been yet worse in the dying moments, when Jutkiewicz had a shot deflected onto the bar and party-pooper Ogbeche unleashed another rocket that McCartney somehow blocked on the line.
HAMMERS: Green, O’Brien, McCartney, Collins, Faye, Taylor, Noble (Baldock 86), Tomkins, Nolan, Maynard (Collison 71), Cole (Carew 71). Unused: Lansbury, Morrison.
BORO: Steele, Hoyte, Bennett, Bates, Hines, Emnes (Zemmama 76), Hamill, Smallwood (Martin 80), Thomson (Ogbeche 80), Bailey, Jutkiewicz. Unused: Arca, McMahon.
Referee: Scott Mathieson.