Hammers denied by last gasp equaliser

Everton 2 West Ham United 2

THE HEARTBROKEN, hard-working Hammers finally had to settle for a point following an afternoon of Merseyside mayhem at Goodison Park, writes STEVE BLOWERS.

Jonathan Spector gave Avram Grant’s side a well-earned interval lead with his fourth strike of the season but, after substitute Diniyar Bilyaletdinov hit back with a 77th-minute equaliser, Frederic Piquionne looked to have headed West Ham United to a late victory.

But the French international’s joy at netting his eighth goal of the campaign was short-lived, when he consequently collected a yellow card for prematurely over-celebrating the fact that he had all but lifted his side out of the bottom three.

And then in injury time Marouane Fellaini rescued an unlikely late, late point for an elated Everton side to leave the Grant still rooted in bottom spot.

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After the men in suits had finally assured him of his place in the Hammers hot-seat - for the time being at least – the Israeli made a trio of changes from the team that had lost to Arsenal last weekend, as Piquionne, Scott Parker and Luis Boa Morte returned in place of Carlton Cole, Radoslav Kovac and substitute Freddie Sears.

And having recovered from dental surgery, Piquionne almost extracted first blood with a rising, angled, 12-yard screamer that just failed to fill the net.

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Shortly afterwards, Parker picked out Mark Noble, whose clever chip cleared both Tim Howard and the crossbar to give the small band of vociferous visiting fans amongst the crowd of 34,179 some early encouragement.

Add in a trio of offside flags plus another Piquionne skier and it was clear that West Ham were intent on taking the game to a 12th-placed Everton side, who were unchanged following last Sunday’s draw with neighbours Liverpool. On 18 minutes, though, it took a brilliant block by James Tomkins to deny Jermaine Beckford 12-yards out and, shortly afterwards, the Everton striker was denied by an equally timely tackle by Matthew Upson after Mikel Arteta finally set about breaching West Ham’s resistant rearguard.

The well-placed Hammers skipper also blocked Sylvain Distin’s 15-yarder but only one team looked like breaking the deadlock.

Sure enough, on 26 minutes Noble sent Boa Morte legging it down the left flank and after outpacing Seamus Coleman and drawing Howard to the near post, the Portuguese playmaker cut back to Spector who blasted the ball past Distin and John Heitinga from 12 yards.

Having taken that richly-deserved lead, West Ham could have doubled their advantage shortly afterwards but the back-pedalling Everton keeper managed to claim Piquionne’s cheeky chip.

Then seven minutes before the break, the French international came even closer, when Noble nonchalantly sprayed the ball to Spector, whose inch-perfect right-wing centre was nodded onto the base of Howard’s right-hand post by Piquionne, who could only look on in horror as the effort bobbled back across goal to safety.

With Parker already booked for upending an escaping Arteta, Fellaini’s caution for scything Spector did little to appease the Merseyside moans that soon turned to boos as Everton departed at the break having also seen Boa Morte’s tap-in, rightfully, ruled out for offside.

David Moyes brought on Louis Saha for the restart in place of Beckford as Everton kicked off the second half showing far more drive and desire than they had done in the previous 45 minutes.

A couple of early corners, Victor Anichebe’s penalty appeal and a saving header from the terrific Tomkins, who nodded the ball away from the in-rushing Coleman, were all danger signals in their own right, while at the other end, West Ham gradually regained a footing on the contest.

On the hour, Spector sent a rising shot inches over before Parker rifled a stinging effort through the chilly, grey Goodison Park air into Howard’s gloves and after the falling Zavon Hines fired a volley inches behind, Moyes replaced Anichebe with Bilyaletdinov.

The Russian sub took just ten minutes to torpedo the Hammers when he drilled a low, 18-yarder back through the pack to claim his first goal of the season, after the leaping Piquionne failed to get any contact on Fellaini’s header back towards the edge of the area.

With Sears replacing the tiring Hines, Piquionne was then cautioned for fouling Bilyaletdinov and having just seen yellow, the West Ham striker was now about to become the focal point of proceedings.

Indeed, when a half-cleared Hammers corner saw Wayne Bridge cross to the far post, the soaring Piquionne arrived right on cue to head the ball under Howard’s right-hand angle and restore the visitors’ lead with just five minutes remaining.

But after celebrating with the happy Hammers fans, he emerged through a line of luminous stewards’ jackets to see referee Peter Walton brandishing a second yellow card and with ten-man West Ham now desperately holding on, Sears strangely departed as quickly as he had arrived.

Subbing the substitute, Grant hurled on Winston Reid in a bid to repel a late blue tide but with no strikers on the pitch it was now a case of the East Enders against the clock and two minutes into stoppage time, Fellaini popped up at the far post to rescue an unlikely, undeserved draw for Everton that still leaves the Israeli in the drop zone.

EVERTON: Howard, Neville (Rodwell 86), Baines, Heitinga, Distin, Coleman, Osman, Fellaini, Arteta, Beckford (Saha h/t), Anichebe (Bilyaletdinov 67). Unused: Mucha, Hibbert, Jagielka, Gueye.

HAMMERS: Green, Faubert, Bridge, Tomkins, Upson, Hines (Sears 81)(Reid 89), Noble, Parker, Spector, Boa Morte, Piquionne. Unused: Boffin, Gabbidon, Barrera, McCarthy, Nouble.

Referee: Peter Walton. Attendance: 34,179

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