Noble saves Hammers with penalty prize

It was the proverbial game of two halves at Molineux as West Ham hit back to grab a point

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 West Ham United 1

MARK NOBLE’S second-half, spot-kick leveller may have extended the Hammers unbeaten run to five matches but in the final reckoning, a solitary point was little use to either side in this early-season basement battle writes STEVE BLOWERS.

Certainly, both teams could have laid claim to victory in a classic game of two halves that saw Matt Jarvis give Wolves a deserved interval lead, before a trip on Victor Obinna enabled the East Enders to equalise and then go agonisingly close to claiming all three points.

The bottom-placed Hammers had arrived in the murky Midlands looking for their first Premier League away win since the opening day of last season, when they ironically won 2-0 at Molineux.

But 22 awaydays on, Avram Grant’s men found 19th-placed Wolves a totally different proposition to the side they had so easily swept aside last time around.

Mick McCarthy had made just one change from the team that had lost to Wigan Athletic a fortnight ago, as David Jones replaced the suspended Karl Henry, whose early red card at the DW Stadium had opened a nationwide debate on tough-tactics in the run-up to this clash.

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And not even the early departure of an awkwardly-falling Jody Craddock after just five minutes could disrupt the hosts, who took the lead on 10 minutes, when the Hammers spurned several chances to clear the danger, before Jarvis cleverly hooked Wolves into the lead from ten yards, after Robert Green punched the overlapping Stephen Ward’s cross into his path.

Having come into this game on the back of a four-match undefeated run, that was certainly an early shock to the system for a West Ham United side that had made two switches from the team that had drawn against Fulham, as Tal Ben Haim and Kieron Dyer came in for Matthew Upson (neck) and Pablo Barrera, who had only just returned from international duty with Mexico.

Indeed, with the home celebrations still subsiding, it could have got yet worse for the visitors as Ward’s angled 15-yarder was then clawed away at full stretch by Green.

At the other end, the Hammers were threatening little and, after substitute Richard Stearman out-muscled the escaping Obinna, thereby enabling Marcus Hahnemann to snatch the ball off the striker’s studs, Frederic Piquionne then saw his looping header easily fielded by the American stopper.

On the half-hour mark, Kevin Doyle’s low centre into the danger-zone only needed a touch before Ben Haim cleared at the expense of a corner, before Steven Fletcher’s clever nod goalwards was clawed off the head of Stearman by Green.

More frantic goalmouth scrambles ensued and, with his side firmly on the back foot, an excruciatingly painful first-half for the Hammers was defined by Kevin Foley’s point-blank shot into the groin area of the pole-axed Danny Gabbidon.

But seven minutes after the restart, it was Foley, who was feeling the hurt, when he recklessly clipped Obinna inside the penalty box and, cool as you like, Noble sent a no-nonsense spot-kick under Hahnemann’s right-hand angle as the keeper dived the opposite way.

Buoyed by their unexpected leveller, West Ham then saw Piquionne race on to Luis Boa Morte’s through ball and thump a powerful 18-yarder onto the crossbar as the home fans amongst the crowd of 28,582 breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Midway through the half, the dancing Dyer waltzed through the Wolves defence before inviting Obinna to unleash a low 10-yarder that was deflected inches wide.

Although Stearman had headed a whisker past the post, the home side had well and truly lost the initiative and, with a quarter-hour remaining, Obinna cracked another stinging 20-yarder into Hahnemann’s gloves.

Sensing a chance to snatch all three points, Grant then pitched Carlton Cole into the fray as the disappointed Dyer departed to appreciative applause from the visiting fans and, after finding himself just a stud away from prodding home, the substitute striker then juggled the ball goalwards before being denied by the well-placed Hahnemann.

And in the final moments, the consequently cautioned Piquionne forced the ball into the net but referee Mark Clattenberg ruled out what looked like a last-gasp winner for handball, leaving the Frenchman vehemently protesting that he had merely controlled with his chest before slotting home.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS: Hahnemann, Ward, Craddock (Stearman 5), Mancienne, Berra, Jarvis, Foley, Jones, Edwards (Ebanks-Blake 87), Doyle, Fletcher (Van Damme 67). Unused: Hennessey, Elokobi, Bent, Milijas.

HAMMERS: Green, Jacobsen, Ben Haim, Gabbidon, Da Costa, Dyer (Cole 76), Parker, Noble, Boa Morte, Piquionne, Obinna. Unused Subs: Stech, Tomkins, McCarthy, Faubert, Behrami, Ilunga.

Referee: Mark Clattenberg. Attendance: 28,582.

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