West Ham set for play-offs after disappointing draw
Championship: Bristol City 1 West Ham United 1
Bristol City 1 West Ham 1
West Ham United must surely now do it the hard way if they are to make it back to the promised land of the Premier League at the first attempt following this disappointing draw at rain-lashed Ashton Gate.
While the mathematicians cannot put their calculators away just yet, with the Hammers trailing second-placed Southampton by five points with just two games to play, Sam Allardyce’s side will almost certainly have to endure a trio of nail-biting play-off matches if they are to return to the top flight.
It had looked like West Ham were going to keep up the pressure on the Saints, when James Tomkins headed the Hammers ahead on 26 minutes with his fourth goal of the season but Cole Skuse levelled on the half-hour mark to break the hopeful hearts of the 1,866 travelling fans.
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Having seen his side record their best win since January 1998 just three days earlier, Allardyce made two enforced changes from the team that had hit Brighton & Hove Albion for six on Saturday, as Danny Collins and City old boy Nicky Maynard came in for Gary O’Neil (groin) and Carlton Cole (knee).
Looking to notch a record breaking 13th away-day win, the Hammers spent the opening period in the City half, where the marauding Maynard ignored the hostile reception that awaited his return to the club he left in January by unleashing an early shot that was charged down, while Tomkins’ downward header was smothered by Dean Gerken, too.
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Matthew Taylor and Ricardo Vaz Te also sent low shots skidding across the greasy Ashton Gate grass and wide but with the Robins rocking, a West Ham opener looked inevitable.
Sure enough, on 26 minutes, yet another foul on the much-maligned Maynard saw Mark Noble deliver an inch-perfect left-wing free-kick on to the head of Tomkins, who expertly nodded home from 10 yards to give the Hammers a richly-deserved lead.
A 2-2 draw at Birmingham City on Saturday had left the Robins perched precariously in 21st spot, just four points clear of the drop-zone and, after sharing the spoils at St Andrew’s, Derek McInnes also made a couple of changes as Yannick Bolasie and Ryan McGivern came in for substitutes Martyn Woolford and Louis Carey.
Apart from seeing the speculating Skuse scuff a low long-ranger well wide to show just why he had not scored in his previous 35 starts this season, the trailing hosts had offered little in attack.
But on the half-hour mark, Skuse again tried his luck from distance and this time his 25-yarder bounced in front of the groping Green, who could only squirm in horror as the ball squelched through his clutches and inside the right-hand post.
With Southampton leading at Peterborough, the midfielder’s equaliser was a huge blow to Big Sam’s side, who only really had one worthwhile chance to get their noses in front before the interval but Gerken bravely dived into Winston Reid’s studs after skipper Kevin Nolan drilled a low shot into the six-yard box.
Just after the restart, Reid was in the thick of things again, when he was booked for baulking Bolasie as he attempted to break free and, shortly afterwards Vaz Te invited the supporting Henri Lansbury to clip the bar with a rising 20-yarder.
Then as the hour-mark approached, Noble caused mayhem in the six-yard box with another tricky free-kick but to the anguish of the visiting fans in the rain-drenched crowd of 16,669, none of the claret and blue shirts could turn the ball home.
And after Collins became the third of six scrappy second half bookings for fouling Bolasie, Lansbury unleashed a stinging, angled volley, which Gerken grappled aside.
With the clock ticking, Allardyce upped the stakes by replacing Collins with John Carew as Taylor reversed into the left back berth and the Norwegian soon found himself in the City box, but his angled shot lacked power and, seconds later, he just failed to connect with a cross before then heading inches over.
Jack Collison and Julien Faubert then came on for the dejected Maynard and Guy Demel but Hammers just could not find the winner as Gerken denied Tomkins in the dying minutes, while another low cross agonisingly eluded the stretching Carew to leave the Big Sam’s simply side needing an unlikely miracle if they are to avoid those play-offs.
Robins: Gerken, Foster, McGivern, Amougou, Fontaine, Cisse (Adomah 69), Wood, Skuse, Pearson, Bolasie (Woolford 69), Stead (Carey 88). Unused subs: James, Kilkenny.
Hammers: Green, Demel (Faubert 74), Collins (Carew 63), Tomkins, Reid, Vaz Te, Taylor, Lansbury, Nolan, Noble, Maynard (Collison 74). Unused Subs: Henderson, Diop.
Bookings: Reid (49), Skuse (56), Collins (57), Amougou (65), McGivern (73), Stead (81)
Referee: Craig Pawson.