Hitzlsperger strike spares West Ham

West Ham 1
Blackburn 1

Premier League

WEST HAM salvaged what could yet prove to be a crucial point in their battle against the drop, but they will know that this was a game they had to win if they were to steal a march on their fellow relegation rivals.

Thomas Hitzlsperger crashed a late shot into the net after an abject performance from the Hammers, cancelling out Jason Roberts' 12th minute strike, but Robbie Keane missed a contender for howler of the season to cost the hosts a precious win.

The Irons were hampered by the absent Scott Parker and Matthew Upson, with Danny Gabbidon stepping in to the back four and Jonathan Spector filling in in midfield.

Blackburn were the quickest out of the blocks, despite the precariousness of West Ham's position before kick-off.

Morten Gamst Pedersen arrowed a shot wide of the upright from the edge of the box before two minutes were on the clock. The Hammers responded with Manuel da Costa seeing a header from a corner nodded off the line by the same player.

Blackburn looked dangerous on the break early on, and it was from one such attack that they grabbed the lead.

Jermaine Jones surged forward in midfield and played the ball out wide to Brett Emerton. The Australian was given time and space by Wayne Bridge to pick his ball into the box, and he produced a terrific whipped low ball between the defence and the goalkeeper, which Roberts was only to happy to latch on to and tap in.

There was a 15 minute period at the end of the first half in which the hosts looked like they might trouble Rovers' backline, but all too often the visitors herded the Irons into the centre of the pitch and squeezed the danger out.

Demba Ba saw a header drift harmlessly wide, while the striker then did well to recycle possession after being played in over the top by Luis Boa Morte. He laid off for Freddie Sears to run on to but the shot was tame and easy for Paul Robinson to deal with.

On the stroke of half-time, a free-kick 25 yards out was thundered into the wall by da Costa, and the dropping ball fell for Boa Morte, whose effort appeared destined for the bottom corner, only for Ba to get in the way and deflect the shot wide.

A chorus of jeers and boos ushered the players off at the break, but hope remained that such chances could be converted in the second half.

Manager Avram Grant is not renowned for his animation on the touchline and, judging by the lifeless display his troops coughed up after the interval, there was very little in the way of inspiring words uttered in the dressing room.

The fans around the ground were not shy to make their opinions clear, as attack after attack stopped at the edge of the Rovers box and West Ham were forced to retreat.

Only a spark of magic could save the home side, with Grant having exhausted all his options with a series of mind-boggling changes.

Four strikers were deployed, with Robbie Keane brought on for Boa Morte, while the out-of -form Freddie Piquionne was introduced for Lars Jacobsen, Spector being pushed back to full-back.

There was a warm welcome amidst all the frustration for the returning Jack Collison, making his first appearance for over a year after a serious knee injury.

However, fortunately for Grant, that piece of magic arrived out of nowhere from the boot of Hitzlsperger.

Carlton Cole was forced into performing a U-turn in the Blackburn area as seemingly another forward foray came to nothing, but he nudged the ball back for the German midfielder, who tried his luck with a first-time shot that flew past a static Robinson and into the bottom corner.

It was far more than the team's efforts deserved, but it was a lifeline they desperately needed.

Keane then blew the biggest chance of the game and the greatest opportunity to fire West Ham to a vital victory in their pursuit for survival.

Piquionne was excellently played in by Collison down the left wing, and the striker's ball into the middle was perfect, arriving at the feet of the Irishman, only for him to miss his kick completely.

Cole then had a chance to win it for West Ham in the dying embers, but Christopher Samba heroically flung himself at the goalbound shot and deflected the ball over the bar.

West Ham remain rock bottom of the table on 33 points, although six points from their final games against Wigan and Sunderland could yet keep them up.

West Ham: Green; Gabbidon, da Costa, Bridge, Jacobsen (Piquionne); Hitzlsperger, Spector, Boa Morte (Keane); Cole, Ba, Sears (Colison). Subs: Tomkins, Boffin, Kovac, Hines

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