Hammers off the bottom after comeback seals priceless point
Under the stewardship of first-team coach Michael Appleton for one game only and watched from the stands by new boss Roy Hodgson, the Baggies earned their 100th Premier League point at the Hawthorn but will be disappointed that they failed to pick up a crucial three points after an excellent start that saw them cruise into an early lead.
Goals by Graham Dorrans, Jerome Thomas and an own goal by Winston Reid saw the Baggies take command of the game before a remarkable second-half comeback by the Hammers with a double from January signing Demba Ba and a simple header for Carlton Cole made it 3-3.
It was the home side who began the brightest perhaps buoyed by the appointment of Roy Hodgson. With just two minutes gone Marc Antoine Fortune tested Robert Green with a powerful strike from outside the area that the England ‘keeper did well to hold onto.
And it was Albion who took the lead with just three minutes on the clock. Peter Odemwingie was given too much space in the centre of the park and the Nigerian found Graham Dorrans who unleashed a thunderbolt from 25 yards that gave Green no chance.
As West Ham looked like they were still in the changing rooms, the home side doubled their lead with just eight minutes gone. Fortune found space down the left and pulled the ball back for Jerome Thomas who was given all the time in the world to side-foot the ball past Green.
The Hammers managed to settle the tempo of the game down but without Upson and Tomkins at the back, they looked like conceding every time Albion went forward.
After just 10 minutes Thomas chased a long ball and somehow shrugged off Manuel Da Costa before rounding Green only to lose his footing as he looked to slot the ball into an empty net. The winger claimed for a penalty but any contact with Winston Reid looked to be minimal.
And the dominant Baggies nearly had a third when Odemwingie somehow headed straight at Green for just six yards after a corner found him unmarked. At the other end a rare attack for the Hammers saw their first shot in anger, a long-range effort for January signing Demba Ba that went out for a throw-in.
The home side seemed to slow the tempo off their game and allowed the Hammers to enjoy their first spell of possession in the game. Carlton Cole saw a 23rd minute effort ruled out correctly for offside and then a deep free-kick caused problems for the Albion defence, with Boaz Myhill collecting the loose ball at the second attempt.
But just as the Hammers looked to stamp some sort of authority on the game, they found themselves 3-0 down.
With just over half an hour gone, a deep free-kick by Dorrans evaded everyone in the box, only for Hammers defender Winston Reid to deflect it past the stranded Green as he was running towards his own goal.
Scott Parker looked like the only West Ham player performing anywhere near a Premier League standard and the midfielder was the only driving force the away side had, making a good run in the 40th minute before his shot was deflected for a corner.
From the resulting set piece, Ba picked up the loose ball after his header was blocked by Cole, only for Myhill to make an excellent fingertip strike to turn Ba’s shot onto the post.
Then at the other end, Dorrans tried another spectacular effort from range that Green had to be at full stretch to turn around the post before Gary O'Neil smashed a 25 yard shot against the crossbar with Myhill well beaten.
Whatever Avram Grant said at half-time must have worked as the Hammers started the second half looking like a team who realised the severity of their league position.
With just five minutes gone, Demba Ba gave the Hammers a way back into the match by chesting down Mark Noble’s long ball into the box and slotting past Myhill from close range.
Within minutes, it was 3-2, with the two teams looking like they had swapped shirts at half-time.
Noble clipped a free-kick to the far post where substitute Frederic Piquionne, on for Luis Boa Morte, was completely unmarked and able to head across goal for Cole to nod home from just a few yards.
As Albion struggled to get their foot on the ball, the Hammers launched wave after wave of attack throwing men forward as Albion sat far too deep in their own half.
January signing Ba, now playing on the left of a three-man attack, had a shot cleared off the line and then fired into the side netting after Albion’s defence had gone missing again.
The Hammers then had two half-hearted penalty appeals turned down as they looked to bombard the Albion goal in search of an equaliser.
The home side replaced Thomas with Giles Barnes but little changed as the nervous tension around the Hawthorns was obvious for all to see.
West Ham were happy to leave their attacking trio in the Albion half with plenty of space for Albion to exploit on the counter-attack. Fortune did find himself in space in the channels on a few occasions and held off his man well, but then was often forced to cross to an empty box as the rest of his team-mates struggled to support him.
Albion replaced Dorrans with Gabriel Tamas in an attempt to hold on to their fragile lead but the Hammers completed their remarkable turn-around in the 83rd minute when Ba equalised.
The Baggies’ defence was slow to react to a short corner and allowed Noble to cross. His centre was flicked on by Olsson into the path of Ba who did incredibly well to spin and fire a half-volley past Myhill.
The final five minutes were played at a frenetic tempo as both sides pushed for a winner. Odemwingie should have done better than side-foot straight at Green in a rare second-half sight of goal for the home side.
With five minutes of added time announced, it was the Nigerian who again nearly scored the winner with Odemwingie dancing past a few Hammers' defenders on the edge of the box before again firing a tame shot straight at Green.
West Ham launched the ball into the Albion box but were unable to score a dramtic late winner as the game ended 3-3.
Albion fans looked distraught by the result as the Hammers' fans celebrated a point that they must not have expected at half-time with the home side 3-0 up. A point was not really enough for either side and Albion's second half collapse has shown new manager Roy Hodgson that he must sort out his side's defensive issues if they are to survive this season.
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