West Ham 3 West Brom 3
Three goals in four second-half minutes meant Barclays Premier League strugglers West Ham and West Brom had to settle for a share of the spoils from a 3-3 draw at Upton Park.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce had labelled the game a ’must win’ for his side, who remain 19th in the table and without a league victory in December.
Joe Cole seemed to alleviate the pre-game nerves for the Hammers when he scored early on, only for Nicolas Anelka to score his first two West Brom goals before the interval.
Anelka, who was Allardyce’s talisman during his latter days as Bolton boss, had not featured for the Baggies in over two months but was named as one of six changes to Keith Downing’s starting line-up from the Boxing Day draw at Tottenham.
The visitors had looked comfortable at 2-1 but two goals in two minutes from half-time substitute Modibo Maiga and skipper Kevin Nolan put West Ham back in front.
Downing’s side did not let their heads drop and were back in the game almost instantly with a very smart finish from Saido Berahino.
The two sides met less than 48 hours after both had been involved in tough Boxing Day fixtures and, with neither side in any sort of form, a draw was arguably the most likely outcome.
West Brom captain Chris Brunt had a great chance to open the scoring after just four minutes as he arrived unmarked at the back post but could only fire James Morrison’s cross in to the side netting.
Cole went one better moments later as Jussi Jaaskelainen’s goal kick found it’s way to the midfielder courtesy of Carlton Cole and Nolan, with the former Liverpool man finishing low under Ben Foster for his third goal of the campaign.
Allardyce has been struggling with injuries to his defensive line in recent weeks and he lost James Tomkins to what looked like a groin problem with only 10 minutes on the clock.
Guy Demel replaced Tomkins in a Hammers back four which no longer contained any recognised central defenders.
The Hammers may have had less penetration in the first half but they created much more as an attacking force, Carlton Cole was proving a constant threat and Demel clipped a post from close range at the end of a flowing move before West Brom made their own pressure count.
Brunt poked a perfectly-weighted through pass in to the path of Anelka, who timed his run well before side-footing the ball past the on-rushing Jaaskelainen to level proceedings and become the eighth player to score for six different Premier League clubs.
The former Chelsea and Arsenal striker added his second in first-half injury time following a disputed corner which was poorly defended by West Ham.
Anelka reacted quickest to Carlton Cole’s goal-line clearance from Jonas Olsson’s header to beat Jaaskelainen and put the visitors in front at the break.
Allardyce introduced Maiga at half-time with Carlton Cole, who had been cautioned towards the end of the half, making way.
However, it was West Brom who started brightly once more and Anelka came close to scoring his hat-trick inside the opening two minutes of the second half.
Billy Jones skipped past Razvan Rat with ease and pulled the ball back towards the former France international, whose effort was kept out by Jaaskelainen at his near post.
Berahino arrowed a low effort wide five minutes later as the Baggies, who had made six changes as opposed to West Ham’s two, remained the fresher side.
Foster had been largely untroubled in the West Brom goal but that was all to change as the former Manchester United goalkeeper was forced into action just after the hour-mark as he pushed away Maiga’s curling effort at full stretch to keep his side ahead.
Moments later, however, Maiga got the better of Foster as he gathered a pass from Nolan and bent in a low shot that went through the diving goalkeeper.
The equalising goal had the home fans singing en mass for the first time in the game and the tempo was raised even higher just two minutes later as Nolan bundled the Hammers in front once again.
Maiga was heavily involved once more as he headed back across goal where Nolan was on hand to turn the ball home.
The delirium amongst the West Ham supporters was short-lived as Berahino rifled an effort in off the post to draw the teams level with 20 minutes remaining.
Brunt almost capitalised on defensive indecisiveness from West Ham to put the Baggies back in front but his powerful volley was struck straight at Jaaskelainen, who held the ball well.
The experienced Finn, recalled by Allardyce following Adrian’s shaky display against Arsenal, was left stranded shortly afterwards as Berahino struck a free-kick which cracked off the post.
That proved to be the closest either side could come to mustering a winning goal with both having reasons to be upset at having to go home with just a point apiece.