West Ham United continue to lead a double life, although this time with a difference. The side who cannot win at home but have become unbeatable away produced a performance of high class at Bramall Lane last night, but could sustain it only for the first 45 minutes.
Leading 3-1 at half-time, they succumbed to an irresistible Sheffield revival in the second period to leave with only a point when it had looked certain they would return to East London with all three. For anyone watching who happened to have an impartial interest, however, it was a pulsating contest of high-quality goals - two by players making their debuts - and what seemed likely to be a decisive penalty save, capped off with a dramatic conclusion.
United's Phil Jagielka headed an equaliser three minutes into stoppage time to cap a gutsy comeback that deserved some reward, even though Stephen Bywater, the goalkeeper asked to fill the boots of David James after three years without a senior game, almost emerged as the hero of the hour when he kept out a second-half penalty.
West Ham, unbeaten now in nine away matches, went a goal behind inside the opening five minutes when Paul Peschisolido, who had rifled in a hat-trick against Gillingham last weekend, rounded off a flying link-up with Nick Montgomery on the right by sliding in to score at the near post.
But the home side's lead lasted 14 minutes before West Ham, whose passing and movement throughout the opening half was of top-flight quality, turned the match on its head with two goals in three minutes.
Striker David Connolly released a superbly timed pass into the path of Michael Carrick, who escaped his marker to shoot confidently past Paddy Kenny. Then came a wonderful goal from left- back Jon Harley, who distinguished his West Ham debut by curling a strike into the top corner from 25 yards.
Seven minutes before half-time, after Harley had released Matthew Etherington on the left, Marlon Harewood met the winger's far- post cross with a superb finish to put the visitors in control.
But if one side in the country can never be written off it is Sheffield United. Relentlessly pressuring the West Ham defence throughout the second half, they gained their first reward after 72 minutes when new signing Paul Shaw beat Bywater to give the home crowd hope.
The 22-year-old former Rochdale goalkeeper then produced a magnificent save to keep out a Michael Tonge penalty and somehow blocked a Dean Sturridge effort from point-blank range. But United would not be subdued, and Jagielka's leveller was no more than they deserved.
Sheffield United 3
Peschisolido 5, Shaw 72, Jagielka 90
West Ham United 3
Carrick 19, Harley 22, Harewood 37
Half-time: 1-3 Attendance: 22,787Reuse content