Hammond hinders Hammers

Brighton & Hove Albion 2 - West Ham United 2
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The Independent Online

Having led for 82 minutes, West Ham were undone yesterday by their own neurosis, dropping deeper and deeper until, in injury time, Dean Hammond, for the second time in the game, thumped a header past James Walker. The point lifted them into the top six, but there was a real sense of an opportunity lost. Brighton remain in the bottom three, but the battling manner of their draw gives hope.

Having led for 82 minutes, West Ham were undone yesterday by their own neurosis, dropping deeper and deeper until, in injury time, Dean Hammond, for the second time in the game, thumped a header past James Walker. The point lifted them into the top six, but there was a real sense of an opportunity lost. Brighton remain in the bottom three, but the battling manner of their draw gives hope.

The whiff of panic around West Ham, meanwhile, grows ever stronger. Brighton deserve credit for continuing to carry the fight to their opponents, but West Ham's problems were largely self-induced. "It feels like a defeat," their manager, Alan Pardew, admitted. "We showed bits of quality to go ahead, but because this pitch is so small, wherever the ball comes in from it's going to go in the box. This is the first time our two young centre-halves [Adam Ward and Anton Ferdinand] have experienced anything like that. They've been brilliant recently so I don't want to criticise them too much, but maybe an older head would have got us defending higher up the pitch."

Pardew had said this was a game his side "couldn't afford to lose", and, while that was never a serious possibility, he was keen afterwards to emphasise that they are unbeaten in eight games. That Sunderland, their opponents on Friday, may be distracted by having already won promotion, is a further positive. None the less, the pressure, on both Pardew and the club, is mounting. With the parachute TV payments expiring at the end of this season, rumours, denied by the board, continue to circulate that failure to reach the Premiership would lead to administration.

What must be particularly frustrating is that yesterday had all begun so well. Pardew, evidently no fan of the Withdean, had warned his side not to allow the soulless surroundings to blunt their edge, but it was Brighton who seemed most affected by the village fête atmosphere. As Matthew Etherington crossed in the seventh minute, Guy Butters and Adam Virgo reacted with all the urgency of a local mayor inspecting the prize begonias after a particularly good lunch. Unhindered, Marlon Harewood knocked down, and Nigel Reo-Coker rolled home.

A series of corners hinted at a threat from the home side, and they equalised eight minutes into the second half, Hammond meeting Gary Hart's cross. Within a minute, though, Butters fluffed his clearance from a Chris Powell free-kick and Harewood prodded his 15th of the season. Brighton, though, continued to press and, as they did, West Ham retreated. Powell cleared off the line in an increasingly frantic climax, before Richard Carpenter crossed for Hammond, jubilantly, to head his second.

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