Harewood cushions blow as Hammers keep top six in sight

West Ham United 1 - Millwall 1
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The Independent Football

The scene outside Upton Park before this game was reminiscent of the climax to John Carpenter's outstanding low-budget 1976 thriller Assault on Precinct 13. There was the dull thud overhead of police helicopters and police vans lining the street.

The scene outside Upton Park before this game was reminiscent of the climax to John Carpenter's outstanding low-budget 1976 thriller Assault on Precinct 13. There was the dull thud overhead of police helicopters and police vans lining the street.

It was a pity, however, that when the posturing between fans stopped and the football started, this east-side London derby was more sideshow than main show.

A draw means that West Ham's play-off ambitions have taken a hit, although possibly not a decisive one. A win would have propelled them into the top six, briefly before everyone else played their games yesterday, but now Alan Pardew's men have four games left to accrue as many points as possible and hope that their rivals slip up.

Pardew himself highlighted the importance of their game in hand at Stoke on Tuesday. "There's still a long way to go in the play-offs situation," he said. "We go to Stoke and have to win or draw up there. I'm optimistic that we can still get in there and that this team is good enough."

Millwall might still have harboured a vague notion of extending their campaign as well, although this result punctured that fanciful notion, too. In truth it was a result that suited the police more than anyone. There were 1,000 of the capital's constabulary, charged with minding 28,000 fans but, no doubt to their relief, what started off as a quietly absorbing match ended in a lacklustre display and one that would have sent most of those fans home feeling distinctly flat, probably rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.

The visitors' idea was to snuff the life out of the Hammers and then, presumably, try to grab a late goal but that plan went out of the window as early as the 12th minute thanks to their own proficiency.

West Ham's Nigel Reo-Coker carelessly gave away the ball to Kevin Muscat, playing out of position at left-back, and the Australian's pass was met by Barry Hayles who had evaded the offside trap. His first touch took him around the goalkeeper Jimmy Walker but wide as well, yet despite the angle he finished with confidence.

Pardew revealed his disappointment at conceding that goal but the Lions had scored too early to feel safe, inviting pressure from West Ham for virtually the rest of the game.

That pressure, which was maintained more in possession than in threatening Andy Marshall's goal, finally saw the hosts put together a good move that resulted in the equaliser. Matthew Etherington found Teddy Sheringham and the former England striker chested the ball back to the winger. His pass, in turn, was met by Marlon Harewood, who scored from 10 yards out for his 18th goal of the season.

In a second half that was rapidly running out of steam, Harewood enlivened proceedings with an overhead kick that Marshall tipped over with 30 minutes left, but a winner, like a happy Eastender last night, was impossible to find.

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