In the context of West Bromwich Albion's season a goalless draw away from home must be regarded as a triumph. In the context of their opponents' performance last night it was a wasted opportunity.
Albion had conceded 22 goals in eight games since last keeping a clean sheet but Scott Carson was never in any danger of being beaten last night. Rob Green had a tougher match, not least because a stray elbow from Jonas Olsson – who may be summoned to the Football Association when they see the video – laid him out at a corner. Without Green being able to intervene Shelton Martis headed against the bar. It was the closest either side came to scoring.
Graham Poll, the former Fifa referee who was at the game as a television pundit, thought it was a red card offence. He said: "Olsson comes in with his arm, he is looking, he knows where Green is, and he catches him across the cheek." Both managers said they had not seen the incident but Albion's Tony Mowbray added: "Olsson is the last person to elbow someone. He's a gentleman."
Green said: "I'm fine if a bit groggy. I'm grateful it wasn't my eye socket or nose." After treatment, he was able to carry on, unlike Matthew Upson who was taken off on a stretcher midway through the first half after suffering a recurrence of a calf injury. "He is not too bad," said Gianfranco Zola.
Those Hammers' players who finished the match were booed off, which was harsh on Green and Hector Ilunga, but no one else. They have just returned from a break in Marbella and played as if still on the beach. At least, the directors will reflect as they begin digging under the cushions of the executive lounge sofas in an attempt to find the estimated £20m required to settle the Tevez Affair, they will not have to pay a win bonus.
"The players see it as two points dropped," added Mowbray. "They are sitting in the dressing room very disappointed. It was a real opportunity."
His team remain six points from safety but successive home games against Bolton and Stoke offer hope. There was, though, the same talk of "kick-starting the season" after the reverse fixture, at the Hawthorns in September, when Albion won an open game 3-2, their first success of the campaign. Five wins in 25 games later they are odds-on to be the first team cut adrift in this tightest of relegation scrambles. In an attempt to arrest their slide Mowbray gave Graham Dorrans and Martis their first Premier League starts and recalled Olsson after injury.
That September afternoon was Zola's first look at his West Ham side, the newly-appointed manager keeping a watching brief while Kevin Keen took charge. Having seen them defend he ensured Steve Clarke was lured from Chelsea and West Ham have conceded less than a goal-a-game in the last four months. However, without the suspended Carlton Cole to lead the line they lacked presence and threat at the other end.
It was 17 minutes before either side had a shot, Marc-Antoine Fortune lashing a drive into the side netting. The first real chance came on 27 minutes. Gianni Zuiverloon won the ball from Savio and James Morrison drifted diagonally across the Hammers defence before being denied by Green.
That was the only notable save of the match though Albion had another chance besides the controversial header against the bar. That came 19 minutes from time when Morrison released Jonathan Greening but the captain delayed, then shot over. Mowbray, scenting three points were there for the taking, made a series of attacking substitutions but it was to no avail.
West Ham United (4-2-3-1): Green; Neill, Tomkins, Upson (Spector, 29), Ilunga; Kovac, Parker; Noble (Boa Morte, 81), Di Michele, Savio (Stanislas, 67); Sears. Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Lopez, Tristan, Payne.
West Bromwich Albion (4-2-3-1): Carson; Zuiverloon, Martis, Olsson, Robinson; Koren, Dorrans; Morrison (Filipe Teixeira, 87), Greening, Brunt (Simpson, 79); Fortune (Moore, 79). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Hoefkens, Cech, Bednar.
Referee: M Halsey (Lanca shire).
Booked: West Ham United Savio. West Bromwich Olsson.
Man of the match: Martis.
Attendance: 30,842.Reuse content