Ba hauls Hammers back from brink

West Bromwich Albion 3 West Ham United 3: Hodgson sees best and worst of Albion as new manager witnesses capitulation after three-goal start
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The Independent Football

Who needs Roy Hodgson? That was the question at half-time, when West Bromwich led 3-0 and caretaker head coach Michael Appleton was roared down the tunnel by the Hawthorns faithful. After a stunning West Ham fightback, culminating in Demba Ba's equaliser, the boos underlined the task confronting Roberto Di Matteo's successor.

Ba, the gangling, French-born Senegal striker, joined West Ham from Hoffenheim in Germany last month only after a knee problem saw him fail a medical at Stoke. Whatever the doubts over his fitness, his finishing could yet save Avram Grant's side from the drop.

Albion appeared in complete control following early strikes by Graham Dorrans and Jerome Thomas and Winston Reid's own goal. Soon after the break, however, Ba opened his account for West Ham. Carlton Cole swiftly added a second and the newcomer deservedly hauled them level with seven minutes to play.

Fittingly, given the news of West Ham's proposed relocation to Stratford on Friday, it was an Olympian effort, lifting them off the foot of the Premier League. Their fans, taunted with choruses of "Best ground in the Championship" early on, were reciprocating with "That's why you're going down" by the end.

Grant, who may not have given Ba his first start but for the injury that will keep Robbie Keane out for five weeks, talked of an "an amazing match". Asked what he had said during the interval, the West Ham manager grinned. "It's better you don't know. But in football, everything can change."

Appleton said: "Confidence was sky-high at half-time, but when you're on a terrible run like us, doubts come into your mind if you lose a goal. We talked to the boys at half-time about momentum, which is crucial in football. We needed to score first in the second half but didn't."

At least Hodgson, who maintained a watching brief from the directors' box prior to taking over tomorrow, will be under no illusions, having seen the best and worst of Albion.

Inspired by the fit-again Dorrans, they were cruising just after the half-hour mark. With less than three minutes gone, Dorrans, taking a through-pass by Peter Odem-wingie, was allowed time to look up and size up his shot before driving it beyond Robert Green from22 yards. In Albion's next attack, Green parried Odemwingie's shot to Chris Brunt, who drilled it goalwards only for the ball to hit Marc-Antoine Fortuné. It scarcely mattered because in the eighth minute Fortuné's cut-back found the onrushing Thomas, who sidefooted it beyond Green.

Thomas looked certain to add a third after 12 minutes when he rounded Green before losing his footing. Albion also claimed a penalty when the ball struck Reid's hand, but the New Zealander's luck turned when Dorrans' floated free-kick evaded the thrusting heads and hit his body on its way into the net.

In the final minutes of the opening half, Ba's volley was turned on to a post by Boaz Myhill, James Morrison clearing the ball off the line; then Gary O'Neil's 25-yard drive dipped over the goalkeeper but smacked against the bar. They were warning signs Albion failed to heed. Newcastle's recovery from 4-0 down against Arsenal last weekend, along with Albion's chronic inability to keep a clean sheet, were the only straws at which West Ham could clutch. Needing an early riposte, they got it when Paul Scharner failed to win an aerial challenge with Ba, who stroked the loose ball in from close range.

Soon it was 3-2. As Mark Noble prepared to take a free-kick, Frédéric Piquionne came on as substitute and was able to drift, not so much unmarked as unnoticed, into the penalty area to head the ball on. Cole glanced it home, and soon Piquionne headed against the bar from Wayne Bridge's cross. Bridge and Noble were again involved when West Ham's pressure reaped a dramatic reward.

The left-back's short corner found his colleague, whose cross skimmed off Jonas Olsson's head to Ba beyond the far post. The African launched into a mid-air volley, the ball beating Myhill on his near post. Appleton, universally known as "Appy", was anything but by the final whistle.

Attendance: 23,916

Referee: Lee Mason

Man of the match: Ba