Everton 1 West Ham United 1: Ashton flies high to stall Everton's pursuit of fourth spot

Sears so near to last-gasp Hammers winner as attention turns to Mersey derby in race for Champions' League slot
Click to follow

Fourth place will not inspire football balladeers but for the blue half of Merseyside it matters. To pip neighbours Liverpool for the final Champions' League spot would make it a season to savour for Everton, so this draw cut deeply. Now they will probably need to win at Anfield next Sunday to have a realistic chance.

Even that could be insufficient if Liverpool prevail at Old Trafford today, which made the two dropped points all the more difficult to take. In the programme manager David Moyes called for a "big finish to the season" to make up for Everton going out of the Uefa Cup on penalties to Fiorentina 11 days ago; instead a domestic anti-climax looms.

What will be particularly galling for Moyes is that Everton took the lead through Yakubu and had what appeared to be a legitimate goal ruled out for offside. They had the bulk of the possession, too, yet West Ham United, who equalised with a magnificent header from Dean Ashton, finished the stronger and Freddie Sears, scorer of the winner against Blackburn Rovers last week, hit the post in stoppage time.

The result leaves Everton two points behind Liverpool having played a game more, but Moyes was stressing the positive. "It's a point gained on teams below us and it consolidates fifth place," he said. "We've also gained ground on our main rivals. It might turn out to be an important point."

The immediate repercussion of going out of Europe was Everton's first League defeat of 2008 and they did not inspire confidence in the fifth minute when their defence reacted slowly to Mark Noble's corner. James Tomkins, an 18-year-old centre-back making his West Ham debut, won a header that flew past Tim Howard, but the dream ended there because the ball hit the bar and bounced clear.

It seemed a crueller world for the England Under-19 player three minutes later when Everton took the lead with a goal that was as route one as the M1. Howard's long kick was flicked on by Victor Anichebe and Tomkins was left trailing as Yakubu leaned into him, span away and then thumped the ball past Robert Green.

It could have been 2-0 after 16 minutes when Yakubu again had the ball in the net. This time the linesman came to West ham's rescue, raising his flag for offside even though there was an argument that the pass had been played to the Everton striker by Scott Parker. More damning, though, was that Yakubu appeared to be level with the last defender.

It had been a dreadful start by the Hammers yet they should have equalised after 32 minutes when Mikel Arteta and Phil Jagielka got in each other's way as they attempted to clear. The ball rebounded to Dean Ashton, who swivelled and swung with emphatic certainty but then pushed his shot wide.

Anichebe should have scored for Everton after 41 minutes but Green charged from his line to save at his feet but the greater escape was at the other end when Ashton's free-kick deflected off Joleon Lescott and Howard reacted brilliantly to change direction and save with his feet.

After the eventful end to the first half, the second started in a more subdued fashion, although Everton appeared to be building momentum when West Ham equalised after 68 minutes. A terrific goal it was too, because Ashton used his power to brush off a challenge from Jagielka and then thundered a header from the penalty spot that Howard could only tip against the post before it went into the net.

Everton's swagger evaporated and West Ham might have got the winner. In the 85th minute Jagielka was caught in possession by substitute Sears and only a dive at the young striker's feet saved the centre-back's blushes. Then, in injury time, Sears burst on to Ashton's head on and beat Howard with a flick of the outside of his right foot only for the ball to hit the post.

Alan Curbishley, the West Ham manager, was unsure whether it was a point gained or two dropped. "I'll have to look at the match again," he said. "We were hitting on the break but couldn't finish them off."