Hitzlsperger arrests slide but Hammers on the brink

West Ham United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Football

Der Hammer gave the Hammers the most slender of lifelines in their struggle to avoid relegation yesterday. Thomas Hitzlsperger's power-packed left foot rescued a point for West Ham and almost inspired a late surge to victory, but Robbie Keane missed a glorious chance to hit the winner and the odds remain stacked against the Londoners.

Avram Grant's side arrested a run of five successive defeats, but another must-win game was not won. They remain bottom of the Premier League, with virtually no margin for error in their two remaining games, away to Wigan Athletic and at home to Sunderland.

When they most needed a display of intelligence, passion and commitment, they got the opposite, and but for the German's strike their chances of climbing out of the bottom three would be nil – not that there was much to celebrate in a draw against Blackburn, who have been the joint-worst travellers in the League this year and conceded the most goals away from home.

Yet again West Ham missed Scott Parker, who had failed to recover from an Achilles injury. His return, which could come against Wigan next Saturday, may be too late, and Grant could not be sure that the Footballer of the Year will be fit even then.

"No one wants him to play more than me, but if he can't, he can't," he said. "We have a chance to stay up. But first we need to win at Wigan. If we win against Wigan, we'll be above them. Two games before the end, this is the most important game. We need to win."

Grant refused to answer questions about his own position, which has seemed perilous in view of reports of shortlists of possible replacements having been drawn up, and statements from the owners about the possible sale of players if the club goes down.

"Everyone, from the kit man to the owner, wants West Ham to succeed," he said. "I cannot argue with the position. We are missing the Footballer of the Year and other players, and we're dealing with it as well as we can. I'm not looking for excuses or saying we have no luck, but we need a bit of this. You need to wait and see [about my position]. My position is not important."

Blackburn's failure to hold out for a first victory on the road since 28 December means that their safety is not yet assured. Steve Kean, their manager, believes that yesterday's result confirms that his team can take the points they still need from a home match with Manchester United and a trip to Wolves. "It was a big point," Kean said. "We've had five positive results in the last seven matches, so we're one of the form teams in the bottom half. I don't know what we'll need, but we'll try and keep picking up points."

West Ham began confidently in front of a noisy crowd, but were soon behind as Manuel Da Costa unaccountably left Jason Roberts unmarked to stab home Brett Emerton's cross from the right. They made chances as they looked for a reply – Demba Ba headed Wayne Bridge's cross wide, Freddie Sears's shot lacked power and Hitzlsperger's rocket shot was beaten away by Paul Robinson – but it was witless, one-paced stuff for the most part.

Keane came off the bench as West Ham searched for inspiration, but even with four forwards there seemed little to suggest a revival until Carlton Cole rolled a pass to Hitzl-sperger, who struck the ball first time past an unsighted Robinson from 18 yards.

Could West Ham grab an improbable win? With three minutes to go, Frédéric Piquionne's low cross from the left put the ball on a plate for Keane but he miskicked horribly, and the outstanding Christopher Samba blocked efforts from Cole and Ba in injury time.

"I can't kill [Keane] for that," Grant said. "He had intelligent movement but what counts is putting the ball in the net. Most of our games this season have been like this. But at least we drew and kept our chances alive."

Attendance: 33,789

Referee: Peter Walton

Man of the match: Samba

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