Sam Allardyce left to rue missed opportunities by West Ham
West Ham United 1 Sunderland 1: Kevin Nolan rescues a point for West Ham, who once again are found wanting in front of goal
Teams need to be clinical in the Premier League.
Both sides left the Boleyn Ground yesterday frustrated with their own particular failures and two dropped points. Sunderland failed for the third game in a row to hold on to a lead. West Ham, who looked blunt again, failed to take any of their chances until Kevin Nolan's stoppage-time volley.
Sunderland have not won a league game since March and Martin O'Neill must have felt that this was the one. "It was obviously disappointing because it looked as if we had dealt with everything they threw at us," he said.
Sam Allardyce was relieved at Nolan's goal but infuriated it had come to that. "Our Achilles heel was our finishing," he said. "It made us struggle all the way, and I am concerned with that. I am relieved and happy with a point, but we will wake up disappointed tomorrow that we did not win."
The frustration was compounded by the fact that Sunderland scored their one good chance after just nine minutes. James Collins had the ball on the edge of his own box, but swiped at it, and it bounced off Mohamed Diame's legs to Sebastian Larsson on the right. Larsson fired a cross to Steven Fletcher, pulling away from Collins at the far post.
It took Fletcher two touches of his left foot. The first cushioned the ball away from Collins, the second struck it firmly towards the far corner, through Jussi Jaaskelainen's hands and into the net.
The £12 million O'Neill paid for Fletcher already looks like a sound investment. "He is playing brilliantly for us," O'Neill said. "He has scored all of our goals so far but it's also the rest of his game. He's bringing players into play, giving us respite at times and he's proving a quality centre forward."
West Ham spent most of the next 80 minutes wishing they had a centre-forward with the subtlety, precision and reliability of Fletcher. With Andy Carroll injured, they have to rely on Carlton Cole up front, who has not scored yet this season and does not have the required confidence or presence.
When West Ham moved the ball into the box quickly they managed to create chances. Matt Taylor, preferred to Jarvis on the left wing, cross to Ricardo Vaz Te at the far post but the header went down into the ground and back over the bar.
As should be the case, it was up to the captain to take responsibility. There a few better volleyers of second balls in the Premier League than Kevin Nolan, and it should have been clear to Sunderland that he was a danger. He hooked a flicked-on free-kick narrowly wide before demanding a good save from Simon Mignolet when he leaped and twisted to meet Vaz Te's cross.
But even with Nolan's acrobatics, it was clear that West Ham needed more in the second half. Sunderland were content to sit deep and play on the break. John O'Shea and Titus Bramble were well-screened by Jack Colback and Lee Cattermole. West Ham needed to get round them, and the arrivals of Matt Jarvis and Yossi Benayoun felt 56 minutes too late.
Jarvis did bring an improvement, repeatedly beating Gardner and crossing consistently from the left. None of them found their target, until his desperate hook saved West Ham in added time. Modibo Maiga flicked the ball on, Jarvis kept it in play, Maiga headed it back and Nolan, free again, spun and hit it into the bottom corner to rescue the point. "There was lots of frustration all around," said Allardyce, "but some joy at the end."
West Ham (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Reid, O'Brien; Noble; Vaz Te (Benayoun, 56), Diame, Nolan, Taylor (Jarvis, 56); Cole (Maiga, 77).
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Gardner, Bramble, O'Shea, Rose; Larsson (Vaughan, 62), Cattermole, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon (Campbell, 71) (Meyler, 90); Fletcher.
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Diame (West Ham)
Match rating: 4/10
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