Samba shows survivor's instinct so clearly lacking at West Ham

West Ham 1 Blackburn 1
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The Independent Football

When Robbie Keane missed an open goal three minutes from the end of Saturday's game, West Ham's grip on a place in the Premier League was loosened, perhaps fatally. A winner then and the Hammers' task, although still daunting, would have looked less like mission impossible. As it is, they must now win their two remaining games to have a realistic chance of avoiding relegation, and even that might not be enough.

Anyone who witnessed the first 75 minutes of this game would have no confidence that they can do so. Their first opponents are Wigan Athletic, at the DW Stadium, who can be relied upon to give a battling display, which is more than can be said for West Ham. Avram Grant's men played some pretty football at times on Saturday, but for long spells there was nothing approaching passion or urgency.

And when the home side finally mounted their late rally, Rovers showed that they had the fighting spirit that West Ham, with Scott Parker still out injured, did not. Christopher Samba, throwing himself in the way of a series of crosses and shots, provided the on-field leadership that was missing in the claret-and-blue ranks. You wonder where West Ham would be if they had a central defender of Samba's quality and determination. In fact, you wonder the same about Arsenal, let alone West Ham.

Grant was unrepentant about his team's approach and, in any case, unless Parker recovers from his Achilles injury, he does not have the personnel to make changes. "We don't know any other way," he said. "You don't want us to kick the ball and run. This is not the nature of West Ham. We cannot do it and I don't believe it will bring points. But football is a game of chances. All the season we are not [taking] even 20 per cent of chances. And this is maybe the story of our year. [Keane] is not happy. He came here to score. He said, 'I wish I knew why I missed'."

Defeat, though, would have been harsh on Blackburn, who took an early lead through Jason Roberts before Thomas Hitzlsperger equalised with an unstoppable shot 12 minutes from time. They are not safe yet, and a visit from Manchester United in their next game complicates their prospects, but they appear more unified on and off the field than West Ham.

Venky's, the Blackburn owners, have been mocked for their grandiose ambitions, but how much better it must be for the morale of supporters and management to hear about possible marquee signings than chairmen talking about players leaving in the event of relegation. Significantly, while West Ham's senior board members did not turn up for the club's last away game, against Manchester City, Venky's were at Upton Park. "They've been in the dressing room giving positive messages to the lads," Steve Kean, the Blackburn manager, said. "And we'll get through the sticky spell we're in."

Scorers: West Ham United Hitzlsperger 78 Blackburn Roberts 12.

Substitutes: West Ham Keane 4 (Boa Morte, 55), Collison 5 (Sears, 63), Piquionne 7 (Jacobsen, 64) Blackburn Andrews 5 (Hoilett, 69), Santa Cruz 4 (Roberts, 69), Rochina (M-B Diouf, 90).

Booked: West Ham Spector, Da Costa, Boa Morte

Man of the match Samba. Match rating 4/10.

Possession: West Ham 58% Blackburn 42%.

Attempts on target: W Ham 14 Blackburn 4.

Referee P Walton (Northants). Att 33,789.