The cathedral choir sang carols at half-time and the snow lay all around, deep and crisp and even. Tidings of comfort and joy were thinner on the ground, with Sam Allardyce's stand-in as Blackburn manager, Steve Kean, and his West Ham counterpart, Avram Grant, each failing to secure the win that would have enhanced one's prospects of landing the job and the other's hopes of keeping his.
If Blackburn's new Indian owners, the Venky's poultry company, had anticipated an instant transformation after the stunning sacking of Allardyce five days earlier, they were swiftly disabused of their naivety. Kean, a 43-year-old Scot, was unfortunate in that his side lost Jason Roberts and Phil Jones to injury during the match – Jones will undergo a knee operation and could miss the rest of the season – but after three consecutive home wins, failing to beat the bottom club at home was an anticlimax.
Similarly, if this really was the first of three matches in which Grant must secure a victory to survive – which he again denied afterwards – his players initially had a funny way of showing it. True, they responded positively to Ryan Nelsen's goal for Blackburn after the break and deserved the late equaliser secured by the substitute Junior Stanislas. However, they are still without an away win since August last year and rode their luck when David Dunn's 82nd-minute "winner" was disallowed for innocuous contact by Brett Emerton on Danny Gabbidon.
Kean admitted he was "slightly disappointed", yet the caretaker manager added: "With the amount of injuries we picked up, a point isn't too bad." Had it sharpened his appetite for the job? "Yes. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it because we didn't win, but I'm looking forward to the coming games."
Grant lost Valon Behrami to injury during the warm-up and was already without his goalkeeper Robert Green, who is recovering from a minor operation. "I think we deserved three points," the West Ham manager said. "After all the problems we had with having to change the team, I was impressed by the spirit. I don't like to play sides who have just changed their manager – we lost at Aston Villa [after Martin O'Neill's departure] – because players want to impress. But we did well in the second half and there's a long way to go this season." The pristine pitch was a tribute to the efforts of the groundstaff, who began clearing it at 5.30am. Grant may have wished they had not striven so hard, having been forced by Green's indisposition to give a debut to Ruud Boffin, a 6ft 5in, 23-year-old Belgian signed from Dutch football last summer. Boffin could scarcely have had a gentler introduction, being untroubled until a free-kick by Morten Gamst Pedersen allowed him to make a showboating mid-air catch 12 minutes before the break. With West Ham using Frédéric Piquionne as a lone striker and creating just one clear-cut opportunity, when Paul Robinson blocked Luis Boa Morte's shot with a foot, the first half was about as eventful as the promised demonstration against Blackburn's owners. And that had amounted to little more than a chorus of "There's only one Jack Walker" just before the start.
The Venky's group, seeking to justify Allardyce's dismissal, had demanded entertaining, exciting football, and the way Blackburn began the second half suggested Kean had reminded his charges of this. Within six minutes they had scored a goal. Boffin saved brilliantly from Nelsen's well-struck shot, only for the ball to strike the New Zealander on the thigh and creep across the line.
Grant brought on Stanislas and Carlton Cole, and as the contest become more stretched, West Ham at last performed as if they might want to save their manager's skin. Matt Upson's volley clipped the outside of the post, but when the inspirational Scott Parker drove at the heart of the Rovers rearguard, the ball broke off Gaël Givet to enable Stanislas to level with an angled shot.
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: ParkerReuse content