Leading with a Tommy Miller goal from first-half injury time, McCarthy's men were on top, in control, and heading for their first Premiership home win of the season - their first top-flight victory at the Stadium of Light since December 2002 - until the 72nd minute, that is, when Benayoun broke clear on the right and steered a low drive inside the far post. It was tough luck on the Black Cats. The draw was sufficient to lever them out of the bottom three, on goal difference, but that was little consolation to their manager.
"It was a good finish by Benayoun but we should have been out of sight," McCarthy lamented. "When we dominate teams like that, we've got to finish them off. When you play as well as that and only draw it's a terrible feeling."
It would all have been different had Andy Gray buried the sitter served to him on a silver platter in the fifth minute. Andy Welsh's cross from the left found the Scottish striker unmarked on the six-yard line with the West Ham goal at his mercy. He steered the tamest of headers into the arms of Roy Carroll.
It was a dreadful miss and Sunderland ultimately paid the price for it, even if they escaped immediate punishment when the scheming of Benayoun and Teddy Sheringham fashioned an opening for Marlon Harewood, whose low, side-footed shot was stopped by Kelvin Davis' brilliant diving save. Fleetingly, the fluid creativity of the Hammers threatened to sweep Sunderland aside. To their credit, though, McCarthy's men managed to contain Benayoun, Sheringham and co, keeping their neat, inventive play at a safe distance - even when Christian Bassila was dislodged from his midfield anchor slot with a pulled hamstring.
It was the probing Welsh who prompted the breakthrough at the other end, two minutes into first-half stoppage time. He fed the overlapping Justin Hoyte, who slipped the ball on to Liam Lawrence, who in turn pulled the ball back from the left byline for Miller to beat Carroll with a hooked shot. It was a fair reward for Sunderland's effort and after the interval they were continually on the front foot, although they were almost caught by a counter-punch in the 54th minute. Sheringham raced on to a ball from deep by Tomas Repka, but, with Davis closing fast, the veteran striker lofted a first-time shot wide.
The action was largely confined to the other end thereafter, Carroll saving a Stephen Elliott shot with his knees and Gray unwittingly getting in the way of a Dean Whitehead drive. It was the swift-breaking Benayoun, however, who provided the evening's decisive final flourish.Reuse content