West Ham United were left frustrated as Premier League basement boys West Bromwich Albion secured a battling goalless draw at the Boleyn Ground.
Gianfranco Zola was forced to make two changes from the team that won 1-0 at Wigan Athletic on 4 March. The suspended Carlton Cole was replaced by Freddie Sears while another 19-year-old, Savio, came in for Wales international Jack Collison.
The Hammers made a neat start on a beautiful playing surface at the Boleyn Ground, with Sears looking lively both offensively and defensively. At the other end, West Brom's players appeared nervous, needlessly kicking the ball into touch on no fewer than four occasions within the opening ten minutes.
It was the home side, looking for a victory that would have carried them to within six points of sixth-placed Everton, who looked the most likely scorers in the opening stages, with both Sears and Savio keen to get involved in the action.
For all their possession, however, West Ham could not create a clear-cut opening and as so often happens in those circumstances, it was the Baggies who fired a warning shot across the Hammers' bows on 18 minutes. James Morrison and Jonathan Greening combined to release Marc-Antoine Fortune inside the home penalty area, but the French-Guiana-born striker could only rifle his shot into the side-netting at the near post.
The home supporters were heaving two more sighs of relief soon afterwards, the first after referee Mark Halsey waved away Paul Robinson's claim that he had been hauled back by Lucas Neill inside the penalty area. Then, on 27 minutes, goalkeeper Robert Green was out smartly to block Morrison's low shot with his legs after the Scotsman had ghosted past James Tomkins, no doubt impressing the watching England head coach Fabio Capello.
West Ham's luck did run out on 29 minutes, though, but in the shape of an injury rather than a goal. Matthew Upson was the victim and was stretchered off with a suspected calf strain. Jonathan Spector replaced the England defender, with Neill reverting to the centre of defence.
The loss of Upson appeared to galvanise the Hammers, with Sears seeing his first-time shot from Mark Noble's cut-back blocked by Shelton Martis. Seconds later, Neill saw a header and follow-up shot blocked following Noble's left-wing corner.
Into the second half and West Ham continued to hold the upper hand in front of a 30,842-strong crowd. Less than two minutes in, David Di Michele worked an opening for himself, only to launch a left-foot shot high into the Bobby Moore Stand. Shortly before the hour-mark, Savio did likewise.
In between the two chances, however, Tony Mowbray's side came within a lick of paint of stealing a shock lead. The lively Chris Brunt beat his marker before curling over a delicious cross that the towering Martis headed powerfully against the underside of the crossbar. The incident also saw Green left pole-axed after appearing to be caught by the Baggies' Swedish defender Jonas Olsson, although no action was taken by referee Halsey.
As the game meandered on, Greening chipped narrowly over before Savio was booked for a late challenge on Morrison and then replaced by Junior Stanislas with 21 minutes remaining. Stanislas, a 19-year-old Academy graduate, was making his Premier League debut following a successful loan spell at League One side Southend United earlier this season.
The wideman almost conjured an opening goal for Di Michele on 76 minutes, but the on-loan forward was only able to direct his header wide of Scott Carson's far post.
With West Ham struggling to maintain the pressure on their lowly opponents, Mowbray sent on strikers Jay Simpson and Luke Moore for Brunt and Fortune with a little over ten minutes remaining. Zola responded by replacing Noble with Luis Boa Morte, who received a rapturous reception from the home faithful on his return from a groin problem.
Martis received a yellow card shortly afterwards for bringing down Sears, but the home fans had little else to cheer in the closing stages as a game finished goalless at the Boleyn Ground for the first time since Portsmouth's visit on 15 November.
While manager Zola will be frustrated at not having taken all three points from the Premier League's bottom side, he will have been pleased with the assured display of teenage central defender James Tomkins, who appears to be settling into life in the top-flight nicely.