Reserves Draw Heart

West Ham United's depleted reserve team gave a brave display to claim a 1-1 draw against Fulham on Tuesday evening, with Don Hutchison enjoying an impressive 45 minute run-out that may put him in contention for a Premiership return against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

A side containing under-17 coach Kevin Keen and only three others with first team experience were unlucky not to take all three points against the Cottagers after a determined performance on a bitterly cold night at Dagenham & Redbridge's Victoria Road Ground.

Hammers boss Glenn Roeder will have been pleased with the contribution of Hutchison, who looked sharp and full of stamina in a central midfield role alongside trialist Stephen Hughes, making a surprise appearance after just one day's training with the club.

The former Arsenal, Everton and Watford midfielder settled in comfortably, although is understandably lacking in match fitness and did well to last the entire 90 minutes - as did 35-year-old Keen, playing his first match in a West Ham shirt since May 1993.

Hammers started strongly and took a deserved lead on just 11 minutes, when Freddy Eastwood turned well and fed Darryl McMahon, who cut in from the left and fired in a splendid right foot shot that took a slight deflection on it's way into the far corner of the net.

Fulham were level just 10 minutes later, when a superb cross from the right was headed home on the edge of the six yard box by striker Luke Cornwall, but that proved to be the visitors only real effort of any note as Hammers enjoyed the majority of possession and restricted their opponents to just a couple of hopeful shots on goal.

The hosts finished the first half in lively fashion, with makeshift striker Brent Rahim almost latching on to a measured through-ball from Keen, and then having a decent shout for a penalty turned down when, despite having appeared to lose control of the ball, he was blatantly pushed by defender Mark Hudson as the ball rolled through to Fulham goalkeeper Maik Taylor.

Hutchison was replaced at half-time by 17-year-old defender Tommy Laws, and when 16-year-old Marce Collington also appeared as a late substitute, Hammers had three first-year Academy trainees on the field, with bustling young left-back Darren Blewitt enjoying an impressive full debut at reserve team level.

Despite their inexperience, Hammers were again the better side in the second half and, although goalscoring chances were at a premium at both ends of the field, Roger Cross' men should have claimed a winner with 25 minutes remaining.

Eastwood beat the offside trap to burst clear on the right and, as he cut into the penalty area, needed only to square the ball to hand Rahim an open goal six yards out. However, the young striker decided to shoot from an acute angle and saw his effort blocked by Taylor.

Keen was then harshly booked for contesting a linesman's poor decision, but the stand-in winger almost enjoyed the last laugh when he had the freezing cold crowd leaping off their seats with a moment of magic that almost won the game in the final minutes.

As Taylor rushed out of his goal to clear a long punt over the top, he only succeeded in thumping the ball straight to Keen, who controlled perfectly just inside the Fulham half and instinctively lofted it back towards the net. However, the Cottagers' keeper scrambled back and managed to tip the effort over the bar just as it was about to find the top corner.

It certainly would have been a goal to remember, but in the end Hammers had to make do with a creditable point ahead of a three-week break over the Christmas period.

Hammers: Bywater, Byrne, Blewitt, Ferdinand, Iriekpen, Keen, Hutchison (Laws 46), Hughes, McMahon, Eastwood (Collington 86), Rahim. Subs unused: Forde, Tattam, Khan.
Fulham: Taylor, Leacock, Green, Hudson, Ouaddou, Collins, Buari, Shevel (Rehman 73), Stolcers (Noble 73), Cornwall, Doherty. Subs unused: Flitney, Lock, Watkins.