West Ham United 0 Walsall 0

West Ham were again left frustrated by a mean and spirited display from lowly opponents, as Walsall held on for a point in a hard-fought clash at Upton Park.


After Tuesday night's gruelling trip to Burnley, Alan Pardew's men found it tough to overcome the battling Saddlers, who restricted the Hammers to just a handful of half-chances in front of goal and prevented them from finding any natural rhythm in attack.


Sorely missed was the pace and creativity of winger Matty Etherington - sitting out following his suspension for two bookable offences at Norwich a fortnight ago.


Etherington's absence had prevented the Hammers boss from naming an unchanged line-up for the fourth successive league match, but that opening gave an opportunity to Adam Nowland, who came in for his first start in a Hammers shirt since joining from Wimbledon in January.


That paved the way for an attack-minded 4-4-3 formation, with Marlon Harewood pushing up alongside Connolly and Zamora, as Hammers went all-out for victory against an out-of-form Walsall side that haven't registered a single victory in 2004 and are hovering precariously just above the relegation zone.


That said, several struggling sides have already visited Upton Park and made it very difficult this season and, early on, it was clear Walsall would be no exception. With just one central striker and a deep-sitting midfield, the visitors did their utmost to frustrate Hammers by blocking the supply-route from Carrick, Reo-Coker and Nowland and, for almost the entire first half, they achieved their aim.


Apart from Bobby Zamora's disallowed effort in the 17th minute, when an offside flag ruled out his strike from Harewood's low cross, Hammers' only other effort on target was a Hayden Mullins shot that was blocked by a defender.


Sadly, that turned out to be Mullins' final contribution. On the half hour mark, the former Crystal Palace defender was forced off with a back injury. He was replaced by central defender Andy Melville, with Tomas Repka switching to right-back.


As the hosts adjusted to the switch, it was Walsall who finished the half the stronger, forcing five corners and twice going close to taking the lead on the counter-attack. First Leitao skipped past Harley and cut the ball back for Matias, whose goalbound effort was superbly blocked by Repka, then the pair combined again, but this time the unmarked Matias volleyed his effort wide.


Pardew made another change at the interval, replacing Nowland with Jobi McAnuff, who filled in on the right side of midfield, with Harewood dropping back on the left as Hammers reverted to the tried and tested 4-4-2.


The switch almost paid off immediately, when Harewood's dangerous cross from the left was met by Melville, but his header was comfortably held by Walsall keeper Jimmy Walker.


The visitors then went close when Leitao's header shaved a post, but the pace and trickery of McAnuff had clearly added some much-needed urgency to Hammers' play in the absence of Etherington, and their attacking play began to look more promising.


Zamora shot just wide from Harewood's neat lay-off, before Connolly came within inches of taking the lead when his fierce left-foot belter was tipped round the post by Walker.


The Saddlers stopper excelled again in the 70th minute, keeping out Harewood's low effort after the Hammers number 10 had skipped through the defence and then pouncing on the loose ball.


By now, Hammers were camped in their opponents' half, hoping for a repeat of the events at Upton Park seven days earlier, when that one vital breakthrough secured all three points against Cardiff City.


It almost arrived with seven minutes remaining, when McAnuff's inviting cross to the far post was met by Zamora, but the striker's powerful header was again stopped by Walker.


By then, Pards had thrown on Brian Deane for Connolly in a desperate attempt to rescue the victory but, as the rain poured down on a sodden Upton Park turf, Hammers' hopes of getting back on the winning trail were washed away as Walsall wound down the clock to claim an unexpected point.


Victory against bottom-placed Wimbledon on Tuesday night is now an absolute must if Hammers are to give themselves more than a fighting chance of winning automatic promotion to the Premiership this season.