Play-off Well Poised After Dramatic Draw

HAMMERS have drawn 2-2 with Ipswich Town in the Play-off semi-final first leg and will go to Portman Road still in with a great chance in this tie.

A quick-fire start by Alan Pardew's men gave them a 2-0 lead inside 13 minutes, Marlon Harewood and Bobby Zamora scoring to set Upton Park alight.

But Tommy Miller's free-kick deflecting in off Jimmy Walker was a cruel bit of luck just before half-time and Shefki Kuqi's equaliser on 73 minutes levelled the tie going into the second leg.

Sporting their new home kit for the first time, the Hammers went with an exact replica of the 16 that secured a 2-1 win at Watford last weekend. Bobby Zamora kept his place in attack, while in defence Anton Ferdinand and Elliott Ward held off competition from the fit-again Christian Dailly.

Nigel Reo-Coker led West Ham United out into the type of magnificent atmosphere that only Upton Park can conjure. It was made extra special for the midfielder who was marking his 21st birthday.

Despite the early kick-off, the Hammers faithful were in fantastic voice with a stirring chorus of Bubbles ringing around the magnificent Upton Park arena.

Alan Pardew's men responded by going at Ipswich right from the kick-off. Tomas Repka sent in a fantastic right-wing cross with just two minutes gone, which just failed to find the outstretched foot of Marlon Harewood.

Then, with just seven minutes gone, Upton Park came alive as the home side took a dramatic early lead. Matty Etherington picked up the ball after a sloppy pass from Richard Naylor, surged away from Drissa Diallo and crossed to leave Harewood with the simplest of close range tap-ins.

Ipswich looked for an instant reply and moments later Jimmy Walker had to be alert to palm the ball away from Darren Bent after the striker had broken the Hammers offside trap.

Shefki Kuqi then had a drive from long range that fizzed well wide of Walker's goal, while at the other end Harewood's power was continuing to cause the Ipswich defence problems, but he couldn't apply the finishing touch, dragging his shot wide across goal.

The same could not be said about his strike partner Bobby Zamora though, when on 13 minutes he put the Hammers 2-0 up to the delight of West Ham's brilliant army of fans.

Again it was an Etherington cross that caused the danger and when Jason De Vos' weak clearance dropped to Zamora 12 yards out he made no mistake, hitting a fine finish past Kelvin Davis in the visitors goal.

Upton Park roared with delight, and continued to do so even though the frantic pace of this game gradually began to slow.

Zamora still might have added a third on 28 minutes when Harewood squared the ball to him in the box, but his left foot strike deflected out for a corner off Fabian Wilnis.

Moments later Harewood used his presence to turn De Vos on the by-line but his low centre was just cut out by the Ipswich defence before it could reach Zamora.

The visitors looked to hit back through the lively Darren Bent, but they found more than an equal match in Anton Ferdinand and Elliott Ward. Bent's best effort of the first half was a low drive on the turn from 12 yards out that Walker saved comfortably.

Ipswich rebuilt their shattered confidence as the half went on and were presented with a great chance with just a minute of the half remaining when Repka fouled Kuqi on the edge of the box. The Czech defender was booked for his protests and referee Uriah Rennie had to sort out a melee as De Vos made his presence felt in the wall.

Once order had been restored Tommy Miller hit a curling free-kick that deflected off Repka and struck low on Walker's post, then came back and hit the prone goalkeeper before rolling into the net.

It gave Ipswich a precious lifeline, but Hammers could still be well pleased with their first 45 minutes' work as West Ham went in 2-1 up at the break.

HT: 2-1

Ipswich began the second-half with a double substitution, Darren Currie replacing former Hammer Kevin Horlock and Matt Richards coming on for Drissa Diallo, who had been run ragged by Matty Etherington.

But still there was a positive edge to Hammers attacking play and after Zamora and exchanged passes with Nigel Reo-Coker on the left of the box, the striker should have done better than put his effort wide.

Matty Etherington's 20 yard free-kick scrambled comfortably over Davis' crossbar, before the winger's quick-feet left his new opponent Fabian Wilnis for dead and drew a synical challenge that earned the full-back a yellow card.

On the hour Elliott Ward saw a great chance to increase West Ham's advantage magnificently saved by Kelvin Davis. After a corner from the right, Hayden Mullins worked the ball back to Shaun Newton again and his delivery was met with a downward header from Ward that Davis clawed away at full-stretch.

Shortly after, Etherington took another heavy hit, this time from Miller, as Ipswich's tactics to take out West Ham's danger man became obvious.

Some fine defending from the Hammers was needed when Kuqi's strong run and cross first found Ian Westlake and then Jim Magilton, but both fierce drives at goal were blocked well by the home defence to earn a delighted round of applause from manager Alan Pardew on the touchline.

With 70 minutes gone Zamora just failed to get on the end of Etherington's ball over the top, but at the other end Walker had to be alert to tip Darren Currie's swirling free-kick from the left away from the top corner of his goal, as the visitors pushed for an equaliser.

But Ipswich did make it 2-2 with 73 minutes gone. Darren Currie's cross found Bent at the back post, who hit a fierce shot that Chris Powell threw himself at to block. As the ball swirled awkwardly in the air just underneath the crossbar, Ferdinand and Walker both went up to clear. It was Ferdinand who got the contact, but his header dropped straight to Shefki Kuqi who hammered home from five yards out.

Pards responded by replacing the hard-working Bobby Zamora with Mark Noble, but it was Hayden Mullins breaking from midfield who looked to restore Hammers advantage, but his skidding 25 yard drive was well held by Davis.

Sergei Rebrov was introduced with five minutes left, Shaun Newton making way, as Hammers surged forward in the hope of taking a lead to Portman Road.

Harewood came within inches of giving West Ham that advantage when he hit a rasping shot on the turn that fizzed just wide of the post with Davis beaten.

Ipswich were doing some pressing of their own as the clock ticked down on this Play-off semi-final first leg. But neither side could find a winner as this blood and thrust contest ended with honours even at 2-2.

It leaves everything to play for in the second leg on Wednesday night and should make for a fantastic encounter at Portman Road, one which Hammers still have a great chance of winning.