Yossi Grabs Point For Hammers

AN equaliser from Yossi Benayoun has earned Hammers a point at the Stadium of Light in a 1-1 draw against Sunderland.

Alan Pardew's team trailed at half-time to a Tommy Miller goal scored just before the break. But after making a trio of substitutions to swing this game back into West Ham's favour, the Israel international came up with point-saving 72nd minute leveller.

Pards named an unchanged side for the clash with Sunderland, but included David Bellion on the Hammers bench for the first time in the Premiership against his old club.

Mick McCarthy had some familiar faces in his Sunderland line-up. The Black Cats skipper was Gary Breen, who spent a season at Upton Park in 2002/03 and midfielder Christian Bassila was on loan with West Ham in 2000/01.

Backed by an army of travelling fans, who had forgone the live television coverage to make the long trip to Sunderland, Hammers made an energetic start.

But it was Sunderland with the first good chance of the game. After just five minutes a cross from Andy Welsh on the left picked out Andy Gray unmarked inside the penalty area.

But from point-blank range he headed straight at Roy Carroll, to the dismay of the home fans inside a sparsely populated Stadium of Light.

Hammers hit back with a great opportunity of their own on nine minutes though. Yossi Benayoun was the provider, a deft touch on the edge of the penalty area releasing Marlon Harewood.

On the angle the free-scoring striker was one-on-one with Kelvin Davis and hit his shot across the Sunderland goalkeeper, who made a fine save diving to his left to push the ball away. Teddy Sheringham was following up on the loose ball, but a great saving challenge from Steve Caldwell nicked the ball away from the Hammers captain.

It was a lively start at both ends of the pitch, with the physical presence of Welsh for Sunderland and Harewood for the Hammers causing panic in the defences.

Sunderland were peppering the Hammers box with deep crosses, no one more so than left-winger Welsh who got the better of Repka on the half hour to whip in a fantastic ball that needed an excellent header under-pressure by Danny Gabbidon to divert the ball away from danger.

The 35th minute saw former Hammer Bassila, up to that point a commanding figure in the centre of midfield, limp off injured to be replaced by Liam Lawrence.

The half looked almost certain to end in a draw until injury time when Welsh got round the back of the Hammers defence and although his shot was blocked at the near post by Roy Carroll's good save, Tommy Miller was on hand to fire into the roof of the net and give the home side a 1-0 lead at the break.

HT: 1-0

Hammers began the second-half determined to recover from the body-blow of going a goal behind just before the interval.

But, buoyed by their lead, it was Sunderland on the attack, Stephen Elliott taking advantage of Repka's slip to race into the penalty area, but his lobbed shot was comfortably gathered by Carroll.

On 52 minutes Paul Konchesky's enthusiasm got the better of him when he dived over the top of Lawrence and earned the first booking of the afternoon.

Moments later Sheringham saw Hammers best chance of the game so far go begging. A raking ball over the top from Anton Ferdinand picked out the striker, who knocked the ball over the advancing Kelvin Davis but wide of the right hand post as well.

From the very next attack Caldwell had the ball in the net for Sunderland from a corner, but the goal was instantly ruled out for offside.

Approaching the hour mark Carroll was forced into another fine save to deny the dominant home side. Elliott weaved his way past Ferdinand and hit a low shot that the goalkeeper did well to block.

As the ball broke loose Miller's follow-up effort towards the unguarded Hammers goal hit the back of Andy Gray and deflected to safety.

It was a let off Pards immediately heeded, sending on Bobby Zamora for Sheringham.

But still Hammers could not steem the tide of Sunderland attacking, Elliott testing Carroll again with a skidding effort that the goalkeeper did well to hold.

On 68 minutes Pards put the back-up plan into action sending on Christian Dailly and Shaun Newton for Matty Etherington and Tomas Repka and switching to a three at the back system with Dailly playing at the centre of Gabbidon and Ferdinand. Newton went to operate on the right with Benayoun moving into a more central position.

It had the desired affect because four minutes later West Ham United were level.

First of all Harewood flicked on a long clearance down field to Zamora, and it was his deft header that released Benayoun. The Israel international raced clear and steered his low shot beyond the dive of Kelvin Davis to make it 1-1.

It was now time for Hammers to hold on, but they very nearly gave back parity when Lawrence hooked in a shot from a corner that was blocked by a mad scramble of West Ham defenders.

Elliott then threatened with a mazzy run that ended with a shot which deflected off Ferdinand into the grateful arms of Carroll.

As the game drew to a close both Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Caldwell were booked for a bout of pushing and shoving, with both teams fighting to take all three points from this clash of the Premier League new boys.

But there would be no winner at the Stadium of Light, as the game ended with honours even between Hammers and Sunderland, the score 1-1.