Our reserve team brought an end to their run of five
successive defeats with a 1-1 draw against Fulham on Monday night -
but were still left cursing their luck after a late, late equaliser
denied them all three points.
A 64th minute own goal from Fulham's Danish international defender Niclas Jensen appeared to have sealed a deserved win for Hammers, only for substitute Lewis Smith to head a last-gasp equaliser in the final seconds of the game.
Coach Kevin Keen had named a strong side for the visit of the Cottagers - Elliott Ward, Clive Clarke, Shaun Newton and Carl Fletcher all made the starting line-up - while there was a late call-up for schoolboy full-back Robbie Blackwell, still only 15.
In a lively and high-tempo encounter at Dagenham and Redbridge, Hammers had the better of the first half and only the excellence of Fulham goalkeeper Tony Warner ensured that the sides went in level at half-time.
The first real chance of the game came on 24 minutes and fell to young striker Zavon Hines, who skipped on to a flick from Hogan Ephraim and fired in a fierce left-foot shot that Warner superbly tipped round the post.
Just six minutes later, the dangerous Kyel Reid skipped down the right and sent in a cross that was touched back to Hines, who again saw his effort blocked by the Fulham keeper.
On 35 minutes, it was Collison's turn to be denied by Warner following a surging run into the box and powerful shot, while Fletcher's left-foot effort right on the stroke of half-time wasn't dangerous enough to trouble the former Liverpool stopper.
At the other end, young goalkeeper David Blackmore - a late replacement for Jimmy Walker - didn't have a save to make in the entire opening period, but Hammers lost some experience at half-time when Newton and Clarke were replaced by striker Jack Jeffery and another schoolboy debutant, Junior Stanislas, who slotted into the left side of midfield as Fletcher dropped back to the centre of defence alongside Ward.
Fulham started the second half in determined mood and should have taken the lead five minutes in when Bradley Hudson-Odoi found himself in the clear, but the striker fired high over the bar from just eight yards out.
Just 10 minutes later, it was one of Fulham's international stars who provided the decisive touch for the opening goal of the night - but thankfully for Hammers, it ended up in his own net. Ephraim's deep free-kick from the left appeared to be sailing out for a goal-kick, only for a defender's late flick to divert the ball on to the boot of Jensen, who inadvertently stabbed the ball past a despairing Warner.
Substitute Ben Hunt became the third schoolboy to make his debut when he replaced Ward on 68 minutes and, from then on, Hammers combined youthful energy with a steely determination to keep the visitors at bay and hold on to their lead. Blackwell, in particular, made an impressive contribution, while Reid caused constant problems for the Fulham defence.
As the fourth official held up his board to signal three minutes of added-on time, it appeared that the hosts had completed a job well done. However, with just seconds of that stoppage time remaining, a cross from the right was met by Smith - on as a late substitute - who nodded past Blackmore at the near post.
It was cruel on Keen's side, whose all-round performance deserved more than a point, but the claret and blue youngsters could certainly leave the field with their heads held high.
Hammers: Blackmore; Newton (Jeffery 45), Ward (Hunt 68), Clarke
(Stanislas 45), Blackwell; Reid, Collison, Fletcher, Baradji;
Hines, Ephraim. Subs unused: Kemal