Ashton earns deserved draw

A bullet header from Dean Ashton earned West Ham United a point at Goodison Park on Saturday evening on a day when another Academy ace made his debut.

Ashton powered in his second goal in as many games in the 67th minute to cancel out Yakubu's first-half piledriver. The point was a welcome one for Alan Curbishley's men after two heavy defeats in the previous two away games and there were plenty of positives to be had - not least that the game ended with four members of the club's youth academy on the pitch including James Tomkins on his first senior appearance.

With Matthew Upson out with a calf injury and Jonathan Spector's late return from the US after international duty, Tomkins, 19 next Saturday, was one of three changes in Alan Curbishley's 4-3-3 formation. Last weekend's sensation Freddie Sears was again on the bench, along with Spector, while Luis Boa Morte returned in place of Bobby Zamora, who has been suffering from blistered feet, and Mark Noble started at the expense of substitute Nolberto Solano.

Tomkins came close to making an instant impact with the first moment of drama in the game. In the fourth minute, he rose to meet Freddie Ljungberg's corner only to see his header smack against the crossbar with Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard beaten. The young defender was to come unstuck in the eight minute, however, as Yakubu outmuscled him to a high ball before latching on to it and smashing beyond Robert Green.

The home side's celebrations were cut short when Tim Cahill, who has been suffering from a hip injury, was forced off on ten minutes to be replaced by Manuel Fernandes. Everton had already begun without regulars Joseph Yobo, Steven Pienaar and Andy Johnson. Once the game restarted, Ashton had a half-chance but his effort flew wide and Yakubu quickly had an opportunity up the other end only to miss as well.

Yakubu did have the ball in the net again on the quarter-hour mark but was flagged offside even though Scott Parker had inadvertently played the ball through. The Nigeria striker - who scored in both Everton away wins in the league and cup at the Boleyn Ground in December - was proving a real handful to both Tomkins and Anton Ferdinand. The latter also had to be alert on 25 minutes to deny Joleon Lescott a free header.

As the half-hour mark came and went, Mark Noble's cross caused confusion and the ball fell to an unmarked Ashton on the turn in a central position but he smashed his shot into the ground and it ran wide. The No9 was a tireless performer and nearly picked out Ljungberg with a sublime pass six minutes from half-time and, just before the interval, saw Howard only just save his deflected free-kick - moments after Anichebe had been given a chance to strike at Green.

Curbishley let five minutes of the second half go by before replacing Boa Morte with Sears but Everton were still a threat. Leon Osman tried his luck before Yakubu got a chance to connect with a Leighton Baines cross that Green did well to hold. Sears soon began to find his feet though - showing a good turn of pace and neat approach play. He set up Ashton for a low drive that was just deflected wide before the No40's quick feet won a free-kick on the edge of the area that Noble sent high and wide.

Green was having a good afternoon, closing down Osman on 65 minutes and, within three minutes, United were level. Neill's cross found Ashton 12 yards out and the striker rose above Phil Jagielka to power in a header that Howard could not keep out. The visitors were in the mood and Ashton and then Sears both had efforts as the game entered the final 15 minutes, although Howard was worried by neither.

Curbishley made another change in the 80th minute with Ljungberg off for Nolberto Solano before replacing Parker with Spector two minutes later - just after a shot wide from Mullins ended a sweeping United move. There was very nearly a dream finish when Noble let fly from 30 yards before, in the next attack, Sears raced on to Ashton's flick. He knocked the ball beyond Howard but the ball bounced agonisingly against the post and away.