Heads up Tristan

Diego Tristan's superlative 85th-minute header grabbed West Ham United a thoroughly deserved 1-1 Premier League draw at Aston Villa on Saturday.

The Spaniard craned his neck expertly to divert Kieron Dyer's volley past Brad Friedel and into the top-left hand corner of the net. Until that moment, it had appeared that Emile Heskey's eleventh-minute strike would condemn the Hammers to their second 1-0 away defeat in the space of eight days following last week's narrow reverse at Tottenham Hotspur.

However, that was without taking into consideration the skill of 33-year-old Tristan, who joined the Hammers on a free transfer in October. Saturday's draw at a sunny yet blustery Villa Park saw West Ham maintain their challenge for seventh place and a spot in next season's UEFA Europa League.

Gianfranco Zola, who named an unchanged side from the lineup at White Hart Lane a week previously, will have been delighted with the heart shown by his players after falling behind early on. Indeed, only the inspirational performance of home goalkeeper Brad Friedel stood between the Hammers and victory in the Midlands.

The first half was a thrill-a-minute affair, with Friedel keeping West Ham off the scoresheet almost single-handedly. Junior Stanislas and David Di Michele were both denied by the big American, who was making his record-breaking 185th consecutive Premier League start.

The lively Stanislas could have put the visitors ahead within two minutes, taking advantage of Tristan's clever dummy run to streak through the middle of the Villa back-four, only for Friedel to block his shot behind with his right shoulder.

Five minutes later and the Hammers threatened again with smart build-up play from Di Michele and Luis Boa Morte freeing Stanislas inside the penalty area, only for James Milner to deny the England Under-20 winger with a fine last-ditch tackle.

Having survived two early scares, Villa went on the offensive themselves and Gareth Barry came within inches of putting the home side ahead, only for his header from Nicky Shorey's left-wing cross to fly narrowly wide on ten minutes.

It was only 60 seconds later that Martin O'Neill's side were ahead, however. Barry's superb run took him clear of the Hammers' back-four. The England midfielder found Milner wide on the right and when the winger crossed into the danger zone, Heskey was on hand to sweep the ball past Robert Green from close-range.

Having fallen behind, West Ham refused to be bowed and came within a whisker of equalising on the quarter-hour mark, only for Friedel to thwart them yet again. This time it was Di Michele who was denied, the goalkeeper blocking his shot bravely following a buccaneering run from right-back James Tomkins, who volleyed his follow-up shot a yard over.

Just moments later, the action switched to the other end, where Green had to be alert to turn Milner's snap-shot around the post. From the resulting Barry corner, giant Norwegian John Carew - a scorer against the Hammers on his home debut for Villa two seasons ago - headed over from eight yards.

Having seen Mark Noble booked for a foul on Stiliyan Petrov, Boa Morte was adjudged to have unfairly challenged Ashley Young 25 yards from goal. The former Watford winger took the free-kick himself, hitting the wall with his original effort before lashing a left-foot shot that clipped the outside of the post on its way wide.

Villa hit the woodwork again on 27 minutes when Heskey latched on to Noble's misplaced backpass and poked his shot past Green and on to the inside of the far post before James Collins hacked the ball clear. A short time later, Milner glanced a header narrowly wide from Shorey's cross.

West Ham suffered a further blow on 33 minutes when the injured Collins was replaced by Dyer, who appeared during the first half of a Premier League game for the first time since the home game against Wigan Athletic on 25 August 2007. Captain Lucas Neill moved to right-back, with Tomkins moving to the centre of the defence alongside Matthew Upson.

There was no let-up in the action as the half drew to a close, with Boa Morte being harshly booked for diving as he drove into the Villa penalty area. Replays appeared to show the Portuguese had tripped over his own feet, rather than tried to con referee Rob Styles. Ashley Young also found his way into Styles' notebook following a clash with Neill.

West Ham ended a pulsating opening 45 minutes as they had started it - on the attack. First, Stanislas headed wide following superb build-up play from Di Michele and Tristan, then the Italian worked Friedel with a low curling shot.

It was the home side who produced the better football immediately after the break, with Green having to react quickly and bravely to save at the feet of Heskey just 90 seconds into the second period.

Ashley Young and Carew also fired efforts narrowly wide as Villa looked to double their advantage, while Stanislas, Dyer and Noble worked tirelessly in an attempt to create an equaliser. Meanwhile, Petrov became the fourth player to be booked for a late lunge on Noble on 64 minutes.

O'Neill made his first change with 19 minutes remaining, replacing goalscorer Heskey - just back from the hamstring injury he suffered in England's 4-0 win over Slovakia on 28 March - with England Under-19 striker Nathan Delfouneso. Zola responded by bringing on Germany Under-20 forward Savio for Stanislas.

The change nearly paid dividends eleven minutes from time, only for Friedel to produce another heroic save to deny Boa Morte, who latched on to the loose ball after Noble's goalbound shot had hit the unfortunate Di Michele. Zola flung on Freddie Sears for the on-loan Torino man on 81 minutes, while O'Neill replaced Milner with Craig Gardner.

West Ham refused to give up their search for an equaliser and their persistence was rewarded with just five minutes remaining. Noble's corner was half-cleared to Dyer and when the England forward volleyed goalwards, Tristan showed supreme technique and awareness to divert the ball past the previously unbeatable Friedel.

Even then, there was still time for Noble to come within inches of stealing an unlikely victory for the visitors, only for the big American to tip his deflected shot over the top.

The final whistle was blown by Styles shortly afterwards to end a breathless match. West Ham's point keeps them in seventh position and on course for a place in Europe ahead of next week's visit of UEFA Champions League semi-finalists and FA Cup finalists Chelsea to the Boleyn Ground.