Ton-up Noble earns draw

Mark Noble celebrated his 100th West Ham United appearance by earning the Hammers a brave 1-1 Premier League draw at Blackburn Rovers.

The England Under-21 midfielder started and finished a sweeping 60-yard move involving the re-called Luis Boa Morte and Diego Tristan by expertly curling the ball inside Paul Robinson's far post with the outside of his right foot on 35 minutes. Substitute Keith Andrews earned Rovers a point as the home side laid siege to the West Ham goal during the second half, but the Hammers held on for a point.

Saturday's stalemate lifted Gianfranco Zola's team to within seven points of sixth-placed Everton, who went down to a surprise 2-1 defeat at relegation-threatened Portsmouth in the lunchtime kick-off at Fratton Park.

Zola made three changes - two of them enforced by the calf and knee injuries suffered by Matthew Upson and Savio respectively - from the team that drew 0-0 with West Bromwich Albion on Monday. Jonathan Spector and Luis Boa Morte deputised, with former Rover Lucas Neill reverting to centre-half. Up front, Diego Tristan made his first start in a West Ham shirt, replacing Freddie Sears in a 4-3-2-1 formation.

The Hammers quickly slipped into their neat, short passing game, but it was the home side who shaded the opening exchanges and should have gone ahead on eight minutes. A Christopher Samba flick-on somehow eluded Spector, but South Africa international striker Benni McCarthy launched his left-foot volley high and wide from no more than 12 yards.

Two minutes later and the visitors survived another close call. Ryan Nelsen's cross was punched clear by Robert Green, only to land at the feet at Morten Gamst Pedersen. Luckily for the Hammers, however, Spector was on hand to block the Norwegian's low shot.

Scott Parker fired in West Ham's first attempt at goal on 14 minutes, but his 30-yard effort flew well off-target. Two minutes later, David Di Michele linked well with Noble, but the Italian could only curl his shot straight into the hands of Paul Robinson.

It was Rovers who continued to do the bulk of the attacking, however, with West Ham content to soak up the hosts' pressure and hit them on the break. The tactic continued to work well, with James Tomkins - who made fine blocks from Roberts and Pedersen - and captain Neill in particularly resilient form.

Blackburn thought they had taken the lead on 31 minutes when El-Hadji Diouf hooked the ball into the net, only for the celebrations to be muted by the assistant referee's flag. The Senegal forward had been yards offside when Samba flicked on Pedersen's long-throw.

All West Ham's hard defensive work paid off ten minutes before the break as Noble won the ball from Stephen Warnock before racing 50 yards upfield. After a slick interchange involving Boa Morte and Tristan, the 21-year-old scored his fifth goal of the season with an inch-perfect finish.

A goal down at the break, Rovers manager Sam Allardyce sacrificed veteran defender Andre Ooijer for former MK Dons midfielder Keith Andrews, and it took just six minutes for last season's League Two player of the year to make an impact. The Republic of Ireland international was in the right place to rifle the ball through a sea of legs and past Green after Herita Ilunga had only half-cleared yet another Pedersen throw.

Having drawn level through Andrews' third goal for the club, Rovers laid siege to the West Ham goal. Roberts' shot was blocked by Noble before Nelsen headed Pedersen's throw wide of the far post. The former Tromso winger then lashed a right-foot volley five yards wide of the target. Allardyce's side were cranking up the heat, while West Ham were struggling to get out of their own half.

The pressure appeared to have paid off on 63 minutes when Diouf turned the ball into the net from-close range after Green had done brilliantly to parry Roberts' volley, but again the 'goal' was rightly chalked off for offside.

Blackburn, with Pedersen continuing to lauch bomb after bomb into the West Ham penalty area, continued their aerial barrage. A Rovers winner looked inevitable, However thanks to another heroic Tomkins block, this time from McCarthy's volley, Zola's men clung on bravely.

Finally, with 14 minutes remaining, the Hammers broke clear and, following good work from Noble and Kovac, Tristan fired a rising shot over Robinson's crossbar. It was a brief respite, though, and Blackburn were soon back on the attack, only for the peerless Tomkins to pull off yet another superb block to deny Roberts.

With 12 minutes to go, Zola chose to bolster his defensive ranks by replacing Boa Morte with Uruguay international Walter Lopez. Two minutes later, the returning Kieron Dyer was sent on for Di Michele for his first appearance since facing Fulham on 18 January.

Just 60 seconds after coming on, Dyer's pace almost conjured the opportunity for the Hammers to nick a dramatic late winner, but referee Chris Foy waved away claims that the 30-year-old had been impeded by the giant Samba. Dyer's introduction handed the Hammers a vital outlet up front and it was not long before he had won the visitors a late corner that Tomkins could only head out for a goal-kick.

Into the final minute and Parker was booked for a late challenge on Samba as the former Hertha Berlin defender strode forward.

West Ham held on for a hard-fought share of the spoils, but not before Josh Payne had been handed his Premier League debut by replacing Tristan deep in added time.

The Hammers, who have now lost just one of their last ten away league matches, will look to extend their unbeaten run to five matches when Sunderland visit the Boleyn Ground following the international break on Saturday 4 April.