Barclays Premier League
West Ham United 0-0 Aston Villa
West Ham United were held to a frustrating goalless draw by a resolute Aston Villa side at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday, as the Hammers extended their unbeaten Barclays Premier League run to five.
The in-form Stewart Downing was foiled by a fabulous one-handed Brad Guzan stop prior to the interval, before Diafra Sakho twice failed to hit the target with golden headed chances in the latter stages. The returning Andy Carroll was introduced late on and came so close to snatching all three points for the hosts, as his back-post header produced another fine save from the Villa stopper.
For their part, Villa saw Andreas Weimann smash one straight at Adrian, while Tom Cleverley's drive flashed inches over the top in the opening exchanges of the second half. The stalemate sees the Hammers temporarily climb back above Arsenal into fourth, with the Gunners away at Swansea City on Sunday.
As expected, Barclays Player of the Month Diafra Sakho made his return to the starting XI following a shoulder injury, with French midfielder Morgan Amalfitano the man to make way. Elsewhere, Carroll was restored to the matchday 18, having come through a behind-closed-doors friendly against Southend United unscathed.
In a low-key start at the Boleyn Ground, Mark Noble headed Carl Jenkinson's right-wing cross over the top, before Gabriel Agbonlahor showed James Collins a clean pair of heels and promptly blasted an effort into the Bobby Moore Stand.
But West Ham were soon to up the tempo and see several a chance go begging. Brad Guzan got down smartly to smother Collins' near-post header and then Ron Vlaar's desperate intervention prevented Enner Valencia latching onto Sakho's centre.
Valencia himself made inroads down the left and his centre eventually came to Noble, via Collins, with the skipper's shot blocked at close quarters. Sam Allardyce's men continued to pile on the pressure and so nearly struck via the trusty combination of Aaron Cresswell and Sakho. The left-back's cross hung high in the Villa box and though Sakho beat Guzan to it, his header drifted a yard or two wide of the far post.
And so it went on. When another Sakho centre fell kindly for Downing, Guzan produced a stunning right-handed stop to keep the scores level.
But the Hammers were not having it all their own way. Charles N'Zogbia was afforded too much space on the left-hand side and duly skipped inside to pick out Andreas Weimann 12 yards from goal. The Austrian smashed it goalwards but, thankfully, straight at the waiting Adrian who fisted it clear.
There would be one last chance for the hosts before the interval and a good one it was too. Alex Song picked out Downing in space on the left edge of the box, but the in-form No11 skewed it high and wide of the angle of post bar.
Villa, however, went close themselves within just 20 seconds of the restart, as Agbonlahor picked out Tom Cleverley, whose strike from the edge of the box brushed the top of the net as it whistled behind.
At the other end, Cresswell's inviting centre flicked off the head of Valencia and into the path of Jenkinson. The England U21 international opted against teeing up Sakho and instead drove it across the face, with Vlaar, again, coming to Villa's rescue.
With 64 minutes on the clock, Carlos Sanchez slalomed into dangerous territory, but his shot was a tame one and comfortably gathered by the Hammers' Spanish stopper.
Big Sam then shuffled his pack, with Kevin Nolan replacing the unusually quiet Cheikhou Kouyate. It should have had the desired effect, with Sakho looking set to play Valencia in on goal, but the pass was a heavy one and the Ecuadorian failed to collect.
But Villa nearly profited from the Hammers making heavy weather of clearing a corner, with Nolan's attempted clearance cannoning into Sanchez and forcing Adrian into an excellent reaction stop.
Arguably West Ham's best chance came and went with 12 minutes left to play, when substitute Carlton Cole picked out Sakho, but the usually reliable Senegalese directed his header wide of the right-hand upright. And Sakho passed up another presentable opportunity seconds later, this time connecting with Downing's centre, but sending it sailing over Guzan's crossbar.
Still West Ham poured forward and, following the introduction of Carroll, might have snatched it in the game's dying embers. Downing stood up an inviting cross to the far stick and there was Carroll to meet it, only for Guzan to deny the Hammers man a fairy tale return and earn his side a battling point.
West Ham United: Adrian, Reid, Cresswell, Kouyate (Nolan 66), Downing, Sakho, Noble (c) (Carroll 90), Jenkinson, Collins, Song, Valencia (Cole 75)
Subs: Jaaskelainen, Tomkins, O'Brien, Amalfitano
Aston Villa: Guzan, Baker (Senderos 88), Vlaar (c), Cleverley, Weimann, Agbonlahor, Westwood, Cissokho, Sanchez, N'Zogbia (Clark 90), Lowton
Subs: Given, Bacuna, Cole, Richardson, Bent
Booked: Cleverley, Weimann, Agbonlahor
Referee: Jonathan Moss