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The Hammers were fortunate to come away with a point from their clash with Sunderland at Upton Park

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West Ham United 0 Sunderland 0

Both struggling sides were left to settle for a point in this basement battle, but it was bottom-placed Sunderland, who left Upton Park wondering just how they had failed to break the deadlock.

Indeed, only a string of crucial saves by Jussi Jaaskelainen kept the Hammers in this six-pointer, while at the other end, Vito Mannone had one of his most comfortable afternoons of the season.

And with daunting encounters with Manchester United and Arsenal to follow, Sam Allardyce’s side will face an anxious Christmas looking over their shoulders,

Both clubs came into this critical encounter having endured back-to-back defeats and following last weekend’s Merseyside mauling, the Hammers boss made just two enforced changes to his 17th-placed team that had lost at Liverpool.

Out went the suspended Kevin Nolan and injured Stewart Downing to be replaced by Ravel Morrison and Joe Cole for this crucial clash against a Sunderland team languishing in bottom spot.

The Wearsiders had lost to Tottenham Hotspur last time out and that saw Gus Poyet make a trio of switches as Fabio Borini, Emanuele Giaccherini and Lee Cattermole came in for Jack Colback and substitutes Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson.

And scrapping for their Premier League lives, the Black Cats almost drew first blood as Ki Sung-Yueng forced Jaaskelainen into an early save and, after the Hammers ‘keeper had also tipped the breaking Jozy Altidore’s angled effort aside, the South Korean was threatening, once more.

First, Sung-Yueng saw a 20-yard thunderbolt deflected wide and then his third effort of the afternoon flew high into the Bobby Moore Stand.

At the other end, marauding Mohamed Diame outpaced Cattermole but his low cross was scuffed wide by the in-rushing Modibo Maiga and, shortly afterwards, the duo combined once more but this time Matt Jarvis – arriving at the far post - just failed to force home Maiga’s header back across goal.

Midway through the half, Demel did get the ball into the net, when James Tomkins headed Mark Noble’s deep corner back into the danger zone but his effort was ruled out for a push on Borini.

By now, the name of referee Andre Marriner was being erased from many East End Christmas card lists but he was soon writing a card of his own, when Noble slid through Borini to collect his fourth caution of the season.

And as the half-hour mark approached, James Collins’ free-kick cannoned off the back of Altidore, who did not appear to have retreated 10 yards and when the ball broke to Borini the exposed Jaaskelainen produced a fine stop to prevent both a Sunderland opener and a claret and blue riot.

Ten minutes before the break, an advancing Phil Bardsley almost caught everyone by surprise with a thunderous 20-yarder that struck the crossbar and, with the visitors looking most likely to score, Borini then sent an angled header inches beyond the far post.

At the other end, both Diame and Joe Cole tried their luck with wayward long-rangers and then a mazy Morrison run mesmerised the visiting defence, however the mercurial midfielder finally ran out of Boleyn Ground grass but, in truth, only a fine, flying stoppage-time parry by Jaaskelainen prevented Cattermole from giving Sunderland what would have been a deserved interval lead.

Ten minutes into the second period, Mannone was finally forced into his first save of the afternoon when he got down to hold Morrison’s 18-yard grass-cutter and, after Jarvis made way for Jack Collison, Diame then sent an angled screamer ripping into the side-netting.

Seb Larsson and Giaccherini were both off target and, after Joey O’Brien came on for Demel, Altidore spun Tomkins but, once again, Jaaskelainen kept the Hammers in the contest with another fine save.

Certainly, the fabulous Finn was having a busier afternoon than his Black Cats counterpart, who was barely threatened by a West Ham side lacking imagination in the final quarter of the pitch and, when Collison did find room for a shot his first-time effort flew well wide.

Fletcher and Johnson came on for Borini and Altidore, while Carlton Cole replaced Joe Cole for the final quarter-hour, as West Ham reverted to a rare two-pronged attack, but apart from late headers from Cole and Collins they barely looked like scoring.

Yet again, it was left to Jaaskelainen to pull out another trump card at the other end of the field, with another fine stop to deny the overlapping Sung-Yueng and earn Hammers the point that keeps them out of the bottom three, ahead of next Saturday’s tricky trip to Old Trafford.

HAMMERS: Jaaskelainen, Demel (O’Brien 58), McCartney, Collins, Tomkins, J. Cole (C. Cole 75) Jarvis (Collison 56), Noble, Morrison, Diame, Maiga. Unused subs: Adrian, Rat, Collison, Taylor, O’Brien, Diarra.

BLACK CATS: Mannone, Celustka, Bardsley (Dossena 82), Brown, O’Shea, Cattermole, Borini (Johnson 72), Sung-Yueng, Larsson, Giaccherini, Altidore (Fletcher 72). Unused subs: Pickford, Cabral, Gardner, Roberge

Bookings: Noble (25)

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 31,843.

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