Heroic Hammers battle to stunning point at Chelsea
PUBLISHED: 21:56 29 January 2014 | UPDATED: 01:51 30 January 2014
Premier League: Chelsea 0 West Ham United 0
Dogged and determined, West Ham United fought out a gritty goalless draw to earn themselves a priceless point at rain-soaked Stamford Bridge.
This was third from top versus third from bottom and the chasm between these two sides could not have been much wider, with Chelsea 31 points and 34 goals better off than the hardworking Hammers, who despite still finding themselves stuck in the dreaded dropzone, will still take great heart from this performance.
Following the Capital One Cup crushing at the hands of Manchester City eight days earlier, West Ham made six changes as Adrian, Guy Demel, Stewart Downing, Joey O’Brien, James Collins and Mark Noble returned in place of injured former Blues midfielder Joe Cole, Razvan Rat, Alou Diarra, Roger Johnson, plus substitutes Ravel Morrison and Jussi Jaaskelainen, who found themsleves on the bench alongside Italian new boys Marco Borriello and Antonio Nocerino.
Certainly, the Hammers started in fearless form, forcing the first corner of a saturated West End night, before Andy Carroll fell far too easily to the sodden Stamford Bridge turf for referee Neil Swarbrick’s liking as he tussled with Cesar Azpilicueta on the edge of the six-yard box.
Chelsea’s FA Cup fourth round victory over Stoke City on Sunday may have been their seventh successive win but Jose Mourinho still also made half-a-dozen switches, recalling Azpilicueta, Petr Cech, John Terry, Willian, Ramires and John Obi Mikel
That saw Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Nemanja Matic, Andre Schurrle, Mark Schwarzer and ex-Hammer Frank Lampard relegated to the dug-out alongside another Upton Park old boy, Demba Ba.
With 10 minutes on the clock, only an Adrian fingernail prevented Oscar from opening the scoring with a curling 18-yarder that the Spanish keeper just managed to divert onto the bar and away for a corner.
Both Willian and Samuel Eto’o were also off target, while at the other end, Stewart Downing’s free-kick into the danger-zone was met with James Tomkins’ firm downward header, which the diving Cech palmed aside, just as the in-rushing Kevin Nolan looked set to nudge the loose ball over the line.
But as the half wore on, the Blues were gradually finding themselves getting further and further up the pitch and both Mikel and Ramires tried their luck from range, while the Hammers were also forced to bring on Matt Jarvis for Mohamed Diame, who had the misfortune to run out of grass and crash painfully into the home crowd under pressure from Branislav Ivanovic.
On the half-hour mark, Oscar fired another 18-yarder just inches wide and then, four minutes before the break, Eden Hazard curled another shot into Adrian’s clutches from similar range.
But the Hammers keeper saved his best until last, when he somehow kept out Terry’s downward header with his ankles before turning a late angled screamer from Eto’o aside to keep a soggy first-half well and truly goalless.
Emerging for the restart, the Hammers knew that they needed a solid second period, too, as Gary Cahill quickly headed over before Oscar flashed a low centre across the face of goal, before sending a low 18-yarder skidding into the gloves of a grateful Adrian.
Ramires also blasted across goal after Azpilicueta found room down the left flank and, with the pressure mounting O’Brien was then booked for sliding through the back of Willian long after the ball had gone.
On the hour, though, Carroll had a fantastic chance to break the deadlock, when Downing kept his balance as he danced past Ivanovic and with Cech flapping at the hanging left-wing cross, the £15m striker somehow scuffed his shot just six yards out.
That was to be the Big Man’s last chance of the evening, for after Taylor was booked for felling the rampaging Ramires, the England striker was replaced by Carlton Cole, while Lampard and Matic came on for Mikel and Azpilicueta.
Still the Blue tide pressed as Hazard unleashed another skidding effort before Lampard twisted and turned in the area only for his shot to be blocked by a forest of lunging legs.
Ba came on for Oscar, while Nocerino replaced the Nolan, who had been booked for time-wasting, for a frantic final ten minutes that saw the Hammers under seige as Chelsea rocked the woodwork before Eto’o cheekily - and illegally - rolled the ball into an empty net as Adrian shaped to kick upfield but in the end the Spanish keeper had the final word with a last-gasp stop to deny Lampard with the last kick of an absorbing encounter.
BLUES: Cech, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta (Lampard 63), Terry, Cahill, Willian, Hazard, Mikel (Matic 63), Oscar (Ba 80), Ramires, Eto’o. Unused subs: Scwarzer, Cole, Luiz, Schurrle.
HAMMERS: Adrian, Demel, O’Brien, Tomkins, Collins, Diame (Jarvis 30), Downing, Nolan (Nocerino 80) Noble, Taylor, Carroll (C. Cole 63). Unused subs: Jaaskelainen, McCartney, Morrison, Borriello.
Bookings:O’Brien (58), Taylor (61) Nolan (74), Ramires (84).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick