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[Archived] News Article -> 2010/11 Match Report: West Ham United 1 Rovers 1

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West Ham United (0) 1 – 1 (1) Blackburn Rovers
Hitzlsperger 78 Roberts 12
Referee: Peter Walton Attendance: 33,789

A tantalising twelve minutes was all that stood between the Rovers and their first win at the Boleyn Ground since April 1994. More frustratingly, for the Rovers, Thomas Hitzlsperger's 78th-minute strike, combined with results elsewhere, meant that the relegation battle continues for a least another week and, in all probability, may not be settled until the final-day showdown at Molineux.

On a fairly humid afternoon in London's East End, the tension was almost palpable as the crowds made their way to the Boleyn Ground. Many West Ham fans seemed resigned to relegation while travelling fans from Blackburn seemed in boisterous mood as the teams took to the field.

News that both Michel Salgado and Phil Jones were missing meant that Steve Kean had to shuffle the pack with Brett Emerton replacing Salgado and Gael Givet moving into the centre of defence. Martin Olsson moved from the left wing to left-back with Morten Gamst Pedersen being drafted in to fill the vacancy on the left side of midfield. The home side suffered a major setback with news that Scott Parker, the Footballer of the Year and the Hammers' talisman, was still ruled out by injury. Avram Grant made three changes to the side that lost at Manchester City the previous week with Wayne Bridge, Manuel da Costa and Carlton Cole coming into the side at the expense of James Tompkins, Matthew Upson and Robbie Keane.

Following the pre-match huddle that had been in evidence at Ewood Park the previous week, the Rovers found themselves coming under expected early pressure. There was an early scare, on five minutes, when a corner from Hitzlsperger found the head of da Costa and Pedersen was called upon to head the ball off the line.

However, after twelve minutes, it was the travelling fans who had cause for celebration following a well-worked move. Jermaine Jones broke from the centre of midfield and despite Hitzlsperger's attempts to bring him down he was able to make progress before an inch-perfect pass found Emerton, who had broken down the right wing. The Australian found space in behind Bridge and, from his pinpoint cross, Jason Roberts was on hand to prod the ball home from close range. A word of praise must go to referee Peter Walton, who allowed Jones to go on when he could easily have blown for a foul. Indeed, he attempted to allow the play to flow all afternoon and for the second week running we were fortunate to witness a decent display of refereeing.

The pattern for the remainder of the game was now set. West Ham looked to get forward at every opportunity while the Rovers simply dug in and looked to hit them on the break. In truth, despite their pressure, the home side created little in the way of clear-cut chances. The Rovers defended superbly with Pedersen and Mame Biram Diouf working tirelessly to try to prevent West Ham from building attacks from the back. Steven Nzonzi and Jermaine Jones both sat deep at times to deny the home side space in which to work but both looked to get forward whenever the opportunity arose to support Roberts and Junior Hoilett.

As the first half drew to a close, West Ham continued to have plenty of possession but failed to make any headway against the resolute defending of Chris Samba and Gael Givet. Both Emerton and Olsson provided steady support at full-back with the result that Paul Robinson had little to do in the first half but collect a cross or two. Indeed, it wasn't until the stroke of half-time that Robinson was called upon to make a save following a low shot from Freddie Sears.

Although this had been earmarked as a must-win game for West Ham, it was the Rovers who had looked the more controlled team throughout the first forty-five minutes. As the teams left the field at the end of the first half, the home fans seemed strangely silent, almost as if they had accepted their fate.

West Ham began the second half in a more determined mood and their play suddenly seemed a little more purposeful than that of the first period. With a win so vital to the survival hopes of the Hammers, it came as no surprise when Grant thrust Keane into the fray, with the half just ten minutes old, in place of Luis Boa Morte.

Although the home side seemed to have stepped up a gear following the interval, the Rovers continued to cause them problems on the break. Following a Pedersen corner, Rob Green was called into the action to make a save from a Samba header. An effort from Nzonzi was well saved by Green before Hoilett fired wide after cutting in from the left.

With less than half-an-hour remaining, Grant made a final throw of the dice with a double substitution which resulted in him having four strikers on the pitch. Jack Collison replaced Sears while former Rover Lars Jacobsen was withdrawn to allow Frederic Piquionne to add more firepower to the Hammers' misfiring attack.

Kean quickly responded with a double substitution of his own. Roberts, who was struggling to retain possession, was replaced by Roque Santa Cruz while Hoilett, who had begun to look very tired, was replaced by Keith Andrews as Kean attempted to stop the Rovers from being overrun in midfield.

Although West Ham continued to have the major share of the play, the introduction of Santa Cruz meant the Rovers were able to retain possession when they got the ball forward. The Manchester City loanee seemed much fitter than in recent weeks and was able to hold the ball up far better than Roberts had done, thus giving the Rovers' defence the opportunity to have a breather. The much-maligned Andrews also helped to shore up a midfield that seemed in danger of being overpowered as West Ham went for broke.

In many ways the substitutions worked in favour of the Rovers. The home side seemed to lose a little bit of momentum following the changes while the Rovers continued to dig in and frustrate the home side by denying them space in which to work.

It was, therefore, disappointing that West Ham should equalise on one of the rare occasions that the Rovers failed to close down the opposition with sufficient speed. A cross from Piquionne clipped a defender and found its way to Cole who laid the ball back to Hitzlsperger. With just twelve minutes remaining, the German midfielder rifled his low shot through a crowd of players and into the back of the net.

The goal transformed the Boleyn Ground as the home supporters finally found their voice and began to roar their side on for the win that they so desperately needed. However, the Rovers stood firm despite the hostile atmosphere and increased pressure from the home side. With just minutes remaining, it appeared as though the Rovers had weathered the storm when Piquionne got into a great position and rolled the ball across the six-yard box for Keane. With the goal at his mercy the normally deadly striker completely fluffed his shot and sent the ball wide. It was a major escape for the Rovers and a miss that could well see the end of West Ham's tenure in the Premier League.

Deep into injury time Kean introduced the fresh legs of Rochina for Diouf. The Manchester United loanee had given one of his best performances of the season and had worked tirelessly throughout the game, both in defence and attack.

The final whistle was greeted with relief by the travelling Blackburn fans while the home supporters silently drifted home knowing that their Premier League life was ebbing away. The Rovers fans celebrated the capture of a valuable point which might yet be enough to see the club safe. Unfortunately, draws for Wigan Athletic and Blackpool means that safety is not yet assured but at least, even if results don't go for them next week, the Rovers will enter the final week of the season knowing that their future rests in their own hands rather than on having to rely on results elsewhere.


West Ham United

Robert Green; Lars Jacobsen (Frederic Piquionne 64), Manuel da Costa, Danny Gabbidon, Wayne Bridge; Jonathan Spector, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Luis Boa Morte (Robbie Keane 55); Freddie Sears (Jack Collison 63), Carlton Cole, Demba Ba
Subs not used: Rudd Boffin (gk); James Tomkins, Radoslav Kovac, Zavon Hines
Manager: Avram Grant

Blackburn Rovers

Paul Robinson; Brett Emerton, Chris Samba, Gael Givet, Martin Olsson; Steven Nzonzi, Jermaine Jones; Mame Biram Diouf (Ruben Rochina 90 + 4), Morten Gamst Pedersen, David "Junior" Hoilett (Keith Andrews 69); Jason Roberts (Roque Santa Cruz 69)
Subs not used: Mark Bunn (gk), Grant Hanley, Mauro Formica, Benjani
Manager: Steve Kean


West Ham United – Luis Boa Morte, Manuel da Costa, Jonathan Spector

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