Hammers strike late for lifeline
Thomas Hitzlsperger ensured the fight for Premier League survival will go to the wire as his late equaliser against Blackburn pulled West Ham from the brink of the drop with a 1-1 draw. The Germany midfielder - nicknamed 'The Hammer' - unleashed a trademark 25-yard drive into the bottom corner 12 minutes from time to rescue a point from a turgid showing from Avram Grant's side.
Rovers looked to have secured a win which would have practically had them safe when Jason Roberts struck early on. Without the injured Scott Parker the Hammers were woefully short of invention and looked to be on their way into the Championship after six seasons in the top flight.
They had mustered just a solitary effort on goal for 78 minutes until Hitzlsperger crashed an unstoppable shot past the previously unemployed Paul Robinson. That kick-started a late surge and substitute Robbie Keane and Carlton Cole both then spurned great chances in the final few moments.
But the Hammers are still alive and next Saturday will travel to face Wigan in what is likely to be a season-deciding clash for both sides.
Early set-back for Grant
Grant was roundly booed when he stepped onto the pitch to retrieve a loose ball during the first half and saw his side fall behind to a classic counter-attack. Jermaine Jones was allowed to carry the ball from midfield before feeding the overlapping run of Brett Emerton.
The Australian was in space after Wayne Bridge had been left upfield and steadied himself to deliver a perfect cross which Roberts converted from five yards out. The striker could hardly miss and gave Robert Green no chance with a side-footed volley.
Morten Gamst Pedersen then headed a Manuel Da Costa effort off the goal-line as the hosts launched a rare attack but Rovers looked comfortable throughout.
Grant threw on Frederic Piquionne and Keane in the second half as he played with four strikers but still there was no invention or variety to their play. A goal looked unlikely until Hitzlsperger - comfortably the best player in a claret shirt - struck with time running out.
Hitz gives hope
Cole crafted the chance with good work on the left of the penalty area and he was able to tee up the former Aston Villa midfielder in space in the D. Hitzlsperger took aim and cracked a thunderous drive through a crowd of players and into the far corner.
The relief was enormous inside the stadium and Blackburn - so assured for most of the match - suddenly looked edgy at the back. Keane drove into the area and put in a teasing cross which was inches away from Demba Ba's head before the Republic of Ireland captain missed a golden chance. Piquionne crossed from the left and Keane - six yards out - fluffed his connection to miss an open goal.
It could yet prove a costly error from the on-loan Tottenham man but with West Ham three points behind Wigan and safety going into next week's showdown at the DW Stadium, Grant's men live to fight another day.