West Ham United brought a stop to their four-game losing run yesterday yet the dejection on their players' faces at the end spoke of another loss.
Having taken a grip of the game from kick-off, led through an early Hayden Mullins goal and dominated for almost the entire 90 minutes – to the extent where Middlesbrough goalkeeper Ross Turnbull was forced into a brilliant double save in injury-time – West Ham still drew. It felt like points dropped. Justice it was not.
"Sometimes you just have toaccept a draw," said the Boro captain Emanuel Pogatetz, but that was easier for him to say than Mullins or the impressive Craig Bellamy. Pogatetz, like every home fan, knew that Boro had once more stuttered at the Riverside and that Mido's 85th-minute equaliser was a salvage operation.
West Ham knew it too, hence their demeanour. They were about to clinch a first clean sheet in 25 matches when Mido drilled a diagonal free-kick low through the wall and past Rob Green. Visiting heads dropped, but only momentarily and the spirit was evident in the efforts of Jack Collison and the substitute Lee Bowyer in the third minute of added time.
Turnbull, man of the match against Manchester City here on Wednesday, made the first save with his right hand, the second with his left leg. "It's the type of game we've lost in the past," said Gareth Southgate. "We're indebted to a fantastic double save from our keeper but that's three games unbeaten in a week. I'm delighted."
Considering four games ago here Turnbull let in five against Chelsea, Boro's stability is a feat. West Ham could do with some of that and perhaps the result will come to be viewed differently. "It might be a huge point," said Gianfranco Zola. "We were very unlucky but I'm pleased, everyplayer was really, really good today."
The task was complicated by West Ham's injury list. This meant that Bellamy was the "big man" in a strikeforce with 18-year-old Freddie Sears. The teenager, 5ft 7in, was making only his second ever start in the League but inexperience was not a problem. Sears and Bellamy were electric as they pulled Boro's nervous defence around.
In the 22nd minute and Mullins belted the ball into the top corner from 12 yards, having first fluffed his shot. A James Collins free-kick flew inches wide four minutes later and Collison rattled Turnbull's legs after half-time. Julio Arca's introduction made a difference to Boro, though, andensured they kept going. Mido then stepped up and West Ham's three points were chopped to one.