LIVERPOOL, England, April 4, 2010 (AFP) - West Ham striker Araujo Ilan snatched a last-gasp equaliser to earn his relegation-threatened side a vital 2-2 draw at Everton on Sunday.
Gianfranco Zola's side looked certain to suffer a seventh successive defeat when Ayegbeni Yakubu headed Everton into the lead with five minutes remaining at Goodison Park.
|West Ham midfielder Scott Parker is tackled by Everton midfielder Tim Cahill during their English Premier League football match on April 4, 2010. AFP PHOTO|
But Brazilian substitute Ilan struck with a brilliant diving header less than two minutes later to lift the Hammers one point clear of the relegation zone.
Under-pressure Hammers boss Zola must have feared it wouldn't be his day when Diniyar Bilyaletdinov gave Everton a first-half lead before Egypt striker Mido saw his penalty saved by Tim Howard before the break.
But Manuel Da Costa equalised on the hour and Ilan saved the day after Yakubu's strike.
Third-from-bottom Hull have a game in hand on the Hammers but Zola may feel his luck has changed at last.
Zola said: "We decided to fight until the end and it was a clear demonstration that we kept our promise because we never gave up. At 2-1, it could have been a massive blow but we reacted and it was brilliant.
"I'm very pleased with my team. If you have that kind of attitude, you have no regrets.
"It has been a great day for us. I think it will give a lot of confidence to the players and that will be very important for the next matches."
Zola's decision to give his players three days off following last weekend's defeat to Stoke provoked stinging criticism in some quarters, but the Italian, who used the time to refocus his mind in Sardinia, can now claim he was right to give his squad some breathing space during a turbulent spell.
It didn't seem that things were looking up when Zola lost Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami to injury during the pre-match warm-up.
Junior Stanislas came in for Behrami as Zola tried to end the club's worst losing run for over 40 years.
West Ham midfielder Scott Parker was in the thick of the action early on as he fired over from a corner and then earned a booking for late challenge on Tim Cahill which will trigger a two-match suspension.
David Moyes' men deservedly took the lead in the 24th minute when Jonathan Spector attempted to head away a Leighton Baines cross but found only Cahill, who nodded back for Bilyaletdinov to glance in from close range.
After being out-played for much of the half, Zola's side were handed a potential lifeline as referee Howard Webb ruled that Sylvain Distin's clumsy challenge on Carlton Cole was worthy of a penalty.
Distin was the last man but Webb only showed a yellow card and Everton got out of jail again as Howard plunged to his right to turn away Mido's spot-kick.
Zola must have feared the worst at that point but West Ham gradually gained a foothold in the game in the second half.
They nearly snatched an equaliser when Mark Noble's chip from the edge of the area rattled the crossbar with Howard beaten.
That seemed to spark Zola's team into life and the visitors drew level on the hour as Everton failed to clear Noble's corner and Da Costa reacted fastest to stab home from close-range.
Everton then felt aggrieved when Webb turned down a penalty appeal after Da Costa chopped down Louis Saha.
That didn't bother Everton for long as Yakubu, on as a replacement for Bilyaletdinov, rose to meet a Baines cross with a powerful header past Green in the 85th minute.
It was to Zola's credit that his spirited team refused to surrender and in the 87th minute, Julien Faubert delivered a pinpoint cross for Ilan to power a diving header past Howard.