LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - West Ham United's top-four hopes suffered a further blow as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by a resurgent Newcastle United in the English Premier League on Saturday (Feb 19).
Craig Dawson, who snatched a 2-2 draw at Leicester City last week, put West Ham in front in the 32nd minute, heading home a free kick from Aaron Cresswell.
But Newcastle pulled themselves level in added time of the first half with a classy finish from Joseph Willock, which flummoxed West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and bobbled over the line, with the goal given by goal-line technology after the ball was scrambled away.
Eddie Howe’s side were missing key players in French forward Allan Saint-Maximin and Kieran Trippier while Ryan Fraser was forced off late in the game. But Willock filled the creative void with an outstanding performance.
With his instinctive flick to equalise, he scored his first goal this season after making a stunning impact last campaign, netting eight times in 11 starts when he joined Newcastle on loan from Arsenal.
“When I saw it go in, I was so delighted. It’s been a long time coming,” Willock told BT Sport.
The draw meant West Ham stayed in fifth place on 42 points, one behind fourth-placed Manchester United, who visit Leeds United on Sunday.
Newcastle meanwhile extended their unbeaten league run to six games and, although they are still in 17th position, they are now five points above the relegation zone.
Their revival has been fuelled by serious investment in the transfer window following their takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund although Willock also credited Howe for their transformation.
“He’s a brilliant manager and a brilliant person. He’s a manager we all trust and we all buy into what he wants to do. Long may it continue,” added Willock.
“I thought we brought our game plan to them. We were very dominant in the first half and had moments in the second half. It shows how far we’ve come and how much the manager has instilled into us.”
Meanwhile, Kurt Zouma was taunted by Newcastle fans who jeered the West Ham defender and waved inflatable cats at him during the game at the London Stadium.
Zouma was back in the spotlight after the France international pulled out of last weekend’s draw at Leicester, having fallen ill just minutes before kick-off.
Newcastle supporters showed no mercy to the 27-year-old, who was making his second Premier League appearance since a video emerged that showed him kicking and slapping his pet cat.
Zouma was fined two weeks’ wages by West Ham and dropped by his personal kit supplier Adidas. The former Chelsea centre-back issued an apology but his behaviour was strongly condemned across the football world.
Despite the outcry, West Ham manager David Moyes chose to play Zouma against Watford immediately after the video went viral.
Moyes insists Zouma deserves a second chance, but he was loudly booed by Newcastle fans throughout the match, while the inflatable cats added a surreal touch to the taunting.
West Ham fans have created an unsavoury chant in support of Zouma, but Newcastle’s 3,000 travelling supporters responded by singing: “Hey, Hey Zouma, I wanna know, how you kicked that cat.”