KEVIN Nolan scored an injury-time equaliser to end 80 minutes of stubborn Sunderland resistance and earn his West Ham side a point at Upton Park this afternoon.
Steven Fletcher kept up his fine form in front of goal by firing the visitors into an early lead and it looked like they would hang n for their first league win of the campaign.
But Hammers captain Nolan, so often the saviour of his side with important goals, hooked home the equaliser in the dying seconds to maintain their unbeaten home start to the season.
Sunderland took a ninth minute lead when Sebastian Larsson was given too much time on the right to pick out the unmarked Fletcher.
The former Wolves man took a steadying touch before smashing it through the legs of James Collins and into the bottom corner via the hand of Jussi Jaaskelainen, for his fourth goal of the season.
Fletcher did little else of note all afternoon but that predatory finish will have a drawn an envious glare from Hammers boss Sam Allardyce, for whom striker Carlton Cole continued to flatter to
deceive in the absence of injured Liverpool loanee Andy Carroll.
West Ham dominated the game but time and time again were thwarted by some manful defending from a Sunderland backline marshalled terrifically by Titus Bramble and John O’Shea.
After Fletcher’s goal had silenced the majority of the 33,052 packed into Upton Park, the Hammers went close when Matt Taylor’s nicely shaped cross was headed into the ground and just over the bar
by the arriving Ricardo Vaz Te.
Cole then out-jumped O’Shea to send a header narrowly over and Nolan hooked an improvised effort wide as the half drew to a close.
The hosts continued to dominate but could not come up with the final-third quality needed to open the Black Cats up.
They came very close three minutes before the interval when Guy Demel’s tenacity allowed Vaz Te to swing in a cross from the right with which Nolan drew a fine one-handed stop out of Simon Mignolet
with an acrobatic volley.
The pattern of unfulfilled West Ham dominance continued after the break and 10 minutes in Allardyce made a double substitution with Matt Jarvis and Yossi Benayoun replacing Vaz Te and Matt Taylor.
Hammers centre back James Collins skimmed the top of the crossbar with a header from a Mark Noble corner, but West Ham were lucky not to find themselves two down when substitute James Vaughan
somehow failed to connect from six yards following James McLean’s whipped delivery.
West Ham’s salvation came in the second of four minutes of injury time as Jarvis kept a seemingly lost cause in play.
And when fellow substitute Modibo Magia headed the ball down, Nolan swivelled brilliantly to hook the ball inside the post, despite a gallant effort to save it by Mingolet.
Allardyce said: “We’ll wake up disappointed tomorrow knowing we should have had a win rather than a point.
“Sunderland had four attempts at goal in the 90 minutes and that showed our dominance, but our finishing was our Achilles’ heel.”
On the performance of Sunderland’s goal-scorer Fletcher, Allardyce added: “He’s justifying the sort of money Martin’s paid for him and we nearly paid the price today.”
West Ham (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; O’Brien, Reid, Demel; Taylor (Benayoun 60), Diame, Nolan, Noble, Vaz Te (Jarvis 60); Cole (Maiga 77).
Sunderland: (4-4-2): Mignolet; Rose, O’Shea, Bramble, Gardner; McClean, Colback, Larsson (Vaughan 61); Sessegnon (Campbell 70) (Meyler 90), Fletcher.
Echo MOM: John O’Shea (Sunderland).