STALEMATE: Sunderland goal scorer Steven Fletcher (left) tussles with West Ham's Winston Reid
WEST HAM preserved their unbeaten record at Upton Park this season but did not dispel doubts about their forward line in the absence of Andy Carroll.
Kevin Nolan’s injury-time effort, which cancelled out Steven Fletcher’s first-half opener, was one of the few quality chances mustered by the hosts in the second-half despite near incessant pressure towards the final whistle.
With Carlton Cole toiling fruitlessly prior to his removal on 77 minutes, Sam Allardyce will hope Carroll can return from his hamstring injury as soon as possible to provide a penetration to his side’s impressive approach play.
Sunderland hoped to have done enough to earn their first Premier League victory of the campaign but never looked safe as their hosts pressed for an equaliser.
The visitors scored with the first decent chance of the match. On 10 minutes James Collins' pass deflected off Mohamed Diame and into the path of Sebastian Larsson.
The Swede surged forward to pick out Fletcher, who controlled Larsson’s deft chip on his left foot before hitting a measured effort past Jussi Jaaskelainen, whose touch could not prevent the ball nestling in the bottom left corner.
The drive and mobility of Larsson, Fletcher and Stephane Sessegnon overshadowed the ponderous efforts of the hosts. John O’Shea and the superb Titus Bramble remained steadfast and Lee Cattermole harried in midfield.
The hosts began to find their feet as they fashioned opportunities for Ricardo Vaz Te and the visibly aggrieved Nolan, who tested Simon Mignolet with the hosts’ best chance of the first period on 43 minutes.
His volley from Vaz Te’s pass was aesthetic in its execution and ultimately matched by the Sunderland goalkeeper’s acrobatic save. The West Ham captain’s moment would come.
The hosts emerged with renewed purpose after the break as they looked to increase the pressure on Sunderland, whose initial composure began to erode as West Ham sought to address the perceived injustice of the score line.
On 57 minutes Sam Allardyce introduced Matt Jarvis and Yossi Benayoun with the hope of giving his side greater pace and precision than that provided by the ineffective Matt Taylor and the tiring Vaz Te.
The question became if West Ham could find a way to pierce Sunderland’s resistance without leaving themselves open to a counter-attack. They were aided in their efforts by the emergence of Jarvis from the bench, as he gave the hosts greater pace and penetration.
The visitors’ defending was desperate at times but was proving more than adequate and they could have scored themselves through substitute David Vaughan and Fletcher. Their unbeaten record remains intact but it is now 12 league matches without a victory.
The complexion of the match changed in second-half injury-time when Jarvis salvaged a long ball that seemed almost certain to run for another Sunderland goal kick.
He flicked the ball back to fellow substitute Modibo Maiga who flicked the ball on to Nolan whose half-volley on the turn sent the frustrated home crowd into raptures.