This was a strange game. Fulham, hunting for points as furiously as bottom-of-the-table West Ham United, could feel hard done by at leaving Upton Park with only a share of the spoils after being pegged back by Trevor Sinclair’s second half spot-kick.

Jean Tigana’s men were much improved on their travels – especially from that woeful showing at St. James’ Park on Saturday – but their winless run away from home has been extended to seven games now. It looked for a long time as though they would push Glenn Roeder’s strugglers further into the relegation mire after Facundo Sava shot them ahead early in the second half. The visitors were furious that referee Dermot Gallagher punished Sylvain Legwinski for a handball after ignoring a foul on Maik Taylor, but Sinclair’s smartly taken penalty made all of that redundant.

The Hammers face a real battle to haul themselves out of the relegation zone – no side has survived having been bottom of the pile at Christmas – and Roeder’s plans for a miraculous escape will not have been helped by Tomas Repka’s late second yellow card for dissent. West Ham looked nervous facing London rivals who could yet be dragged into the relegation fight, with David James typifying those early jitters by slamming a backpass against Sava and being fortunate to see the ricochet fly wide.

The hosts did eventually create chances of their own with Rufus Brevett clearing Christian Dailly’s header off the line and Taylor, who replaced the injured Edwin van der Sar, making a smart save to deny Trevor Sinclair. Jermaine Defoe went even closer in the dying embers of the first half – hitting a post with his free-kick from 23 yards.

It was Fulham who went in front four minutes after the interval. Steve Marlet fed full back Steve Finnan down the right flank and the Irish international’s low cross was finished off by Sava, six yards out, at the back post. The visitors looked comfortable having hit the front and were dealing effectively with the sporadic Hammers attacks until referee Gallagher gave a penalty for handball against Legwinski. Sinclair stepped forward to convert it – and the atmosphere inside the Boleyn Ground completely changed.

The home fans expected a late push for victory, but it was Fulham had the better chances to take all three points. James immediately produced a superb reaction stop to deny Marlet from point-black range and the French international squandered another chance with ten minutes left, shooting wide after being found by substitute Bjarne Goldbaek.

WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): James, Schemmel, Repka, Dailly, Winterburn; Cole, Lomas (Hutchison 76), Carrick, Sinclair; Defoe, Kanoute (Pearce 68). Subs (not used): Bywater, Breen, Moncur.

BOOKED: Winterburn, Repka.

SENT OFF: Repka.

GOAL: Sinclair (pen 65).

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma; Davis, Legwinski (Djetou 65), Malbranque (Goldbaek 78), Wome; Marlet, Sava (Willock 89). Subs (not used): Herrera, Knight.

BOOKED: Legwinski.

GOAL: Sava (49).

REFEREE: Dermot Gallagher (Oxfordshire).