London: West Ham consolidated their surprise position in the Premier League`s top four as Stewart Downing salvaged a 1-1 draw at Sunderland on Saturday.
Sam Allardyce`s side had climbed into the Champions League places on the back of three successive victories and, although that winning run came to an end at the Stadium of Light, they stayed in fourth spot after Downing cancelled out Jordi Gomez`s penalty for the hosts.
While West Ham head into the hectic Christmas period with dreams of a place in Europe, Sunderland are still looking anxiously at the relegation zone after their 10th draw of the season left them three points above the bottom three.
Allardyce`s men made a lively start and Carl Jenkinson forced a good save from Costel Pantilimon when his close-range effort was kept out by the Sunderland goalkeeper.
Diafra Sakho, back in the starting line-up in place of Enner Valencia, was next to test Pantilimon as the Hammers pressed hard for the opener.
But against the run of play Sunderland took the lead in the 22nd minute when referee Phil Dowd ruled that James Tomkins` innocuous challenge on Adam Johnson was worthy of a penalty.
Allardyce was furious and launched a touchline tirade at Dowd before Gomez added to West Ham`s frustration by calmly converting the spot-kick.
But Allardyce`s anger was eased seven minutes later as Downing equalised for the visitors.
The former Sunderland loanee was given too much space on the edge of the area and he took advantage with a low left-foot shot that deflected past the wrong-footed Pantilimon.
Jozy Altidore should have put Sunderland back in front on the stroke of half-time, but the American striker, unmarked just eight yards out, made a mess of his attempt to finish Sebastian Larsson`s cross and the ball bounced away off his knee.
Poyet`s side threatened early in the second half when Johnson had a fierce free-kick parried away by Adrian.
Aaron Cresswell was slipped in behind the Sunderland defence by Downing soon after, but Pantilimon was quickly out to block the West Ham left-back`s shot.
Having given Sunderland one dubious penalty, Dowd decided not to award a more convincing claim from the home side when Winston Reid appeared to handle in the area.
Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher then drew a smart save from Adrian and the Hammers keeper made an even better stop to tip over Connor Wickham`s rasping drive.
Carroll had a chance to silence the taunts from Sunderland fans, who still dislike the burly striker for his spell at local rivals Newcastle, but he fired narrowly wide in the final moments.