West Ham’s faint hopes of scraping Champions League qualification were left hanging by a thread after they were reliant on late strike from Said Benrahma to rescue a 1-1 draw at Brighton.
Substitute Benrahma rifled home his first goal for the club with just three minutes to go, leaving the Hammers five points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea with just two fixtures remaining.
The sixth-placed visitors looked set for a damaging defeat at the Amex Stadium after Danny Welbeck’s 50th Premier League goal broke the deadlock only three minutes earlier.
David Moyes’ men have games against West Brom and Southampton to ensure the minimum of a Europa League place does not slip through their grasp, with Tottenham and Everton each just three points behind and in hot pursuit.
Lowly Brighton remain 17th following their 14th draw of the campaign.
West Ham were seeking to breathe fresh life into their European push after suffering three defeats in their last four.
Influential England midfielder Declan Rice returned from a six-week injury absence to boost their aspirations, with national team boss Gareth Southgate watching from the stands.
Moyes’ men had the better of a cagey opening period short on chances.
Pablo Fornals found himself in dangerous positions on three occasions but was unable to capitalise, while Tomas Soucek stung the palms of Seagulls goalkeeper Robert Sanchez with a rare shot on target.
Brighton’s preparations were severely disrupted by the suspensions of key duo Lewis Dunk and Neal Maupay following their red cards at Wolves.
Dunk’s enforced absence was particularly painful on a personal level given the presence of Southgate and with the start of the rescheduled Euro 2020 less than a month away.
Graham Potter’s rejigged hosts were characteristically neat in possession and defended stoutly but did not threaten Lukasz Fabianski prior to the break.
Hammers keeper Fabianski was finally forced into action early in the second period, twice repelling dangerous right-wing crosses from Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Brighton were undefeated in their previous seven Premier League meetings with the visitors and Jahanbakhsh looked eager to help preserve that record.
The Iran winger – seeking his first Premier League goal since January 2020 – beat the onrushing Fabianski from wide on the right but saw the ball flash narrowly wide after Aaron Cresswell was unable to deal with Dan Burn’s searching ball forward.
Time ticked away with little goalmouth action until West Ham wasted a golden chance to edge ahead when unmarked defender Craig Dawson headed narrowly wide following an inviting cross from Benrahma.
That miss proved more costly just minutes later when former England forward Welbeck – who played under Moyes at Manchester United – latched on to a delightful through pass from substitute Percy Tau to lift the ball over Fabianski and claim his landmark goal.
Brighton were on course for only a fourth home league win of the season.
But the Hammers swiftly hit back as former Brentford man Benrahma powerfully drilled home from just outside the box.
Moyes urged his team on for a late winner but the game ebbed away into a fourth successive draw between the two clubs.