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Tuesday, 19th September 2000

Walsall 0
West Ham United 1

by Graeme Howlett

Teenage striker Jermaine Defoe came off the bench to clinch the Hammers first win of the season with a late winner at the Bescot Stadium in the second round of the Worthington Cup last night.

Defoe had been on the field for just six minutes - of his debut appearance - when he struck the winning goal following a goalmouth scramble after 82 minutes.

But before Defoe's strike it hadn't exactly been a performance to be proud of for Harry's men. Playing in the most appalling conditions - torrential rain throughout - meant that both sides found the going tough, with neither managing to string a succession of passes together all night.

Redknapp went into the game once again counting the casualties. There was also no Di Canio, to add to Redknapp's woes - he had a slight hamstring pull and was rested as a result - which left Trevor Sinclair up front with Joey Cole. Now Sinclair confesses he prefers to play up front, but Cole? Redknapp tried him there against Sunderland for half an hour, and the lad is clearly not a striker, nor happy in the role.

You get some idea of the level of the problem when you consider the team you can make from the injured (or absent, for one reason or another). What about Forrest, Charles, Minto, Margas, I.Pearce, Lampard, Moncur, Basilla, Di Canio, Kanoute and Suker? Arguably, this is a far better side than that which played last night:

Hislop
S.Pearce Ferdinand Stimac Potts
Winterburn Carrick Lomas Keller
Cole Sinclair

Both teams found the conditions hard to adapt to, and as a result chances were few and far between. However, the Hammers probably had the better chances on a night when one goal always looked like it would be enough to decide the outcome.

Trevor Sinclair, relishing in his favourite role should have given West Ham the lead with just a few minutes on the clock, when a long ball from Igor Stimac evaded everyone, and left Sincs with just the keeper to beat. But instead of going round the keeper he shot straight at the Walsall number one.

Nigel Winterburn thought he had given the Hammers the lead on 22 minutes, when a Joe Cole cross was helped on by Sinclair, which left Winterburn to nod in at the far post. However, the goal was disallowed - quite what for remains a mystery, but Winterburn was not offside, and although the ball hit his hand after he had headed goalwards it made no difference to the flight of the ball, so the Hammers can consider themselves hard done by.

Apart from these two moments it was a relatively quiet first half. However the game did improve after the break; Marc Keller, playing wide on the right saw a good shot go just wide on 52 minutes, and again four minutes later.

Bukran went on a surging run for the home side a minute later, but his shot came to nothing. Back came West Ham, with Pearce (free kick) and Keller (20 yard shot) both going close.

Harry Redknapp, clearly sensing a change was necessary opted to remove Marc Keller on 76 minutes. Wisely he dropped Joe Cole back into midfield, which gave little Jermaine Defoe the chance to make his Hammers debut. And it turned out to be a debut he'll never forget.

Just six minutes after coming on the field Defoe was celebrating the winning goal. It started with a Pearce free kick, that was goalbound before it was headed wide by a defender for a corner. The resulting corner led to something of a goalmouth scramble which culminated with Rio Ferdinand hitting the bar from no more than six yards. The ball fell into the path of Defoe, who, with the sweetest and most composed swivel lashed the ball into the back of the Walsall net.

This was the cue for the streaker - who had earlier risked hypothermia by running into the pitch at half time - to come back for an encore, which was appreciated by all in the stands. Bare faced cheek indeed.

And that was the last action of the night. At best you could describe it as dull and unimaginative, but at the end of the day it was the Hammers first win of the season, which will lift the pressure slightly from Redknapp and the team.

The return leg - which SHOULD be a formality takes place at Upton Park next Wednesday. Ticket prices are greatly reduced, which should ensure a good crowd.

West Ham: Hislop, Winterburn, Sinclair, Ferdinand, Potts, S.Pearce, Lomas, Stimac, Keller, Cole, Carrick

Subs: Forrest, Byrne, Newton, Riza, Defoe (Keller 76)

Walsall: Walker, Brightwell, Tilson, Barras, Aranalde, Hall, Keates, Bukran, Matias, Leitio, Byfield

Subs: Emberson, Carter, Bennett, Roper, Angell (Hall 85)

Booked: None

Goals: Defoe (82)

Attendance: 5,435

Referee: S.Lodge

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