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Saturday, 26th August 2000

West Ham United 2
Manchester United 2

by Graeme Howlett

West Ham pulled off yet another miracle escape against Manchester United at Upton Park today. Two goals in the last five minutes earned Harry Redknapp's men a point which, in all honesty, they never really deserved.

A goal either side of the break for David Beckham (30 yard free kick) and Andy Cole (tap in from Giggs cross) respectively sent the visitors into cruise mode. And with the Hammers playing like a side bottom of the table there seemed no way back for Harry Redknapp's men.

But when Joe Cole was sent tumbling in the box by Henning Berg in the 87th minute a sense of anticipation descended upon the Boleyn. And when Paolo Di Canio sent Fabian Barthez the wrong way from the spot to reduce the deficit to one the mood hit the players, and the team was transformed from a pedestrian outfit lacking any inventiveness or guile into a side full of confidence and hell bent on snatching an equaliser - which duly arrived to scenes of euphoria from all four corners of the ground with less than 60 seconds left on the clock.

Parallels with the 2 all draw in '96 are inevitable. Two late goals - one, a penalty, one from open play scored by a recently acquired former World Cup star; the only difference was that this time there was no Julian Dicks for the crowd to engulf. Instead that honour was bestowed upon Davor Suker who, to be fair, had had a dreadful game up until that point.

Oh to be a fly on the wall of the Man.Utd coach travelling back up the M1 tonight. Alex Ferguson must be furious with his players for literally throwing away a game they had been cruising for 85 minutes.

Especially after it started so well for the current champions. With only three minutes on the clock an innocuous foul 30 yards from goal gave David Beckham the opportunity to size up Shaka Hislop's goal. Seconds later Hislop was picking the ball out of his net, and Beckham was off on one of his traditional aeroplane like celebrations.

But despite the visitors domination, West Ham had their chances to level the scores. Paolo Di Canio was guilty of missing a gilt-edged opportunity when he shot wide from 30 yards with an open goal in front of him. Lomas, Carrick and Ferdinand also has chances during the Hammers best spell of the game, halfway through the first half.

But the Hammers, as on Wednesday night against Leicester failed to take their chances, and it proved costly again when Andy Cole doubled the lead for the visitors shortly after the interval. With the Hammers still backpedalling after Igor Stimac had nodded wide at the other end Ryan Giggs centred the ball for the oncoming Andy Cole, who despite scuffing his shot still managed to send it beyond the despairing dive of Shaka Hislop. It was the sucker punch that Man.Utd are so famous for.

The next 35 minutes were played at a pedestrian pace; the Hammers were completely devoid of any invention, and the visitors were content to knock the ball around. We saw Rio Ferdinand limp off, to be replaced by new signing Christian Bassila. Despite making a shaky start he looks like he could be a worthy addition to the squad.

All seemed lost until the 86th minute, when Joey Cole (who along with Paolo Di Canio was just about the best Hammer on show today) went on a trademark mazy run which culminated in Henning Berg, on for the injured Jaap Stam bringing him down just inside the box.

Paolo Di Canio planted the ball beyond Barthez, and the Boleyn crowd, who had grown increasingly restless came back to life. The team were visibly lifted by this and set off in search of an improbable equaliser.

And it was a rejuvenated Di Canio who set off down the left flank in the final minute to provide a deep cross for Davor Suker, who squeezed the ball between keeper and post from his head. The ball rolled agonisingly along the goal line before Steve Lomas buried it into the back of the net. Cue scenes of euphoria and jubilation, the likes of which I haven't seen at Upton Park for a long time.

But still it wasn't over. Man.Utd went straight up the other end and managed to hit the post twice in the space of 30 seconds, but fortunately for the Hammers neither crossed the line.

It would be easy, looking back at the score to forget the overall performance of the team on the day. In all honesty we were dire for 75 minutes of the game, and Harry Redknapp must take a serious look at what is going wrong. Admittedly we were missing the likes of Sinclair and Kanoute, vital players in the team, but still the problems are glaringly evident. There was no cohesion, no quality about most of our play. Davor Suker for one needs a good kick up the a*se, for he spent most of the game whingeing and diving, which won't earn him any respect with this crowd. He was booked in the end, and could have been sent off later on.

And there must be serious reservations over Shaka Hislop. Whether it's confidence or the injury still, something is drastically wrong. He certainly didn't look fit - on recollection I can't remember him taking a single goal kick today, which would suggest that the achilles problem is still there.

But still, we'll take the draw and look forward to the next game. At least we're off the mark now - still bottom, but on our way at last. It was always going to be a tough start, even without the injuries which have decimated the team.

This report wouldn't be complete without a mention of the referee. Dermot Gallacher was superb today. Instead of diving straight for the book after every suspect challenge he diffused the situation instead by talking to the players involved. If only every referee was as good as Gallacher today there would be no problems. FA take note.

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