Wednesday, 27th September 2000
And in all honesty it should have been the second division leaders who were celebrating, not Harry Redknapp's disjointed and woefully inadequate side who had to rely heavily on lady luck to see them through a tense final fifteen minutes.
The night had started so promisingly for the Hammers; after two minutes their lead in the tie doubled when Steve Lomas got on the end of a Frederic Kanoute cross to put the Hammers one up. That should have signalled the opening of the floodgates; instead it was the last thing the home fans had to cheer all night, well, at least until the final whistle.
Walsall levelled the scores just five minutes later, when Leitao struck to silence the crowd with a header from one of fifteen corners the visitors had on the night.
Di Canio and Cole, chief tormentors of Coventry on Saturday joined the rest of their team mates in a performance so below par it was almost laughable. Quite what happens to West Ham sides when they face lower division opposition I can't explain, but it is a disease that has spread throughout the club since the glory days of Moore and Hurst, through Brooking and Bonds to todays' current crop of stars. It's completely mystifying but totally predictable.
One all at the break; further bad news in the second half came when Frank Lampard was laid out by a horrendous challenge from Walsall's Bukran. Lampard was forced to leave the field, and the injury seemed to be to the ankle which has kept him out of action for the better part of the season so far. We await to hear the news on that.
The crowd of just under 12,000 were fearing the worst in the final 15 minutes as the Saddlers began to take control of the game. Corner after corner followed, and only a combination of goal line clearances, well placed woodwork and good old fashioned luck prevented this tie from entering extra time.
At the final whistle there was no man more relieved at the Boleyn than Harry Redknapp. He had seen his side outplayed by a team two leagues lower, and must be thanking his lucky stars tonight that somehow his team managed to hang on.
At least referee Andy D'Urso was happy tonight - he only lives in Billericay, so he'll be home in time to watch the highlights ...
Team: Hislop, Winterburn, Margas, S.Pearce, Stimac, Lomas, Carrick, Cole, Lampard, Di Canio, Kanoute
Subs: Forrest, Potts (Lampard 70), Newton, Byrne, Defoe
Walsall:Walker, Barras, Brightwell, Bennett, Tilson, Aranalde, Bukran, Matias, Hall, Leitao, Angell
Subs: Emberson, Keates, Roper (Barras 48), Byfield (Angell 57), Wright (Hall 79)
Goals: Lomas (2), Leitao (8)
"That was the worst game I have see WHUFC play in the last 10 years. Evan the golden boy Di Canio let his head drop and was jeered by the crowd. The only saving grace for me was that as a matchday steward at Upton Park I was paid to sit and watch that c***. If I had spent some of my hard earned cash then I would be very very angry.
"Harry reckons a top seven place in the league and a European place next year, wake up and live in the real world H, if they don't improve on that performance they will be relegated. Thank God last nights performance counts for nothing in the Premier league. Still the team has a chance to make amends for last night on Saturday, when they can make up for letting their fans down with 3 point at home to Bradford."
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