Saturday, 28th October 2000
If you were a neutral observer coming to the Boleyn this afternoon in search of the fluent, passing game for which West Ham are traditionally known you would have been sadly disappointed, for this instead was a real backs to the wall fight for three points. There was certainly nothing pretty about the Hammers in the last 15 minutes as we clung desperately to the one goal advantage which Freddy Kanoute had so preciously grabbed with a cracker on 74 minutes.
In truth you could have probably predicted this outcome. Newcastle haven't won in the capital for over three years, and haven't beaten us at all since the day that John Barnes stole the show with an exquisite lob over Ludo at Upton Park back in 1997.
If Harry Redknapp's team had some bad luck earlier in the season, then this was the good lady smiling on the other side of her face. Newcastle today enjoyed the sort of possession that the Hammers have against the likes of Leicester and Sunderland already this season, and failed likewise to take three points from such an advantageous position.
But the Toon certainly had their chances. Alan Shearer couldn't believe Shaka Hislop saved his shot from point blank range within the first ten minutes, and former Hammers target Lomana Lua Lua and Gary Speed also spurned gilt-edged opportunities to score for the visitors.
But it wasn't a totally one-sided game; the Hammers had their chances too. Frank Lampard and Freddy Kanoute were guilty of missing when they should have done better, and Shay Given pulled off the sort of save that they show over and over on Match of the Day to deny Lampard again on the stroke of half-time.
I've criticised Harry Redknapp in previous reports for failing to make tactical changes when it has been fairly apparent that they were needed. So in all fairness I must congratulate Harry for the second half adjustments that played a huge part in winning the game today.
The first one was perhaps forced to a degree; a hamstring strain for Nigel Winterburn saw him replaced by Steve Potts, and Harry changed from 5-3-2 to a more balanced 4-4-2 formation.
The second saw Joey Cole replaced with Davor Suker with a touch over 20 minutes remaining. Suker joined Kanoute and Di Canio in a three-pronged attack - and the move paid dividends almost immediately.
Suker fed the ball through the Newcastle defence into the path of Freddy Kanoute. He dispatched the ball beyond the despairing reach of keeper Shay Given to record his second strike of the season, and his first since August. The Boleyn Ground predictably erupted into joyous scenes.
So 16 minutes left, and you knew what was coming. The Hammers developed a siege mentality and set up camp in their own 18 yard box, desperately thrashing at anything that threatened their territory. John Moncur entered the fray as a time-wasting measure with less than two minutes remaining on the clock, yet still managed to get himself booked!
Pretty it wasn't, but it was good enough - the vital first home win of the season, and three points which move us out of the bottom three for the first time since August.
Some other good points that came out of the game; Ian Pearce. Great to see him back, he was as accomplished as he was before the terrible injury that threatened his career. Frank Lampard too was like the Lampard of last year; certainly his best game of the season.
However Di Canio and Sinclair were both ineffective; Sinclair particularly is really suffering, and is currently just a shadow of the player that came runner up as Hammer of the Year last season.
Harry Redknapp's after match summary was all about confidence. Despite continued remarks from the manager prior to the game that 'morale was fine' and 'everything was okay' it was clear that the team were beginning to get affected, and this win is even more vital for that respect. We've moved out of the immediate danger-zone, and have broken the duck at Upton Park.
The next big test comes on Tuesday when we face Blackburn in the Worthington Cup. Win that and we can start to sleep a little easier, safe in the knowledge that things are looking up. Lose and we're even beyond back to square one.
So well done to the boys for today, a valuable three points - but this writer for one isn't getting too excited about things, just yet.
West Ham United: Hislop, Winterburn, I.Pearce, S.Pearce, Ferdinand, Sinclair, Cole, Lampard, Carrick, Kanoute, Di Canio
Subs: Bywater, Potts (Winterburn 65), Moncur (Kanoute 88), Diawara, Suker (Cole 68)
Newcastle: Given, Goma, Acuna, Lee, Hughes, Solano, Griffin, Speed, Dyer, Lua Lua, Shearer
Subs: Glass, Cordone (Lua Lua 82), Bassedas, Harper, Caldwell
Goals: Kanoute (74)
Booked: Solano, Lua Lua, Moncur
Sent Off: None
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