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Saturday, 23rd February 2002

West Ham United 1
Middlesbrough 0

by Vinny Ryan

Finally!

Finally we have won a league game without Paolo Di Canio - and what a vital win it was, too.

It wasn't pretty, and we didn't really play very well - but with the amount of important players we had out, it was a good result.

Additionally, it was the first time the Freddie Kanoute/Jermain Defoe partnership has actually conjured up a goal.

The Hammers started in a 5-3-2 formation; Repka, Dailly and the returning Ian Pearce as centre backs, Winterburn and Lomas as wing backs and Moncur, Cole and Hutchison in midfield. Freddie and Defoe were paired up front once again in the absence of Paolo Di Canio.

'Boro came and (predictably) decided to sit back, soak up the pressure and then hit us on the counter attack.

Even so, in the first half Roeder's men exerted very little pressure and the visitors enjoyed a lot of possession, plus one or two chances (but nothing of major significance).

(The dreadful) Don Hutchison was injured midway through the first half, and duly replaced by Vladimir Labant - a player who I thought played well at Bolton in our last game.

As a result our formation changed (for the better) to the regular 4-4-2 which proved more effective, especially in the second half when most of our forays came on the left flank, with Winterburn and Labant combining well.

'Boro offered very little going forward overall but in the early stages of the second half they had one great chance which we only just survived. A cross was scrambled away and David James had to be at his best to deny Paul 'Judas' Ince from close range.

Ince received his usual reception, and for once it seemed to get to him; as the game wore on as he was seen constantly arguing with team-mate Dean Windass.

A word about the referee - he was abysmal today. Not as in biased, but simply awful. He gave several silly free-kicks (to both sides), which constantly interrupted the flow of the game.

It was fitting that a player was sent off; Ugo Ehiogu was dismissed two minutes from time for a second bookable offence after he cynically brought down Vladimir Labant.

Victim Labant enjoyed an excellent second half and nearly scored with a well taken free-kick which the keeper, at full stretch, just managed to tip over.

The move which produced the winning goal began with Nigel Winterburn delivering the ball towards Jermain Defoe on the left wing. Defoe couldn't reach it, but Schwarzer's clearance was poor and Vladimir Labant picked the ball up on the half way line.

With the crowd screaming at him to shoot, Labant composed himself before playing a ball to Freddie Kanoute on the edge of the box. Kanoute took one touch before volleying into the net, with Schwarzer stranded. A very important goal. So another win at home - and another clean sheet. The victory lifts the Hammers into tenth place, one point behind Tottenham (although they have a game in hand), one point behind Fulham and above Charlton, Sunderland and todays opponents, Middlesbrough.

But we have an away game next, so no doubt we will lose that (unless a minor miracle occurs)! However, we will have Di Canio, Sinclair and Schemmel back for that.

Player ratings:

David James (7) Didn't have too much to do today but made one excellent save from Ince which kept us on level terms.

Nigel Winterburn (8) He was excellent today. Nigel defended well and passed the ball around accurately. Man of the match.

Christian Dailly (7) Solid as a rock at the back, again.

Tomas Repka (7) Solid, like his defensive partner Dailly. Sometimes lacked concentration but nothing too major.

Ian Pearce (6) Big Pearcey struggled at times to get into the game. Clearly needs a few matches yet to regain match fitness; hopefully he can progress from there.

Steve Lomas (7) Lomas worked so very hard today, and didn't bottle a single challenge. Took a knock on his knee towards the end and seemed to be in some discomfort. Early reports suggest he could be out of action for a few weeks, which is a real blow.

Joe Cole (6) Ineffective. Constructed a few mazy runs but lost possession too often. The few shots he had tended to be tame and weak.

Don Hutchison (5) Not in the game at all. As with Lomas, early diagnosis suggests he could be out of action for up to a month.

John Moncur (7) Held the Hammers together in the middle of the park - and didn't get booked! Played rather well.

Jermain Defoe (6) Was never in it today. Had Freddie played like Jermain did today then he would no doubt have received a b*llocking from the fans.

Frederic Kanoute (7) Freddie worked hard throughout, and got his just rewards with the goal. Couldn't ask for anymore.

Vladimir Labant (8) Without his presence we may not have won the game. Upon his arrival we changed the formation - and it all went our way from that point.

RichardGarcia (6) The young Aussie, due to sign a new two-year contract made his home debut - at last. Albeit only as a sub in the final minutes.

KUMB Stats

West Ham United: James, Dailly, Pearce, Repka, Winterburn, Hutchison, Lomas, Moncur, Cole, Kanoute, Defoe

Subs: Labant (Hutchison 42), Garcia (Lomas 87), Hislop, Potts, Kitson

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Stockdale, Southgate, Ehiogu, Queudrue, Greening, Mustoe, Ince, Whelan, Boksic, Carbone

Subs: Nemeth (Greening 80), Murphy (Whelen 81), Windass (Mustoe 88), Crossley, Gavin

Goals: Kanoute (78)

Booked: Cole, Labant, Stockdale, Ehiogu, Greening, Mustoe, Ince

Sent Off: Ehiogu (89)

Attendance: 35,420

Referee: C.Foy

Man of the match: Nigel Winterburn

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