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Saturday, 11th May 2002

West Ham United 2
Bolton Wanderers 1

by Graeme Howlett

These are exciting times at the Boleyn. A squad bursting at the seams with young internationals, a new stand and a manager with the kind of tactical nous not seen in these parts since the days of Ron Greenwood and Johnny Lyall. No wonder chairman Terry Brown looked understandably smug at the end of today's game, perched in his Ivory Tower high above the rest of us mere mortals watching from the seats below.

Bolton, for their part must have failed to read the script however as they were the stronger of the two teams during the opening quarter of a hour. Many eyes were trained on Michael Ricketts, the striker touted as a future Hammer by several sources; on this evidence not many will be hoping that becomes a reality.

The opening goal of the game couldn't have been better timed, coming as it did in the final minutes of the first half. Jermain Defoe pulled the trigger and flashed a shot across the face of Jussi Jaaskelainen's goal; the Bolton keeper somehow got a hand to the shot but fortunately for the Hammers Steve Lomas was on hand to steer the rebound home from an acute angle - technically an excellent finish, and one most enjoyed by the revitalised Irishman who has been instrumental in the team's recent run of good form.

With the sun breaking out during half time, the crowd were looking forward to a few more goals in order to see off the season in style. There were plenty of chances to do so - and none were more guilty of missing those than Freddie Kanoute, who was back to his frustrating best on an afternoon where he could have had a hat-trick. Thoughts of a potential lucrative summer mood perhaps playing on the mind of the big French striker.

On loan midfielder Youri Djorkaeff then proceeded to throw a major spanner in the works by notching Bolton's equaliser with little over 23 minutes left on the clock. One of many awful decisions by the shocking Mike Dean saw the visitors awarded a free kick some 22 yards from goal. Dissent led to Dean moving the kick forward a few steps - but nowhere near the obligatory 10 yards. Djorkaeff's freekick must have been hidden from David James' view, for there can be no other reason for his bumbled attempt to turn the shot wide of the post.

By this time news had filtered through that Tottenham were losing at Leicester, which meant a point was enough for the Hammers to take that much coveted seventh spot. But Ian Pearce - who had already injured Spurs with his last minute equaliser at White Hart Lane weeks earlier - rose to nod in Michael Carrick's corner in the final minute of the game to secure all three points for Roeder's men, to the delight of the home fans.

Sadly the farewell from Steve Potts - stuck on 399 appearances for the club and almost certainly off in the summer - never materialised, but at least John Moncur has his swansong, coming on with two minutes left on the clock for Michael Carrick, who, it transpired, has suffered yet another injury to the groin which has plagued him all season.

The post match celebrations, where the entire squad made the traditional lap of honour around the pitch were fuelled somewhat by the fact that Tottenham had finished two places below us - the fourth time in five seasons we had finished above the 'sleeping giants' from up the road.

The Hammers win, coupled with Tottenham's not entirely unexpected defeat at Leicester ensured a seventh place finish for the Hammers in this season's Premiership campaign - and with it a hefty £6.1m cash prize, some £900,000 more than Hoddle's hapless bunch who were also leapfrogged by Aston Villa on the final day.

Remarkably that seventh spot equated to West Ham's fifth highest ever finish in the top flight - and represented an amazing turnaround in fortunes for rookie boss Glenn Roeder, who, just six months earlier was perhaps only 90 minutes from the push following disastrous defeats against Blackburn and Everton which left the club languishing in the bottom three of the Premiership.

That day Roeder's side beat Southampton 2-0 at Upton Park - a defeat which ironically signalled the end for Saints boss Micky Adams. Roeder however has never looked back, and in that short space of time has orchestrated an incredible turnaround which culminated with today's fine finish - at the top of the so called 'league within a league', on the outskirts of the top six.

So yet again the club can consider themselves 'on the verge' - as in 1986, and in 1998, when Harry Redknapp's side finished 5th in the league on the last occasion we qualified for European competition.

On both of those occasions an almost criminal lack of investment in the team by the club led to the potential promise never being realised. Since that most recent occasion both Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard have moved on, for some £29m - not bad business for a club which got the pair for nothing.

It's taken a few years, but once again we have a team capable of pushing on, and maybe breaking the stranglehold of the 'big six'. Yet again we have a team blessed with some of the best young talent the country can offer; throughout we can boast players coveted by some of the biggest clubs across Europe.

The hope is that the board will learn from their past mistakes and bust a gut to keep the likes of Carrick, Cole and Defoe at the club this time around. We all know there won't be millions to spend this summer (although the club's income from the Premier League will be in the region of £20m before the 2002/03 season commences), but the very least we should expect is that those current crop of future stars are retained to push the club toward that next goal.

Pipe dreams maybe - but the benefits for all are clear to see.

Player ratings:

David James (7) A reasonably quiet afternoon for James, who was only forced into action on the rare occasion. The goal - although he may claim he was unsighted - was however a touch of the old James, a fumble which he really should have turned around the post. But that is a minor criticism compared to the vast effect he's had on the team since last November.

Ian Pearce (8) Something of a utility man now, Pearce covered for the injured Seb Schemmel today ably. The fitness has taken a while to come back but the big fella isn't a million miles away now. The goal was just reward for a player who has taken more knocks in recent years than many players suffer in an entire career, and it's to his total credit that he has come back and forged a place in Roeder's new look side. And how Tottenham must hate him ...

Nigel Winterburn (7) The end of another chapter in Winterburn's glorious career. It was his final game for the club - despite the protestations of many who have urged Glenn Roeder to think again and offer him another year. Winterburn ended his all too brief Hammers career in typical style, and with a little more luck would have doubled his goals tally for the club if he hadn't seen a first half effort well saved. Goodbye Nutty, and thanks for the memories.

Christian Dailly (7) Today's appearance ensured the big Scot remained an ever-present this season - the only player in the entire squad to achieve such a record. Considering the amount of criticism aimed his way at the start of the season that is an achievement in itself - the generous post-match applause for Dailly was evidence that the fans were fully appreciative of his remarkable change in form too. Mr.Consistent.

Tomas Repka (7) Although he has hearts in mouths when he goes for a 50/50 challenge, Repka is the sort of awkward sod any manager would delight in having in their team. Strong, robust and committed, Repka is proving to be yet another astute bit of business for Glenn Roeder who had the foresight to pay Fiorentina £5m for his services at the end of last year. Booked today - again for dissent - he reminds me more and more of the great Billy Bonds every time I see him play.

Trevor Sinclair (8) Sinclair may have been forgiven for having an off day bearing in mind that just 48 hours earlier he had been told he wouldn't be going to the World Cup. Not so - he was one of the best players on the park today, tearing down the right (and left) flank at every opportunity, frightening the life out of Bolton's defenders as he did so. Will he be here next season? Who knows, but despite the uncertainty it's hard to argue that he had remained anything other than professional on the pitch.

Joe Cole (9) The eyes of a nation were on the young Hammers protégé today - and he didn't disappoint. Cole had one of his best games of the season in front of an adoring public, and almost capped it all with a goal. The post stood in the way this time, but it failed to diminish what was a wonderful performance from the boy wonder who was full of all the usual trickery and guile.

Steve Lomas (8) If there was one player to whom our recent run of excellent form must be attributed it would have to be Steve Lomas. The player who sat out almost a full season and a half through injury has come back like a player possessed, and if there's been a better central midfielder in the Premiership in recent weeks I haven't seen him play. Whatever Roeder has stuck in his pre-match drink has worked wonders. KUMB's player of the year back in 1998; one wonders how close he would have gone this season had he not been out of action for so long.

Michael Carrick (6) Today's game encapsulated Carrick's season in 90 minutes; sublime at times but unfathomably poor at others. Some of his passing at times is breathtaking, yet at several times he looked like a fish out of water. The discovery of a(nother) groin strain would go some way to explaining why this was the case today; one only hopes the club can finally get young Michael sorted out over the summer and back to his very best - at which there are few, if any, better young English midfielders.

Freddie Kanoute (6) Another player with the ability to frustrate the hell out of you, for Kanoute it wasn't one of his better days. Gifted several opportunities to score he squandered the lot - including one header from inside the six yard box which missed the target via the woodwork. On his day he is a £15m striker, and unstoppable. On days like today however he would probably struggle to make an impact for that lot who play in red and white just up the road.

Jermain Defoe (7) All season many have argued for Jermain's inclusion from the start, as opposed to the bench starts with which he has had to be content. But it's hard to argue with Roeder's policy when he is as lacklustre as today. To criticise the wee fella is a little harsh however, as this is his inaugural season in the big league - and he's still managed to end up the club's highest scorer. Next season will be his year, as Glenn Roeder has previously intimated.

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