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Saturday, 2nd February 2002

West Ham United 2
Blackburn Rovers 0

by Gordon Thrower

A sunny yet chilly day in East London was the setting for today's visit of Blackburn Rovers, enjoying their first season back in the Premiership. The Hammers had a score to settle, with memories of that terrible 7-1 defeat still painfully fresh in the mind.

Users of Upton Park tube station were greeted by members of the WHUST (West Ham United Supporters Trust) who were handing out leaflets advertising their worthy cause. Thousands of leaflets were handed out during the afternoon - if you didn't get one and would like to know more visit their website at www.whust.co.uk

No Michael Carrick meant the return of Steve Lomas in midfield; Nigel Winterburn retained his place whilst new boy Vladimir Labant started on the bench.

West Ham's home form is excellent this season; true to form today's performance was superb at times, in direct contrast to that witnessed at Ewood Park earlier in the season against the same opposition.

The only surprise is that the first goal took so long in coming, but it was well worth waiting for. Paolo Di Canio and Freddie Kanoute had already spurned gilt-edged opportunities before they combined brilliantly in the 16th minute to send Trevor Sinclair through on goal. The last Blackburn defender was left on the seat of his pants by the England hopeful who buried the ball in the bottom left hand corner from the edge of the box. A wonderful goal, and truly deserved by the Hammers who played some fantastic football in those opening 20 minutes.

West Ham continued to create chances throughout the first half, but failed to add to the opening goal. The game was following a similar pattern to the draw with Liverpool at Christmas - one hoped that the outcome would not prove to be equally disappointing.

That fear was dispelled - eventually - but not before Blackburn missed several good chances to equalise. Largely responsible for this was David James, who pulled off some outstanding saves - one especially from Damian Duff - to preserve the Hammers slender lead.

That second goal arrived ten minutes after the break against the run of play, and it was yet again another lovely move by West Ham. Paolo Di Canio, at the heart of many of the Hammers attacking forays delivered a slide rule pass to send Freddie Kanoute through on goal. Kanoute, who had previously missed two easier chances to score finished this one with some aplomb, slipping the ball underneath the advancing Freidel with his left foot.

That was it as far as goals went, but there was plenty more to keep the crowd entertained. Di Canio and Cole pulled off some outrageous skills to please the crowd; Cole's run across the box late on leaving three players in his wake deserved a better finish from the 20-year-old who sent the ball into row Z.

The only sour note of the afternoon was a bizarre altercation between Don Hutchison and Glenn Roeder's right hand man, Paul Goddard, midway through the second half.

Hutchison, clearly upset at being substituted lashed out at one of the plastic chairs on the sidelines. Moments later he and Goddard were seen exchanging angry words, which ended with Goddard telling Hutch in no uncertain terms to 'shut up or f*ck off' ... deeper problems there maybe? It was the third successive match in which Hutchison had been substituted.

The win lifts the Hammers back into 11th spot, with some relatively low key games on the horizon. Glenn Roeder, with 31 points under his belt now will know that four (possible three) more wins will be enough to guarantee another season of Premiership football at the Boleyn (at which point he has promised to introduce one or two promising youngsters such as Richard Garcia and Glenn Johnson). At the moment the form is not good enough to aspire much higher, but with 13 games yet to play that immediate target surely won't prove to be too much of a problem to reach.

Player ratings:

David James (9) Another very, very good day for England hopeful James. On this form he is absolutely unbeatable - as both Damian Duff and Andy (oops, Andrew) Cole will no doubt testify, after both were thwarted by the big keeper. Commanding, reassuring, and quick to set the Hammers in attack; just about the best all round performance we've seen from him in a Hammers shirt.

Seb Schemmel (7) Seb was linked - however tenuously - with a move to Rangers earlier in the week, but it certainly didn't go to his head. Had a tough afternoon battling with the excellent Damian Duff, but just about held his own. Such a different player at home, flying down the wing far more frequently and effectively. Drew a huge round of applause after chasing down three different Blackburn players in quick succession in the away teams penalty box late on in the match.

Nigel Winterburn (8) Nigel appears to have had a change of heart over his proposed retirement for about the thirty-sixth time this season; apparently he now feels ready to play another season for the Hammers - assuming they want to keep him. And on this evidence they would be foolish not to. The signing of Vladimir Labant, touted as a possible replacement for Winterburn has spurred the classy veteran on to even greater efforts; he was terrific this afternoon.

Tomas Repka (9) An excellent afternoon's work from the burly Czech. But for one or two misplaced passes and clearances he would have scored a ten today, but overall he produced a performance which just about bettered anything we had seen from him previously since his 5m switch from Fiorentina. Obviously loves playing for the club, his embrace with David James at the final whistle in celebration of the victory summed up the spirit inherent in the team at the moment. This fella could prove to be a Boleyn legend in the same mould as Julian Dicks and Billy Bonds one day.

Christian Dailly (10) Faultless, in a word. Dailly was up against the formidable Andy (oops, Andrew) Cole this afternoon. So effective was Dailly that the England international was restricted to just one or two half chances all afternoon. One particularly brave piece of play when he dove in head first against an outstretched foot to win a ball at waist height was well appreciated by the Boleyn crowd. Our most consistent defender of late, and deservedly today's Man of the Match.

Don Hutchison (7) Sadly his contribution will be overlooked by the spat with Paul Goddard, in which Hutch first threw his sweatshirt at the assistant manager after being substituted before becoming involved in a heated exchange of words with the assistant manager. In all honesty he hadn't played badly at all until that point, and was quite justified in his unhappiness with the decision. But that frustration shouldn't be allowed to boil over in the manner that it did, and Hutch had yet again done himself no favours with his petulant outburst. Don is a very good player, but he needs to get his head down and learn to channel his aggression in the right way.

Trevor Sinclair (8) Speaking on the BBC before the game, Sinclair reiterated his desire to move on to pastures new despite the concerted efforts of Glenn Roeder to persuade him otherwise. But it cannot be argued that he gave anything less than 100% today. He was industrious on the left flank for much of the game before switching to the right for the final quarter, where he continued to cause havoc on the wing. He doesn't score many goals, but when he does they tend to be a bit special - and today's was no exception. The finish was superb, the move which created the chance sublime, one of the best goals seen at the Boleyn since - well, Sinclair's last goal. Booked for diving by the referee, it was a dubious decision to say the least. Apparently we've only lost in one game in which Sinclair has scored since he signed for the club four years ago - good to keep the sequence going today ...

Steve Lomas (8) The engine, the guts, the heart of the midfield. Brought in to replace the injured Michael Carrick, Lomas stepped back into the fray as if he'd never been away. In fact he looked as fit today as he ever has, which is testament to his professionalism after playing so little Premiership football in the last year. The club captain without the armband (retained by Paolo Di Canio) was superb today, and even came close to scoring on a couple of occasions - an excellent performance.

Joe Cole (6) Joe is normally remembered post-match for the tricks, the twists and the general moments of magic which he has the ability to conjure. There were one or two more today to add to the list but in truth they masked a disappointing game for him. He didn't get into the Blackburn midfield as effectively as he did previously against the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool, often he was spotted remonstrating with colleagues which showed how frustrated he was at points. Yet again his finishing left a lot to be desired; you feel that is the one flaw in his game which is stopping him from becoming the complete player.

Paolo Di Canio (8) After his comments in the week regarding his feelings towards the club's directors - which he reiterated in interviews after the game - he simply had to deliver on the pitch today. Recent criticism of his performances had stung him, and he perhaps tried too hard this afternoon. Glenn Roeder made Di Canio captain today despite the return of Steve Lomas; an indication of where Roeder's allegiance lies maybe? Paolo's best work came in the first half, yet he still managed to create the second goal showing great vision. Like Joe Cole he is often remembered for the one-offs; one 60-yard crossfield pass on the volley was as memorable as anything we've seen before. Di Canio's love affair with West Ham goes on; still, one wonders whether it will all eventually end in tears?

Frederic Kanoute (6) Scored the vital, killer second goal - but sadly there wasn't a lot else positive to talk about from Freddie's performance today. Still looking lazy and languid far too often, he gave the ball away cheaply on far too many occasions and missed far easier chances to score than the one which he eventually took - fine finish that it was too. Sometimes you feel like getting up and throttling Kanoute for not putting in more effort; if he did he would be pushing the likes of Henry for a place in the national squad. Substituted late on for Defoe.

Vladimir Labant (6) On for Don Hutchison midway through the second half, Labant produced a workmanlike performance on his home debut. As a more natural left-back he tended to sit a little deep at times, which was no more evident than when he and Winterburn decided to chase the same ball into the Blackburn half at one point. Nothing spectacular, but plenty of signs that he could prove to be a very useful acquisition to the squad. Noted as something of a free-kick specialist, he gave us a glimpse of what he can do with a 30-yard thunderbolt which grazed the Blackburn woodwork in the final minute. Good work Mr. Roeder.

Jermain Defoe (6) Not really given enough time or opportunity to impress today - but isn't it wonderful to see players of the calibre of Defoe and Lebant on our bench, after years of bare bones. The crowd were calling for his introduction way before it eventually arrived which is testament to the impact he has made in such a short space of time. Primed and ready to partner Freddie Kanoute during Paolo Di Canio's forthcoming three match enforced absence.

John Moncur (6) On for a cameo in the final few minutes, Moncs' biggest contribution was to keep the crowd entertained during the match from the sidelines. Still managed one Johnny Moncur Stepover after his introduction to the delight of the crowd. May yet have a part to play in the first team this season due to the absence of Michael Carrick.

West Ham United: James, Schemmel, Winterburn, Dailly, Repka, Hutchison, Sinclair, J.Cole, Lomas, Di Canio, Kanoute

Subs: Labant (Hutchison 57), Defoe (Kanoute 71), Moncur (Sinclair 86), Hislop, Foxe

Blackburn Rovers: Friedel, Tugay, Bjornebye, Flitcroft, Taylor, Neill, Hignett, Johansson, Duff, Jansen, A.Cole

Subs: Gillespie (Bjornebye 65), Mahon (Flitcroft 80), Kelly, Hughes, Berg

Goals: Sinclair (16), Kanoute (55)

Bookings: Tugay (15, foul), Bjornebye (29, kicking ball away), Sinclair (32, diving), Schemmel (88, foul), Hignett (90, foul)

Attendance: 35,307

Referee: Peter Jones (6)

Man of the match: Christian Dailly

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