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Wednesday, 9th August 2000

Rushden & Diamonds 2
West Ham United 4

by Damien Muncaster

It's a measure of the squad that Harry has assembled at Upton Park these days that even without Rio, Kanoute, Stimac, Minto or Foxe. West Ham still arrived at the Manchester United of non-league football with a team that would not be a disgrace if it were fielded at Stamford Bridge on the !9th of August.

Harry started with his preferred formation of three centre backs, Margas, Taylor and S.Pearce, two wing backs in the form of Keller on the left and Lomas on the right. A midfield trio of Moncur Lampard and Cole and up front Di Canio and Suker.

It has to be mentioned at this point that the Rushden and Diamonds tag of being the Man U of non league football is no exaggeration - it's more like the Barcelona of the non league. They have just had a training facility built next to the ground which would put Chadwell Heath to shame. It has been quoted as have the best playing surface in the Conference and that's just the training pitch.

I was seated in the new Air Ware stand, and all the money Max Griggs has ploughed into the team is so that his grandson will have a bit of a hobby when he's old enough. The way football is going it won't be too long before this will become West Ham's feeder club. The players are on unbelievable salaries for non league football. Justin Jackson the Diamonds centre forward is earning 1500 a week and a friend of ours who started in the left midfield position tonight is earning 500 a week for the first year of his contract and then 600 for the second year and he is now way assured of playing every week. Rushden, instead of a signing on fee gave him a five grand deposit on a new house. It's big business and whoever manages the complex will hopefully have something to do with West Ham in the future. They utilise the complex in every way, but anyway, as I readjust my lower jaw, I'll get back to the match.

Rushden actually started the brighter with a couple of early attacks which failed to trouble Shaka, but in the 7th minute the breakthrough arrived with our first real attack. Di Canio gave us the first glimpse that he was in the mood when he picked the ball up just inside the Rushden half and delivered a killer pass behind the Rushden left back. The overlapping Lomas, who looked very comfortable in the wingback position, collected the perfectly weighted pass advanced to the byline before cutting the ball back into the path of Suker who was presented with the easiest of tap ins.

West Ham then took control and played some delightful possession football with Di Canio at the heart of everything, the only disappointment in the first half was Joe, he looked heavy legged, his first touch was loose and found it difficult to get into the game and was eventually brought off at half time. Suker and Di Canio were producing some delightful combinations, one raking Di Canio left to right crossfield ball picked out Suker who's first touch took out the full back, the next touch beat the centre back, and with the supporters on their feet it ended with a comfortable save from the keeper.

The second goal was threatening and after an outrageous Suker dummy, Lampard forced a scrambling save from the keeper. But it took until the 31min for the second goal, but what a goal it was - pure genius, pure Di Canio. After a rare Rushden attack had broken down the ball fell to Suker who in turn fed Di Canio who bore down on the home teams goal. A clever Lampard run took away a couple of backpedalling Rushden defenders giving Paolo the time and space to weigh up his options and execute the cutest of chips over the stranded home keeper. Superb.

Half time arrived and I was well satisfied Suker had been sharp as the proverbial tack, Paolo was - well Paolo, Moncur and Lampard combined well, Keller was so-so and Pearce, Taylor and Margas looked solid and hardly wasted a pass. Everything looking good.

But Harry rung the changes at halftime and this really disrupted the flow. We came out with Pearce, Potts and Lomas as the back three and they looked awful. Lomas after a decent first half was abysmal at right centre back. The wing backs were Keller and Trev. The midfield trio was McCann Frank and Di Canio and upfront Kitson partnered Suker. For twenty minutes we lost the plot slightly, Di Canio couldn't get on the ball, Lomas and Potts looked like they had never even met each other let alone played together and Rushden got back into the game.

Lomas gave away a stupid free kick on the right hand edge of the penalty box which was punished with a shot which came back off the bar, hit Shaka, and went in. The next goal saw Lomas allow Ray Warbuton, the Rushden captain, a free header and it was 2-2.

Harry then gave Carrick a run in place of Suker, Di Canio moved back up front and we were back in business. Carrick is the kind of player who the ball seems attracted to. He is sheer class, it's in vogue to talk of technical ability but this lad has it all. When he is possession its as if the game the slows down, he has so much time on the ball, whether its a 40 yard or 5 yard pass he looks so assured. I really, really hope Harry finds a place for him this season.

So with PDC in a more advanced role, a bit of skill in the area and he's won a pen. And he converts with typical arrogance. With time running out Paolo completes his hat trick after a flowing move involving Carrick, Frank and a fierce drive from Grant McCann which the keeper fails to hold - Paolo converts from the most acute of angles.

So after a satisfactory evening with my doubts of Suker evaporated, even enough to the point where he's now in my Sun Dream Team, I'm waiting for the final whistle, and in the final few minutes the shine of the evening has firmly been taken off as first S.Pearce and then Frank Lampard are carried off injured. Lets hope it's nothing too serious and we will see them on Saturday next.

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