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Saturday, 18th November 2000

Leeds United 0
West Ham United 1

by Staff Writer

Football is a funny old game. Less than a month ago a fair section of Hammers supporters were calling vociferously for the head of Harry Redknapp, after the first ten games of the season had yielded less points than you can count on two hands, and we were precariously situated in the bottom three of the Premiership.

Four games later, we're 10 points better off, and just three points from a potential European slot. And beating the side who have previously this season beaten AC Milan, and put six past Turkey's Besiktas on this very turf.

Admittedly Leeds were poor today - and, as some have pointed out, maybe with one eye looking towards Wednesday nights lucrative 'Champions' League clash with Real Madrid.

But that does a complete injustice to a Hammers side, who today, were as Harry Redknapp himself said after the final whistle, 'outstanding'.

The main talking point ahead of the match was the absence of Paolo Di Canio. The mystery virus which had apparently struck the Italian down was later revealed to be a stomach upset - diagnosed by Di Canio himself, who had requested to stay in London instead of travelling with the squad.

If his comments had caused a rift in the camp during the past few days, it was very well concealed by the team today. They were tremendous; a feat best summed up by the fact that Leeds barely troubled Shaka Hislop until the final ten minutes of the game.

Much has been said about the improvement in the Hammers rearguard since the return of Ian Pearce; one goal conceded in five games would certainly add credence to that particular theory. He, along with Ferdinand and the other Pearce were superb again today, before limping off midway through the second half with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring. Harry Redknapp will be praying that his recovery will be swift.

Another factor in our recent run of good form is the return to midfield of Steve Lomas. Having played him out of position at right-back and centre-half previously this season, Harry Redknapp has finally seen the light and returned our only real ball-winning midfielder back to his rightful spot, which has certainly paid dividends.

There were solid performances throughout the side; once again Freddy Kanoute, who led the front line almost single-handedly for much of the game silenced his critics with another brilliant display. The only thing missing, as per last week against Manchester City, was a goal.

But the unlikely hero today was 36-year-old Nigel Winterburn. It was his goal on the stroke of half-time which ultimately separated the sides. It was on reflection a typical defender's goal; Kaba Diawara's lay-off led to a Trevor Sinclair cross, which Winterburn nodded home through a crowd of players to send the travelling fans into ecstasy. Not pretty, but pretty bloody effective.

The Hammers should really have been in front by this stage anyway, as Freddy Kanoute was denied a definite penalty by the referee, when he was clearly tripped by Lucas Radebe - who was torn apart by Kanoute all afternoon.

Leeds threw on Darren Huckerby to boost their attack at the break, but it was all to no avail as the Hammers, led by long-term Leeds target Rio Ferdinand coped comfortably with anything the home side threw at them.

Much more of this and we'll all be getting nosebleeds, as our ascendancy into the higher echelons of the Premiership continues. Already the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea are playing catch-up, and only three points separate us and sixth place.

Our next two games see us travel to Southampton, and then back to Upton Park to face whipping boys Middlesbrough. Suddenly things are looking very rosy indeed in Harry Redknapp's garden.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Hislop, Winterburn, I. Pearce, Ferdinand, S. Pearce, Sinclair, Lampard, Lomas, Carrick, Diawara, Kanoute.

Subs: Potts (Pearce 72), Bywater, Newton, Moncur, Suker.

Leeds United: Robinson, Kelly, Harte, Radebe, Mills, Bowyer, Bakke, Dacourt, Matteo, Smith, Viduka.

Subs: Huckerby (Bakke 46), Jones, Burns, Milosevic, Molenaar.

Goals: Winterburn (44) - his first goal for the Hammers

Booked: Mills

Sent Off: None

Attendance: 40,005

Referee: Mr P.Taylor

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