Locking horns with Pearce is no joke

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The Independent Online

THERE WAS plenty of scope for mockery in the restoration to the England squad of a 37-year-old. If there were no little old men steering their Zimmer frames up Manningham Lane carrying the slogan "If Stuart Pearce plays for England, so can I", it was only because the local T-shirt manufacturers had failed to react quickly enough.

THERE WAS plenty of scope for mockery in the restoration to the England squad of a 37-year-old. If there were no little old men steering their Zimmer frames up Manningham Lane carrying the slogan "If Stuart Pearce plays for England, so can I", it was only because the local T-shirt manufacturers had failed to react quickly enough.

In fact, there were few grounds for levity in a characteristic Pearce performance that marked him out as a comfortable member of what is shaping up as a highly effective Premiership side.His current role as one of three central defenders spares his legs from too much chasing of wingers half his age up and down the touchline and his role in this thoroughly convincing victory showed that both his combativeness and his anticipation remain unimpaired.

When Bradford enjoyed a brief early flurry of activity that suggested they might get something from this match, Pearce was the one to get in the timely interception or to complete a half-finished clearance.

Uncompromising as ever in the tackle, he was booked for one example and left an opponent spreadeagled after a clash of heads in another. One way or the other, nothing that City were likely to produce was going to get past him and locking horns with him is no more a joke than it ever was.

Most of all, it is that famous Pearce attitude that managers, at club and national level, drool over. Ineligible for the game in Metz on Tuesday that ensured Uefa Cup qualification, it was his addition to the mix at Valley Parade that prevented Saturday's match becoming what Harry Redknapp called "the type of game that, over the years, West Ham have lost". The Hammers' manager added: "He's been excellent since he arrived with us. It's great to have people like that around you; it makes your job easy as a manager. If you've got two or thereof them in your team, you've got a chance."

Whether West Ham have a chance of maintaining their marvellous start in the Premiership depends to a large extent on the unpredictable proposition of Paolo Di Canio and Paulo Wanchope. Against Bradford and particularly for 15 minutes on either side of half-time, they were unstoppable; but there will also be days when they exasperate.

Of course, West Ham will face much sterner tests than this, which raises the inevitable question of how hopeless Bradford are. To answer that honestly is to risk joining an unworthy chorus that suggests they have no business being in the Premiership after they have earned their place by right.

But there is no way they can stay afloat there with their current personnel and for them to argue otherwise is self-delusion. Since Dean Saunders' opening-day winner at Middlesbrough, they have managed just one goal - and that a penalty - but the problem goes deeper than that. They do not even create chances and, in that sense, they are less well equipped to survive than Barnsley, Charlton, Bolton and others who have tried and failed.

Goals: Di Canio (34) 0-1; Sinclair (44) 0-2; Wanchope (49) 0-3.

Bradford City (4-4-2): Walsh; Halle, Wetherall, Dreyer, Jacobs; O'Brien (Mills h-t), McCall, Whalley, Beagrie; Windass (Redfearn, 64), Saunders (Blake, 53). Substitutes not used: Myers, Clarke (gk).

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Potts, Ferdinand (Carrick, 74), Pearce; Sinclair, Lampard, Lomas, Moncur, Keller; Wanchope, Di Canio. Substitutes not used: Kitson, Abou, Cole, Forrest (gk).Referee: P.Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Bradford: Halle; West Ham: Pearce, Keller, Di Canio, Lomas.

Man of the match: Di Canio.

Attendance: 17,936.

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