It may be a while since anyone referred to Upton Park as the Academy, but the class of '96 know that, if they can count three poorer teams in the Premiership, they will pass the end of term examination. On last night's evidence, Coventry are definitely among the necessary trio, but the worry that what seemed sure to be an easy assignment turned out to be very hard work indeed.
When the Hammers go close, the scoreboard flashes "Oooh!" and the fans echo the message. As the first half progressed, there were enough ooohs to fill the soundtrack for a blue movie, but nothing to provide the fans with more lasting satisfaction.
It typified the sort of evening that West Ham were having in front of goal that the biggest oooh resulted from Brian Borrows' sliced attempt at a clearance after 3 minutes. It slipped inches wide of Steve Ogrizovic's left post and two minutes later, when Tony Cottee turned sharply and shot from 10 yards, the ball trickled past the identical spot.
Cottee and Iain Dowie, whose dedication to the cause was unstinting throughout, were well served by the combination of Michael Hughes and Julian Dicks down the West Ham left, and it was only hasty finishing which allowed Coventry to reach the break on level terms. Only when John Salako set off on a rare foray down the left did the home defence look even slightly shaky.
Within two minutes of the restart, the terraces had something tangible to cheer. Ogrizovic, under strong - and, he clearly felt, illegal - pressure, could not hold Hughes' corner from the right and Marc Rieper followed up to thump home. Thirteen minutes later, the defender was again well forward, heading another Hughes cross against the post.
In between, Coventry had looked mightily unlikely to score even one goal, so when West Ham increased their lead on 60 minutes, the match seemed to be all but over. Ian Bishop's inch-perfect through ball from inside his own half gave Cottee enough time to round Ogrizovic and sweep the ball in with typical confidence.
With Coventry's attack apparently impotent, West Ham relaxed, and received such a scare that it is not a mistake they are likely to repeat in a hurry. First, Noel Whelan crossed for Dion Dublin, unmarked on the six-yard line, to shoot home off Ludek Miklosko's body, and then, with eight minutes left, Coventry appeared to have stolen an undeserved point when Whelan was allowed to curl an accurate shot past Miklosko.
West Ham were stunned as they trooped back for the restart, but to their credit they returned to the attack. The travelling supporters might not concur, but when Dowie hooked in Danny Williamson's overhead kick from close range four minutes from time, justice was served.
There was still time for a couple of scrambles in the West Ham area before the points were secured, but the class of '96 held firm. When selection time arrives in the spring, the Hammers should still qualify for football's version of the grammar school.
"It would have been a travesty if we had not won," Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, said. "We were so much on top at -0 up yet nearly threw it away."
The crowd gave a warm reception to 17-year-old Frank Lampard, the son of the former West Ham full-back of the same name, when he came on for his Premiership debut as a late substitute. The next new face in the Hammers' line-up should be the 19-year-old Portuguese Under-1 international striker, Dani, who has signed on loan from Sporting Lisbon for the rest of the season.
West Ham United (4-4-) Miklosko; Brown, Potts, Rieper, Dicks; Hughes, Bishop, Moncur (Lampard, 83), Williamson; Dowie, Cottee. Substitutes not used: Whitbread, Sealey (gk).
Coventry City (3-5-) Ogrizovic; Borrows, Shaw, Hall; Pickering, Richardson (Ndlovu, 75), Williams (Strachan, 83), Telfer, Salako; Whelan, Dublin. Substitute not used: Filan (gk).
Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).Reuse content