Football: A push-over for Di Canio finds Kidd a push-over

West Ham United 2 Pearce 28, Di Canio 31 Blackburn Rovers 0 Half- time: 2-0 Attendance: 25,529
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The Independent Online
INJURIES CAN account for a lot but Brian Kidd's defeatist-sounding recent comments have seemingly eaten into the confidence that had signalled his arrival and early matches at Blackburn. It was confusion, as much as depletions in the Rovers side, that yesterday allowed West Ham to take two goals in three minutes. With better organisation Blackburn could have punished the tentative home side for sitting back on their game.

This is the point of the season at which mental and physical stamina often decides the game's ups and downs. So it was ominous that a 4-1 home defeat by unpredictable Sheffield Wednesday a week before had left Rovers close to the relegation zone (and into which they have now returned). That was followed by tired elimination from the FA Cup by Newcastle, albeit with another weakened team. In spite of Kidd's promising early efforts in his new job, Rovers are in serious need of a pick-me-up.

Meanwhile, West Ham had managed a draw at Anfield which slightly eased criticism for what Harry Redknapp had said, with hurt irony, was "our first bad month for two years''. Certainly they were the less jaded of the two yesterday as Marc Keller consistently sparked promising attacks down the left side. But, with Darren Peacock for Rovers and the returning Rio Ferdinand for West Ham effectively destroying anything that was raised down the central channel at either end, the match dwelt for what seemed ages in frustrated good intentions.

West Ham's intent was always the better supported in midfield. Rovers virtually neglected that area and that is why they eventually conceded two goals in three minutes. In the 28th Eyal Berkovic and Steve Lomas filtered the ball out to Paulo Di Canio whose centre was headed in at the far post, and under pressure, by Ian Pearce. Blackburn had no time to compose themselves before Frank Lampard and Berkovic combined to offer Di Canio the chance to flick in his first goal for West Ham, which he took with typical neatness.

Initially the goals made a significant difference to West Ham's confidence but, strangely, they failed to persuade Rovers of the need to compete more in midfield or release the undoubted talent of Matt Jansen to a striking role. So West Ham could have taken a third first-half goal when Trevor Sinclair's centre was diverted over the bar by Berkovic.

Shortly after half-time Kidd chose to take off Jansen and replace him with Kevin Davies, then send on Damien Duff. It was an extravagantly attack- minded policy and was fraught with the danger of having West Ham counter- attack all too easily. In the event, it was Rovers who managed to exert pressure. Nathan Blake worried Shaka Hislop for the first time with an attempted overhead kick, while Keith Gillespie forced the hitherto under- occupied goalkeeper to push away a rasping shot.

For all of those desperate alterations, it was West Ham's failure to recognise their own strength that turned the second half into one in which their opportunities to turn the screw were minimal. Indeed they were fortunate to see Duff have a blazing shot tipped over the bar by Hislop and Ashley Ward skim a header from Duff's centre a foot wide of the far post. West Ham simply sat back to face the growing threat with lethargic detachment. Hislop should never have needed to preserve West Ham's lead, but he did in some style. His leap to add a late touch of safety to Davies's powerful, long drive was expertly accomplished.

In the end the West Ham fans were cheering each pass of possession football, but these final minutes were a distortion of a strange match in which, with better use of his not inconsiderable available talents, Kidd could have penalised West Ham for their negative outlook. However, he said: "We have never been so nervous. Worrying in public is not going to help."

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