Football: Berkovitch makes the difference

West Ham United 2 Liverpool 1
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The Independent Online
They jeered Paul Ince's every touch. When he was tackled or fouled, they cheered. They called him Judas, and, from time to time, sang a song with these words: "Stand up... if you hate Paul Ince, stand up... if you hate Paul Ince... stand up... if you hate Paul Ince... stand up... if you hate Paul Ince."

According to one regular observer, the Upton Park crowd are mellowing towards the man who left the club so acrimoniously eight years ago.

Ince, on his third return to West Ham, did his best to smooth things over with the supporters whom he unwisely described as "morons" at the time of his big-money move to Manchester United. As he left the pitch, he gave the surrounding stands a little wave and the hint of a smile.

By that time, however, the boos were almost lost amid the home celebrations. Ince has come to be known in some circles as "The Guv'nor' - but the Guv'nor on Saturday was a midfielder in claret in blue.

Eyal Berkovitch, whose initiative and intelligence were painfully missed by his side during Wednesday's drubbing at Highbury, returned to huge effect, making one goal and scoring the other.

The Israeli international's contribution was acknowledged afterwards by West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp. "Eyal really is a talented player," he said. "He gave them problems all the way through."

Those problems began in the 16th minute, when Berkovitch seized on a half clearance from Stig Inge Bjornebye and drove in a shot which rebounded off the inside of David James's right-hand post to allow John Hartson to tap home his 10th goal in 21 appearances since joining the Hammers in February.

After Robbie Fowler had equalised with a hip-high volley from another loose clearance by David Unsworth, the home side looked in imminent danger of a fourth consecutive Premiership defeat. But Berkovitch - all optimism and enterprise - was not to be denied and, when Phil Babb produced the third poor clearance of the afternoon, it was fitting that the ball should fall invitingly for West Ham's inspiration, who swept it home jubilantly.

"We needed that," said Redknapp, who was also cheered by a promising debut from Andrew Impey, his pounds 1.2m purchase from Queen's Park Rangers, who was making his first major appearance in six months.

For Liverpool this was a less than reassuring preparation for tomorrow's Uefa Cup first round second leg against Celtic. Their defence looked vulnerable throughout, particularly to the high ball, and the whole team's concentration was fitful.

The suggestion was made to Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, that it all smacked a bit of last season. "Smacks a bit of this season as well," he said darkly. There are likely to be cross words before tomorrow's Anfield appointment.

Goals: Hartson (16) 1-0; Fowler (52) 1-1; Berkovitch (2-1) 65.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Pearce, Ferdinand, Unsworth; Impey, Lomas, Berkovitch, Lampard; Dowie, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Potts, Bishop, Rowland, Moore, Forrest (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Kvarme (Murphy, 70), Babb, Carragher, Bjornebye; McManaman, Ince, Thomas (McAteer, 70), Berger (Riedle, 75); Fowler, Owen. Substitutes not used: Thompson, Neilsen (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

Man of the match: Berkovitch.

Attendance: 25,908.