Football: Cottee's thirst ends the drought

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The Independent Online
West Ham United. .1

Cottee 86

Aston Villa. . . .0

Attendance: 18,326

SUPER, brilliant, fabulous and anything else hyperbolic you can think of. Tony Cottee came back to goal-starved Upton Park after six years, bust a gut for 85 minutes with no reward and then won it at the very last gasp with a far-post gem.

Until then this game had looked a 0-0 draw all over, thrill-a-minute stuff but with neither side having the luck nor the finishing to tip the balance. Easy chances were fluffed, bodies barred the path to goal, both goalkeepers were on song. Villa had the edge, notably in the first half, but for all their attacking fire and energy they were too often slow at getting the ball into the box. Goals were what West Ham needed. Up until yesterday their record was one in five outings, so Cottee had an awful lot riding on his return. During the first half, in fact, he was almost a one-man attacking force, though Mike Marsh caused a few sighs of relief from the Villa section of the crowd when he hit the post after Tim Breacker put him through in the opening minutes.

Cottee apart, West Ham spent most of that half around Ludek Miklosko as the Villa heavy mob piled towards him. It was a hectic time for the West Ham keeper; a close-range shot from Dwight Yorke that he did well to get his hands on, a free- kick from Steve Staunton that slipped through his hands and rolled towards the line before he plunged backwards to smother it.

With 20 minutes gone, Ugo Ehiogu, who had a terrific match, just failed to connect with a diving header, and after that the grass around Miklosko's goalmouth was buried under flailing limbs and craning necks as Villa tried to seal their domination with a goal. By the time another effort from Yorke was blocked in the dying moments of the half, even Cottee was doing his bit in defence.

The turning point for West Ham was when Lee Chapman emerged for the restart in place of Peter Butler. It is early days yet, but he and Cottee looked good together so quickly that it might just be the start of a meaningful relationship. Even so, after Cottee had one shot blocked on the line and Chapman shot high after Matthew Rush's cross, it looked as though the home team were going to have to settle for their familiar goalless state. They could easily have conceded all the points, too, 10 minutes from time had it not been for Miklosko's brave save at John Fashanu's feet.

But then came that marvellous ending, with Breacker on the right turning in a cross which at last found Cottee in the right place at the right time, on the far post where he neatly turned it in to uproar. Over the tannoy the announcer said it all: welcome back, Tony Cottee.

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