Football: Dicks back to his old tricks

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West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2 Allen 49, Rush 62 Southampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 Attendance: 18,853 EVERY team needs its talismanic figure, a player whose skill or spirit will offer a constant source of inspiration, and yesterday Julian Dicks, returning from exile on Merseyside, suggested that he can do the job for West Ham this season. Dicks, sporting an inappropriate Buddhist shaven skull, was hailed by the home crowd both before and after the match.

But he will be notably assisted by the Hammers' 23- year-old winger, Matthew Rush, who made one goal and scored another in the critical period after half-time, when West Ham, after looking second best to Southampton in the first half, turned the game around for an emphatic win.

It was probably more than a coincidence that during this spell Dicks got in two crunching tackles on Southampton's liveliest player, Paul Allen. The referee, Joe Worrall, had a quiet word with Dicks at this point but the left-back defiantly went in on Allen again, earning a yellow card on his return. Nevertheless, this seemed to fuel the home side's self-belief, at the same time as breaking the spirit of Southampton.

It had all been so different in the first half as West Ham emphasised the poverty of their scoring record - just five goals in 10 games prior to yesterday - with a stuttering display. Southampton, in contrast, played sweet, fluent football. Their own spiritual leader, Matthew Le Tissier, seemed in a determined mood, too, replying to Martin Allen's left-foot shot against the angle with his own splendid curler on to the West Ham woodwork.

But Southampton conspicuously failed to turn their possession into goals, a glaring example being Iain Dowie's miss just after half-time, driving the ball over the bar with only Ludek Miklosko to beat. The miss was costly.

Within seconds, West Ham's clearance had Neil Maddison slipping on the rain-soaked turf, which allowed Rush to pull back from the byline for Martin Allen to thump the ball home. Dicks's destructive tackling closed off Southampton's escape route down the right and then, in the 61st minute, some neat inter- play between Tony Cottee and Lee Chapman, allowed Cottee to send Rush in on goal. The winger calmly slotted his shot under David Beasant.

Southampton did not give up the fight, and had Tim Breacker not headed Le Tissier's free- kick off the line, or Miklosko not produced two more saves to thwart Dowie, they might well have got back into the game.

The abiding memory of the last phase, however, was of Dicks rampaging forward down the left, setting up Cottee for a chip shot which bounced off the top of the the visitors' bar. Dicks's booking proved that the old 'claret-and-blue mist' has certainly not gone away, but West Ham will be more than grateful at their prodigal's return.

(Photograph omitted)