West Ham moved out of the relegation area last night when a 74th-minute penalty by Julian Dicks won them a match as fluctuating as the wind in which it was played.
The spot-kick was conceded by David Howells, included in the Tottenham side despite the death of his father in a fall the previous day. The unfortunate midfielder, whose goal 19 minutes earlier had levelled this extraordinary game at 3-3, upended John Hartson, who - along with West Ham's other big- money signing, Paul Kitson - had marked his home debut with a goal. Howells, already booked, was compassionately spared a red card by the referee, Gary Willard.
West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp, did not accept the suggestion that the result, which had seen his side score twice as many goals as they had managed in any previous Premiership game this season, had taken the club a significant step closer to survival.
"I've never believed that we wouldn't survive," Redknapp said. "I think we've got the best squad of players we've had here in many a year." Hartson and Kitson, pounds 3.7m and pounds 2.3m respectively, looked worth the money last night. And 18-year-old defender Rio Ferdinand, cousin of Les, looked a priceless asset for the future.
Tottenham's manager Gerry Francis, his side marooned in mid-table after a succession of injuries, has already spoken of this being "a lost season." But with Howells steadying the midfield and England forward Teddy Sheringham back after six games out with a shin injury, the visitors soon threatened to turn West Ham's season into a lost cause.
The home side, eager to get into action after last week's home game against Newcastle had been rained off, began with much huffing and puffing - an apt enough approach given the weather conditions - but the wind was taken out of their sails in the sixth minute when Stephen Carr's cross from the right was met at the near post by the returning Sheringham, who managed to get in between Dicks and Ferdinand and powered home a wind-assisted header. It was a classic West Ham move, but at the wrong end.
As the confidence disappeared from West Ham's game, passes began to go astray and after 14 minutes Tottenham should have increased their lead when John Moncur's miskick across the face of his goal presented Steffen Iversen with a clear shot which he pulled wide.
It seemed only a matter of time before West Ham's spirits sank further, but they were revived quite startlingly with two goals in the space of 90 seconds. After 21 minutes, Michael Hughes' corner cleared Ferdinand, whose dodging around at the near post distracted Tottenham's defenders and reached Dicks, who headed home with customary firmness. The reaction around most of the ground was a mixture of jubilation and disbelief.
Almost from the restart, Mark Bowen pushed down the left for West Ham and threaded through a pass which allowed Hughes to turn in a shot which Ian Walker managed to deflect over the bar. But from the consequent corner, again taken by Hughes, Kitson headed home at the near post.
However, it only took eight minutes before the picture changed again, Darren Anderton equalising with a carefully placed lob after Iversen had picked up Walker's long clearance and set him free with a simple ball behind West Ham's defence.
Once again, Tottenham had an immediate chance to increase their score when Andy Sinton and Iversen set up a close-range header for Sheringham, but this time the striker failed to capitalise on the chance.
Eight minutes before half-time, the game took yet another dramatic shift. Dicks, taking a free-kick on the left, produced a booming cross, curling the ball first towards and then away from Walker for Hartson, arriving at the far post, to bullet home a header which restored West Ham's lead.
However, their advantage was cancelled out seven minutes into the second half when Howells calmly side-footed a shot inside the post from the edge of the box. Not surprisingly, given his personal circumstances, Howells did not bother to celebrate. But there was no disguising the satisfaction of the team-mates who ran to congratulate him.
West Ham United (3-5-2) Miklosko; Potts, Ferdinand, Dicks; Breacker, Moncur, Bishop, Hughes, Bowen; Hartson, Kitson (Dowie, 79). Substitutes not used: Rowland, Porfirio, Lampard, Sealey (gk).
Tottenham Hotspur (3-5-2) Walker; Austin, Calderwood, Campbell; Carr, Anderton, Howells (Rosenthal, 83), Sinton (Neilson, 79), Wilson; Iversen, Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Fox, Nethercott, Bardsen (gk).
Referee: G Willard (West Sussex).
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