Football: FA Cup 5th Round: Guilt and guile of Gallacher

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The Independent Online
West Ham United 2

Kitson 28, Berkovitch 44

Blackburn Rovers 2

Gallacher 3, Sutton 62

Attendance: 25,729

TANTALISINGLY, the sun shone in London yesterday as if it were an idyllic FA Cup final day, giving a glimpse of what it might be like, if only... And both these teams, who each have it in them to reach Wembley, were left uttering those two small but significant words after a rousing fifth-round tie at Upton Park.

West Ham gave Blackburn a start with a goal by Kevin Gallacher coming in under three minutes, but responded spiritedly through Paul Kitson. Then Gallacher was sent off after a brush with Eyal Berkovitch and the Hammers edged clear through Berkovitch's shot, only for brave 10-man Rovers to retaliate with a second-half header by the excellent Chris Sutton to earn a replay at Ewood Park a week on Wednesday.

"A great opportunity wasted," lamented the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp. "We only had to go out and play the same way in the second half, but they have had one chance and ended up scoring." His Blackburn counterpart, Roy Hodgson, saw it differently. "We had courage enough to try to play even though we were one short and I don't think the equaliser was undeserved," he said.

Thus, not for the first time in recent days, was there varying versions of the same event, which was also the case with the dismissal of Gallacher. "Eyal said he smashed him in the face," Redknapp said. "I didn't see it but I know Gallacher and he is not the type to elbow people in the face," Hodgson countered. "He said he was running across for the ball, Berkovitch was impeding him and he put his arm across to hold him off. I want to see the video evidence. If he has done it, he will be fined. If he has not, we will be appealing."

The other meaning of appealing was also a good description of the game and indeed the whole afternoon. Outside the Boleyn before the match, there was an unusual atmosphere of niceness, no doubt induced by the unseasonal warmth, and on the Barking Road by the pie and eels shop rival fans exchanged pleasantries.

The please, thanks and after-you mood seemed to have infiltrated the accommodating hosts as West Ham began the game so tentatively that they were quickly behind. Gallacher's 25-yard warning shot just over Craig Forrest's crossbar in the first minute went unheeded.

Immediately afterwards, Sutton beat his old Rovers team-mate Ian Pearce to the ball and after a one-two with Gallacher, sent in a low cross that the Scot turned home from close range.

Wounded, West Ham were now in a less giving mood and stormed back, an equaliser coming as little surprise. Stan Lazaridis sent in a deep cross from wide on the left, the ball eluded the Blackburn defence and fell to Kitson, who trapped it neatly before passing the ball beautifully, in old-fashioned Jimmy Greaves style, into the right corner of Tim Flowers' net.

West Ham then wasted a chance when Frank Lampard's shot was too close to Flowers, but soon all looked set fair for them. Blackburn had been upset when Berkovitch went down in a tackle with Billy McKinlay, claiming he had dived. Minutes later, Berkovitch fell clutching his face as he ran alongside Gallacher and the referee, Peter Jones, had no hesitation in showing the red card to the Blackburn player, who had been among those exchanging angry words with the Israeli after the earlier incident.

Now, with half-time imminent, came the lead West Ham had been threatening. Tim Sherwood's poor clearance went only to Lampard and after Flowers had kept out his swerving shot and, brilliantly, Berkovitch's from the rebound, John Hartson seized on to the ball to drive home, the ball glancing off Berkovitch on the way through.

But Hodgson's reorganisation, allied to more composed and diligent defending, saw them through. Jason Wilcox played a one-two with the nippy substitute Damien Duff and from the cross, Sutton again beat Pearce to send in a header at the far post that Forrest could only help over the line.

West Ham will point to their own chances - Flowers turning over Kitson's half-volley, Jeff Kenna kicking Pearce's shot off the line among them - but their finishing was too snatched, and their fans left in less than sunny mood. Ewood could now be in for an epic.