Football: Hammers back Hartson plea

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The Independent Online
Derby County 1 West Ham United 0

West Ham closed ranks yesterday to condemn the booking which put record signing John Hartson above the disciplinary points threshold and liable for a two-match suspension.

The pounds 5m striker was cautioned by referee Gerald Ashby - his 11th booking of the season - just 14 minutes into his debut and will now sit out the trip to Leeds on 1 March and the home match against Chelsea a week later.

But Hartson, a largely anonymous figure in a new-look striking partnership alongside pounds 2.3m signing Paul Kitson, believes the reaction of Igor Stimac was a contributory factor in his booking. The pair challenged for a header and Stimac collapsed on the pitch by the touchline clutching his face as if to indicate the Welsh striker had elbowed him.

Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, was equally adamant his record signing did not deserve a caution, insisting: "He went up for a challenge and good God, the other fellow didn't half make a meal of it didn't he?

"He staggered, got up, staggered another 10 yards, fell over again and got up and then came out and carried on playing. There was nothing wrong with him - I didn't think there was any contact."

Kitson was also involved in a controversial incident with Stimac, who again rolled around on the floor, just before the end after a tackle from behind by the former Newcastle forward.

"I was very disappointed with the booking," admitted Hartson. "Stimac went down rolling all over the place and the referee came over and booked me. Stimac tried to do the same with Paul Kitson at the end and Paul didn't get booked.

"Obviously I'm disappointed because I miss two games. The boss said before the game that he wants me in the team and not in the stand suspended but I was only one booking away and it's come now and I'm hoping I won't miss any more games."

Even the Derby manager, Jim Smith, though delighted at his side's first Premiership victory in 11 matches, had his doubts about the extent of Stimac's injury, saying: "I thought it was the Olympic diving competition actually."

The match centred on two penalty decisions in either half, one rejected when Kitson appeared to be felled by the Derby keeper, Russell Hoult, the other given and emphatically converted by Aljosa Asanovic after he seemed to have been tripped by Rio Ferdinand.

"From where I sat the Kitson incident could have been a penalty," admitted Smith, "but we could also have had two penalties in the first half."

Goal: Asanovic pen (53) 1-0.

Derby County (4-4-2): Hoult; Carsley, McGrath, Stimac, Rowett; Powell, Van der Laan, Asanovic, Trollope; Dailly, Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Ward, Simpson, Flynn, Cooper.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Rieper (Porfirio, 55), Dicks; Williamson, Bishop, Ferdinand, Rowland (Lampard, 80); Kitson, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Bowen, Hodges, Sealey (gk).

Bookings: Derby: Asanovic, Sturridge, Trollope; West Ham: Hartson, Breacker, Ferdinand.

Referee: G R Ashby (Worcester).

Man of the match: Asanovic.

Attendance: 18,057.