Football: Hammers bursting bubbles

Barnsley 1 West Ham United 2
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The Independent Online
For 45 minutes, as Oakwell basked in a blazing grace and Barnsley warmed to the big time, West Ham looked about as durable as the pretty bubbles of their supporters' song.

After all the flat caps and ferrets trotted out in the coverage of Barnsley's summer of anticipation, West Ham seemed intent on living up to a stereotype of their own. Their initial response to the eagerness of the Premiership newcomers evoked memories of distant embarrassments by the likes of Hereford and Mansfield.

However, by the time the crowd slipped away, as quiet as they had earlier been cacophonous, the sense of deja claret and blue had an altogether more positive focus. For the first time since the FA Cup semi-final replay of 1980, West Ham's match-winner was Frank Lampard.

So severe have Harry Redknapp's defensive problems been - Julian Dicks and Richard Hall injured, Slaven Bilic gone - that the casual observer could be excused for wondering whether the 70s stalwart himself had come out of retirement. In fact, Lampard Snr looked on proudly in his capacity as assistant to Redknapp, himself the 19-year-old scorer's uncle.

Convoluted as that may sound, it was in keeping with a plot that refused to follow a linear path. Barnsley, finding impressive width through Darren Barnard and Nicky Eaden, looked irresistible when Neil Redfearn's header brought 16,000 red replica shirts to their feet inside 10 minutes.

John Hartson personified West Ham's languor. But after a half-time makeover by the management, who switched to a back four to stifle the service from the flanks and introduced the pacy Stan Lazaridis, the Welshman came to life.

The substitute, Australia's ambassador to a contest involving 16 nationalities, was more Lazarus than Lazaridis. Barnsley wilted, and Hartson exploited a goalkeeping gaffe to equalise.

The arrival of Clint Marcelle revived Danny Wilson's side, only for another replacement, Lampard, to touch in his first senior goal 30 seconds after coming on.

Redfearn, sweating fit to boost shares in Yorkshire Water, said afterwards that it was "just one game - there's 37 to go". Yet his manager must be concerned that Barnsley failed to press home the advantage against visitors who finished three points off relegation. Tomorrow they go to Crystal Palace, who trailed them by nine points in the First Division, with Wilson hoping it will prove a case of "better the devil you know".

There is certainly no cause for panic. Redfearn and the wing-backs looked at home in more exalted company, as did Martin Bullock, who shares Juninho's readiness to sweep past defenders if not quite the power within a waif- like physique. There were signs, too, that Macedonia's Georgi Hristov will add a fresh dimension in attack.

To say that Hartson and Paul Kitson have already done as much for West Ham would be an understatement. The former's abrasive style is especially important without Dicks around to prevent their lapsing into old ways.

Far from resting on Saturday's laurels, they expect to complete the capture of David Unsworth today in a deal which will also see Everton part with pounds 1m in exchange for Danny Williamson. Redknapp is looking to "wheel and deal" in other positions. "If we get the players I have in mind," he said, "it's going to be an exciting season."

Such optimism would be premature had not West Ham displayed a similar disinclination to reprise their traditional role last spring. If the next spate of signings is as successful as the last, Barnsley's may not be the only bubble they burst.

Goals: Redfearn (9) 1-0; Hartson (53) 1-1; Lampard (77) 1-2.

Barnsley (3-5-2): Watson; Moses, Shirtliff (Marcelle, 61), De Zeeuw; Eaden, M Bullock (Liddell, 84), Tinkler, Redfearn, Barnard; Hendrie, Wilkinson (Hristov, 68). Substitutes not used: Sheridan, Leese (gk).

West Ham United (3-4-1-2): Miklosko; Rieper, Ferdinand, Potts; Breacker (Lazaridis, h-t), Lomas, Moncur, Hughes; Berkovitch (Lampard, 76); Kitson (Terrier, 88), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Dowie, Forrest (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street). Bookings: West Ham Breacker, Lazaridis, Moncur.

Man of the match: Lazaridis. Attendance: 18,666.