Football: Hammers hunt for back men

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The Independent Online
A DEFENSIVE injury crisis threatens to wreck West Ham's dreams of securing a place in this season's Uefa Cup.

The Hammers stand one tie away from the main draw of a major European competition for the first time since 1980-81. But, as they prepare to entertain the French club Metz in the first leg of the Intertoto Cup final round tonight, their manager Harry Redknapp is anxiously counting defenders.

Redknapp said: "I've only got three fit. It's a problem. I've got a good squad all round, except defensively. I want to play with three central defenders but I've only got two at the moment and no right wing-back."

Problems were heightened by the loss of Ian Pearce with a serious knee ligament injury during Saturday's Premiership win against Tottenham. The new signing Stuart Pearce is ineligible for the Intertoto.

Neil Ruddock is out with a hamstring injury he picked up in the Intertoto game against Jokerit. He then aggravated it in the semi-final round. The Chilean defender Javier Margas has not received a new work permit yet while Rob Jones is still to prove his fitness.

Jones, who has been on trial at West Ham since leaving Liverpool in the summer, is set for another minor operation on the knee which has plagued his recent career.

Marc-Vivien Foe could be pressed into emergency service at the back. Steve Lomas, John Moncur and Ian Wright are all available against Metz, after sitting out Saturday's win over Spurs through suspension.