Football: Hammers keep Forest in their place

West Ham United 2 Nottingham Forest 1
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The Independent Online
FOR HALF an hour at Upton Park on Saturday, the mood was curmudgeonly. West Ham, after all, had not won in 1999 and were only playing at all because they had been turfed out of the FA Cup by the might of Swansea City. As passes went into touch or straight to the wrong-coloured shirt, and Frank Lampard and Paolo Di Canio failed to hit the goal from a matter of yards out, the only consolation to be had was in deriding the visitors' even greater inadequacies. "Anything we can do badly, they can do worse," observed one Mr Glum.

Ron Atkinson, in defiant contrast, was at that stage looking on the bright side. Having yielded four goals to one Manchester United substitute in their previous 11 minutes' football, this was progress of a sort for the Premiership's bottom club. "I thought we'd get to half-time without conceding," he said, probably just as Stan Lazaridis sent Eyal Berkovic down the left for a cross that Ian Pearce knocked in at the far post.

Six minutes later, Trevor Sinclair on the right did something similar for Lampard and another 8-1 scoreline seemed possible - as long as Forest could manage the one. The crowd grew more benevolent and Atkinson was forced to change his tune. "At half-time my biggest fear was that we'd cave in," he admitted. They did not do that, creditably, halving the deficit and maintaining their self-respect without ever really threatening to claim a point. Seven minutes from the end, with West Ham having slipped back into casualness and lethargy, young Joe Cole was the only home player bright enough to realise that a defensive wall might be a useful preventive measure as Pierre van Hooijdonk lined up a free-kick. While the others gawped gormlessly, the Dutchman played the double-bluff by floating it for Jon Olav Hjelde to head in.

Even with Forest's goal difference thus reduced from minus 32 to minus 31, nobody quite had the heart to test the Big Man's powers of optimism by asking about their prospects of staying up - or even whether he regretted leaving his Barbados beach.

The rest of the afternoon's entertainment, sadly denied to the crowd, was provided by West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp. Asked, just as his mobile phone rang, about reports that Blackburn wanted West Ham's captain Steve Lomas to replace Tim Sherwood, Redknapp went into a wonderful pantomime of pretending that the call was from Brian Kidd: "You can have him on a free, Brian, take him. Alex Ferguson taught you all you know? No problem."

Goals: Pearce (33) 1-0; Lampard (39) 2-0; Hjelde (83) 2-1.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Pearce, Ferdinand, Ruddock; Sinclair, Lomas, Lampard, Berkovic (Cole, 78), Lazaridis (Minto, 90); Di Canio, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Potts, Foe.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Harkes (Quashie, 66), Palmer, Hjelde, Stensaas (Chettle, 59); Stone, Johnson, Gemmill (Porfirio, 78), Rogers; Shipperley, Van Hooijdonk. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Darcheville.

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Bookings: West Ham: Kitson. Notting-ham Forest: Rogers, Johnson, Van Hooijdonk.

Man of the match: Rogers.

Attendance: 25,458.

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