Football: Hammers lacking hard edge

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West Ham United . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Sheffield United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

SHEFFIELD UNITED are obviously on the up, or at least now inclined in the right direction thanks to a win over Oldham at the weekend and yesterday a point offered them by a sloppy, generous West Ham team at Upton Park.

Because of Chelsea's win, Sheffield United's efforts have, nevertheless, left them treading water near the foot of the Premiership. Meanwhile, West Ham, on yesterday's showing, are in danger of drowning in self-indulgence.

For all of their known ability to charm the fairy off the Christmas tree, a lot of the Hammers' football remains too tinsel-delicate to be sustained when opponents knuckle down and keep them outside the penalty area.

Admittedly, in the first half West Ham offered Lee Chapman and Trevor Morley a few opportunities to get into the last 10 yards but too much that happened in the previous 50 merely flattered and by half- time the home crowd had seen enough of the packaging and just wanted to see some real substance.

Sheffield United had to rely on Alan Kelly's alertness to cut out a succession of centres and block a few potentially harmful, though never seriously testing, shots as West Ham came forward like a quality blanket, wide and apparently comforting but easily turned over.

Indeed, Sheffield United, once they had accepted that possession was not necessarily going to be nine-tenths of the possible score, turned their directness - and a Chris Kamara-inspired midfield - to better use.

Twice Paul Beesley cruised through the area where West Ham wanted to display their prettiness and forced crucial saves from Ludek Miklosko. West Ham's prevailing trouble is that they seem to think that they are owed an inheritance and can get by without the regular need to overwhelm inferior teams like Sheffield United.

In possession players like Ian Bishop are a pleasure to behold, but when it comes to regaining it, they queue up to avoid being first. Even the usually rugged David Burrows was here stepping away and making safety-first passes look difficult.

The result was that as a largely forgettable game unwound, Sheffield United realised that what at first looked like a match with a point as the best they could hope for, three were not out of the question, especially as the West Ham front men were so harmless.

Only once in an hour did Chapman get into a position to have most of the goal in his sights and then timidly headed over.

In an effort to sharpen the head of their attack, West Ham sent on Steve Jones to partner Chapman, withdrawing Morley, but David Tuttle and Jamie Hoyland continued to cope well enough, partly because West Ham's service from midfield and the left flank lacked penetration.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Gale, Potts, Burrows; Marsh, Bishop, Butler, Rowland; Morley (Jones, 66), Chapman. Substitutes not used: Peyton (gk), Brown.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Bradshaw, Hoyland, Tuttle, Beesley; Ward, Kamara, Hodges, Whitehouse; Flo, Davison (Littlejohn, 73). Substitutes not used: Gage, Muggleton (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).