Football: Hammers on the up

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The Independent Online
West Ham United. . .2

Cambridge United. . 0

FORTUNE is not always hiding. She is alive, well, and smiling down on Upton Park. West Ham overcame their nerves and Cambridge United to reclaim a place in the Premier League.

A two-goal victory was enough to secure them the second automatic promotion berth and also to condemn their visitors to the gloom of the Second Division. This game of contrasting fortunes, however, hung for a moment in the balance midway through the second half when Cambridge seemed to have scored a precious equaliser. But Chris Leadbitter's fierce shot inside Ludek Miklosko's near post was disallowed for the most marginal of offsides. It was Cambridge's one flickering moment of hope.

West Ham enjoyed many more, but nervous haste in front of goal, combined with an awkward pitch and a blustery wind served to frustrate most of them.

Much of the first half was spent with Miklosko hoisting long balls towards his forwards in a style far removed from the best traditions of the Upton Park academy. And indeed the best chance of the opening period came directly down Route One: Trevor Morley knocking down a long clearance for David Speedie to test the keeper with his first-time shot.

Although the pressure continued to mount on the Cambridge goal, it was mounting too on West Ham's forwards, who seemed unable to get a decisive touch inside the box. Only the news of Grimsby's goal at Portsmouth served to lighten the mood.

With so much at stake for both sides an open, flowing contest was never likely. The strain told throughout the match with six players booked. The relief of a goal finally arrived straight after half time. Kevin Keen and Robson had combined well to earn a corner. Julian Dicks's presence at the set piece was decisive, the ball came back across the goalmouth and Speedie hooked it into the top corner. With Upton Park's largest crowd of the season roaring the Hammers on to glory it seemed that more goals must come. Ian Bishop and Morley however both passed up gilt-edged opportunities and then Leadbitter momentarily stunned the claret and blue contingent with his strike.

The linesman having made his contribution to the afternoon, the Hammers resumed control. Cambridge, fighting for their First Division survival, huffed and puffed against the brick wall of West Ham's defence.

Even though the pendulum was now swinging Portsmouth's way at Fratton Park, the single goal still looked as if it would suffice. But, as injury time lengthened and the crowd began to spill on to the fringes of the pitch, Dicks surged down the left and rolled the ball across for substitute Clive Allen to sidefoot home the killer.

The goal sparked a full scale pitch invasion but the fans quickly withdrew to allow the last few seconds of the game to be completed. Quite how West Ham will fare back in the top flight remains to be seen. But as Billy Bonds said, savouring his moment of triumph, 'We'll worry about that in a few days time.'

West Ham United: L Miklosko, T Breacker, J Dicks, S Potts, T Gale, I Bishop, M Robson (C Allen, 62 min), P Butler, D Speedie (M Allen, 89 min), T Morley, K Keen. Manager: B Bonds.

Cambridge: J Filan, M Heathcote, A Kimble (A Fensome, 83 min), P Raynor, P Chapple, D O'Shea, T Dennis (K Bartlett, 54 min), S Claridge, S Butler, G Clayton, C Leadbitter. Manager: I Atkins.

Referee: D Elleray (Middlesex).

Goals: Speedie (1-0, 47 min); C Allen (2-0, 90 min).