Football: Hammers pay penalty for Hartson's generosity

West Ham United 2 Everton 2
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The Independent Online

West Ham United 2 Everton 2

If the two points squandered in injury time at Upton Park on Saturday cost West Ham their Premiership place, Harry Redknapp will have a choice of scapegoats.

There is Ludek Miklosko, whose uncannily accurate David James impersonation presented Duncan Ferguson with an equalising goal. Or perhaps Marc Rieper, brought on to bolster the defence in the last 10 minutes, but whose main contribution was to concede needlessly the free-kick from which Nicky Barmby supplied the ammunition.

Or maybe Paul Kitson, who spoilt what should have been a memorable afternoon for him by missing the penalty that would have put the Hammers 3-0 up early in the second half. On further investigation, though, Kitson was regarded not so much as hero turned villain as the victim of misplaced generosity.

With Julian Dicks ruled out - significantly, a knee operation will keep him out for the rest of the season - John Hartson was due to take any penalties. But Kitson's striking partner insisted on handing him the ball, which outraged Redknapp.

How he would have felt had Kitson duly completed his hat-trick is the sort of hypothetical question that managers, like politicians in an election campaign, dislike answering.

When Neville Southall dived to his left to smother Kitson's shot, however, it guaranteed that Hartson would top Redknapp's poll of wrongdoers. West Ham were not obliged to surrender their two-goal lead thereafter, but there was no doubt in the manager's mind over what had started the rot.

Not only did Everton's two goals in the last 14 minutes do untold harm to his side's survival prospects, they also obscured much of the good work that had gone before. In the first half, West Ham had played what must have been their best football of the season, the lethargic visitors having no answer to the incisiveness of Kitson, who broke a five-match scoreless streak with two splendid goals.

There were other bright spots. Hugo Porfirio relished a free-ranging role, while Michael Hughes had an exceptional match on the wing, delivering a steady stream of precise crosses which should have guaranteed victory. But, given the psychological boost of Southall's save and, encouraged by the panic that crept up on West Ham after that, Everton snatched that lifeline away.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Miklosko; Hall, Bilic, Ferdinand; Potts, Lomas, Moncur (Bishop, 87), Porfirio (Rieper, 81), Hughes; Hartson, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Dowie, Rowland, Sealey (gk).

Everton (3-5-2): Southall; Dunne, Watson, Unsworth; Barrett, Stuart, Thomsen, Speed, Ball (Barmby, h-t); Branch, Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Hottiger, O'Connor, Hills, Gerrard (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Surrey).

Booked: Everton: Thomsen, Speed, Stuart; West Ham: Bilic.

Man of the match: Hughes.

Attendance: 24,525.