Football: Happy Ripley remembers how to celebrate

Blackburn Rovers 3 West Ham United 0
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The Independent Online
In the 1960s West Ham were called "southern softies" in an outbreak of prejudice that said as much about the spreaders of the legend as it did the lack of bellicosity in Upton Park stomachs. More performances like this, and a few more urban myths will spread like wildfire.

They should have had a penalty, the denial of which cost them a player sent off protesting about the decision, and you are unlikely to have had a black cat cross your path when Stuart Ripley scores against you - but, as managers frequently say, you make your own luck in this game. West Ham did not deserve any.

They managed a shot, but not until the 86th minute when the match had taken on the intensity of a pre-season testimonial. When it really mattered they contrived absolutely nothing. In fact they compliantly laid down and helped their opponents. "They were scandalous goals," Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, groaned afterwards. "The defending was hopeless."

Which is not to belittle Blackburn's achievement in upping the pressure on the Premiership leaders, Manchester United. You can only beat the opponents set before you and Rovers comprehensively did so without the suspended Chris Sutton. Even Ewood Park must have been mystified, however, at West Ham's supine behaviour.

The first goal, after 22 minutes, was bad enough, the visiting defenders criminally neglecting Ripley, but the second was about as soft as you can get. Craig Forrest miscued a goal-kick woefully and, to compound that error, Andy Impey, with measured precision, headed a through ball that would have been a delight at the other end of the field.

The only chance of Damien Duff missing was if he had been convulsed with giggles but, with admirable self-control, he accepting the early Christmas gift and beat Forrest. "It was a comedy of errors," Redknapp said. Funnily enough, he was not smiling.

He was not happy about the referee, either, who missed what he described as the "most blatant penalty I've ever seen" when Colin Hendry brought down Paul Kitson. To compound his distress, Steve Lomas also made a bad decision, manhandling Mr Ashby, so that there was little option but to send him off. "I can't afford the fine to say what I think," Redknapp said. "It's Christmas."

Duff scored a second after 71 minutes to confirm his growing reputation - "I don't use the words very often," Roy Hodgson said, "but even at 18 it's clear Damien will be a very good player" - but even if he had doubled his number of goals the day would have belonged, in Blackburn's eyes, to Ripley.

The England winger had not scored for 44 months and even he had begun to believe it might be a new millennium before he got another. But, Alan Shearer-like, he rose to meet Tim Sherwood's cross and headed powerfully into the net.

For Ripley, a man who could not see wood for the trees in the penalty area, it was appropriate that the West Ham goalkeeper's name is Forrest.

What was Ripley's reaction? "Astonishment. I didn't know what to do, to be honest," he replied. "How do I celebrate? It's a weakness in my game, but the supporters know I have other strengths to compensate for it. They are very encouraging, that's the reason I like being here.

"Statistics can tell a lot of lies. I played OK today but not brilliantly. I've played better this season and no one notices because I haven't scored."

One statistic is worth noting. The last time Ripley scored, on April 16 1994, Rovers were heading for second place in the Premiership. At the moment the championship is still within their compass but, if they do finish runners-up and qualify for the Champions' League, it will be a very satisfactory first season for Roy Hodgson.

Goals: Ripley (22) 1-0; Duff (50) 2-0; Duff (71) 3-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-1-2): Flowers; Kenna, Henchoz, Hendry, Croft; Ripley (Flitcroft, 72), McKinlay, Sherwood, Wilcox (Beattie, 83); Duff (Bohinen, 77), Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Pedersen, Fettis (gk).

West Ham United (3-5-2): Forrest; Pearce, Ferdinand, Unsworth; Impey, Lomas, Lampard, Berkovitch, Rowland; Kitson (Abou, 83), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Breacker, Potts, Dowie, Sealey (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Bookings: West Ham: Unsworth, Kitson. Sending-off: West Ham: Lomas.

Attendance: 21,653.

Man of the match: Duff.