Football: Harry's game gets tricky

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AS THIS season approached, Harry Redknapp had a clear picture of the team he wanted to put out, its shape and function. West Ham's perky manager had a pretty good squad in place and felt that he was close to achieving the right balance.

By the end of last week Redknapp was struggling to put a team together. "Luckily, I'd decided against letting Abou [Samassi] go to Hearts otherwise we'd have been in an even bigger mess," he said after Saturday's 0-0 draw at Nottingham Forest.

After only six games the healers are working over time at Upton Park. Nine players injured including West Ham's most potent attacker John Hartson and their defensive pillar Neil Ruddock. "On Friday I was scratching my head," Redknapp admitted. "We only just had enough players and it meant changing the formation from a back three to a back four."

Easier said than done. Who could fill in at left-back? Redknapp scratched his head again and suggested the idea to Andy Impey. "Andy wasn't sure," Redknapp said, "but he played so well that Steve Stone didn't give us a lot of trouble."

This raised an appropriate memory. That of a point once made by Brian Clough when steering Forest to the most successful period in their history. In Clough's mind versatility was an obligation his players rejected at their peril. "The good pro knuckles down to any position he's asked to play in," I remember Clough saying.

There was a lesson in Impey's performance for any number of the Premiership's alleged heroes. It is called professionalism, a quality that isn't guaranteed to figure in their lexicon.

In any case Impey deserved Redknapp's tribute, his attitude mocking that of the Forest defector Pierre van Hooijdonk who is kicking his heels in the Netherlands. "Why do you want to speak about him," Forest's manager Harry Bassett said curtly when the Dutchman's situation was put to him. Why indeed. Van Hooijdonk's disgraceful rejection of his commitment to Forest is a symptom of the game's ills and a clue to where it is probably going.

The dilemma for Bassett, who has heard nothing personally from his reluctant striker, is that while Van Hooijdonk would unquestionably increase Forest's attacking potential a rapprochement could have an adverse effect on the team spirit evident in the improved performance Forest gave after getting some sharp reminders from their manager at the interval.

Playing with more purpose - "we were a lot more positive,' Bassett said - they began to take advantage of the structural changes forced on West Ham by the worst injury crisis Redknapp can remember. Since West Ham lacked the wit to avoid an offside trap you could see the game going against them especially when Jean-Claude Darcheville was provided with more opportunities to apply his withering pace.

Unfortunately for Forest their best chance was headed wide by Marlon Harewood and Doug Freedman's clever chip after coming on as a late replacement passed just past the far post.

West Ham, too, had chances to take all three points and almost went ahead just before half-time when Ian Wright lofted the ball over Dave Beasant and against the underside of the crossbar.

Earlier, Wright's quick-footed reaction to the half-chance was closer to bringing West Ham a goal than was imagined by the audience but he missed from no more than four yards when Eyal Berkovic's half-hit shot wrong- footed Forest's defence.

It had turned out to be a strange week for West Ham who have no great hopes of seeing their injured men back quickly; victors over Liverpool last week then embarrassed by Northampton in the Worthington Cup they were content with their ninth point of the season. "Thinking about the way things looked on Friday I'm satisfied," Redknapp added.

Jokingly of course, I suggested to Redknapp that he could have turned out himself. "They we'd really have been in a mess," he chuckled.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Lyttle (Louis-Jean, 31), Chettle, Armstrong, Rogers; Stone, Quashie, Johnson, Bonalair; Darcheville (Gray, 82), Harewood (Freedman, 72). Substitutes not used: Edwards. Crossley (gk).

West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Potts, Pearce, Ferdinand, Impey; Sinclair, Lampard, Berkovic, Keller; Abou (Omoyimni, 79), Wright. Substitutes not used: Breacker, Hodges, Partridge, Forrest (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Nottingham Forest: Armstrong, Lyttle, Harewood. West Ham: Ferdinand, Pearce, Impey.

Man of the match: Impey.

Attendance: 26,463.