Football: Harry's just wild about Manny

FA Premiership: Worthington affair tells on West Ham as Wimbledon earn parity at Highbury
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The Independent Online
West Ham United 2 Manchester United 4

Di Canio 23, 52 Yorke 9, 62, Giggs 13, 19

Half-time: 1-3 Attendance: 26,037

PRESUMABLY AFTER this humbling the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, may well request that the Premiership investigate Manchester United for fielding a whole team of ineligible players. He might rightly take the view that no team could legitimately possess the panache and power that the visitors did yesterday.

On second thoughts, that is possibly not the kind of observation that even the normally self-deprecating Redknapp would have appreciated here yesterday. The Hammers manager's lugubrious features are ready-made for calamity, but he looked a crushed figure after the events of the past two days.

And while, under normal circumstances, such a savage wound inflicted by United may be just about bearable, its probable link with the aftermath of Wednesday's Worthington Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa should not be understated. "Believe me, it was not an easy day for me today," Redknapp conceded. "Last night I was driving home, looking forward to today's game and feeling delighted about my first grandchild being born and suddenly my world's caved in. I knew I had to try and lift my players today. It was very difficult for them mentally. But after 20 minutes we're three goals down to Manchester United."

In this season of charity and goodwill to all men, Sir Alex Ferguson's players exhibited little of either towards their hosts as they recovered their position of League leaders from Leeds, other than teasingly offering them the opportunity just after the break to gain a foothold in this spirited contest.

Hanging over West Ham during the afternoon was their anxiety as they awaited the Football League's judgement over their fielding of a cup- tied player, Manny Omoyinmi, on Wednesday. The League unexpectedly announced last night that the game should be replayed, but the whole issue begs several questions, not least why the player himself did not let on about his ineligibility, having already turned out for Gillingham while on loan with that club.

It had been suggested, mostly by interests in the area of Spaghetti Junction, that the Hammers should be jettisoned from the competition; however, as there was clearly no malice aforethought, a replay of the game seemed the proper solution. Redknapp's view was: "I don't care how much the club get fined. I just want to go into the Worthington Cup semi- final and take the club to Wembley "

Redknapp maintained that when the Nigerian 21-year-old forward, who replaced Paulo Wanchope for the last six minutes of extra time, went to Priestfield earlier in the season, he thought it was "the last we'd ever see of him because I thought he'd probably be sold". He added: "Permission was given by someone for him to play in the Cup, but I had no idea. I hadn't a clue, and it was a genuine mistake, otherwise he wouldn't have been anywhere near the place on Wednesday. As it was, he played no part in the game. If interference took place, as we say in horse racing, it didn't affect the result."

Yesterday, Hammers' aficionados were very definitely talking about Paolo Di Canio. On any other day the mercurial Italian might have turned the game in West Ham's favour. Here, his outrageous skills merely managed to propel them to within a goal of United once the treble-winners had established a three-goal lead inside 20 minutes.

So much for the alleged strife within Old Trafford with chairman Martin Edwards and manager Ferguson reportedly fitting each other up with crowns of thorns when one might have imagined they would have been happy just to rest on their laurels.

They have talent by the barrel-load and no more so than in the inspirational presences of David Beckham, the captain Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs. Yesterday, it was a case of not just once in royal David's city - the winger being born just up the road in Leytonstone - but many times as he delivered superlative balls into a suspect Hammers' rearguard. The first, after a wondrous cross- field pass by Keane, allowed Dwight Yorke to score his first goal since October. The striker then set up Giggs for a delicate second three minutes later and that was followed by Beckham's significant second contribution, a mighty drive which rebounded off Neil Ruddock. It permitted the imperious Giggs to unleash a precise effort from well outside the area which left Shaka Hislop utterly bemused.

Before half-time Ruddock's header across goal was volleyed by Di Canio past Raimond van der Gouw. Ferguson's men have been vulnerable this season, and they confirmed that impression when, on the break, Marc Keller opened up the visitors' rearguard for Di Canio to further reduce the deficit. United were unsettled and the Italian should have equalised when he burst through again, only to chip the ball straight at the goalkeeper. It was a costly miss. Within seconds, Giggs escaped on the left and from the goal-line dispatched a subtle centre which Yorke turned into the goal, leaving the Hammers to accept defeat, and await their Worthington Cup fate.

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