Football: Hartson exit puts Europe in doubt

West Ham United 0 Derby County 0
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THERE was a scrap of a six-pointer at Upton Park on Saturday but rather than a ruck over relegation - as some had predicted for these clubs at the start of the season - it was a European place that was being contested with a fierceness that usually afflicts teams with one eye on the Nationwide.

And a frightening spectacle it was, too: eight bookings and two red cards amounted to a whole bundle of belligerence as two teams hardly renowned for robust play scythed and niggled for three points that - results elsewhere willing - could send them into the Uefa Cup next season.

The truculent tone was set after 33 minutes and had a book been placed on the first to an early bath then the names of Derby's Igor Stimac and the Hammers' John Hartson would have been short-odds to the new bar of soap. Predictably, then, both players were involved but it was Hartson who received his second red card of the season. His haymaker landed on Stimac as they lay in a tangled heap following an industrial challenge from the pugnacious Croat.

Hartson skulked off to a hero's salute from the home support, a sentiment at polar opposites to the chill reception waiting from his manager, Harry Redknapp. Unhappy Harry, who faces losing his top scorer for the last four games of the season, said tersely: "The game is about playing football, not punching people."

Next off, four minutes later, was the equally volatile Stefano Eranio, issued a second yellow card after going nose-to-nose with David Unsworth.

Jim Smith, of Derby, was as livid with his player as his West Ham counterpart. "He [Eranio] has got a poor disciplinary record, he has contested decisions and he's got to learn. But Unsworth should also have been sent off."

In such an atmosphere, a game of football struggled to break out as bookings piled into Graham Barber's little black book.

Besides a lone point, all that West Ham and Derby could take from this game, however, was the realisation that ill discipline could cost them a valuable Continental sortie next season.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Lama; Unsworth, Ferdinand, Pearce (Potts, 83); Lazaridis, Lampard, Berkovic (Moncur, 73), Lomas, Impey (Abou, 49); Sinclair, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Omoyinmi, Forrest (gk).

Derby County (3-5-2):Poom; Dailly, Stimac, C Powell; Bohinen, Carsley, Eranio, Delap, Rowett; Sturridge (Burton, 64), Wanchope (Baiano, 84). Substitutes not used: Hoult, Van Der Laan, Kozluk.

Bookings: West Ham: Sinclair; Moncur. Derby: Stimac, Wanchope, Carsley, Eranio, Dailly. Sent off West Ham: Hartson. Derby: Eranio.

Referee: G Barber (Surrey).

Man of the match: Unsworth

Attendance: 25,155.