Football: Hartson flails as tempers fail

West Ham United 0 Derby County 0 Attendance: 25,155
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JOHN HARTSON, whose goals and attacking leadership have taken West Ham to the brink of an Uefa Cup place, will miss three crucial end of season games through suspension caused by being sent off for a senseless first-half punch in a bitter match at Upton Park that saw the referee brandish 10 yellow and two red cards.

Only by his persistent warnings and also sending-off Derby's Stefano Eranio shortly after Hartson did the referee Graham Barber save the affair from complete turmoil. Even so, West Ham will not only be badly hit by Hartson's second sending-off this season but the fact that for the second week running their shots on target could be counted on one hand.

West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp, was incensed by Hartson's behaviour. "If he threw a punch, he's an idiot - its not the first time. Once we lost him we lost all our shape. We pay people to play football not punch people." Derby's Jim Smith said Eranio should have walked away from his trouble but added the sending-off was a culmination of his being persistently fouled. He accused the referee of "never being in control".

The importance of regaining their momentum in the chase for Europe hardly needed Redknapp's powers of persuasion, but Smith had more or less given up on continental ambitions. He said he just wanted more proof that Derby were indeed a settled Premiership side. Yesterday that meant overcoming a lull in form and providing better service for Paulo Wanchope, which was not easy since his every gangling run was so closely attended that he lost the ball as often as his temper. His reactions lit the touch paper.

Hartson had similar treatment from Igor Stimac and a match that started promisingly expressive slithered into rude exchanges. It was brightened only by the swift attacking of West Ham's Trevor Sinclair, whose pace, at first, diverted Stimac's attention away from Hartson often enough to bring the big centre-forward into the game. Hartson's involvement lasted only until the 32nd minute when Stimac tackled him heavily near the byline. As they fell the linesman could not avoid seeing Hartson strike out. Nor could he avoid drawing the attention of the referee. The match immediately descended into ugliness.

Three minutes later Eranio and David Unsworth tackled each other more with arms than feet and again Barber had to intervene. Eranio walked away, but failed to curb his tongue when he was called back and earned his second yellow. There was clearly an element of balancing the scales by the referee and eventually it had a calming effect.