Football: Hoddle glad to accept lucky label: Trevor Haylett finds rugged reality intruding on hopes of a stylists' show-piece

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The Independent Online
IT WAS always tempting fate to pick on Upton Park as the ideal venue to confirm that, indeed, there is more football being played outside the Premier League than in it. Right place, right teams, but, as it transpired, the wrong day to pass judgement.

Doubtless on any other occasion we would thrill at the geometry of Swindon's distributive skills, and wonder at the quality West Ham can sustain at pace and power.

Sadly, as so often happens, the reality proved not nearly so satisfying. The memory that lasted from Swindon's 1-0 victory was of an unremitting, often physical battle with both sides unable either to release their creative potential, or their recent goal-scoring form.

Certainly Swindon could not. Seldom can a team who, under the tutelage of Glenn Hoddle, have become a byword for all that is good about the game have given possession away with such frequency.

No matter. The away victory they craved came courtesy of an 84th-minute goal from Craig Maskell, his 14th of the season, and they were right to concentrate afterwards on the defensive resilience so rarely seen before.

Magnificent were the goalkeeper, Nicky Hammond, and the lanky stopper, Shaun Taylor, but credit should also go to the midfield retrieving of Mickey Hazard. 'We've shown the other side of our game today and that's great,' Hoddle, the Swindon player-manager, enthused. 'I'm sick and tired of coming off when we have played really well but with only a point to show for it, or even defeat.

'Someone said in the tunnel going in that we were lucky and that's music to my ears. Of course we would have liked to have played a bit more football but it seems that both teams cancelled each other out. We have respect for each other and maybe that caused players to do things which are a little foreign to them.'

Thus Swindon supplanted West Ham as the nearest challengers to Newcastle's leadership of the First Division, and Hoddle was left hoping his pre-match message - 'I said that a result here could prove a turning point for our season as we could be up there for a long time' - will be prophetic.

The importance of the contest was shown by the competitiveness that sometimes went beyond acceptable bounds, never more so than the 32nd-minute flare-up which brought bookings for both Martin Allen and John Moncur.

Allen complained afterwards that referees should be more vigilant about the sort of over-the-top tackle that he believes warrants instant dismissal, and there were many at Upton Park who would point the finger at Ian Borrett, an over-fussy official, as a contributing factor in the disappointing spectacle.

He had little choice, however, but to send off George Parris for pulling back Martin Ling as he sprinted clear on to Steve White's headed flick. It seemed that a great opportunity had been denied Swindon unfairly, but justice was with them as Maskell's free- kick was deflected home. A cruel reverse for the Hammers - but how pleasing to see a cynical challenge go punished in every way.

Goal: Maskell (84) 0-1.

West Ham United: Miklosko; Breacker, Parris, Potts, Martin, M Allen, Robson, Butler, Morley, C Allen, Keen. Substitutes not used: Gale, Holmes.

Swindon Town: Hammond; Kerslake, Horlock, Hoddle, Calderwood, Taylor, Hazard, Moncur (White, 76), Maskell, Ling, Mitchell. Substitute not used: Viveash.

Referee: I Borrett (Norfolk).