Football: Ince is left in the shade

West Ham United 2 Hartson 16, Berkovitch 65 Liverpool 1 Fowler 52 Attendance: 25,908
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The Independent Online
They came to boo Paul Ince and they did. After all, what else could the West Ham supporters hope for on an afternoon when their side seemed destined for a fourth successive defeat. "I didn't think I could face it today, after what happened at Arsenal," confessed one forlorn fan on the Tube. "But I had to come and have a go at Incey," he added.

Ince was making his third return to Upton Park - and still has not been on the winning side - since leaving for Manchester United in less than friendly circumstances eight years ago. The feelings still run high.

But "the morons", as Ince called the West Ham regulars, went home cheering new heroes in the end as Eyal Berkovitch broke their losing run with the winning goal to cast more doubts over Liverpool's ability to compete with any level of consistency over the course of the season.

Liverpool manager Roy Evans admitted that it was shades of last season - and this. "Like last year," he said, "we are taking the initiative but are failing to take it on from there. We're too inconsistent and although we are only seven points off the top, we have to work hard to put these things right."

Evans did not have the answer just now though and nor did Ince. In patches, as Evans rightly pointed out, Liverpool were breathtaking. Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen threatened to run the West Ham defence into the ground at the start of the second half.

But they showed tremendous resilience for a side humbled by four first- half goals at Highbury just four days prior to this game and deserved their win for effort alone. But they also had quality in the form of Berkovitch. The Israeli international had played a key role in West Ham taking the lead through John Hartson in the 14th minute. When Liverpool hit back through Fowler soon after the break, it appeared that his efforts would be wasted.

But Liverpool failed to press home their advantage and Berkovitch regained the momentum for the home side when he drove a low shot in from the edge of the penalty area in the 64th minute. "We deserved that and Berkovitch showed what an outstanding talent he is," Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, said. "Arsenal gave us a pasting but they will do that to anyone this season and we have played well enough to win every other game. This time we dug in, rode our luck and pulled it off."

West Ham could have crumbled again and, had Robbie Fowler not squandered an early headed chance, their frailties may have emerged. But after surviving Liverpool's opening 10-minute blitz, in which Patrik Berger twice shot within inches of the woodwork, Redknapp's side showed their fighting spirit.

A couple of hard-earned corners relieved the pressure and it was Hartson, with his fifth goal of the season, who gave West Ham an unexpected lead in the 14th minute. Berkovitch started the move in his own half and set Hartson on his way. The ball broke back to Berkovitch and he struck a low shot against a post before Hartson gleefully side-footed in the rebound.

Now we had a game on our hands and Liverpool responded in style. This time they made West Ham pay. It was Fowler, however, making only his second start of the season, whose skill was required to get the equaliser in the 53rd minute. A Stig Inge Bjornebye cross was knocked back on the edge of the area by Owen and Fowler arched his body to score with a left-foot volley. Fowler went close again soon after when he chipped against the bar.

Four minutes later and Berkovitch ended all arguments with his well taken winner after Phil Babb had failed to clear a Hartson cross. Some West Ham fans stayed on for a last blast at Ince, but this time they were drowned out by the cheers.