Football: Kitson keeps Europe in sight
West Ham United 2 Newcastle United 0 Di Canio 17, Kitson 82 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 25,997; Day Hammers took full advantage of Di Canio's sweet cameo
Sunday 21 March 1999
As the West Ham manager pointed out afterwards, a few years ago Newcastle would have visited Upton Park with the expectation of walking away with all three points. Back then Newcastle were also regulars in Europe, but, as Redknapp said: "They have gone backwards a bit recently."
Having completed the double over the Magpies this season, Redknapp has proof that the tables have now turned and the perfect way to demonstrate that beyond any doubt would be for West Ham to play in Europe for the first time since the early 1980s.
Before Kitson scored West Ham's second goal seven minutes from time, Redknapp's men were on their way to registering a 1-0 thrashing, such was the extent of Newcastle's anaemic performance.
Ruud Gullit made three changes to his side after their defeat against Manchester United last week but that made them look even more disjointed, while the West Ham defence coped easily with the threat, such as it was, from Alan Shearer and Louis Saha. The former had only one shot on goal, a free-kick turned away well by Shaka Hislop after just four minutes, while the latter's only shot came closer to putting out a floodlight than ever illuminating his own performance.
Di Canio gave West Ham the lead and, with the greatest of irony, he did it with the help of the referee, Paul Durkin. It was Di Canio, after all, who made himself an enemy of the men in the middle by pushing over Durkin's fellow referee Paul Alcock last September, an action which ultimately led to the Italian joining West Ham.
With 15 minutes gone the ball deflected to Di Canio and, despite the assistant referee flagging for offside, Durkin waved play on after seeing the ball reach the Italian off Newcastle's Nikos Dabizas. All that was left was for Di Canio to stroll unchallenged into the penalty area and roll the ball into the net, with Newcastle's defence left square and stranded 20 yards further back. Gullit later called Durkin's decision correct but accused his defence of being "sloppy".
By now Di Canio was tormenting the Newcastle back line and it was the former Milan, Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday striker who, after 13 minutes, crossed from the left only for Kitson to glance his header over the bar. Then, with 28 minutes gone, Di Canio again caused panic only for Dabizas to clear over the crossbar in front of his goalkeeper.
It was a good thing Kitson eventually did score, as it was his miss after 67 minutes that gave Newcastle the belief they could still snatch something from the game. Di Canio crossed, but Kitson's header hit the post before Laurent Charvet cleared off the line. He was more clinical with his next chance, turning Dabizas and slotting the ball past Shay Given after Frank Lampard had found him with a 30-yard pass.
Redknapp was particularly pleased with Di Canio's efforts. He said: "[He] was off for four months and still feels he's only 65 or 70 per cent fit but he was tremendous, especially in the first half-hour. I never thought he was really a gamble. He works hard, his attitude is great and you can't get him off the training field. He lives right, he eats right, he lives for the game and he's so excited that we've won today."
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