Football: Kitson strike ends Big Ron's run

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The Independent Online
West Ham United 1

Kitson 68

Sheffield Wednesday 0

Attendance: 24,344

After four wins, Ron Atkinson was on course for challenging well- documented evidence that changing a manager makes no difference to the long-term future of a troubled club. Now there are doubts. Although Sheffield Wednesday limited West Ham to a narrow victory at Upton Park yesterday, all they showed was an ability to frustrate. This is not usually Atkinson's way. Atkinson said: "I know Manchester United have nothing to worry about from us, but if we scrap like this we'll be all right."

If his run of success since he replaced David Pleat was to continue, having West Ham next in his sights should not have been unwelcome. After reaping praise for wins over Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, the Hammers were lucky to lose only 2-0 to Derby County, who benefited from Ludek Miklosko making some of the season's most mortifying howlers. Miklosko did not play yesterday.

More significantly, Paul Kitson was able to play after nearly four months' absence. Re-united with the in-form John Hartson and particularly well supported by Keith Rowland, wide, and Frank Lampard from midfield, that attacking partnership tested Wednesday from the start.

The fascinating ball-hugging running of Wednesday's Paolo Di Canio and the improvisation of Dejan Stefanovic and Petter Rudi on the counter looked attractive enough, but it was Hartson and Kitson who promised much more with their less subtle strength in the penalty area. Kevin Pressman managed to get a hand to Kitson's 15th-minute shot from six yards, but the way Hartson and Rowland had ripped through the defence must have given him misgivings. He concealed them well.

His bulk, but also his remarkable agility, again became crucial to his team's security shortly before half-time when Andy Impey's cross was purposefully headed down from five yards by Kitson. He dived and powered the ball away superbly. For that he deserved to be lucky shortly after half-time when Hartson broke away down the left side and Steve Lomas's centre was miscued from directly in front of goal by Kitson.

So the possibility of the Hartson-Kitson reunion failing to be celebrated increased. Hartson slung a low drive dramatically across the target that, in recent weeks, had become so well-found. Finally, though, Kitson held the ball tight in his possession and roughly turned Des Walker to open up a shooting opportunity from some 20 yards. Admittedly the ball deflected cruelly in front of Pressman, but the shot was sufficiently well struck to warrant the goal.

In reality, Wednesday's inability to relieve the long second-half pressure imposed upon them suggested that their recent revival had been founded as much on adrenalin as any particular art of Atkinson's.

Obviously they are harder to beat but then West Ham, despite that result against Derby, are a team thriving on attack and Hartson, who was again denied by Pressman in the final moments, will clearly add many more to his 22 goals in 33 games.