Football: Kitson's return keeps fortress Boleyn's reputation intact

West Ham United 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0
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The Independent Online
Andrew Martin

West Ham United 1

Sheffield Wednesday 0

The diversion signs were out in force in east London on Saturday as the Ron Atkinson juggernaut rolled into town. Laden with an impressive cargo of three straight wins since Big Ron returned to steer Sheffield Wednesday out of the Premiership's dead end, the bandwagon pulled into Upton Park only for the wheels to fall off.

A Paul Kitson goal decided a match that was evenly pitched until the West Ham striker's determined effort after 68 minutes. Wednesdayites could be forgiven for loathing Kitson in the manner that Christmas shoppers fear traffic wardens in a maze of double yellow lines. In the corresponding fixture last season, Kitson scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 demolition of a Wednesday side that bore little resemblance to the resilient and capable team Atkinson fielded on Saturday.

That Kitson was clearly rusty from an absence enforced by a groin injury sustained in August was more galling. And it was his prolific and more celebrated striking partner, John Hartson, who seemed the more likely source of a claret and blue breakthrough.

Not that the match was all one-way traffic. Paolo Di Canio was a constant menace on the left flank, the Italian striker's white boots a conspicuous banner of menace, while in Petter Rudi Wednesday possessed the game's most creative force.

West Ham's youthful back line of a 19-year-old (Rio Ferdinand) and two 23-year-olds (Ian Pearce and David Unsworth), the youngest in the Premiership, were continually tested but held firm. Unsworth's dependable tackling, in particular, stifled the elusive Di Canio.

The Kitson factor, however, turned the match. After muscling free of Des Walker's close orbit, he turned and shot past Kevin Pressman from 20 yards.

Understandably, his manager was delighted with the returnee's contribution. Harry Redknapp said: "He scored one but could have had four. If he had not missed all those games, he wouldn't be far behind John Hartson in the goalscoring list. He scored more than John last season."

Redknapp's hand in Kitson's rehabilitation should also be commended. Kitson was eased back into the first team following his injury, but only after the striker had shown a return to form during training and reserve games.

Redknapp will also be heartened, if somewhat baffled, by his side's formidable home record. The notion of fortress Boleyn Ground may once have seemed laughable, but West Ham's form is second only to Manchester United's. On their travels, however, it is a different matter: West Ham have lost more away games - eight - than any other team in the Premiership.

Perhaps with Kitson back on board, West Ham's own wheels will begin to roll.

Goal: Kitson (68) 1-0.

West Ham United (3-4-1-2): Forrest; Unsworth, Ferdinand, Pearce; Impey (Breacker, 77), Rowland, Lomas, Lampard; Berkovitch; Kitson (Abou, 82), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Potts, Paulo Alves, Sealey (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (3-5-2): Pressman; Nolan, Newsome, Walker; Stefanovic, Hyde (Pembridge, 57), Collins, Whittingham (Carbone, 69), Rudi; Di Canio, Booth. Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Humphreys, Alexandersson.

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Collins, Hyde.

Attendance: 24,344.

Man of the match: Unsworth.