A PLACE in the Uefa Cup proper appeared on the Upton Park horizon last night as West Ham took a deserved first-leg lead against a competent but undaunting Dutch side.
Frank Lampard celebrated the signing of his new contract by scoring another long-range special, and survival in next Wednesday's return leg will see Harry Redknapp's improving team move to within a tie of the competition that fifth place in the Premiership should have earned them anyway.
It may be in the heart of the cricket season but in West Ham's first European adventure since the days of Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire it is their current midfield virtuoso, Frank Lampard, who is underlining the seriousness of the club's ambitions in this tournament.
Summer's golden hues were still but slowly descending over the East Stand of Upton Park at half-time. But by then Lampard, the England Under-21 captain, had added to last Saturday's clinching goal in the third round against Jokerit in Finland with a wonderful seventh-minute strike from fully 30 yards.
With the players, understandably, showing greatly varying degrees of match fitness, West Ham faded along with the heat of the day and Heerenveen, who finished sixth in the Dutch League last season, threatened to take control.
Lampard is one player who looks as if he cannot wait to embrace the new season. Having this week signed a new long-term contract to confirm that his future lies at Upton Park, it appeared not to matter that his last campaign only ended on 5 June, against Sweden Under-21s, as he was as sharp as the proverbial tack in last night's early stages. Collecting a loose pass on the halfway line, he advanced goalwards and, taking advantage of Paulo Wanchope's sensibly-timed dummy run ahead of him, unleashed a right-foot shot that pinged satisfyingly into the net off the goalkeeper's left-hand post.
Wanchope, the pounds 3.5m signing from Derby County, was making his Hammers' debut after the arrival of his work permit and, after heading over the crossbar Lampard's exquisite centre a minute after the breakthrough, laboured for much of the first period. His new strike partner Paolo Di Canio conversely shimmied vibrantly through the proceedings, with a nutmeg here and a cunning pass there.
Hearing they were part of a measly 7,485 turn-out - West Ham, having chosen to charge Premiership prices starting at pounds 22 - the crowd created a decent atmosphere in a more open and entertaining second period. John Moncur, coming on at the interval, added zip to Harry Redknapp's midfield and even tried his luck from the centre circle with a free-kick that only narrowly sailed over Hans Vonk's goal.
Trevor Sinclair also appeared to find more gas in the tank after he was moved from wide right into the "hole" and twice he almost engineered the second goal.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop: Potts, Ferdinand, Ruddock (Pearce, 52), Minto; Sinclair, Lampard, Lomas, Keller (Moncur, 46); Di Canio (Kitson, 77), Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Carrick, Omoyinmi, Abou.
Heerenveen (4-1-3-2): Vonk; Venema, Hansma, Denooijer, Mitrita; Radomski; Nurmela (Jensen, 46), Talan, Pahlplatz (Jepsen, 64); Samardzic, Huizingh. Substitutes not used: Ditewig (gk), Lurling, Houttuin, Pander, Denneboom.
Referee: E. Steinborn (Germany).Reuse content