Football: Light of Lampard

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The Independent Online
West Ham United 2

Pearce 35, Lampard 39

Nottingham Forest 1

Hjelde 84

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance:25,485

IF YOU are a Premiership team in need of a pick-me-up, then you have got to hope that Nottingham Forest are next on your fixture list. West Ham, on a slide after two consecutive 4-0 home defeats and only one win in their last four league games, found themselves in exactly that situation. Against the Premiership's bottom side and worst defence they didn't fluff their lines, despite Forest's late goal giving the home side the jitters.

On a day when the majority of their Premiership counterparts were playing in the FA Cup, West Ham made up some ground to move up one place, and are now only one point off their holy grail of sixth place and possible Uefa Cup qualification. The West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, realised the importance of beating the Premiership's lamest duck, especially after their recent run of poor form.

"It was important to get a result and I knew it wouldn't be easy after two defeats," Redknapp said. "The game is about confidence and when the crowd gets edgy, the players get edgy, too, and it is hard for them to produce."

Ron Atkinson saw his Nottingham Forest side thrashed 8-1 by Manchester United last week, yet he, too, would have viewed this game as one they could win, given West Ham's form. But on the ground where the floodlights went out last season in an alleged match-fixing attempt organised from the Far East, Atkinson probably finally saw the fusebox blow on his side's attempt to avoid relegation. This game also provided proof the famed escape skills of Atkinson have finally lost their spark, as from the start it was clear that Forest lacked the imagination, as well as the ambition, to earn all three points.

Yet on the evidence of the first 10 minutes, it seemed possible that Forest would bore their way to a draw, as neither side could muster up a decent string of passes let alone shots on goal. But West Ham, with new signings Marc-Vivien Foe and Scott Minto both on the bench, finally came to life in the 14th minute, as Stan Lazaridis worked a quick one- two with Paolo Di Canio, which ended with Frank Lampard shooting wide from Lazaridis's byline cutback. Then, two minutes later, an unmarked Di Canio failed to profit from Steve Lomas's through pass, the Italian scooping over Dave Beasant's crossbar from 10 yards out.

Redknapp's men in effect killed off Forest with two goals in quick succession just before the break. With 35 minutes gone, Eyal Berkovic dummied his marker inside the area and then clipped the ball back for Ian Pearce to guide past Beasant. Four minutes later, Trevor Sinclair made it to the right-hand byline and Lampard ran into the gaping holes in Forest's defence to score from six yards.

Forest, for whom Pierre van Hooijdonk appeared to be their only likely source of hope, woke up to their parlous situation too late. They eventually committed players forward and it was the Dutchman who swung in a free- kick for Jon Olav Hjelde to head home, despite Shaka Hislop getting a hand to the ball.

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