Football: Potts' gaffe gives Walsall the edge: Own goal provides lift for Nicholl's new start

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The Independent Online
Walsall. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . .1

DOWN THE decades, a wet night at Walsall has been precisely the kind of prospect designed to bring out the worst in West Ham. So it proved again at a rain-swept Bescot Stadium, where the haplessly outstretched leg of Steve Potts gave the Third Division artisans a deserved advantage to take to the self-styled Premiership artists a fortnight hence.

For Walsall's manager of barely 36 hours, Chris Nicholl, it was a sweet return to active service after three years looking for work. The former Southampton manager once scored twice for both sides playing for Aston Villa against Leicester, so he alone may not have been surprised that own-goals accounted for two-thirds of last night's scoring efforts.

Stuart Watkiss, playing in Nicholl's old position of centre-back, stunned West Ham by putting Walsall ahead midway through the first- half. Charlie Ntamark levelled the score before the interval with the first of the evening's major gaffes, though even the Cameroonian's calamity was overshadowed by Potts's intervention 16 minutes from time.

Nicholl, who gained two winners' medals in this competition with Villa, was the man who took on Matthew Le Tissier at The Dell and also gave Alan Shearer his debut. The team he has inherited from Kenny Hibbitt cost less than a month of Shearer's salary, and it should be of real concern to his opposite number, Harry Redknapp, that West Ham failed to outclass them.

Redknapp himself replaced Billy Bonds only last month. Since then, West Ham have scored twice from open play in the seven matches, and a Walsall midfielder is now their joint leading scorer.

Walsall took the lead in the 25th minute. Martin O'Connor flicked on a corner to the far post, where Watkiss side- footed home.

West Ham did not manage a shot on target for a further nine minutes, Trevor Wood saving from John Moncur, yet they drew level three minutes before the break.

Charging into the midst of a goal-mouth scramble, Ntamark looked as if he intended to hoof the ball out of the ground. Embarrassingly - inexplicably - he drove it into the net, and Tony Cottee struck an upright moments later.

That should have been the cue for West Ham to assert their superior skills. Instead, Watkiss had chances to collect an unlikely hat-trick, and Martin Allen was led off with blood pouring from a head wound following a collision with the ubiquitous O'Connor, before Walsall struck again. Potts obligingly diverted Chris Marsh's low cross beyond Ludek Miklosko - thus ensuring that West Ham scored twice in a match for the first time this season.

Walsall (4-4-2): Wood; Evans, Watkiss, Palmer (Ryder, 51), Rogers; Ntamark (Mehew, 61), O'Connor, Peer, C Marsh; Wilson, Lightbourne. Substitute not used: Walker (gk).

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland; Rush (Chapman, 72), M Allen (Whitbread, 76), Moncur, M Marsh; Hutchison, Cottee. Substitute not used: Feuer (gk).

Referee: P Harrison (Rochdale).

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