Football: Quality is the winner for O'Neill

Leicester City 0 West Ham United 0
Click to follow
The Independent Online
DO NOT let the scoreline mislead you: this was not the tedious, nothing-much-to-play-for contest you might imagine.

True, there was nothing much to play for, at least in terms of major issues. But neither side put their metaphorical feet up. There was action, incident and application and those constituents came packaged with no little quality. And the reality is that those things are about as much as clubs of Leicester and West Ham's stature can aspire to in the modern Premiership.

This is not meant as a gloomy prognosis. Unless someone turns up on their doorsteps with substantial amounts of cash, neither club is going to challenge for the title; ever. But while to some this would render their participation effectively meaningless, there are hopeful signs that others are beginning to accept that winning is not everything.

Premiership football is not only a competition but a product and, moreover, a product sold at a premium price. As such it has - or, at least, should have - standards to maintain. At the prices spectators are expected to pay, a Premiership match should deliver quality football, even when the participants have only bit parts in the bigger picture.

Happily, these are two clubs who appear to have grasped that principle. A Leicester fan, for example, rarely goes home grumbling that his team had not expended every ounce of energy; nor does a West Ham fan turn for the exits feeling his side had not tried to play with style.

They can thank their managers for that. In the art of motivation, Martin O'Neill has no peer, at least among his contemporaries. Harry Redknapp, meanwhile, is as infatuated with the football artist as any of his Upton Park predecessors. Who else would have welcomed the brilliant but vilified Paolo di Canio into his dressing-room?

As it happens, the controversial Italian had a quiet time, looking some way removed from the Di Canio who would delight and dismay his masters at Sheffield Wednesday. There was none of the wild gesticulating fury that characterised his relationship with match officials during his Hillsborough days, but neither did he try to feint, dribble and dodge past the entire Leicester defence. You cannot have one, it seems, without the other.

But it did not stop West Ham putting together movements that were pleasing to the eye and which, on another day, would have produced goals - specifically for Frank Lampard, who missed one good chance, and Ian Wright, making a late appearance from the bench after his long, injury-enforced absence, but lacking the killer touch when the opportunity to win the game came his way.

They were not nearly so deserving, however, as Leicester, who pounded the West Ham goal for long periods, but could not find a way through, despite impressive contributions from Arnar Gunnlaugsson and Neil Lennon. Largely it was down to Shaka Hislop that the score remained blank, the West Ham goalkeeper producing perhaps half a dozen top-drawer saves on an afternoon when he could do no wrong.

Leicester City (3-4-1-2): Keller; Sinclair, Elliott, Ullathorne; Impey (Miller, 63), Savage, Lennon, Guppy; Gunnlaugsson (Marshall 63); Heskey, Cottee. Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Kaamark, Taggart.

West Ham United (3-4-1-2): Hislop; Potts, Pearce, Ruddock; Sinclair, Lomas, Lampard, Minto; Berkovic; Di Canio (Moncur, 86), Kitson (Wright, 72). Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Cole, Keller.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

Man of the match: Hislop.

Attendance: 20,402.

Comments