Football: Rare Pearce goal caps reward for enterprise

West Ham United 3 Leeds United 0
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The Independent Online
IN THE race within the championship race for European qualification, West Ham stole a significant march on one of their principal rivals last night with a thoroughly entertaining display which vanquished the memory of their previous outing at Upton Park when they lost on penalties to Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

Goals by John Hartson, his 22nd of the season, Samassi Abou and man of the match Ian Pearce, playing out of position as a marauding right wing back, punished a Leeds side - that had scored nine goals in their previous two games - that were far too negative for far too long.

Harry Redknapp's Hammers are now one point behind Blackburn and Leeds, whose manager, George Graham, should rue his choice of tactics for this match despite laying the blame for two of the goals on his goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn.

For his part Redknapp, was happy to accentuate the positive, especially Pearce. "I just had a feeling about playing him there," Redknapp said. "He's so quick and he's comfortable with the ball at his feet. I didn't see any reason why he couldn't do it."

The opening exchanges suggested there were goals in store as Hartson miscued at the end of the game's first attack, while Lee Bowyer's shot at the other end was diverted to safety by the legs of Bernard Lama.

West Ham went ahead in the eighth minute when Martyn flapped at Eyal Berkovic's corner and Hartson, at the far post, plundered his first Premiership goal since 10 January. Three minutes later it might have been two when David Unsworth's free-kick was fumbled by Martyn but the keeper made amends with a fine save from Berkovic's follow-up shot.

With Alf-Inge Haaland and Gary Kelly deployed as man markers, on John Moncur and Berkovic respectively, it was hardly surprising that both figured among the game's six yellow cards but there was worse to come for Leeds before the first half was out. A long ball from Unsworth was chased by Abou more in hope than expectation but Martyn collided horribly with the defender Martin Hiden and Abou was left with the simplest of tap ins.

Leeds, with Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink the lone striker and leading scorer Rod Wallace on the bench, responded with two chances for Bruno Ribeiro. Even then the Hammers might have made it three just before the break when Pearce skipped round Martyn only for Ian Harte to clear off the line.

Pearce, however, was not to be denied. Twenty minutes into the second half another intelligent run was spotted by Berkovic and this time Pearce beat Harte to the ball before planting a firm shot past Martyn.

Hasselbaink's stinging free-kick was tipped over by Lama, before Hartson hit the post in the final minute.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Lama; Potts, Ferdinand, Unsworth; Pearce, Sinclair, Berkovic (Mean, 78), Moncur, Lazaridis; Abou (Omoyinmi, 89), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Hodges, Coyne, Forrest (gk).

Leeds United (4-5-1): Martyn; Maybury (Wetherall, 73), Molenaar, Hiden, Harte; Halle, Haaland, Kelly, Bowyer (Wallace, 73), Ribeiro; Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Matthews, McPhail, Beeney (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Co Durham).

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