Football: Redknapp is walking on thin ice

Wrexham 1 West Ham United 1
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The Independent Online
The words belonged to Hugo Porfirio, but they might easily have been scripted for Portugal's other gift to popular culture, Tony Ferrino. The West Ham striker, as hirsute and humble as Steve Coogan's ersatz "singing phenomenon", described his equaliser against Wrexham as "one of the most beautiful goals I've ever scored".

Porfirio's dipping, curling chip shot on the stroke of half-time, waited and placed with precision from 20 yards, proved that skill will shine through in the least auspicious circumstances. Coming from a player who had never experienced snow before Christmas, and whose inclination on seeing his first orange ball was to peel it rather than kick it, it was exquisite indeed.

More's the pity, then, that Harry Redknapp chose to concentrate afterwards on berating the referee for sanctioning play on a "scandalous" pitch rather than singing the praises of his loan signing from Sporting Lisbon. The West Ham manager, quick to criticise some of his foreign legion of late, passed up an ideal opportunity to redress the balance.

Redknapp claimed his team thought the snow-covered surface was "a disgrace." But despite some selective clips on Match of the Day, and the righteous indignation of Trevor Brooking, there were few instances of attackers losing their balance or defenders being unable to turn.

This was, after all, the FA Cup, whose lore stems from epic struggles on slopes and swamps. There is no rule which states that the pitch must be pristine.

It was certainly not a case of the Second Division side hoping to drag the Premiership visitors down to their level on an imperfect surface. Wrexham adhere to pure footballing principles and, if anything, were too elaborate in their build-up. After enjoying what their manager, Brian Flynn, called a "dream start" when Bryan Hughes headed home from the second corner of the afternoon, they should have put West Ham under greater pressure in the quest for a clinching goal.

In the event, the normally trustworthy Andy Marriott demonstrated a desire to emulate the wanderlust of Dave Beasant. The former England Under-21 goalkeeper was way off his line when Porfirio struck, though he redeemed himself by saving with a foot when Steve Jones barged through to shoot from spitting distance.

The Hammers of Brooking's day, finding themselves a goal down on a ground they regarded as unplayable, would probably have surrendered tamely in the knowledge that they had a good excuse. The current side, knocked out of the Coca-Cola Cup on a Stockport quagmire barely a fortnight earlier, showed impressive resolve not to allow Wrexham to add their name to those of Crewe, Torquay and Mansfield on West Ham's list of Cup conquerors.

The tie is far from over, however. West Ham have now won only once in 12 games, among which was a home stalemate with a Stockport side whose record suggests they are of a similar standard to Wrexham. Flynn, who hopes to have three of Saturday's absentees fit for the return, will be aware that they drew 2-2 in the fourth round at Upton Park five years ago only to lose in North Wales.

Their talisman then was the veteran Mickey Thomas. Now it is Hughes, a 20-year-old Merseysider, who has scored five times in this season's competition and could well have won a penalty with a typically driving run from midfield in the second half.

Although Mr Reed ruled that Steve Potts had won the ball fairly, his overall display left ample scope for doubt. Having asked the players to perform on frozen snow, he made no allowance for the conditions and issued several cautions for what were often merely mistimed challenges. Yet he missed completely the one moment of malice, by Michael Hughes against Martyn Chalk, giving a new meaning to the word "snowblind".

Goals: B Hughes (6) 1-0; Porfirio (45) 1-1.

Wrexham (4-4-2) Marriott; McGregor, Humes, Carey, Hardy; Chalk, B Hughes, Ward, Owen (Russell, 88); Watkin, Morris (P Roberts, 80). Substitute not used: B Jones.

West Ham United (4-4-1-1): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Rieper, Dicks; Williamson, Bishop, Moncur, M Hughes; Porfirio; S Jones. Substitutes not used: Raducioiu, Rowland, Sealey (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Wrexham McGregor, Ward, Chalk; West Ham S Jones, Porfirio, Moncur, M Hughes. Man of the match: B Hughes. Attendance: 9,747.

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