Football: Redknapp's rearguard headache

West Ham United 2 Leicester City 1
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The Independent Online
MAKE DO and mend, scraping the barrel, square pegs in round holes. Cliches didn't spring from Harry Redknapp's tongue, but they are apt in description of defensive choices forced on him for Tuesday night's second leg of the Intertoto Cup final-round tie against Metz in France.

Needing to win by two clear goals, West Ham's prospects of qualifying for the Uefa Cup appear to hinge on their manager's faith in adaptability. A less philosophical soul would think the situation not only desperate but impossible. Ian Pearce out for the season, Neil Ruddock unavailable for at least another month, Scott Minto sidelined, Stuart Pearce ("a terrific influence on and off the field,") ineligible.

Redknapp shook his head. "Rio Ferdinand and Steve Potts are the only two fit defenders left on the staff," he said after Saturday's 2-1 victory over Leicester. "There is nobody else at all. And I'm not about to throw players from the youth team into a match like this."

Redknapp has already made clear his intention to get his defensive resources up to strength. He is bringing in Gary Charles from Benfica for pounds 1m, but the former Aston Villa player is short of match fitness.

So the immediate future may depend on how successfuly some of his players cope with unfamiliar problems.

"We've got plenty to worry about," he added, "but I'm not the type to lose sleep over it. We've got to get on with it and today's result isn't going to do our confidence any harm."

Versatility, a West Ham tradition since the days of Ron Greenwood, is crucial to their current aspirations and there is another echo of the past in a burgeoning partnership between Paolo Di Canio and Paulo Wanchope, who is remarkably capable of looking both brilliant and hopeless.

Back in the days when Johnny Byrne and Geoff Hurst were in tandem it was not unusual for West Ham's midweek matches to be attended by First Division managers lost in admiration of their understanding.

Di Canio and Wanchope are hardly in the same bracket as those two past heroes of Upton Park, but together they contradict a policy that still persists in English football. "I don't think you need somebody up there knocking people over," Redknapp added. "Di Canio is very clever, not a clown. He knows what he's doing. Thinks all the time."

However, the thought uppermost in Redknapp's mind for 20 minutes or so on Saturday was that Leicester's strikers, Emile Hesky and Tony Cottee, were more effective, and that Leicester were winning the battle in midfield.

Heskey's cleverly taken goal after only two minutes encouraged further problems for West Ham's defence and it was a while before Ferdinand got to grips with him. "That was very important," Redknapp agreed.

So was the tenacity that enabled West Ham to match the bite and industry of Neil Lennon, Mustafa Izzet and Robbie Savage.

Once parity was established in midfield, and West Ham's wing backs began to push on with more purpose, Leicester found themselves relying more and more on goalkeeper Tim Flowers, who is entitled to think that a call from Kevin Keegan is not out of the question.

Beaten when Wanchope stole in on a mishit shot from Frank Lampard to equalise in the 29th minute, and again by Di Canio's winner eight minutes after half-time, Flowers nevertheless performed heroically.

Sending on Ian Marshall in place of Savage to make a three-pronged attack, Leicester mounted enough momentum for shooting chances to fall for Lennon, but West Ham saw no need drastically to re-arrange their defensive formation. If only Redknapp could keep it in place for Tuesday's encounter.

Racing back towards his own line in the final minutes, Frank Sinclair almost spectacularly added to his recent collection of own goals. Play the way you are facing is a sensible enough adage, but the Leicester defender is giving it a new twist.

Goals: Heskey (2) 0-1; Wanchope (29) 1-1; Di Canio (53) 2-1.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Potts, Ferdinand, Pearce, S Pearce, Lomas, Foe, Lampard, Moncur, Sinclair, Wanchope, Di Canio. Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Keller, Carrick, Cole, Abou.

Leicester City: (3-5-2): Flowers; Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart (Gilchrist, 72), Impey, Savage (Marshall, 67), Lennon, Izzet, Guppy, Cottee, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Wilson, Zagorakis.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire)

Bookings: West Ham: Pearce. Leicester: Heskey.

Man of the match: Flowers.

Attendance: 23,631.

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