Football: Rio's ray of light

Blackburn Rovers 2 Gallacher 36, Sutton 39 West Ham United 1 Ferdinand 64 Attendance: 21,994
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The Independent Online
There are more Euro-sceptics at West Ham these days than at Westminster. The huge influx of continental players has taken much of the blame for the club's steady decline into crisis and it has not required a referendum around Upton Park to determine an impending change in policy that the exodus had already begun.

Not that it did the Hammers much good at Blackburn yesterday. There were only two foreigners in their side - Marc Rieper and Slaven Bilic - but they remained woeful for the entire first half. Although they belatedly rediscovered some purpose, largely thanks to an astonishingly mature performance by their 18-year-old substitute Rio Ferdinand who scored his first goal, they could hardly complain.

Names like Raducioiu and Dumitrescu may have gone to be mispronounced elsewhere but West Ham need replacements quickly. They frequently lack edge of any kind at present, either cutting or blunt.

"I'm confident I can turn things round," said their manager, Harry Redknapp. "We kept giving the ball away in the first 20 minutes and at half-time I said we could lie down and fall further behind or have a go. The last quarter of an hour I thought we were really in it. We've got to stick together. Two players are what I need to give some competition for places."

He hopes to have secured two British signings by next week, but how fortunes have changed for the sides on display at Ewood Park yesterday. When they last met in October the Hammers won to go 10th with 14 points. Rovers then had four points, no wins and were rooted to the bottom of the table. That was Tony Parkes' first match in charge as caretaker at the Lancashire club and since then they have gained seven places and 23 points while the Hammers have fallen eight places, with just one more win in gathering eight additional points.

Telling statistics perhaps, but they were not required yesterday to tell who had profited most in the intervening period. Indigenous or not, West Ham were immediately stretched as Rovers, their poise long since restored, eagerly sought an opening. Their passing was initially as accurate as West Ham's was awry and, briefly, was reminiscent of their pomp two years ago.

Les Sealey, in West Ham's goal, was immediately put under severe threat. It was Sealey's first appearance of the season in place of the injured Ludek Miklosko. After being adrift to two early, high balls, a corner and a cross, the veteran appeared to settle. He responded well to usher Chris Sutton wide when the striker looked through and then tipped over Billy McKinlay's drive. But the feeling grew that this could not last unless the Hammers found some spark. It did not. Kevin Gallacher seized on Sealey's carelessly distributed ball 30 yards out, strode forward and beat the keeper with a low, crisply accurate shot into the corner. Four minutes later Tim Sherwood's adroitly curving free-kick found the defence static and Sutton dashed in to complete an elementary header.

At this stage Rovers were so much in control that an extension of their lead was a formality. But West Ham, cajoled by the presence of Ferdinand and assisted by the opposition's insistence on lying deeper, were revitalised. Ferdinand turned slickly in the box in the 64th minute and was collected enough to make sure the shot he was allowed counted. The urgency which followed gave a fillip to their fans but the crisis is a long way from over.

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