Football: Speedie brings blessed relief

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The Independent Online
West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Bristol Rovers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

BRISTOL ROVERS, certain of relegation, left Upton Park to warm applause from around the ground on Saturday. It was hard to tell whether the gesture most expressed sympathy or relief.

West Ham, uncertain of promotion, had striven unimpressively - and at times unpleasantly - for the victory which kept them in touch with the sides currently in position for automatic entry to the Premier League, Newcastle and Portsmouth.

If the East Enders do manage to force their way into one of the top two places, they will look back on this match and bless themselves. The referee will also be remembered with affection.

Having conceded a goal four minutes after the break - Billy Clark heading in from a free-kick needlessly conceded by Steve Potts as he tried to usher the ball for a goal-kick - West Ham were becoming increasingly desperate.

When on-loan David Speedie allowed the keeper to smother the ball after Steve Yates's mistake had allowed him a clear run on goal, it seemed likely that they would earn nothing from the game.

But the fortunate award of a penalty for handball in the 56th minute, after Speedie had hammered a cross into Yates's arm, enabled Julian Dicks to equalise. The Scotsman, who had been called what an East Ender might refer to as a merchant banker by the North Bank after his miss, now had his dander up. Then, when Trevor Morley drove another of his crosses against the bar two minutes later, he dived forward to head the rebound in, getting a boot in the face for his trouble.

'That's David Speedie,' West Ham's manager, Billy Bonds, said admiringly afterwards. Unfortunately, a wild kick at Clark a few minutes later was also Speedie, and he was lucky not to be booked at least.

If West Ham are involved in the play-offs, Speedie's loan will be extended. But a permanent move is not on - 'we haven't got the dough,' Bonds said.

However, his position is enviable in comparison to that of the Rovers manager, John Ward, who joined the a club nine matches ago from York City, of the Third Division. Rovers, whose season has been disrupted by the departure of two previous managers, Dennis Rofe and Malcolm Allison, are still without a ground of their own. They will either have to let several of their leading players go at the end of the season or keep them on in the Second Division with First Division wages.

Rovers' bold display nevertheless gave Ward genuine cause for hope, and he was disposed to look on the bright side: 'As someone said to me just now - York City had a chance of getting into the Second Division, but now you are certain.'

Goals: Clark (49) 0-1; Dicks pen (56) 1-1; Speedie (58) 2-1.

West Ham United: Miklosko; Breacker, Dicks, Potts, Gale, M Allen, Robson (Bishop, 72), Butler, Speedie, Morley, Keen. Substitute not used: Foster.

Bristol Rovers: Kelly; Maddison, Tillson, Yates, Clark, Mehew (Reece, 82), Channing (Stewart, 82), Evans, Taylor, Saunders, Waddock.

Referee: A Smith (Birmingham).