Football: Speedie brings relief

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The Independent Online
West Ham United. . .2

Bristol Rovers. . . 1

IT WAS a vital afternoon for the premier league pretenders, and although matters remain far from settled, West Ham's victory over relegated Bristol Rovers means that they are all but certain of finishing in the First Division's top three. But if their performance yesterday is anything to go by, the Hammers' manager, Billy Bonds, will be in for a nail-biting fortnight should his team be forced to battle it out in the promotion play-offs.

The 16,000 home fans were subject to 90 minutes of nervous nonsense. Rovers needed a win to keep alive any hope of staying up and though they gave it everything they had, this should still have been insufficient to trouble a side of West Ham's ability. However, when promotion is at stake, common sense flies out of the window.

West Ham's defender, Steve Potts, was foremost among those who left their powers of reason in the dressing room. His B-movie attempt to shepherd the ball over the goal-line in the 49th minute was penalised when Justin Channing sent over a long free-kick from the right and Billy Clark rose to put the West Country men into the lead with a header of accuracy and conviction.

For a moment a shock result looked on the cards. Fortunately for the Hammers, David Speedie had other ideas. With the crowd baying for his replacement by Ian Bishop, West Ham were suddenly the beneficiaries of a penalty. Speedie's cross struck Steve Yates on the arm, the referee, Arthur Smith, endorsed his appeal and Julian Dicks did the rest from the spot.

Two minutes later it was Speedie, diving in among the boots, who secured the precious points for the home team. After prolonged treatment for a suspected broken nose, Speedie rose to find the boos transformed instantly into cheers. Such was the relief surging through the East End.

West Ham United: L Miklosko; T Breacker, J Dicks, S Potts, T Gale, M Allen, M Robson (I Bishop, 72 min), P Butler, D Speedie, T Morley, K Keen. Sub not used: C Foster. Manager: B Bonds.

Bristol Rovers: G Kelly; L Maddison, A Tillson, S Yates, B Clark, D Mehew (A Reece, 82 min), J Channing (M Stewart, 82 min), R Evans, J Taylor, C Saunders, G Waddock. Manager: J Ward.

Referee: A Smith (Birmingham).

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