The players and officials of West Ham and Arsenal were imprisoned in Upton Park last night as West Ham fans vented their anger at the club's board of directors.
The supporters did a better job at stopping Arsenal than West Ham's defence, which had earlier allowed the visitors a comfortable passage to second place in the Premiership table. West Ham, despite the gift of a own goal - the Hammers' first in nearly six hours of Premiership play - remain rooted the the bottom three.
It is that position, and the apparent refusal of the board to consider an offer of investment from the bookmaking tycoon Michael Tabor, which has created the atmosphere of protest.
During the match it was expressed in a half-time protest in which thousands of supporters showed red cards printed with the words "it's good to talk", in reference to the board's refusal to talk to Tabor.
The protest intensified after goals from Ray Parlour, after seven minutes, and Ian Wright, after 67, had beaten West Ham. Their goal came from the unfortunate Matthew Rose 64 minutes into his first game of the season.
More than 1,000 fans waited to express their anger long after the final whistle. Two of them ran on to the pitch, a concern to West Ham who already have two incursions under Football Association scrutiny.
As "Sack the board" and "Brown out" (the chairman is Terry Brown) rang round the ground, Harry Redknapp, the club's manager, was telling the media: "The fans were marvellous tonight; they got behind the team. It is no good giving the players stick, they can make their feelings known after the game."
Which they promptly did. Well over an hour after the final whistle the entrance to the Boleyn Ground was being protected by a wall of yellow- jacketed policeman as fans besieged the club. Eventually mounted police cleared the way to Arsenal's coach so the team could escape. Protests continued in the streets around the ground and traffic was diverted.
At the heart of the discontent is West Ham's failure to match the signings of clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea. Thus the on-pitch tableaux before the game was cruelly ironic. A table and several chairs sat on the grass. A new signing, perhaps? Had Pierre van Hooijdonk, Daniele Dichio, Paul Kitson or Mike Sheron - all transfer targets of the club - actually been signed? No, it was a teenager signing trainee forms.
When West Ham's adult players emerged it was with Mike Newell as the lone forward, a striker so far past his best that First Division Birmingham, from whom he is on loan, do not require his services.
Arsenal have so many forward options they could afford to leave John Hartson on the bench despite Dennis Bergkamp being suspended. It gave Paul Merson, watched by John Gorman, England manager Glenn Hoddle's assistant, the opportunity to flourish in a forward role. He took it with aplomb, providing both goals and hitting the bar with an exquisite chip.
West Ham's flimsy defensive cover had already been exposed by the impressive Stephen Hughes, making his first League start, before Merson, released by Patrick Vieira, drove through to set up Parlour.
The first sighting of a West Ham player in the Arsenal penalty box came two minutes later, Hugo Porfirio drifting in. But it was another 20 minutes before David Seaman had a shot to save, a tame 25-yard drive from Danny Williamson.
After Merson had both hit the bar and brought a fine save from Miklosko, West Ham finally went close themselves. Porfirio dribbled into the box before finding Newell and his first-time shot brought an instinctive, one-handed save from Seaman.
Their players raised their efforts in the second half, but it always looked as if Arsenal had something in reserve. So it proved. When West Ham scored, Rose misdirecting Slaven Bilic's header past Seaman, Arsenal immediately stepped up a gear for Wright to score his 17th League goal of the season.
West Ham have only scored 19 goals themselves but they almost gained one more in a spirited late rally when Steve Jones hit the inside of the post. The ball flew across the goal and away to safety. It was that sort of night for West Ham. The problem is they have been having too many such nights this season.
West Ham United (3-5-1-1): Miklosko; Rieper, Bilic, Dicks; Breaker, Williamson, Moncur (Lampard, 28), Hughes, Rowland (Jones, 83); Porfirio; Newell. Substitutes not used: Lazaridis, Ferdinand, Sealey (gk).
Arsenal (3-5-2): Seaman; Rose (Marshall, 77), Adams, Bould; Dixon, Parlour, Vieira, Hughes (Morrow,, Winterburn; Merson, Wright (Hartson,76). Substitutes not used: Shaw, Lukic (gk).
Referee: M Bodenham (Cornwall).
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