Football: West Ham's cup fortunes take hiding

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The Independent Online
Swansea City 1 West Ham United 0

SWANSEA CITY revived memories of happier days for Welsh football as they overcame West Ham to join Cardiff and Wrexham in the fourth round of the FA Cup. They will now play at home to Derby County and therefore have the opportunity to repeat last night's little piece of history - the first humbling of a Premiership side by a team from the Third Division since the supposedly elite league was formed seven years ago.

It was, nevertheless, a sadly familiar experience for the inappropriately nicknamed Irons, who have also melted away against Wrexham and Grimsby in the past four seasons to add to an embarrassing roll of dishonour. There was greater commitment last night than on other occasions; greater certainly than in Sunday's limp effort at Old Trafford. But it would have been difficult for any side to match the passion of the home team, who seized hold of the tie with a goal in the 28th minute by Martin Thomas, clinging on to it with impressive tenacity and a decisive late save from their goalkeeper, Roger Freestone.

Freestone rightly felt he had redeemed himself for the howler that allowed Julian Dicks' daisy-cutter from some distance to creep underneath him in the last two minutes at Upton Park.

The likeable John Hollins, in a role that proved too much for three different managers last season, is transforming the ugly ducklings who finished 89th in the Football League into something closer to Swans.

Hollins said later: "It was a bit of a seat-of-the-pants job at the end, but there was some great defending." Redknapp refused to criticise his players, but is well aware of deficiencies in the squad and has already signed the former Charlton and Chelsea left-back, Scott Minto, from Benfica for pounds 1m.

The visiting support had their early apprehension eased by good efforts from Rio Ferdinand and and Frank Lampard, before their worst fears reared up again midway through the first half. A foul by Dicks out on the touchline gave Michael Howard the opportunity to curl over a high swirling free- kick that deceived Shaka Hislop and bounced off the frame of his goal. Five minutes later, Jonathan Coates fed Thomas and, with the defence possibly expecting a return pass, the midfielder sent in a swerving shot from 20 yards that Hislop touched but could not keep out.

Thomas, clipping a free-kick over the bar, kept the momentum with the Welshmen until half-time, when Redknapp replaced the young midfielder Manny Omoyinmi with Eyal Berkovic. The Israeli, not noted for his contributions away from home, helped the visitors improve this time. Trevor Sinclair had a shot held and Berkovic's more dangerous effort drifted wide of the far post.

Swansea might still have extended their lead with some swift breaks led by Thomas, who beat two men on the byline only for Lampard to clear the cross, and five minutes from time his shot from eight yards was deflected away.

The home hordes must have thought they were safe, but had one nasty moment to survive. Neil Ruddock, joining the attack, shot fiercely from 20 yards and Freestone flung himself left to save the shot and the day. Soon afterwards, "Bread of Heaven" was ringing round the ground, but there were few crumbs of comfort for West Ham as they set off home, with tails in a familiar position: between legs.

Swansea City (4-4-2): Freestone; Jones, Bound, Smith, Howard; Roberts, Cusack, Thomas, Coates; Alsop, Watkin. Substitutes not used: Price, Jones (gk), Newhouse, Lacey, Casey.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Breacker (Hall, 70), Ferdinand, Ruddock, Dicks; Omoyinmi (Berkovic, h-t), Lomas, Lampard, Lazaridis; Hartson, Sinclair. Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Abou, Potts.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

More reports, results, page 27

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