The arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano may have been a distraction for West Ham United - but the Uefa Cup soon may not be. To reach the competition's group stages they have to go to Sicily in two weeks' time and overturn a single goal deficit which, given the accomplished if, frequently, robustly professional performance of Palermo last night, appears the tallest of orders. West Ham have the attacking verve to do so but the Italians, who played with a surprisingly high tempo, will be well equipped. It should be some showdown.
West Ham's manager, Alan Pardew, handed full debuts to the Argentines but, although clearly players of substance, their impact was not that great on an evening of searing commitment. Mascherano faded after a bright, tidy start while Tevez, for all his skill, physicality and devilment, is patently short of fitness while struggling to connect with his new team-mates. Pardew disputed that - and praised Mascherano's contribution in particular saying that he "raised us a level" - but he admitted that he still needs to "harness their talents".
Tevez was also, clearly, targeted by Palermo, who quickly drew encouragement from the reluctance of the referee Stefan Johanesson to issue cards. Pardew admitted that he was perplexed - "he let more go than would have be allowed in a Premiership match" - although Tevez was also a beneficiary. The striker barged in to push three defenders, as frustrations grew, after Bobby Zamora was felled following a tackle on the goalkeeper Alberto Fontana.
"I felt the referee would have been stronger and maybe that incident was a carry on from that had happened previously," Pardew claimed on the resulting melee. But he was far from downbeat. "We did enough to suggest they will be in some fear of us even though they won tonight," he added. "I think it's evenly poised."
Maybe so but West Ham appear up against it against an opponent they would also have hardly chosen to meet at this stage of the competition. A top-eight Serie A side, reaching the last 16 of the Uefa Cup last season, Palermo are on a strong upward curve, have improved their squad, and included four Italian internationals in their starting XI. "We knew we had to fight hard and be brave," said their coach, Francesco Guidolin, although he also paid tribute to the bristling intent of West Ham.
Still there was undeniable truth in Pardew's claim that the "breaks" went their way - and none more so than in the dying minutes of the first half when Tevez, who had started on the left but was pushed into the attack after half an hour, met Bobby Zamora's low cross. His side-footed volley crashed into Fontana and was scrambled away.
In truth he should have scored. Unfortunately Palermo then did. Again the circumstances were hairline. They constructed a move down the West Ham left and as Paul Konchesky claimed with apparent justification that the ball had ran out of play the impressive - and aggressive - Aimo Diana swept in a low cross which was met decisively by the striker Andrea Caracciolo at the far post.
Before that and Roy Carroll had reacted sharply to fingertip away David Di Michele's diving header while Anton Ferdinand had wasted a free header from Lee Bowyer's corner. The midfielder himself had narrowly failed to connect with another through ball before Nigel Reo-Coker blasted over when well placed on the area's edge.
After the break and a wonderfully nimble turn by Tevez earned a free-kick which Konchesky drove narrowly wide before Palermo again threatened. Fortunately Caracciolo, through on goal after another pass by Diana, lacked pace and Carroll smothered before Cristian Zaccardo wasted another free header from a corner. Pardew had little option. His team attacked with an increased frenzy and the manager swapped his strikers - Tevez departing. There was almost an immediate dividend as Marlon Harewood, dropped for Tevez, met a cross from Yossi Benayoun, who suddenly fired into life, only to hook the ball against a post.
"The breaks," Pardew reiterated, "went against us. But there is some way to go." In a fortnight's time that luck will have to swing heavily in their favour. Otherwise West Ham, former Cup Winners Cup victors in 1965, and in their first campaign since 1999, are out of Europe.
West Ham United (4-1-4-1): Carroll; Mears, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Konchesky; Mascherano, Benayoun, Bowyer (Etherington, 59), Reo-Coker; Tevez (Cole, 78), Zamora (Harewood, 78). Substitutes not used: Green (gk), Sheringham, Mullins, Collins.
Palermo (4-4-2): Fontana; Cassani, Zaccardo, Barzagli, Pisano; Diana, Simplicio, Parravicini (Guana, 55), Bresciano (Biava, 90); Di Michele (Capuano, 79), Caracciolo. Substitutes not used: Agliardi (gk), Tedesco, Dellafiore, Brienza.
Referee: S Johanesson (Sweden).Reuse content