Connolly fires but then explodes

Preston North End 1 West Ham United 2
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The Independent Football

After all the drama and tribulations of the summer, Glenn Roeder may have thought that an opening-day victory would at least restore a degree of calm to his turbulent club, still reeling from the asset-stripping clear-out that has seen Glen Johnson, Joe Cole, Frédéric Kanouté and Trevor Sinclair depart in a frenzy of selling.

How wrong he would have been. No sooner had he finished his congratulatory handshakes than David Connolly, the cut-price signing from Wimbledon who came off the bench to score yesterday's winner, had gone public with an extraordinary tirade against the manager for leaving him out of the starting XI.

The 26-year-old Republic of Ireland striker, signed for just £285,000 despite scoring 24 goals for the stricken Dons last season, lost his place when Roeder decided to pair Jermain Defoe with loan signing Neil Mellor on the eve of yesterday's midday televised game. Even the instant success of a goal within 10 minutes of stepping on to the field did little to dilute Connolly's anger.

He claimed Mellor had arrived from Liverpool with a guarantee of a place in the starting line-up, and threatened to look for another club only two weeks after his move to Upton Park. "I've spoken to the manager and made my feelings clear to him," Connolly said. "I've come here to play and score goals, and I was in total disbelief when I was told I was not starting.

"I was in the side right up to four o'clock on Friday afternoon because I had been the best player in training. But then we picked up Neil Mellor at the motorway services on the way up and Glenn told me I was on the bench.

"I don't mind competing for a place, but I've been told that [Gérard] Houllier had only let him [Mellor] come to West Ham on the assurance that he played.

"I felt I deserved my place. As far as I am concerned it was a terrible decision, and I don't know how it is going to be resolved. The manager shook my hand and said well done after the game, but I will have to talk to him again and I may have to consider looking for another club."

Roeder, back on the touchline for the first time since undergoing brain surgery in the spring, denied the arrival of the 20-year-old Mellor on a season-long loan had conditions attached - but claimed he was not unhappy with Connolly's outburst. "There is nothing like that in the deal at all," he said. "I don't know where he has got that idea from. Neil will start if he merits a place, just like anyone else.

"I made the decision to leave David on the bench today and I think I'm entitled to say it worked, seeing that he came on and scored the winning goal.

"His reaction doesn't surprise me. I gave him his first game at Watford when he was 16 and I've always called him the 'angry ant'. He is a player who speaks his mind."

When it was suggested other players have landed themselves in disciplinary trouble for far less outspoken comments, Roeder simply shrugged and said: "That's just the way the world is these days."

Nor would Roeder accept the incident had taken the shine off the win, which was just the answer he wanted to give to disgruntled supporters after so many high-profile departures. "There is no way it could," he said. "Apart from giving a goal away in the first 90 seconds it was a good way to start the season. In any case, in the context of other things happening in the world, it was of no consequence.

"Today we have heard about a young lad at Watford who has been killed in an accident, so this is nothing."

Meanwhile, Roeder is sticking to his guns over Defoe, said to be a Manchester United target. Defoe struck West Ham's equaliser yesterday, just minutes after Eddie Lewis had capitalised on a debut misunderstanding between 18-year-old Anton Ferdinand - Rio's brother - and Tomas Repka to head Preston in front.

Were Defoe to leave, the Connolly problem would be simultaneously resolved, but Roeder insisted: "Jermain is staying with this club."

Three points did at least change the mood among the West Ham supporters after their heat-sapping journey up the M6, which had been expected to end with demonstrations against the club.

The performances of the front men, and of Don Hutchison, Rob Lee and another debutant, Matthew Etherington, in midfield, confirm they can challenge for a quick return to the Premiership, although they looked uneasy at the back.

Moreover, Preston had at least two decent penalty shouts ignored, and there was more than a hint of offside when Connolly collected the ball before slotting home the winner. Then again, it would take a hard man to say Roeder does not deserve a few lucky breaks.