Di Canio accused of cheating by Wenger

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The Independent Football

PAOLO DI CANIO, never less than high profile, played a central part in a rancorous but absorbing affair at Upton Park yesterday.

PAOLO DI CANIO, never less than high profile, played a central part in a rancorous but absorbing affair at Upton Park yesterday.

The Italian demonstrated the qualities for which West Ham signed him last season as he scored the goals that restored their flagging momentum in the Premiership; but his involvement in the challenges which saw Arsenal's Patrick Vieira sent off for the fourth time in his Highbury career left the visiting manager, Arsene Wenger, quietly steaming.

Vieira made a stormy and reluctant departure five minutes from time after Di Canio had spun away from his tackle on the halfway line. As the Arsenal player, who had been booked for another foul on Di Canio in the 54th minute, protested bitterly, he appeared to be barged into by West Ham's centre-back Neil Ruddock, and for a moment the whole occasion appeared to be spinning out of control as an angry melee of players formed in front of the dug-outs.

Vieira was then allegedly involved in a confrontation with a police officer, which could lead to further action against him on top of any Football Association disciplinary measures.

Ruddock said later that Vieira spat at his face after he was shown the red card. "He spat at me and as far as I'm concerned that is the lowest of the low. Maybe it's something the FA can look into," the defender added.

Some would argue that the referee, Mike Reed of Birmingham, had already lost control of the game at this point. He finished with 10 names in his book, and also sent of West Ham's Marc-Vivien Foe in injury time for what looked like a fair challenge on Dennis Bergkamp. Perhaps he could have saved himself time by making a block booking beforehand.

Both managers expressed bemusement at the increasing trend for numerous yellow cards in Premiership matches, and Wenger made it clear that he did not believe in either of the fouls which saw the departure of his volatile French midfielder. "It was cheating by Di Canio," said Wenger. "I was very frustrated by his behaviour. It was not fair play. The second booking was in front of the bench, and he dived."

West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp denied that the Italian he had rescued from exile following the infamous push on referee Paul Alcock had made a meal of any challenge. He preferred to dwell upon the exquisite skill with which Di Canio had taken the goal that put West Ham 2-0 up in a 73rd- minute breakaway, knocking the ball over Martin Keown's head and driving it high past David Seaman just ahead of Tony Adams' despairing covering tackle.

When push comes to shove, as it were, Redknapp is a fan of the man. "Paolo is different class," he said. "He's a genius. I'd pay towatch him play." The home fans among the 26,009 crowd were not disappointed in the Italian yesterday as he produced themoment of individual enterprise that tipped the match West Ham's way on the half hour.

From the inside-right position, he set off on a mazy midfield run into the heart of the Arsenal defence that seemed doomed to glorious failure, but delivered something even better. After slaloming past Vieira, Silvinho and Adams, Di Canio lost control on the edge of the box. But Frank Lampard kept the momentum going by stabbing the ball wide to Trevor Sinclair, who won possession from Seaman - not without using his hand, according to the Arsenal keeper - and crossed for Paulo Wanchope at the far post. When Wanchope's effort was blocked, Di Canio, still on hand, was present to re-direct the ball home.

West Ham, it seemed, had recovered the better from their midweek European excursion. But when a misdirected header from Steve Lomas let Davor Suker reduce the arrears in the 77th minute, they were under extreme pressure to hold on to what they had, even after the visitors had been reduced to 10 men. "To grind out a result against Arsenal is one of the most difficult tasks in football," Redknapp said. Wenger, meanwhile, was left grinding his teeth.

Goals: Di Canio (29) 1-0; Di Canio (72) 2-0; Suker (77) 2-1.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Potts, Stimac, Ruddock; Lomas, Foe, Lampard, Moncur (Margas, 87), Sinclair; Di Canio, Wanchope (Kitson, 80). Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Keller, Carrick.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Luzhny (Overmars, 72), Keown, Adams, Silvinho; Ljungberg, Grimandi, Vieira, Henry (Kanu, 72); Suker, Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Winterburn, Dixon.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: West Ham: Wanchope, Lomas, Moncur, Foe, Stimac. Arsenal: Bergkamp, Vieira, Keown, Henry, Grimandi. Sendingsoff: West Ham: Foe. Arsenal: Vieira.

Man of the match: Di Canio.

Attendance: 26,009.