Preston gain as Repka loses head

West Ham United 1 - Preston North End 2
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The Independent Football

"Knees Up Mother Brown" played over the West Ham PA system before kick-off, but this match was more of a balls-up and a punch-up than a Cockney party.

"Knees Up Mother Brown" played over the West Ham PA system before kick-off, but this match was more of a balls-up and a punch-up than a Cockney party.

Tomas Repka potentially cost West Ham a play-off spot when he was sent off in the first half for butting Preston's Brian O'Neil, while West Ham striker Marlon Harewood, who was booked in the ensuing fracas, was close to being shown a red card later on.

About a dozen police dashed down the tunnel to quash another shoving match long after the final whistle. A busy day then for referee Steve Tanner, who had plenty to think about on his trip home to Somerset. Tanner stayed mum, Preston manager Billy Davies ducked the press conference, his assistant David Kelly claimed he saw nothing and the police refused to make a statement too.

The only man brave enough to comment was West Ham's manager, Alan Pardew, who was still understandably upset at seeing his side lose to a team that had been just one place and two points ahead of them in the Championship.

Pardew said: "The police asked if I'd seen anything, but I was in the changing room. They asked if there had been a problem in the tunnel and I said 'not as far as I am aware'. I understand there was some pushing and shoving but no more than that."

The bottom line is that Preston now look a betting certainty to finish in the top six. Not bad for a club that claimed staying up was their main ambition for the season. West Ham, back to their erratic worst and having boasted beforehand about aiming for automatic promotion, now find themselves replaced by Reading in the final play-off spot, but with a game in hand.

There were not many pre-match takers for anything other than a home win aside from the embittered West Ham pessimists and ever- hopeful Preston followers. Hearts must have been ruling heads, though, as Preston had lost only one of their previous 14 and had beaten West Ham at home this season.

The predictions probably say more about the different expectation levels. Preston have been out of the top flight since 1961 while West Ham, a Premiership side only two years ago, think they still belong among the élite.

It was too much for West Ham keeper Stephen Bywater, who gifted Preston a 17th minute lead when he tried to clear Repka's back pass only to have it charged down by Dave Nugent, who rolled the ball into an empty net.

Fortunately for Bywater, he had the crazy Repka to take the heat off him. The hard tackling Czech was sent off, for the fourth time at the club, for an off-the-ball butt into the right eye of O'Neil,after West Ham had been awarded a free-kick in the 43rd minute.

"I have never seen my players so incensed at some of the things going on out there," Pardew added. "We have to handle things better, but the sending off cost us the game."

Most of the disgruntled West Ham fans started going home with 10 minutes to go when Preston substitute Patrick Agyemang scored from close range with his first touch, having been on the pitch for less than a minute. And there were not that many still here to see West Ham sub Bobby Zamora volley in Harewood's 87th-minute cross.