Elliott undone by red mist

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The Independent Online

Matt Elliott does not look the same player. He has let his hair grow, not too much mind you, but enough to make him look less aggressive, more of a team captain, someone with the maturity to lead Leicester out of trouble.

Now there aren't any terrific reasons to dwell on Elliott's tonsorial preference. It's what went on inside his head that matters, the rush of blood that caused him to be shown a red card after 72 minutes of Saturday's 1-1 draw against West Ham at Filbert Street.

No sooner had Elliott been lured into giving away a penalty by Joe Cole's dancing feet than all sense left him. Couldn't leave it after remarks to suggest that Cole should take out an Equity card, couldn't resist a violent reaction to Trevor Sinclair's mischief making as players from both teams piled in. More of a scuffle than the mass brawl reported in some newspapers but enough to further bruise football's faltering reputation.

Sensibly, Leicester's manager Dave Bassett made no attempt to defend his disgraced captain. "Matt's behaviour was ridiculous," he said. "He's out for three games, he loses two weeks wages, he's jeopardised the club. He's going to have a lousy weekend."

Who would be a football manager? It seems these days that if the players are not out on the toot they're behaving on the field in a manner unbecoming to a professional athlete. At least Elliott admitted to Bassett that he lost his head after being wound up by Sinclair but he is an experienced professional who should know better.

Certainly, Elliott has been around long enough to have sensed the danger in lunging at a quick-footed player in the penalty area. "Soon as I saw Joe (Cole) get in there I felt he would either get through or tempt a rash tackle," the West Ham manager Glenn Roeder said. "It isn't in his nature to dive. In fact he's too innocent to know what a dive is yet. He loves beating players and the trick is to stand up when trying to get the ball off him. If you don't you can be in trouble."

Anyway, once all the nonsense had died down (without the benefit of TV replays, Leicester's supporters remained vociferously convinced that the referee Eddie Wolstenholme had failed to spot a deliberate tumble by Cole. Paolo Di Canio took calm advantage of an opportunity to bring West Ham level from the penalty spot, chipping the ball in as Ian Walker dived left.

Nothing much, either in productive play or contentious incident, had preceded Elliott's sending-off. Warned by their manager that Leicester's main threat would come from restarts, West Ham's response was not to Roeder's satisfaction. The concession of free-kicks brought them under pressure but it was failure to deal with a corner that saw them go behind in the 43rd minute. James Scowcroft turned back a Stefan Oakes corner at the near post and when the ball ran to Muzzy Izzet his low drive was deflected past David James.

Raising their tempo after the interval, playing more in Leicester's half and pushing Cole forward to where his dribbling skills were likely to be more of a threat, West Ham still found it difficult to penetrate a defence in which Frank Sinclair was outstanding. The absence of Freddie Kanouté restricted the attacking options, forcing West Ham to try and steal their way through and for all Cole's wiles, Bassett was beginning to think about all three points when the penalty was given.

"That one moment changed the game because I could not see West Ham scoring," he said. Worse immediately followed. It would have taken a convincing advocate to make out a case for Elliott. No case was discernible.

Goals: Izzet (43) 1-0; Di Canio (pen, 74) 1-1.

Leicester City (4-4-2): Walker 5; Marshall 5, Sinclair 7, Elliott 5, Stewart 5, Impey 5 (Rogers, 74, 5), Savage 5, Izzet 6, Oakes 5 (Wise, 83), Deane 5 (Akinbyi, 81), Scowcroft 5. Substitutes not used: Flowers, Jones.

West Ham United (4-4-2): James 5; Schemmel 5, Dailly 5, Repka 5, Winterburn 5, Hutchison 5, Cole 6, Carrick 6, Sinclair 5, Di Canio 5, De Foe 5 (Kitson, 88). Substitutes not used: Hislop, Foxe, Minto, Moncur.

Sent off: Elliott (st. red) Bookings: Leicester Elliott, Sinclair, Savage. West Ham Cole.

Referee: E Wolstenholme 6

Man of the match: F Sinclair.

Attendance: 20,131.

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