West Ham United 2 Blackburn Rovers 1: Sears follows in Cottee's footsteps to boost Hammers

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The Independent Football

They love a home-grown hero down in the East End. Freddie Sears is the latest product of one of English football's most celebrated academies and the 18-year-old striker from Romford in Essex yesterday emulated a feat performed 25 years ago by Tony Cottee, with whom he has already been compared, by scoring on his Upton Park debut.

Sears, an England Under-19 international who has been scoring freely for West Ham's youth and reserve teams, came off the bench after 75 minutes and immediately injected life into a match that had been dying on its feet after a promising first half.

Within five minutes he had the home crowd in raptures when he raced on to Dean Ashton's clever back-heel to beat Brad Friedel at the second attempt with a diving header. After three successive 4-0 defeats, it was just the tonic that Alan Curbishley needed. "It's a big result for us," West Ham's manager admitted.

"I'm delighted for young Freddie, who had a dream debut. He's come on a bundle since pre-season. Somebody said the drinks will be on him tonight, but I'm not so sure he can get in the pub yet." Recalling the day when he scored his own first West Ham goal at Upton Park as a 17-year-old, Curbishley added: "John Lyall, our manager, made Frank Lampard Snr drive me home because he didn't want me to go on the bus, which was how I'd come to the game. Times have changed. Freddie will probably jump into a Hummer."

Mark Hughes, the Blackburn manager, was unhappy with the way his side let West Ham back into a game which his team badly needed to win to keep alive their Uefa Cup ambitions. David Bentley, who was a constant threat down West Ham's left flank, had instigated Blackburn's opening goal after 19 minutes with a glorious crossfield pass to Morten Gamst Pedersen, whose cross gave Roque Santa Cruz the chance to turn the ball past Robert Green and score his 16th goal of the season.

The home crowd quickly started to vent their frustration, but West Ham, to their credit, kept faith with their passing game. Friedel pushed an Ashton header round a post after a well-flighted cross from Nolberto Solano, who then tested the keeper with a dipping free-kick from 30 yards.

The equaliser, which came after 39 minutes, was no more than West Ham deserved. Ashton, whose close control regularly troubled Christopher Samba, twisted past the defender on the edge of the penalty area and cleverly shot past the advancing Friedel to end a run of eight matches without a goal.

West Ham, nevertheless, failed to build on their advantage and until Sears' arrival the better chances in the second half fell to Blackburn. Pedersen missed the target from 10 yards, while Santa Cruz and Jason Roberts failed to make the most of the openings created by Bentley. All that was to change, however, with the arrival of a teenager who appears to have the makings of a true Hammers hero.