When Ilie Dumitrescu rose from the bench to join his fellow Romanian Florin Raducioiu and the Portuguese international, Paulo Futre, in West Ham's attack on Saturday, it was difficult to escape the feeling that it was all becoming slightly unfair on Southampton.
Though the visitors were leading 1-0 with just under half an hour to play, there had been an inevitability about the outcome of the match from the moment Futre had first touched the ball. He proceeded to give a performance of such skill, commitment and enthusiasm that it was hard even for a neutral not to be carried away by the excitement.
His manager, Harry Redknapp, left him out of the first game of the season and only brought him on as a second-half substitute against Coventry last Wednesday, claiming Futre was still not match-fit. It is frightening to think what he will be like with a few games under his belt.
His best moment came on the hour when, having threaded his way through two Southampton defenders, he found himself with only Dave Beasant to beat from about 15 yards. Perhaps conscious of the fact that a goal from him at that stage would have resulted in the Upton Park roof heading off into the stratosphere, he lifted the ball high over the bar from sheer exhaustion, leaving the rest to our imagination.
By that time, Raducioiu, with a couple of high-class crosses, had demonstrated superb balance and touch for a big striker, and it was left to Dumitrescu to win the game, falling rather theatrically after a tangle with Jason Dodd in the 18-yard area. By then West Ham only had to ask for a penalty for justice to be served and the referee duly obliged.
Graeme Souness, the Southampton manager, did not allow the disputed penalty or Michael Hughes' fortuitous equaliser from a shot-cum-cross to interfere with his overall judgment of the game, conceding that Southampton had been poor, that Matt Le Tissier had "not started yet" and that his side had got what they deserved.
He even admitted that Francis Benali's challenge on Futre just before the end, for which the Southampton defender was sent off, looked a bad one. Souness intends to make some signings in the next 10 days.
As for Redknapp, the lapse in concentration by Julian Dicks that allowed Paul Heaney to give Southampton an early lead was never likely to spoil his day. "It's an exciting time," he said. "We've got some good players at the club now and I think the fans will enjoy watching them play. Some weeks we may not win, but we'll certainly entertain people."
Goals: Heaney (19) 0-1; Hughes (73) 1-1; Dicks (81) 2-1.
West Ham United (3-5-1-1): Miklosko; Bilic, Rieper (Raduciou, 39), Dicks; Slater (Breacker, 77), Hughes, Bowen, Williamson, Lazaridis (Dumitrescu, 62); Futre; Dowie. Substitutes not used: Lampard, Mautone (gk).
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Beasant; Oakley, Nielson, Dodd, Dryden; Magilton, Charlton; Heaney (Watson, 62), Le Tissier, Maddison (Benali, 57); Shipperley (Potter, 68). Substitutes not used: Basham, Moss (gk).
Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).
Bookings: West Ham: Bowen. Southampton: Charlton, Dryden. Sent off: Benali.
Man of the match: Futre. Attendance: 21,227.Reuse content