Redknapp calls for a display of home pride

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The Independent Online
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Harry Redknapp believes his West Ham side can still escape relegation - if they make Upton Park a feared citadel for visitors.

The Hammers' fate will be decided on their own turf, with five of their last seven fixtures scheduled at home, starting with Wimbledon's visit tonight.

Under Billy Bonds, West Ham won only six of 21 League games at Upton Park last season and have fared little better under Redknapp, with six victories in 16 so far.

"It is vital we turn our home form around," Redknapp said. "On our day we can beat anyone at home. A win over Wimbledon is crucial. It would take us out of the bottom four."

Victory would not only drop FA Cup finalists Everton into the relegation places, but also hoist the Hammers above Crystal Palace and Manchester City in a scramble that still involves at least six candidates for the two places alongside the virtually doomed Ipswich and Leicester.

The Hammers need 12 points from seven remaining games to reach the generally accepted safety margin of 50. "Whether we are going to need that many now is difficult to say," Redknapp said. "There are so many clubs involved. Every year people say they won't go down and do. But I genuinely feel we have got a great chance."

After Wimbledon, the Hammers will play host to London's form team, Queen's Park Rangers, and then Liverpool before concluding their home programme against the title contenders, Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United. "You couldn't have five tougher games, but it's still better than having two at home and five away like some teams," Redknapp said. Tim Breacker, Don Hutchison and Matthew Rush are all available again after suspension, although the key midfielder, John Moncur, is still banned.

While West Ham battle to stay in the Premiership, Wimbledon chase points for a European qualifying place. Neil Sullivan's form in goal will continue to keep Hans Segers on the sidelines. Since the 25-year-old Sullivan replaced Segers, he has kept three clean sheets in five games that have brought four wins and a draw.

"Neil's a good goalkeeper and while he's in that sort of form you can't knock him," Segers said. "It was time for him to have a chance because you can't learn while sitting on the bench."

A referee who still controls matches on his local park pitches has been named as the man in charge of this season's FA Cup final on 20 May. Worcester- based Gerald Ashby described his appointment as a great honour. "It's a privilege to be asked to referee such a prestigious game and I'm really grateful that the FA has faith in my ability to control such a big match," said Ashby, who recently spent two years on the Fifa list of officials.

The 45-year-old finance manager with a chemical company began refereeing in his local Worcester and District League in 1971 and progressed through the ranks to join the Football League list 14 years later.

His first match was a Fourth Division game between Crewe and Southend at Gresty Road, and Ashby has since taken charge of the 1990 FA Youth Cup final and the 1993 Charity Shield, as well as being reserve official when United completed the Double last May.

Ashby is one of the Premiership officials who is noted for his adherence to the recent Fifa directives, but he did not think this had played a part in his appointment. "I'd like to think it's a reward for my ability as a referee and not because I'm a hard-liner," he said. "Hopefully I won't be the centre of attention at Wembley and I'm just looking forward to the day."

Ashby did admit that he remains as excited refereeing on Worcester's parks as he does when he takes charge at Old Trafford or St James' Park. "Now I'm on the Premiership panel, it means I don't get as many games, so I referee local park matches," he said.

"For one thing it keeps me fit, but another reason is that it doesn't allow me to forget where it all started for me.

"When you start refereeing, you can only hope that you'll progress some way, but you can't expect it and I've been very fortunate."

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