Neil Finn was 17 just three days ago, his jersey was obviously designed for someone else and hastily printed numbers on his back had peeled off long before the final whistle. A case for Children In Need, never mind the charity of the Premier League.
However, the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, revealed that he had been forced to field the rookie goalkeeper, thus making him the youngest player in the club's history, because of red-tape officialdom from HQ.
Redknapp was already without the suspended Ludek Miklosko and lost Les Sealey to a freak training injury when he ripped his calf muscle on New Year's Eve.
Frantic calls to the League led them to the golf course and mobile phone of the Premiership secretary, Mike Foster, who was in no mood to oblige.
Redknapp could not conceal his anger as he said: "I asked for permission to loan a keeper and they said I would have to field an outfield player instead. We had some trouble getting the guy from the league, he was playing golf and he must have missed a few putts because he said 'no'.
"I told them there would be 30,000 people at Maine Road and that they would be making a farce of the game. The ruling is that it is at their discretion. It's not as if I was trying to loan Seaman or Flowers, but they would still not allow it. I can't believe that they could not show some common sense. I am sure Alan Ball would have allowed it."
Finn, called up from Rainham at short notice, was even carrying a hamstring injury. However, City extended the season of goodwill and almost treated the young man with kid gloves. Their embarrassment turned to frustration and then anger as they failed to take advantage of a stricken foe.
Niall Quinn headed two efforts at the target, a soft one that was caught and prompted a chorus of "England's No 1" from the away support. Nicky Summerbee and Uwe Rosler missed easier attempts.
When Quinn strode through the offside trap, neatly chipped the onrushing youngster and stroked home in the 22nd minute, it should have been the beginning of an afternoon's stroll. Things do not work out that way at Maine Road.
Marc Rieper had a goal disallowed when his header was adjudged to have been a foul and Steve Lomas had a 25-yard shot similarly chalked off before half-time.
The referee, Mike Reed, ruled that Rieper had unfairly challenged City's Kit Symons, but Redknapp insisted: "It was a perfect goal. I've seen the video and Marc timed his jump perfectly."
Julian Dicks led by example in the second half with a 25-yard free-kick that was saved low by Eike Immel, who was relieved to see Keith Curle head a Dicks effort from the subsequent corner off the line.
Hammers' persistence and City's negligence led to an equaliser. A deep cross from Dicks was missed by Ian Brightwell, and Iain Dowie thumped home from 10 yards.
Following the substitution of Rosler in the 77th minute Quinn was left on his own and out of the proverbial blue came a winner three minutes later when City finally attacked the box with conviction.
Kit Symons crossed, substitute Ronnie Ekelund volleyed, the ball hit Quinn and wrong-footed Finn. As the teenager lay on his back, Quinn gratefully forced home the rebound from the post.
Ball, the City manager, admitted: "It was not the best of performances. It left me a bit empty. Quality of ball in the last third was shocking. We hit things too flat and with no conviction to put people under pressure."
Manchester City (3-5-2): Immel; Symons, Curle, Brightwell; Summerbee, Lomas, Flitcroft (Ekelund, 57), Kinkladze, Brown; Rosler (Phillips, 77), Quinn. Substitute not used: Coton (gk).
West Ham United (4-5-1): Finn; Harkes, Rieper, Potts, Dicks; Slater, Williamson (Hutchison, 66), Bishop, Moncur, Hughes; Dowie. Substitutes not used: Rowland, Cottee.
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).Reuse content