BY GLENN MOORE
West Ham United 2
Blackburn Rovers 0
The public address was belting out "Glory Days" before the match, but Blackburn Rovers are going to have to wait a bit longer to see if the good times are truly back at Ewood Park.
The Premiership leaders have been grinding out results away from home for weeks without playing well, but in front of an impassioned Upton Park crowd yesterday, they were finally beaten.
Marc Reiper capped a storming display at centre-half with the game's crucial goal after 50 minutes. Don Hutchison, heavily criticised by his manager beforehand, struck the second with seven minutes to go. The Uniteds - West Ham and Manchester - celebrated.
If the Manchester variety win at Coventry tonight, and at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday, they will cut the gap to two points. Blackburn's next game is not until a week today, when they host Newcastle.
At the other end of the Premiership, West Ham go above Aston Villa and Everton into 16th place with safety beckoning.
The win recalled West Ham's victory here three years ago, which knocked Manchester United off the title course. This year's title, as Kenny Dalglish, their manager, said, is still in Blackburn's hands, but their grasp is slipping.
Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, described West Ham's effort in that 1992 game as "obscene". It was no less intense yesterday with both teams' desperation for points showing in a series of wild tackles.
The ugliest came from David Batty. He was booked for his 35th-minute lunge at Ian Bishop, but was lucky not to be dismissed - Bishop was fortunate not to be disembowelled.
There were five bookings in total but no serious injuries - just a couple of broken noses for Jeroen Boere and Hutchison, the latter caused by a flying elbow from Tim Sherwood which the referee, Kelvin Morton, missed, but the television cameras did not.
Blackburn gave a debut to Richard Witschge, on loan from Bordeaux and formerly of Ajax and Barcelona. Quite a pedigree, but it had not prepared him for this and he was lost in the maelstrom. The likes of Reiper and Colin Hendry were better equipped for combat, and both had outstanding games. Alongside Reiper, Steve Potts was equally impressive, but West Ham's desire was most vividly demonstrated by the way Bishop and John Moncur, not noted for their battling qualities, brushed aside Sherwood and Batty in midfield.
"It was like a cup tie," Dalglish said. So it was, and Rovers have not won many of those in the last two years.
The early skirmishes were scrappy and neither goalkeeper was stretched in the first half, with forwards either shooting nervously over, or seeing their shots blocked by limbs, heads or torsos. But, six minutes into the second, West Ham won a corner. Boere, following half-time instructions, drew Hendry to the near post and Moncur floated it to the far post, where Reiper beat Sutton to head in off a post which Batty had deserted.
It was his first goal for the club since joining on loan from Brondby. "He is playing well - too well," said Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, who fears his find will be lost to the lucrative clutches of Fenerbahce, a Turkish club with deeper pockets than West Ham's.
Nineteen minutes later, Rovers rejoiced when Alan Shearer "scored". But Morton had spotted Chris Sutton hooking his arm round Ludek Miklosko's and the "goal" was disallowed.
Mike Newell then hit the bar from 25 yards, but it was West Ham who scored. Moncur calmly brought the ball out of defence and found Bishop on the right. The fresh legs of Matthew Rush reached his pass before Hendry and skipped down the wing. Moncur's subsequent shot, deflected by Jeff Kenna, bounced off Tim Flowers' body for Hutchison to score.
Hammers fans celebrated with "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles". Rovers' fans listened to the second verse's opening line - "Fortune's always hiding" - and wondered.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Reiper, Potts, Dicks; Allen, Moncur, Bishop, Holmes; Hutchison (Webster, 86), Boere (Rush, 75). Substitute not used: Sealey (gk). Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Berg, Hendry, Le Saux; Ripley (Newell, 72) Batty, Sherwood, Witschge; Sutton, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Atkins, Mimms (gk).
Referee: K Morton (Bury St Edmunds).
Photograph, page 35
Football, pages 34 and 35
PREMIERSHIP TOP TWO
P W D L F A GD Pts
Blackburn 40 26 8 6 78 37 +41 86
Man Utd 38 23 9 6 70 24 +46 78
Blackburn: 8 May Newcastle (H); 14 May Liverpool (A).
Manchester United: Tonight Coventry (A); 7.5 Sheffield Wed (H); 10.5 Southampton (H); 14.5 West Ham (A).Reuse content