West Ham dispatched by Duff double

 

Few men carry the burden of being permanently wronged with the hangdog style of West Ham's Harry Redknapp: the heavy eyelids drooping miserably, the sad, spacious jowls and the constantly shrugging shoulders combine to suggest someone sentenced to the gallows for pinching a bag of sweets.

"It was the most obvious penalty you could wish to see," he claimed in mitigation. "If that's not a penalty I'll pack this job in."

Under cross-examination, Redknapp's case had been cunningly undermined by the chief witness, Blackburn's manager Roy Hodgson. "From our position on the bench it looked like a penalty," he began, "but the players tell me it clearly wasn't. They don't normally lie directly to my face. They say that he (Paul Kitson) dived and the referee made the correct decision."

With the television evidence fairly conclusive - the Hammers unfairly hammered again - but unfortunately inadmissible, Redknapp was facing probable conviction for his part as overlord in the impersonation of a football team. Upton Park, the scene of seven wins out of eight, is where the real West Ham play; on their travels the entire squad appears to have been kidnapped and replaced by impostors. This was their eighth consecutive away defeat.

Redknapp's argument was that had Gerald Ashby pointed to the spot when Kitson went into a full tuck and pike after Colin Hendry's loose tackle in the 57th minute, his captain Steve Lomas would not have been sent off for grappling with the referee and his team could have made a decent fist at a comeback.

It was disingenuous: Blackburn may not have reached top form for much of this match but no sooner had Stuart Ripley headed his first goal for 44 months with 22 minutes played than West Ham were nabbed, bang to rights.

"A comedy of errors, the goals. Scandalous goals. Terrible defending," Redknapp admitted. But this had been a set-up from the start, the suspension of Chris Sutton leaving Redknapp's three gangling centre-halves with only shadows to chase while the nimble Kevin Gallacher and Damien Duff gleefully made hay in the space.

Gallacher should have scored Blackburn's second in first-half injury time but Duff was to make light of the error, capitalising on Andy Impey's ill-conceived back-header to slot the ball under Craig Forrest. Duff then buried a third after Ripley had slipped the ball through David Unsworth's legs.

As an East End boy, Redknapp wisely declined the proffered opportunity to castigate Ashby further. "Christmas is coming and I can't afford a fine," he said.