West Ham unable to master a meaty Metz challenge

 

Losing a Cup Final in August is hardly a portent for a disastrous season but unless West Ham can overturn this score-line in France in a fortnight then much summer sweat will have gone to waste and Harry Redknapp will be left to reflect on the wisdom of entering this competition.

West Ham had found a single home goal sufficient in the previous two rounds but now, on the threshold of a place in the UEFA Cup, even that slender return proved beyond them as they were forced to give ground to a talented French side who struck early on and then survived thanks to Frank Lampard's second-half penalty miss.

Redknapp was severely limited in his defensive selection and was forced to withdraw Steve Lomas to the right-back position, while alongside Rio Ferdinand went the dependable Steve Potts, who these days rates as about the fifth-choice central defender at Upton Park.

If they could have reproduced the slick passing and intuitive touches that made them worthy winners over Tottenham on Saturday, then this unfamiliar, unbalanced, rearguard could have enjoyed the occasion but, sadly for home desires, that did not prove the case.

It meant that the visitors' 13th-minute breakthrough was hardly a surprise, so well had they settled into the contest. Frederic Mayrieu kept possession when lesser mortals would have found touch and when Danny Boffin played the ball over, Louis Saha - who spent three months of last season on loan at Newcastle - had room to guide home his header.

To the dismay of a capacity crowd, West Ham found no clearcut opportunities to match it, the chances that fell to John Moncur and Lampard finding either an alert goalkeeper in the way or a defensive block.

Trevor Sinclair and Paulo Wanchope were doing scant justice to the energetic promptings of Paolo Di Canio, but on the stroke of half-time the striking pair combined only for goalkeeper Lionel Letizi to come out swiftly and foil the Costa Rican.

West Ham had to improve if they were to travel with any confidence to France in two weeks' time, and there were signs at the start of the second half that their persistence could reap a reward. Steve Minto volleyed wide and when Lomas's shot was half stopped by Letizi there was a Metz player waiting to mop up by the left-hand post.

Then on the hour Di Canio earned a penalty when his run into the area enticed a tug on his shirt from Gregory Troment, but Lampard's attempt lacked sufficient power and, plunging to his right, the goalkeeper pawed the ball away.

West Ham United: Hislop; Lomas, Ferdinand, Potts, Minto; Foe, Lampard, Di Canio, Moncur; Sinclair, Wanchope.

Metz: Letizi; Kastendeuch; Schemmel, Proment, Pierre, Gaillot; Bastien, Boffin, Meyrieu; Saha, Gousse.

Referee: M Diaz Vega (Spain).