Hammers put the boot in on Town

SOCCER: West Ham, sponsored by Dr Martens, put the boot in where it hurts at Portman Road. They left Ipswich Town players, management and fans utterly dejected with their third win in three games to leave George Burley's side facing a battle to move away from the Barclaycard Premiership danger zone.

By Elvin King

WEST Ham, sponsored by Dr Martens, put the boot in where it hurts at Portman Road.

They left Ipswich Town players, management and fans utterly dejected with their third win in three games to leave George Burley's side facing a battle to move away from the Barclaycard Premiership danger zone.

A determined and spirited display at Southampton on Wednesday was seen as a springboard to lift Town out of the doldrums.

West Ham, with seven goals conceded at Blackburn in their last away game and just one point accrued on their travels previously this season, were seen as perfect opposition to build on the good display at Southampton and begin a move up the table.

But buoyed by those home victories over Southampton and Chelsea, the Hammers carried a forward threat that Ipswich struggled to contain all game – and Ipswich can have few complaints after losing for the first time in six games.

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After 11 league matches, well over a quarter of the season, Ipswich now have just eight points - the same total some clubs reached after just three games! To be sure of being safe they now need at least 32 points from 27 games, which to be honest at the moment looks a rather tall order.

There have to be question marks over the defence, which was found wanting at times yesterday without the injured Titus Bramble and John McGreal. Twenty-one-year-old Dane Thomas Gaardsoe has great potential with poise and pace, but he had a tough baptism and questions can be asked about his contribution in all three West Ham goals.

He had not even featured on the bench for a league game before getting the call to play alongside Venus at the heart of the Town defence. Most of his play was excellent and he looks to have a future in the side once he finds out more about the speed of the Premiership and how to use his bodyweight more.

To concede a trio of goals for the second consecutive game is not good news and it does not say much for the midfield or attack that Ipswich's best two players were defenders.

Mark Venus was the only man in a blue shirt to play a telling ball forward all afternoon and he stood his ground well when under pressure, while Hermann Hriedarsson not only showed how to poach a goal. He also provided the most menace when he marauded down the left flank and had the visiting defence back-pedalling.

Sixto Peralta was dropped to the bench, which was a surprise as he had shown a desire to go forward where it matters in the last two games. When he came on after the interval Ipswich stepped up a gear and when they pulled back to 1-1 a home win looked the most likely outcome.

Despite the Hammers' low league standing and their rookie manager they showed skill and commitment, and if Ipswich were going to get something from this match it had to come from muscle, sweat and general hard work.

There is no denying the effort in the Ipswich midfield, but is it really Premiership class? Not one of the four midfield starters lived up to their reputations, and it is easy to sympathise with ace marksman Marcus Stewart who is rarely being given a sight of goal these days.

The admirable Venus provided Stewart with goals from two corners in the 3-3 draw at Southampton but even this supply dried up yesterday.

The number 11 was left to forage away – albeit effectively – in midfield and not where Town fans would like to see him – on the end of a string of defence-splitting balls played into the penalty area.

The way Paolo Di Canio, in the mood and therefore a real handful, Frederic Kanoute and Trevor Sinclair played they would have troubled any defence and they deserve credit for that.

And this was shown by a mature way Town fans accepted another disappointing result. No boos this time, as the dejected home players left the field.

Although yesterday morning's backward movement of the clocks indicated that winter is on its way, bright warm sunshine greeted the players for this clash that was shown on pay per view TV.

Those armchair viewers who dipped into their purses got their money's worth in a game where former Town player and coach Paul Goddard must have had a big influence as second in command to manager Glenn Roeder.

The Hammers played with just three at the back – a change in style – while Ipswich reverted back to 4-4-2 after playing 3-5-2 at Southampton.

Some seats have been placed in the North Stand and it will not be long before the bottom tier of the completely re-built stand will be open for use. Perhaps a return to the North Stand choir being positioned in their rightful place will mark an upturn in Ipswich's fortunes.

Don Hutchison timed and weighted his pass perfectly for Di Canio to run on and beat Matteo Sereni for the opening goal after 21 minutes. West Ham provided a goal threat every time they went forward but to be fair to Ipswich they could have scored twice before the break with Shaka Hislop saving well from Martijn Reuser and then clawing a looping header from Chris Makin off the line.

When Town equalised it owned as much to Hislop's failure to clear as Venus' superbly flighted free-kick. Hislop flapped as he stretched to reach the cross and Hreidarsson turned the ball first time into the net.

This came in the 62nd minute and it was some surprise when West Ham took the lead again nine minutes later. Hutchison was given far too much room to run at the home defence and after he had gone beyond Gaardsoe he passed inside to Kanoute who scored off Hreidarsson's body giving Sereni no chance.

Substitute Jermain Defoe harassed Gaardsoe as they chased a long ball and when the ball broke off his arm his eventual finish beyond Sereni appeared academic in stoppage time.

But it proved vital when Matt Holland, who like most of the Town side had tried 20-odd yard shots to no avail throughout the match, found a perfect contact to send a swerving and dipping shot well out of Hislop's reach seconds later.

Ipswich now go off to Sweden attempting to keep their UEFA Cup dreams alive with a good result against Helsingborg on Thursday. Wednesday's improved display at Southampton looks as though it may have been a false dawn but full marks to West Ham who deserved their first away win for many months.

Perhaps this kick in the teeth will inspire Town to come out fighting from here on in.

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