By Joe Behan
The chasing pack in the Premiership got back to winning ways after poor performances last week. The gap, though, remains 8 points as leaders Manchester United won their eighth in a row, beating Spurs 2-nil over the weekend.
While Liverpool, Arsenal and Leicester City stopped a potential rut setting in, Leeds United, beaten 3-1 by Leicester, find themselves right in the middle of the table.
Ipswich, meanwhile, was brought down to earth by Derby County and a Rory Delap winner.
The surprise packet that has shot up the table to sixth place from nowhere is West Ham United. Seven games ago, West Ham began to put some good results together to move away from the pit of the premier. Last week was the first time they were in the top half, and now the Hammers are knocking on the door for European qualification.
Indeed, it’s amazing what a few wins can do. As long as showman Paulo Di Canio can keep his peace at West Ham United, and the club can maintain their winning streak through the holidays, the Hammers could become the team to watch, like days of yore, in the year 2001.
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West Ham 1, Middlesbrough 0
West Ham beat Middlesbrough thanks to a Paulo Di Canio effort from 25 yards in the 41st minute.
Boro looked a bit better with £8 million signing Ugo Ehiogu marshalling the back line, while Di Canio and Co. searched to string some passes together.
Di Canio unleashed his drive from the left and was probably as surprised as the Boro defense, who thought they had done enough to close down any danger from the Italian. The ball zipped between the fully stretched Schwarzer and his unprotected near post.
This game wasn’t one to write home about, as West Ham didn’t look like adding another and Boro struggled to put an attack together. Di Canio was at it again when his corner was sent just over by teammate Diawara.
West Ham have to prove themselves defensively this season, after they sold Rio Ferdinand, and it was all too evident as United’s goalkeeper was hardly tested by Boro for 90 minutes.
Di Canio was in trouble
In mid-November, Harry Redknapp dropped a big hint that he was prepared to sell striker Paolo di Canio. The West Ham manager’s relationship with the Italian had steadily deteriorated as Di Canio continued to attract publicity that Redknapp felt served only to hinder the club’s progress in the Premiership.
Redknapp reacted furiously to suggestions from Di Canio that his then clubmate, Rio Ferdinand, is not ready for international football. Redknapp commented that, "Paolo is upsetting people left, right and center and he should not be surprised if no one wants to talk to him when he gets back here." Wonder how they are getting on now?
Di Canio gets the message
Leicester fans haunted Rio Ferdinand with chants of "What a waste of money" before City beat Leeds. Poor Rio must be sick like he was when Di Canio made his outburst about his ability. Redknapp commented that enough was enough, and he could not allow this to go on.
"I have a terrific bunch of lads here with a wonderful team spirit and I will not stand by and watch somebody wreck it," he said.
For a while, Di Canio’s public statements in connection with his autobiography were irritating Upton Park, but recently Redknapp and the temperamental Italian have been low key.
The value of Di Canio to Redknapp’s team is beyond question and was illustrated once again on Saturday by his outrageous goal. The unpredictable striker claims his comments are meant to motivate his teammates to a higher level of play. Interestingly enough, he is still there, and, indeed, Ferdinand is gone. But Redknapp knows he must get replacements — and soon.
West Ham will buy and Di Canio’s comments on this one may not be voiced. Not hearing from the Italian over the holidays may be the very gift that Redknapp is hoping for and of course those game winners would be nice.
Southgate still open for sale
Upton Park and Harry Redknapp increased interest in Gareth Southgate as a figure of £10 million seems reasonable after getting £18 for Ferdinand from Leeds. Villa do not want to lose their skipper, who has been in top form despite demanding a transfer in the summer.
Southgate is one of the center-backs who have been limiting Ferdinand’s chances with England, but he is adamant that he wants to quit Villa and would prefer a move to London. Chelsea, who beat Manchester City 2-1, failed in a £6 million bid for him earlier in the season.
Southgate went on the transfer list nearly six months ago and nothing’s happened to make the Villa captain change his mind. The defender believes that if he is to achieve what he wants from the game, he’d have to move, and as far as he is concerned, that’s the way it still is.
Hammers on track
West Ham are back on the scene and right up there with the best. They are managing to get results and confidence is settling the club. While they are not playing the football of yore, they are getting the results. Di Canio needs to shut his mouth and let the young side reincarnate the heroes of yore, such as Mervin Day, the legendary Bobby Moore, Frank Lampard, Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking, Martin Peters, Alan Devonshire, Geoff Hurst, Clyde Best and many more.
Manchester United beat Spurs 2-0 and Ole Solskj’r popped up to score the second. Chelsea scraped by Manchester City 2-1 and Joe Royle continues his fury with refs. Jim Jefferies got a victory for Bradford in a crucial bottom-of-the-table clash with Coventry.