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The Observer datePublished Sunday 20 August 2006
Lee Bowyer admits a lot has changed at West Ham in the three years since his previous spell at the club, but one constant has been the midfielder's ability to polarise opinion. You either love him or hate him, it seems, and while the supporters of his first club, Charlton, fall into the former category, West Ham's fans have taken to him much more than they did during his unsuccessful first stint at Upton Park.
And no wonder. Having joined the club he supported as a boy on a permanent transfer this summer, Bowyer looks like finally becoming the local hero he was at The Valley when he made his name as a teenage prodigy a decade ago.
Bobby Zamora and Carlton Cole may have scored the goals that allowed West Ham to recover from a Darren Bent penalty in the 15th minute, but it was Bowyer who caught the eye with the sort of display that once made him Britain's most expensive teenager and then propelled him into the England side.
Bowyer was involved in everything of note from first minute to last and set up goals for Cole and Zamora, the latter of whom started in West Ham's attack only because Dean Ashton broke his ankle training with England last week.
Bowyer was also involved in the 27th-minute dismissal of Charlton defender Djimi Traore. Having been booked for fouling the West Ham midfielder in the 24th minute, the former Liverpool player was sent off by referee Howard Webb moments later for sticking out a foot to block Bowyer's quick free-kick.
It was an act of stupidity on a par with the handball committed by West Ham defender Danny Gabbidon that allowed Charlton to take an undeserved lead in the 15th minute. Bryan Hughes curled in a cross that appeared to be heading wide of the far post, but Gabbidon sensed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was too close for comfort and inexplicably stuck up a hand to flick the ball away.
Referee Webb had initially awarded a corner, but then pointed to the penalty spot after consulting his assistant on the far side. Bent smacked the ball in off Roy Carroll's right post. It was harsh on West Ham, who had started brightly and went close in the first half through Zamora, Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood.
They finally equalised six minutes into the second half. Bowyer whipped in a cross from the right, Yossi Benayoun glanced the ball on and Zamora tapped in unmarked at the far post.
Bowyer, who also hit a post, set up Zamora again in the 66th minute when he cut in from the left and crossed for the former Tottenham striker to hit a soft shot on the turn that went in off a post. Substitute Cole drilled home the third in the final minute.