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05/06: Reports:

Division One, 22/08/06, 7.45pm
West Ham United
A glimmer of hope
By Chris Lawton

I did not, in all honesty, expect to be at the match. First home game in the Premiership would surely be a sell out? Er...apparently not, and late in the day I was able to take my place in the Vicarage Road stand - despite having no membership credentials other than my dad being a season ticket holder.

The match was a good one, without being a classic. Lots of honest endeavour from both teams and a refreshing lack of whistle blowing from the referee meant the game was open and free flowing. Watford had the majority of possession, but were often unable to find the killer ball to unlock a well-organised Hammers defence and would have won the game, but for one momentary lapse in concentration.

The details of the game are covered elsewhere and so as an infrequent visitor to both these shores and live matches I feel a more widespread view of the team is called for.

New Boys
Francis and Shittu look shrewd purchases. The former adds some serious muscle at the back, while the latter appears, at first glance anyway, to be able to put a foot on the ball in the middle of the park and provide good distribution. Powell's experience is vital and the youngsters in the squad will surely benefit from his experience. Harder to judge is Priskin. He looks a bit lightweight in terms of build, but clearly has good ball control and reads the game well. I am sure that later in the season he will shine.

Old Boys On the Up
King will cut it in this division. Apart from his cracking strike, that had Henry or Shevchenko stuck it would have been put in a different category, he read the game well and got the better of Anton Ferdinand no mean feat. The goal will do him the power of good and I reckon he will outscore Johnson at Everton. DeMerit looks better every game. His only weakness is to occasionally go after the ball and get out of position, but he reads the game well and was often the last man. It begs the question why did the USA not take him to the World Cup?

Old Boys in No-man's Land
Most of the remainder looked competent, but not outstanding. Flashes of brilliance need to be turned into a consistent product. A touch more control and thought is needed before delivery. The rush to deliver quickly needs to tempered with the realisation that there has to be someone there to deliver to.

Old Boys in Trouble?
I think that at least two players will struggle. As always you hope to be proved wrong but you never know. Doyley was repeatedly exposed at right back. Maybe it was the formation, maybe he had an off night. Either way I think better teams than West Ham will exploit that channel. Henderson falls into the Tommy Mooney category. He tries hard, but ultimately his efforts cannot make up for the shortfall in skill required at this level. I thought he often looked lost although to his credit he nearly won it at the death with a flying header.

So why a glimmer of hope? Well in neither game have we been totally outclassed. In both games we have scored and could have scored more. We will play worse at home this season and win. The players will adjust to the Premiership and learn to keep the ball on the ground and hit a few passes, they will learn that a speedy thrown or ball into the box is only effective if the second line is there to pick up the rebounds and they will learn that one mistake can be so costly.

But we play with passion and use our strengths. It might be direct but then even the best of sides can be direct, it might not be Chelsea but then who else is, it might not be the best but it is better than many of the performances of last season. There is hope because we were not simply blown away and more than held our own in both our opening fixtures. If we can maintain the home form and scrap hard away from home then we can survive.

Two footnotes. Firstly, the edited highlights on "Match of the Day" gave the wrong impression as to the balance of the match. Watford were, by far, the more dominant team particularly in the first half - although that pressure produced few goal attempts. Be wary, therefore, of edited highlights.

Secondly, as I queued for my ticket, a silver people carrier pulled up and out stepped a load of heavies. Actually the heavies turned out to include Tony Coton and in the midst was Sir Alex Ferguson. One wise crack shouted out: "So are you scared about Saturday then?" Ferguson probably isn't but a bet a few managers are not looking forward to a trip to Watford this season.