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FA Carling Premiership, 4/3/00
West Ham United
By Rory Jiwani

I have never been ashamed to be a Watford supporter. Embarrassed maybe, but never ashamed. That is until 3.50pm on Saturday 4th March. From speaking to others this was not as bad as the FA Cup display against Birmingham. All I can say is I'm glad I wasn't there.

I saw us lose 4-0 at Spurs this season but there we were undone by the magician Ginola. In the first half against West Ham we showed a complete lack of the application and spirit that GT instilled over twenty years ago, and that simply cannot be tolerated.

West Ham were without Di Canio and surprisingly elected to drop Joe Cole to the bench. Wanchope and Sinclair up front, on paper, should not have posed undue problems to Watford's defence and Ladbrokes' odds of 11/5 for a home win were looking better and better. It's a shame football matches are played on grass.

After a couple of minutes we were behind. How can we even give ourselves a fighting chance of points if we concede early goals? A couple of slick passes and Steve Lomas was left with ample time to guide his shot into the far corner. 1-0 before we'd even got in their half.

It is difficult for things to get worse after a start like that but they certainly did not get any better. The inability to find a man in a yellow shirt was startling and Steve Palmer was having a shocker. Sinclair was turning him inside out and the Prof could not handle it. I like Steve for his whole-hearted approach but he just wasn't at the races.

The aspect of the first half that was most galling was the way that West Ham won every fifty-fifty challenge. I've seen Watford on many occasions when they can't string two passes together but I've never seen them show a refusal to get stuck in.... until now.

It wasn't as if West Ham were good; they weren't. They gave us the ball of several occasions but we just couldn't produce anything constructive. Helguson and Smart had no decent service and the only balls that came near were high, hopeful efforts which were easy for Stimac and Ferdinand.

Ten minutes before half-time and we were 2-0 down. A long ball was controlled by Wanchope's head and then, to my eyes anyway, arm before the striker fizzed one past Chamberlain. The lanky Costa Rican's inconsistent moments of great skill are often mentioned but his ability in the air was a handful for the Watford rearguard. Williams looked in trouble throughout and even Page was struggling.

The half-time whistle was a relief. The boos from the Rookery were warranted and the brightest spot of the first half was good police work in getting the travelling fans out of the home end. A nasty situation could have developed but fortunately a few verbals was as far as it got. How they got there in the first place is a cause for concern and should be investigated.

Three substitutes and, no doubt, a roasting from GT later Watford looked a different side. Tackles were won, passes made and we looked fairly threatening. Cox, on for Gibbs, was finding acres of space down the right and Wooter began to menace the West Ham defence. With Hyde and Johnno getting a grip on midfield a point was not beyond the realms of possibility.

The gamble with making a triple change is that if one player is unfit or clearly out of touch he can't be taken off. This was the case with Allan Smart, who appeared disinterested and loped about ponderously. For a big man, he barely won a header all game and Tommy Smith or even Ngonge would have supported Helguson better.

Despite Smart's off-day, we got a deserved goal back. Wooter's shot deflected up for Helguson to volley home from an acute angle. Twenty-five minutes to go and game on. We pushed forward but West Ham began to play a bit as well and their crisp passing could have got them another. Chamberlain, again blameless for the goals, was called into action as we pressed for an equaliser.

The next feature of the game was some of the most blatant time-wasting I've ever seen on a football pitch. How their Canadian keeper Forrest did not get a yellow card is beyond me and, when Wooter placed the ball for him to take a goal-kick, it merely emphasised how long they were taking to get on with the match.

With time running out, Watford won a series of corners and from one of Kennedy's corners Page had a header which was tipped over by Forrest. If we'd have played with this passion and determination in the first half, three points would have been a near-certainty and from there who knows.

So here we are, stranded at the wrong end of the table needing divine intervention to save us from the drop. Survival was a possibility but subsidence against weak sides has been a constant thorn in our side. And look at some of the teams above us: Bradford, Derby, Middlesborough, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday. All sides we could have finished above with a bit more application.

It's all so disappointing. In the weakest Premiership for years we are bottom and not looking like climbing off there. GT has made some good signings (Helguson looks a snip at £1.5m) but needless defensive errors (collectively from the front back) and a sad absence of conviction and/or confidence has proved to be our downfall rather than a shortage of skill. I guess this time round it's Hi Hi to the Nationwide (blub!).