Football: Dream team a nightmare for Taylor

West Ham United 1 Watford 0
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The Independent Online
IT IS doubtful that the pressures of Watford management are such that Graham Taylor still wakes to find himself and his pyjamas bathed in sweat, but he may now have a new figure of darkness to unsettle his sleep to rank alongside Ronald Koeman.

Paolo Di Canio, who has experienced his own nightmares since moving to England, teased, shimmied, coaxed and cajoled West Ham into a winning position, a goal from a free-kick of rank impudence early in the second half settling a match littered with missed opportunities, most of which the Italian had provided.

Watching Di Canio's "party tricks" catch defenders leaden-footed, linking with ease with the mercurial Wanchope had not been "a joy to behold", the former England manager conceded after Saturday's defeat, Watford's fifth in seven games in the Premiership.

"West Ham have got real unpredictability and individuality in the front two," he winced. "If you're the manager of the opposition you don't particularly like seeing them play like that. It won't just be Watford defenders who'll have their hands full against them if they're on song; other defenders will have problems."

His opposite number, Harry Redknapp, has problems with defenders of another kind: his is losing them left, right and centre-half. Despite elevating West Ham to third in the Premiership (and taking them into the Uefa Cup via the Intertoto) on a budget that would barely cover Alex Ferguson's expenses, Redknapp cut a glum figure after the game. He had just received confirmation that Stuart Pearce - a bulwark of the England defence at 37 in midweek - had broken a leg, an injury that will deprive West Ham of his inspirational presence for months to come. "I'm not worried about the Uefa Cup game on Thursday; I'm worried about him," Redknapp said.

"He tried to come back on at half-time; he kept his boot on and said he'd try to give it a go, but there was no way. We've got loads of injuries but that's a massive blow. He's given us something on the left side of the defence since he came here; he's been so good he's irreplaceable."

At least his stand-in, Javier Margas, was a man transformed from last season's miserable debut, and in Igor Stimac, who only arrived at Upton Park from Derby County on Friday night, Redknapp has acquired another capable player at a cut-price, a glimmer of good news as the Hammers confront the Croatian club NK Osijek on Thursday.

At least Redknapp had the satisfaction of seeing his faith in Di Canio confirmed once again. After the shove on referee Paul Alcock that resulted in a four-month ban, Redknapp was roundly criticised in the red tops for ending the Italian's exile. "The skill Di Canio and Paulo Wanchope showed today was different class. Their movement and skills were fantastic and they made so many chances," he said.

"The stuff they played today is what people pay to come and see. How many people would have seen the goalkeeper off his line and scored at the near post when he was shaping to cross it?"

A dream goal to recall on the dark nights ahead.

Goal: Di Canio 48

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Potts, Stimac, Pearce (Margas, h-t); Sinclair, Lomas, Lampard, Moncur (Carrick, 81), Keller; Di Canio, Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Kitson, Abou.

Watford (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Lyttle, Williams, Page, Robinson; Wright (Gudmundsson, 70), Hyde, Palmer, Kennedy; Smart (Ngonge, 70), Mooney. Substitutes not used: Day (gk), Easton, Bonnot.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury). Bookings: Watford: Mooney, Gudmundsson.

Man of the match: Di Canio.

Attendance: 25,310.