Watford 1 West Ham United 0: Zola suffers first defeat after Mullins own-goal debacle

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The Independent Football

Not a great day, then, all told for West Ham. In the morning, they found Sheffield United had won their compensation claim against them after the Blades' relegation from the Premier League last year in the wake of the Carlos Tevez affair, with a figure of £30m being bandied about. So, just when it suddenly seemed as if a run in the Carling Cup could be as valuable in terms of money-making as morale-building, along came this third-round result.

Having won his first game in charge at a canter four days ago, Gianfranco Zola unexpectedly endured his first defeat as the east Londoners' manager. He surely never thought it would all be as easy as last Saturday against Newcastle, but it took a Championship side, not a Premier League one, to remind him of that.

Zola said: "It hasn't been a great day for us but I knew it would be tough here. This game came at the worst moment. I said what has happened doesn't have to change our attitude."

Thinking about what a possible fine could do to the Hammers' transfer targets in January, he added: "Let me consider it when it happens and if it happens. We have to carry on working like this until January."

If it was the last thing the Hammers needed in what was a bad 24 hours even by their recent standards, it was something that Watford and their manager Aidy Boothroyd arguably deserved. Not only did they take the game to the visitors, forcing several saves from reserve goalkeeper Jan Lastuvka, but they also felt they were owed something, from somewhere, for what happened last Saturday.

At the weekend, hosting Reading, they were on the receiving end of a diabolical and plain wrong officiating decision, when the ball ran over the byline – but not between the posts – and a linesman flagged for a goal. So perhaps the own goal here after 70 minutes from Hayden Mullins was some sort of footballing payback.

For a game that had showcased two goalkeepers in fine form, Watford's Scott Loach being the other, it was unfortunate an error by one of them should play a crucial part in deciding the outcome. Lee Williamson curled in a free-kick from near the touchline, the Czech Lastuvka missed it and the ball bounced off Mullins almost apologetically into the goal.

Despite both managers resting half their first team each, there was an imbalance on the pitch, as the hosts pressed for an early advantage. After just five minutes Ross Jenkins sent a header from 10 yards just wide of the post and then Lionel Ainsworth tried his luck twice in a minute. First, the winger sent a shot a yard past the frame, which was clapped as a goal by home fans in reference to Saturday's "ghost goal", and then found Lastuvka equal to his audacious chip from 25 yards.

David di Michele had been the hero with two goals at the weekend for the Hammers but the Italian was denied here by Loach who showed he has a bright future.

A delighted Boothroyd said: "After Saturday anything would have done. I'm thrilled with the result. It was a very young team I put out. We rode our luck and the players deserved it. We stopped them playing and imposed ourselves."

Watford (4-5-1): Loach; Mariappa, Bromby, Demerit, Parkes; Jenkins, Smith (Harley, 70), Bangura, Williamson (Bennett, 70), Ainsworth; Hoskins (Young, 80). Substitutes not used: Lee (gk), Eustace, Avinel, Oshodi.

West Ham (4-3-3): Lastuvka; Faubert, Neill, Upson, Lopez; Boa Morte (Parker, 61), Mullins, Noble; Etherington, Sears, Di Michele (Reid, 70). Substitutes not used: Green (gk), Ilunga, Behrami, Collison, Stanislas

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire)