Pardew's Hammers blunted as Watford raise their game

Watford 0 West Ham United 0
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The Independent Football

Eight games now without a win for West Ham, the last six under their new manager Alan Pardew. As Pardew noted after this war of attrition in the dankest of conditions: "We are drifting at the minute and need to get the ship back on course.'' But Pardew was quick to point out that his players put in the commitment he had demanded of them, adding: "They dug in and showed some real character. But I'm under no illusions. This is a period we have to tough out. Also the pressure is on me getting my first win, as keeps getting mentioned. The players are desperate to win, I am desperate to win, and we are not a million miles away. But you can't ask more than they put in today.''

Certainly in the first half, before the pitch cut up, West Ham were clearly the better side. Though they welcomed back David Connolly after three games out with injury, this was balanced by the loss of Jermain Defoe, starting a five-match suspension.

Defoe was instead sent to scout West Ham's next opponents, Wimbledon, and Pardew explained: "It just might adhere him to the club. Obviously I want him to stay and am doing everything in my power to educate him.'' Defoe's pace and skill were missed in attack, as were the late withdrawals through training injuries of Matthew Etherington and Rob Lee.

But West Ham ran the midfield through Don Hutchison and Michael Carrick and though Brian Deane was no Defoe stand-in when it came to speed, he was closest to a score in the first half, heading just wide and then shooting into the arms of Lenny Pidgeley, the 19-year-old on-loan keeper from Chelsea whose arrival has coincided with Watford's resurgence.

Though they were better in the opening 45 minutes, West Ham were grateful for a couple of England-class saves by David James, who thrust over a Paul Devlin volley and then somehow managed to reach Micah Hyde's hugely deflected shot in the last seconds before half-time.

Watford, upping the pace on the resumption, had their best chance in the 55th minute. Devlin's head propelled the ball invitingly into the goalmouth and it seemed inevitable that Danny Webber would score. That he failed to do so, according to Watford, was because Ian Pearce blocked the effort on the line with his arm. "The lads are pretty adamant it was a penalty,'' said the Watford manager Ray Lewington.

However, referee Phil Prosser thought otherwise and his decision to reject other appeals for a spot-kick from both sides as the contest slogged towards stalemate underlined what an excellent, unobtrusive game he had, a game in which he did not see fit to issue a single caution. So it can be done.

As Watford pressed in the downpour it seemed inevitable we would witness a James blooper and he duly obliged with two in succession. First he dropped a corner before, more seriously, spilling a cross from the right. But he was fortunate to regain possession before Webber could control the loose ball.

As their side's hopes faded, West Ham fans launched into a chorus of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot", perhaps in the hope of something positive happening, but the nearest they came to jubilation was a cross shot from Ricky Garcia, brought on in place of Deane, which skidded just wide of Pidgeley's right hand upright.

Pardew has rapidly discovered he has joined a club desperate for success. "It puts you under pressure,'' he admitted. "But to get straight promotion we need more bodies.''