Victory helps calm Vialli's nerves

Sheffield United 0 Watford 2
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The Independent Online

Until last night North of Watford had been a barren country for Gianluca Vialli that had produced a meagre three points and plenty of ammunition for those who believed that, like a thoroughbred racehorse attempting point-to-points, the First Division was no place for the Italian.

A convincing victory in Yorkshire, courtesy of second-half goals from Heidar Helguson and Tommy Smith, would have eased those concerns as well as propelling Watford into the mid-table comfort zone.

For Sheffield United, who have now scraped together one goal in five games, mid-table represents the outer limit of their ambitions. So tormented by injuries were United that their manager, Neil Warnock, declared before kick-off that he would not criticise anyone who pulled on a red-and-white shirt and gave his all. This, but no more, United largely managed, although Paul Devlin, who was woefully dispossessed by Paul Robinson to set up Watford's second, was booed off.

Until a few, forlorn shots when the match was beyond recall, only once did United threaten Alec Chamberlain, who at the age of 37 had been brought back to replace Espen Baardsen in the Watford goal. The move, a short free-kick flicked into Peter Ndlovu's path by Paul Peschisolido, contained the kind of imagination United could only fleetingly conjure up.

As Vialli paced the touchline, you wondered whether he imagined the First Division would be like this. Five defeats out of six away from Vicarage Road had left Watford mired among the Rotherhams and Gillinghams and their lack of confidence was evident in the long, un-Vialli-like punts upfield.

Nevertheless, facing a side full of running but generally empty of everything else, Watford gradually eased their way into the match and should have taken the lead moments before the interval when Patrick Blondeau, unmarked at the far post, sent a diving header the wrong side of the upright.

The goal Watford both threatened and deserved arrived six minutes after the restart and came from the kind of skill that Vialli would want his sides to be remembered for. Helguson, faced by both United's central defenders, took a long ball from Robinson on his chest and turned both ways before driving into the left-hand corner of Simon Tracey's net.

This was not the end of the damage Robinson was to inflict on the blunted Blades. In the 72nd minute, after relieving Devlin of the ball, he drove down the left before squaring to Smith just inside the area; his first-time shot settled the match and soothed the nerves Vialli had usually eased with cigarettes.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Tracey; Doane, Murphy, Page, Phelan; Devlin (Montgomery, 75), Brown, Tonge, Ndlovu; Peschisolido (Jagielka, 58), D'Jaffo (Littlejohn, 85). Substitutes not used: Nicholson, De Vogt (gk).

Watford (3-5-2): Chamberlain; Issa, Cox, Vega; Blondeau, Vernazza (Noble, 90), Hughes, Glass, Robinson; Helguson, Smith (Norville, 81). Substitutes not used: Wooter, Doyley, Baardsen (gk).

Referee: G Frankland (Middlesbrough).