West Ham scramble into play-offs

Watford 1 - West Ham United 2
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The Independent Online

If West Ham manage to return to the Premiership next season, no one will be able to accuse them of makings things easy for themselves. Although they secured their place in the play-offs here at Vicarage Road yesterday - they will meet Ipswich in the first leg at Upton Park on Saturday - the Hammers finished what had appeared to be a routine outing in a frenzy of anxiety.

If West Ham manage to return to the Premiership next season, no one will be able to accuse them of makings things easy for themselves. Although they secured their place in the play-offs here at Vicarage Road yesterday - they will meet Ipswich in the first leg at Upton Park on Saturday - the Hammers finished what had appeared to be a routine outing in a frenzy of anxiety.

As it turned out, the visitors did not need a win to ensure that they kept their noses ahead of the team they were displacing from the play-offs merely by dint of more goals scored, Reading. But once Rio Ferdinand's little brother Anton had blasted his side into the lead in the 42nd minute, supplied by a cross from his defensive partner Elliott Ward, that result appeared hugely likely against a young, willing but limited home side.

When Marlon Harewood doubled the lead from the spot in the 70th minute after James Chambers had handled, the visiting fans who had taken over the entire Vicarage Road end were basking not just in the spring sunshine, but the expectation of plenty.

But Heidar Helguson's 89th-minute penalty after he had been senselessly up-ended by Tomas Repka - who was lucky to stay on after being booked earlier - put that expectation briefly but intensely in jeopardy. Jimmy Walker was just equal to a free-kick from Ashley Young and a header from Dominic Blizzard.

"I was a bit disappointed that the referee brandished yellow cards in the way he did," said Alan Pardew, the West Ham manager. "It spilled over with Repka and he lost his head."

Pardew will need to calm his defender down now as he plans for a contest which he approaches with only one significant injury - to their leading scorer Teddy Sheringham, whom he rates as 50-50 if they make the final.

The man who left Reading amid such acrimony last season said he had texted their manager Steve Coppell - his former mentor at Crystal Palace - before the game. The message, somewhat bizarrely was that "there are no losers today". That was not true.

"I think we can be proud," Pardew added. "We've had a barrage of criticism, but a lot of big clubs would like to be where we are."

Goals: Ferdinand (42) 0-1; Harewood pen (70) 0-2; Helguson pen (89) 1-2.

Watford (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Doyley, Cullip, DeMerit, Chambers; Bouazza (Osborne, 79), Bangura, Blizzard, McNamee; Young, Helguson. Substitutes not used: Mayo, Kirk (gk), Mariappa, Grant.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Walker; Repka, Ferdinand, Ward, Powell; Newton (Rebrov, 82), Mullins, Reo-Coker (Dailly, 90), Etherington (Noble, 73); Harewood, Zamora. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Fletcher.

Referee: A D'Urso (Essex).

Booked: Watford Helguson; West Ham Mullins, Reo-Coker, Ward, Repka, Rebrov.

Man of the match: Reo-Coker.

Attendance: 19,673.

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