Hardly a respite, hardly a distraction as West Ham, last season's finalists, crashed out of the FA Cup with the kind of guileless performance that does not bode well for their chances of Premiership survival either. That they lost to Watford, one of only two sides below them in the League, will stick in the craw while, as for the visitors, how manager Adrian Boothroyd would have swapped this victory for three points when the two meet again in a fortnight's time.
But, on this evidence, Watford, who had not beaten West Ham since 1985, can expect to win again. They were hungrier, sharper and far more organised as they gained their first victory away from home this season and their second win in a week. "It gives you a big lift," Boothroyd said. "We would be top of the League in terms of resilience."
On that criteria West Ham would be bottom. They were booed off to choruses of "you're not fit to wear the shirt" with manager Alan Curbishley forced to admit "the frustrations are there for everyone to see". Those frustrations have grown since his arrival and Curbishley looks like a man floundering and with a team barely playing for him.
Earlier in the week he called in all three of his injured central defenders - Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon and James Collins - to ask why they were having so many fitness problems this season. The subtext was clear: he feels they are not pulling their weight.
It wasn't the right message and there were more own goals in Curbishley's programme notes - which contained no fewer than 16 complaints and no rallying call - and a post-match invitation to praise the willing performance of striker Carlton Cole. It was met with the response that he was perhaps "trying too hard".
Despite the cascade of money into Upton Park, Curbishley has undoubtedly found fortune hiding. That was added to yesterday when debutant Lucas Neill turned his ankle in the first half and is now a doubt for Tuesday's Premiership match against Liverpool, the club he turned down for West Ham.
The wisdom of that move looks increasingly questionable especially with the shocking capitulation that took place yesterday. Watford had started in some disarray, erroneously naming Ashley Young, the winger they sold to Aston Villa for £9.65m among their substitutes, and then dozing in the second minute as Bobby Zamora peeled off to reach Luis Boa Morte's corner only to thud his header against the crossbar.
Boa Morte was again involved as he ran through to feed Shaun Newton. But, with a clear sight on goal, the midfielder's shot was smartly parried by goalkeeper Ben Foster. From a corner Christian Dailly headed goalwards, Newton swung a boot and Jordan Stewart scrambled the ball off the line.
If that hinted at home supremacy, the idea was soon rejected. Watford pushed forward and Cole was alert to head out from under his own cross-bar as Damien Francis waited to knock in Darius Henderson's header back across goal. Watford then struck. A centre by Tommy Smith was flicked on by Henderson, with goalkeeper Roy Carroll woefully stranded as he rushed from goal, and the ball dropped to Anthony McNamee. From the edge of the area, he hooked a shot over his shoulder and into the unguarded net.
"A dreadful goal," Curbishley said, which no one would dispute. He went on to accuse his players of panicking when they fell behind. Watford, too, were liable to a bit of flapping and were fortunate when Zamora wasted another chance in heading over. In his desperation Cole barrelled forward and threw himself at Malky Mackay's challenge but earned a caution rather than a penalty. The game seemed up for West Ham especially as Smith, again, delivered an inviting cross only for Henderson, a powerful, effective if inelegant striker, to screw the chance wide. Then Cole headed on and amid the confusion substitute Teddy Sheringham wafted at the ball and Stewart cleared.
Would Watford fancy their chances in two weeks' time, Curbishley was asked. "I fancy my chances as well," he said. Judging from this contest that optimism is misplaced.Reuse content