West Ham Utd 0 Watford 1: West Ham's belief drained by Henderson

Watford remain bottom of table but win over relegation rivals gives new hope of escape
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The Independent Football

This was car-crash football. An East End soap opera whose plot-lines would be ruled out as too harrowing, or farcical, if ever submitted as a script. West Ham lost at home to Watford to Darius Henderson's first-half penalty, his first goal in 30 games, while missing one awarded to them. For both teams they were the first penalties awarded this season.

The result means the visitors, although still at the bottom of the table, can, however improbably, believe again. West Ham? That belief is visibly draining with every match. It is as if the fates are conspiring against them. What can go wrong, does go wrong. From injury to insult it is a claret and blue nightmare.

Their effort was faultless, their application totally faulty. Only the half-time introduction of Carlos Tevez added any real impetus. How the Hammers want the Argentinian as a hero. How close he comes to being one, without ever quite managing it. He is almost brilliant.

This was Watford's second away win of a difficult campaign, and their second against West Ham, who they had dumped out of the FA Cup with the same scoreline just a fortnight ago. At the end their manager, Adrian Boothroyd, ran on to the pitch, pumping his arms, and stood before the visiting support. By then the West Ham supporters had chanted "you're not fit to wear the shirt" to their players.

"I thought before I came into this press conference: 'should I keep a lid on it or should I do cartwheels?'" Boothroyd said later. "I'm going to do cart-wheels." His exuberance was entirely understandable.

Goodness knows what West Ham's chairman, Eggert Magnusson, made of it all. If this was - as he, his manager Alan Curbishley and everyone else had described it - a "defining game" then there is only one definition: West Ham are going down. Magnusson was not present. He had to attend a meeting in Iceland to resign formally as president of the country's Football Association, which meant there were no shots of the directors' box and his tortured expression.

Instead there were 30-odd thousand West Ham fans doing that passable impression of Edvard Munch's The Scream. Magnusson says his visible emotions are because "I wear my heart on my sleeve". In that case the cries of anguish will have been audible around Reykjavik last night. What a return, so far, for the £85 million investment in buying the club - plus debts of £23m - and the near £20m spent on players in January.

One of those investments, Lucas Neill, limped off having hurt his knee on his return from the ankle injury that curtailed his debut. Before then Watford had taken the lead when Henderson chased a long punt forward only to be tugged by Anton Ferdinand inside the area. It was an act of stupidity - "you cannot ask me why he pulled him back," said a disbelieving Curbishley - and Henderson, despite his lack of goals, calmly beat the recalled Robert Green with a low shot.

West Ham were shocking. "We need a lift," said Curbishley who then proceeded to be as downbeat as possible. "No matter what I say I get criticised," he added. "So I won't say too much." How is he coping? "I'm finding it difficult, obviously," Curbishley said. "Getting pulled about a bit in terms of team selection and injuries. I would like to think the players can get us out of this." He did not sound convinced.

Curbishley also laid the blame on Marlon Harewood for missing the spot-kick adding, astonishingly, "as I understand it he's the penalty taker". As he understands it? It is his team and he has been in charge long enough to sort out such matters. There is only so long that he can deflect responsibility and blame his inheritance.

The award was given after Tevez had flicked the ball into the path of Nigel Reo-Coker who ran through and was brought down by Gavin Mahon just inside the area. West Ham howled for the Watford captain, the last man, to be dismissed but the referee, Alan Wiley, waved them away. Harewood grabbed the ball but hit his shot a yard wide. After he missed he stood frozen. He was not the only one.

Before then Tevez had curled a right-footed free-kick narrowly over and then the striker stole in front of Watford's goalkeeper Ben Foster - who only had one save of note to make in the game, from Yossi Benayoun - to hook the ball goalwards. Jordan Stewart scrambled it clear. It just was not happening for him or for West Ham. The boos started to ring out. Another chance fell to Tevez, who had replaced Bobby Zamora, and he slammed it over while Watford began trying to waste time. West Ham are simply wasting so much more. Their season lies on wreckage.

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