Watford deepen the crisis for Curbishley
West Ham will try to kid themselves that this defeat does not matter, that it was almost a blessing in disguise, allowing them to concentrate all their efforts on Premiership survival and preventing any possibility of a harmful fixture pile-up between now and the end of April.
Victory for Watford, their first away from home since a Championship semi-final play-off success at Crystal Palace last season, made the sky seem as blue as manager Adrian Boothroyd always believes it is, even on a dark and dismal winter's day in east London.
Having won only two Premiership matches all season, they are now on what amounts to a rich run of form, having beaten Blackburn in the league last Tuesday. What is more, they thoroughly enjoyed this success and, as West Ham grew more desperate, a club who like to pride themselves on their footballing values dipped their toes into the black arts as Carlton Cole, under the mildest of challenges from Malky Mackay, threw himself to the ground like Didier Drogba.
Referee Howard Webb was not fooled and waved a yellow card, which thankfully, is becoming a much more regular punishment for divers. If you could bottle the optimism of Boothroyd and inject it into his players' veins, they would be challenging for a Champions League spot. Away from the relegation dogfight, they were free to play without fear, freedom in this case being just another word for nothing left to lose.
Watford had already seen a Damien Francis effort ruled out for offside and forced Cole to clear a Darius Henderson header from under his own crossbar before Anthony McNamee deservedly gave them the lead as half-time approached. But it required a mighty mess -up by former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll for Hameur Bouazza's cross to carry to McNamee, who scored with an overhead kick.
The fact that West Ham's only win in their previous seven games had come in an FA Cup tie against Brighton certainly did not offer any credence to the theory and their vibrant run to the final last season was a reflection of their impressive Premiership season, not at odds with it.
Their lowest attendance of the season was a reflection of where the supporters feel the priorities lie. But there is unlikely to be a spare seat on Tuesday when Liverpool come here for a game which, while it will not settle West Ham's future, could be crucial to their confidence and well-being in the final months of the season.
Watford have an even more difficult task in midweek, against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which even Boothroyd might concede is mission impossible. Then in two weeks they come back to Upton Park for a Premiership game that threatens to be so nervously contested that it will make this scrappy affair seem like a classic. The Sunday Telegraph
McNamee finds target as West Ham hit panic button
Aidy Boothroyd has coined a catchphrase called 'possible impossibles'. He sometimes sounds like a lone voice in the dark when he preaches how Watford can achieve what is logically unachievable. But a team who looked doomed long before Christmas have just enjoyed their best week since promotion. Two victories in four days is a fantastic shot in the arm, and this one was extra special because it was their first win on their travels, and came with the added gloss of knocking last year's FA Cup finalists out of the competition.
West Ham, who departed the competition to a chorus of boos, should be more worried about a different kind of possible impossible as their troubles shows no sign of abating. They lacked the heart and imagination to apply much pressure to a Watford team whose work ethic was faultless. The tie brought together two sides enjoying successful seasons and two managers full of mutual admiration for making it happen.
The early signs were encouraging for West Ham as Carlton Cole harassed Ben Foster into conceding an early corner, from which Bobby Zamora shaved the crossbar with a firm header.
Watford, buoyed by a rare win at Blackburn's expense in midweek, responded with a spell of more purposeful football, and subjected West Ham to an aerial bombardment that would eventually catch out the home defence. They thought they had scored when Damien Francis poked the ball past Roy Carroll, only to be denied by an offside flag, and were unlucky not to pounce on 35 minutes when Darius Henderson's header was deflected off the line by Cole.
If Foster had done his bit in keeping West Ham at bay, unfortunately for the home side, the man in the opposite goalmouth did the opposite as four minutes before half time Watford took the lead their energy levels just about deserved.
Carroll made a horrible hash of a teasing cross from the right, rushing out to fudge his punch under pressure from Henderson, and Anthony McNamee was on hand to flick an overhead kick into the open goal.
The travelling Watford fans, who have endured a miserable season on the road this season, were overjoyed. They really found their voice, teasing Neill when he was booked by suggesting: 'You're only here for the money.' He was replaced just after half time having caught a first half whack. Not the most auspicious debut.
West Ham struggled to fight back. When Zamora sent in another dangerous header, it flew over the crossbar. Then Cole cruised past Jay DeMerit and into the box, where he threw himself over Malky Mackay's challenge and was booked for diving by Howard Webb. Newton was next to take aim, and snatched at his shot to send it wide. It was all a little desperate.
The old head of Teddy Sheringham was sent on to spread some wisdom in a 4-3-3 formation. But Watford were likelier scorers with two crisp counter-attacks, inspired by Tommy Smith and Hameur Bouazza. Henderson could not quite connect with either of them to kill the game off.
Six minutes from time Sheringham, of all people, spurned the opportunity to equalise when he went for a looping chip from close range with the goal at his mercy. It enabled Stewart to glance the chance away, and a flurry of West Ham players could not finish it off. They only have themselves to blame. The Sunday Observer
McNamee thrives on Carroll clanger
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.
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. The Sunday Independent
Carroll hands it to Watford
A week in which the firm smack of desperation was heard around West Ham United with the signing of Lucas Neill on a salary substantially larger than that of Cristiano Ronaldo ended with the sound of booing around Upton Park, last year's beaten finalists knocked out by a goal that arose from a calamitous piece of goalkeeping from the error-prone Roy Carroll.
The Northern Ireland international rushed out to the edge of the penalty area three minutes before half-time but was beaten to the ball by Darius Henderson, with midfielder Anthony McNamee on hand to score from close range.
Carroll's colleagues could not spare his blushes in a second half during which they piled on the pressure but were kept at bay by desperate defending.
This was Watford's first away win of the season and the first time they had won two games on the trot, after their victory against Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night. They return to Upton Park in a fortnight's time in the league. The Sunday Times