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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 08/05/05, 1.00pm
West Ham United
"And it looks like...we might have made it / Yes it...looks like we made it to the end"
By Dave Messenger

It didn't have to be like this.

Last Saturday, as the result from Stoke came in, I had something like an epiphany. Before I tell you about that, an admission. I didn't make the trip to the Potteries. Free travel isn't that much of a draw for someone who has spent most of his life chasing Watford FC up and down the country; besides which, there was somewhere else I wanted to be. So when I saw the news of Heidar Helguson's winner, a small cheer was as much as I could muster. We've stayed up, but that doesn't go any way towards removing this feeling of detachment from the club that I have right now.

With that in mind, the end of Sunday's game will be a blessed relief. I'm looking forward to WIFC's match with our counterparts from East London in the morning. We won 8-1 at Hackney Marshes back in November... I secretly hope I might even get a goal from my right-back berth. WIFC's season goes on to July, so there's plenty more to come there, but I'm also looking forward to seeing the usual suspects in the pub before and after the game, most of whom I will also see at regular intervals during the summer. Such is the nature of our friendships, which were formed watching Watford, but now transcend their inceptions.

As for the supposed main reason for watching Watford, the fact that WIFC and other friends have become the best thing about matchdays says much about how I feel about the trek down to Vicarage Road. It's become a chore, something to be endured rather than enjoyed. For all of the board and new manager's bluster, the prospect of a much smaller squad battling to stave off relegation doesn't inspire much hope of it being any different come August. But that's a moan for another day. There's one more game to try and focus on before the whistle finally blows on this season, and we can put the whole depressing shambles that Watford Football Club has become out of our minds, for a few months at least.

Which is not to say that our visitors feel the same, as West Ham are quite desperate for a win to extend their season, and none more so than their much maligned manager, Alan Pardew. Defeat here, coupled with an admittedly unlikely Reading win at Wigan, would see The 'Ammers miss out on the play-offs and surely bring down the curtain on Pardew's tumultuous reign. For that reason alone, we can count on West Ham being fired up, and with the prospect of a few young 'uns getting a run for us, it could be difficult viewing for the faithful.

Former Walsall keeper Jimmy Walker is likely to be in goal for the visitors, having got the nod in front of highly rated youngster Stephen Bywater for each of the last seven games. In front of Walker, the deranged Tomas Repka should appear at right back, which should guarantee a kicking for little McNamee at some point, while Chris Powell, who once played for England, will be at left back. Cover is provided by youngster Chris Cohen, and the not-so-young former QPR and Fulham man Rufus Brevett.

The centre half pairing of Elliott Ward and Anton Ferdinand came in for some stick having been torn to shreds by Sunderland last week. Ward, the younger brother of haircut victim and former Hornet Darren, and Ferdinand, younger brother of drug cheat England International and professional twat Rio, will face competition for their places in the form of Scottish hard-nut Christian Dailly, who returned from a long injury in the reserve match between the two clubs in the week. Former Norwich hatchet man Malky Mackay is also back in the frame for Sunday after a much shorter injury and it would be no surprise if Pardew turned to either or both of the experienced players. Andy Melville has spent most the season out on loan, and getting relegated, at Nottingham Forest.

In midfield, Nigel Reo-Coker, star of one of the incredibly bad adverts on Sky Sports' Championship coverage, became West Ham's youngest ever captain last weekend at a mere twenty years of age. Alongside him, the versatile Hayden Mullins, highly rated as a youngster at Crystal Palace, seems to have settled into a central midfield berth. Continuing the theme from the defenders, cage rattler Don Hutchison is on the comeback trail from yet another injury and he could feature at the expense of one of the younger pairing. Other options include Carl Fletcher, signed from Bournemouth earlier in the campaign, or Welshman Gavin Williams, signed from Yeovil in January, but the terminally unpleasant Steve Lomas is injured. Hurrah.

Out wide, a potential problem for Pardew could be the absence of last season's player of the year Matt Etherington. Always a handful on his day, the former Spurs winger is a major doubt having picked up an injury in the Sunderland match. One solution would be to pick dogfaced ex-Man United wide man Luke Chadwick, a scorer in that reserve fixture, or to switch former Charlton and Wolves schemer Shaun Newton, who joined the club just before the transfer deadline, from the right. Seventeen-year-old Mark Noble, a childhood Hammer and former England Under-16 captain, replaced Etherington from the bench and would be a popular choice.

Up front, Teddy Sheringham and Marlon Harewood have been the star turns for the Upton Park club, and have twenty-two and twenty goals for the season respectively. Harewood is a product of Nottingham Forest's academy and on his day, one of the best strikers in Division Two. Former England star Sheringham needs little introduction, but missed last weekend's match with an injury. Bobby Zamora deputised in his customary useless fashion and should continue if Sheringham fails to recover, though the enigmatic Ukrainian Sergei Rebrov, who destroyed us at Upton Park, is another who has recovered from injury and could feature.

So, that's it then. No doubt about it, putting a dent in West Ham's play-off push would be an entertaining finale to the season and go some way to paying back the plethora of odd-goal defeats we've suffered at their hands down the years. Will it help me find some sort of enthusiasm for the new manager? Will it start to give me a feeling of trust towards those in charge of our club? Will it go some way to convincing me that the football club I've grown up with is not slowly and very painfully dying from within? Hearing that we'd stayed up failed, so I'm with Blur....

Enjoy the game....