Watford 1-0 West Ham United
West Ham United's Carling Cup hopes were dashed after a Hayden Mullins own goal was enough to give Championship club Watford a slender victory on Tuesday night.
After a scrappy contest, Watford took the lead when Mullins inadvertently struck the ball into an empty net when debutant Jan Lastuvka was unable to clear a free-kick into the box. Despite late pressure that saw Matthew Upson hit the bar, Gianfranco Zola's men could not find the goal they craved and it meant a third straight away defeat this season.
Zola made five changes from the team that swept Newcastle United aside so impressively on Saturday. Lastuvka made his debut in goal, while Walter Lopez also got his first start in place of Herita Ilunga. Mullins and Luis Boa Morte came into midfield in place of the rested Scott Parker and Valon Behrami, who were on the bench. Carlton Cole was also rested after picking up a slight knock in Saturday's win so young Freddie Sears got his first start of the season. Watford had former United defender Jon Harley on the bench.
Watford showed first with a diving header from Ross Jenkins following good work on the right by Tommy Smith. Sears had his side's first chance minutes later when he skipped past his marker, but the 18-year-old could not quite control his shot. David Di Michele was looking to continue his fantastic start to life in London after bagging two debut goals against Newcastle and he quickly got into his stride again - turning his marker before seeing his curling effort saved by Scott Loach.
On a deceptively chilly night at Vicarage Road both teams were enjoying plenty of vocal support, with the 2,192 fans in the sold out away end more than contributing. The home support thought their side had taken the lead in the 12th minute but Gareth Ainsworth's effort flew into the side-netting. Unfortunately for them there was no repeat of the controversy of the weekend game against Reading as referee Peter Walton correctly awarded a goal-kick. Lastuvka then had his first save to make in a West Ham shirt as he carefully tipped an attempted chipped shot over the bar.
United so nearly took the lead a few minutes later when Boa Morte showed strength and persistence to force an opening for himself. His fierce left-foot drive from an acute angle was turned round the post for a corner. The visitors attacked again when Di Michele linked up well with Mark Noble to create a great opening for the midfielder but his drive was parried wide. Di Michele tumbled in the area moments later but the referee waved play on.
Lopez then showed his defensive nous by making a crucial headed clearance with two Watford strikers lurking. Seconds later he was at the other end to deliver a dangerous cross which neither of his two strike partners could quite get on the end of.
It was an entertaining opening spell with both teams eager to attack at every opportunity. Ainsworth nearly put the Championship side ahead when he burst into the area only to flash his shot wide of the far post. The home side had another chance moments later when Smith played in Will Hoskins, but his shot was saved well by Lastuvka. The Czech stopper was having an impressive half as he quickly reacted to smother a deflected shot from Smith.
Within minutes of the restart Matthew Etherington broke down the left. His cross towards Di Michele was threatening but Jenkins just got there before the new No32. Watford pressed back instantly and after Lastuvka had punched well, Lucas Neill raced across to bravely block Jordan Parkes' follow-up.
Di Michele nearly got his third goal for United when he expertly flicked an Etherington corner goalwards only for Loach to palm it to safety. Both goalkeepers were having busy evenings and Lastuvka demonstrated his agility again to dive brilliantly to his left to keep a point-blank header out. Seventeen minutes into the second half, West Ham made their first change bringing on Parker for Boa Morte. Etherington then made a mesmerising 70-yard run into the Watford area but his cut-back was just too far behind Sears.
Watford took the lead ten minues later. There appeared to be no danger as a free-kick was swung into the United area. Lastuvka, who had been so impressive, came for the ball but could not reach it and it cannoned off the unfortunate Mullins and into the empty net. Zola reacted instantly by sending on Kyel Reid for Di Michele and his side set about getting back on even terms. Etherington had a chance moments later but his header from seven yards went wide.
The last real opportunity came when Upson's header from a Faubert corner crashed against the bar before going over and as time ebbed away so did West Ham United's hopes of Carling Cup success for another year at least.