Watford have moved up to eighth in the Premier League table following a fully deserved 2-0 victory over West Ham at Vicarage Road in a pulsating encounter.
Marco Silva’s side were the better team for the majority of the tie, although West Ham gave as good as they got, as they attempted to give David Moyes a winning start to his reign as manager of the Irons.
Will Hughes gave the Hornets a 1-0 half-time lead after some comical defending in the Hammers box gifted the midfielder an opportunity to break the deadlock.
A period of sustained pressure for West Ham prior to and just after the interval should have resulted in an equaliser, but a string of saves from Heurelho Gomes kept Watford’s lead intact.
Having survived that storm, Watford got the crucial second to secure the points, with Richarlison finishing to the net after a solo run into the West Ham box.
The defeat leaves West Ham 18th in the table, but with renewed hope and positivity after a decent showing under the control of their new gaffer, although a second half injury to the thumb of midfielder Marko Arnautovic will be of huge concern to the new boss.
The Hammers were the aggressors early doors as they pushed high up the Vicarage Road pitch as they attempted to deliver an early sting to the Hornets’ aspirations of three home points. Combatitive target man Andy Carroll floored Premier League debutant Marvin Zeegelaar after just 17 seconds of action, with the midfielder receiving attention for several minutes on the turf before being able to continue the tie.
West Ham picked up where they had left off when played resumed as they harried and hassled, but Watford broke in true counter-attacking style, with Zeegalaar playing the ball into Richarlison down the left channel, and the Brazilian lofting a cross into the Hammers box. The visitors failed miserably to deal with the danger, sending the ball around the box like a pinball, before Andre Gray miscued a strike on goal that fell to Hughes to turn on a sixpence and smash a powerful driving shot past Joe Hart and into the back of the net.
The goal changed the momentum of the tie as Watford asserted themselves with the home crowd egging them on. Richarlison was bringing Brazilian flair to proceedings and was at the centre of all that was good about Watford’s attack. On the half hour he carved West Ham open, playing a one-two with Gray, before driving into box and firing low at goal, not managing to direct it adequately towards the corner with Hart getting down low to parry away. The rebound was met by Kiko Femenia on the burst into the box, with the Spaniard’s rifled shot whistling past the far post after a slight nick off a West Ham boot.
Having been under the kosh for a half-hour period, West Ham almost levelled against the run of the game. Some intricate passing interplay on the edge of the Watford box saw Mark Noble play a through ball down the middle, which exposed a huge gap in Watford’s back three, for Cheikhou Kouyate to race onto and collect with just the keeper to beat. Gomes did superbly well to come off his line, narrow the gap, and deflect Kouyate’s shot just wide of the left post.
The chance sparked the Hammers to life as they dominated the four minutes of added time at the end of the first period, with Watford relying on a stunning double save from Gomes to retain their lead. Pablo Zabaleta floated a cross into the centre, where an Arnautovic header deflected off Christian Kabasele, catching Gomes wrong-footed, before he changed direction at the last minute to push the ball away from the net. The rebound reached Arnautovic on the rebound, who was again thwarted by Gomes on the second attempt.
The momentum stayed with the Hammers when the teams took the to the field after the break and they should have levelled matters on 52 minutes. Arnautovic did superbly to beat Miguel Britos down the right and then pick out Kouyate in the area, only for the midfielder to sky the ball way over the bar when he had plenty of time and space to pick his spot.
But as the game ticked towards the hour, the home side began to work their way back into control, producing two chances in quick succession First, Abdoulaye Doucoure strode up the centre, before laying off to Gray on the edge of the area, who attempted to curl an effort into the top-right corner, with a deflection off Winston Reid taking it just wide for a corner. From that set-piece, Adrian Mariappa met the delivery with Hart diving and sprawling to push away the goalbound effort.
The attacking waves kept crashing on the West Ham box and with it came the second strike after more than five minutes of relentless pressure from Silva’s Watford. The home side countered again having stolen possession, with Richarlison again leading the charge as he stormed down the left channel and into the box, before driving hard and low across the face of goal, with Hart allowing the effort to creep underneath him and into the net, despite getting a touch on the ball.
It got worse for the Hammers as Arnautovic was left writhing on the turf in agony after his thumb was caught under a boot – the Austrian forced from the field to be replaced by Arthur Masuaku. Carroll was also called ashore for Diafra Sakho as Moyes looked to turn the tie around in the final 15 minutes.
With the two-goal cushion secured, however, Silva pulled up the drawbridge, as he removed Kiko and Hughes in midfield, introducing Roberto Pereyra and Jose Holebas, as they switched from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 and shut the game down, to see the tie out, despite eight minutes of added time, largely due to the injury sustained by Arnautovic.
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