Four-midable West Ham sweep aside FA Cup finalists Watford
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
The Hammers too strong for the Hornets as Noble scores twice
Watford 1 West Ham United 4
The Hammers signed off their season in style with a four-midable, four-goal flurry at Vicarage Road that secured a top-half finish for Manuel Pellegrini at the end of his first campaign in charge.
The Chilean may have kicked-off his year with a quartet of straight Premier League defeats but they were just a distant memory as West Ham made it a hat-trick of victories to secure 10th place on the final day.
Mark Noble put the Hammers ahead on the quarter-hour mark before Manuel Lanzini gave the visitors a two-goal buffer going into the break.
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And although Gerard Deulofeu pulled one back seconds after the restart, Watford then saw José Holebas dismissed just minutes later and the Hornets were then stung by Marko Arnautovic's tap-in before Noble capped a wonderful win with a late penalty.
Watford had kicked off in 10th spot just one place and one point above the Hammers, who made just two changes from the side that had beaten Southampton last Saturday with fit-again duo, Felipe Anderson and Declan Rice, coming in for substitutes Grady Diangana and Pedro Obiang.
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And Manuel Pellegrini's men quickly discovered that they would have a battle on their hands to make it into that top-half of the table as Deulofeu put the ball in the net inside the opening 20 seconds having just been flagged for offside and, shortly afterwards, the sprinting Spaniard then forced Lukasz Fabianski to save his low 18-yarder.
Abdoulaye Doucouré also saw his effort deflect off Fabián Balbuena for the first corner of the afternoon and, when the resultant flag-kick arrived in the area, Will Hughes sent an overhead kick into the newly-crowned Hammer-of-the-Year's gloves
Despite having one eye on Saturday's FA Cup final clash with champions Manchester City - following last weekend's three-goal defeat at Chelsea - Javi Gracia had only opted to make two switches, himself, as Christian Kabasele and Étienne Capoue replaced substitutes Nathaniel Chalobah and Adrian Mariappa.
Certainly, willing, workmanlike Watford were clearly playing for their Wembley places in the early exchanges, while at the other end, the escaping Michail Antonio forced Ben Foster to dive into his studs before Lanzini's tightly-angled free-kick flew high into the Watford fans.
But on the quarter-hour mark, the Hammers turned the game upside down, when Noble played a slick one-two with Antonio just inside the Hornets' half and, upon collecting the return, the Hammers skipper advanced to the edge of the area before expertly slotting a low 18-yarder beyond Foster's outstretched right-glove.
"Too good for England," chanted the sun-drenched Hammers fans, who had just seen their captain's fourth goal of the campaign - and the first in open play - give the East Enders the lead totally against the run of play.
As the half-hour mark approached, Ryan Fredericks retired clutching his hamstring and, as Pablo Zabaleta stepped from the bench, Deulofeu tested Fabianski with a clever snapshot, before Roberto Pereyra forced the West Ham stopper into another save.
Seven minutes from half-time, though, the breaking Hammers doubled their lead, when Noble sent Antonio racing clear and, although it looked like the chance had been lost, the ambushed Hammers wide-man found himself with a second opportunity, when he intercepted Craig Cathcart's poor clearance.
And although Antonio's scorching 20-yarder crashed back off the home crossbar, the alert Lanzini arrived bang on cue to nodded the rebound past the grounded Foster to claim his first goal since suffering that horrific knee-injury at Argentina's World Cup training camp nearly 12 months ago.
In first-half stoppage-time, Fabianski brilliantly denied Troy Deeney with a point-blank stop but within just a dozen seconds of the restart, the stranded Polish 'keeper could only watch as Deulofeu raced onto Zabaleta's careless backpass before calmly slotting home his 12th goal of the campaign.
Just as Watford thought they had regained a foothold on the contest, they suddenly faced an uphill climb, when last man Holebas was red-carded for dragging back an escaping Antonio on 48 minutes.
Despite being down to 10 men, the Hornets still threatened as Anderson retreated the length of the pitch to thwart Deulofeu in the act of shooting and that would prove to be the Spaniard's last chance of the afternoon as he stood down on the hour to be replaced by Andre Gray.
Arnautovi? then found himself denied by Cathcart's timely tackle and, with Jack Wilshere coming on for Lanzini and Hughes being switched with Adam Masina, the Austrian then had another opportunity to go to the top of the Hammers scoring charts but Foster saved with his feet.
But with 20 minutes remaining, Arnautovic' slid home his 11th goal of the season to claim top spot from Anderson, who ironically had seen his low angled 18-yarder rebound off the right-post to give his team-mate the simplest of tap-ins.
Worse was to come for weary Watford, who then found Anderson charging into their area and, with the supporting Antonio being tripped by Kiko Femenía as he raced onto the Brazilian's clever flick on 78 minutes, Noble did what he does best, when he drilled the consequent penalty inside the left-hand post as Foster dived in the opposite direction to cement a fantastic final day victory and that tremendous Top 10 finish.
HORNETS: Foster, Femenía, Kabasele (Mariappa 78), Cathcart, Holebas, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes (Masina 66), Pereyra, Deulofeu (Gray 59), Deeney. Unused subs: Gomes, Janmaat, Success, Chalobah.
HAMMERS: Fabianski, Fredericks (Zabaleta 26), Masuaku, Balbuena, Diop, Rice (Sánchez 79), Noble, Lanzini (Wilshere 66), Anderson, Antonio, Arnautovi?. Unused subs: Adrián, Snodgrass, Hernández, Ogbonna.
Booked: Capoue (90)
Sent-Off: Holebas (48)
Referee: Chris Kavanagh.