Premier League: West Ham 3 Watford 1
PUBLISHED: 22:27 17 July 2020 | UPDATED: 22:27 17 July 2020
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The Hammers all but secured safety with this vital victory over fellow strugglers Watford at London Stadium, where they romped into a three-goal interval lead.
On-fire Michail Antonio soon got the show on the road with his ninth goal of the season, before Tomáš Souček doubled home advantage inside the opening 10 minutes.
Then, nine minutes before the break, Declan Rice found the net for the first time this campaign with a simply sublime 25-yard curler.
And, although Hornets skipper Troy Deeney pulled one back just after the break to set up a some inevitable second half scares, it was not enough to stop his Hammers counterpart, Mark Noble from celebrating this welcome and wonderful win on his 500th appearance in the Claret and Blue.
Now taking a superior goal difference into their final two fixtures against Manchester United and lowly Aston Villa, only a cocktail of a mathematical meltdown and a string of improbable wins by those in and around the dreaded drop zone can prevent the Hammers from kicking-off in the Premier League next season.
Following his side’s fantastic four-goal thrashing of Norwich City last Saturday lunchtime, David Moyes had made just one change as Ben Johnson came in for Ryan Fredericks at right-back, but the Hammers shrugged off that slight reshuffle as they soon carried on from where they had left off at Carrow Road.
With just six minutes on the clock, Souček mopped up a defensive clearance on the edge of the Watford area before squaring to Pablo Fornals, who instinctively fed the ball to Antonio. The striker, whose quadruple knocked the Canaries off their Premier League perches at the weekend, wasted no time in depositing a low, angled 10-yarder past Ben Foster as Christian Kabasele helplessly slid in.
It got even better just three minutes later, when Johnson fed Jarrod Bowen down that right flank and the January capture from Hull City whipped over the perfect cross to fellow New Year arrival Souček, who soared between both Kabasele and Kiko Fermenía to head the Hammers into a two-goal lead with his third strike in club colours.
Wobbling Watford had given themselves a lifeline with victory over Newcastle United on Sunday afternoon and, following that win, Nigel Pearson made just one switch as Etienne Capoue was replaced in midfield by Tom Cleverley, who collected an early booking for a high boot on Bowen.
Trailing by two goals, the visitors fruitlessly tried to get back into the game using the pace of Danny Welbeck and Ismaila Sarr, who forced Łukasz Fabianski into a low save at the base of his left-hand upright and the flying Hornet also had a penalty shout ruled out by VAR after straying marginally offside.
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Heading past the first-half drinks break, though, Moyes boys were already firmly in control but the wary Scot, bottle of water in hand, still diligently patrolled his technical area, while skipper Noble – making that incredible landmark appearance for the club – marshalled the troops out on the pitch.
Shortly after Will Hughes was booked for felling the Hammers captain, on 36 minutes, Noble having dusted himself down, fed Rice on the left-hand edge of the Watford area.
Taking a touch, the 21-year-old England midfielder only had eye for the target in front of him as he whipped a 25-yard curler beyond the flat-footed Foster to claim his first goal of the season in spectacular style and put yet more daylight between these two sides at the interval.
With Adrian Mariappa replacing Adam Masina for the restart, Pearson had his side back out on the pitch long before West Ham emerged and Kabasele gave an early warning of Watford’s intentions, when he sent a downward header inches wide following an early corner.
Then on 49 minutes, the visitors grabbed a lifeline, when Abdoulaye Doucouré glided into the left hand side of the area before drilling a low angled 12-yarder across the face of Fabiański and, although the ball rebounded off the post, Deeney reacted first to fire home from eight yards.
Despite still maintaining a two-goal advantage, an inevitable nervousness crept over a Hammers side that has dropped 24 points from winning positions this season, while resurgent Watford began to enjoy their best spell of the evening.
Kiko Fermenía flashed another effort beyond the far post, while Andre Gray and Nathaniel Chalobah stepped from the bench, too, but it was the arrival of Hammers record signing, Sébastien Haller, who almost created the biggest stir, when – with his first touch of the evening – he forced the back-pedalling Foster to tip aside his audacious 30-yard chip.
But in the end, that stinging first-half treble salvo from the Hammers had meant the clock simply ran down on the Hornets who now go into their final two matches just three points clear of the dreaded drop, while West Ham rise into 15th spot.
West Ham: Fabiański, Johnson, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Diop, Noble, Souček, Fornals (Haller 72), Bowen (Yarmolenko 80), Antonio (Balbuena 90+2). Unused subs: Randolph, Anderson, Lanzini, Wilshere, Masuaku, Coventry.
Watford: Foster, Fermenía, Masina (Mariappa h/t), Kabasele, Dawson, Cleverley, Hughes, Sarr, Doucouré (Chalobah 72), Welbeck (Pedro 86), Deeney (Gray 67). Unused subs: Gomes, Cathcart, Quina, Pussetto, Pereyra.
Booked: Cleverley (8), Noble (34).
Referee: Martin Atkinson.