Premier League
West Ham United 3 Watford 1

Friday, 17th July 2020
by Chris Wilkerson

The drama is all but over for West Ham for this season as David Moyes' team beat relegation rivals Watford 3-1 to give themselves what is surely survival.

In a game of high pressure that had had fans tense all week, a first half blitz gave the side a 3-0 lead going into the break. Watford rallied in the second half, but could only find one goal as they start to look over their shoulders once more.

West Ham can look forward, even going above Brighton into 15th in the table.


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There is no doubt the start took the pessimistic Hammers fanbase by surprise. Rather than a tense and tight game of thin margins, every flip of the coin seemed to land their way.

Antonio started sharp, Ben Johnson made good early impressions as he came into the side for the injured Ryan Fredericks and the midfield of Noble, Rice and Soucek looked strong and dominant.

It only took five minutes to get reward.

A weak clearance from a shaky Watford back line was collected by Soucek, who laid off to Fornals on the edge of the area. His pass through was deflected and rolled to the left of the area, but Antonio was first to react.

With Foster on the way out to a ball that never came, he was slightly wrong-footed as the in-form forward smashed it low and through his legs into the back of the net, his seventh since the resumption of Premier League football after the lockdown.

If it shocked West Ham?EUR(TM)s support, it was only a few minutes later that the cushion was two goals.

It started with Rice, bursting from the halfway line and through challenges into the centre of Watford?EUR(TM)s half. Soucek and Fornals combined before it came out to Bowen on the right, the winger given ample time and space to curl a devilish ball towards goal and the back post.


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No one else was winning that ball but Soucek, the January signing towering above the Watford defenders and powering in a header to turn a tense affair into the perfect start.

There were little moments of threat for Watford, Isma??la Sarr?EUR(TM)s pace and intelligent running finding gaps between and behind Cresswell and Ogbonna.

He forced a good save from Fabianski from a simple long ball over the shoulder of the full back, then after the drinks break popped up on the other side in behind the defence once more, only for Ogbonna to make a late and vital challenge to stop him getting in a shot when close to goal.

With Watford trying to claw their way back into a game that was getting away from them, Declan Rice did something special.

Not hearing shouts from this household not to shoot, Rice took the ball from 20-25 yards from goal on the left, cut inside and curled a beautiful shot into the corner of the goal, bending from out to in and nestling inside the net. Foster was rooted to the spot.

At that point, Watford looked flat and beaten, although Dawson will feel he could have done better with a headed chance in the box, put off by the pressure of Diop and Ogbonna.


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But there really was little to their play, and as the teams went in for the break, you could sense Nigel Pearson desperate to roar some fire into their play.

To his credit, the second half started with a clear change of tune for the away side. They were on the front foot, working harder and momentum started to swing their way.

There were simple balls in behind and runs that were not happening first half, chance from corners that could have led to more too.

So it was no surprise when they got their foothold in the game. Doucoure looked to be getting closer to the front three and into more advance positions. It was his run down the left that led to the goal, bursting into the area and hitting the inside of the post with a good shot.

The ball feel central, and there was one man they wanted it to fall to. Troy Deeney was there, and he guided the ball into the bottom corner to give Watford a chance at 3-1. The striker was clearly a good way from full fitness, but clutch moments fall to important players.


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The momentum fully shifted. It became a game of attack versus defence as the Hammers retreated the Watford tails were up. The drinks break was the salvation to look for, and holding out until that point felt a big moment.

It gave an opportunity to slow down, make adjustments and get some space from Watford?EUR(TM)s push for more.

It worked too, as well as Moyes bringing on Haller and giving an outlet for clearances to win headers and keep the ball, something the Frenchman does as good as anyone.

He nearly scored with his first touch too. Cresswell lumped a ball forward and the defending header was poor. As it dropped from the sky, Haller reacted first and with vision that no one else had. He stretched through the air to volley the ball, trying to lob Foster who had sprung off his line. The ?EUR~keeper got the slightest of touches to save what deserved to be another goal for Haller.

Whether it was the drinks break, Haller or just the threat of West Ham going up a little, it seemed that Watford?EUR(TM)s fight was done. West Ham will be proud of how they weathered the storm in what could have been an awful second half for them.

There were little moments of pressure and half chances, but the game faded away to the close. The players were jubilant, as was the manager, the celebrations clear and obvious as the cloud of relegation was all but gone from the London Stadium and this West Ham side.

It has been a return to football that surely proves his West Ham team are falsely placed, although reminders of the weaknesses are still there. The three scorers in this game were apt; all three men have hauled West Ham out of trouble.

For Moyes, his target is met. The question is whether this time he will be kept on. Safety is not guaranteed, but you can sleep a little easier tonight.


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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
One good save, but a little weaker on crosses than usual and could have given a penalty away if not for an offside call.


Ben Johnson
His covering behind the centre backs was top notch, especially as he showed his pace to match runs from Welbeck and others. Looked to have a little more composure going forward than Ngakia too. Could save the club a lot of money.


Aaron Cresswell
A solid pro and he clearly cares about the club, Cresswell was never comfortable with Sarr and his delivery was poor in attacking areas. His position should be under threat.


Issa Diop
Stood up to the task well, especially as a striker like Deeney is not one Diop usually likes.


Angelo Ogbonna
Sarr caused issues but Ogbonna was calm and strong when dealing with him, rescuing multiple situations where the pacy winger looked to get in behind. His best season for the club.


Declan Rice
The goal that surely confirms he cannot be moved back to being a defender. Sweetly struck as it was, his importance on the second should not be forgotten as his drive from deep into the Watford area created what was to come. A wonderful footballer who is getting better and better with every game.


Mark Noble
500th game for the club and whilst it?EUR(TM)s sad there were no fans present to give him the reception he deserved, this result was a great way to repay him. There are few servants to a club in the modern game like this man. Took a nice assist and played with a composure that kept this side together. Forever written off, forever proving people wrong.


Tomas Soucek
The comparisons to Fellaini are actually unfair on Soucek: he is a better footballer than the Belgian. More mobile, better with the ball, smarter in the tackle. Soucek is a true find and pivotal to turning relegation doubts into survival.


Jarrod Bowen
Not only was his cross for Soucek?EUR(TM)s goal absolutely gorgeous, but his workrate in the second half kept Johnson covered and consistently relieved pressure on the defence by carrying the ball at his feet for long distances. Another vital cog since January.


Pablo Fornals
Not his most influential game, but his work rate was as superb as ever and the fact he is chosen at left wing, quite obviously not a natural position, is down to his desire and motivation to do what he needs to do for the team. He sacrifices his own play for the good of the side, whilst making clever runs and often involved in vital moves.


Michail Antonio
He took his goal wonderfully, a man in form acting on instinct, whilst terrorising their backline with his running behind and his physical play. Deserved an assist for a wonderful cross with the outside of his boot. Across the season, you could argue he has come a bit late to be the best player, but there are few more vital performers to a team than the Antonio of 2020.



Substitutes

Sebastien Haller
The basics that he did were vital in how the game changed from one of defensive worry to a settled and calmer one. His touch is often exquisite and he just wins aerial battles (which some may mock) fantastically for a side who needed to relieve pressure from the back. Deserved that first touch to be a goal.


Andriy Yarmolenko
(Replaced Bowen) Came on with energy but also came on as the game slowed down.


Fabian Balbuena
(Replaced Antonio) He had nothing to do.


Darren Randolph
Did not play.


Arthur Masuaku
Did not play.


Conor Coventry
Did not play.


Jack Wilshere
Did not play. * Other subs unused: Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ben Johnson, Aaron Cresswell, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Tomas Soucek, Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Michail Antonio.

Goals: Michail Antonio 6 Tomas Soucek 10 Declan Rice 36              .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Watford: Foster, Femenia, Dawson, Kabasele, Masina (Mariappa 45), Hughes, Cleverley, Sarr, Doucoure (Chalobah 72), Welbeck (Joao Pedro 86), Deeney (Gray 67).

Subs not used: Gomes, Cathcart, Pereyra, Quina, Pussetta.

Goals: Deeney (49).

Booked: Cleverley (8), Hughes (35).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Angelo Ogbonna.