Watford 1 West Ham United 4
Tuesday, 28th December 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
Christmas cheer came to West Ham this Tuesday afternoon, a resounding 4-1 away at Watford enough to excuse its late arrival.Goals from Soucek, Benrahma, Noble and Vlasic after Dennis?EUR(TM)s early Watford opener brought the smile back to West Ham faces and lifted the shadow of uncertainly from this difficult December period.
David Moyes made four changes to the side so disappointing only two days prior, Rice?EUR(TM)s suspension seeing a rare start for Noble, whilst Masuaku, Fornals and Vlasic were dropped for Johnson, Lanzini and Antonio.
It was a slow start, one that worried Hammers as the two-week gap since Watford?EUR(TM)s last game looked to have them full of energy.
The home side scored early, the dangerous Emmanuel Dennis punishing slack defending.
It came from a West Ham throw deep down the left hand side, the ball lost far too easily. As Watford played it inside to King, the forward had time and space in the middle of the West Ham half as he stood all alone.
The pass into the box found Dennis, but the striker still had a lot to do. Diop and Dawson stood between him and the goal, but Dennis delayed, faked to shoot and as Dawson threw himself down to block the shot that never came, Dennis shifted it on then fired into the top corner from just inside the penalty area. It was a phenomenally good finish, but Dawson allowed it to be far too easy by buying the trick. That is now one clean sheet in ten games.
Claudio Ranieri was worried his side would be shorn off rhythm having had so long between games and so few training sessions.
West Ham fans would have been worried that no wins in five games and a team without big players but plenty of miles in the legs would find fighting back too much of a challenge.
The pessimism was unfounded on this occasion. From the goal onwards, West Ham dominated the game.
Noble looked a concern early on, but as Watford were pushed back it allowed the captain a platform to play. His passing was incisive whilst others just kept it ticking over, and it forced his side onto the front foot.
They should have felt free to attack, Watford have not kept a clean sheet this season and for all the problems against Southampton, they still scored twice.
Benrahma soon came close and his goal in that Boxing Day game looked to have brought confidence back to his game. An effort from the edge of the box smashed the bar having been struck with wonderful power.
It set a tone and West Ham responded. The play focused down the right with Bowen and Coufal. The right back has been criticised this year but was at his best to keep probing with runs down the flank and crosses into the box.
A lovely cross from the right gave the Hammers an opening, the deep ball chested down by Benrahma to Bowen, whose shot was blocked before Antonio had a decent opening blocked on the follow up. The Algerian possibly could have taken it down himself.
There was a little scare as Diop was easily turned on the halfway line only for Noble to slot in and recover possession smartly, but otherwise it was all West Ham.
Eventually it was that right flank that got the reward the play deserved and got West Ham back into the game.
It was lovely and patient Football, Coufal and Bowen linking up repeatedly. Dropped back to Noble, it was the kind of clever pass we?EUR(TM)ve seen innumerable times from him that shifted the balance of the attack. Reversing the ball around his man, it gave Bowen space to turn and go at the defence.
As he did, Soucek drifted into the space behind the defence and into the area. Bowen slipped it through to him and Soucek wasted no time in hitting it low and hard into the corner to restore parity.
110 seconds later, Moyes?EUR(TM)s side were deservedly in front.
This time it was down the left, a long ball down the channel for Antonio to chase had him into the area down the side.
He stood up and waited for support. Benrahma arrived, the ball was played slightly ahead of him about eight yards from goal. He had to slide and stretch to hit it, but his shot had enough power to fly at goal. It looked destined to hit the goalkeeper, until Masina flicked out a leg and diverted it away from him and into the back of the net.
Watford had a late chance, Masina heading over in the box. It could have been more dangerous, Dennis was behind him in space and would have been a much better opportunity had his own defender not stretched for the bigger chance.
As the second half started, Watford looked eager to flood forward.
What it did was offer West Ham the chance to counter, and it looked like this route had stretched their lead.
Soucek nicked the ball on the halfway line and suddenly the break was on. Antonio carried it forward, before Lanzini passed wide for the overlapping Soucek, his ball across goal with his weaker foot flicked into the air before Bowen adjusted and volleyed home.
It all looked rosy, until VAR was called in and saw Soucek had fouled the Watford player to win possession and the goal was ruled out.
Fabianski was called into action after a Sissoko effort on the break, but Watford continued to offer little and were soon further behind.
This one truly was a late Christmas gift. Masina allowed a long ball to go over his head when he could have easily cleared, assuming it would roll out for a goal kick.
Antonio disagreed and chased it, keeping the ball in and clipping a cross back post.
It found a defender, but he decided to chest it down for his goalkeeper and allowed Bowen in to steal the ball back.
Bowen got his toe in just before Bachmann took him down, and whilst the referee gave a corner, he was soon sent over to the VAR screen and quickly awarded a penalty.
Up stepped the captain, Noble having the chance to score a goal in another Premier League season, his final one for the club.
The goalkeeper flew to his left and Noble just stroked it along the floor into the other corner to start celebrations with happier and wider smiles than you usually see on any football field. The spirit in the squad was clear in the delight they all shared to see the West Ham legend score once more.
There was just over half an hour remaining, but it wasn?EUR(TM)t until late that Watford looked to mount any sort of comeback.
West Ham got a bit sloppy and a bit tired, and Watford got desperate. Long balls into the box caused the odd scare, but Fabianski was never troubled.
In the end, it was the away side who scored again.
First there was a huge chance for Antonio, created wonderfully by Bowen to give the striker a one-on-one in the box.
Antonio went for power and forced a good save from Bachmann, but a subtle touch into the corner would surely have given him a goal his performance deserved.
Late substitutions had given West Ham energy, and it was one of those substitutes who rounded things off.
Bowen was excellent again, and whilst he was quieter second half, he looked dangerous every time he got at the defence.
This time a lovely chipped pass from an equally improved Coufal gave Bowen the chance to beat his man, run along the byline and cut it back for Nikola Vlasic to pass into an empty net and score his first Premier League goal.
With Benrahma off to the African Cup of Nations, it was the perfect time for Vlasic to break his duck and get the confidence he will need to make an impact on the first team.
Watford should have scored in stoppage time, first after Dawson dawdled on the halfway line and was caught. Joao Pedro ran at goal and then played Dennis in for a big chance, but out rushed Fabianski to close the space and save well.
From the corner, he produced an even better stop, Sierralta heading powerfully at goal and forcing Fabianski to tip over at full stretch.
There was to be no consolation. Instead it was West Ham coming from behind to hammer their opponents and move back into sixth place.
It could have big ramifications, a result that not only stopped the rot of one win in seven, but also gave added confidence to the likes of Antonio, Vlasic, Bowen and Benrahma.
Those latter two have outstripped last season already, Bowen on ten assists this year after six the season before. Benrahma, much maligned and rightly criticised in recent times, now has more goal involvements this season than last, with eight (five goals, three assists) compared to seven.
Of note too was the performance of Soucek. The change in his game has led to some doubting the big midfielder, but this was an all-action display and one well worthy of a man of the match award.
The games continue to come thick and fast, but they?EUR(TM)re certainly easier to play with a win behind you.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
A quiet game with sudden moments of brilliance. Important saves in the second half and then very impressive ones late on even though the game was over as a contest.
Maybe his best game this season. He and Bowen consistently combined well and both look better for having the other there with them.
Did his job defensively and was much less adventurous down the flank than Masuaku. Helped the balance of the team, but his passing wasn?EUR(TM)t great and he does need to improve there.
Rarely tested but not great when he was. Sloppy errors that could have been costly. An absolute bruiser in the air, though.
Quietly quite sloppy, making mistakes that were lucky to go unpunished too. Much the same as Dawson, really, in that they were not tested but gave big chances needlessly that otherwise could have been a big problem.
To start with, he looked a little off the pace as King and other runners got around him. But as Watford were forced back, Noble had the time to pass and showed the intelligence and guile that others in the team still lack. That helped his confidence grow and he was intelligent defensively from there too. Equalled Di Canio as second highest Premier League goalscorer.
Dominated the midfield up and down, was just about everywhere and brilliant in almost everything he did. He ghosted into the box very intelligently for the goal, made challenges all over the pitch and rescued the defence from dangerous situations.
How secure he is on the ball helps to give a platform for others. His presence deeper in midfield allowed Soucek to roam and Noble to take more risks with his passing in the Watford half.
Sharper today and better in possession. Less erratic moments and more direct threat, deservedly rewarded with a good goal.
His first half was brilliant, the right side dominating Watford and causing them all sorts of issues. He drifted a little out of the game in the second half but was then dramatically effective when he was involved. The penalty win was smart, the assist for Vlasic absolutely brilliant and he should have had another when setting up Antonio. Three assists and a wonderful performance.
Treated appallingly by a referee who allowed him to be almost attacked by the centre backs, Antonio made their lives uncomfortable in defence, created the goal for Benrahma and threatened. A little rest maybe has done him a world of good.
(Replaced Johnson, 82) A sharp and energetic cameo. Won the ball back well a few times in defence and his pace and running helped bring energy to the team.
(Replaced Benrahma, 85) Arguably couldn?EUR(TM)t have been anyone else you?EUR(TM)d want to grab a late bonus goal. Finished it well and worked hard off the bench.
(Replaced Lanzini, 90) Only on for minutes but did look full of running and tenacious.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Ben Johnson, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Mark Noble, Tomas Soucek, Manuel Lanzini, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Tomas Soucek 27 Said Benrahma 29 Mark Noble 58 Nikola Vlasic 90 .
Booked: Mark Noble 0 .
Sent off: None.
Watford: Bachmann, Masina, Cathcart, Sierralta, Femenia (Louza 41), Hernandez (Joao Pedro 45), Tufan (Sema 62), Kucka, Sissoko, King, Dennis.
Subs not used: Angelini, Gosling, Fletcher, Morris, Conteh.
Goals: Dennis (5).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Darren England.
Man of the Match: Jarrod Bowen.