West Ham United 1 Watford 0
Tuesday, 8th February 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham reached the magical 40-point mark this evening, a 1-0 win against Watford enough to get The Hammers back to winning ways after two Premier League defeats on the spin. In a game that will be remembered more the decision to start Kurt Zouma than the rather dull affair on the pitch, a second-half Jarrod Bowen goal broke the deadlock and earned the home side all three points.After a day of controversy surrounding summer signing Zouma, fans turned to the match to get back to football. But many were surprised to see the Frenchman named in the starting line-up after video had emerged him cruelly kicking and striking his cat at home over the weekend. The manager called it a footballing decision; many will feel morality should trump it. The debate will continue to rumble.
As for the game itself, the matter at hand, it was one of those games where the term "war of attrition" will be used to hide the plainer meaning that it was a dull affair, low on quality and with Watford happy to defend deep and try hit the hosts on the counter. Considering how much David Moyes's side had struggled to break down Kidderminster Harriers' low-block at the weekend, fans will be forgiven for worrying about just how their side would deal with the challenge.
The concerns were warranted, so slow were West Ham on the ball throughout the first half, and much of the second, that Watford were always allowed to get back into their shape and create two banks to get through. Antonio trudged through the game with little supply of any quality to get his teeth into and made poor touches on the rare occasions he did receive a pass.
It was a 45 minutes that reflected poorly on all involved, save the centre back pair who did their jobs well and snuffed out a couple of Watford opportunities when called upon. Many won't like it, but Zouma was very strong in his defensive work throughout the game, as Dawson was too.
There were two chances in the half to get fans off their seats.
The first was Watford's. the lively Kamara bursting down the wing after Rice was easily dispossessed in the Watford half. The left-back made a 70-yard dash to overlap his midfielder and then produce a delightful cross to the far post, looping just over Cresswell to where Kucka waited for it. It dropped onto his head perfectly for the midfielder to head into the corner, only for his effort to go well wide. At about eight yards from goal and with no challenge on him, the midfielder should have opened the scoring.
For West Ham, there was little to lift the fans from their seats, although a mazy Craig Dawson run out from the back will always be exciting. Soucek did have an opportunity from a corner, rising up to meet it not far from goal and heading over, but the big chance fell to Benrahma ten minutes before the break.
It came from Bowen on the right, beating two men as he came in off the flank then sliding a reverse pass down the right side of the penalty area for Benrahma in yards of space. Foster reacted, sprinting off his line to smother the space and block the firm drive from the Algerian. It fell back to the West Ham man, but he had to hurdle a prone Watford player and was forced wide, meaning his shot on the rebound came from a tight angle and could only find the post.
Half-time came to the relief of all involved as a forgettable half was cast far from the memory. The two sides came out unchanged, both in personnel and attitude. Watford still wanted to defend deep and break when possible, West Ham were still moving the ball too slowly to force their opponents out of shape. Soucek's passing was loose, but his defensive contribution was immense, particularly in the air. Others like Rice, Fornals and Benrahma were struggling to pass incisively, leading to a continuation of that fabled war of attrition from the first half.
Lanzini was brought on for Benrahma on the hour-mark, sparking a change in approach as the Argentine was tasked with moving the ball neatly and quickly through packed areas and finding the space to move the ball through Watford. For the first ten minutes of his time on the pitch, he was quiet, on the fringes, but his first notable pass was through the lines in the centre of the park and opened Watford up for the first time in the game.
Taking the ball just inside the West Ham half, the midfielder moved it forward and then played between two midfielders as Jarrod Bowen drifted off from the right wing and into the middle. He was not followed, giving him time and space to turn to goal and drive at the Watford backline.
They stalled, forced backwards until Bowen got 25 yards from goal. With no great options to pass, the winger instead took aim from distance and hit what was a poor shot low and away to Foster's left. The goalkeeper dived, but was beaten cruelly as the effort took a ricochet off the inside of Samir's leg and bounced into the opposite corner and past a floored Ben Foster to give West Ham the breakthrough in a tight game. It was far from Bowen's best goal of the season, but the movement into space and into the middle was something a bit different, and the kind of thinking that exposed a simple Watford plan with just over 20 minutes remaining.
It got West Ham going too, Watford unsettled as they now had to chase the game and the home side gaining a little confidence from breaking the visitors' stubborn resistance. A lovely move through Bowen fed Cresswell in down the left, but the full-back hit his pass across goal too firm and too high for Antonio to make something of it. A ball slid low may have found a different result.
However, a little confidence in a one-goal lead does not mean a moment can't go against you. Cleverley forced a good save from Fabianski after a powerful effort from the edge of the area.
Both teams had chances as the clock ticked down. Bowen, the bright spark in the attacking third, forced a fantastic save from Foster after cutting in from the right side once more. The low shot from just inside the box was tipped onto the post by Foster, a fantastic save to keep his side in the match.
Up the other end, a ball drilled across the six-yard box evaded the touch of any Watford forward, Coufal doing enough to block King when the striker looked close to prodding the ball home.
A late cross was claimed brilliantly by Fabianski and the final whistle went, West Ham getting back to winning ways after a tough few weeks, on and off the pitch. If the madness of the transfer window wasn't enough, the Zouma controversy again proved that life around West Ham is certainly rarely dull.
We await more from the club on how they handle that, and likely more criticism for the defender's appearance this evening. But a win is a win, and those are three valuable points as West Ham sit fourth at the start of February.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
When called upon, Fabianski did his job perfectly. The claim for the cross at the end was brave, but forthright and confident. A contrast to what was on offer at the weekend.
Not an awful display, but there were too many moments where he made the wrong decision on the ball, or the right decision executed poorly. However, he worked hard up and down the flank and made good defensive contributions. To his credit, he rarely puts a foot wrong defensively.
Has had better games on the ball, but a calm and consistent presence.
For better or worse, Zouma played very well. Whether he should have had that opportunity is down to your own opinion.
The central defenders had a very good game, dealing with most things and reacting well to moments of danger.
A funny game for Rice. Less of the big, blockbuster runs, and a couple of sloppy occasions where he lost the ball in ways that were very uncharacteristic. Drove the team forward, covered back on the counter well, but not to his usual high standards.
He is going to get hammered by some for a few sloppy moments on the ball, but he played a couple long passes very well and was a very important presence in defence. Not just winning headers - 9 aerial duels won - but also covering and shielding the defence.
Didn't really get into the game at all. Worked hard and was definitely a better choice to remain on than Benrahma as his discipline and work rate are important, but didn't quite make enough happen in the final third.
One big chance aside, Benrahma wasn't in the game. Probably should have done better with his chance, but couldn't make anything happen as Watford limited the space to play in.
The star in attack, very much looking like a man in form and high on confidence. Kamara was fast and energetic, but Bowen slowly got the better of him. The danger came pretty much from him alone. His corners were dangerous, he created a huge chance for Benrahma, got the lucky break on the goal and was less lucky as Foster stopped him with a fantastic save. As others struggled, Bowen stepped up.
A little bit unfortunate that it was a game where the quality into him was poor. But he was sloppy in many areas of his own game and marshalled well by Samir, although his frustration late on with the assistant referee was justified.
(Replaced Benrahma, 59) As he ever is, Manu was neat and tidy on the ball, floating around to link play, and whilst he didn't get involved quickly, it was him coming deep and passing between Watford players that opened up the space for the goal.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Jarrod Bowen 68 .
Sent off: None.
Watford: Foster, Femenia (Ngakia 78), Cathcart, Samir, Kamara, Sissoko, Cleverley (Joao Pedro 77), Kucka, Dennis, King, Kayembe (Louza 77).
Subs not used: Bachmann, Masina, Sema, Kabasele, Kalu, Hernandez.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the Match: Jarrod Bowen.