While West Ham delivered, moving close to safety after producing the consistency David Moyes craves, the pressure weighed heavily on Watford. Nigel Pearson’s side fell apart on a torrid night at the London Stadium and will be full of anxiety before their final two games.
Relegation beckons if Watford defend this badly against Manchester City and Arsenal, even though they remain three points above Bournemouth and Aston Villa. It was too easy for West Ham to pull six points clear of the bottom three thanks to goals from Michail Antonio, Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice in the first half. Watford were abject. They froze in the opening period and deserved nothing despite a belated rally.
Watford were a shambles, showing none of the desire that might have been anticipated from a side deep in a relegation battle during the early stages. They were slow to the loose balls, timid in midfield and a mess at the back. As for running hard in an attempt to frustrate West Ham, forget about it. They barely laid a finger on West Ham’s dangerous attackers and it was no surprise to see the game run away from them inside a disastrous opening 10 minutes.
It was embarrassing from Watford, who appeared to be labouring under the misapprehension that they were coasting along in mid-table. They allowed West Ham to take charge from the start and there were only six minutes on the clock when Antonio delivered the latest example of his improved finishing, collecting a flick from Pablo Fornals before shooting low and hard past Ben Foster for his seventh goal since the resumption of the season.
You might have expected Watford to pay close attention to Antonio given that nobody in the division has scored more than the forward since lockdown. That, though, was giving them too much credit. Somehow Watford were not alive to the threat from a player who put four past Norwich last weekend and they were just as dozy when Jarrod Bowen cut inside from the right in the 10th minute and crossed for Soucek, who rose unchallenged to head home.
If only someone had told Watford that Soucek has already established himself as one of the most dangerous players in the air in the league. Yet there was no resistance from anyone in yellow. They merely stood, watched and allowed the Czech midfielder to claim his third goal since joining West Ham in January.
Pearson fumed at his meek side’s lack of organisation. There were flickers from Watford, who went close to pulling one back when Lukasz Fabianski made a smart save to deny Ismaïla Sarr, but West Ham were in charge. The hosts were not in the mood to loosen their grip and they pulled further clear nine minutes before half-time, Rice driving inside before sending a vicious long-range drive past the flat-footed Foster for his first goal of the season.
Watford were out early for the second half and Adrian Mariappa was on for Adam Masina, who paid for his failure to deal with Bowen’s threat on West Ham’s right. No doubt Pearson had torn into his players in the dressing room and Watford stirred, threatening when Christian Kabasele headed wide.
West Ham crept back, encouraging Watford to probe. After 49 minutes Abdoulaye Doucouré went past Ben Johnson, a 20-year-old right-back starting for the first time since making his debut in February 2019, before beating Angelo Ogbonna. The midfielder’s shot came back off the post and fell to Troy Deeney, who finished firmly.
Watford’s players roared, geeing themselves up like a Sunday League team shaking off a hangover. Nerves took hold of West Ham, who were on the retreat. They were making errors and lo sing cheap possession, giving Watford hope. Chances appeared and West Ham needed their centre-backs, Issa Diop and Ogbonna, to head away plenty of inviting crosses.
Yet West Ham, led by Mark Noble on his 500th appearance for the club, steadied themselves. There was no way back for Watford.