David Hautzig's Match Report
Much has been made about the effect money has had on football. Well folks, today at Vicarage Road was quite literally about money and nothing else. Sure, finishing in the top half would be nice. In today’s universe the two million pounds per place in merit payments are nicer. And that’s precisely what we got.
The opening minutes were all Watford. On twenty seconds Deulofeu broke in and beat Fabianski low to his right, but the flag went up. Two minutes later the former Barcelona man again found himself in a dangerous position but likely took his shot a bit early and Fabianski made a routine stop. Five minutes later the pressure continued, with Watford earning a corner. Hughes tried a YouTube worthy bicycle kick but didn’t catch it fully and Fabianski made the save.
West Ham had their first opportunity at the ten minute mark when Antonio won a free kick on the left side of the Watford eighteen yard box. Lanzini stepped up and drilled it right into the first two rows behind the Watford goal. The word “wasteful” came to mind, as well as out of the mouth of Tony Gale on television. At least the ball was on the other end of the pitch for a few minutes.
The last few weeks have seen a rebirth of sorts from Mark Noble. Fantastic performances against both Spurs and Southampton had to quiet the naysayers for a little bit. In the 15th minute, he began a run with a quick give and go with Antonio. When Noble got the ball back thirty yards from goal, the most likely scenario was The Captain looking for a run by Antonio or perhaps Anderson. Going at it alone wasn’t on anyones mind. Other than Noble, that is. A little shoulder dip to his left opened him up for a shot. Which he took. And it beat Foster. It might have been the best open play goal I’ve ever seen Noble score.
West Ham 1
Watford pressed for an equalizer, and again it was Deulofeu at the heart of the attack. He was on the receiving end of a cross from Pereyra, and did well to create space for himself inside the box to send a left footed shot at Fabianski that didn’t trouble our Hammer Of The Year. Moments later it was Pereyra inside the box that received the ball, but his low shot was right at the Hammers keeper. A minute after that Pereyra broke in on goal after Zabaleta slipped but his shot was blocked out for a corner. The first did nothing but create a second. The second created a throw. The throw was cleared out by Balbuena. But if the tide continued that way West Ham would be in danger of being washed away.
Remember at the start of the pre-season it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Antonio would be sold? Crystal Palace wanted him supposedly. Now, the idea of him leaving is almost unthinkable. He has the ability to use his brute strength to get out of crowded situations when he has no earthly right to do so. In the 39th minute, Noble sent a perfectly weighted ball over the top for Antonio to run onto. He did just that, but his first touch was off. No problem. He just made a new opportunity out of it, fighting his way through a crowd to get off a great shot that clanged off the bar and directly into the path of Lanzini. Thank you very much said the Argentine.
West Ham 2
The Hornets came oh so close to a goal in the final seconds of the half when a corner kick came to Kabasele, who headed the ball back across the face of goal where Deeney met it. But Fabianski dove down to his right and made a point blank save. “Save of the season” was the text from Nigel.
West Ham 2
Zabaleta doesn’t make too many completely boneheaded errors. The start of the second half brought just that. On the opening kick he made an awful attempt at a back pass to Fabianski and instead laid it on a silver platter for Deulofeu who strolled around the keeper and rolled it into the open net only nine seconds from the start.
West Ham 2
Before I could finish the annoying paragraph above, Antonio ran onto a long ball and was brought down by Holebas. The linesman immediately got the attention of the referee, and out came the red card. Harsh if I’m being honest, but I’ve lost all ability for opposition sympathy in my advanced years. West Ham did nothing with the free kick, and Watford came storming downfield. Deulofeu beat Zabaleta, and if he had gone down it could have been red for the Argentine right back. Instead he tried to find Doucoure but Anderson did his defensive work and intercepted the pass and cleared it over the bar for a Watford corner.
Which team was a man down again?
West Ham tried to reassert their authority by keeping hold of the ball and make Watford run around a bit. Noble eventually made a pass to Arnautovic at the top of the box, and Marko tried a turnaround shot but it went over the bar.
In the 60th minute, Zabaleta again made a horrific mistake in the box that should have cost West Ham a goal. Doucoure grabbed an errant ball from Zabaleta and passed to Gray in front of Fabianski. Masuaku got in the way, Gray went down, and every West Ham supporter likely expected a penalty. It didn’t happen. West Ham broke on a counter attack, with Anderson putting a lovely through ball for Arnautovic in the box. But when he should have shot, he tried one more move. That allowed Cathcart to make a great tackle and clear the ball from danger.
The Hammers should have finished it off in the 68th minute when Antonio headed a ball into the path of Arnautovic, but his shot had no pace and was from a tough angle. Foster had very little trouble.
Remember that match two years ago against Hull when they hit the woodwork four times, and the post was given Man Of The Match? Well, Mr. Lumber was good to us today, except on the attacking end. Zabaleta crossed the ball to Anderson, who volleyed it off the far post. Arnautovic was the first to react, and he dove to get the ball where it needed to be.
West Ham 3
The visitors should have made it four when Antonio got on the end of a long ball from Anderson. He tried to lob the ball over Foster, but didn’t quite put the ball high enough and Foster grabbed it. But moments later, Fememia clattered into Antonio inside the box and the referee pointed to the box. Noble stepped up and drilled it into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
West Ham 4
Serious question. What did the club see in Sanchez last summer? Let me know. Thanks.
“Finish joint 7th with the five points we earned but we’re not awarded. Not bad.” was the text I got from my best mate Jon. Usually when I make such complaints to him he says there’s no way we could ever know. All I know is that relegation was not a realistic fear at any reasonable time this season. To that end, along with some very good wins, a top half finish, and a lot of positive play, it can be considered a season of progress. The last time we felt progress was at hand, well, we were given Sofiane Feghouli. But that was then, and this is now. Which means it could be a different approach. I hope so.
I wish all of you a great summer, and I will be back on my sofa in August with my IPad, hoping for greater heights for West Ham.