David Moyes’ West Ham United claimed a victory of the highest-importance in terms of their Premier League status against Javier Gracia’s Watford at the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Hammers took the lead in the first period, striker Javier Hernandez doing what he does best from inside the penalty area, his third goal in the space of four English Top-Flight matches.
The Hornets had their chances either side of going behind but couldn’t take them, allowing Marko Arnautovic, on his return from injury, to net his seventh strike of the campaign in the League, later on, wrapping up the three points for his team on home turf.
A comfortable triumph for the East Londoners sees them re-affirm their position in 13th place, having only lost one of their last ten matches at home in all competitions now, whereas, the Golden Boys stayed just a place above, their defeaters level on points with them.
From the start in East London, Hammers manager Moyes decided on two alterations in the wake of his side’s first Premier League defeat of 2018, away at Brighton & Hove Albion last Saturday.
They were attacking ones too, two naturally defensive players in Declan Rice and Sam Byram were replaced by the returning duo of key stars Marko Arnautovic and Michail Antonio, while new signing and veteran Patrice Evra took up position on the substitutes bench.
Meanwhile, Hornets boss Gracia made no changes to the starting Xl that claimed his first victory in charge in Hertfordshire, a thrilling Monday Night Football thrashing of Chelsea at Vicarage Road.
The danger men were clear to spot in their starting Xl, the likes of Brazilian wonderkid Richarlison and former Everton man and Spanish International Gerard Deulofeu offering an attacking threat, so too captain Troy Deeney and midfielder Etienne Capoue.
The hosts would have the better of the early stages at the former Olympic Stadium, but for their relative dominance, the visitors were able to get the first effort off on goal
The Hornets won a corner on a rare break, new man Deulofeu took it short with Jose Holebas, his cross finding the head of Adrian Mariappa, Adrian San-Miguel doing well to get across and push it to safety.
Soon, it was the turn of the East Londoners to create some of the first-half’s more clear-cut openings and it came just after Deeney had almost played Deulofeu in for a glorious opportunity.
Arnautovic picked the ball up on the left, danced into the box, leaving several defenders for dead before exchanging passes with Joao Mario at which point he was hauled to the ground, playing the Portugal man clean through only to see his close-range shot saved by Orestis Karnezis.
The Austrian was incensed at Graham Scott’s decision not to point to the spot and it wasn’t the only time that Moyes’ men felt hard done by, by the Officials before the break.
Having warded off a promising spell in the final third for Gracia’s men, which included some dangerous moments for the likes of Richarlison and Deeney once more.
The Irons looked to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and so very nearly did so on the half-hour, Mario’s excellent work winning him a free-kick on the near side, one that he would pick out the head of Chicharito perfectly from.
The Mexican nodded home and wheeled away in celebration prior to noticing the offside flag up, replays showing the marginality of the call, though the Golden Boys couldn’t keep him at bay for long.
Just when it looked like the two teams might have been going in level, Antonio burst down the left with lightning pace and delivered for Hernandez, he shook off marker Marvin Zeegelaar with ease and found the back of the net in very similar circumstances.
The fox in the box keeping up his impressive recent scoring run and momentarily becoming the club’s highest scorer in the 2017/2018 season, he was later joined by a certain former Stoke City man.
However, in truth, he should have netted on his return far earlier, scuppering a remarkable opportunity prior to the goal, failing to convert from three yards after a James Collins flick-on.
There was no quick response to be found for the away side who still looked to be suffering from a hangover in the wake of their thrashing of Chelsea earlier in the week, though they would improve in the second period.
But, it wasn’t as if West Ham had chances to kill the game off before the visitors could get a sniff in the second-half, Arnautovic getting down the right and teeing up Mario, both he and Cheikhou Kouyate couldn’t finish.
Mere minutes later, he was bursting away once more, getting himself a corner with a scintillating run, Mario’s delivery was on the number, picking out Kouyate, who’s knock-down was somehow scrambled out for a corner by Sebastian Prodl.
They were almost instantly made to pay for those wasted opportunities, Deulofeu striking a free-kick that required a strong hand from Adrian to stop, so too a Holebas corner that almost went straight in before the hour.
If the start to the second period was a little manic, things died down after this but there were still chances to be had, Chicharito spurning two golden ones for the home side.
First, he got in on the right, beat two defenders and was left to square to Arnautovic for a simple tap-in, unable to get the ball out from under his feet and allowing Karnezis to gather.
Second, he got himself in, in very much the same fashion, looking to tee up the Austria International once more and once more, the Greece man between the sticks had other ideas.
His defences were finally broken with just over ten minutes remaining, however, Aaron Cresswell firing the rebound of a short-corner involving Antonio, Karnezis saving.
Holebas was there to clear, substitute Dodi Lukebakio got in his way though, deflecting the ball into the path of Arnautovic, his excellent close-control meaning that he couldn’t miss from point-blank range to join Hernandez as a top-scorer and send the Claret & Blue Army home happy.
A memorable London Stadium win for the Irons means that they carry on their unbeaten home run in 2018, while the ‘Orns were unable to repeat their feat of victory at the ground last term.
Both of these sides will now have a weekend off due to FA Cup Fifth-Round ties taking place, when they return, the Hammers face a daunting trip to Anfield to face off with Liverpool.
And the Golden Boys are at home to the other Merseyside club in Everton, a match that will be played out Vicarage Road and one they will hope to get back on track in.