West Ham United 3 Watford 0
This was no surprise result given the circumstances but one in which Andy Carroll fired his calling card in the direction of Roy Hodgson once more. Carroll set West Ham on the way to a comfortable victory over depleted Watford and was his usual swashbuckling self throughout, just weeks before England name their squad for the European Championship.
Carroll scored his sixth goal in five Premier League appearances and, backed up by Dimitri Payet and Diafra Sakho, was at his troublesome best against this makeshift Watford side who rested players in preparation for their FA Cup semi-final this weekend. The opposition may not have been the strongest, but on this evidence Carroll is a man in as good nick as he has ever been.
Payet was also excellent and Mark Noble accomplished in midfield. It was the West Ham captain who scored twice from the penalty spot before Sebastian Prödl pulled one back for Watford with a fine finish, Troy Deeney missed a late penalty and Nordin Amrabat was sent off.
It did not take long for West Ham to exert control. Watford made seven changes following the weekend victory over West Brom – a first Premier League win in seven attempts – ahead of their FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace at Wembley on Sunday.
It is a match that has been looming for some time, given that Watford’s safety has never really been in jeopardy‚ and neither Deeney, Odion Ighalo or Ben Watson started here, Ighalo not even making the squad. It was always going to be a result of secondary importance for Quique Sánchez Flores’ side but nonetheless represented an opportunity for fringe players to make an impression.
However, they were undone within 11 minutes. West Ham dominated the early exchanges and there was no surprise at the combination for the goal. Payet, who has been in sublime form this season following his move from Marseille last summer, cut inside and lifted a precise ball over the defence for Carroll, who prodded home with his left foot past Heurelho Gomes. Payet ran the game during a first-half that included flicks and numerous demonstrations of skill. He almost put Sakho in moments after the goal but the pass was just too long for the forward, making his first start in three weeks, and a swerving run from the Frenchman was blocked.
Watford started slowly and, although they certainly improved after Carroll’s goal, West Ham carried the greater threat. José Manuel Jurado was the Hornets’ best player and forced a save from Adrián in the 17th minute when the opposition defence opened up, yet it was the Hammers’ attacking triumvirate who were easy on the eye.
One wonders where West Ham would be in the table had Carroll, Payet and Sakho all been fit throughout the season. They were an imposing presence and, as the chances came, Watford inevitably conceded another. It came controversially, though, as Jose Holebas grappled with Cheikhou Kouyate and referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty despite protestations from the Watford defender. Mark Noble sent Gomes the wrong way from the spot.
It should have been three before half-time. With Watford still coming to terms with the second, Sakho found space down the right and slid the ball inside for Manuel Lanzini, yet the Argentinian somehow scuffed his shot wide with the goal gaping. In the end Slaven Bilic's men did not have to wait long for another, following a few minutes to forget for Almen Abdi. Watford should have pulled one back through their Swiss midfielder after Lanzini had given the ball away poorly with a blind pass in midfield in the 52nd minute. The impressive Jurado then beat his man down the left before squaring across goal for his team-mate, but Abdi could only stretch out a leg and poke narrowly wide.
Just moments later and he had given away a blatant penalty. A whisker from clawing his side back into it, suddenly Abdi had sealed Watford's defeat after lunging at the West Ham right-back Michail Antonio, who had made a bustling run forward. Again Noble stepped up and again he scored, down the middle.
Watford’s fans had something to cheer. in the 64th minute when the centre-half Prödl timed his run well from Steven Berghuis’ free-kick and finished sweetly with a left-footed half-volley.
It was a dramatic last few minutes as Deeney, brought on at the death, had a penalty saved by Adrian after Prödl was adjudged to have been fouled by Antonio, before Amrabat was sent off following a second yellow card for a rash slide on Winston Reid.