This one went as expected. Well, the result did anyway, as a much-changed Watford were well beaten by a full-strength West Ham United. Not too many, however, expected Nordin Amrabat to be sent off, Watford to concede two more penalties and Troy Deeney to miss one. Perhaps Watford decided to get all the drama out the way tonight.
Yes, this defeat will sting for a few hours but by the time the players walk into training tomorrow morning for their recovery session, their focus will be on the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday. That’s, ultimately, what’s important.
It’s never nice to lose. In an ideal world the Hornets would be capable of making seven changes and still come away victorious from their final trip to the Boleyn Ground. But the Premier League isn’t that forgiving. If a team isn’t at their best, like Watford tonight, they’ll be punished.
Quique Sanchez Flores won’t be too disheartened. For all his pre-match bluster about how he expected his side to be competitive, deep down he must have known a defeat was almost inevitable.
From the opening minute it was clear West Ham scented blood. Dimitri Payet forced an early save from Heurelho Gomes and then teed up the Hammers’ opener in the tenth minute. The French playmaker was given too much time on the ball to pick out a cross, and his delivery was met by Andy Carroll, who prodded past the Watford goalkeeper.
You sensed it would turn into a long night for Watford but the Hornets showed signs of life after conceding. They moved the ball neatly around the pitch and Jose Manuel Jurado, playing at number ten, had a shot pushed away by Adrian.
West Ham remained sharp, however. It felt only a matter of time until they added a second and, with one minute of the half remaining, Watford conceded a needless second goal.
A looping pass into the Watford area bounced towards Cheikhou Kouyate and Jose Holebas. The Hornets defender jumped early, Kouyate manoeuvred himself into the full-back and fell. A penalty was awarded. Mark Noble stepped up and scored. There were to be no penalty heroics from Gomes on this occasion.
The Hammers could’ve even had a third before half time but Manuel Lanzini managed to shoot wide from 10 yards.
Inevitably, Sanchez Flores made no changes at the break. Watford needed an early goal after the restart to have any hope. They created a golden chance. Jurado collected a loose pass, skipped past Winston Reid and crossed for Abdi. But, on the stretch from eight yards, the Swiss midfielder shot over.
Moments later it was 3-0. Abdi, back in his own box, fouled Michail Antonio. A second penalty was given. Noble stepped up and beat Gomes again.
With the game gone, Steven Berghuis and Ikechi Anya were introduced from the bench. It was Berghuis’ first appearance since January and he made an impact by creating Watford’s consolation. His low free-kick from the left was hooked in by Sebastian Prodl. It was a moment of joy for the travelling supporters.
The remainder of the half was controlled by West Ham. Strangely, Troy Deeney was brought on with 15 minutes remaining. It seemed a rather pointless risk to take but the skipper did have an opportunity to add to his tally for the season when Watford were awarded a late penalty for a foul on Prodl. However, in what summed up Watford’s night, Adrian saved.
It then got worse for the Hornets as Nordin Amrabat pointlessly fouled Reid in the dying seconds. He was shown a second yellow card and then a red. He will now miss the semi-final.
West Ham United: Adrian, Antonio, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Noble, Kouyate, Lanzini, Payet (Collins 90), Sakho (Moses 76), Carroll. Subs not used: Randolph, Byram, Tomkins, Obiang, Emenike.
Watford: Gomes, Paredes, Prodl, Cathcart, Holebas, Suarez, Behrami, Guedioura (Anya 55), Jurado (Berghuis 55), Abdi (Deeney 75), Amrabat. Not used: Pantilimon, Nyom, Britos, Watson.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Attendance: 34, 857.
Booked: Prodl, Suarez, Amrabat.
Red cards: Amrabat.