Wow. The Olympic Stadium has not seen drama like this since Super Saturday four years ago when Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford won gold.
Watford only recovered from losing positions three times last season to grab a point but, in thrilling fashion, they came from two down here to score four unanswered goals in an astonishing 18-minute spell either side of half-time to secure all three points in what should be a breakthrough victory for Walter Mazzarri and his rapidly-changing Watford side.
The Italian had said on Friday that he was a cautious coach but fielding an incredibly attacking side, he took last season’s handbrake off, threw off the shackles and watched his side stun a West Ham side who had led 2-0 thanks to two headers from Michail Antonio. This was catch-your-breath stuff. It was the first time Watford had scored four since March 2015 but West Ham are different opposition altogether to the Reading side Watford faced that day.
The afternoon looked like panning out so very differently. Watford are, on average, the tallest side in the Premier League so really should not have conceded two goals from first-half headers, even if they were scored by Antonio, who has scored ten headers in just over a season for West Ham. Slack marking from Etienne Capoue allowed the winger, recently called up to the England squad, to head in the first on five minutes in what was the worst possible start for the Hornets.
Mazzarri switched things to 4-5-1 and then back to 3-5-2 yet West Ham still were getting plenty of joy down the flanks, a route they used to good effect to claim what looked a game-clinching second on 33 minutes. Payet got in the space behind the absent Jose Holebas and found himself one-v-one v Miguel Britos before producing an outrageous rabona cross that Antonio, peeling off the back of Janmaat, planted past Gomes. Game over, or so we thought.
Watford had arguably had the two best chances of the helter-skelter first half before that, both falling to Ighalo and resulting from inventive play from the eye-catching Roberto Pereyra. And just as half-time approached, they made one of their chances count, Ighalo finding the back of the net for his first league goal of the season and only his third in 22 league games.
A foothold in the game then, thrillingly, became a platform when Deeney produced a finish of the highest class, curling the ball over the West Ham keeper and two defenders following a mix-up at the back. He will have scored few better in a Watford shirt. From nowhere, and in spectacular fashion, Watford somehow found themselves level at the break.
Eight minutes after half-time and, incredibly, the visitors were in front. Pereyra was again in the thick of the action that saw Ighalo fail to connect with an overhead kick but Capoue show outstanding technique to rattle in his team’s third and his third of what is shaping up to be a golden season for him. The away fans were in dreamland.
They needed pinching just past the hour when Holebas scored his first goal for the club, finding the back of the net after a cut-back from Ighalo. It said much for the attacking verve Watford played with that Holebas found himself on the edge of the box with his side 3-2 up.
Indeed, Mazzarri refused to rest on his laurels and shut up shop, bringing on Isaac Success and then Stefano Okaka in two bold, attacking changes. And Okaka almost made it a dream debut but his goal was ruled out for offside. But it didn’t matter. Watford had turned a two-goal deficit into a two-goal margin of victory. It was one of those “I was there” afternoons.
West Ham United: Adrian; Byram (Tore 85), Collins, Reid, Masuaku; Lanzini, Noble (Calleri 69), Kouyate; Antonio, Zaza (Fletcher 79), Payet
Unused: Randolph, Nordveit, Obiang, Ogbonna
Watford: Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul (Prodl 82), Britos,; Janmaat, Capoue, Pereyra, Behrami, Holebas; Deeney (Okaka 82), Ighalo (Success 78)
Unused: Guedioura, Zuniga, Watson, Pantilimon