West Ham bounce back to dominate Watford

West Ham bounced back from Emmanuel Dennis’ third-minute opener to ease to a dominant 4-1 win at Watford and cut the gap to the top four to four points.

Dennis’ self-made stunner (4) – his eighth goal of the season – appeared to answer any questions over whether the Hornets would be rusty in their first game for 18 days. But the bright performance the goal encouraged never materialised and the Hammers were soon in full control to raise the pressure on Claudio Ranieri, whose side have now lost their last five games.

Said Benrahma’s warning shot against the woodwork served as anything but as the home side hung on against mounting West Ham pressure, but eventually their defences were finally breached as Tomas Soucek fired in Jarrod Bowen’s slide-rule pass to level (27).

Less than two and a half minutes after they had led, Watford were behind. Michail Antonio’s run to the byline gave him time to look up and find Benrahma, who went one better from his earlier effort and beat Daniel Bachmann courtesy of a kind nick off Adam Masina (29).

Only a generous VAR decision stopped Watford falling further behind three minutes into the second half when Soucek was penalised for a soft foul several seconds before adding what he thought was West Ham’s third.

Another decision from the video assistant made amends for the visitors as Bachmann was judged to have fouled Bowen in the box, and captain Mark Noble sealed victory from 12 yards (58) before Nikola Vlasic rounded off a superb afternoon for the Hammers in added time with a simple finish (90 4).

Watford remain outside the bottom three but they have not picked up a single point since costing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job against Manchester United on November 20, while West Ham jump above Tottenham into fifth, four points off Arsenal in the final Champions League spot.

Player ratings

Watford: Bachmann (5), Femenia (5), Sierralta (5), Cathcart (6), Masina (5), Tufan (4), Sissoko (5), Kucka (4), Hernandez (4), King (5), Dennis (7).

Subs: Louza (5), Pedro (6), Sema (5).

West Ham: Fabianski (7), Coufal (7), Dawson (6), Diop (6), Johnson (7), Soucek (8), Noble (7), Bowen (8), Lanzini (7), Benrahma (8), Antonio (7).

Subs: Masuaku, Vlasic, Kral (n/a).

Man of the match: Tomas Soucek

Hammers leave Watford dazed after deserved thrashing

Bright moments have been few and far between for Watford of late, with four successive defeats evaporating much of the early optimism about Ranieri’s appointment.

Even with almost three weeks since their last game, they burst into life against the Hammers, with Dennis – so many times their saviour – again the architect. He engineered space against a sluggish Craig Dawson on the edge of the area, before beating Fabianski with a fine finish into the top corner.

The Hammers showed no ill effects of that early setback and were soon on the offensive, with a number of well-timed last-ditch blocks from Craig Cathcart the only thing denying them a rapid comeback.

The hosts should have taken heed as Benrahma waltzed in off the left and, unchallenged, smacked the goalframe from 20 yards. Likewise, West Ham’s dominance in midfield against an ageing Juraj Kucka should have caused more concern.

Watford's Emmanuel Dennis celebrates scoring against West Ham

Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis celebrates scoring against West Ham

With neither warning shot addressed, Soucek’s route to goal for West Ham’s equaliser was simple enough – he strode forward unmarked to latch onto Bowen’s ball in behind, and with Cathcart slow to react this time, he had a simple finish to fire past Bachmann.

As poor as that was, West Ham’s quickfire second was worse. Watford appeared punch drunk as joy turned to despair inside three minutes, with Antonio allowed down the outside of Kiko Femenia into the area before finding Benrahma, with a touch of fortune taking his effort past Bachmann courtesy of Masina’s deflection.

The Hornets recovered to stem the tide before half-time, but having pieced their game plan back together it took less than three minutes of the second half to seemingly unravel again. Another Cathcart intervention ensured a touch on Soucek’s cross but this time took it straight to Bowen, who bundled over the line from four yards. If that was unfortunate, the VAR decision to overturn the goal for a minor foul around 10 seconds before it was scored appeared more forgiving.

West Ham had fewer grievances about VAR’s next intervention. Kucka’s attempted chest back to Bachmann ended up falling short and when Bowen beat the goalkeeper to the ball, he was taken out by the Austrian. Referee Darren England initially pointed for a corner kick, but after viewing a video replay on the VAR monitor, he could have little hesitation in overturning that decision, and allowed Noble to send Bachmann the wrong way from 12 yards.

Watford looked to make a game of it late on but owed as much to minor instances of complacency slipping into West Ham’s performance than their own good work, and from one piece of lax Hammers defending Joao Pedro was denied by a sprawling Fabianski.

Defensive mishaps were more the speciality of the hosts, though, and in added time allowed the visitors to seal a fine afternoon as Bowen worked his way past Francisco Sierralta with ease and pulled the ball back for Vlasic to fire into an empty net.

That manner of defeat, as much as the loss itself, will raise questions about whether Watford’s trigger-happy owners may be tempted into a second managerial change of the season – the Hornets remain two points above the bottom three, but 18th-placed Burnley have two games in hand.

At the very least, back-to-back games with Newcastle and Norwich in January may go a long way towards defining the Hornets’ season, regardless of who sits in the dugout.

What’s next?

Watford see in 2022 by welcoming Tottenham to Vicarage Road on New Year’s Day; Kick-off at 3pm.

Later that afternoon, West Ham travel to Crystal Palace in a London derby, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm; Kick-off at 5.30pm.