West Ham and Benrahma end winless run with emphatic victory at Watford

Premier League

Nothing summed up David Moyes’s influence on West Ham more than the sight of Jarrod Bowen tearing clear in added time to lay on Nikola Vlasic’s first goal in claret and blue. Once such a soft touch, this team does not know how to stop running. After all just look at Lukasz Fabianski sprinting the length of the pitch to join in the celebrations when Vlasic rounded off a superb fightback from West Ham, whose push for European football has fresh impetus after this resounding win.

Fabianski’s charge from his goal was typical of the togetherness that West Ham have developed under Moyes. This group is far fitter and sturdier than previous generations and there was a defiance to the way they responded after falling behind to Emmanuel Dennis’s early goal, the quality of their football too much for Watford to handle.” They’ve got a resilience to them,” Moyes said. “We’re not accepting them rolling over.”

This was a reminder they still intend to rival Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United for a place in the top four. Watford, two points above the bottom three after five consecutive defeats, could not cope with their power. Claudio Ranieri’s struggling side were horribly ragged after having three games called off because of Covid and they could not contain Bowen, who played a pivotal role in three of West Ham’s goals.

Bowen, a scurrying presence on the right, was outstanding. The winger sparked West Ham’s resurgence by creating Tomas Soucek’s equaliser midway through the first half and it was also satisfying for Moyes to see his side survive in the absence of the suspended Declan Rice. Mark Noble, who had not started a league game all season, had an excellent game once he had adjusted to the pace of it.

“He gave me the leadership I wanted,” Moyes said of Noble, whose penalty made it 3-1 early in the second half. Watford, by contrast, looked rudderless. They have lost eight times in 10 games since appointing Ranieri and could be in trouble if Dennis leaves to represent Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations next month.

It is easy to see why Ranieri wants to keep Dennis, although his hope that Watford can block the striker’s departure by arguing that Nigeria’s call-up arrived too late felt as convincing as his team’s defending. “We must find solutions,” Ranieri said. “It is not possible to continue in this way.”

Nikola Vlasic (left) celebrates his first goal for West Ham. Photograph: West Ham United/Shutterstock

Watford had seen a chance to attack West Ham, who had only 48 hours to prepare after losing to Southampton.

The hosts had barely managed to train because of the disruption to their schedule but they did not look rusty during the early stages.They led after four minutes, Joshua King finding Dennis, who left Craig Dawson on the floor with a deft shimmy and sent a rising shot beyond Fabianski.

West Ham, who have struggled at the back since losing Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell and Kurt Zouma to injury, stayed calm. Michail Antonio tormented Francisco Sierralta and Craig Cathcart, Watford’s centre-backs, and it was not a surprise when the equaliser arrived in the 27th minute.

The pressure had been growing, Saïd Benrahma hitting the bar with a bending effort, and Watford paid for sitting on their lead when Bowen released Soucek, who spanked a low shot past Daniel Bachmann.

Moussa Sissoko was the player guilty of dozing off when Soucek made one of his trademark runs from midfield and it was not long before West Ham were ahead. Manuel Lanzini released Antonio and the striker sped clear before picking out Benrahma, who beat Bachmann with the aid of a deflection off Adam Masina.

West Ham, who had lost Pablo Fornals to a positive Covid test, had clearly decided that Watford’s full-backs were weak links. Benrahma had plenty of joy against Kiko Femenía, who went off injured before the break, and the hosts were fortunate not to fall further behind at the start of the second half. Bowen had volleyed past Bachmann from close range but a VAR review confirmed that Soucek had fouled Dennis at the start of the move.

Watford tried to hit back, Sissoko testing Fabianski, but they remained shaky at the back. Masina, skittish at left-back, let Antonio charge on to a loose ball and cross to the far post, where Bachmann brought Bowen down after more indecision. Another VAR check confirmed the inevitable and Noble confidently tucked the penalty away, allowing West Ham to cruise along before Vlasic made it 4-1.

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