Victories are always good and here was another for Hornets, their fifth of the season. But this one was particularly important coming as it did on the back of three straight defeats and at the end of a turbulent week. Normal service was well and truly resumed under the lights at Vicarage Road.
Will Hughes will get most of the plaudits after, building on a real tidy performance at Everton, he marked his first home start in the league with a goal, and an assist for Richarlison, the boy wonder from Brazil who now has five in a remarkable season so far. Hughes fully deserved the standing ovation he received when he came off seven minutes from time. Roberto Pereyra now has genuine competition for the No 10 role.
But these three points were built on a high energy team display where every player stuck their hand up, pressed their socks off and played with no little imagination and flair. They also stood up manfully to the aerial threat of Andy Carroll, who had been charged with roughing up the Watford back-line. It was the perfect way to build bridges after defeats, however unjust, against Chelsea, Stoke and Everton.
West Ham will point to the fact Heurelho Gomes made three outstanding stops when the score was delicately poised at 1-0, adding further material to his bulging Watford showreel but there was little doubt Watford were the better side here and fully deserving of all three Premier League points.
There was a fear West Ham might benefit from the bounce effect that comes with having a new manager in charge, and they signalled their intent by hitting Carroll with a long, searching diagonal ball from kick-off. From that moment Watford knew what sort of afternoon they were going to be in for.
Carroll caught Marvin Zeegelaar flush in the face, sending the full-back crashing to the floor. For a moment, it looked like the Dutchman might have to be substituted inside a minute before even touching the ball. But, bloodied and with two cotton tubes up his nose, he soldiered on. It was emblematic of the spirit with which Watford played. He wasn’t about to relinquish his place to Josè Holebas that easily.
And it was just as well he did as he was involved in the build-up for the opening goal. He combined with Richarlison down the left and slung over a threatening cross. Andre Gray missed his kick but Hughes certainly didn’t, connecting sweetly with the loose ball to arrow it past the despairing dive of Joe Hart. The England goalkeeper didn’t stand a chance. It was the goal everyone connected with Watford needed.
Watford started to play with more confidence, switching ball from right to left and attacking with equal purpose down both flanks. They played by far the more progressive and enterprising football and they could have made it two from one such move midway through the half. A neat one-two on the edge of the box involving Richarlison and Gray saw the Brazilian force a full-length dive to his left from Hart. The England keeper could only parry it into the path of Kiko Femenía who came within a whisker of arrowing the rebound into the far corner.
As in control as Watford were they still needed some heroics from their goalkeeper before half-time. Gomes dived bravely at the feet of Cheikhou Kouyaté to deflect his effort for a corner and, somehow, then went one better minutes later, pulling off an astonishing double save to deny Marko Arnautović. The West Ham forward couldn’t believe he hadn’t scored. Neither could David Moyes.
Arnautovic was in the thick of the action at the start of the second half, rolling Miguel Britos and cutting the ball back for Kouyatè. Running onto the ball, the midfielder only had to hit the target from ten yards out and he would have scored but he blazed over. That was a big let off for the Hornets and kind of summed up West Ham’s afternoon.
Back came the Hornets again, keen to give them themselves the breathing space of a two-goal cushion. Abdoulaye Doucoure cracked one just past the left-hand post and then Gray pushed one past the other upright. Watford were now really knocking on the door.
Hart then pulled something out of Gomes’ playbook when he kept out a point-blank header from Adrian Mariappa with a one-hand save. Again, Hughes was the creator.
You felt the goal was coming and so it did on 64 minutes. Hughes, who else, played in Richarlison down the inside left channel. The Brazilian drove one way, then the next before shifting the ball onto his apparent weaker left foot and drilling it across Hart and into the far corner. Vicarage Road went wild and everyone was left breathing that little bit easier.
The Hornets played the rest of the match with ease, which is just the way everyone involved with the club would have liked it after the week they’ve had.
HORNETS | Gomes (GK); Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía (Holebas 85), Doucourè, Cleverley, Zeegelaar; Hughes (Pereyra 83), Richarlison; Gray (Carrillo 90).
Subs not used: Karnezis, Prödl, Capoue, Okaka