By Kevin Affleck
The Hornets went to Newcastle last season with the Magpies desperately needing a win to kick some life into their mis-firing season.
Javi Gracia will take his side to St James' Park this time round needing a similar springboard, a win in any shape or form to get their campaign off the ground after West Ham plundered all three points at Vicarage Road this afternoon.
You couldn't fault the team's effort against the Hammers and their was no shortage of skill on show, but things just aren't going for this group right now, almost in complete contrast to the way matters panned out at the start of the last campaign.
It would be easy to look back at the miss by Will Hughes with the game in the balance at 1-1 after 55 minutes, but that would be simplifying things and harsh on the midfielder who had a decent game. The simple fact is you can't concede three goals at home for the second match in a row and expect to get anything. The team hasn't kept a clean sheet in 18 games, conceding 41 goals. Javi Gracia won't need anyone to tell him the back door needs to be put back on its hinges, shut and then padlocked.
It was a big shame it panned out this way as the stage looked set perfectly for Ismaïla Sarr and Danny Welbeck to charge off the bench and rescue this one with just over 15 minutes left, but they were being given their final instructions when Sébastien Haller killed the match stone dead with his second and West Ham's third. It was a long way back from there and the Hammers, as expected, comfortably saw the game out with relative ease. There was precious little Sarr and Welbeck could do about it.
Barring a sending off for the foul, it is difficult to imagine a worse possible start than the one Watford go off to. They went from half a shout for a foul in the box at one end to conceding a penalty at the other in a flash. Abdoulaye Doucouré was guilty of the needless foul on Manuel Lanzini, who had checked inside in the thick of the traffic, but more alarming was the hole West Ham carved through the middle of the pitch to get there. Once the penalty was award, Mark Noble was never going miss from there, not with a record of just four misses in his last 40. He sent Ben Foster the wrong way.
It could have all gone pear shaped from there and it might well have done had West Ham got a second soon after. Things were just not happening for the Hornets. The nervy Kiko Femenía gave the ball away cheaply to Noble, Andre Gray was sloppy with a pass to Doucouré and José Holebas kicked the third corner of the game straight out.
But, on the back of the unwavering support of the crowd, the Golden Boys got their spade out and dug deep. It wasn't always pretty but whatever it lacked it aesthetics it made up for in spirit.
Gerard Deulofeu hit the top of the bar after a lovely threaded pass from Doucouré; the Spaniard then waited that split second too long to allow Issa Diop to get back and a make a fine recovery tackle and then Doucouré had one smothered by Felipe Anderson. Hughes then flashed a teaser across the face of goal and quite rightly held his hands out, asking why there was no-one on the end of it.
Undeterred, Hughes kept plugging away and slid a ball around the corner a minute or so later and there was Gray to thump it into the far corner. Gray loves a winner at this ground but, although this one didn't carry that tag, it felt just as important.
You hoped the team might kick on from here and take the game by the scruff of the neck, but West Ham kept coming and kept banging on the door. Craig Cathcart read a cross from Ryan Fredericks superbly to cut out the danger at the near; Craig Dawson was quick to put out another fire minutes later and then an acrobatic effort from Haller was well-telegraphed by Foster. The biggest scare came four minutes before half-time when Anderson hit the post from a Lanzini corner.
It was pretty much end-to-end stuff and the Hornets had their fair share of chances, too. Gray caught one too well that ended up in the back of the Vicarage Road end, Femenía flashed one across the face and then Tom Cleverley had two efforts he probably would have caught sweeter had this not been since first league start since the beginning of March.
Still the Golden Boys kept coming after the break. A sublime piece of skill from Étienne Capoue, who plucked the ball out of the sky in the left-back spot and then bamboozled Lanzini, led to a chance Hughes really should have buried at the far post. It seemed easier to score from a Gray cross to the far post but he somehow scuffed it over. He couldn't believe it. Still, the crowd stuck with him and the team, chanting 'Hughesy, Hughesy'.
They loved it even more when Foster did what, well, Foster does. He timed a charged off his line to perfection when he smothered at the feet of Michail Antonio at the feet and then got up and wrestled the ball off Anderson like a tough tackling full-back.
You felt like the momentum was with the home side, that they would go on and nick this one but then it all changed in the space of nine crushing minutes. Haller tucked one in at the far post and then quickly hooked in another after Foster had made a brilliant save from Antonio. The West Ham sub patted Foster on the head, knowing the 'keeper deserved better than to be beaten after a reaction save like that.
Sarr and Welbeck charged on straight away, but it was a tall order to pull this one out the fire. The damage had been done. It was, all told, a bit of a hammer blow.
HORNETS: Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes (Sarr 74), Cleverley (Quina 86), Deulofeu (Welbeck 74); Gray. Subs not used: Gomes, Chalobah, Kabasele.