Match Report: Watford 1-4 West Ham United
By Kevin Affleck
The Hornets will head to their second ever FA Cup final like they did in their first: without their suspended first-choice left-back after José Holebas joined Wilf Rostron in being controversially sent off before the showpiece game at Wembley.
Holebas is not in the greatest of moods at the best of times, but he'll be absolutely livid about missing the match with Manchester City. He'll argue that he put nothing more than a right hand on the shoulder of the Michael Antonio when the forward charged through the heart of the defence with only Ben Foster to beat on 48 minutes. But Antonio went down and referee Chris Kavanagh, with a little help from his assistant Dan Cook, felt he had no option but to send off Holebas. The left-back sunk to his knees. He couldn't believe it. It was 1984 all over again when Rostron was sent off against Luton.
Throw in a heavy 4-1 defeat and the slip from tenth to 11th in the table, this represented a pretty rotten afternoon for the Hornets, but it will all be forgotten if we topple Manchester City on Saturday.
The first half was not the sort of preparation anyone had in mind for the cup final. The team started bright enough, with Gerard Deulofeu finding the bottom corner with one effort when he was offside and then almost putting in another when he was onside. It was that sort of start.
Fabián Balbeuna was then forced into emergency action to hack away a flashing centre from Will Hughes while the playmaker then thumped a pre-planned corner straight into Christian Kabasele, and saw his overhead kick on the rebound well held. The Hornets were so close yet so far from taking the lead.
But then it all started to unravel, bit by bit, thread by thread. Mark Noble was allowed to waltz through from 40 yards out, play a one-two with Antonio, stroll round Kabasele and then beat Foster after 15 minutes. The goal was a bit of a shock as West Ham hadn't really thrown a punch up until that point.
Instead of serving as motivation to raise their game, the goal knocked the stuffing of the home side and they were at six and sevens for large parts. Even the laser-guided left boot of Foster was off target, the keeper larruping one clearance straight into touch. You knew something was afoot when Foster was mis-guiding his missiles.
There was nothing wrong with Foster's glove work, though, the Player's Player of the Season producing a fine, flying save to tip a shot from Antonio onto the bar. Unfortunately, Manuel Lanzini was quickest to follow up and he nodded the ball home from close range on 39 minutes. It was a horror goal to concede, from allowing Antonio to muscle past three players to get away a shot and then the fact nobody was anywhere near Lanzini when it came to helping out Foster after he made a world-class save.
At that stage, it was shaping up to be a repeat of the home game with Bournemouth in October and it might well have been had Felipe Anderson managed to curl a free-kick under the bar instead of over it. West Ham were two goals up and probably couldn't believe it as they hadn't really offered much.
The Hornets had a bit of a go before half-time. Roberto Pereyra hit one on the spin and then perhaps should have gone for the jugular after things opened up for him after a slip by Pablo Zabaleta. Lukasz Fabiański then pulled off an astonishing reflex save to deny Troy Deeney from close range. The save did two things. It came right on the stroke of the half-time, meaning the fans were too busy ooing and aahing to boo the team at the break and also provided confirmation this really wasn't going to be their day.
The game teased and toyed with the Hornets just after the break, offering them hope and a possible route back into the match when Gerard Deulofeu pounced on an under-hit back pass from Zabaleta, rounded Fabiański without touching the ball and slotted it into an empty net. Game on. Or so we thought.
The hope was blown to smithereens within two minutes when Holebas was dismissed. With him went Watford's hopes of getting anything out of this one. They had a right go for ten minutes, generating a couple of optimistic penalty shouts but West Ham, with an extra man, were always going to finish the game stronger, especially with the Watford players seeking to keep a bit in the tank for next week.
West Ham's third was coming. Craig Cathcart produced a brilliant interception to deny Arnautović and then Foster saved with his legs to deny the former Stoke City forward. He wasn't to be denied for a third time, though, slotting in from close range after Anderson had hit the post. Seven minutes later, on 78 minutes, it was four when Noble helped himself to his second from the spot after Femeńia brought down Antonio. It was tough to hear the visiting fans chanting for five.
The final whistle couldn't come quick enough. Everybody just wanted to get out of here with no more suspensions, no injuries and no more goals. It will be best to just draw a line under this one has soon as possible. There are bigger fish to fry.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes (Masina 69), Doucourè, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu (Gray 59), Deeney (C).
Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Janmaat, Success and Chalobah.