Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Watford 0 v 4 West Ham United

We're winning away,
We're winning away,
How shit must you be?
We're winning away!

It may be to damn them with faint praise, but West Ham finally look as though they have arrived in this division. The early-season rust is clearing; new faces are becoming accustomed to their surroundings; disappointment is gradually morphing into determination. Here, they despatched a limited but experienced Watford side despite barely getting out of second gear, emerging with four goals, three points and barely a bubble pricked. Their escape route from the Championship will be paved with games such as these. After this ultimately comfortable victory, Sam Allardyce has achieved within his first three games what West Ham's two previous full-time managers never did: masterminding consecutive away wins. It was the first time they had won successive games on the road for four long years, a shambolic travelling circus stretching back to December 2007. It was also the second clean sheet in a row from a team that leaked goals last season like a sieve.

The visitors pierced Watford's fragile confidence with a goal early in the first half and destroyed it with another at its end, leaving the second period to be little more than a procession, one which they decorated with some excellent football and two further goals. "The quality of all four goals was something to be admired," said Allardyce. "We've got everything right. It's not often you see all your team playing what you think is the best they can play. It's how we defended as well. I wouldn't have thought they can get much better than they were tonight." Asked whether last night's display would go some way to healing the scars of last season, Allardyce added: "When you do what they did against Watford confidence flows back. Winning games the way we did can do a lot to that winning mentality."

No wonder Big Sam milked the applause on the pitch at the end as Hammers fans hailed him. Little by little, West Ham are responding to their manager's ideas. Allardyce is nothing if not a fast learner, and having met a striker shortage by signing John Carew from Aston Villa, he has given his side more attacking impetus by pushing Kevin Nolan further forward, into a role more akin to that he played for Newcastle last season. As against Doncaster on Saturday, Nolan orchestrated affairs and worked harder than anyone else when West Ham lost the ball. And as against Doncaster, West Ham took an early lead. Carlton Cole was fouled as he contested his goalkeeper's clearance, Matt Taylor's subsequent free-kick from 35 yards was tipped round a post and James Tomkins headed in the resulting corner after Watford failed to pick up his run to the far post; rising unchallenged to head back across Scott Loach and into the far corner for his first goal since April 2009. It was four minutes on Saturday; here the clock stopped on barely three.

It is scarcely possible for a goal scored that early to come against the run of play, but the Hornets had at least managed to squeeze in an attack before falling behind, Robert Green gathering John Eustace's shot at the second attempt. Watford contributed fully to a bright opening period. Sean Dyche's team were over-reliant on the tactic of looping balls over the visiting defence for the impressive Marvin Sordell to run on to, and it nearly brought them an equalizing goal in the 15th minute, only for Green to flick out an arm to nudge a curling shot past the post. It was a pivotal moment. Discussing Green's future, Allardyce said: "It's obviously a very delicate situation as we're in the Championship and there's only a certain length we can go."

Another searing Sordell run down the left culminated in a fine cut-back that was only just behind the onrushing Chris Iwelumo. The home side's threat, though, could not be sustained. The teams traded chances thereafter until, in the second of one scheduled minute of injury time, Joey O'Brien advanced from right-back and, as Watford's defenders scattered to cover more obvious attacking threats, found his path largely clear as he continued into the 18-yard box. After his attempted pass to Cole was deflected back to him, he poked a measured shot past Loach for his first goal in over six years. Given his attacking importance in a team not blessed with natural wingers, he should get more chances this season.

West Ham looked a lot happier after that. They were rarely threatened in the second half, and managed to take advantage of a flagging Watford to double their winning margin. Nineteen minutes from time, Nolan released Herita Ilunga on the left byline and his low cross was bundled in by Cole from around 18 inches. The England striker had got the nod ahead of Frédéric Piquionne. Interestingly, Allardyce brought Piquionne on for Cole almost as soon as he had scored. Cole insists he is staying at the club though. Carew – not fit enough yet – is eyeing his place, too.

Meanwhile, the midfield trio of Parker, Noble and Nolan looked less cluttered than in their first outing against Cardiff City, with Parker and Noble sitting slightly deeper. Parker reacted sharply to Craig Forsyth's attempts to snatch the ball from his hands in the first half, then smacked a fierce right-foot shot just over the bar from 25 yards. In the first minute of injury time, he collected a pass from Julien Faubert – making his first appearance since January – to score his first goal of the season, tiptoeing to the edge of the area and placing his left-footed shot low into the corner. Still seeking a move to the Premier League, Parker knows that every game he plays for West Ham now could be his last. The fans knew it too, and chanted his name heartily until the final whistle.

Watford's fans only cheered once in the second half and even then they were being ironic, as the already unpopular summer signing, Iwelumo, was replaced. When Dyche decided to buy a target man, abuse from his own fans was hardly what he had in mind. "For parts of the game, we played very well," said Dyche. "We gave away a set-piece goal which, from our point of view, is disappointing. The second goal is very disappointing from us. It's a very poor goal, especially at that late stage of the half. I'll check the statistics but I'm pretty sure Scott Loach hardly had a save to make in the first half and I thought we'd worked their keeper well. We had one cleared off the line and then we gave away a soft goal. We have been guilty of that and it's something we're addressing. After that they become more clinical. They got the third and then all of a sudden they can look like the team that they probably are, which is full of Premiership-style players. I read the other day that one of their players earns our total wage bill. If you spend that kind of money you're going to get quality, and the defining moments of the game came from that quality."

This was a second successive home defeat for the Hornets - and a second successive game without scoring - to leave them in the early-season bottom three. While West Ham are looking upwards. A beaming Sam Allardyce said: "The pleasing thing for me is how we've won this game. After we withstood the early pressure from Watford, and obviously the early goal helped, it was how we defended as well, how we never let Watford get a sniff tonight. As a manager, you look at both sides of it and two clean sheets on the trot away from home is something I always drive into the players and on the back of that we've gone and then played some great football, particularly in the second half, because we've earned the right to play that type of football. That's the most pleasing thing for me - seeing the opposition's threat off early doors, punishing them to the hilt in the end by picking out the right passes in the right places and what I thought might have been an Achilles heel, we've seen some outstanding and quality finishing tonight."

Watford (4-4-2): Loach; Doyley, Mariappa, Taylor, Dickinson; Yeates (Deeney 74), Jenkins, Eustace, Forsyth; Iwelumo (Massey 56), Sordell.
Subs: Gilmartin, Bennett, Mirfin.
Booked: Eustace, Sordell.

West Ham: (4-5-1): Green; O’Brien, Tomkins (Faye 67), Reid, Ilunga; Noble, Parker; Collison (Faubert 75), Nolan, Taylor; Cole (Piquionne 74).
Subs: Boffin, Barrera.
Booked: Noble.

Referee: D Whitestone (Northamptonshire).


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Eddie 21 said...

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