West Ham’s Halloween horror show
PUBLISHED: 17:57 31 October 2015 | UPDATED: 20:17 31 October 2015
PA/Press Association Images
The Hammers saw their unbeaten away record smashed while James Collins was sent off in defeat against Watford
Watford 2 West Ham United 0
It was a Halloween horror show for the Hammers at Vicarage Road, where Slaven Bilic’s side were put to the stake by a willing, wily and workmanlike Watford.
Andy Carroll’s horrendous howler enabled the Hornets to draw first blood on 39 minutes, when Aaron Cresswell slid into his own net under pressure from Odion Ighalo, who may well still end up claiming his sixth goal of the season.
But there was no doubt about Ighalo’s second strike just after the restart following another defensive blunder and a miserable afternoon for the visitors was compounded in the dying minutes, when Collins was dismissed for chopping the Nigerian dangerman.
Last Saturday’s valiant victory over champions Chelsea had extended the Hammers unbeaten league streak to seven games but despite that win, Bilic still made two changes to his third-placed side as Victor Moses and Carroll came in for substitute Mauro Zarate and the injured Diafra Sakho (thigh).
Having been ineligible to face his parent club last time out, the recalled Moses was soon making up for lost time with a series of early, probing runs that had the home defence running for cover and then Dimitri Payet forced the first save of the afternoon from Heurelho Gomes after he turned cleverly in midfield and let fly with a low, 20-yarder.
There had been nothing unlucky about Watford’s 2-0 victory at Stoke City last weekend that lifted them into 13th spot with 13 points and having recorded their first away win of the season, Quique Sanchez Flores predictably named an unchanged side, which meant that ex-Hammers Valon Behrami and Alessandro Diamanti were forced to settle for a place on the bench.
On 10 minutes, the Hornets came close to breaking the deadlock when Ben Watson’s half-cleared corner was met by Nathan Ake, whose header was beaten away by Adrian, who then had Carroll to thank for blocking Troy Deeney’s follow-up with both his head and a hint of forearm, much to the annoyance of the home fans in the sun-drenched crowd of 20,598.
Midway through the half, Carroll found himself spooking Watford at the other end, where Gomes was forced to hurriedly clear for a throw after the Big Man chased him down in pursuit of a backpass and, minutes later, the towering striker played in Moses but, devoid of options, the on-loan West Ham wide boy could only fire across goal.
By now, it was end-to-end stuff and, after Miguel Britos sent a bullet header high and wide, Adrian then raced from goal to slide-tackle Ikechi Anya as Watford took their corner count to five without reply inside the opening half-hour.
Ighalo also saw his point-blank angled shot smothered by the Spanish stopper seconds after the hosts had another penalty shout turned away and, shortly afterwards, he danced into the Hammers area before finding himself crowded out.
But it would not be long until the Nigerian got his rewards for, on 39 minutes, having failed to clear on defensive duty, Carroll was caught napping deep inside his own penalty box and, in like a flash, Ake robbed the striker on the byline before firing a low cross into the six-yard box, where Ighalo slid in alongside Cresswell to nudge the ball over the line from just a couple of yards.
It could have got yet worse before the break but, this time, Carroll got it right when he headed Almen Abdi’s 18-yarder clear to restrict Watford to a one-goal advantage at the interval.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and Bilic made a double switch for the restart as missing Manuel Lanzini and unfortunate Moses were replaced by Zarate and Enner Valencia.
But the newly-arrived duo were still finding their feet on the Vicarage Road grass, when the Hornets stung West Ham with their second.
Yet again, the Hammers found themselves lacking defensively, when Anya sent a low cross towards the penalty spot and, with James Tomkins in a terrible tangle, Ighalo gleefully curled the uncleared ball around the outstretched right arm of Adrian as Collins fruitlessly slid in.
Certainly, there was no doubt about the goalscorer that time and, indeed, Ighalo almost struck again just seconds later but, this time, the West Ham ‘keeper parried the point-blank effort and, with Watford taking command, Deeney scuffed over while Ake and Abdi went closer.
In reply, Carroll volleyed wide from ten yards before West Ham finally forced their first corner of the afternoon, which Zarate merely succeeded in depositing into the side-netting.
After Allan Nyom was booked for felling Valencia, the Ecuador substitute then raced onto Craig Cathcart’s ill-advised backpass but with the advancing Gomes beaten, he could only clip the ball onto the right-hand upright.
With a quarter-hour remaining, Nikica Jelavic stepped from the bench to replace Mark Noble, while Behrami replaced Abdi but, by now, West Ham looked well-beaten and, indeed, all hope of salvaging anything out of a lack-lustre display disappeared six minutes from time, when Collins received a straight red for charging through man-of-the-match Ighalo, who hobbled away to rapturous applause from the home fans, while the claret and blue supporters headed for the exits.
HORNETS: Gomes, Nyom, Ake, Cathcart, Britos, Capoue, Watson, Anya (Paredes 67), Abdi (Behrami 75), Ighalo, Deeney. Unused: Arlauskis, Prodl, Guedioura, Ibarbo, Diamanti.
HAMMERS: Adrian, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Collins, Tomkins, Kouyate, Noble (Jelavic 75), Moses (Valencia h/t), Lanzini (Zarate h/t) Payet, Carroll. Unused subs: Randolph, O’Brien, Ogbonna, Antonio.
Booked: Nyom (65), Ake (81).
Sent-off: Collins (84)
Referee: Keith Stroud