David Hautzig's Match Report
I hate to feel sucked into that trap. You know what I mean. The trap early in the season that catches you and tells you this game or that game is HUGE. Yet here I am. Third game of the season, and I am in full tilt obsessing mode. We were OK for bits in game one, Ok for slightly more bits in game two, and we had better show quality in game three. I’m not even panicked about a win per se. A draw would probably let me sleep just fine. But a loss would have me question everything. Right or wrong, it would. Why did he start Ogbonna? Why are we consistently woeful at the back year after year? Will this cycle of mediocrity at best ever, ever end? Maybe Haller will see to it that it does.
It only took a minute to see how much we missed Haller and Anderson last week at Brighton. After a good run by Deulofeu into the West Ham box that ended with him tumbling, a long ball was launched to Haller. He controlled it, laid it off for Anderson, who one touched it back to Haller and he was off. A bad touch in the box ended what might have been our record signing opening his account. The Hammers worked the ball around the box to Lanzini, who cut to his right and was clattered into by Doucoure. Chris Kavanagh pointed to the spot, VAR agreed, and Noble did the rest. Welcome back, Cap.
West Ham 1
Watford came inches away from equalizing a few minutes later when Deulofeu was played in on the left with a looping pass over the West Ham defense, but his shot banged off the bar. Seconds later West Ham were on the attack, with Anderson on the left. He passed back to Lanzini in the box but The Jewel’s side footed attempt went wide. Back down came Watford with two corners, but they couldn’t find a shot on target.
The Hornets kept swarming (dear oh dear, did I use that cliche?), with Doucoure on the ball ten yards in front of Fabianski. Diop made a key block, but it meant a third corner for the home side. The delivery flew over everyone and out, but Watford certainly reacted well to the early goal while West Ham looked rather disorganized.
That disorganization led to the inevitable based on the run of play. With Noble screaming at the four forward players to come back and help on defense, Hughes rolled a pass to Gray as the Watford frontman made Masuaku look every bit the poor defender we know he is. Gray got the ball just where he likes it, at his feet, and he beat Fabianski with ease for Watford’s first goal of the season.
Of course it was.
West Ham 1
West Ham came very close to regaining the lead in the 22nd minute when Lanzini sent a long pass across field to Yarmolenko, who headed it back into the box towards Haller. The French International had just overrun the pass but tried an audacious back heel that would have been a spectacular first goal, but instead was a rather simple save for Foster.
Watford should have taken the lead in the 27th lead when Watford broke down the left. Deulofeu rolled a pass to Gray in the box….unmarked in the box I might add…but he scuffed his shot and The Hammers were let off the hook.
West Ham were lucky to win a corner in the 33rd minute when Anderson took a pretty silly shot from half a kilometer away, but it took a deflection and went out for the corner. Ogbonna got his head to it, but the pace resembled me mowing the lawn and Foster handled it with ease.
The first half rumbled on, albeit at a slower pace than the opening minutes, with a similar theme to the opening forty-five at Brighton. The home side controlled the play, West Ham looked sluggish and very poor defensively, and you wondered what Pellegrini would do to change that.
Watford had two chances that they simply squandered in the 40th minute. First Doucoure somehow missed a good cross that zeroed in on him in front of the Hammers goal, and then Cleverly skied a delivery from a corner with nobody around him.
West Ham won a corner a minute later, and Anderson got on the end of Lanzini’s offering with a flick of the head. It bounced off the far post, but not far enough to find the waiting Yarmolenko to tap it in. At that point, Antonio for Yarmolenko at halftime looked in the cards.
Watford had yet another moment they might look back at with regret in first half added time when Kiko made a run down the right at crossed to Cleverly in the box, but he slipped while attempting his shot and the threat was gone.
Halftime couldn’t come fast enough.
West Ham 1
As I sat down for the second half, I was struck with a familiar sense of worry and dread. A feeling I sincerely thought might be a thing of the past. Yet from the opening kick I was more worried about conceding than hopeful of scoring. Maybe that’s The West Ham Way.
In the 50th minute, Lanzini set up Yarmolenko at the top of the Watford box. Visions of his wonderful strike last year at Everton danced in my head. Today’s version was a lot slower and Foster gathered it up.
In the 55th minute, Gray got behind the West Ham defense and around a diving Fabianski. With the goal completely open, Gray sent a low cross to a wide open Hughes. But the universe seemed to be against the idea of Watford scoring there and sent the ball off of his shin. Seconds later, the recently inserted Antonio got on the end of a through ball from Lanzini. He was all alone, bearing down on Foster. But as often happens with Antonio, a heavy touch undid the good work that led to the moment. Foster got there first, and then out muscled Anderson outside the box and cleared the ball downfield.
Moments later Fredericks led an attack down the right. But when he should have run at the defense he held up, opting to wait for help from Anderson and Haller. That allowed the the Watford defense to regroup, and West Ham didn’t even get a shot.
I really like an app called FotMob. For a few bucks, quid, drachma, whatever, you get results and live ticker action all over the world. It also gives you goal alerts. Which is great. But when you are watching on a stream, the action can be a few seconds behind. So with nothing of note happening on my TV, my phone gave me the good news. Anderson took the ball to the end-line, looked up and found Haller in between the Watford defenders for an easy tap in.
West Ham 2
West Ham came very close to doubling their lead in the 73rd minute when Anderson sent a ball into the box that Antonio dove to reach with his head, but it went off the crossbar and Watford put the rebound out for a corner. The set piece found Antonio’s head again, and when Foster couldn’t handle the rebound Haller was there with the kind of instinctive finish only a true goal scorer has. Bicycle kick time, Brace Time, Haller Time.
West Ham 3
Watford came close to closing the gap in the 81st minute. Sarr got the ball on the right and ran across the top of the West Ham eighteen yard box before laying it off for Cleverly. The steady English professional turned to his right but his shot went over the bar. Moments later he was again at the center of the action, rolling a pass to Doucoure on the left. However his shot, or low cross if that was his intention, was stopped by a combination of Ogbonna and Fabianski.
As Sanchez came on for Lanzini, without seeing it I could smell the fury on social media over his insertion. But the truth is with Obiang gone, Sanchez is our only defensive midfielder after Rice. And while he hasn’t done much this year, he hasn’t really done a lot wrong either. Maybe the key for him is to just be a rock. Not quartz, just a pile of slate. That’ll do me just fine.
West Ham 3
“They’re a better team with Noble for me”. That’s what Tony Gale said as the match wound down. I have to say, it’s hard to argue. Every year someone looks poised to keep him out of the lineup. And every time, Noble sits pack and waits. In no time at all, the Captain returns and shows why his time isn’t over just yet.
One statistic surprised me a bit at the final whistle. West Ham had ten attempts to three for Watford. But watching the match Watford looked to be the slightly better side today overall. The difference? Haller. Yes, Antonio should have started in hindsight and likely he will against Norwich next week. But Haller’s hold up play started the moves that led to the penalty, and of course he scored two. I’m reasonably confident that no other striker in recent memory would have scored that third goal. He will be key to everything we do, because we will win more games 4-2 than 2-0.
A loss today would have put the club and supporters in pre-crisis mode leading up to an absolutely must win game at home next weekend. Instead, our first win in August since the first ever game at the rental gives us a chance to have a decent start for the first time in years.