This was Watford’s biggest match of the season. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say it was their biggest since their return to the top-flight in 2015; and they failed to turn up.
There was no hunger, a complete lack of awareness and no intensity. Perhaps if they’d started anywhere near like they did in the second half, they may have given themselves half a chance.
However, recent victories over Norwich City and Newcastle United could now be irrelevant. With fixtures against Manchester City and Arsenal coming up, combined with Watford’s inability to defend, means Nigel Pearson’s side are now praying that results go their way.
A shambolic opening 35 minutes means their Premier League status now hangs by a thread. West Ham had more hunger, more fight and more importantly, more quality, as illustrated by Declan Rice’s fine third when he was given far too much time to line one up from range.
They were first to every loose ball and certainly for the first two goals, it was cover your eyes stuff from a Watford perspective.
Caught in possession and far too slow to react to two deflections for the first and then Tomas Soucek, who is so deadly from set-pieces with his aerial prowess, was given the freedom of the London Stadium to head home for the second.
Yet, this demise has been coming. Watford had the perfect opportunity to build last summer after finishing 11th and reaching the FA Cup Final. Arguably, Watford’s stock had never been so high, even after being thrashed by Manchester City in the cup final, as it was such a huge achievement to get there.
But their humiliation on the biggest stage should have been the wake-up call Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury needed to invest in the squad, as the warning signs had been there sometime before that.
The defence has been a huge problem and needed investment for three seasons at least. Yet the only defensive addition they made last summer was Craig Dawson. While Dawson’s been one of the club’s better performers in recent weeks, is he much of an upgrade on the club’s other centre-back options in Christian Kabasele, Craig Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa? No, is the answer.
You also ask the question how many of this Watford defence would get into any other Premier League side’s starting line-up. Apart from goalkeeper Ben Foster, none is your answer. A lot of them would be squad players or playing Championship football.
There’s also a huge sentimentality from those higher up at the club surrounding Troy Deeney, too. Deeney is, quite rightly, a Watford legend and will go down in the club’s history as one of the greatest striker’s to have donned the Hornets jersey.
There’s a reason, after all, that he’s scored 132 goals in all competitions, ranking him among the club’s leading goal-scorers.
But the club’s talisman has lost a yard of pace and isn’t as mobile as he used to be. They’ve needed a more mobile striker or someone able to score 10-15 goals ever since Odion Ighalo was sold in January 2016. There’s a reason why only Crystal Palace and Norwich have scored less in the league this season and that’s because the Golden Boys’ strikers just aren’t clinical enough.
No one seems to have that vision to make that run across the first man or make an intelligent run in behind and there seems to be a reluctance to commit bodies forward.
There also seems too much of an overreliance to go long to Deeney as much as possible. Yet on the rare occasions where the Hornets are patient in possession, they look a fairly competent side.
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In short, while other clubs in the Premier League have been proactive, Watford have stood still. The same old problems have been there for a few years.
Pozzo and chairman Duxbury have done a huge amount of good work to Vicarage Road stadium, the training ground and in re-energising the whole club since their arrival in 2012. However, their failure to address glaring issues could well be such a costly error, leading, ultimately, to Championship football next season.