This article titled “Javier Hernández strike sets West Ham on the way to victory over Watford” was written by Jacob Steinberg at the London Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 10th February 2018 17.12 UTC
A semblance of calm has been restored. Instead of aiming jeers at the people in the posh seats, the crowd at the London Stadium kept their focus on the pitch and pushed West Ham United over the line. Marko Arnautovic was given a standing ovation when he strutted off in the dying stages – presumably in recognition of his seventh goal of the season rather than his dyed silver hair – and by the end it was easy to understand why David Moyes decided to gamble on his mercurial Austrian forward’s fitness by starting him after only three days of training.
Fortune favoured the brave. Having toiled while their record signing was nursing a sore hamstring for a few weeks, West Ham fed off Arnautovic’s guile to secure their first win since 13 January, quell Javi Gracia’s mini-revival at Watford and move five points clear of the bottom three. Javier Hernández also made a vital contribution, repaying some of his £16m fee by notching his third goal in his past four matches, and Moyes was a satisfied man after a tense afternoon.
“We’ve never been level with Watford since my first game against them but today we’ve drawn level with them,” West Ham’s manager said. “It’s amazing what it can do to be out of the bottom three. But the minute you are you look to see how many are behind you.”
A useful way to gauge the sense of unease in east London was that David Sullivan had felt compelled to issue a rallying cry via the club’s in-house TV channel on Saturday morning, but it will take more than platitudes about the importance of sticking together for West Ham’s unpopular board to win back the trust of an increasingly mutinous public. Assertive action is required and it was intriguing to hear Sullivan, the club’s powerful co-owner, reveal plans to introduce a new scouting structure in the summer.
As for the present, at least West Ham’s injury crisis had eased in time for their latest assignment. Michail Antonio and Arnautovic were available, enabling Moyes to inject greater invention into his attack, and there were glimpses of a brighter future. Arnautovic was determined to make up for lost time, creating West Ham’s first sight of goal with a zigzagging run, only for Orestis Karnezis to deny the impressive João Mário with a sprawling save.
Although Adrian Mariappa tested Adrian’s reflexes with an early header, Watford were uninspired. They displayed none of the brio that allowed them to crush Chelsea last week, with Gerard Deulofeu and Richarlison failing to find space on the flanks, and were fortunate when the lively Hernández had a goal ruled out by a tight offside decision in the 31st minute.
West Ham took a deserved lead seven minutes later. Antonio surged past Daryl Janmaat and the left wing-back floated a hanging cross on to Hernández’s head. Moyes praised Antonio, who was dropped for last month’s draw with Crystal Palace after arriving late to a team meeting, although Watford were entitled to wonder if Hernández had got away with a push on Marvin Zeegelar. “I would like to see this goal,” Gracia said. “But it is not an excuse. I try to help the referees.”
West Ham had not kept a clean sheet in the league since 16 December and Watford exerted control in midfield after the break. Deulofeu was unfortunate to see Adrian push his free-kick away.
However James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna produced gnarly defensive performances and the game was over as a contest after farcical defending from Watford in the 78th minute. José Holebas’s attempted clearance crashed off Aaron Cresswell and rebounded to Arnautovic, who finished from close range.
“When he came in with his hairdo yesterday, I didn’t want to say I thought it looked bad,” Moyes said. “I said: ‘That’s great Marko.’ He was happy. I thought it was purple rinse.” Arnautovic cherished the limelight.
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