Saturday 21 April 2018

Noble doubles up as Hammers keep European hopes alive

West Ham Utd 3 Watford 1

Mark Noble scores his second penalty of the night in West Ham’s victory. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Mark Noble scores his second penalty of the night in West Ham’s victory. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
West Ham United's Mark Noble celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Watford's Craig Cathcart in action with West Ham's Andy Carroll. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Jonathan Liew

They may be moving out in a few weeks, but West Ham are not quite done with the old place yet. Upton Park was treated to another thriller, as Slaven Bilic's marvellously entertaining team rattled in another three goals to stay in the hunt for a European place.

Watford had their chances and missed a late penalty, but it was another disappointing night for them, and another for manager Quique Sánchez Flores, whose future is believed to be in doubt.

Watford may have been out-matched, but far better teams have had a similar story to tell this season. West Ham were irresistible in parts, and sharp enough in attack to render the failure to keep a clean sheet more an irritation than anything else.

Dimitri Payet was his usual bewitching self, commandeering the game as if by remote control: slowing it down, quickening it up.

And it was another towering performance from Andy Carroll, who got the ball rolling early on and never stopped causing problems.

He is a blunt instrument, Carroll, but not an indiscriminate one. Like all the best strikers, he somehow manages to locate your weakest point and strike directly at it. Against Arsenal a couple of weeks ago, he targeted the full-backs Nacho Monreal and Héctor Bellerín, both of whom he knew he could beat in a neck-wrestle. A brilliant hat-trick was the result.

Here it was the centre-half pairing of Sebastian Prodl and Craig Cathcart, who have started just three league games together in six months. As Payet shuffled inwards from the left wing, Carroll glimpsed the inviting gap between them, and attacked it. Payet spotted it a fraction of a second later. And here was the moment of genius: as Payet detonated the perfect curling cross, Carroll stopped momentarily before continuing his run. Not only did it ensure he met the ball at the perfect instant, but he partially wrong-footed Prodl in the process.

When the next goal went to West Ham it felt like the decisive blow. Jose Holebas tried to win an aerial ball in the penalty area and climbed all over Cheikhou Kouyaté. Kouyaté was more than happy with this turn of events, grabbing on to Holebas like a rucksack, and as the pair went down Mike Dean made himself the most popular man in east London by pointing at the spot. Heurelho Gomes saved two penalties against West Brom at the weekend, but against Noble his luck ran out.

Two-nil on the stroke of half-time, then, and there was even time for Manuel Lanzini to squander a wonderful chance to make it three.

Watford might still have made a game of it had Almen Abdi not hauled down Antonio and allowed Noble to double his penalty tally.

Watford pulled a goal back through Prodl, a satisfying half-volley to meet a Steven Berghuis free-kick from the left wing. As the board went up at the start of injury time, Angelo Ogbonna hauled down Prodl. Penalty! Yet Troy Deeney's effort was at a comfortable height for Adrian to save. Nordin Amrabat, having endured a thoroughly frustrating night, was sent off for a second booking late on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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