Watford Hammered

Double strikes from Don Hutchison and Marlon Harewood fired West Ham to a tremendous 4-0 win over Watford in the final home league match of the season and virtually made certain of a place in the promotion play-offs.


Hutchison's first half brace was followed by Harewood's penalty midway through the second half and last minute strike to further boost Hammers' excellent goal difference and send them soaring into third place above Sunderland on goal difference.


It means that Alan Pardew's men need only to avoid anything worse than a 3-0 defeat in next Sunday's trip to Wigan to ensure involvement in the play-offs, although a victory would secure at least fourth place and home advantage in the second leg of the semi-final clash.


And on this showing, it would take a brave man to bet against Hammers rounding off the league campaign with a fourth successive win. Today's scoreline made it three consecutive clean sheets, with eight goals scored - the perfect response to the dismal Easter weekend just three weeks ago that had Hammers fans more or less writing off our play-off hopes.


With a 35,000 sell-out crowd cheering them on at Upton Park this afternoon, Pardew's men certainly didn't need any further motivation to keep their recent run going and, once Hutchison had raised the roof with a 17th minute opener, there was only going to be one winner in this contest.


Hutch, making his first start since January and in for the suspended David Connolly, got the ball rolling when he stepped up to fire a low free-kick into the left-hand corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area after Steve Lomas had been fouled by Hornets midfielder Micah Hyde.


The visitors rallied briefly soon after, as Stephen Bywater had to be alert to keep out a rasping volley from Bruce Dyer and then palm Lee Cook's curling effort round the far post, but that proved to be one of the very few occasions on which Ray Lewington's side managed to get in behind the Hammers rearguard.


With the unchanged back four looking as solid as ever and Hutchison adding presence and attacking verve alongside Etherington, Carrick and Lomas to form a genuine Premiership-class midfield, the confidence and belief was flowing through the team and the supporters were treated to a quality of football all too rarely witnessed at Upton Park in recent months.


On the half hour mark, Etherington's corner was met by Christian Dailly, whose powerful header was tipped over by Watford keeper Alec Chamberlain and, from Carrick's subsequent delivery, Harewood nodded over, while Zamora went close twice soon after only to be denied by defensive blocks.


Just moments before the break, though, the lead was doubled. Another Etherington corner from the left was again met by Dailly, and this time his header was flying towards the top corner of the net before Hutchison got a touch to help it on it's way. Despite the stadium announcer awarding the goal to Hammers captain Dailly, his fellow Scottish international made it clear he was claiming the strike and referee Michael Jones confirmed afterwards that the goal had been awarded to West Ham's number four.


Hammers continued their domination after the break and the only surprise was that they didn't add more than just another two. Etherington saw an 18-yarder tipped over by Chamberlain before Harewood's close-range header was beaten out, while Lomas should really have made it three when put clear in the 55th minute, but fired his shot straight at Chamberlain.


Zamora and Hutchison - chasing a first-ever Hammers hat-trick - then both went close with low efforts that were well saved by the Watford goalkeeper, before the comfortable three-goal cushion finally arrived in the 64th minute. Zamora's mazy run into the area was halted by a blatant trip and the official had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.


With regular taker Connolly absent, Zamora immediately put himself forward as a replacement by placing the ball on the spot, but was ushered out of the way by Harewood - no doubt casting his thoughts towards a possible Golden Boot award at the end of the season.


His insistence on taking the kick appeared to have backfired when Chamberlain dived to his left to palm the ball wide, only for the referee to signal a re-take after encroachment from a Watford player. Most expected Zamora to now be given his chance - or maybe Hutchison to try for his treble - as Alan Pardew signalled from the sidelines that Harewood should step away, but the former Nottingham Forest striker was having none of it and stepped up again with supreme confidence to tuck his second attempt into the opposite corner of the net.


Far from electing to sit back on their three-goal lead, Hammers continued to strive forward in hope of adding to their tally and improving the goal difference that could be crucial come next Sunday. Michael Carrick almost topped off an imperious display with a surging run from the halfway line and shot that was again tipped round by Chamberlain, while young substitute Chris Cohen - on for the newly crowned Hammer of the Year Etherington - fired a stinging right-foot effort just inches over.


Zamora went close again with 15 minutes remaining when he burst into the box on the right but was again denied by Chamberlain - and the striker's hard-working display wasn't rewarded with the goal it deserved as he was replaced just after by Jobi McAnuff.


The former Wimbledon winger added extra impetus in attack against the tiring Watford back-line - who had been run ragged all afternoon by Harewood and Zamora - and he created the fourth and final goal with just seconds of normal time remaining.


Collecting the ball in his own half, McAnuff sprinted into the heart of the Hornets' defence, sidestepped two defenders and fired in a low left-footed shot that Chamberlain could only parry into the path of Harewood, who gleefully tapped home his 26th goal of the season to draw level with Crystal Palace's Andy Johnson at the top of the scoring charts.


After departing the field to a standing ovation at the final whistle, the players returned to the pitch for the traditional end of season show of thanks to the fans who have provided such tremendous support at Upton Park this season.


However, Pardew and his troops stopped short of embarking on the usual lap of honour, as the Hammers boss took to the microphone and insisted that the season isn't over yet - and that the lap of honour will hopefully take place after a victorious home tie in the play-offs.


On this kind of form, Hammers fans will surely be dreaming tonight of witnessing another lap of honour in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium come May 29.


by Danny Francis