THE final-whistle at Upton Park was greeted with rapturous
applause, as West Ham United celebrated a fantastic 3-2 comeback
victory against Watford.
With Marlon Harewood suspended and Mauricio Taricco departed, Alan Pardew made two changes to the team that lost 1-0 to Millwall at the New Den. Strikers Bobby Zamora and Sergei Rebrov were recalled to the starting line-up to add some fizz to the Hammers attack, while Carl Fletcher dropped from his usual midfield role into central defence.
The Hammers took the game to the visitors right from the first whistle, and had a chance to take the lead inside the first minute when Luke Chadwick picked out Bobby Zamora. But the striker headed straight at Watford 'keeper Richard Lee.
Disaster struck just five minutes later for Alan Pardew's men when the Hammers defence cleared the ball straight to Brynjar Gunnnarsson, whose rifled right-foot drive left Stephen Bywater with no chance.
Despite the early set-back West Ham pushed forward, in front of 24,541 fans at Upton Park. Darren Powell's header and then Nigel Re-Coker's forceful run and shot both brought good saves out of Richard Lee.
However, West Ham's dominance counted for nothing when Tomas Repka's back header fell short of Stephen Bywater, allowing Bruce Dyer to nip in and lob the ball over the onrushing Hammers goalkeeper and into the empty net.
Undeterred, Alan Pardew's valiant Hammers continued to push forward and were rewarded on 28 minutes when Sergei Rebrov's stinging free-kick came back off Lee, straight into the path of Reo-Coker, who was left with the simplest of tap-ins to make it 2-1.
Two minutes later the Hammers completed their quick-fire comeback and it was on-loan defender Darren Powell, making his Upton Park debut, who proved to be the hero. Matty Etherington whipped in an in-swinging corner from the right and Powell towered above the Hornets defence to send a bullet header flashing past a hesitant Lee.
Watford manager Ray Lewington lost the scorer of his side's first goal soon after when Gunarsson limped off, to be replaced by Ashley Young. Alan Pardew's men continued to pile on the pressure, sending a barrage of crosses into the Watford penalty-area. Rebrov sent a thunderous effort dipping just wide of Lee's right-hand post, before the referee's whistle meant Upton Park was able to draw its collective breath for the first time in an action packed 45 minutes, with the scoreline reading 2-2.
The second-half started evenly, with the Hammers struggling to recapture their first-half momentum. The home side did have the best two chances of the opening second-half exchanges though, with Steve Lomas' rasping drive narrowly going wide followed by Sergei Rebrov's curling free-kick, which just failed to dip quickly enough as it inched over the bar.
But just five minutes later, Rebrov did find the net, to give Alan Pardew's men the lead for the first time in the game. It was the former Ukraine international's good work that started the move, his precision through-ball releasing Matty Etherington down the left, who crossed low to the far post where Rebrov was sliding in to score his first League goal for the Hammers.
The diminutive striker was a constant threat to the Watford defence, his quick-feet and crisp touches bamboozling Watford's defence. On 65 minutes Bobby Zamora should have put the Hammers even further ahead when Etherington's sweeping pass found him in space. One on one with Lee, Zamora slid his shot wide of the Watford goalkeeper only to see it slip past the far-post.
Watford brought on striker Paul Devlin for Neal Ardley in the 71st minute to give the Hornets more sting in attack, and Marcus Gayle replaced Jermaine Darlington in the 79th. But the Hammers defence continued to hold firm, while at the other end the home side continued to cause Watford problems, much to the delight of the Upton Park faithful. Luke Chadwick picked the ball off Sean Dyche's toes in the 81st minute and raced clear on goal, only to see Lee block smartly at his feet.
The overworked Watford goalkeeper had to be alert to keep Chadwick at bay again just two minutes later, when the Hammers winger let fly with a dipping half-volley that Lee did well to save down low to his left. With the squad depleted by injuries to senior players, Alan Pardew gave Hammers fans a glimpse towards the future by including three West Ham United Academy graduates on the bench - Eliott Ward, Mark Noble and Anthon Ferdinand.
The latter of that trio replaced Etherington in the 89th minute. There was a scare for the Hammers late on when Sean Dyche headed against the bar from a corner, but West Ham held firm until the final whistle, to celebrate a thrilling 3-2 victory and a vital three points.
By Anthony Clements