West Ham United all but guaranteed their Premier League safety with a 3-1 victory over fellow strugglers Watford at the London Stadium on Friday with all their goals coming before halftime.
What was expected to be a nervy contest between the sides perched immediately above the drop zone became something of a breeze for the Hammers who were 3-0 up after 36 minutes thanks to goals by Michail Antonio, Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice.
Watford replied early in the second half through Troy Deeney and there were some home nerves but West Ham stood firm to register back-to-back victories for the first time since August.
The Hammers, who have two games remaining, moved above Brighton & Hove Albion into 15th spot with 37 points, six more than Bournemouth and Aston Villa who are in the relegation zone.
While they could still be caught, David Moyes’s West Ham team have a far better goal difference.
Watford, on the other hand, are only three points clear of the drop zone and, with their last two games against Manchester City and Arsenal, face a nail-biting end to the season.
Antonio had netted all four goals in West Ham’s 4-0 win at Norwich City last Saturday and it took him only six minutes to continue his hot streak, firing past Watford keeper Ben Foster after the ball broke kindly for the forward in the penalty area.
Four minutes later Soucek’s thumping header from Jarrod Bowen’s cross left Watford facing an uphill battle.
Rice, a potential Chelsea target, curled the ball home superbly from 30 metres to give the hosts some breathing space.
Watford needed a response and got it in the 49th minute when Deeney converted a rebound after Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot rebounded back to him off the post.
For a while it appeared that might spark an unlikely turnaround but West Ham, with skipper Mark Noble a calming influence on his 500th appearance for the club, never really looked like throwing away all their good work.
“We started really well,” Rice, who scored his first goal of the season, said. “But the second half wasn’t good enough. We need to stop being in a comfort zone and see teams off. But luckily enough we got the win. Tonight was massive.”