David Moyes said he was disappointed with West Ham’s “big players with big reputations” after his first game in charge ended in a 2-0 defeat at Watford.
The Scot’s hopes of a winning start in his 500th Premier League game as a manager were dashed by goals in either half from Will Hughes and Richarlison that left his new club in the bottom three and the size of the task facing him even clearer.
For the hosts, it was another energetic and clinical performance that highlighted why coach Marco Silva is coveted by Everton.
Moyes, appointed as Slaven Bilic’s successor on 7 November, can feel aggrieved at an unpunished handball in the build-up to Richarlison’s strike, and lost £25m striker Marko Arnautovic with a suspected broken thumb in the second half.
He will have to build on an improved second-half spell by the Hammers, who were spectacularly denied by Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes.
Moyes, 54, said: “I always thought this was a big job. Some big players with big reputations disappointed me a lot.
“I thought they would show me more. They need to show me why they have got that reputation.
“I don’t enjoy the performance and I expected us to do better. We tried to stay in the game and give ourselves a chance – and we probably did – but overall it was not good enough.”
It was an impressive return to winning ways for the Hornets, whose early-season momentum had stalled with defeats in their previous three games, and the victory moves them up a place to eighth in the table.
Hughes, the 22-year-old £8m summer signing from Derby County, scored with his first attempt on goal in the top flight, latching on to Andre Gray’s scuffed effort and smashing it past Joe Hart.
The England goalkeeper was also beaten by Richarlison, who was a constant threat, but did well to stop Adrian Mariappa’s header to deny Watford a third after an hour.
What next for Silva?
Watford fans, not to mention Evertonians, will be keen to see whether Portuguese Silva pushes for a move to Goodison Park.
The money on offer from the Toffees’ billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri may turn his head, but it would not be an easy decision to walk out on this promising squad, balanced with youth and experience and fuelled by shrewd recruitment.
“What I can control and what is in my hands is the next training session and we will be back in tomorrow,” Silva said.
“I know the speculation and people ask questions of our commitment, but me and my players gave a very good answer about our commitment.
“This type of interest in players and coaches happens but it’s not fair to question our commitment.
“I’m not going to talk about that situation any more.”
For Watford supporters concerned at the prospect of Silva leaving, there is some consolation: the scouting team that identified Richarlison from Fluminense in Brazil and decided to take a chance on Hughes, long-linked with a move to the top flight, will remain regardless of who sits in the dugout.
Both players caught the eye against West Ham, who invested on more tested Premier League talent in Hart, Pablo Zabaleta and Arnautovic in the summer but are nine places below Watford in the table.
Under former Italy international Andrea Carnevale, the Hornets have one of club football’s most envied scouting units, and owner Gino Pozzo has an equally sharp eye for managerial appointments.
Losing Silva after only 13 games in charge would hurt, but it should not derail one of the league’s most impressively run clubs competing with those with far bigger budgets.
We need a united club – Moyes
Moyes is no stranger to clubs afflicted by unrest and ill feeling; during his Everton and Sunderland reigns, fans protested against the boards.
On Sunday, some West Ham supporters brought banners demanding that owners David Sullivan and David Gold leave.
Moyes’ appointment has not exactly thrilled them either, yet those prepared to give him a chance will have gleaned tangible improvements, even if the result was still miserable.
Arnautovic, so far mistrusted by West Ham fans and still without a goal, appears to be ready to absorb Moyes’ statutory demand for hard work.
The Austrian made 44 sprints at Vicarage Road, the second highest of any Hammer, and was denied only by Gomes’ remarkable double save.
If Moyes can lift the spirits of previously influential players such as Mark Noble – the veteran’s smart pass to Cheikhou Kouyate should have brought a second-half goal – it will help.
The chances West Ham created suggest they can pull away from danger. But restoring fragile belief is one of Moyes’ more urgent tasks.
“I don’t know the history and the reasons for that,” said Moyes of the atmosphere in the away end at the final whistle.
“I thought they were supportive of me and I’m thankful for that. But we need them now. We need a united club.
“I told the players it’s tough to play in front of a crowd like that but a goal would make the fans feel better.”
Man of the match – Abdoulaye Doucoure
West Ham host Leicester City on Friday (20:00 GMT) Moyes’ first home match in charge, while Watford travel to Newcastle United on Saturday (15:00).
Day of happy firsts for Hughes – the key stats
- Will Hughes scored with his first shot in Premier League football, in his third game
- Hughes scored and assisted in a league game for the first time
- Only in 2010-11 had West Ham accrued fewer points (8) after their first 12 games of a Premier League campaign than this season (9)
- The Hammers have conceded 25 goals in their first 12 league games this season, their joint highest at this stage of a Premier League campaign (level with 2001-02)
- David Moyes became the fourth manager to manage 500 Premier League games, after Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Harry Redknapp
- Andre Gray has registered two assists in his past two Premier League games, as many as in his previous 40
- Richarlison has been directly involved in seven Premier League goals this season (5 goals, 2 assists), three more than any other Watford player; his strike against West Ham was his first goal at Vicarage Road.