Watford failed to rise to the challenge of their crucial relegation battle away at West Ham United and found themselves on the end of a dismal 3-1 defeat.

Two early goals from Michail Antonio and Tomas Soucek were added to by a stunning Declan Rice effort that meant Troy Deeney’s second-half consolation strike was ultimately of little consequence and that the Hornets have plenty of work to do in their remaining fixtures with Manchester City and Arsenal.

Head coach Nigel Pearson was forced to make one change from the win over Newcastle United, with Tom Cleverley coming in to replace the injured Etienne Capoue, but it soon became clear that the Hornets’ problems were far worse than a wounded midfielder.

Their evening got off to a torrid start with the home side converting twice with less than quarter-of-an-hour on the clock.

First, a poor clearance from Adam Masina was closed down by Jarrod Bowen in the fifth minute. The ball then fell kindly for Soucek who worked the ball to Antonio, via Pablo Fornals, and the striker calmly slipped the ball through Foster’s legs after evading his marker.

A second followed just five minutes later when Danny Welbeck was unable to stop Bowen’s cross coming in from the right and Kiko Femenia was gently brushed aside by Soucek, who nodded into the top corner.

The Hornets did create a chance quickly after, with Ismaila Sarr using his pace to good effect for the first time in the contest, only for Lukasz Fabianski to block with his feet and Angelo Ogbonna to repeat the trick to deny the following up Cleverley.

That was about as much as Watford manged in the first-half, as they seemed incapable of stringing passes together, while their creativity in the final third was once again distinctly absent. Their next best sniff at goal came through Sarr again, who latched onto the end of Cleverley’s ball over the top, only for Ogbonna to recover well and thwart with a good tackle in the box.

A West Ham mistake then gave the visitors a chance to build from midway inside their hosts’ half ten minutes before the break, but it ended disastrously. The ball was cheaply relinquished and the resulting counter-attack ended up with a corner for the Irons, from which Noble rolled the ball back to Rice, who blazed past the stranded Foster with a swerving effort from the best part of 30 yards out.

An injury time cross from Femenia found Craig Dawson in the box, but the defender was unable to add to his goals tally, heading over the bar, and the Hornets trudged down the tunnel seemingly defeated at the break.

Nevertheless, Watford did emerge with at least a semblance of spirit for the second-half and set about trying to come from behind to salvage some points for the third game in a row. They soon had a goal to show for their efforts with a move that started and ended with Deeney.

The skipper found Welbeck with a neat backheel, allowing the former Arsenal man to play Abdoulaye Doucoure in behind the defenders. Although the Frenchman’s shot rebounded back off the foot of Fabianski’s post, Deeney was on hand to slot the loose ball into the bottom corner.

The Hornets remained the better of the two sides for much of the second period, but for all their hard work they struggled to create anything too threatening for most of the remainder of the match. A Femenia cross from the left that flashed across the face of Fabianski’s goal was about as exciting as it got inside the West Ham 18-yard-box.

The home side managed to find their feet once again following the second-half water break and almost re-established their three goal advantage through substitute Sebastian Haller’s first touch.

Kabasele’s headed clearance fell straight to the Frenchman, who hooked the ball goalwards after spotting Foster away from his line. Fortunately for the Hornets, the keeper reacted quickly enough to turn the ball around the post with a sprawling recovery dive.

A final chance came Watford’s way with nine minutes left on the clock when Sarr’s teasing ball from the right found its way to the feet of Welbeck, only for the striker to turn it over the bar from close range. Substitute Joao Pedro was also picked out unmarked in the centre in the closing stages, but he also skewed his effort well over.

In recent weeks Pearson has repeatedly spoken about his desire for the Hornets to keep their fate in their own hands, but they might need something drastic from their final two matches in order to stay up on their own merit.

The reality is, they are now comfortably in the territory of relying on other teams’ results to salvage their top flight status. With Bournemouth and Aston Villa breathing down their necks, it looks like it’s going to be a very nervy week in Hertfordshire with Watford hovering dangerously above the relegation zone.