DECLAN RICE scored for the first time this season to secure West Ham’s Premier League place.
And the £70 million-rated midfielder’s classy goal may also prove crucial to keeping him at the club for another year.
Had The Irons gone down one of the first players out of the door would have been their best one – Rice.
His old club Chelsea, plus Manchester United or even Manchester City would be among those ready to pounce in a flash.
Staying up does not guarantee his future but at least it gives boss David Moyes a fighting chance of convincing the rising England star of staying put at least for a further 12 months.
Rice, 21, hit the third of West Ham’s goals which gave them a commanding 3-0 lead at half time.
It was the best of the night too when he collected a diagonal pass from Mark Noble on the right hand edge of the Watford area.
Rice steered a delicious right foot shot from 25 yards far enough away from the grasp of Watford keeper Ben Foster but snugly enough into the opposite bottom corner of the net.
It should have been the icing on the cake of a surprisingly confident display from West Ham given the high stakes of a game against the team directly below them in the table and equal on points.
But as Moyes pointed out only on Thursday, West Ham have a ‘flaky’ reputation and there was the inevitable wobble.
And Rice’s cracker turned out to be far more important than it should have as Watford fought back.
Their captain Troy Deeney – playing despite a knee problem – slammed in the rebound from Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot four minutes into the second half to make it 3-1.
For the next 15 minutes, West Ham barely touched the ball.
They had done all the hard work in the first half however, as Michail Antonio scored in the sixth minute to give his team the perfect start.
Latching onto a flick from Pablo Fornals on a run into the box he drilled a low shot through the legs of Foster from 12 yards.
That was a fifth goal in successive games for the winger who has been playing up front due to injuries and making his presence felt.
Four minutes after that, Tomas Soucek made it 2-0 from a break down the right flank.
Jarrod Bowen eventually popped a cross to the far post where the Czech midfielder was unmarked to head in.
Danny Welbeck also went close for Watford though and there were hairy moments throughout until the final whistle.
West Ham now sit six points clear of the relegation zone with two games to play and are 12 goals better off than third-from-bottom Bournemouth as an added cushion.
They now face Manchester United away and second from bottom Aston Villa in the final game of an exhausting season which has seen them plummet from top five to the relegation scrap.
Watford had won one game in 16 before Nigel Pearson took over in December. He has taken 25 points from 16 games since.
They face Manchester City and Arsenal in what looks on paper a daunting run-in.
But the way Pearson’s team refused to buckle last night suggests they possess the kind of spirit that should see them also stay up against two teams with Cup silverware on their minds at the moment.