Watford’s preparations for the FA Cup final suffered a damaging afternoon after they crashed to a 4-1 defeat at home to West Ham United – and are set to have to face Manchester City without Jose Holebas after he was sent off.

The Hornets left-back was dismissed early in the second half after being adjudged to have tugged back Michail Antonio when the Hammers man was through on goal – minutes after the Hornets had gained a firm foothold back in the contest through Gerard Deulofeu within 12 seconds of the restart.

The opening period had followed an all too familiar recent tale of Watford not taking their chances at one end and being punished for sloppiness at the other – Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini the beneficiaries to put the visitors 2-0 up at the break.

Having been reduced to 10 men though, the afternoon was to get worse for the Hornets as Marko Arnautovic made it 3-1 before Noble converted his second from the penalty spot.

The defeat meant Watford overtook West Ham in the table and the Hornets, who for so long this season occupied a position in the top 10 of the Premier League, had to settle for 11th spot in the final standings.

Although the FA Cup final is now less than a week away, Javi Gracia’s pre-match comments suggested he would name a strong side and that is exactly what he did.

The head coach made two changes from the starting XI at Chelsea, with Christian Kabasele replacing Adrian Mariappa in defence, while the fit-again newly-crowned Player of the Season Etienne Capoue returned for Nathaniel Chalobah in midfield.

Manuel Pellegrini also made two changes from the side that defeated Southampton last time out, with Declan Rice and Felipe Anderson returning for Pedro Obiang and Grady Diangana.

It took the Hornets only 17 seconds to get the ball in the back of the net, but Deulofeu was clearly offside when receiving a Will Hughes pass before confidently getting in an early piece of finishing practice.

The Spaniard had his first legitimate effort two minutes later, this time forcing Lukasz Fabianski to dive to his right to save as he again found space behind the Hammers’ high defensive line after an Abdoulaye Doucoure pass had ricocheted to him.

West Ham had their first moment of promise in the fifth minute when a Rice pass released Antonio down the inside right channel, but Kabasele’s pace enabled him to get back and, combined with the efforts of Ben Foster, the Irons winger could only put the ball out for a throw.

Watford maintained their positive opening though, with Doucoure seeing a shot from inside the area deflected over after Hughes had played in a dangerous low cross from the right.

Another chance came from Holebas’ resultant corner from the left, with Hughes connecting well with an overhead kick which was blocked, before the midfielder’s follow-up was comfortably dealt with by Fabianski.

It had been an open and entertaining start and it looked to be only a matter of time before a goal arrived. It duly did in the 16th minute and it was the visitors who drew first blood.

There didn’t appear to be too much danger when Noble picked up the ball in the centre circle but after playing a one-two with Antonio, he continued to advance towards the edge of the area with Etienne Capoue passing him in the expectation that one of his defensive teammates would come and engage. They didn’t. And Noble proceeded to check back inside before calmly passing the ball beyond Foster and into the far corner to make it 1-0.

West Ham were comfortable for a spell after taking the lead, although they suffered a blow in the 26th minute when injury ended Ryan Fredericks’ afternoon prematurely and he was replaced by Pablo Zabaleta.

The hosts had struggled to rediscover their earlier attacking verve after going behind, but as the half-hour approached a Holebas cross from the left was headed on by Troy Deeney and Deulofeu picked up the ball in space on the right side of the area and sought to catch Fabianski out with a rising strike, but the keeper was equal to it.

Following that opportunity, Watford began to lift their game again, with a Holebas cross from the left finding Roberto Pereyra in space. But instead of hitting it first time left-footed, he opted to check back before turning and striking a right-footed effort which Fabianski was not unduly troubled by.

Moments later, the Argentian had an even better opportunity when he latched onto a pass and capitalised on a slip to race into the left side of the penalty area, but instead of backing himself by shooting he opted to try and find Deulofeu inside him and the opportunity went begging.

Watford had enjoyed enough chances to have been at least level, but in the 38th minute they found themselves two down as defensive sloppiness was punished yet again.

A long Noble pass forward gave Antonio the opportunity to bring the ball down on the edge of the area, but the initial danger seemed to have been repelled when Craig Cathcart got a foot in. However, Antonio’s tenacity saw him win the ball back and get away or past four opponents with too much ease before hitting a right-footed drive which Foster did well to touch onto the bar, but Lanzini was left with the easiest of tasks to nod into the empty net and make it 2-0.

It could have got worse for the home side in the latter stages of the first half when Kabasele committed a foul on the edge of the area, but Anderson curled the free-kick over the top.

From potentially going 3-0 down though, Watford almost halved the deficit in first-half injury-time – and would have done so had it not been for a superb Fabianski save.

The opportunity arose from a Holebas, this time taken from the left and deep beyond the back post where Doucoure headed back across goal and Deeney looked odds-on to score, only to be thwarted from close range by the keeper.

Within 12 seconds of the restart though, it was game firmly back on.

Again there was no immediate danger when West Ham took the kick off and the ball was played back to Zabaleta, but he sought to roll the ball back to Fabianski blind and Doucoure was onto it like a shot, sending Fabianski one way and the ball the other before tapping in to make it 2-1.

No sooner had the Hornets given themselves hope, then it was to turn to desolation – and for one player in particular.

A long ball over the top put Antonio through goal-side on Holebas, he reached out and put his hand on the shoulder of the West Ham man who didn’t need a second invitation to go to ground.

Chris Kavanagh initially looked like he would let the incident pass without punishment, but his assistant Dan Cook flagged and the Hornets’ defenders worst fears were soon realised as the red card came out, meaning he will be suspended for the FA Cup final pending the outcome of any potential appeal.

Watford responded well to that blow though, with more magic from Deulofeu opening up another good shooting opportunity, but he instead tried to tee up Doucoure and the opportunity was lost.

Deulofeu was replaced by Andre Gray in the 59th minute, presumably with next Saturday in mind, before a superb Cathcart challenge prevented Arnautovic from having a great chance to make it 3-1 after the Hornets had again been exposed at the back.

Lanzini made way for Jack Wilshere for the last quarter of the match and he was soon followed onto the pitch by Adam Masina in place for Hughes.

Foster denied Arnautovic at his near post with his legs as the chances continued to flow and they were to make the next one count in the 71st minute.

Zabaleta sent over a cross from the right which picked out Anderson in space on the opposite side of the half, his right-footed volley beat the dive of Foster but rebounded back out off his right-hand post and Arnautovic stretched to convert the rebound and make it 3-1.

West Ham were buoyant again and they almost added a fourth when a long ball over the top released Antonio, he tried to lob Foster but the Watford keeper was able to stretch up and catch.

But it did get worse soon after when Kiko Femenia hauled down Antonio on the left edge of the area and Noble confidently sent Foster to make it 4-1.

Adrian Mariappa had already been sent on to replace Kabasele and the changes were completed before play restarted, with Carlos Sanchez replacing Rice.

A miserable afternoon was to be completed when Capoue was booked in the closing stages, meaning he equalled the Premier League record of 14 for a season.

There was still time for Wilshere to almost make it five when he stabbed inside on the left side of the area, only to stab wide of the near post as the Hornets’ Premier League campaign came to a disappointing conclusion.

Watford: Foster; Femenia, Cathcart, Kabasele (Mariapp 78), Holebas; Hughes (Masina 67), Doucoure (Gray 59), Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney, Deulofeu. Subs not used: Gomes, Janmaat, Success, Chalobah.

West Ham United: Fabianski; Fredericks (Zabaleta 26), Balbuena, Diop, Masuaku; Rice (Sanchez 78); Antonio, Noble, Lanzini (Wilshere 66), Anderson; Arnautovic. Subs not used: Adrian, Snodgrass, Hernandez, Ogbonna.

Bookings: Holebas for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity (48); Capoue for a foul (90).

Referee: Chris Kavanagh.