There really is never a dull moment to be had at Watford. When it seems the team have started to overcome their inner demons brought about by the takeover and all that came with it, the outside world starts to conspire against them. A first half red card was the catalyst for a great team performance at Charlton on Tuesday evening; yesterday, Matej Vydra’s extremely dubious dismissal was a bridge too far for the Hornets.
That’s not to say that Steve Rushton’s decision to send off the Czech striker for trying not to step on Nicky Bailey cost Watford three points. Though Watford had dominated the first half, creating chance after chance in an opening twenty five minute salvo, Boro had come back into the game and having equalised through Marvin Emnes’ acrobatic volley, had put the outcome of the game firmly in the balance. In fact, the game was warming up nicely, and a competitive second half was on the horizon when Rushton stepped in to condemn the Hornets to a loss.
It was a massive shame that it was the one player who didn’t have to slog his guts out for forty five minutes on Tuesday that was given his marching orders. Vydra was the only change to the team that cemented a fantastic victory at the Valley.
To play ninety minutes just days after playing the majority of a game a man down is hard, to do it all again is nigh on impossible. Troy Deeney and Almen Abdi were the two players who gave the most to the cause midweek, and by the hour mark they were done for, heading for the bench, and taking with them their gumption and match-winning ability. Long before the end, Daniel Pudil and Marco Cassetti had also flagged, and were struggling to contribute to both attack and defence, unwilling to commit to either one, well aware that doing so could catch them well out of position.
So going down to ten men for the second time in a week was the death knell for any hopes of getting any points in this match – though Tommie Hoban went excruciatingly close to securing an unexpected draw towards the end. But, to be honest, the game should have been sewn up within the first twenty minutes.
Andre Bikey /Amougou’s careless backpass after twenty seconds to let in Vydra, and subsequently Troy Deeney,sparked off a period of complete command that came with a plethora of chances that should have killed the game off. Vydra lashed a drive from a tight angle against the bar, Jonathan Hogg managed to nutmeg himself when arriving at the far post to poke home Cassetti’s low cross, and countless other bits of penalty area pinball went by unpunished. The red card didn’t help matters, but Watford’s profligacy in front of goal was equally at fault for Watford failing to come away with a win. The yellow shirts surged forward with impunity, freed by a newfound confidence to try tricks and ignore the percentages.
As the half wore on, Boro started to gain a foothold in the game, and where before they couldn’t string more than two passes together without a fired up Hornet snatching the ball from them, they began to frustrate the home crowd by retaining possession and stifling Watford’s momentum. Their equaliser was deserved, and the match was set up for a battle of wits between the two teams. Then the red happened.
We won’t dwell on the red card, particularly as by the time this article is published, it will probably have already been rescinded by red-faced FA officials. Nicky Bailey, who had moved to right back to cover for the injured Justin Hoyte, tussled with Vydra for a cleared ball on the halfway line and as the former slipped, Watford’s top scorer jumped to hurdle the Boro man’s burly frame. He may have landed on him slightly, but that Bailey, a paragon of gamesmanship and pushing the rules of the game to the boundaries, did not react or appeal whatsoever says it all. Tony Mowbray, the watching Chris Kamara and all others observing were incredulous – most not knowing what had actually been given.
It seems a bit of a cliché, but Vydra really isn’t the type of player to put a boot into a player in anger. The same could not be said for a few of our players, but Vydra, who was having a great game playing in a front two for the first time, is as mild-mannered as he is energetic. That is, until Rushton gave him his marching orders, at which he ripped off his shirt and stormed off the pitch, clearly as bemused as the rest of us at the decision.
Saturday presented Watford fans with their first opportunity to lay eyes on the Swiss/Spanish striker Alex Geijo. It was a baptism of fire, thrown up front on his own at a time that the game was slipping away from Watford. Troy Deeney was tiring trying to run channels, hold up balls and hassle defenders, but it might also have been in Zola’s mind that Geijo is used to playing as a lone striker, and so might be more effective with the team a man down.
He was wrong.
Not that Geijo was especially bad. He played exactly as one would expect from a player who hasn’t kicked a competitive ball in six months – he was tentative in the challenge and a bit slow to react to second balls. It probably doesn’t help that he seems to be the kind of striker that doesn’t waste any energy: something that doesn’t warm a player to many fans in this country, just ask Tamas Priskin.
As somebody who has, briefly, played as a lone striker (at a much much much lower level, of course) and took the scampering around like a demented sheepdog approach to the role, I can vouch that it gets very old after five minutes. Geijo has spent his career playing in this position, and knows that in order to be effective you have to hold some petrol in the tank.
Troy Deeney is not a natural lone striker, but makes a difference when he is forced into the position because of his determination and bullish attitude which just seems to make things happen. Geijo won’t be like that, he’s played the system. He’s used to being a cog in a machine – the link up, not someone who’s shoved up top on his own and does his own thing.
His link-up play was quite good, especially when Pudil made overlapping runs to his left. But in a situation like this, where the lone striker is expected to do the work of two men, he was left wanting. When he’s got ten men around him, all pulling in the same direction, I’m sure he’ll come good – especially now that he has two weeks off to work on his sharpness.
After having the first off day of his career against Charlton, Nathaniel Chalobah was back to his best. In the period of Watford domination he was the quarterback, playing intricate balls over, around and through Boro’s back line. Once more he was one step ahead of his marker every time the ball came anywhere near them, skipping past him with his first touch as if he was back in the under-18s. We were told when he arrived that his future lies at centre back, but I can see him becoming a leading Premier League holding midfielder in the mould of Michael Carrick if he develops how it certainly seems he will.
In addition, while those around him were running on fumes, he seemed to have plenty left in the tank, still happily joining in with counter attacks as the minutes ran down. Perhaps it was youthful exuberance adding to his athleticism, but whatever it was, it was impressive to see.
After two wins on the bounce, Zola again plumped for a 3-5-2, with Vydra coming in for the suspended Forestieri. Again, it worked well, with Pudil and Cassetti overlapping well, though the former’s crossing was a bit off. Boro did very well to hold the ball, preventing Watford from putting together any periods as dangerous as the first one.
When Vydra was sent off, Zola changed to a more standard 4-4-1, in an attempt to give more mass to the midfield and stop Boro from turning possession into a winning goal. Pudil looked good on the left of midfield – no longer held back by his defensive duties – and Neuton was impressive at left back, possibly because any errors he made were less glaring! Mark Yeates, on for Abdi, barely touched the ball, and didn’t offer any width in the same way that Pudil did on the opposite flank.
In the end, all efforts were for nought. A disappointing end to a great seven days. Scott McDonald’s winner, caused by some tired defending, had been coming for a while, though Boro had not created too much in the way of clear cut chances, with Manuel Almunia more than a match whenever they did.
With two weeks until we return to the Vic for the visit of another Boro, there’s time to get some players to get some fitness, some to have a rest, and for Vydra to take his anger out on some Maltese defender. But he’s not that kind of player.
Watford: Almunia, Pudil, Neuton (Murray 81), Hall, Cassetti, Hogg, Abdi (Yeates 68), Hoban, Chalobah, Deeney (Geijo 57), Vydra.
Subs Not Used: Bond, Doyley, Smith, Ekstrand.
Sent Off: Vydra (43).
Goals: Deeney 1.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte (McDonald 39), Bikey, McManus, Friend, Leadbitter, Bailey, McEachran, Haroun (Ledesma 65), Emnes, Jutkiewicz (Luke Williams 76).
Subs Not Used: Leutwiler, Hines, Halliday, Smallwood.
Booked: McEachran, Ledesma.
Goals: Emnes 30,McDonald 77.