I’m not sure how to feel about sitting here, the morning after the night before, with a 1-0 defeat in the bank. On the one hand, the thrashing that Watford received in the first twenty minutes, with Leicester having at least two extremely gilt-edged chances – worst of all Chris Wood’s skewed drive from a long ball over the top (an avenue of attack that would become very familiar) – means that to be only a goal down going into the “advantageous” home leg, is no bad thing. On the other, the way we came back into the game, rattled the home team, and created several good chances of our own, makes coming away without even a draw a bit hard to take.
Time is at a premium at the moment, hence the lack of a report on that horrible day last Saturday, so I’ll just give you a few bullet points on my thoughts:
- Vydra was good. He’s taken a lot of flak lately, not least from me, but criticism for his performance yesterday is unfathomable. In recent weeks/months he’s looked lost on the pitch, trotting around without intent, unable to do as much as bring the ball under control. Last night he was dropping deep, pushing on, linking well with Abdi and Pudil and looked dangerous. Yes, he missed a chance that the Old Vydra would have buried without thinking twice, but he is clearly a man without confidence. His reaction to the miss showed what it meant to him – at the moment he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. But don’t judge him on that miss, Doyley and Hogg aside, he was probably our top performer of the night.
- Alex Geijo was also good. He’s not a constant attacking threat, and I don’t think he’s at all suited to English football, but he is so much better than most fans give him credit for. Because he’s fairly tall, people seem to expect a like-for-like with Troy Deeney. He’s not going to beat Wes Morgan, one of the best ‘big men at the back’ in the league, in the air every time, and he’s not going to chase down every lost cause. Give him the ball to feet in a modicum of space, and he will find a good pass or work the ball well in some way – as we saw when he cut in down the left byline some 25 minutes into the game yesterday – but this space is few and far between in this league, especially when we aren’t playing very well. His ideal strike partner might actually be Deeney, someone who creates space by barging defenders all over the place, but, alas, that will never happen.
- Anthony Knockaert is really good. He’s a complete tosser, and his name is pronounced all wrong, but he’s far and away Leicester’s best player.
- The atmosphere at the KP Stadium last night was very impressive. All the pre-match noise was piped in, and they were helped by whatever magical paper contraption all the fans were provided with, but it was a new-built cauldron of noise, but the fans were loud throughout the stadium throughout the ninety minutes. And it didn’t get louder than at the full time whistle, when they had cemented their place at Wembley with a tight one goal victory over a superior team. For the second leg, which Leicester fans seem to have forgotten about, we can only hope that Vicarage Road creates half the noise that we heard last night.
- Lloyd was fantastic. As we have come to expect.
- Hogg was brilliant in the second half – the one player who seemed to be playing without any sort of hesitation or reluctance.
- Had the less effective Nate Chalobah been replaced with Battocchio when we started to get on top in the second half, I think we would have won. By this point, Leicester had completely run out of ideas, they were humping it long and often out of play. Gone were the clever runs and balls into the channels that cause us so much trouble in the first half. Subsequently they had gone flat and we becoming sloppy in the middle of the pitch. With Battocchio, probably the best weapon in our arsenal for turning defence into attack, on the pitch, this space would have been better exploited than with the languid Chalobah.
- Jeffrey Schlupp is a crap left back. He might be a good striker, but nobody will know if Pearson persists in playing him in a completely different position just because he’s quick. Imagine putting someone in the side just because of their pace.
- I can understand Zola’s subs. Maybe not the last one, but the two before. Pudil is a good direct wing-back, but when he’s not afforded space to run into on the wing, his threat is nullified. Briggs has more pace and is, theoretically, more capable of beating his defender. That didn’t really pay off, as Briggs is still too slow to get a cross away – not that the box was flooded with aerial menace. Bringing Fitz Hall on for Doyley, did work, in one of its motives, at least. Once the Foxes had gone ahead through David Nugent’s header, the defence was at sixes and sevens; passes were going astray and whenever the ball was cleared, it was coming straight back. Though going back to Watford 1-0 down is no disaster, conceding a second would have been. Stopping the game to bring Hall on certainly calmed things down, and the centre back’s presence calmed down the jittery back line. I also think that he was introduced to provide a target for the attacking set pieces that we were, before the goal, winning often. In the end, we didn’t get any more corners, but you could see Zola’s thinking.
- If we had a proper left sided option off the bench, we could be up by now. It seemed last night that every time the midfield got the ball, they wanted to go through Anya on the right. The diminutive Scot has improved a lot as a footballer this year, but he’s not ready to be the main attacking threat for a Championship side. He’s too one dimensional for us to keep going to that well fifteen times a game. With Jeremy Helan, for example, to come on when it’s not working for Pudil and add a bit of balance to the attack, the team – and Anya – would be a lot more effective. What could have been, eh?
It’s not over. Not by a long shot. As Jon Marks has tweeted, this season, every time that Watford have failed to score in a game, they have responded with at least two in the next. There’s a stat for every situation, isn’t there?
We’re not the Watford of January, but neither are we the Watford of last season. This is a talented group. We’ve beaten Leicester twice already this season, both fairly comfortably. Like last Saturday, all we need to do is win.
With Deeney and Forestieri to come in, we’ll have a fresh front two, ready to give the tired legs of Wes Morgan and Michael Keane a run for their money. With Hall back from injury, we should be able to shift Cassetti to the right again, where he is far more comfortable, and who’d bet against a back three of Doyley, Hall and Ekstrand?
It’s all to play for.