As I headed for South London on Saturday, the heroics of the Huddersfield game where our 10 men won out against the odds with the help of the crowd seemed a lifetime ago. In the meantime, we had an international break and a change of manager, so it felt like we were starting the season over again. As I’ve said previously, I liked Beppe as a man. But it had been obvious at the end of last season that there was something seriously wrong on the playing side of the club. Despite the early results this season, that impression had continued, so the replacement of the manager was an obvious move and it was now Oscar Garcia’s chance to work with our talented squad. A lack of decent watering holes in the vicinity of Charlton’s ground meant pre-match drinks were had in Borough Market which, in turn, meant a lovely walk along the South Bank of the Thames to build up a thirst.
Given the injuries and suspensions, there were no real surprises in Garcia’s first team selection. He had to do some early tweaking, though, as Andrews picked up a knock in the warm up so was replaced at the last minute by McGugan. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Anya, Deeney and Vydra in a 3-5-2 formation. After the sartorial elegance of Sannino on the sidelines, Garcia took his place in the dugout wearing a tracksuit.
The first action of the game saw the home side take the lead, Cousins went on a run and passed to Vetokele in the box, Gomes came out and took him down. The referee had no choice but to point to the penalty spot and show Gomes a yellow card. Buyens made no mistake with the spot kick sending the keeper the wrong way.
Watford tried to strike back immediately as Pudil played a long pass down the left to Deeney who turned and curled a shot just wide of the far post. We had another chance with a free kick but McGugan hit it wide of the near post. In the 10th minute, the Charlton fans started a minute’s applause for former player David Whyte who died at a tragically young age this week, in this they were joined by many of the Watford fans. Watford launched a great break that started with Anya playing a cross field ball to Pudil, the ball came back to him and he crossed for McGugan whose header flew wide. At this point, Garcia instructed Pudil to drop back and changed the shape to 4-4-2. There was an announcement over the tannoy asking the Watford fans to sit down which was drowned out as Abdi played a cross that was dummied by Vydra and ran through to Deeney whose shot was heading for the bottom corner until Henderson got down to save it.
Deeney then brought the ball down and played it out to Pudil who found McGugan who really should have done better with his shot which flew high and wide. The first substitution was for the home side as Gudmundsson, who had been a doubt for the game, was replaced by Wilson. On the half hour, Watford had a really good shout for a penalty as Tözsér played Deeney in, he got goal side of Ben Haim who tripped him in the box, but the referee waved play on. Abdi played in Anya who went on a run before whipping in a cross that was tipped over by Henderson. From the corner, the ball came out to Anya whose shot from distance was pushed around the post. An attempted break by Vetokele was stopped by Abdi who was booked for his trouble. Then Anya did very well to keep the ball under a challenge, advanced and, after some lovely passing, the ball reached Vydra who thrashed it wide. Hoban was the next Watford player to see yellow for a foul on Tucudean. He was followed soon after by Ekstrand as Vetokele was again stopped from breaking forward. We reached half-time a goal down despite having had the lion’s share of the possession, playing some lovely football and having had a good shout for a penalty. That has been a familiar position this season.
At the start of the half-time break, the only Watford substitute warming up was Paredes, so it was no surprise when he replaced Hoban at the beginning of the second period. Charlton had the first chance of the second half as Vetokele had a shot deflected over. Anya was fouled by Wiggins who was booked for the offence. Anya then found Deeney who played a lovely ball through to Vydra who was running into the box, unfortunately the ball bounced off the Czech’s foot and ran through to Henderson. A cross from Pudil reached Deeney, he chested the ball down to Vydra who returned it to Deeney but his shot was wide of the near post. Abdi played a lovely ball to Anya who ran along the byline and put in a cross that was knocked out for a corner. Then Tözsér took a low free-kick in a dangerous position that deflected off the wall for a corner. McGugan put in a cross that was too high for the leap of Deeney. Just before the hour, Charlton had only their second attack of the half as a couple of crossfield passes brought the ball to Vetokele who headed wide when he should have done better. Garcia made another change as Lloyd Dyer replaced Vydra, who had got into some great positions but seemed reluctant to shoot.
McGugan should have done better as Deeney nodded the ball down to him and he skyed his shot. Gomes was called into action for the first time since the penalty, pushing out a cross from Moussa and knocking both Angella and Vetokele flying at the same time. Fortunately they were both fit to continue after a visit from the physios. Anya found McGugan whose shot from distance was well over. There was a silly spell of handbags as Ben Haim objected to a robust, but fair looking, tackle from Deeney with Bikey also getting involved. This was immediately followed by Buyens stopping a run from Anya by elbowing the Scot to the floor and making his way into the referee’s book. I thought we were finally going to get the equalizer that we deserved as Tözsér crossed to Dyer at the far post, but his shot hit the side netting. There was then a goalmouth scramble, Dyer’s shot was greeted by cheers and then groans from the away end as it bounced out, Deeney’s follow-up was celebrated before we saw the linesman’s flag. I have to admit that the details of that spell are a mystery to me as I couldn’t see over the heads in front of me so I was reacting to the mood in the crowd.
With 15 minutes remaining, there was a change for each team as Ighalo replaced McGugan and Harriott replaced former Watford loanee, Jackson. A Watford corner was floated into Henderson’s hands. Then Deeney and Ighalo combined to feed Dyer whose shot was pushed wide by the keeper. Angella headed a Tözsér cross wide of the target. Dyer had another great chance, but his shot was blocked by Henderson. Harriott broke forward for the home side, but Gomes was equal to his shot. Charlton broke again and it was looking worrying for the visitors until Paredes strolled over and swept up rather delightfully. Ighalo had a shot from inside the box but it flew over the bar. At this point, the Charlton fans could be heard singing The Great Escape. In time added on it all got a bit frantic. Abdi had a shot blocked, then Tözsér played Anya in, but his shot was over the bar. It just wasn’t our day and Garcia’s first game finished in a defeat that the performance didn’t deserve.
There were a lot of complaints from Watford fans on the way out that I really didn’t understand. While we’d wasted some possession and our set pieces were very poor, we had completely dominated the game, had the majority of the shots on goal and really should have won the game. This was a far better footballing performance than we had against Huddersfield and streets ahead of what we saw on our last away trip, but most Watford fans in the queue for the train were complaining while the Charlton fans were commenting on what a good team Watford were and that they’d got away with that one. I fear that the expectations among the Watford fans are sky high and it is making them impatient. It is a long season and we’ve made a terrific start so let’s just enjoy that.