After a run of three league defeats, the trip to Swansea seemed to be a decent opportunity to get our season back on track. The journey west was rather pleasant and, having bumped into a fellow regular away traveler as I boarded the train to Swansea, I was treated to delightful company as we crossed the border.
Team news was that there were three changes from the Southampton game with Britos and Aké coming back in place of Prödl and Holebas, while Behrami was a surprising inclusion in place of Abdi. Flores had opted for a 4-4-2 formation with Behrami in the centre of the midfield and Capoue on the right. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Deeney and Ighalo. Former loanee, Jack Cork, started for Swansea. The game was given an interesting twist as the Swans confirmed the appointment of Francesco Guidolin, formerly Head Coach of Udinese, a role which he left to take up a position that was supposed to involve oversight all three Pozzo teams, although it was never clear how this impacted the Hornets.
On taking our seats in the Liberty Stadium, I have to say that I was very impressed with the Swansea support. The ground was packed and they were noisy from the start. I was not quite so impressed with the mortifying spectacle of ‘kiss-cam’ on the big screen before the game as they focused on random pairs of men and women and trained a camera on them until they kissed or the cameraman got bored. In some cases there were empty seats between the ’couple’ so a kiss could have led to an ejection as the actual partner witnessed an infidelity. There was no warning about ‘kiss-cam’ but there was a warning to the disabled seating area that the ropes hanging down from the top of the stand would soon be occupied by some marines abseiling down, one of whom would bring the match ball to the referee. It wasn’t the most coordinated of manoeuvres, but that could be said of a lot that we have seen on the pitch of late. The lack of coordination extended to my pre-match equipment check as I left my camera at the hotel, so the quality of my photos is even worse than usual.
The home side had much the better start to the game. Although there was a very early chance for the visitors as Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo whose shot was blocked. From then it was all Swansea for a while. First Sigurdsson played a back heel to Routledge, but Gomes saved, not knowing that the flag was already up for offside. A cross from Ayew was headed clear by Cathcart. Then Cork hit a shot from distance that flew over the bar. Sigurdsson tried a through ball to Ki, who was also flagged offside. A cross into the box from Routledge was headed for a corner by Britos. Over a quarter of an hour had passed before Watford looked like creating another chance, this time Deeney released Ighalo, but Odion couldn’t control the ball and the chance was lost. Swansea threatened again as Britton played a one-two with Ayew before breaking into the box, but Aké was in close attendance and ensured that Gomes could save at his feet. At the other end, a free kick from Watson was cleared only as far as Deeney whose shot was blocked. Deeney then did really well to battle past Taylor and cross for Ighalo but his header was off target. The first booking of the game was picked up by Jurado for a silly tackle on Routledge. Swansea threatened again as Ayew exchanged passes with Sigurdsson before unleashing a shot that Gomes was down to save.
On 27 minutes, the home side took the lead as Williams headed a cross from Ki past Gomes. I was hoping for an immediate reaction from the Hornets, but the nearest we came was a booking for Nyom who was penalised for sticking out a foot to stop Taylor. The resulting free kick was punched clear by Gomes. Nyom didn’t redeem himself as a soft clearance went straight to Ki who, thankfully, shot well over the bar. Hornet hearts beat a little faster as Ighalo picked up a misplaced pass from Ki and looked to be bearing down on goal, but Williams was soon back to make a tackle. There were a couple of chances for an equalizer just before half time. First a Watson free kick reached Deeney who hit a hopeful shot over the bar. Then, Watford’s best chance of the half, as Jurado exchanged passes with Capoue before shooting but the Swans’ keeper, Fabianski, was behind the ball.
So we reached half time a goal behind. It had been another frustrating half of football. Our successful start to the season had been built upon being difficult to break down through hard work and constantly pressing the opposition. That aspect of the game seems to have disappeared from recent performances although more due to a lack of confidence than desire. We could only hope for an improvement in the second period, although Flores made no changes at the break.
The first chance of the second half fell to Jurado who cut in from the left and then hit a silly shot high and wide when a little more composure was needed. The Spaniard also had the next chance, after a decent run he passed to Deeney who back-heeled the return but Jurado curled his shot over the bar. Watford’s best chance of the game so far came as a free-kick from Watson was met by a header from Britos that landed on the roof of the net although, for a split second, many of the travelling Hornets thought that it was in. Swansea’s first attack of the half came after Capoue lost the ball to Routledge who advanced and crossed, but Nyom was on hand to clear. The visitors continued to attack as Deeney played the ball out to Jurado, but his cross was blocked. At the other end, the ball fell to Cork on the edge of the box but he volleyed over the bar. On the hour, a Watford attack was stopped when Britton put out a hand to block a pass from Behrami and was booked for his trouble. The resulting free kick was dreadful from Watson flying high and wide of the goal. Another chance went begging for the visitors as Ighalo played the ball back to Jurado whose shot was just wide of the far post. Deeney threatened to break with Ighalo alongside him, but his pass was snuffed out by a defender. Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes remaining bringing Paredes on for Nyom, who had had a poor game. Capoue played two decent crosses into the box in quick succession but, on each occasion, the Swansea captain, Williams, headed clear. Ighalo then won a free kick in a dangerous position but Watson opted to hit the ball low and straight at the wall, much to the frustration of the away fans.
The Hornets continued to push for an equalizer as a downward header from Deeney was cleared for a corner. At the same time Ighalo went down in the box under a challenge and there were some half-hearted shouts for a penalty, which would have been very harsh. The corner was cleared to Jurado but Fabianski was equal to his shot. Flores made his second substitution with 3 minutes remaining, replacing Behrami with Oularé. The Belgian almost made an immediate impact as Deeney headed the ball towards him on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t quite connect and it fell to Jurado who shot just wide. Soon after, a corner from Watson was punched clear. Despite Watford’s dominance of the second half, it appeared that the home side had increased their lead as substitute Gomis broke into the box and thumped a shot that looked to have beaten Gomes before it rebounded off the inside of the post and was cleared. The last chance of the game fell to the visitors in time added on as the ball dropped to Deeney on the edge of the box but his shot was wide of the near post and the Hornets fell to their fourth consecutive defeat in the league.
There was a lot of frustration among the travelling fans at the end of the game and one young man went to the front of the stand to berate Deeney. I then bumped into someone who told me that we are going to be relegated. All rather dramatic and, on reflection, it certainly doesn’t feel as bad as that. The Hornets had made a much better fist of the second half. Jurado was coming in for a lot of stick from some near me for disappearing after his booking and, while he seemed reluctant to commit to a tackle, most of the shots on goal came from him and a couple were only fractionally wide. Without his contribution, it would have been a far more miserable evening. There has been a lot of talk of teams working out how to play against us, but a lot of what the opposition is doing now, they have been trying to do all season with little success. The extra defenders on Deeney and Ighalo are stifling their contribution but Odion seems to have lost a bit of his previous confidence as he is not muscling his way out of trouble as he did earlier in the season and there were a couple of occasions when he passed to a teammate when you would have put money on him trying a shot. What has been the biggest concern for me is that we have stopped harrying the opposition meaning that they have far too much space. So I was pleased to see much more ‘gegenpressing’ in the second half which, consequently, meant we had more of the ball and more shots on the Swansea goal.
While the recent record is worrying, I am not going to get too despondent yet. The players and manager have not become poor overnight so we need to continue supporting them. Whatever happens at the end of this season, this will still have been the best season that we have seen at this level since the 80s.