After the narrow (and frustrating) defeat midweek, we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of the team that were currently top of the table. I thought that I had arrived at the West Herts ridiculously early, but there was already a good crowd inside, including a bloke in a Leicester shirt sitting on his own watching the Spurs vs Arsenal game, hoping for a draw. Needless to say he was very happy as he left for the ground.
When the team was first announced, there were three changes from midweek as Aké, Suárez and Amrabat came in for Holebas, Behrami and Abdi. However, Britos was injured during the warm-up, meaning that Holebas was reinstated in the starting line-up and Aké was moved to central defence. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Aké, Prödl, Nyom, Suárez, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo. Former loanee, Danny Drinkwater, started for the visitors.
I had been told before the game that there was to be a foil display in the Rookery, but there was nothing in evidence when I arrived until a banner appeared over my head as the teams came out. It is always a bit of an anti-climax when you find yourself under the banner, but my sister quickly found the image on social media and it was another triumph for the 1881.
Watford had the first chance of the game as Holebas exchanged passes with Deeney before his shot was deflected into the arms of Schmeichel. At the other end, Vardy latched on to a long ball and beat Prödl, but his shot was blocked by Aké. Following a Leicester corner, Watford failed to clear and the ball fell to Fuchs whose shot was saved by Gomes. From a Watson free kick, Aké rose above the defence and headed on to the back of the crossbar. Leicester’s next attack came as Vardy advanced to the left of the box but, with Prödl in attendance, he took a quick shot which flew wide of the far post. Watson gave the ball away in midfield but redeemed himself by tracking back and winning the ball on the by line before coolly playing it out of defence. Drinkwater received a ball in the box, but his shot was blocked by Watson. Then Prödl failed to stop a Leicester break when he lost sight of the ball which reached Mahrez, who passed to Vardy who shot wide of the near post. Ighalo rode a nasty tackle before breaking down the right wing and crossing for Deeney who shot into the arms of Schmeichel. The first booking of the game came when Amrabat appeared to be pulled over on the edge of the box, but was booked for a dive. Leicester failed to test Gomes when Morgan met a Simpson cross with a weak header that was straight at the Watford keeper. At the other end, Ighalo touched the ball into the path of Deeney who was bearing down on goal, but his shot was high and wide.
So we reached half time goalless after an even half of few chances, but some lovely football. On the pitch at half time were Nic Cruwys and Ollie Floyd. Nic thanked the club and the fans for the support that they had given him during his recovery and alerted us to a fundraiser for Headway Hertfordshire that will be held at Hemel Town at the end of July.
Ranieri made two changes at the start of the second half, replacing Okazaki and Albrighton with King and Schlupp. There was an early chance for the Hornets as Suárez went on a dangerous looking run, but his shot was deflected and saved by Schmeichel. The visitors took the lead on 56 minutes as a poor clearance dropped to Mahrez who hit a lovely curling shot that beat Gomes. While the clearance that reached Mahrez could have been better, sometimes you just have to admire the strike that led to the goal and it was a beauty. Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately as Deeney received a knock down from Ighalo, but his shot was blocked. Watford then had a period when they looked vulnerable. First a cross from Kanté was headed goalwards by Huth and it took a good save from Gomes to keep it out. Then a low cross from Vardy that was cleared by Aké. But the home side continued to challenge with a ball over the top which hit Ighalo, so the chance was gone, when it may have been better for him to duck out of the way to allow it to reach Amrabat who was lurking behind him.
A Leicester break came to nothing as the cross was stopped by Aké. Then Amrabat crossed towards Ighalo but the ball was cleared back to the Dutchman who fell over before recovering to hit a shot that was easy for Schmeichel. Watford’s first substitution came on 65 minutes when Abdi replaced Suárez. Mahrez had a chance to increase the lead, but this time his shot was caught by Gomes. Leicester threatened again as a free kick from Fuchs was headed well wide by Huth. Fuchs was then booked for a cynical foul on Amrabat. Watford had a great chance to equalize as a Nyom cross was helped on by Deeney to Ighalo who headed straight at Schmeichel when he should have done better. Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom replaced by Anya. Another chance for an equalizer went begging as a cross from Amrabat was cleared to Abdi who put a poor shot wide of the near post. With five minutes remaining, Mahrez, who had pulled up with an injury, was replaced by Amartey. Leicester had another chance, but failed to test Gomes with a poor shot from Schlupp that flew in to the side-netting. Watford’s final substitution saw Oularé replace Capoue. He was immediately involved, heading the ball down to Amrabat who passed to Ighalo, who was crowded out before he could shoot. Watford had another late chance to equalize as Ighalo played the ball out to Aké, but the youngster shot over the target. In time added on, Watford won a free kick which Watson hit wide of the far post. It has to be said that his set pieces had been poor on the day, but that didn’t justify the level of abuse that was coming from the rows behind me in the Rookery.
It was another disappointing loss but we had matched the league leaders in all areas of the field except the strikeforce. Ighalo and Deeney had struggled again and, while Vardy had been fairly quiet, Mahrez won the game with a beautiful strike. There was a lot of negative comment after the game, but I came home with a number of positives. The combination of Capoue and Holebas on the left wing had been a joy at times. Aké had been excellent in his stand-in role in the centre of defence. Amrabat’s contribution grows with every game. His booking notwithstanding, he appears to have learned that referees in the Premier League are less likely to give a free kick if you fall down so he has become a stronger battler and is impressing. Suárez also continues to impress with his lovely touch. We just need a goal for one of our forwards and the floodgates could open. Still, despite those around us winning points, that was not the case for those in the relegation places so we look safe this season. It would just be nice to pick up a few more points to consolidate our mid table position. In August, I never thought I would be saying that.