A rare midweek game, so I left work earlier than usual and made my way out to Watford and to the West Herts to meet the usual suspects. Trond had kindly brought sweets and I was just commenting that this would be some compensation as Glenn (our usual sweetie man) wasn’t around when the man himself appeared through the door and filled the table with goodies, so we all left for the game with a bag of treats. I had a feeling that this would be a day when we would need some sugar to sweeten the blow of the result. City’s last two visits to Vicarage Road had seen them scoring 6 and 5 goals with no reply. The pre-match consensus was that anything less than a four goal defeat would be an achievement.
As this was Watford’s “rainbow laces” game in support of LGBT+ inclusion in sport, the 1881 and the Proud Hornets had worked together to put on a rainbow banner display in the Rookery, which was absolutely magnificent.
Team news was that Gracia had made three changes with Capoue (whose ridiculous red card at Leicester was not rescinded), Mariappa and Deulofeu replaced by Chalobah, Kabasele and Deeney. So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Success, Deeney.
City had the first chance of the game with a shot from distance from David Silva that comfortably cleared the bar. Watford had a much better chance soon after as Deeney found Pereyra, who beat a defender before curling a shot wide of the far post. City should have taken the lead when a terrible ball from Pereyra was intercepted by Sané, who was into the box and looked sure to score, but Foster reached up and pushed the shot away for a corner which was turned wide by Kompany. Foster was the hero again soon after as he made a double/triple save before the ball was finally cleared by Femenía. Ederson was then called into action as Chalobah hit a volley from 25 yards, but it was an easy save for the City keeper. So we’d reached the half hour mark with no score, a distinct improvement on previous seasons. That looked likely to change as Jesus dinked into the box but, yet again, Foster came to the rescue blocking the shot. Watford had a chance to grab an unlikely lead as Doucouré found Deeney with an overhead kick, the Watford captain got his shot away and it looked as though it was going in when Ederson got a foot to it to keep it out. Just when we thought we may make it to half time with the game goalless, Mahrez crossed for Sané, who chested the ball past Foster to give the visitors the lead. They threatened again before half time as Mahrez advanced on goal from what appeared to be an offside position, but he shot into the side netting.
So we’d managed to reach half time with only a single goal separating the teams. City had been very impressive indeed, but Watford’s defensive efforts had been decent and Foster was putting in a magnificent performance in goal. Even better, the guy who had taken the seat behind me during the first half, who I had been sure was there to support City, turned out to be a Roma fan just taking in a game, so I didn’t have someone celebrating an opposition goal over my left shoulder.
The visitors were two goals up five minutes into the second half as Jesus played a low cross to Mahrez who turned it past Foster. I feared that this may start a landslide. I was wrong. Watford had to make a substitution before the restart as Hughes, who had been limping, made way for Quina to make his Premier League debut. Watford looked to break back as Success found Doucouré about 20 yards out, but his shot was blocked. City had a chance for a third as a shot from Mahrez deflected up and over Foster, but the ball drifted wide. Watford made a second substitution as Chalobah made way for Deulofeu. Success had a chance to reduce the deficit with a shot from just outside the area, but it was well over the bar. There was danger for the Hornets when Deulofeu slipped, allowing City to mount an attack, thankfully the effort from Jesus was wide of the near post.
Watford had a decent chance as Success met a free kick from Holebas with a header, but Ederson was down to save. City made their first change with quarter of an hour to go, bringing Gundogan on for David Silva. An interception from Deeney started a lovely move in which he exchanged passes with Pereyra before finding Doucouré whose shot was saved by Ederson. Watford then made their final substitution, bringing Gray on for Success. Mahrez should have had a second goal but Foster got a hand to the shot to keep it out. City made another change replacing Kompany with Otamendi. Then the unexpected happened. Deulofeu did really well to dispossess Delph before crossing for Gray who touched the ball on to Doucouré who fluffed his first attempt, but put the rebound past Ederson. It wasn’t the most elegant of finishes, but it sent the Rookery into raptures and, suddenly, it was game on. As the Watford fans cheered their team on, they nearly got an unlikely equaliser as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Deeney, but Ederson made the save. The visitors made a final change to waste some time as Laporte came on for Jesus, who went off at a snail’s place to boos from the home fans. Ederson joined in the time wasting, including leaving the ball on the roof of the net for an age before a Watford man returned it to him. I am glad to say that he was booked for his trouble. In time added on, Watford won a succession of corners, Foster came up to join the fray, but the equalizer didn’t come. There was still some considerable satisfaction at witnessing the relief from the City players and fans when the final whistle went.
So, despite the defeat, we left Vicarage Road with smiles on our faces. There was certainly no disgrace in losing so narrowly to City and the fighting spirit shown by the team was something to be savoured. There was an irony that, having managed only one shot on target in our past two games, the lads managed seven against a City side who are far and away the best team in the country. Special mention must go to Ben Foster, who was absolutely superb in goal, and Quina who made a tidy appearance as a substitute. We can look forward to good things from him in the future.
So on to Everton on Monday, a game that will be dominated by the presence of Marco Silva in the home dugout. But I do hope that the travelling fans can concentrate on encouraging the players, as Goodison Park is not a happy hunting ground for us and it would be lovely to come away with a result.