Having been utterly miserable after the City game, the midweek win against Swansea cheered me up somewhat, so I was in a better mood for the journey to Wolverhampton. I left London early and met Jacque on the train. As has been usual for recent trips to Wolves, we were to have our pre-match refreshments in Birmingham. Our ridiculously early arrival time confirmed that, due to a late decision about where to meet, both of us had booked a train based on its scheduled arrival in Wolverhampton rather than Birmingham. Still, by the time we got to the pub it was a respectable hour to have a drink. The pub was actually packed due, in part, to the presence of passengers of a Midland Red bus, that was parked outside. I assume that they were on a tour of the city and the opportunity to mix with Villa fans having a pre-match pint was too much of a temptation. Mike met us for lunch, and then we headed back to New Street to get the train to Wolverhampton and take the short walk to the ground. We met the rest of our party inside where we were regaled with stories of traffic delays for those who had driven. Luckily (?) they all made it in time for kick-off.
Team news was that Quique had made four changes from the side who were humiliated by Manchester City, with Janmaat, Cathcart, Welbeck and Sarr replacing Femenía, Mariappa, Foulquier and Hughes. So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Dawson, Cathcart, Janmaat; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Sarr; Welbeck. The initial reaction was that this was the team that people wanted to see. But I was rather surprised that Welbeck was included, having played 90 minutes in midweek. In other news, today would see the first outing of our new away kit. I hoped that it would be lucky for us.
Watford started well and, in the first minute, Sarr found Welbeck, but the shot was wide of the target. Wolves also had an early chance as Boly released Jiménez who shot into the side netting. The Hornets put themselves in trouble when a short corner routine broke down allowing Neto to break at pace and play a low cross for Jiménez who shot wide of the far post. The home side opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a low cross from Neto was turned in by Doherty. It was yet another poor goal to give away as the defence were nowhere to be seen. It feels as though we have seen the same goal scored against us repeatedly this season and still have no idea how to stop it. Deulofeu tried to hit back as he cut into the box but could only shoot into the side netting. Deulofeu threatened again from a free kick, but his delivery was headed clear. Wolves had a chance to increase their lead as Traoré beat Holebas to put in a cross, but no Wolves player could get on the end of it. Sarr really should have done better after receiving a ball from Deulofeu in the box, but he turned and shot well wide of the target. The Wolves fans were shouting for a penalty as a cross from Traoré was blocked by Holebas, but the referee was unmoved by their pleas. Welbeck got into a decent position in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner that came to nothing. The end of the half was dominated by a couple of lengthy stoppages for injuries to Wolves players, but there was one final chance for the Hornets to draw level as Cleverley flicked a pass to Sarr in a dangerous position but, yet again, the shot was blocked.
The half time whistle went to sighs of resignation in the away end. It hadn’t been pretty. Watford had had more of the possession but were ponderous and reluctant to shoot. In contrast, Wolves were quick on the break and the Watford defence always looked vulnerable. The home side had scored with the only on-target shot of the half.
Looking at things off the field, I couldn’t help but notice that the stand behind the goal at one end and half of the other have been converted for safe standing. It looked great and it will be interesting to see whether this becomes commonplace.
At the break Deulofeu was replaced by Pereyra. The Hornets started the second half quite brightly. Pereyra put in a lovely cross that Holebas met with a header that was blocked by the Wolves keeper, the first time he had been called into action. The ball dropped to Cleverley, who tried to turn it in, but Rui Patricio was able to get a foot to it and put it out for a corner. The corner summed up our afternoon as Pereyra’s delivery didn’t even make it onto the pitch before it flew behind the goal line. Wolves had their first chance of the half as Neto broke forward but shot straight at Foster and was immediately replaced by Gibbs-White.
The Hornets had dominated the start of the second half, so it felt cruel when, on the hour mark, a cross from Doherty was flicked on by Gibbs-White, and Janmaat turned it past Foster. There appeared no way back at that point. Holebas tried to hit back with a shot through the area that flew just wide of the near post. It was unsurprising to see José pick up the first booking of the game for a foul on Traoré. Flores made his second substitution with twenty minutes to go as Sarr made way for Gray. Andre made an immediate impact and the Hornets had a great chance to pull one back when Welbeck received a ball from Gray and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Rui Patricio to keep it out. Wolves had a chance to score a third as Traoré put a deep cross over to Jonny but he could only find the side netting. Wolves made a second substitution bringing Cutrone on for Jiménez. The substitute had a chance to make an immediate impact as he charged toward the Watford goal, but was stopped by a wonderful sliding tackle from Foster. At the other end, Gray made a break into the Wolves box but his shot was poor and straight at the keeper. Doucouré then tried his luck with a low shot from the edge of the area, but it was an easy catch for Rui Patricio. There was one last chance for the Hornets as a corner from Holebas reached Welbeck but he could only head over the bar. Santo made his final change bringing Neves on for Traoré. There were three minutes of added time, which were rather soul destroying as, despite Hornets having plenty of possession, they just played it around on the halfway line with the Wolves defence happily lined up in front of them. The final whistle went to half-hearted boos from a few among the Watford following, but most of us just felt as defeated as the team.
As there is nothing to stay in Wolves for, we made a rapid retreat to the station to get the train home and we bumped into a couple of fellow Hornets. There was a lot of head shaking and failure to understand what is going wrong this season. Our team still looks great on paper, but we continue to fail to attack with enough intent or defend convincingly. On the evidence of the games so far, most of the teams in the Premier League are pretty poor (the obvious exception notwithstanding), but we have been unable to beat any of them. The consensus was that we are desperately missing Deeney as there is no leadership on the pitch, which is a very sorry state of affairs. It is difficult to see how we will turn this around, but football is a confidence game and maybe we just need a few balls to drop kindly and a couple of shots to creep inside the post for the belief to resurface.
As I left work on Friday, I had a chat with one of my colleagues about our chances for the weekend. He reminded me that going to football was supposed to be fun. He is so right and, sadly, the games really aren’t fun at the moment. I hope that changes very soon.