On the night when Rak-Su came back to where it all began, Ashley Young enjoyed a homecoming of his own, auditioning for a World Cup spot by scoring twice to floor the Golden Boys in what ended up being a breathless game at Vicarage Road.
Young’s pair of sweetly-struck goals in six first-half minutes, the second a beauty of a free-kick, knocked the stuffing out of the Hornets. Indeed, they were still reeling when Anthony Martial made it three six minutes later.
The way Marco Silva threw a water bottle in frustration at the concession of the third was a measure of how he knew the game was up just a third of the way into what promised to be a fascinating matchup. His gameplan had gone out of the window. From then on it was about damage limitation and how much pride Watford could restore.
They firstly successfully stemmed the bleeding and eventually restored some pride thanks to Troy Deeney’s penalty. They then threatened the comeback of all comebacks when Abdoulaye Doucouré reduced the deficit to just one with six minutes remaining. It was very much game on for a couple of minutes and the second 3-3 draw of the season at Vicarage Road was on the cards until Jesse Lingard put that idea to bed with United’s fourth.
United deserved the win, there was no disputing that, but you certainly couldn’t fault the Hornets for effort or courage. They could easily have rolled over at 3-0 and thrown the towel in. They fact they didn’t bodes well while the manner of the comeback confirmed their growing status as one of the most entertaining sides in the Premier League.
They’ve now scored 25 goals and conceded 26. You certainly get value for money watching the Golden Boys these days.
The Hornets started quite brightly. Lining up 3-4-3, they broke the chess-like feel to the game with some enterprising play down the flanks. Kiko Feminía flashed one across the face that Richarlison flung himself at and then Richarlison did the same for Andre Gray from the other side.
They also forced the first corner and were starting to make the running, with Will Hughes, buoyed by back-to-back goals, getting on the ball and starting to prompt and prod.
But then came two bolts from the blue. Firstly, after 19 minutes, Young rifled a loose ball into the bottom corner. And then, just six minutes later, he cracked in a free-kick that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of. Heurelho Gomes was actually stationed to the side where the free-kick nestled in but it was hit with such pace, dip and power that it left the in-form Brazilian rooted to the spot.
It was starting to get messy when, after 32 minutes, Romelu Lukaku played in Martial for the Frenchman to stroke the ball firmly in the bottom corner. Sebastian Prödl had not conceded a league goal this season prior to this game but had now shipped three in just over half-an-hour. There was, if anything, a slight hesitancy in the new-look back three born of unfamiliarity.
It could and probably should have been four had Gomes not pulled off a double save to deny Lukaku and then Lingard. That would have been game over.
The best it got for Watford was when Richarlison looped a header onto the crossbar after a driving crossfield run from Feminía. Half-time therefore came at a good time for the Hornets, giving them time to regroup and lick their wounds. They hadn’t done a lot wrong and yet were three down.
With the game over as a contest and the result beyond doubt, the second half had a bit of a funereal feel about it until Doucouré flashed one over from distance and then Richarlison rose highest at the far post to head wide a centre from Feminía.
Watford sought to throw the kitchen sink at United around the hour mark, slinging on attacking trio Andrè Carrillo, Roberto Pereyra and Deeney and the move worked, with Pereyra winning the penalty that Deeney smashed home on 77 minutes. “We’re going to win 4-3,” chorused the home fans.
Those chants got even louder when Doucouré poked in a cross from Carrillo. It was now game on and the noise was cranked up several notches.
But hopes of a thrilling comeback were thwarted when Lingard brilliantly made it four on the break. Even then the Hornets kept going. It’s the only way they know under Silva and despite this defeat, it will continue to serve them well.
HORNETS | Gomes: Mariappa, Prödl (Carrillo 58), Kabasele; Feminía, Doucouré, Cleverley, Zeegelaar; Hughes (Pereyra 58), Richarlison, Gray (Deeney 72).
Subs not used: Karnezis, Janmaat, Wagué, Capoue