By Kevin Affleck
This is turning into a tricky little spell for the Hornets.
This defeat at Leicester this afternoon was the third in four games and the third time in four games they have failed to score. It's not the sort of form you want to be in ahead of a game with the reigning champions Manchester City on Tuesday night. And to make matters worse the team are going to have to do without Étienne Capoue for three matches after he was sent off very late on for a tackle on Kelechi Iheanacho.
The annoying thing for Javi Gracia, apart from the loss of his midfield general, will be that Leicester did not have to work too hard for this win, their second in seven matches. They scored on 12 minutes through Jamie Vardy, again on 23 minutes via James Maddison and that was it, the game done and dusted. They then sat back with two banks of four, as they had done prior-to and in-between the goals, and were content to let the Hornets have the ball. It was a smart tactic from Claude Puel.
The fact Gracia's side were not as precise as they have been in possession helped the Foxes, as did the team's continued wastefulness in front of goal on the road. Isaac Success, Troy Deeney and Andre Gray, twice, all missed chances where you would have bitten someone's hand off had they offered them to you pre-match. Kasper Schmeichel did not make a save all afternoon.
The Golden Boys actually had the first attempt of the half and the last, but in-between times Leicester were the more decisive. Playing off just 33 per cent possession, they played like the away side and effectively killed the game with two goals in the space of 11 minutes. They were utterly ruthless when they got within range, possessing that killer instinct that is just eluding the Golden Boys right now.
Vardy won a penalty in similar circumstances here last season, drawing a foul from Molla Wagué and this time he sucked Foster into making a rash challenge. The striker has the pace to make sure he just pips the on-rushing tackler to the ball and he did Ben Foster like a kipper, going hurtling over the keeper's challenge. He then got up and slammed in his spot-kick, sending Foster the wrong way just for good measure.
An uphill task became a mountainous one on 23 minutes when Maddison scored a beauty. The Hornets were deep in Leicester territory pushing for an equaliser when they turned the ball over and were punished on the counter. Maddison fed the ball to Vardy who played in Marc Albrighton down the right flank. He clipped the ball over to Maddison who controlled the ball in an instant, managed to elude Capoue, Craig Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa, benefit from a lucky break from the Watford captain and then fire it past a helpless Foster. It was a goal reflective of an England squad member.
Shell shocked and starring down the barrel of a defeat just midway through the first half, the Hornets had to pull something out of the fire here and quickly. They had a good go, playing some nice stuff in the middle third of the field without forcing Schmeichel to break sweat.
The best chance of the half and indeed the match presented itself to Success on 36 minutes. The Hornets were defending a corner and then turned defence into attack in an instant. Gerard Deulofeu carried the ball through two thirds of the pitch before releasing Success with one of the few well-timed passes from the Golden Boys. Success held off Ricardo Pereira with another stunning display of strength and only had to really roll it past Schmeichel, but he snatched at the chance and blazed it over.
Deulofeu then did likewise from a long-range free-kick at the end of the half and that was that for the first period.
Gracia would have had a big team-talk on his hands at the break as he sought to navigate a way back into this one and the only surprise was that he didn't make any changes at the interval, instead waiting for a further 10 minutes before hooking Roberto Pereyra and Deulofeu.
The bold move to bring on both Deeney and Gray could have paid off after only 10 minutes, but Gray, 10 yards out and completely unmarked, could only direct a header wide from a Holebas cross. It had a big chance feel about it.
Gray got another bite of the cherry minutes later, but failed to connect with his weaker left foot from a Success centre and then Deeney, who is usually so good in the air, failed to get anything on a decent cross from Kiko Femenía.
Gracia used his third sub, chucking on Nathaniel Chalobah for Hughes but whatever he did, however bold he tried to be, it wasn't going to work. It was just one of those days when nothing went right. The only real positive is that Chalobah will get an extended run in the side in the absence of Capoue, but that is really clutching at straws.
HORNETS | Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes (Chalobah 76), Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra (Deeney 55); Deulofeu (Gray 55), Success.
Subs not used | Gomes, Kabasele, Sema, Masina.