By Kevin Affleck
Well that was disappointing, very disappointing.
Presented with an inviting chance to really kick on and move confidently into the top six, the Hornets failed to drive home their first-half superiority and then did not do much at all really in the second 45, allowing Newcastle to scramble a win they so desperately needed.
It was quite familiar to how events played out at Fulham, only this time the Golden Boys failed to collect anything for their efforts. At least at Craven Cottage they had a point to show for their endeavour.
The annoying thing was that three points really were there for the taking. Newcastle were low on confidence, had not scored a goal for more than 300 minutes and not scored at home since September. They were also at full stretch, forced to use all three subs by the 51st minute, including replacing their captain and their star midfielder. The Magpies were staring down the barrel at a club-record low of 11 matches without a win and you sensed the restless crowd would really have got on their backs and started to turn had Watford got their noses in front, as they should really have done.
Instead, by the end, the St James' Park crowd was bouncing, cheering every move by their rejuvenated side and jeering everything the mis-firing Hornets did. They knew they got away with one here, they knew the Hornets left the door ajar for them and perhaps they wanted it that little bit more. Maybe their need was that bit greater.
The Hornets have come on leaps and bounds this season and there has been so much to savour already, but this really was a result that will stick in the throat. You need to be putting away teams in the bottom three and going for the jugular, but the Hornets were just not ruthless enough in front of goal and then not smart enough to make sure they got at least a point if things weren't going for them at the other end. This really was one that got away, one where you look at the end of the season and say, 'that really was one we should have won'.
The Hornets were okay in the first half, nothing more, nothing less. They were neat and tidy in midfield, with Abdoulaye Doucouré particularly impressive, but they lacked conviction in the final third and were unusually indecisive at the back. It kind of started from kick-off when Adrian Mariappa scuttled a ball intended for the corner straight along the floor to Matt Ritchie. The fact the first corner from José Holebas failed to beat the first man, much to Javi Gracia's frustration, kind of summed up the general sloppiness.
But despite not being at their best, they were only really troubled by Newcastle twice in the first 45 minutes. Ben Foster had to beat away a shot from Mohamed Diamé and Mariappa had to make a key block on Kenedy after a careless pass from Craig Cathcart handed the Brazilian possession in a dangerous area.
All the cohesive attacking play came from the visitors and all that was missing was that little bit of quality in the box. The Hornets were 2-0 up by 44 minutes here last season and they could easily have been enjoying a similar lead this time.
Among 13 shots at goal, Mariappa had two bites at a Holebas corner and then Gerard Deulofeu and Isaac Success took it in turns to try their luck. They linked up nicely, striking up a nice understanding for two players who have only recently been pitched together and it was just a shame they were not more direct and more decisive. In fact, Success played the ball of the half, from left to right and in behind the Newcastle defence, to pick out the run of Deulofeu, but the finish of the former Barcelona man lacked conviction. It was a real shame and it would have been a delightful goal.
Deulofeu then side-footed one just wide and later on slammed one into the side-netting. Success then got in on the act. A nice interchange involving Deulofeu and Pereyra led to Success shooting and winning the fifth corner of the half, and then the hulking Nigerian ended the half by seeing an effort saved by the legs of Martin Dúbravka. The Hornets went in at the break and even though they hadn't played anything like they did at Wolves, they could or probably should have been two goals to the good. You feared at the break that they might pay for their wastefulness.
The second half got off to a rip-roaring start. Étienne Capoue had to execute a clever back header to prevent a dangerous free-kick reaching a Magpies attacker and then Mariappa had to clear one from under his own bar. It was end-to-end stuff, with the Hornets rattling the bar through Pereyra after Success had bulldozed DeAndre Yedlin down the Newcastle right.
But the momentum was now with Newcastle, the crowd were starting to crank up the noise level and they were pushing hard for that all-important opening goal. And they got it on 65 minutes, Ayoze Pérez glancing home a free-kick from Ki Sung-Yueng.
And they should really have been two up three minutes later but Salomón Rondón inexplicably missed the target with a header from eight yards out.
Keen to make the most of the reprieve, the Hornets fashioned a fine chance when Success made a lung-bursting run down the right, outstripping the Newcastle defence and then sending over a low cross for substitute Andre Gray. The striker looked poised to get there first and probably should have done, but his slight hesitation was seized upon by Kenedy who tracked-back brilliantly to make a key clearance.
Watford were second best in the second half and created very little, but still they fashioned the chance of the match at the death when some purposeful play from Doucouré saw him cross the ball for Stefano Okaka. On as a sub, the chance was there for the Italian to rescue a point, to make himself a hero in front of the away fans, but he fluffed his lines. It kind of summed things up.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Femenía, Mariappa (C), Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes (Okaka 77), Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu (Gray 66), Success (Chalobah 85).
Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Masina, Sema, Kabasele.
Frustrating afternoon.. I’m glad I brought my glasses, though 🤓 Newcastle United vs Watford (1-0) . . . . . #watfordfc #nufc #newcastleunited #stjamespark #instagood #photooftheday #thechickenbaltichronicles #supportlocal #londonlife #thebeautifulgame #football #futebol #futbol #groundhopping #groundhopper #indehekken #floodlightfriday #photooftheday #awaydays #footballculture #voetball #europeanfootball