- Pereyra and Gray score in great first half performance
- Golden Boys now on 41 points
- Hornets 'do the double' over the Magpies
By Kevin Affleck
It was hard work at times, particularly in a nerve-jangling finale, but this was more like it, this is what the Hornets had been threatening to do at home for a few weeks but not delivered.
This was the afternoon when everything just about clicked into place, when everything (barring a missed penalty by Troy Deeney) went their way and when there was no late collapse. The only disappointment was they didn't beat Newcastle by a bigger margin. They really should have done after bossing just about every facet of the game in the first half and the game should have been dead and buried at the break.
But given the fallow spell of late, a 2-1 win will do just nicely, thanks very much, and everyone went home with a spring in their step, a renewed sense of vigour. Yes, they put the fans through the wringer at the end, but it wouldn't be Watford without the odd heart-stopping moment or two, would it?!
There was much to admire about so much of this performance, so full of energy, ambition and no little quality, particularly in another electric first half display. They also rolled their sleeves up at the end and Adrian Mariappa, Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele were magnificent in heading everything away. The challenge next season will be to play like they did in the first half over the course of 90 minutes.
Playing two out-and-out strikers up top has rarely been seen this season but the team seemed to benefit from the dual threat posed by Deeney and Andre Gray. The ball stuck more often and Newcastle knew Watford were a threat in behind and from out wide. It gave the Magpies something to think about. The pair occupied the Newcastle back four and it freed up more space for Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes to weave their magic, to make pretty passing patterns.
Pereyra, in particular, was high class, scoring one and making another, and it's just a shame his rich vein of form has been timed so late as otherwise he would surely have been a contender for Argentina's World Cup squad had he put a body of work over the course of a full season. He's didn't last the full 90 here, in fact he was off before the hour, but Watford need to wrap a player of such rare gifts in cotton wool. They never looked the same once he went off.
Gray is a completely different player to Pereyra, all muscle and pace, but this was just as fine an afternoon for him. He's waited patiently for his chance, not moaned, not whinged and he took it gleefully with both hands. He played on the last shoulder throughout and made run after run in behind. He worked his socks off, thoroughly deserved his goal and hopefully this will be viewed in time as the game that kick-started his Watford career. It was telling that when Javi Gracia opted to shut up shot and stiffen the defence, he took off Deeney and not Gray. That will have done wonders for Gray's confidence. He was out on his feet by the time he was eventually replaced by Richarlison.
With Gray to the fore, the Hornets made the sort of start dreams are made of. After just two minutes, they had their noses in front when some fine interplay between Deeney and Gray and a really unselfish pass from Doucouré allowed Pereyra to guide one into the bottom corner. Pereyra just loves coming off that left flank and tucking one in these days and this was his third in four home games, all from a pretty similar range.
He almost had a second minutes later after Gray, who was in the thick of things early on, played him in but Martin Dúbravka was alive to the Argentine's attempted dink over him.
The Hornets were playing some lovely stuff on a beautifully manicured pitch prepared by the Premier League Grounds Team of the Season, and ball players like Étienne Capoue, Hughes and Pereyra were really thriving, popping it about with real class and purpose. Capoue looked like a Rolls Royce of a midfielder at times.
It helped that the trio had a pair of strikers to hit, one capable of dropping deep and the other playing off the shoulder. This may have been the first time that Deeney and Gray had started together, but they immediately looked on the same wavelength and combined for a chance on 26 minutes that Gray will feel he should have scored from. He went across Dúbravka with an angled shot from the right, but the keeper got down low and saved with his legs.
You wondered if that might have been Gray's one big chance, like the one against Spurs at Wembley, but he got another just 60 seconds later. Deeney played in Pereyra down the left, the Argentine checked back onto his right foot and then invitingly stood the ball up for Gray to nod in. He couldn't miss. It was his fifth of the season but his first since January.
Gray now had a real spring in his step and was proving a real handful. He was feeling so confident that he would probably have taken the penalty he won on 39 minutes, but there was no chance of getting the ball off Deeney. Deeney rarely misses from 12 yards – he's scored 24 of 28 penalties in Watford colours – and you would have got long odds on him missing for a second time in a row, but he saw his penalty and follow-up saved by Dúbravka here. Yes, it was a fine double save by Dúbravka and reminiscent of Manuel Almunia's from Anthony Knockaert, but you could tell by Deeney's face at half-time just how disappointed he was not to register here.
It was a shame Deeney missed as otherwise it was a flawless first half performance, just as good if not better than the first 45 minutes against Palace, but this time they had goals to show for it.
You really wanted Watford to come out and go for the jugular, to really put the Magpies away, but Newcastle put the game back in the balance on 55 minutes. Ayoze Pérez will get all the credit for the goal but Javier Manquillo did all the hard work by laying it on a plate for him with a quite brilliant cross from the right. Game on.
Worried about how they had collapsed against Burnley and been pegged back by Bournemouth, the Hornets opted to stick rather than twist. Newcastle sensed panic and pushed hard, real hard for an equaliser.
Watford retreated so much into their shell that Richarlison, who is not an out-and-out forward, played the last 11 minutes virtually on his own up top with very little support, but needs must as the Golden Boys, by any means possible, needed to desperately hang on for a win here to, more than anything, send those not going to Old Trafford home happy for the summer. The way the players trudged around for the lap of honour at the end showed you how much effort they put in to achieve a first win in eight. Cue relief all round.
HORNETS | Karnezis (GK); Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra (Deulofeu 56); Gray (Richarlison 79), Deeney (Mariappa 61).
Subs | Gomes (GK), Britos, Sinclair, Femenía.