By Kevin Affleck
So the defeat against Bournemouth was just a blip after all.
In impressively defeating a Wolves side who had been unbeaten in six and hailed as the best team to ever be promoted to the Premier League, the Hornets showed again why it is well within their grasp to finish as the best of the rest this season. They really do have some top-quality players and a Head Coach who clearly knows how to get the best out of them.
Rock solid at the back despite two changes to the defence, workmanlike in midfield and always a threat on the break with their nimble, fleet-footed attacking players, this was so much more like it, this was the Watford we had come to know and admire in such a freewheeling start to the season. It was just what the doctor ordered.
The Hornets have now won two of their four away games, drawn another, and are probably still wondering how they didn’t get anything at Arsenal. Such are the vagaries of football, that the Hornets didn’t play as well here as they did at the Emirates and yet they ran out comfortable winners. Most Watford fans would probably have bitten your hand off at the offer of a point given what happened before the international break, so to trouser all three points was a real coup and showed this team has plenty about it.
Not many teams, if any, will come to Molineux this season and win with such ease. Even Manchester City could only manage a draw. Not many will keep high-class Portuguese midfielders João Moutinho and Rúben Neves so quiet and pass round them so easily.
The fact Watford did was testament to so many things, but mainly the depth of the squad. Gerard Deulofeu, Isaac Success, Adrian Mariappa and Adam Masina all came in for their first starts of the season yet they slotted in seamlessly. It looked like they had been playing all season, such was the way they bought into the well thought out gameplan.
Deulofeu, in particular, was mightily impressive and showed he is so much more than an old-fashioned right winger. He was stationed alongside Success in a new-look front two and he caused absolute havoc, dropping deep and linking the play with such adeptness that he looked like he’d been a No. 10 all his life. Wolves just couldn’t get to grips with the former Barcelona man. Their defence was relieved when he left the stage with just over 20 minutes remaining.
With Deulofeu to the fore, the game was won in the space of 17 first-half seconds. The again excellent Étienne Capoue threaded in the opener with a tracer bullet from distance that went through the legs of Conor Coady and wrong-footed Rui Patricio.
The Wolves fans were still digesting how the Hornets had scored out of nowhere when Roberto Pereyra struck immediately after with a finish of the highest class. Pereyra has a habit of cutting back onto his favoured right foot but he collected a slide-rule pass from Abdoulaye Doucouré and then beat Patricio with a delicious flick of the outside of his left-foot. That’s why he plays for Argentina and that’s why he played in a Champions League final.
Wolves did not know what hit them and were chasing shadows for large parts as the Hornets popped the ball about with such confidence. They enjoyed nearly two thirds of possession and could have put the game to bed by the break. Wolves did not register a single shot on target and Nuno Espírito Santo had all sorts of problems to solve at half-time. He made one sub at the break and another by the hour mark in a sign of just how Javi Gracia had outflanked him tactically.
Gracia kept his cool, stuck to what had served the team so well and didn’t ask the team to retreat. If anything, he went even bolder by replacing Deulofeu with Andre Gray with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Yes, there were a few hairy moments defensively, but you are not going to come to a place like this and expect to have things all your own way. Masina made two key interceptions and even Pereyra was back lending a hand and putting a shift in defensively. It was hard to recall Ben Foster having a save of real note to make.
Gracia eventually blinked and chucked on Sebastian Prödl to play in a back three in response to Wolves slinging on Adama Traoré and playing with three up top in one final throw of the dice. But the Golden Boys easily withstood anything Wolves threw at them to register a win nobody could begrudge them. That Bournemouth result has now well and truly been put to bed.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Femenía, Mariappa (C), Cathcart, Masina; Capoue, Doucouré; Hughes, Deulofeu (Gray 69), Pereyra; Success (Prödl 75 (Wilmot 88)).
Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Sema, Quina, Navarro.