Jubilant Watford posted three successive away wins in the top flight for the first time in their storied history following another classic performance on the road this afternoon against Swansea. The record-breaking feat was the best possible response to the heavy defeat by Manchester City.
Marco Silva did not win a single game on the road when in charge of Hull City but, incredibly, he now has three on the bounce as Head Coach of Watford after Richarlison, that thrilling forward from Brazil, won it for the Golden Boys in the 90th minute. The goal was exhilarating enough but the fact the ball bounced in-off the crossbar added to the drama.
Richarlison was booked for taking in his shirt off in wild celebration at his winning goal but who could blame him? The away following of more than 2,000 must have felt like doing the same.
Although the winning goal came late and somewhat against the run of play, this was no great heist as Watford arguably deserved the win on the back of their bright and inventive play in the first period. They just didn’t make it count, leaving the door open for Swansea to mount a comeback, which they did in the second half, equalising through Tammy Abraham and looking the side more likely to win it by the end. Then came Richarlison’s late winner. It was a game very much of two halves with one final dramatic twist.
Silva would have demanded a response from the Man City game and he got one in spades. Boy does the Portuguese alchemist know how to set up this exciting team away from home. The Hornets bossed the first 45 minutes to such an extent that the Swansea fans were booing their team midway through the half.
The Head Coach didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water following the mauling by Manchester City, making just one enforced change by recalling Kiko Femenía at the expense of Daryl Janmaat.
And Femenía fully justified his selection in the first 20 minutes alone, bombing brilliantly down the right, being neat and tidy in possession and being rock solid at right-back.
Indeed it was from a raid down the right from Femenía that Watford fashioned their first chance after only five minutes. The Spaniard was sent haring towards the box by a pass from the equally excellent Andrè Carrillo, picked out Andre Gray with his pulled back pass only to see the striker’s goal-bound effort deflect wide for a corner off the last-ditch challenge of Mike van der Hoorn.
Gray might have wondered if that was going to be his big chance of the afternoon but he needn’t have worried. Eight minutes later and he was, finally, up and running in a Watford shirt.
Carrillo, who was at the heart of everything Watford did well in the first 45 minutes, went careering down the right after a pass from Gray and then went to pick out Watford’s club record signing with a return pass. Gray was lucky in that the ball ended up in his path via a deflection from Sam Clucas, a former charge of Silva’s at Hull, but Gray was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth and he rammed the ball into the roof of the net.
There was, at the other end, a collective sigh of relief when Heurelho Gomes clawed out an effort from Leroy Fer at the far post but, that aside, the Brazilian had very little to do. The effort, led by Adrian Mariappa, who was particularly commanding in the air, meant he had a very quiet first 45 minutes. The Hornets were in command.
Watford’s counter-attacking play warranted a second goal, and they almost got it on the half-hour mark but Carrillo was correctly adjudged offside after Richarlison had squared the ball across the face of goal. It was a shame as Carrillo’s play deserved a goal.
Having broken his Watford duck, Gray was in the mood and came within inches of his second on 40 minutes, rolling the ball just past the far post in a similar position from which Sergio Aguero scored the fifth for City last week.
You felt Watford needed a second to reflect their dominance and the precarious nature of their advantage was evident when Wilfried Bony somehow failed to connect with an appetising inswinging free-kick from Tom Carroll that was begging to be headed in.
Without a goal in four of their six games and fed up of seeing his side run down cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac, Paul Clement made a double change at the break, bringing on Abraham to play in a three-man frontline and Roque Mesa to beef up the midfield. Never one to be outdone in a tactical battle, Silva responded by introducing Molla Waguè for Etienne Capoue into a fortified back three.
It took just over ten minutes for Clement’s move to pay dividends and Watford’s to backfire, Abraham thrashing the loose ball home after Gomes had done brilliantly to keep out Bony’s first effort with his outstretched left hand. Gomes was so annoyed he banged the turf in frustration.
Swansea now had the momentum, the bit between their teeth and it took a goal-saving sliding block from Mariappa to prevent Abraham from getting his second minutes later. Mariappa continued to be a tower of strength at the back and if he has played better in a Watford shirt it was difficult to recall.
Mariappa’s big mate Troy Deeney was introduced for the last six minutes and he nearly made the sort of impact only Deeney can: almost finding the bottom corner with a sidefooted effort from a cushioned pass from Abdoulaye Doucourè.
That was the Hornets’ first attempt on goal of the second half. Their second, from Richarlison, ended up in the back of the net and, much to the delight of the away fans and the bench, which erupted onto the pitch, was enough to bag all three points. What an afternoon.
HORNETS: Gomes (C); Femenía, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley; Carrillo (Pereyra, 73), Capoue (Waguè, HT), Richarlison; Gray (Deeney, 84).
Subs not used: Karnezis (GK), Janmaat, Watson, Success.