First Team 3 weeks ago

Match Report: Arsenal 2-0 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

That was just plain cruel.

For the third time in a week at the hands of London opponents, the Hornets made most of the running, created the most chances and played the better stuff for large parts, but they ended up with a lot less than they deserved for their efforts.

It looked like Javi Gracia's team were going to get at least a point and in fact they were pushing for all three when creating chance after chance midway through a second half that was one-sided for long spells. But, in case anyone needed reminding, you simply have to take your chances at this high-end level otherwise teams of the quality of Arsenal are going to punish you.

And that's exactly what the Gunners did, raising their game sufficiently in the space of two minutes to kill the match with two counter-punching goals. There is no disgrace losing in the toughest of furnaces and Watford will win plenty of admirers for the quality of their progressive play, but expectations are now such that this lot will take no satisfaction from being plucky losers. This was a match there for the taking and Gracia will wonder for some time how his side managed to finish empty handed.

This was not quite as tough to take as the heart-breaking events at Stadium MK, but it still hurt as the Hornets did so much right. They did everything Gracia would have asked of them, and with some aplomb, except that all-important job of putting the ball in the back of the net. They created enough chances to win two matches. 

On the plus side, and there will be so many postives when this one is analysed in the cold light of day, this was further confirmation that this team has staying power and that the freewheeling start to the season is no flash in the pan. Not many teams will come to the Emirates this season and play so adventurously and throw so many punches. This team will be just fine if they carry on playing like this. 

The Golden Boys did not manage to pull off the win they did here under Quique Sanchez Flores and again under Walter Mazzarri, but they were arguably better value for it than they were on both those heady matchdays.

You would never have guessed the Hornets were the away side on the evidence of the opening 45 minutes.

Taking the game to the Gunners with another bold deployment of the trusted 4-4-2 formation, the Golden Boys were full of running, full of ideas, full of invention and bossed matters for large parts.

They forced three corners inside the first five minutes, attacked down both flanks and their confidence was summed up by the audacious effort Étienne Capoue tried from the halfway line. It sailed over Petr Cech's bar but the message was clear: the Hornets had come to have a go. 

There was a lovely slide-rule pass from Troy Deeney that almost picked out the run of Gray. José Holebas and Deeney, again, combined for Will Hughes to crack one at goal on the volley, while Christian Kabasele rose brave as a lion to thud a header at Cech and get clattered in the process.

Arsenal were largely at sixes and sevens, evidenced by the way they kicked the ball straight out from kick-off and the manner in which Cech booted a goal-kick straight out of play. 

But Arsenal possess such quality in attack that they are always going to conjure something up out of nothing and keep you on your toes. 

Alexandre Lacazette probably should have gone down under a challenge from Kabasele early on but he stayed on his feet, meaning the Belgian defender thankfully avoided conceding a penalty for the second successive match. 

Lacazette then tried to be too cute with his chipped finish after Craig Cathcart was guilty of dwelling on the ball while Granit Xhaka forced a flying save from Ben Foster. It was a good stop but it was a nice height for the former England goalkeeper. 

Bernd Leno, on for the stricken Cech, pulled off the save of the match, though, at the start of the second half. A side-footed effort from Deeney, following another fine delivery from Holebas, was destined for the bottom corner until the German pulled out his big left hand to palm it away for a corner. Deeney had caught it so sweetly and directed it so perfectly that he was already wheeling away in celebration with the Watford fans behind the goal. He couldn't believe he hadn't scored. 

Leno then saved with his legs soon after from Gray, the other member of the two-pronged strikeforce that is causing real problems for Premier League defences. Roberto Pereyra then turned Héctor Bellerín inside out before trying to bend another one into the far corner. 

Gracia then decided to apply the throttle rather than the handbrake by bringing on Isaac Success for Gray, and the move almost paid immediate dividends when Deeney slipped him in, but Rob Holding blocked his left-footed effort before it had time to reach the overworked Leno. Success then hit the outside of the post after Deeney again sent him charging clear. It was all Watford.

You just felt Watford had to take one of their chances otherwise their profligacy was going to come back and bite them on the backside and so it proved. 

Cathcart, under pressure from Lacazette, knew little about deflecting the first goal past Foster and then, with Watford still reeling, Lacazette teed up Mesut Özil for the game-clinching second. And that was that. Football can be a harsh business sometimes.


HORNETS | Foster (GK); Navarro (Femenía 84), Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney (C), Gray (Success 71). 

Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Mariappa, Masina, Sema, Chalobah.

Under-23's 3 weeks ago

U23 Report & Reaction: Watford 1-1 Crystal Palace

By Kevin Affleck 

Hayden Mullins described Michael Folivi's goal as “fantastic“ after watching the striker earn a deserved draw for the club's Under-23 side.

Folivi picked up a loose ball on the edge of the Crystal Palace box, shifted it onto his supposed weaker left foot and then curled it past the arcing dive of the Eagles keeper and into the top corner on 67 minutes. 

It was his fourth of the season and easily his best. More importantly, it cancelled out Palace's 12th-minute opener and earned the improving U23 side a richly-deserved point.

“Mike has looked bright in the last couple of weeks and is scoring goals,” said Mullins. “He looked a threat today and it was a fantastic goal, he took it really well. I thought the two up front [Folivi and Ryan Cassidy] were a real threat.”

Michael Mullings sparked the move that led to the goal with a marauding run from left-back. The 18-year-old has been a revelation in the last three games, helping to batten down the hatches at the back.

“He had a really good game,” said Mullins. “He's a good one-v-one defender, he's quick, he's strong and gets out early and low and it's tough for wide men to get round him. He's doing really well. He's a good kid but he's a quiet kid. We need to get him talking a lot more and helping to organise players in front of him, but he takes on all the bits and pieces you try and give him. He goes out and gives 110 per cent.”

The rest of the side also dug deep, recovering from the concession of an early goal scored by Jonny Williams, the Welsh midfielder who played against the Hornets in the 2013 play-off final. It would have been easy for the teenage Hornets to fold after the early blow, but they steadied the ship first, then rallied and by the time the full-time whistle went, they were the stronger of the two sides.

“We gave a goal away in the first half which we feel was against the play and we spoke at half-time and said there was plenty left in the game for us,” said Mullins. “We just needed to believe and try and get back into it.

“We felt we had moments and looked a threat on the counterattack. We looked like we could cause them problems. We felt it was coming and we made the point at half-time about keep going. Even after we got the equaliser, we felt there was something else there for us.”

As it was, the Hornets ended with their second point of the week from tough games against Charlton and Palace.

“They are two good points,” said Mullins. “We could have nicked the points at Charlton and today the point was probably a fair result. It's two good results we can build on and then hopefully we can now kick on and win a couple. It was a strong all-round performance today and there are definitely some positives to build on.”

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HORNETS | Howes (GK); Eleftheriou (C), Suckling, Hudson, Mullings; Holsgrove (Sankoh 73), Phillips, Pereira, Forster (Bennetts 87); Folivi, Cassidy. 

Subs not used | Maclean, Baptiste (GK), Hutchinson.