Match Report: Huddersfield Town 1-2 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
The bold pursuit of seventh spot, the race to become the best of the rest is right back on track after Gerard Deulofeu again underlined his ability as a top-drawer player who can settle most games with that magic right boot of his.
Amid the thrilling run to the final of the FA Cup it has kind of been overlooked the league form has wobbled a bit and the team has lost three of the last four, but the Golden Boys are now in pole position to grab the spot that may hold a passport to Europe after this win at The John Smith's Stadium.
Let's not kid ourselves: the Hornets did not get anywhere near top gear here. In fact, they were sloppy and laboured at times but this good old-fashioned away win was down to a bit of spit and sawdust - and then the stardust in Deulofeu's right boot.
Back after missing the win against Arsenal, Deulofeu showed his value to this side by curling in an exquisite opener, which had shades of what he did at Wembley about it, only this time it was along the ground and from a more favourable angle, and then making the game safe ten minutes from time with a crisp finish. On an afternoon when most of the players on show failed to really hit their straps, he produced two moments of quality to win it. That's what players of his calibre do: decide matches where there isn't much between the two sides. And to think he cost a fraction over £11 million.
Both teams were just feeling each other out, just trying to establish a pattern and get a feel of the likely tempo when Deulofeu scored from another seemingly impossible angle after four minutes. You were just about to lambast him for not taking taking the shooting opportunity at the first attempt, but you don't hurry players of his class. He collected a loose ball following a tackle from Terence Kongolo on Abdoulaye Doucouré, took another touch, steadied himself and then threaded it low into the bottom corner with a bit of right-hand side. It was like watching Ronnie Sullivan put a long red into the far corner.
You wondered if that early goal might knock the stuffing out of the home side and that the Hornets might kick on and get a hatful like they did at Cardiff, but the traffic wasn't quite as one-way as you thought.
The excellent Adam Masina had to make a timely header to put one fire; Ben Foster had to claw away a swerving one from distance by Isaac Mbenza, and then Adrian Mariappa blocked one at the far post from Elias Kachunga before clearing one out of the six-yard box. Huddersfield may be down but they weren't going without a fight.
The Golden Boys enjoyed nearly 60 percent of the possession in the first 45 minutes, most of which seemed to go through the lively and often fouled Will Hughes, and they always looked in control, but they weren't particularly fluent in the attacking third, with Andre Gray forced to feed off scraps. They missed the ball being fed into Troy Deeney and then playing from there.
It remained a bitty game after the break. Deulofeu tried to bend another one his his favoured far corner but couldn't quite get enough purchase on the ball; Steve Mounié couldn't quite pull off an overhead kick while Andre Gray threw his hands up in the air twice in quick succession after Deulofeu and then Kiko Femenía failed to pick out his run when they both had time on the ball. The idea was there but it was just the execution both sides were struggling with. The theme continued. The usually technically proficient Aaron Mooy scuffed an effort straight at Foster and then Gray fluffed his lines with an attempted back heel from a Ken Sema cross.
It needed someone to rise above the general level of mediocrity – Foster shanked one in the stands while even Étienne Capoue mis-placed a pass – and it was no surprise it was that man Deulofeu. The ball pin-balled around the penalty before the Spaniard tucked it under Jonas Lössl for his ninth league goal of the season.
With the result secured and the points in the bag, Gracia withdrew Deulofeu, giving him the ovation he deserved from the travelling fans. On came Nathaniel Chalobah and then the even lesser seen Marc Navarro as the clocked ticked down towards a 14th league win of the season.
It will have really annoyed Gracia that Huddersfield, who only scored in one of their last eight home games, scored a headed consolation through substitute Karlan Grant in stoppage time, but that will give the demanding Head Coach something to iron out in training and ensure this lot remain on their toes.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina; Hughes (Navarro 90), Doucouré, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu (Chalobah 82), Gray (Success 72).
Subs not used: Gomes, Janmaat, Britos, Kabasele.