First Team 20/04/2019

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.

First Team 20/04/2019

Roberts: “Watford Are Favourites For Seventh”

Former Watford, Wolves, Leicester and Huddersfield striker Iwan Roberts believes the Hornets are the favourites to win the race for seventh place in the Premier League.

Ahead of the trip to face the Terriers this afternoon, just one point separates the seventh-placed Foxes and the Hornets in 10th, although the Golden Boys also have a game in hand on Leicester and Everton.

With the business end of the campaign in full effect, BBC pundit Roberts insists the next three games – against Huddersfield, Southampton and Wolves – could be pivotal in the chase to be the ‘best of the rest’ outside the top six.

“If you look at the games that all four teams have got left – Watford have got the easier of all four,” Roberts explained.

“You got Arsenal out of the way on Monday – and you were unlucky to lose – but if you look at the remaining fixtures, apart from Chelsea away, they are all very winnable.

“You’ve got three very winnable home games, even though Southampton are playing well of late.

“You’ve got the game against Wolves – which, after what happened in the FA Cup semi-final, they are on a downward spiral now. Their confidence is shattered after what happened,”

Wolves fans look dejected after Watford's comeback win in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley

He continued: “Wolves have Arsenal to play, they’ve got to go to Southampton, and they’ve got to play Liverpool at Anfield on the last day of the season.

“If you look at Leicester, before they played Newcastle they probably thought they were favourites, but then they lose, and in their remaining three games they’ve got Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea to play.

“Everton have got Manchester United to play at home, they go to Spurs and Palace, and they lost at Fulham last Saturday.

“I think Watford have got to be the favourites of the four.

“If Watford can carry on and not get distracted by that massive game at the end of the season, when they go to Wembley in the FA Cup final, if they can still focus and maintain that level of performance that they have in the Premier League, then they’ve got a great chance of finishing seventh.”

Watford fans will be hoping to see more celebrations like these before the end of the season

Seventh place, if Watford were to lose in the FA Cup final, would mean a place in the Europa League next season. Similarly, if the Hornets are victorious come May 18, that would also bring European football to Vicarage Road.

Roberts says that it would be well-deserved should the Yellow Army need to renew their passports for a European tour.

“It would be a great reward for this season,” said the former forward. “Some may look at it as a distraction with Europa league football on a Thursday, like ‘will it hinder the league form as it did Burnley this season?’

“But the club will go out and strengthen, because you need a bigger squad to cope with Europa League football.

“The Watford fans would welcome it – it’s been a long time since the club has been in Europe, and it’s a tremendous competition.

“Watford, if they qualify, could go a long way in the Europa League.

“You have to embrace and welcome success, and that’s what finishing seventh will bring.”

Javi Gracia will keep the Golden Boys motivated, says Roberts

The first of six make-or-break games comes in the form of a trip to Huddersfield, with the Terriers already consigned to the drop after their relegation was confirmed at the end of March.

The Hornets went to The John Smith’s Stadium this time last year and came unstuck, losing 1-0 as their hosts all but sealed their survival.

Against another of Roberts’ former sides, he thinks that Javi Gracia will not let anyone forget exactly what is at stake, or what can happen if you take your eye off the ball.

“It’s not a case of just turning up, going through the motions and winning the game because it simply doesn’t work like that,” said the BBC pundit. “You’ve got a man in charge that will not let that happen. Gracia will not let you take your foot off the pedal.

“I watched Leicester go up there the other week after Huddersfield’s fate had been sealed with relegation.

“I always thought it could be a tough one, because when you know that it’s done there could be a bit of a release, there could be a freedom in the performance – but there wasn’t, and they got heavily beaten 4-1.

“They just haven’t been good enough this season, they haven’t strengthened and the two forwards they brought in last season have about two goals between them.

“They’ve lacked quality going forward, and if Watford have got the bit between their teeth, then you can only see a Watford win.”