Match Report: Watford 0-3 Brighton & Hove Albion
By Kevin Affleck
Well, that didn’t really go to plan.
The parading of two high-profile signings – one a 16-goal England international, the other a club-record purchase – and the return of Z-Cars was supposed to be followed by a win of some sort against Brighton, but it didn’t quite work out. In fact, it didn’t work out like that at all.
There was a feeling it wasn’t quite going to go according to the script when Abdoulaye Doucouré put through his own net just before the half-hour mark. And that horrible sinking sensation (you know the one) was confirmed when one of Brighton’s own summer signings, Neal Maupay, combined well with Florin Andone within 12 minutes of the pair coming off the bench to firstly kill the game, and then put the Seagulls completely out of sight. The result brought to an end 12 seasons of opening day matches without a defeat for the Golden Boys. Talk about unlucky 13.
The Hornets initially surfed the wave created by the two sea-changing signings in the week. Troy Deeney thundered into Dan Burn; Gerard Deulofeu had an ambitious crack inside two minutes and Craig Cathcart won the first three duels with Glenn Murray, including a clattering first challenge. The portents were hugely encouraging.
Brighton would have been expecting a lightning fast start from the hosts and they came tooled up, weathered it and then crept into the game, slowly but surely. Jürgen Locadia had the first shot on target, Davy Pröpper forced Ben Foster into thinking twice about a rising drive the Watford goalkeeper eventually allowed to sail over and then more enterprising play down the right saw Doucouré put through his net. It would be a stretch to say the goal was coming but it certainly didn’t arrive out of the blue.
The home crowd were looking for a response, something to get them going and rally round. There was a well-drilled free-kick routine involving Kiko Femenía and Étienne Capoue that caused a bit of panic in the Brighton box while Matt Ryan played safe and tipped over a free-kick from José Holebas that was probably going over anyway. But that was about it and Gracia opted for a major change at half-time, bringing on Roberto Pereyra probably sooner than he anticipated.
Pereyra responded immediately with a piece of tracking back he often isn’t given credit for. It was a small thing, a footnote, but Gracia will have loved it. It seemed to spread as in the next breath Dawson was all over Locadia in front of the dugout and then Femenía was particularly persistent on the right byline, winning possession and then cutting it back for Gray. It looked a certain goal but Lewis Dunk, not for the first time, stuck out an outstretched leg and the ball was deflected over. Gray couldn’t believe it.
There were quite a few in disbelief at how Andone managed to ghost in at the near post less than 60 seconds after he strolled on to replace Locadia. Pröpper flashed one across from the right and there was Andone to nip in front of his man to tuck it first time past Foster. Dawson was furious at the nature of the goal.
The third, just over ten minutes later from Maupay, was just a kick in the teeth and was the sort of counterattack goal you’d expect with one team over-committing resources. It was all a bit too easy and you can bet Gracia will launch an inquest into just how that one came about.
Final confirmation that this was going to be an afternoon to forget came when Dawson smashed one at goal from less than 12 yards out but Dunk heroically stretched out yet another limb to prevent even the crumb of comfort that comes with a consolation. These kinds of results can happen, and indeed do happen, in a season and it’s probably just as well the Hornets got theirs out of the way in the very first game. Things can only get better.
HORNETS: Foster (GK), Femenía, Cathcart, Dawson, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Deulofeu (Pereyra h-t); Deeney (c), Gray (Success 75).
Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Janmaat, Cleverley, Sema and Kabasele.