First Team 23/04/2019

Match Report: Watford 1-1 Southampton

By Kevin Affleck

So it looks like the race for seventh spot is going right down to the wire after Andre Gray conjured up yet another crucial late goal at Vicarage Road.

For so long it looked like the Golden Boys were going to completely blow the chance to steal a march on Everton and lose some momentum in the run-in, but Gray rescued them yet again with a 90th-minute goal, adding to the decisive ones he got against Everton, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Fulham. The point wasn’t ideal and not what anybody connected with the club was after pre-match, but this one was hard earned and, you never know, might prove crucial in the final analysis.

The Hornets didn’t play well by any stretch of the imagination and this was a tough watch at times, but it’s a sign of a good side when you can dig out a point when you are nowhere near your best. Other Watford sides would have lost this one in recent seasons.  

You have to give the Saints credit. They were in no mood to play ball and they proved the most awkward of opponents, giving the Hornets as searching an examination as anyone outside of the top six has managed to do at this quaint old ground this season. There was no doubting the visitors deserved a point at the very least and if we are being honest, which we like to be on here, they should probably have won this one.

You kind of got the feeling it was going to be one of those nights for Hornets when Craig Cathcart, that most reliable of performers, made a mistake from kick-off to hand Shane Long the fastest goal in Premier League history. Nothing really went right for Gracia’s side thereafter and it looked like they were going to fire a blank at home for the first time since the middle of January until Gray managed to dig one out with his weaker left foot and beat Angus Gunn at the near post. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but who cares?

It was a very unusual performance from a Gracia side. There was no faulting the effort of the players but they just lacked anything resembling cohesion in the final third and were at six and sevens at the back, particularly in the first half. They needed a bit of magic from Gerard Deulofeu or Roberto Pereyra to get them out of jail but, for once, it never came. And, to be truthful, it never looked like happening either until Gray, out of nowhere really, forced one in late on. You cannot play well every week and the opposition are allowed to play well, which is what combined to happen here. 

Gracia expressed pre-match his wish for a clean sheet but that went out of the window after just seven seconds, 7.69 second if we are being precise. Étienne Capoue routinely played the ball back to Cathcart from kick-off. He took a touch and then slammed it straight into Long who caught him unaware with the speed and conviction of his charge down. The ball bounced kindly for the Republic of Ireland international who took one touch and then beat the on-rushing Ben Foster with his next. It was the sort of start nightmares are made of.

It could have been 1-1 after just two bonkers minutes, though, had Gray, with two bites of the cherry, not struck his first effort from a Will Hughes cross straight at Gunn and then headed the rebound over the bar. The first 120 seconds set the tone for a frenetic first half and it took some working out how there was only one goal in the game at the break.

Deulofeu curled one wide of the right-hand post and drilled one past the left-hand post in the best of the chances for the home side who were, if we are being kind, disjointed in the first half. Southampton really disrupted the Golden Boys’ rhythm and got under their skin, to such an extent that Deulofeu was picking a fight with Ryan Bertrand at half-time. Even Abdoulaye Doucouré was dragged into things and he was booked for an unusually cynical tackle on Stuart Armstrong on halfway.

Southampton were by far the calmer and more dead-eyed of the two sides. They probably went in at half-time wondering how they weren’t at least three up. Long headed one wide, Foster prevented Nathan Redmond from capitalising on another Cathcart mistake, Redmond had an even better chance soon after and then Bertrand hit the outside of the post just before half-time. It was the most open the Hornets had been all season – and that’s including the madcap first 45 minutes at the Vitality Stadium.

Gracia took decisive action at the break, removing Cathcart, bringing on Kiko Femenía and switching to three at the back. He had to, as things just didn’t click in the first half. There wasn’t an obvious change in things at the start of the second half. Deulofeu got down the right a couple of times but that was about it. Southampton were working their socks off, proving really difficult to break down, busy in midfield, while always a threat in behind with the pace and clever runs of Redmond and Long. 

The game was so open, so end to end, that in the space of ten minutes, Christian Kabasele shouted for a penalty at one end and then came within a whisker of giving one away at the other end, bringing down the free-running Long just outside the area.

Gracia opted for one final throw of the dice by sending for Isaac Success, but the Nigerian hadn’t even had time to jog into position when James Ward-Prowse forced Foster to beat away a goal-bound free-kick. A Southampton second always looked more likely than a Watford equaliser, but then came a late rally.

Pereyra went close with the sort of chance he would have buried earlier in the season and then one fell Gray’s way and he does what he does best, managing to find the back of the net by hook or by crook. The celebrations were one of relief more than joy. There are likely to be more twists and turns to come in this thrilling season so hold on tight.

HORNETS | Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart (Femenía h-t), Kabasele, Masina; Hughes (Success 77), Doucouré, Capoue (C), Pereyra; Deulofeu, Gray. 

Subs not used: Gomes, Britos, Mariappa, Sema, Chalobah.

Ladies 23/04/2019

Ladies Report: Gillingham 0-1 Watford

By Chris Smith

Watford FC Ladies got back to winning ways with a 1-0 win at Gillingham Ladies on Easter Sunday. The only goal of the game came in the second half, as Katie O’Leary’s effort made the difference.

Watford defended well throughout and their attacking play was eventually rewarded when O’Leary’s header from close range broke the deadlock.

There were three changes to the side that had suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Chichester City Ladies last time out.

There was a new look backline as Elle Richards and Afiya Johnson were both handed starts, while there was also a return to the team for Danielle Scanlon.

A good percentage of the opening ten minutes was played in the middle third of the pitch, although the Hornets gradually managed to get on top as the half progressed.

The first chance fell to O’Leary and she connected well with a dropping ball, but narrowly missed the target as her effort found the top of the net.

Gillingham had an opportunity when a corner found its way through to Grace Seely, whose shot went just wide of the left-hand post.

With the game approaching the half hour mark, Watford were finding a way into shooting positions more. Jennifer Kikomeko and Alysha Stojko-Down both had efforts off target after good initial work, while O’Leary glanced a header wide.

The match came to life as half-time approached. Alice Bussey looked like she had some space in the box for the hosts, however some good defending from Richards and Kikomeko thwarted any potential opportunity.

Down the other end, Courtney Shanly was called into action three times in the closing minutes. Stojko-Down, O’Leary and Andrea Carid all tested the Gillingham keeper, but she did what she needed to do well.

The home side could have taken the lead early on in the second half. Bussey was alert and gained possession in a dangerous area, however she couldn’t round Weronika Baranowska who gathered the ball from the attacker.

While in the previous game Watford were frustrated trying to break down Chichester’s defence, it was the Golden Girls who were shining defensively this time. Breon Grant’s strike was well blocked and then Daisy Monaghan couldn’t test Baranowska afterwards.

With the game in the 63rd minute, a lovely team move resulted in Watford opening the scoring. Stojko-Down threaded a ball through to Adekite Fatuga-Dada, she crossed it towards the back post, where O’Leary was waiting in the right place to finish the move off with a simple header.

After a relatively quiet afternoon, Baranowska had to make a good save at a key time late on. Scarlett Kelly got a good strike away, but the keeper tipped it over to preserve the one-goal lead.

Watford had a chance to make it a more comfortable final few minutes when Stojko-Down played in Leanne Bell, however her effort one-on-one went narrowly over the bar.

It wouldn’t matter in the end though, as the Golden Girls professionally saw out the game, earning an eighth win on the road in their final away fixture of the season. The team will now return home for the final two matches of the campaign, as C&K Basildon Ladies and Plymouth Argyle Ladies visit Kings Langley.

GOLDEN GIRLS | Baranowska, Fatuga-Dada ©, Hallsworth, Richards, Afiya Johnson, Kikomeko, Scanlon (Harney, 90), Carid (Huggins, 57), Stojko-Down, Bell, O’Leary.

Goal | O’Leary (63).

GILLS | Shanly, Ashton-Jones ©, Huntley, Ahern, Waud (George, 75), Seely (Giordani, 75), Monaghan, Manning, Fowler, Bussey, Grant (Kelly, 75).