Match Report: Watford 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
By Kevin Affleck
This really is pinch yourself stuff.
In one of those 'I was there’ moments, Watford dug deep, really deep, perhaps deeper than they have ever before in the Premier League era to come from behind to not only draw level with a hugely-impressive Spurs side, but then go on and flatten them with two goals in seven extraordinary second-half minutes.
Not since Kenny Jackett whacked a penalty past Ray Clemence in the 90th minute of the 1987 clash here have Watford beaten Spurs in the league, but you can consign that statistic to the bin now. A deafening Vicarage Road rocked and bounced like it rarely has before and now a generation of Watford fans can say they have seen their beloved side beat Spurs in a league game.
This was no ordinary Spurs side, either – it's one who on Monday thrashed the side who finished second last season, so this victory is therefore right up there with the best of the Premier League era, right up there with the wins over Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.
There wasn't much finesse about it – it was built fairly and squarely on spit and sawdust and a bit of of old-fashioned hard work. Graham Taylor would have loved it and so surely did the watching Sir Elton John.
It looked for all the world like Spurs would make it four wins from four after an own goal from Abdoulaye Doucouré had put the visitors in front on 53 minutes. The smart money would have been on them adding to their tally, but write off this reinvigorated and charged-up Hornets side at your peril. They have shown they can win having got their noses in front but now they demonstrated they can do it the hard way and against the elite, too.
It all stemmed from Troy Deeney, so often the talisman, knocking over Dávinson Sánchez with a shoulder charge. Vicarage Road exploded into life with cries of 'Deeney, Deeney, Deeney' and that was the catalyst for a stunning revival. Minutes later, at his favourite end of the ground, the captain headed in a José Holebas free-kick and then seven minutes later, the ground went nuts when Craig Cathcart thumped in a header from another pin-point delivery from Holebas. What a time to score your first goal since January 2016.
There were heroes everywhere. Daryl Janmaat had arguably his best ever game in a Watford shirt; there cannot be many better left-backs in the division or takers of a set-piece than Holebas right now; Christian Kabasele just gets better and better; Cathcart snuffed out Harry Kane while Deeney continues to show just why he will go down as a club legend when his time here comes to an end. It was stirring stuff and one of the great days in the club's long and illustrious history. It really was that good.
Even the usually laid back Étienne Capoue was fist pumping and dancing at the final whistle. It meant that much, particularly to a player deemed surplus to requirements at White Hart Lane.
What made it so special was that victory looked a long way off after the first half and even the first hour. Most Watford fans would have bitten your hand off had you offered them a draw at that stage. A slick Spurs side were that bit quicker to the ball, that bit sharper and that bit more probing. It was a real step up in intensity from the first three games.
Spurs paid the Hornets a compliment by switching to a three at the back, something they didn't even do at Old Trafford on Monday night and that helped them boss the first period. They enjoyed two thirds of possession, forced six more corners and generally looked the more likely side.
The Hornets had to be at their most agile and alert defensively to keep them at arm's length. There were towering headers from Deeney and Kabasele following balls slung into the box and also timely tackles from Capoue and Kabasele. A combination of Foster and Kabasele, yet again, also snuffed out a threatening situation involving Lucas Moura. There was also a heart-in-mouth moment when Dele Alli stole into a surprising amount of space to loop a header up and over the stranded Foster, but fortunately the ball went just over. It was not quite backs-to-the-wall stuff, but the home defenders were certainly earning their money in the first period.
Watford's best attacking moment came on 18 minutes when Janmaat stood the ball up at the far post for Deeney to charge onto, but the captain, under huge pressure, could only send a header over the ball.
Apart from that the Hornets could just not get their attacking game going. The ball would just not stick for Andre Gray and Deeney while the midfield lacked the raw pace to get in behind and round the back of the Spurs defence. Watford tried to play some nice intricate stuff just in front of the Spurs back five, but that suited the visitors down to the ground and was meat and drink to their fortified defence.
If the first goal was going to arrive, you suspected Spurs would get it and perhaps with a touch of class or a moment of quality, so it was galling for Watford that the opener ended up being a bit of a dog's dinner.
Foster and Kabasele got involved in a mix-up, the loose ball fell to Moura who drilled it back across the face of goal. It hit the retreating Doucouré and rolled agonisingly past a scrambling Foster and over the line. Paul Robinson once scored one past Foster in this fixture and the Watford keeper would have felt just as pig sick about this one.
It would have been easy for Watford to fold after that sucker punch, particularly as things weren't going their way but back they came and back they came with a bang.
Deeney (who else?) nodded in the equaliser with a far-post header and then Cathcart put his injury hell behind him once and for all by crashing in another header seven minutes later. It was not pretty but it was pretty effective and Vicarage Road revelled in it. It was like the good old days when Watford built a reputation on their proficiency from set-pieces and their expert delivery into the box. Nigel Callaghan and John Barnes could not have done a better job than Holebas did this afternoon.
From then on, Javi Gracia showed his tactical acumen to close the game out. He threw on Nathaniel Chalobah to stiffen the midfield and then asked Adrian Mariappa to play in a three-man defence. It did the trick. Every clearance was cheered from the rafters and everyone was on their feet. The final blast of Andre Marriner's whistle saw everybody hug the person next to them and there were high fives all round.
Hornets supporters have now got two weeks during the international break to savour this one and talk about it down the pub and in offices before Manchester United come to town with Watford joint top of the table. Pinch yourself. These are heady, heady times.
HORNETS | Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes (Chalobah 86), Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra (Mariappa 90); Deeney (c) (Success 70), Gray.
Subs not used | Gomes, Masina, Sema, Femenía.