First Team 01/01/2020

Pearson: “It Was About Showing Desire And Character”

In the last four games Nigel Pearson more than doubled the Hornets’ points tally for the season, and the Head Coach said this latest win was a testament to his players’ willingness to give everything for the club.

“[We won by] showing that we had a desire to keep the ball out of our net when things didn't go our way in the second half,” said Pearson.

“I thought we showed an understanding of the right way to try and win that game. We knew it was going to be a day which we might not see as much of the ball as we would have liked because we were playing against a side who are very accomplished at playing possession football, with good individuals and a clear way of playing.

“But I always felt that, when we did have spells of possession, we looked dangerous.”

When Abdoulaye Doucouré scored early in the second half to double the lead first given to the hosts by Gerard Deulofeu, it almost felt like game, set and match.

But Pearson knew better and, after Christian Kabasele’s sending off following a VAR review, the Hornets had to show another side of their game to grind out the win.

“To go two goals up always gives you a bit of breathing space, but certainly at the end we were hanging on a little bit,” said the Head Coach.

“But the desire of the players to keep the ball out of the net and, to use a cliché, to put their bodies on the line for the team and for our situation, was clear for everybody to see.

“That bodes well for us. It doesn't mean that our season is saved, for sure. We have to show that every week, but if you’ve seen us in the last few weeks, we’ve won games in different ways and it’s always important that your team are able to do that.

“At times we've played some really good football and won, but today it was about showing desire and character as well as ability.”

Against Wolves last season in the FA Cup semi-final, the Hornets showed fight and a never-say-die attitude which helped them come from 2-0 down to win the game.

That is the sort of character Pearson thinks is engrained in this club, and he wants everyone to keep up the same levels of commitment shown in recent weeks for the rest of the season.

“I’ve seen lots of positive things here and it's a good club, with good people working for it and that includes the players. But as a wider overview it's a good football club and it's got character. What we need to do is reflect that on the pitch,” he said.

“There's a lot of hard work still to be done and I think it will be foolish to think that the job is over, it’s far from over, but we’ve given ourselves more of a chance now by getting back into contact with the pack.”

First Team 01/01/2020

Match Report: Watford 2-1 Wolves

By Kevin Affleck

There are seismic moments in any season. Think the thrilling win over Tranmere in 1999 with nine men. This backs-to-the-wall, heart-stopping win over Wolves, achieved with ten men for the last 20 minutes, felt like one of those. 

There is plenty of the season to play, another 17 games to be precise, so you may need to strap yourself in and hold on tight, but we may well look back at events this afternoon at a jumping Vicarage Road as the big turning point, when the great escape was well and truly was on.

Two goals up and heading for a third straight win at home, the Hornets were forced to dig as deep as they have done in many moons to pull this one out the bag after Christian Kabasele was sent off with 20 minutes to go. But this team has something about it and the fact three of the last four wins have been achieved with ten men says this group has, as Troy Deeney would say, some cajones as well as suggesting they are never going to make things easy for themselves. 

The fist pump Nigel Pearson gave the Sir Elton John stand at the final whistle spoke of an iron will this team has and how they just don't know they are beaten, how they are now hellbent on dragging themselves out of this situation. The crowd were extraordinary, as extraordinary off the pitch as the likes of Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré were on it. The noise when João Moutinho smashed one over at the end was deafening and every clearance was cheered from the rafters. Everyone is most definitely in this together and the whole place is transformed, the mood is completely different. 

It was all quite cagey stuff early on. The early exchanges were summed up by a shot from the excellent Nathaniel Chalobah that cannoned into the unsuspecting Deeney and then a pass Matt Doherty allowed to roll over his foot and drift out for a throw. Both sides were waiting for that spark of ingenuity and for things to be a bit more cohesive. 

Wolves got things together a bit quicker. Ben Foster was smartly off his line to save at the feet of Doherty and was relieved that Raúl Jimenez put one wide after Ryan Bennett picked out the Mexican with a ball straight through the heart of the defence. He remonstrated with his centre-halves after that one, feeling Jimenez had got in too easily. He had a point.  

From that moment, the team regrouped and started to string one or two moves together at the other end. Chalobah curled one over, Kiko Femenía fizzed one tantalisingly across the face that Doucouré was a whisker away from connecting with, then Ismaïla Sarr forced a low save from Rui Patrício with one he swung his left foot at.

You wondered if that one would represent the Hornets' best chance of the half but, fortunately, another one arrived one minute later and was grabbed with both hands. Sarr turned provider this time, laying one on perfectly for Deulofeu to steer into the far corner past the outstretched dive of the Portugal 'keeper. It was classic Deulofeu, just the type of opportunity he loves.

The relief was palpable. It could have been even better had a snapshot from Deulofeu dropped under the bar and Sarr not crashed one into the side-netting. Still, they ended the half in the ascendancy, with the momentum and never took their foot off the pedal.

Four minutes after the break and the team were two goals to the good, given that all-important breathing space by Doucouré's first goal at this place since April. Yes, the strike got a deflection that took it spectacularly into the roof of the net, but Doucouré, on his birthday, deserved the break for persistently getting in the right areas and his drive to get into the box. It was all starting to go right for the home side. There was a backheel from Femenía and then Craig Dawson attempted a slide-rule pass to Sarr.

You hoped the last half-hour might be fairly straight-forward, like it was against Manchester United and Aston Villa here, but nothing is plain sailing in this league. You get nothing for free at this exalted level.

It was always going to take something spectacular or lucky to beat Foster here for the first time in 302 minutes and it proved to be the latter. Neto let fly from distance and it took a wicked deflection off Kabasele and sailed over Foster, who stood no chance. The goal caused nerves to jangle and raised pulses. The tension then reached unbearable levels when Kabasele was sent off on the say-so of VAR for a foul on Diogo Jota. It was deemed a goal-scoring opportunity.

It was now all hands to the pump, with Adam Masina sent on to bolster the defence. He immediately rushed out to take one in the mush from a short corner while Romain Saïss forced Foster to scramble across his line and palm a header round the post. You had Capoue shepherding Adama Traoré out of play at one end and then hunting down Conor Coady at the other. Craig Cathcart, cool as a cucumber, even found time to perform a show and go in his own box to avert danger involving Jota.

It was, in the end, fairly comfortable by and large, and the three points felt as significant, if not more so, than the stunning Wembley win over Wolves. It was one of those 'I was there' afternoons at this grand old place. GT, who managed both sides, would have loved it.

HORNETS: Foster; Dawson, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía (Holebas 59); Chalobah, Capoue, Doucouré; Sarr (Pereyra 90), Deeney (C), Deulofeu (Masina 72).

Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Gray, Quina and Success.