First Team 14/12/2019

Pearson: “We Must Play With That Intensity Every Game”

Despite disappointment at falling just short in his first game in charge, Nigel Pearson took real encouragement from the application and courage shown by his players in today’s 2-0 defeat at league leaders Liverpool.

“We knew it’d be one hell of a tough game,” said the Head Coach, who’d seen Watford fail to convert three or four chances of real promise against a team who have now won 16 of their 17 league games this term.

“We were aware it was going to be a case of risk and reward because you have to be disciplined when you come here and with a very strong team ethic, but I thought we also made life difficult for Liverpool and we created some unbelievable goalscoring situations.

“We were unable to convert them today and it’s of scant reward that we leave here with nothing for our efforts in terms of points, but I was very pleased with the collective work ethic today and that’s hopefully a shift in what we’ve looked like at times this season.

“We’ve got to play with that intensity in every game. If we do that there’s a real possibility of turning the corner and building some momentum, but we have to make it happen ourselves. Liverpool are an excellent side. They’re a well-oiled machine with incredible players so when you look at it in those terms, that is quite a good way to measure our performance today.”

Abdoulaye Doucouré and Ismaïla Sarr will certainly feel they should have done better when faced with excellent opportunities in front of goal, but Pearson said it came as no surprise that the Hornets created a healthy number of chances against last season’s Champions League winners.

“I’m not surprised when I bear in mind the talented players we’ve got available to us,” he said. “If I was sitting here and we’d been beaten 2-0 and soaked up pressure for 95 minutes and not created a chance, I’d be feeling a bit worse for wear.

“I’m also realistic. They’ve had a goal disallowed with VAR and they’ve had some good opportunities, but certainly in the first half we had the best opportunities.

“The [first] goal and their other best chance [in the first half] came from our set plays and that’s something we’ve talked about, but if the players are wondering what we have to do to break this cycle of disappointment, my answer is to do what we’ve done today every day.”

Defeat leaves Watford with nine points on the board from 17 games, but Pearson is sure his side can climb out of the bottom three if they continue to build on the improvements already evident during his first week at the helm.

“We played with lots of conviction today. Yes, there are disappointed players in that dressing room, but I also sense a togetherness which is going to be important.

“We have to continue to build a collective identity. I spoke before about having a buy-in from everybody and it’s absolutely required for us to find a way of getting out of the situation we’re in.

“It’s doable – that’s the other message. We are capable of doing it but we’ve got to start making it happen.”

First Team 14/12/2019

Match Report: Liverpool 2-0 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

The positive Nigel Pearson effect witnessed around the training ground and in various media interviews this week was writ large over this vastly improved showing this afternoon at Anfield, usually a graveyard of a venue for the Hornets in the last three seasons.

Organised, disciplined and willing to go toe-to-toe with the opposition, this display had the no-nonsense and bold Pearson stamped all over it in what was the best performance in this red half of Merseyside in a long time. 

Yes, it ended in a defeat many had predicted against the league leaders and European champions, but not in the manner that has been witnessed too often here. Mo Salah's goal late in the first half was all that separated the sides for a long while until the Egyptian flicked in a very late second that gave the scoreline a horribly lop-sided reflection.

There was so much to hang your hat on here from a Watford perspective, so much to give hope and belief in the games to come, providing the team can start finding the back of the net. Driven on by the inspired Will Hughes, there were several chances of the golden variety – probably as many created here in five visits – and many Reds, let alone the neutrals, will wonder how the extremely game visitors didn't score and, possibly, even leave here with a point. 

If this is the improvement and level of performance Pearson and Craig Shakespeare have managed to bring about in a week, then it bodes well for what is a hugely crucial period over Christmas. This was not the performance of a team at the foot of the table.

There was plenty to admire about the Hornets' first-half display in particular. They kept the Reds at arms' length to such an extent that it took them until the 23rd minute to have a shot, which is the longest they have had to wait for one in a Premier League match since 2016. That was largely a result of at least two interceptions, one headed and one on the slide, from Christian Kabasele.

It wasn't backs-to-the-wall, though, like it usually is here. The visitors had a right good go and were very neat and cohesive in possession. It wasn't a stretch to say they created the two best chances, and possibly three, of the first half. 

Troy Deeney was a whisker away from connecting with a cross from Ismaïla Sarr after five minutes; Abdoulaye Doucouré fluffed his lines completely when Étienne Capoue cut one back after Sarr had played him in down the right with a slide-rule pass and then Sarr did something similar to Doucouré when the ball came across from the other side from Gerard Deulofeu.

There was also a shot on the run from the excellent Hughes and another teasing ball across the face from Doucouré that needed to be intercepted as Deulofeu and Deeney were lying in wait. Pearson would have been delighted with what he saw for long, long periods but then he also saw a moment that encapsulated the season so far. Less than a minute after Sarr had a golden chance to lash one in at the Kop End, Liverpool broke up the other end and Salah tucked one away. It was a harsh, harsh blow, but just typical of the way things go at this exalted level.

It was exactly the same at the start of the second period. Sarr fired one at the 'keeper from an angle when he could, possibly, have squared it to Deeney and then it felt like Liverpool went up the other end and scored through Sadio Mané. Fortunately, the goal was ruled out for a hairline offside call in a VAR decision that, for once, went the Golden Boys' way.

They should really have made the most of the reprieve when Deulofeu went through the centre of the Liverpool defence from a Deeney pass on 54 minutes. He shifted the ball onto his favoured right foot, got it out of his feet and took aim but Alisson Becker hared off his line to smother it. It was a terrific save, but Deulofeu will know presentable chances like that don't come along too often at Anfield.

Still, the Hornets kept coming, still they weren't afraid to take the game to the hosts. Deulofeu rattled the angle of post and bar with one from a corner and there was a Virgil Van Dijk pass that almost went past Becker. Liverpool were really on the back foot at times. It wasn't all plain sailing at the other end, though. It wasn't going to be with the attacking riches Liverpool have.

The ubiquitous Hughes made a key block on Roberto Firmino; Foster made a save from the same player and Adrian Mariappa did excellently to head over a dangerous cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. You hoped, for confidence levels, Liverpool wouldn't get a second, that if the Hornets were to lose here it would only be by one goal, but Salah put paid to that with a second in the 90th minute. It was cruel, but then this is a ruthless league. Pearson will know that and will be making his side more streetwise and clinical in the coming weeks. 

HORNETS: Foster; Mariappa, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Sarr, Capoue, Doucouré (Quina 87), Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney (Gray 75).

Sub not used: Gomes (GK), Dawson, Chalobah, Success, Foulquier.