First Team 26/10/2019

Match Report: Watford 0-0 Bournemouth

By Kevin Affleck

Quique Sánchez Flores launched his first spell in charge with three straight draws. He has repeated the trick here now he has his feet under the table to firmly establish a foundation, but the only trouble this time is the Hornets are now ten games in, over a quarter of the way through the season, and wins are the currency the team needs to be trading in.

There was no lack of ambition in trying to beat Bournemouth here in a typical high-octane encounter with the Cherries – eight yellow cards were testament to that – and certainly no lack of effort. This wasn’t a bore draw and a smattering of boos at full-time were a touch harsh.

Everyone is just feeling the frustration that a team with this sort of talent, this sort of depth, somehow remains without a win. Three points, in any size of shape, should, by law of averages, arrive soon, perhaps in the most unlikely of places, and instead of a season that peters out, we might just be in for a thrilling one. It could be strap-yourself-in time.

At least Sánchez Flores has sorted the defence out – that’s now one goal in three games after 12 in his first three – and when the goals start coming, and they should once Troy Deeney gets back to full fitness and provides a spearhead, the team know it might only take one goal to win a game. It’s not all doom and gloom. The team aren’t leaking goals or getting rolled over every week. However marginal, the gradual signs of improvement are there. It’s just we are behind the eight ball and playing catch up.

The Hornets came racing out of the traps and could have been ahead inside a minute. Daryl Janmaat nipped in front of Arnaut Danjuma in a classic piece of high pressing, sparking a move down the right that resulted in Gerard Deulofeu whipping a teasing centre across that fell into the path of Abdoulaye Doucouré. The Frenchman was ever so slightly off balance and couldn't keep his shot down, but it was a hugely promising start. 

Tom Cleverley was at the heart of everything the Hornets did well early on, setting the tone from midfield, so it was a blow when he limped off after nine minutes. He had just made a perfectly executed tackle on Joshua King in the middle of midfield, too. 

The loss of Cleverley, particularly his energy, resulted in a period of adjustment and allowed Bournemouth to, slowly but surely, establish a foothold in the game. They got into their stride and hit the bar with a thumping header from Steve Cook, forced Ben Foster into flying low saves to deny Philip Billing, Diego Rico and then the save of the match to deny Danjuma at the far post. It was one out of the very top drawer, classic Foster. The Vicarage Road crowd loved it. They knew how important that save could turn out to be. 

Sánchez Flores knew his side would feed off less possession and they did their best to make the 41 per cent they had in the first period count on the counterattack, particularly down the right through Janmaat and Deulofeu. They prompted and probed, twisted and turned but the ball just wouldn’t drop for Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra or Doucouré in the middle of the area. It was helter-skelter stuff towards the end of the half and both teams probably needed half-time to catch their breath.

Whatever was said to Deulofeu during the break did the trick as he was at it in the first three minutes, at his corkscrewing best. He did Steve Cook like a kipper, twisting him one way, turning him another before attempting delicately chip one over Ramsdale. The idea was right, the execution was neat but Ramsdale pulled off a sprawling save.

Sánchez Flores sensed the game was there for the taking and made a surprisingly early attacking change, bringing on Andre Gray for Nathaniel Chalobah and asking Doucouré to sit deeper. It was a bold move by the Spaniard. The switch allowed Pereyra to get on the ball more centrally and slightly deeper and there was a period when he ran the show, dictating the game at his pace. 

Tempers flared briefly in what was a full-blooded game following a challenge by Callum Wilson and it needed some cool heads to restore order and a bit of composure. Will Hughes is one of the team’s more cooler customers and he rose above a bit of scrappy, fractious play to almost find the bottom corner with one left-footed effort from distance. Ramsdale, though, pulled off a fine low save to his left and turned the ball away for a corner. Hughes couldn’t believe he hadn’t scored. Neither could Sánchez Flores who turned to his bench in utter despair.

There was a free-kick from Deulofeu that flashed across the face near the end while Harry Wilson, on as a sub, almost curled a free-kick past a helpless Foster, but that was about it really and a game that promised so much, one everyone had pinned their hopes on winning, fizzled out. There was a bit of despair in the stands at the final whistle, and understandably so in some quarters, but keep the faith. There is still a long way to go and many twists and turns to come. Hold onto your hats.

HORNETS: Foster (GK); Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Janmaat, Chalobah (Gray 58), Cleverley (Hughes 10), Doucouré, Masina (Foulquier 73); Pereyra, Deulofeu

Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Prödl, Mariappa, Quina

First Team 25/10/2019

Gray: “The Belief Is Growing Every Day”

Andre Gray believes the Hornets are more organised and well-drilled thanks to Quique Sánchez Flores, and that this approach is the reason for an upturn in confidence and performances in recent weeks.

Against Sheffield United the Hornets picked up a first league clean sheet since February and this was followed up with an away point at Tottenham Hotspur which should have been three.

“The belief is growing every day in training, when you go out there and have an understanding in your job and your job as a team it makes things a lot easier and clearer. Obviously time will tell, but there’s a lot of belief in the team to kick on and get ourselves back up the table,” said Gray.

“He [Sánchez Flores] is getting us back to basics really. I’m not saying it wasn’t like that with the other manager, but he just came with fresh ideas, formation and a different style.”

One key aspect of the Sánchez Flores style is becoming a tight unit which is hard to break down. After conceding too many goals in the opening matches, Gray believes the hard work on the training pitch is beginning to pay off.

“Defensively as a team we’ve conceded a lot of goals, but that’s not down to individuals, it’s the whole team from front to back,” he said. “We’ve worked a lot on the defence since the new manager's come in and in the last few games, barring the little hiccup last week, we're looking a lot stronger as a team.”

At the other end of the pitch the Hornets are looking to score more goals, and Gray wants to start adding to his Hornets’ tally. The striker is never one to hide away from mistakes and admits he should have finished his chance against Sheffield United. But, despite not taking the opportunity, Gray wants to get back on the pitch to make amends.

“I had a big chance against Sheffield United and fluffed my lines. It’s part and parcel of the game and that’s what happens when you are a striker, you do miss chances. It’s just about getting that run in the team and a few games on the bounce and I know then I will score goals,” he said.

“I don’t think my ratio has been that bad in terms of starts to goals, I feel like if I get a run of games I will score.”

Going into the match against Bournemouth, the Hornets are hoping for a first Premier League win of the season.

“Every game is important and it’s not just about Bournemouth,” said Gray. “If we go and win that game and then lose the next six or seven games, it makes no difference. We look at every game as important now with the situation we're in, but it does start on Saturday against Bournemouth.”