Report: Newcastle United 1-1 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
The Hornets are up and running this season, off the mark with a hard-earned point away at Newcastle United. Yes, it could have been better, yes, we all wanted more and probably expected more, but it also could have been worse given the chances Newcastle had. A point was probably about right in the end as nobody wanted a bagel in the points' column heading into the international break.
There was again much to be encouraged by, particularly the performances of Christian Kabasele, who got better and better as the match wore on, the sprightly Will Hughes and the industrious Tom Cleverley. They are exactly the sort of blokes you want in the trenches with you after you've lost three on the bounce.
The travelling fans might have liked to have seen a bit more stardust at the other end – Gerard Deulofeu, Danny Welbeck and Ismaïla Sarr got eight minutes between them – but Javi Gracia will have figured this was a time to dig in, shut it down and grind out a point. He just didn't want to get beat here. He opted for safety first. He will quite rightly say it worked and the Hornets are off and running, but there was still a feeling, like there was last season, that there was more on offer here in the north east than the team left with.
Ben Foster called for the team to start fast and get their noses in front and they did just that. There were just 81 seconds on the board when Hughes, quick as a flash, was first to react to a deflected shot from Cleverley. It was the sort of start Gracia would have dreamed of in his hotel room last night.
Having struck first blood for the first time since the 2-1 win at Huddersfield, the team were able to settle into their more conservative formation which looked like 5-4-1 at times and 3-5-1-1 at others. It enabled them to get men behind the ball, not leave Foster so exposed and play on the break. It worked nicely, although the home side did get round the back three times inside the first six minutes as the visitors got to grip with things.
Once they did, the defence was much more resolute and played with an edge to it. Craig Dawson won a towering header and crashed through Joelinton in a piece of defending reminiscent of his West Brom days. Kabasele won three aerial duels in the space of a minute while Craig Cathcart, captain for the day, bravely blocked efforts from Joelinton and Isaac Hayden from the same corner. It wasn't just the defence, either. Andre Gray pressed from the front and slid in on Jamaal Lascelles while the excellent Hughes did the same to Hayden. When Daryl Janmaat won a header he wasn't favourite to win on the near touchline, you knew the team were at it.
They could have done with a second goal and may have had one had Kiko Femenía curled one in instead of over after a length-of-the-field break while Gray may feel, on reflection, he could have taken a chance first time following a lovely ball from Roberto Pereyra.
Still, the Hornets were just four minutes away from executing an ideal first-half performance when Hayden caused havoc from a cross into the box from the right. He occupied two defenders, leaving Fabian Schär, up from the back and unable to believe his luck, to tuck the loose ball home. It was a real blow as the team could really have done with the confidence that would have come with leading at half-time.
The signs looked promising at the start of the second half when the omnipresent Cleverley nipped in front of Schär deep in the final third to win possession. It was the sort of high press and defending from the front that Gracia loves. But instead of sparking a period of front-foot play, it was followed by a searching period defensively. Schär headed one across goal, Kabasele produced a terrific sliding block to stop a certain shot on target from Miguel Almirión and possibly more. Hayden then let fly with a shot that swerved all over the place that Foster somehow managed to get something on and deflect over. There was also a smart interception from Dawson on Joelinton that prompted optimistic cries for a penalty.
Gracia needed to shift the momentum, and quickly, and he sought to do that by bringing on Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success for Abdoulaye Doucouré and, surprisingly, Hughes. He then, just over ten minutes later, loosened the team's top button and slung on Deulofeu. The summoning of Success almost worked a treat. The strapping Nigerian craned his neck to send a header towards goal that had Martin Dúbravka scrambling and then almost teed up Pereyra for what would have been a sensational winner. It would have been slightly unjust on the Magpies had the Hornets nicked a late one but, as this lot have found out, you don't always get what you deserve in this game.
HORNETS: Foster, Janmaat, Dawson, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Doucourè (Chalobah 71), Cleverley, Hughes (Success 71); Pereyra, Gray (Deulofeu 82). Subs not used: Gomes, Welbeck, Masina, Sarr.