Ladies 22/10/2018

Ladies Report: Coventry United 4-0 Watford

Watford FC Ladies suffered their first league loss since August as the Golden Girls fell to a 4-0 defeat at Coventry United on Sunday.

Armand Kavaja’s side started the game well but two goals in three minutes just past the midway point of the first half changed proceedings.

Amber Hughes opened the scoring with a great strike and then Chenise Austin converted from the penalty spot. A long-range free-kick from Marie Gauntlett made it three after the hour mark and then Amy Wathan completed the scoring with a composed finish.

There were three changes to the side that took on the same opponents in the cup the previous weekend. With Weronika Baranowska unavailable, Amy Martin started in goal. There were also returns to the starting line-up for Lauren Peck and Andrea Carid.

The opening fifteen minutes at Daventry Town FC saw Watford have arguably have the better of the play, but the hosts put their bodies on the line numerous times to block shots.

Martin was called upon to make her first save when Wathan’s shot from 25 yards out was easily gathered by the keeper. Gauntlett then attempted a lob soon after but it went wide.

Watford were keeping the ball well at times and this was emphasised by a lovely move that helped escape the Coventry press, but unfortunately for the Hornets, Carid’s through ball at the end had just too much on it as she looked to find Helen Ward.

In truth it was a fairly even game at this point and it took something special to open the scoring. Hughes cut inside from the right and her strike picked out the top left corner, leaving Martin with no chance.

A few minutes later a penalty was awarded to the hosts, although there were some question marks over whether the Coventry player was holding Peck’s shirt. Austin stepped up to take it and emphatically doubled the lead.

Kat Huggins put a good free-kick into the box as Watford looked to respond, Emily Hill got her head to it, but she couldn’t direct it on target.

There was an opening for each side towards the end of the half but Lois Jefferies and Ward both shot over after good work in the build-up.

It’s been well documented that the majority of the Golden Girls’ scoring prowess has come in the second half of matches and they came out firing at the beginning of the second period.

Only a few minutes into the half Linda Afuakwah beat her marker and got into the box but she couldn’t keep her shot down. Huggins’ free-kick from a difficult angle then caused problems for Susan Wood in the Coventry goal, however she did just enough to deal with it.

She was then forced into action two more times before the hour mark, stopping Afuakwah with her feet and then denying Katie O’Leary with a good save from a one-on-one chance.

Watford would be punished for not taking one of those openings as Coventry made it 3-0 in the 63rd minute. It was another great strike as Gauntlett attempted an ambitious free-kick and also found the top corner.

The game was then put beyond doubt as Wathan found space in the box and beat Martin with a composed finish. It was one of those days where nothing was falling for Watford. Ward blocked down Wood’s clearance, but it looped up perfectly for the keeper to gather.

The captain then had a chance to grab a consolation late on when presented with a one-on-one with Wood, but her shot narrowly missed, hitting the side netting.

While the scoreline might not have quite reflected the game, there could be no complaints about the result. There’s now a three-week break for Watford, with back-to-back home fixtures on November 11 and 18 as the Golden Girls look to get back on track.

GOLDEN GIRLS | Martin, Hallsworth, O’Halloran, Hill, Peck (O’Leary, HT), Scanlon, Stojko-Down (Akerman, 74), Afuakwah (Harney, 64), Carid, Huggins, Ward (C).

UNITED | Wood (C), Riden, McDonnell, Miles, Austin, Merritt, Brook, Hughes, Gauntlett, Jefferies, Wathan.

Goals | Hughes (26), Austin (28 pen), Gauntlett (63), Wathan (73)

Attendance | 136

First Team 22/10/2018

Affleck's Angle: Wolves Away

Kevin Affleck dissects Watford's 2-0 win at Wolves

Javi Gracia arrived on these shores amid minimal fanfare and the little that was known about him was centred on his reputation for slaying the giants of La Liga.

He famously choreographed unlikely results against the big three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid while in charge of Osasuna and Malaga, with the zenith coming in 2015 when his Malaga side pulled off a 1-0 win at the Camp Nou against a Barca side who stormed to the treble that season.

But Gracia is showing he's much more than a giant-killer, capable of only getting teams to raise themselves for games against the big fish. He is now putting together a sustained body of work at Vicarage Road and developing a team with an all-court game, one capable of coming from behind to beat Spurs, one who led from the front at Turf Moor, that most awkward of venues, and one who won with something to spare at Molineux, a ground where even the free-scoring Manchester City tripped up. 

He is starting to forge a reputation as a real alchemist and Watford's win on Saturday was the upshot of his homework and tactical planning. He turned down the chance to go back home during the international break, preferring instead to get to the root of the defeat to Bournemouth and plot the downfall of Wolves. He wanted to have something up his sleeve. 

Javi Gracia exchanging plesantries with opposite number Nuno Espirito Santo ahead of kick-off

“We changed the shape because we needed to do it,” said the Head Coach, who crucially identified the possibility of joy in the space behind Wolves' full-backs.

The hosts would have been expecting Gracia to play with two up top, as he has done in every Premier League game this season, but oh no. The Spaniard resisted the temptation to pair Andre Gray with Isaac Success in the absence of Troy Deeney and instead pulled a rabbit out of the hat by playing Deulofeu through the middle. It was rough to leave out Gray on his return to his hometown as a Premier League player, but it's bold selection moves like that that set certain coaches apart.

Instead of doing the obvious and asking Deulofeu to get some chalk on his boots by playing out wide, he deployed his countryman in a central role. He gave Deulofeu license to drop deep, asked him to link the play and allowed him to cause havoc in that pocket of space between the Wolves midfield and defence. Their three-man defence were caught cold and just did not know how to handle the roaming Deulofeu, Will Hughes and Roberto Pereyra. 

“I touched the ball a lot because I played in a different position,” said Deulofeu. “I like to play there because I am really near to the area, to finish and I can touch the ball more. I can associate more with my teammates and I can find the best spaces.”

Gerard Deulofeu impressed in the number 10 role on his first start of the season

His availability and willingness to receive the ball in tight areas was a large reason why Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré failed to only complete 19 of 174 passes between them. Gracia knows a thing or two about the art of midfield play from his playing days with Valladolid, Real Sociedad and Villarreal, so he spoke from a position of strength when he assessed post-match just how blessed the Hornets are in that area of the field.

“It is a position where we have good players,” he said. “We have Chalobah, who is injured, but he is playing with England at a high level. We have good players in that position, but, in this moment, Doucouré and Capoue are playing a very high level.”

Indeed, they played so majestically and dovetailed so well that the lauded Portuguese pair of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho barely got a kick. Watford's French duo passed round them and won that all-important battle hands down, even combining for Capoue to guide in the first goal with laser-like precision.

“Abdoulaye gave me a nice ball and for me it was easy to shoot one touch,” said Capoue. “I just tried to hit the target. It went straight and I was so happy.”

After the final whistle Etienne Capoue discussed his delight at opening Watford's scoring

You rarely see Capoue without a smile on his face, but he's beaming from ear to ear right now. Nobody has more interceptions in Europe than Capoue and he's clearly got the bit between his teeth right now. His laconic style can sometimes suggest he doesn't play with the same passion as others, but the frenzied full-time celebrations against Palace and Spurs put that to bed. He's playing with a real sense of purpose.

“We wanted to show we want to be above them,” he said, giving an insight into what makes him tick against Wolves.

Indeed, the Hornets are one place and one point above the Wanderers and have now won two of their past four away games. That's more than they managed in their previous 16 games on the road.

It was also Pereyra's first goal away from home in a year. “It was absolutely superb,” said Danny Murphy on Match of the Day of the delicious finish with the outside of his left foot. “I would never have tried that in a million years.”

Roberto Pereyra's strike drew praise from the pundits on Match of the Day

Murphy also remarked how Watford started the match without Christian Kabasele, José Holebas, Troy Deeney and Andre Gray. It meant opportunity knocked for Adrian Mariappa, Adam Masina, Isaac Success and Deulofeu.

“They took their chance,” said Capoue. “We told them it was time for them to work and show what they can do. They did it very well.”

The four slotted in seamlessly, which was testament not only to their ability but also the way Gracia must be coherently getting his gameplan across to every member of the squad. It was all too much for Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo, who was comprehensively outflanked and outwitted. He made a change at half-time and another by the hour mark. 
 
“As a team, they were better than us,” he admitted. “They began the game well, they were more compact and we made mistakes with our possession that allowed them to always recover the ball and go out and create some situations.”

Wolves had not lost at home since January 20, when Nottingham Forest beat them 2-0, but the Hornets not only plundered all three points, but restricted the home side to just one shot on target.

“Nobody else has gone there and managed to play that well,” said Murphy.