First Team 11/02/2020

Cleverley: “It's Time To Get Out There”

By Kevin Affleck

Tom Cleverley says he is itching to get back involved with the first team and make a telling contribution in the final 12 games.

The 30-year-old marked his comeback from an Achilles problem with 45 minutes for the Under-23s against Ipswich Town yesterday and got about the pitch well, looking neat and tidy in possession and snapping into one or two tackles.

He has missed the last 19 games after limping off early on against Bournemouth and is desperate to be back involved. In fact, the question about his desire to make an impact during the run-in had not even finished when he interjected.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “I've not worked as hard as I have to not contribute towards the team. That's the plan.”

Head Coach Nigel Pearson clearly feels the 16-cap England international, who has played more than 200 Premier League games, has a role to play as he sent Hayden Mullins to East Anglia to watch the midfielder on his comeback. Cleverley played alongside Tom Dele-Bashiru and Callum Whelan in a very handy midfield three before being withdrawn at half-time in a pre-planned move.

“It's brilliant to be back,” said Cleverley. “It was the same sort of rehab process as last time when I played 45 minutes for the 23s. It's important to get that spatial awareness and that match competitiveness even though it's not in the first team. There is nothing like being part of a match situation where you can put in your tackles, put your passes in and put 100 per cent on everything. I'm really pleased.”

Injuries never come at a good time, but this one was particularly lousily timed for Cleverley as he had just produced an all-action performance, one of his best in a Watford shirt, in the 1-1 draw at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in October.

“I thought that was one of my most positive games and I was starting to feel good and back to my best – and then my Achilles let me down,” he said. “I had some tendonitis and a small tear in the Achilles that I just couldn't play through. It had to be rehabbed properly. I've worked really hard with the physios and that's all behind me now.”

Cleverley travelled with the team to Brighton on Saturday and can now start to have an impact on the field rather than kicking every ball from the stands.

“I'm not the best watcher and there have been a few of us at the back there all twitching and getting up and down off our seats,” he said. “But it's a much more positive side to come back into it. As the Head Coach keeps saying, we've just got to focus on ourselves and, as long we do our jobs, we can hold our heads high. We are where we are for a reason and it's not a time to start looking at our squad on paper. It's time to get out there and put in performances.”

First Team 10/02/2020

Doucouré: “We'll Fight Until The End”

Abdoulaye Doucouré is relishing the attacking midfield role from which he has now scored three times in six games, but was bitterly disappointed his effort against Brighton was not enough to seal three points.

“I scored an own goal in the first game of the season and I wanted to score in this game to help the team,” said the midfielder.

“I’m pleased with the goal, but the result is the most important thing and we’re not so happy with that.

“I looked forward when I regained the ball and I went straight at the goal. I like to go forward and I saw a little opportunity to shoot.”

When asked if his performances have got better since Nigel Pearson ushered him further up the pitch, the 27-year-old said he has noticed an improvement in his overall contribution.

“I think so, because I score more goals and I am more able to help the team,” he said.

“But the most important thing is the team, the way I can play to help my teammates. Everyone did good things and yes, we conceded a goal, but we’re good going into the next game.

“We’re a little bit disappointed about the result but we will carry on and we’ll fight until the end.”

The Hornets were unable to push on and extend their lead after Doucouré opened the scoring, with the Seagulls piling the pressure on in the second half and eventually forcing a mistake for the equaliser.

“It’s happened a lot this season, in the second half we come back a little bit deeper,” said Doucouré.

“But this is the way, we’re in an away game, 1-0 up so we need to defend, and we need to be compact.

“We were unlucky in this game to concede a goal, but I think the lads did a great job, we defended together, and I think it was unlucky at the end.”