First Team 04/12/2019

Match Report: Leicester City 2-0 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

You know luck is out, and I mean really out, when you find yourselves on the receiving end of possibly the most rotten of all the VAR decisions to go against the team this season.

If the ones against Newcastle, Tottenham and Southampton stuck in the throat, then this one against Leicester, five minutes before the hour mark, had everybody connected with the club hopping mad. The game was delicately poised, really in the balance when a cross came over from the left. Adam Masina had his eyes firmly fixed on the ball and extended his left arm to feel his opponent. Completely unintentionally, a soft palm ended up in the face of Jonny Evans. The defender went down clutching his face and Craig Pawson amazingly awarded a penalty. You hoped Video Assistant Referee Peter Bankes would see sense in the Stockley Park studio but, unbelievably, the spot-kick was upheld. It was like a football version of Umpire's Call in cricket.

Jamie Vardy wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth and he smashed in yet another penalty against the Hornets. Leicester's sparkling form – this was their eighth straight win – meant they stood a fair chance of winning this one anyway but they are a good enough side to have done so without a helping hand. Perhaps it was the footballing gods' way of levelling out one that could have been given in the first half for a foul on Vardy, but the game shouldn't work like that and besides, the Hornets are well overdue some rub of the green on that front after the handballs at Newcastle and Southampton and a couple of incidents at Tottenham.

The goal proved the seminal moment of the match and the result was really harsh on the team and interim coaching staff of Hayden Mullins and Graham Stack. Given the chaotic backdrop and the contrasting form of the two sides, the first-half performance was up there with events at Tottenham. There was an energy about the team, a togetherness and a willingness to have a go. Credit has to go to the pair for that and the work they have done in two days on the training field. They had clearly won a few hearts and minds in a short space of time and it's no mean feat to come here and, at times, give Leicester a bit of a run for their money. They certainly coaxed out of a few their best performances in weeks while there was an attacking intent with the substitutions.

Yes there was an element of luck – nemesis Vardy got in behind twice in the first half, had what looked like a decent shout for a penalty waved away while Ben Foster saved well from Harvey Barnes – but you are always going to need a slice of good fortune when you come to places like the King Power. It would have been easy to come to this part of the East Midlands, park the bus and let the tyres down, but that isn't Mullins' style.

The Hornets were prepared to have a go at the Foxes and see what their defence was made off. The returning Troy Deeney roughed up Çaglar Söyüncü early on and that invited the others to have a crack, albeit in a slightly more subtle way. Ismaïla Sarr was a constant threat down the right and was most definitely tasked with being the out-ball. The Senegal international made one surging run down the middle, laying on a lovely pass for the overlapping Gerard Deulofeu that needed a great interception by Ricardo Pereira to prevent the Spaniard from going any further. 

There was a dipping free-kick from Deulofeu that flashed across the face of goal and then, with the chance of the half, Will Hughes slammed a goal-bound shot straight at Deeney, who just couldn't get out the way in time. Mullins would have been really encouraged by what he saw in the first 45. 

You could argue he won a mini-tactical battle as it forced Brendan Rodgers to make a change at the break, bringing on Dennis Praet for Ayoze Pérez. The Foxes upped the ante and not long after Barnes had forced a similar save from Foster to the one he did in the first half, Vardy slammed in that much-deliberated penalty. 

Masina recovered well from that body blow to hook one off the line from Barnes soon after in what was a remarkable goal-line clearance. It would really have been game over had that gone in. The Italian Under-21 international has been excellent in the last two matches.

When it would have been easy to fold, easy to let the heads drop, the team came again and went right to the end. The approach didn't yield a point, a goal or even many chances, aside for one effort from Domingos Quina in injury-time. A second goal, from James Maddison with the final kick, was just cruel, but the belief augurs well for a massive game with Crystal Palace on Saturday. 

HORNETS: Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina; Sarr, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes (Quina 82); Deulofeu (Success 77), Deeney (C) (Gray 87).

Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Chalobah, Dele-Bashiru, Foulquier.

Under-18's 04/12/2019

Clark On Under-18s: “It’s About How They Respond”

By Kevin Affleck

Watford Under-18s Lead Coach Simon Clark feels his heartbroken players will benefit in the long run from the gut-wrenching manner of their exit from the FA Youth Cup last night.

The Hornets were just 90 seconds away from booking a fourth-round tie against Bolton or Millwall when a really spirited and vibrant Fleetwood side equalised deep into injury. After a goalless extra period of 30 minutes, a thrilling game headed to penalties where the home side prevailed, winning 4-3 after Sonny Blu Lo-Everton and Kamil Conteh missed for the Golden Boys. Some of the boys were in tears at the end.

“It’s tough to take,” said Clark. “The lads are hurting, but they are on a journey and what defines you as footballer is what you do in the tough times, not always what you do in the great times.

“This was a big game and we have come up short and it’s about what they do next, how they respond. I’ve said to them we’ll look at it, we’ll give you feedback but maybe you have to look at it yourselves as two or three haven’t performed to the level we expect.”

All looked to be going to plan when Hutchinson fired last season’s semi-finalists in front after 21 minutes at Highbury Stadium. You hoped the Hornets would kick on and show the sort of form that has left them riding high in the league, but Kian Makepeace fired in an equaliser on 38 minutes to leave things all square at the break.

Hutchinson, the captain, thought he had won it at the death with his second but Fleetwood just refused to lie down and forced extra time with a goal from substitute Enoch Takpe.

“We’ve been really good at closing games out so that’s come as a surprise,” said Clarke. “We’ve gone ahead twice and led with 90 seconds to go and we have to close the game out from there. We have to make sure we have good defensive structures in place and work hard to prevent them from putting balls into goalscoring areas. We didn’t do that with 90 seconds left.”

Once the disappointment subsides, and it may take a while to get this one out of the system, Clarke and his assistant Tom Hart will be able to draw on the positives of the performances of some who stood tall and rose to the challenge on what was the biggest game of their career.

“JJ McKiernan showed a great attitude down the left and worked hard,” said Clarke. “Conteh played really well out of position and was good on the ball and both centre halves [Andi Janjeva and Jack Burchell] look comfortable. Dom Hutchinson didn’t have his best game but scoring goals is what strikers are judged on and he got two tonight.

“We have been relatively comfortable all night. We had plenty of the ball, some good chances and they have scored two goals from nowhere. We lacked a cutting edge and we needed to be a bit more clinical. After that, it comes to down penalties and they are a bit of a lottery.”

HORNETS: Baptiste (GK); Conteh, Janjeva, Burchell, Maclean (Sankoh 73); Lawal, Harrison, McKiernan, Lo-Everton; Thompson (Hunter 115), Hutchinson (C).

Subs not used: Marriott (GK), Hall, Evans, Muwonge, Andrews.