A pathetic second half performance and two awful goals to give away for Newcastle United, seeing Watford come from behind to win 2-1 at today’s early kick off at Vicarage Road.
We started strongly and went into the break with a well deserved lead via another Dwight Gayle goal, but a pitiful effort in the final 45 cost us, with us giving away two avoidable penalties and totally collapsing to gift Watford the win.
A response to Wednesday’s 5-0 hammering was needed, and it looked on the cards at one stage, but a combination of awful substitutions, careless mistakes and a total lack of intensity made the difference in the end, with it seeming clear as the game went on that one side were battling to stay up and the other were on the beach.
Bruce made five changes, not only dropping the five-man defence but bringing in Saint-Maximin, Almiron, Lascelles, Manquillo and Gayle in for Krafth, Yedlin, Bentaleb, Lazaro and Joelinton.
One slight surprise was Fabian Schar being handed another start in midfield following another ponderous display against Man City, however it was good to see our two best attackers back, a deserved recall for Gayle and the return of our reliable skipper.
Before kick off, the players showed their respects to the late Jack Charlton with a minutes silence for a true legend of the game and great man who sadly passed away today at the age of 85.
We surrendered from the off on Wednesday but started much the better side here, with a wicked early cross from Saint-Maximin only just evading Almiron on the three minute mark and the Paraguyan then smashing a half-volley straight at Foster moments later after the hosts failed to deal with a dangerous Shelvey corner.
We had 66% of the ball on the 10-minute mark (which was about 50% more than we had at this stage of the City game!), but Watford very nearly opened the scoring via a Welbeck shot that bobbled against the near post and would’ve spun over the line if it wasn’t for Lascelles being in the right place at the right time to clear – not for the first time in the opening stages!
Just before the first drinks break we then broke the deadlock.
A fast flowing attack forced a corner, and from that Matt Ritchie whipped in a cross to the front post. Fernandez met it and looked like was going to glance a brilliant header into the far corner, only for Gayle to gamble and arrive onto the scene later and tap into an empty net.
He hadn’t scored a single goal in 12 appearances before lockdown, but has now had a hand in four (three goals and one assist) in five appearances since football returned.
0-1 Newcastle and a deserved lead for Steve Bruce’s side on the balance of play.
Saint-Maximin almost made it two before, bursting through on goal after latching onto a brilliant Gayle flick, however his outside of the foot finish was blocked by an onrushing Foster.
Half time and we went in 0-1 up. A positive performance so far, with us looking much sharper at both ends of the pitch following the return of key trio Lascelles, Almiron and ASM.
Watford looked poor and a side we could finish off in the second half if we stayed focused and kept at it, but we handed them a needless route back into it just five minutes into the restart.
A clumsy bit of defending from Ritchie sent Femenia tumbling in the box and Deeney did the rest from the spot, smashing a penalty straight down the middle and past Dubravka.
A game we had looked comfortable in was suddenly level and we were very nearly 2-1 down just moments later, with a horror pass from Fernandez giving Deeney a clear run at goal – only for his powerful low shot to be hit straight at Dubravka.
We were all over the shop. A game we threatened to win quite comfortably at one stage was now looking far more likely to go the other way.
A drinks break arrived – and boy did we need it – but it felt like Bruce needed to make changes with 20 minutes to go. He made one, bringing Joelinton on for Matt Ritchie, but we continued to look second best.
Then, on the 80-minute mark a moment of madness from Manquillo gave Watford the perfect chance to make it 2-1, with the Spaniard getting the wrong side of Sarr and pulling him down needlessly to give Deeney another big chance from the spot.
Needless to say, he wellied it down the middle past Dubravka and gave Watford the lead. More awful defending to complete what had been a pathetic
From that point onwards we looked lost and largely toothless in attack, with Bruce’s aimless substitutions doing nothing to get us back into a game we’d let slip so easily.
There was a desperate push to get an equaliser – which consisted of little other than give it to Saint-Maximin and hope for the best or pump it long to our big men in the box – but Watford held on to secure an unlikely win from 0-1 down.
Just as I thought we’d responded to Wednesday’s hammering at Man City as we sat pretty at half-time, we sat back, put our flips flops on and made error after error in the second 45 to prove me sadly wrong.
We’ve shown signs of real improvement at times since football resumed, however this has been a damaging week for anyone believing Steve Bruce is the man to take us forward, whether new owners arrive or not.
Based on what we saw in that second half, this season can’t end quick enough – and a few big changes need to be made if and when a Saudi takeover is finally approved.