If we can’t win that, you have to wonder what games we are going to win this season…
We dominated the first half, had 20 shots and a chance to win it late on when Jacob Murphy burst through on goal, but it’s Ismaila Sarr’s 72nd minute leveller that’s denied us all three points.
Sean Longstaff opened the scoring midway through the first 45 after smashing into the top corner from 25 yards. It was an impressive display in many respects, with us benefiting from a return to a back four, however our failure to finish off a second best Watford side has cost us dearly.
Bruce made one change for this one, bringing in Federico Fernandez for the injured Jamaal Lascelles. Many expected Joe Willock to be missing with a toe injury, so it was a welcome bonus to see his name in the starting 11.
The first half was a brilliant watch from a Newcastle United perspective. We were first to loose balls, had a real sense of purpose to our play, looked organised – having good shape at both ends of the field – and were creating chances.
Darlow helped us through an early scare, with him saving twice to deny former Toon target Dennis just 60 seconds in, however we took a deserved lead through Sean Longstaff on the 23rd minute mark.
After the typically elusive Saint-Maximin laid the ball back, the midfielder whipped 25-yard strike into the top corner. It was via a deflection from who else but Moussa Sissoko and went through Foster in the end, but it was a goal both his and our first half display deserved.
That said, the big complaint going into the break was the fact we were only 1-0 up.
We had ASM clean through after an awful back pass from Cathcart – a chance that fizzled out after the Frenchman opted to take on Foster before Longstaff blazed over – saw Clark head over from close range, Willock hit the side netting after more good running and ASM see a shot blocked after dancing past the Watford defence just minutes before the break.
More of the same in the second half and we’d win this comfortably. They couldn’t cope with our intensity in midfield, Willock’s running and ASM, so we had to keep at it – NOT sit deep and hope to hold onto this 1-0 lead.
The new system was working. Hayden was mopping up in front of a flat back four, Longstaff and Willock were constant pests with their non-stop pressing, Almiron and Joelinton were outlets out wide but defending well and ASM was causing chaos in that free role up top.
One concern heading into the second half was the fact Matt Ritchie was on a yellow card and up against one the league’s quickest wide men in Ismaila Sarr, with Manquillo also cautioned and walking a tightrope.
10 minutes into the second half, there was an anxious feel about where this game was heading. Watford, without creating any big chances, upped their intensity and we were enjoying less controlled spells of possession, giving the home crowd hope that there were going to get back into a game that could’ve been over at half time.
Thankfully, our composure returned just after the hour mark and more chances came our way – not that we were able to take any.
First Almiron saw an effort from range parried by Foster. Joelinton almost converted the rebound, but the Brazilian’s shot was blocked.
Then it was Willock. After being slipped in behind brilliantly by ASM, our £25m man saw a shot saved by Foster. Yet another big chance spurned and soon we would be punished.
After Almiron gave away a cheap corner from a flicked pass that went wrong, a front post flick on from Josh King saw an unmarked Ismaila Sarr head home at the back post. 72 minutes played and it was 1-1.
A head in hands moment, yet entirely predictable when you miss your chances, gradually sit deeper and give a previously battered opponent a glimmer of hope.
One change that made little sense seven minutes on from their equaliser was Bruce’s decision to take off Almiron – one of our best players on the day. Murphy may have had the fresh legs to hurt an ageing Danny Rose, but it left many scratching their heads.
As we edged closer to a frustrating draw, it could’ve actually got much worse. With minutes to spare, Moussa Sissoko’s low shot was tipped out by Darlow and turned home by King.
Vicarage Road went wild and the away end couldn’t believe their eyes, however a roar from the travelling Toon Army soon erupted as VAR confirmed that goal had been disallowed for offside.
Just as we were recovering from that scare, Jacob Murphy was through on goal.
The winger was put in behind by ASM and only had Foster to beat, with the entire away end waiting to go wild, but he never looked convincing and ended up scuffing an attempted chip straight at the Watford stopper.
1-1. Game over and a really frustrating day.
We played well in large spells and should be sticking with this system, yet it’s another game where we’ve failed to beat a struggling side who were there for the taking.
If we can’t win games like today or last week, when are we going to win?
STARTING 11: Darlow – Manquillo, Fernandez, Clark, Ritchie – Hayden – Almiron, S Longstaff, Willock Joelinton – Saint-Maximin.
SUBS: Gillespie, Schar, Lewis, Krafth, Hendrick, Murphy (79), Fraser, Anderson, Gayle (83).