This was a big game for Watford, returning home from Anfield the previous week, where the Hornets were demolished, 5-0 thanks in part to a staunch defense that decided to offense and supplant themselves at the top of the Premier League. This week, the Hornets welcomed former Watford boss, Brendan Rodgers and Leicester City to Vicarage Road. Rodgers last managed the Golden Boys in the 2008/09 season, as he returns to the Premier League after a stint with Celtic in the SPL.
Anticipation is always high as the teams emerge from the tunnel to Z-Cars, being 5300 miles away, I get chills everytime the tune starts and the Hornets take the pitch. This week, it was how does Javi Gracia ready the lads to take on a bit of an unknown in the Foxes. A team who has been under performing and in FPL, unimpressive with the run of great fixtures. Watford after being run off the pitch had to get back to what they do best on the pitch, starting with defense.
Ben Foster was shell-shocked, his pairing of Adrian Mariappa and Craig Cathcart were poor against Pool, as Adam Masina was run off the pitch by Mo Salah, so there were some concerns ahead of the game. Thankfully, Jose Holebas returned from suspension to slot back in at left back. Leicester is nowhere near the quality of Liverpool, but they have a great, young core of players who are promising. Ben Chillwell, Ricardo Pereira and Harry Magurie anchor the defense with Kasper Schmeichel in goal. The midfield has Wilfred Ndidi, James Maddison, Demarai Gray and youngster, Harvey Barnes. Let’s not forget their talisman, Jamie Vardy.
Jonathan Moss got the game started and Watford looked sharp early, controlling possession. Questions were answered just five minutes into the game when Gerard Deulofeu whipped a ball in from the left, glancing off Troy Deeney’s head and past Schmeichel to give the Hornets and early 1-0 lead. He recorded his 8th goal of the season, as he’s been a player in form for the last few weeks.
After that early goal, Watford went into a defensive shell and limited penalty touches and shots, as Leicester increased possession time, as they would end up controlling the ball for 61% of the game. However, just two shots on goal meant the defense and Foster played very well to limit clear cut opportunities, as Leicester had just two shots on target, one of those would be a 75th minutes goal by Jamie Vardy. In typical Vardy fashion, he was played through my Youri Tielemans, with Watford defenders in chase, Foster closed down the angle, but Vardy was able to put the ball past the Watford keeper to draw the game level, 1-1.
As the game ebbed and flowed, Javi Gracia brought on Andre Gray for Deulofeu. While Gray hasn’t started many games this season, he’s become excellent off the bench, comparable to Issac Success earlier in the season, providing pace and power late in the game. Gray came on and made an immediate impact. He would make the most of his chances on 90’+2, as he was played through by Deeney, who lofted a ball forward. Gray took it in stride with a touch and slotted it past Schmeichel to give Watford a 2-1 lead, as they would go on to hold off a late charge by the Foxes.
It was an excellent win for the Golden Boys, who picked up a vital three points to bring them to 43 points on the season, just two short of their best season total in the Premier League. Important, as there schedule gets very difficult playing four top six teams in the next seven game week, excluding BGW31. Troy Deeney continues to prove his value as a captain, leading by example on the pitch. His play and leadership has had a big impact on the team this season. Deeney said, “We’ve shown character, I think that’s never in question now. “It’s just about continuing to be consistent and trying to win more and more football matches.”
Javi Gracia continues to look like a genius for the Hornets since coming in. He has the Hornets 8th in the league table (Wolves in 7th on GD), as they scored 41 goals, the most of any team outside the top six. Gracia said, “It’s important for us to know all the players are ready for the rest of the season and all of them deserve more time. I’ve told you many times, but it’s true, all of them deserve more time to play but I have to choose and when I put other players on the pitch I know his quality, I trust him and I know what they are able to do.”
In game week 29, Watford travel to the Eithad to face Man City, as team that hasn’t impressed the last three games, but have recorded clean sheets but scoring just four goals.