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Fever Dreams - Watford vs. West Brom Review (Jack Foster)

Every now and then, I wake up thinking that a dream I had was real. It takes me a little while, but I end up realizing that the dream I had was ridiculous and couldn’t possibly have happened. After watching the match between Watford and West Bromwich Albion, I am still arguing with myself and wondering what on earth I just saw. Watford defeated West Brom 3-2, temporarily halting a skid of 3 wins in 13 matches, but absolutely nothing was assured until the final whistle. From the off, West Brom sent a dangerous ball forward that Daniel Bachmann had to collect at his left post. This would only be the first of several hair-raising moments for Watford and West Brom fans alike. Watford had the better of play in the opening quarter, but there was noticeable hesitation going forward. As I’ve said in previous weeks, this is a team that isn’t confident in their abilities, and that is only dissipating slowly. Once again, Watford seemed confused in their slow build-up play. Passes in the back line frequently went sideways, and play would grind to a halt if the ball fell to Hamza Choudhury. He would move the ball back and forth, looking helplessly at a stagnant forward line. It was as if they feared squandering a chance so much that they couldn’t bring themselves to take it. It was only when they began to create some chaos in West Brom’s 18-yard box that the talent of this team really shone. Mario Gaspar put in a cross from the right edge of the box which deflected to Keinan Davis. Davis’ shot was parried away by a sprawling Josh Griffiths, but Ken Sema pounced to make it 1-0 in the 23rd minute.

The best of teams would be filled with confidence by scoring the opening goal, and would have the killer instinct to put the game to bed. Watford, on the other hand, seemed to shrink into themselves as if the lead was a burden that was difficult to carry. Minutes after the first goal, Joao Pedro intercepted a misplay in the West Brom back line and set up Davis for what should have been an easy finish. This may have put the game out of reach, but Davis put the shot just within Griffiths’ reach, and the lead remained at one. That moment seemed to give the Baggies the jolt they needed to push for the equalizer, and the Hornets simply had to weather the storm until halftime. This is where it is apt to talk about Slaven Bilic’s role in the squad. We don’t know what was said in the dressing room, but any words of encouragement were not fully taken to heart. Watford began the second half by continuing to allow the Baggies to come forward, and Bachmann was forced into an acrobatic save off a John Swift bullet from 18 yards. As the ensuing corner swung in, Bachmann could be heard yelling ‘away’ to no avail. After some weak clearance attempts, the ball caromed off the left foot of Conor Townsend and fell into the far corner of the net.

It's becoming a bit of a concerning trend that Watford need to concede a goal in order to find the motivation to play, but that’s just what happened. Mercurial winger Ismaila Sarr chose which moment to showcase his talent. After sending a chance from Davis clattering off the right post, Sarr finished his next chance, cleaning up a scuffed Ismael Kone shot and restoring the Watford lead in the 66th minute. But true to their form, the Hornets were quick to let down their guard. Jed Wallace restored parity six minutes later after a lazy pass attempt from Bachmann to Choudhury. This is not the first time Bachmann’s distribution has been questioned, but he is not the only one at fault. The passing of the entire team is frequently lax, with far too many passes barely reaching their target or being intercepted. Again, this speaks to a lack of coaching. An adequate coach should, at the very least be able to drill their players to complete basic passes with confidence.

With fan emotions seemingly in the hands of a deranged chiropractor, the game resumed. With their efforts having been nullified a second time, Watford once again seemed keen on restoring their lead. Ken Sema found himself in position to slot in a curler from an impossible angle, but the goal was ruled offside. Sema would not be denied, however. In the 78th minute, a speculative shot from Sema took a fortunate deflection off Dara O’Shea and flew into the net. Once again holding the lead and having had their fill of drama, Watford fans were desperate to see the game out. After what felt like an eternity, the Hornets managed to make that happen, and came away with a vital three points.

Despite the madness and complete uncertainty of that match, there are a few players who should come away particularly proud. Ken Sema, Ismael Kone, and James Morris displayed consistent energy where practically none could be found. Sema’s two goals were clearly a factor in the win, but he showed the leadership and drive that has made him a fan favorite over the years. This culminated in a post-match interview he voluntarily took despite having a speech impediment. Kone was playing as though he had chugged two liters of Mountain Dew before the game. Although his typical role is something akin to an attacking 8, Kone acted as a makeshift destroyer, intercepting passes left and right, and setting Watford up nicely for counterattacks. The drawback to his energetic play was that many of his passes going forward were overhit. If he can balance that energy with a tad more control, we’ll have quite the player on our hands. Finally, James Morris should be commended for his willingness to drop into the team and do a job. After biding his time behind Hassane Kamara, Morris put in a performance worthy of consideration for the full-time starting job. He sticks a foot in when he’s asked to defend, and he is more than willing to drive forward and assist in the attack.

This team still has a lot of work to do. As previously mentioned, the performance did not instill confidence in me that the team is well-coached. Despite the chaos of the lead being captured and lost, Slaven Bilic didn’t seem to think a change was necessary until the dying stages of the game. It is all well and good to show confidence in your team by letting them play their game, but that is no excuse to not step in when the team needs direction. On top of that, the Hornets have more than enough talent to finish in the automatic spots. A coach should be able to drill players like that to the point where they can be ruthless every time they step on the pitch. Despite the victory, the same reality stares the team in the face. The answer has to be in the room.

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