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Stuck in Second Gear - Watford vs, Sheffield United review (Jack Foster)

Before I get into the review of the game today, I’d like to clarify a few things. Much like our beloved Ken Sema, I am heavily left-footed and suffer with a stutter. I know listening to me on the post-match Twitter spaces can be difficult, and it is extra work for the DNSYE crew to edit out my speech breaks. For that I am sorry. At the same time, I think it is helpful to find something to laugh at when life presents something frustrating or difficult. If you’re not finding some way of laughing in life, you’re doing something wrong in my opinion. My crusade against beans on toast is all in good fun, and please eat whatever you like.

That said, this team put in one of their most frustrating performances today in the time I’ve been watching them. I would never have expected the game to end in a 1-0 defeat for the Hornets. From the off, both teams seemed intent on making this an end-to-end game with fireworks aplenty. While there was plenty of scrambling on both ends, there was a distinct lack of clinical finishing in the final third, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Blades fans left that game with a sour taste in their mouths despite the win.

Plenty of Watford fans were thrilled to finally see Imran Louza starting for the first time in a long while. Alongside captain Joao Pedro, the two of them were anticipated to finally bring the creativity and skill that the squad has been begging for for months on end. While this was on display to some extent, Watford are still plagued by indecisiveness and miscommunications in front of goal. Far too many times today, I saw Morris or Gaspar send a pointless cross into the box, only for a Blades defender to nod it away with not Watford player to contest it. When that wasn’t happening, the Hornets attack consisted of timid passes around the 18-yard box, seeming looking for the perfect through ball. This led to making one pass too many in the box or passing up half-chances when they presented themselves. The players should know, especially in the Championship, that the perfect chance will almost never present itself. We keep thinking that this squad ought to be a Championship team for the ages, but there is a distinct lack of grit in the team that needs to be rectified. Attempting to imitate Man City won’t work for us on any level, but an extra layer of grit is particularly necessary in the Championship.

The most noticeable problems with this squad are in the attack. As a number 9, Keinan Davis provides solid hold-up play, and can be an effective passer. However, he is guilty more than anyone else in terms of hesitation in front of goal. These days, he is far more likely to return a pass outside the box than attempt to dribble past a defender or take a half-chance. Many are calling for him to be removed, but he may still be the best option. Assombalonga doesn’t seem like he’s up to Championship standard, and Araujo simply doesn’t have the physical presence necessary for this league. His skills might add to the team’s performance, but we’ll have to get a few sandwiches in him sooner or later.

Despite the flak he’s received in recent weeks, I thought Ismaila Sarr played well today. He wasn’t a game-breaker, but the intent to drive forward was there, and he showed creativity on the ball we haven’t seen from him in awhile.

The sole goal of the game was the result of Watford’s defence continuously bending. The Blades started taking more shots regardless of their possibility of success, and a well-worked goal which picked the Watford defense apart was ruled offside. Watford were able to block many of the attempts, but the repeated shots would ricochet across goal and create confusion for the Watford back line. Eventually, an Ollie McBurnie header clattered off of Ryan Porteous’ leg and just dribbled past Daniel Bachmann. It was the culmination of momentum that had been shifting since halftime. As with previous games, the failure to convert opportunities in the early going seemed to weigh on the players more and more, and they consequently tripped over themselves. This was only compounded by Slaven Bilic’s confusing substitutions. I could understand taking Imran Louza off, since he may still be getting some fitness back and Ismael Kone still provides creativity. What made no sense at all was the next substitution, taking off Ken Sema for the return of Britt Assombalonga. Not only is Sema one of the most hardworking players on the squad, but he has also been able smash in some goals. We had very little idea what Assombalonga might provide, and it turned out to be very little. Some fans might complain that Henrique Araujo wasn’t subbed on soon enough, but, as I said earlier, I haven’t yet seen that his skill set will translate well to the Championship until he adapts to the physicality.

Thus, Watford have taken a step forward and a step back this week. Following the dramatic win over West Brom, there was hope that the team was ready to turn over a new leaf. But this result proves that cohesion and consistency are still a long way off.

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