Sometimes, Watford makes it very difficult to come up with new material to describe them. Fans were still reeling from the heartless performance in a 3-2 loss to Huddersfield Town, and promotion hopes were all but buried despite being still mathematically possible. All we could ask for was a performance with passion, regardless of the result. Heading into Coventry, a resurgent side that boasted one of the fiercest strikers in the Division in Viktör Gyokeres, expectations were practically underground. Yet somehow, this redheaded step-child of a club that we love and agonize over all the same found a way to disappoint us yet again.
So many of these games which end in disappointment start with promise. With most Watford fans awaiting the moment of collapse from the opening kick, star man João Pedro opened the scoring after just seven minutes. Following a long forward ball from Ryan Porteous, Pedro drove at the Coventry back line and created just enough space for himself on the edge of the box to slot a shot into the far corner. As the play developed, I found myself saying aloud, “you must score here”. When the ball hit the back of the net, my feelings were not jubilation, but a mixture of relief and wariness. Watford fans have grown increasingly tired of the team’s inability to finish shots in the final third, so to see a clear chance converted was a sight for sore eyes. However, we have also become accustomed to leads never being safe. In the minutes that followed, a back-and-forth scramble ensued between the two teams. Britt Assombalonga became the latest victim of Watford’s hamstring curse, paving the way for the sorely missed Henrique Araujo. Coventry was able to control more of the possession, and they went after rookie right back Ryan Andrews. New goalkeeper Ben Hamer was called into action, parrying away a Gustavo Hamer shot from the left side. Pedro then had a free header off a Watford free kick in the 15th minute that went straight to the keeper. In the 18th minute, the recently maligned Ismaila Sarr slipped through the back line and had an open shot but sent it sailing into the stands. These misses would prove costly by the end of the day.
As the first half progressed, Coventry deployed a high press which disrupted Watford’s direct style that had worked so well. There was a clear temptation from the Hornets to retreat into a defensive shell, but they managed to hold of the Sky Blue advances without too much trouble. Then, as first half regular time concluded, Sarr was able to slip past a defender on the right side and set up Louza from about 12 yards. Louza fired one shot into a defender, collected his rebound, and slotted the second chance into the bottom corner to double the lead.
I have never listened to a halftime talk from a professional coach, but I can’t imagine that it was anything more than “keep it up”. Even at the professional level, it should not be all that difficult to protect a 2-goal lead. Still, some adjustments ought to be made in accordance with what the opponent is doing. As the second half kicked off, Watford seemed to continue their hunger to extend the lead. The first five minutes saw an attacking flurry which led to a corner and forced two saves from Coventry keeper Ben Wilson. Coventry did manage a tight-angle shot from Ben Sheaf in the 56th minute, but it skidded harmlessly wide of the post. Then, as Coventry built another attack, Matt Godden released a slow curler that seemed as though it would miss the net again. Yet, all of a sudden, it was a goal! Ben Hamer was rooted to his spot and just as surprised as anyone. It seemed as though physics just took a coffee break to allow the ball to curl in.
In that single instant, life was restored to the Coventry faithful. The stadium erupted, and the Coventry players responded in kind. Moments after the goal, Gyökeres fooled Leandro Bacuna into an ugly foul which earned a yellow card. With two midfielders having been booked and running out of steam, a substitution could have helped get the game back under control. Ismael Köne is the type of midfielder who can manage possession and bolster the attack, and I was requesting through my screen that he be introduced. Alas, he never saw the pitch, and Choudhury and Bacuna stayed on. Now, as Coventry began to believe in themselves, Watford’s momentum drained accordingly. Gyökeres broke free but sent his open shot wide left. Sheaf then missed a point-blank header off of a corner. He would have his redemption a moment later, though, as he found some space by the right post, received a cross and tapped home the equalizer. Yet again, a lapse in concentration cost Watford valuable points. In the buildup to the goal, both Leandro Bacuna and Hassane Kamara occupied empty grass in the box, leaving Sheaf a cavern of space to make his run.
The equalizing goal only put Watford further on the ropes. In the dying moments, Coventry’s Brooke Norton-Cuffy made a run in from the right, and fell after a brief tussle with Kamara. The entire stadium seemed to think it should’ve been a penalty, but I agree with call for a corner after re-watching the play. Kamara made no shove, and it was at worst a tangle of feet between the two players.
Despite that stroke of luck, the Hornets still dropped those two vital points, and the playoff push seems all but dead. With Chris Wilder’s time as manager winding down, and several players set to depart in the summer, it’s time for the club’s upper management to re-asses the team’s needs, come up with a plan, an share it with the fans. Expectations for this club were dashed this season, and the recovery is going to take all of us if we’re to avoid more disappointment.