In the space of three minutes, at the end of a contest which ebbed and flowed, Troy Deeney went from salvaging a priceless point for Watford with a nerveless penalty to, in desperation at padlocking the draw, inadvertently bundling a late cross from Bastian Schweinsteiger into his own net. It was a bitter pill for Deeney to swallow and was the type of late blow inflicted time and time again during the club’s last Premier League sojourn.
Deeney has recovered from worse than this, as two of his cellmates in the stand will testify, and it was further evidence of just how wildly your fortunes can fluctuate in the rollercoaster world of the Premier League. He looked, for all of 270 seconds, like being the hero for the umpteenth time in a Watford shirt.
David De Gea may have bought Quique Sanchez Flores a watch but, with time running out, the Spain international couldn’t get either of his big hands to a thumping 87th-minute penalty from Deeney. The home crowd bounced in delight at securing what looked an unlikely result with time running out. They probably warranted a share of a the spoils for staging a rousing second-half recovery.
Despite being way off their best in the first period and much closer to it in the second, they should really have seen this out and claimed a point, just like they should have held on for all three at Goodison Park on the opening day. You just hope late goals do not come back to haunt them in the final analysis.
Vicarage Road had been waiting for an underused and underwhelming big-money signing from Holland to deliver. They were rather hoping it was going to be Steven Berghuis, though, and not his countryman Memphis Depay who finally showed what all the fanfare was about when he swapped the Eredivisie for the Premier League.
It is not clear where Berghuis was this lunchtime – keeping warm at his swish apartment in Hadley Wood, if he has any sense – but he will have been forgiven for affording himself a wry smile that it was at his new home, the scene of several flimsy performances, where Depay, his good friend and the man he nearly replaced at PSV, came in from the cold to kickstart his career in England. His goal, crisply taken after 11 minutes, was the least United deserved from a first half they bossed.
Watford were extremely sloppy in possession and out of sorts in a first half that ranks among their poorest so far this season. They were lucky they were only one down at the break, something they owed largely to a remarkable acrobatic goal-line clearance from Deeney.
Perhaps it was the unusually early kick-off or the fact most of the players had only drifted back in dribs and drabs from their international commitments this week, but this was not the high energy, highly efficient start we’ve become accustomed to.
Etienne Capoue was particularly wasteful, Allan Nyom looked like he had travelled to Africa and back and not stayed at home while Heurelho Gomes caused the heart to flutter on several occasions. Even the calm and composed Odion Ighalo snatched at Watford’s best chance after Capoue had robbed Ashley Young, making his first appearance at Vicarage Road since he left for a club record fee in 2007. It felt like Watford had been robbed of five players through injury, not United.
Perhaps the one change Sanchez Flores made, bringing in Jose Manuel Jurado for Nathan Ake and moving Ikechi Anya to left-back, destabilised things. What do they say about not changing a winning side? Well, one that had won two of its past three, anyway. It was a brave and surprisingly move from Sanchez Flores to throw Jurado straight back into the action after two months out and one he abandoned after 45 minutes.
With Ake restored to left-back, Watford immediately looked more balanced and looked more like their recent selves. It was his pass to Ighalo that led to Deeney unleashing a blockbuster of a shot that had it been either side of De Gea would have burst the back of the net.
Building a head of steam, Ighalo saw an acrobatic effort blocked from close range, Chris Smalling stuck out a long leg to deny Capoue and then De Gea pulled off the save of the match to somehow prevent Almen Abdi scoring his second of the season. Deeney, if anything, was striking the ball too cleanly, none more so than when he slammed another long-range effort, this time from an Ighalo flick, straight down De Gea’s throat.
Chasing a equaliser, it was a surprise Sanchez Flores opted for the more defensive-minded Juan Carlos Paredes than one of his more attacking options on his fortified bench as his second change. It was, though, one of United’s subs who made the type of mistake Watford fans always feel Paredes is capable of. Marcos Rojo clipped Ighalo’s left ankle in the box and the referee, quite rightly, pointed to the spot for the second successive Watford match.
Again, Deeney struck the ball true and hard but this time from 12 yards De Gea stood no chance. His wild celebration spoke volumes for the significance of the goal – it was the first United had conceded in more than 10 hours – and how much a come-from-behind point, against the dominant side of the Premier League era, meant to this developing side.
But, in a dramatic final twist, Deeney, who has done so much fine defensive work this season, was in the wrong place at the wrong time as he deflected a cross from Schweinsteiger into his own net. It was made even worse when the replay showed the cross was bound for the clutches of Gomes.
The Holte End will no doubt be reminding Deeney, the Birmingham fan, of his own goal when Watford aim to bounce back from two straight defeats at Villa Park next weekend.