A week that began with Watford declining the chance to sign one player from Roma with an apparent suspect attitude, ended with the successful reintegration of another.
Jose Holebas has been out in the cold since the 2-0 defeat at Manchester City in August, a result that was so long ago that Matej Vydra and Miguel Layun were both in the Watford squad. The decision to reinstall him for the game at Chelsea was a bombshell, a left-field decision for the left-back spot. Given the way Quique Sanchez Flores moved Troy Deeney to No 10, cut loose fans’ favourites Daniel Pudil, Fernando Forestieri and Vydra, cancelled the friendly against Eintracht Braunschweig at the 11th hour and dropped Sebastien Prödl for Miguel Britos, we should be used to the head coach making big calls by now but this one caught virtually everyone by surprise.
It would be fair to say there are not many queuing up to be Holebas’ roommate, that’s if the hotel is to his liking, of course, but it is difficult to doubt his ability. He was excellent against Chelsea, even more so when you consider this was his first taste of competitive football since he came on as a substitute for Greece in their 4-3 win over Hungary on October 11. We’ll put a shaky first ten minutes, where he carelessly lost possession in Chelsea’s half allowing Pedro to tee up Diego Costa, down to rustiness. He then came into his own and played with great assurance, linking up well with the impressive Jose Manuel Jurado and whipping in several teasing crosses, particularly in the first half. He had to be more disciplined in the second as Watford focused on closing down the space Chelsea had to play in, but he still bombed forward to supply the cross for Etienne Capoue to have two bites of the cherry.
“After two months, it was really hard to come back,” he said in a rather surly and rare interview on Hornets Player. “After 75 minutes I was down but the game was alright, the team was going well.”
Sanchez Flores spoke of how some players “were angry” at letting a winning position slip. Holebas, who has not been shy in voicing his expectations at the training ground and the team hotel, was clearly one of the players the head coach was referring to.
“We draw but I said we could win this game,” said the Greece international. “We could do a little bit more in the last 2o minutes. We were 2-1 in front. For me it was offside goal but the referee didn’t see it. In the end we have to be happy with a draw.”
Whether Holebas has done enough to change Sanchez Flores’ mind about keeping him remains to be seen. Perhaps this was a mutually beneficial opportunity to put the player in the shop window. Forestieri, remember, was named on the bench for the game against Southampton. A week later and he was at Sheffield Wednesday.
“He [Holebas] played very concentrated,” said Sanchez Flores. Getting a tune out of a disaffected player must rank as one of his growing number of relative achievements as Watford’s head coach. “He played a little bit out of his space but this is normal. He has not played with us for a long time and it is very difficult what he did today. It was a tough task to stop Willian and the other players incorporated into this side. I am happy with Holebas.”
•Additional reporting by Matt Ford