Quique Sanchez Flores’ son Paulo is going to need a box of tissues at this rate. The teenager sobbed after Son Heung-min’s last-minute winner on Monday and he would easily have been forgiven for turning on the waterworks here after Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero struck at the same end of the ground as Son to deny Watford what would have been a memorable victory.
Late goals at Everton and at home to Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and now Manchester City have cost Watford at least five more points and possibly six. The class of 2006/07 had the same bad habit, conceding 16 points in the last nine minutes of Premier League matches. It’s in the final throes of a Premier League game where the depth of a squad and superior fitness levels come into play.
Although you had to admire the class of the goals by Toure and Aguero, this was rough on Watford, especially as it came five days after the heartbreak against Tottenham Hotspur. You just had to look at the way Joe Hart jubilantly threw his gloves into the away end to see what an away win at Vicarage Road means these days.
Never outclassed and in front for nearly half an hour, Watford went toe-to-toe with a side who has won the Premier League in two of the last four seasons. The last time they beat City in a league game Worrell Sterling was on the scoresheet. Here Raheem Sterling was substituted on the hour, such was the change he got out of Jose Holebas. What Watford lack in spending power they more than make up for in spirit, energy and more than a sprinkling of quality. If you need a dose of realism, remember the last time Watford played City at Vicarage Road, in 2007, they needed to win to prolong the inevitable relegation.
It looked, until the last eight minutes, that Ben Watson was going to be the unlikeliest of heroes. Watson once famously scored a header from a corner to beat City in an FA Cup final. He scored direct from one here, with the help of an Aleksandar Kolarov deflection, to put Watford on course to end a supposed dreaded run of festive fixtures with victory over the might of City and complete a handsome Christmas haul of seven points. They had to settle for four in the end, a fine achievement for a newly-promoted side nonetheless.
Watford cannot start counting the £100m in guaranteed TV revenue next season just yet but more performances like this and the money men at Vicarage Road can start making more ambitious plans. Sitting in ninth, they certainly do not look like falling off a cliff like Blackpool did in 2010/11.
Watford’s goal was typical of everything that has been good under Sanchez Flores, a motif of his reign. A threaded pass from Jose Manuel Jurado, who had an excellent first half, showed the invention Watford are capable of playing with in the final third. Ighalo hared after it, refusing to give up on what looked a lost cause. He caused such fear and panic that Eliaquim Mangala poked the ball out for a corner. The inswinging set-piece from Watson, one of a number of things worked on again and again in training, crossed the goalline at the Rookery End for the second successive match, only this time the goal-line technology showed the ball had crossed the line. It may go down as a Kolarov own goal but who cares?
With Jurado as the creative hub, the Spaniard schooling Toure with one piece of skill and Kevin De Bruyne with another, Watford played on the front foot, unlike they did at the Etihad stadium, and again it was Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo who caused the problems.
Ighalo, Watford’s 13-goal, sought-after striker, was again a right old handful and only added to his burgeoning reputation here. He made a fool out of Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi in the first 13 minutes and it was something of a surprise when he didn’t score after beating the latter with the moment of the first half.
He fluffed a similarly gilt-edged chance at the death to rescue a point, showing that everything he touches doesn’t necessarily turn to gold. Etienne Capoue, who was the driving force in midfield, may come to rue not giving Watford the cushion of a second when he nutmegged Otamendi on the edge of the area but he failed to keep his left-footed effort on the slide down, seeing it rise over the bar of the diving Joe Hart. Capoue went down in agony, probably wondering if he will have a better chance to open his Watford account.
Heurelho Gomes produced a smart save in each half to deny low, fizzing efforts from De Bruyne that skidded off the rain-sodden turf but could do little to prevent either of City’s two, late hammer blows. He was rooted to the spot when Toure nipped in between the otherwise excellent Jose Holebas and Ighalo to connect sweetly with an inswinging corner. The Brazilian was then powerless to stop Aguero getting in between Allan Nyom and Craig Cathcart to plant a soaring header into the far corner. Sanchez Flores knows all about Aguero from their time at Atletico Madrid. It is another thing altogether stopping him.
Watford: Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, Britos, Holebas; Watson, Capoue; Abdi, Jurado (Guedioura 80), Deeney; Ighalo. Subs not used: Arlauskis, Behrami, Berghuis, Oulare, Prodl, Anya.
Manchester City: Hart; Sagna, Mangala (Bony 75), Otamendi, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Toure; Silva, De Bruyne, Sterling (Navas 60); Aguero (Demichelis 86). Subs not used: Caballero, Zabaleta, Fernando, Clichy