Football at this exalted level is a game of terrifyingly small margins.
Had Odion Ighalo been braver and generated more power in his header from a Troy Deeney cross, Watford would have been celebrating a first home goal by a Watford player since the 58th-minute effort by Craig Cathcart at home to Newcastle United on January 23. (How long ago does that goal seem?) The Hornets would have, as a result, put a spanner in the works of Leicester’s title bid, the Deeney-Ighalo partnership would have been heralded once more and everyone wearing yellow underneath their big winter coats would have gone home happy.
Instead the mood was flat and those who have renewed their season tickets already will, even at those generous prices, be hoping they are not in for a 2016/17 season of the kind of dreary fare that has been served up in at least the last three home games. If it’s goals you are after, Vicarage Road is not the place to be right now and Watford are not the team to watch.
The last 15 games in all competitions since Liverpool were put to the sword at Vicarage Road have yielded 11 goals. More than half of those came in the games against Chelsea, Newcastle United and Crystal Palace. Deeney has two in his last 11, Ighalo one in his last eight and two in his last 13.
“Ighalo is not playing with the same composure we are used to seeing,” said Rene Gilmartin in his post-match analysis for BBC Three Counties Radio. “It looked, quite rightly, like someone had had a word with him after Old Trafford and said about needing to combine with Deeney more. We should have scored there. It looked like that was on his mind a lot, but you can’t let it take over your mind. Leicester’s two centre-halves are good centre-halves but I’d take Ighalo one-v-one against them all day. I know the man; he’s a top bloke, he’s working hard on his finishing, as he always does, but, just right now, he is on a little bit of a cold streak.”
Derek Payne, the former Watford midfielder, feels Ighalo is suffering a crisis of confidence.
“It wasn’t a great header,” said Payne referring to the chance at the death from the Deeney nod back. “He didn’t have a lot to work with but earlier in the season he’s taking one of those chances. His confidence has taken a knock, but it isn’t through a lack of work rate, or that he’s not trying, or because he’s being selfish [that things aren’t going for him].”
Gilmartin actually felt Ighalo’s best chance was the one from Amrabat’s cross that “missed his right foot and hit his left”. “He’s snatching at it a little bit too much,” said the goalkeeper who was encouraged by Ighalo’s tracking back.
“That was the hardest I’ve seen him work,” he said. “He was dropping back into midfield. It’s good to see him sharing the workload. You always see Troy Deeney dropping in and helping out as a fifth midfielder, so it was great to see [Ighalo joining in].”
Payne, like most, feels Deeney has done a lot of his best work this season in the wrong half of the pitch.
“He gives everything and never leaves anything on the pitch,” he said. “He’s an inspiration. I’m sure he will want more chances falling to him. I thought he was going to smash the one in the first half, but he went with the side foot instead of the laces. He needs chances. How many is he getting? He’s sacrificing his own game for the team.”
Gilmartin preferred instead to praise the Leicester defender in thwarting Deeney from his clearest sight of goal.
“You need to hit the target but you have to give credit to Danny Simpson,” said Gilmartin. “It’s good to see Troy play more as a front man. We are used to seeing him tuck in. They [Deeney and Ighalo] did combine well and they looked like they are enjoying playing with each other again.”