Challenged to see if they could do it against Stoke on a cold November lunchtime, this fitful Watford lot failed miserably and continue to show that the only thing consistent about them right now is their inconsistency.
This 1-0 defeat, sealed by a goal just before the half-hour mark by Charlie Adam, never quite lurched to the lows of Burnley and Liverpool but it was the latest example of this group getting ahead of themselves following a positive result. The unforgiving Premier League has a habit of biting you on the backside if you don’t bring your A game. It is doubtful whether Watford even approached their C game this afternoon. Lee Grant, in the Stoke goal, had just two saves to make – and both of them were in the first half – and it was one of those days when Troy Deeney looked horribly isolated up front and it’s now six games he’s been searching for his 100th goal for. It was also the first time Watford had failed to score at home since March.
The formation, which was all too fluid, never really worked and was a bit of a mess, with Daryl Janmaat finishing the game at left-wing back, Roberto Pereyra on the right and three big men, in Deeney, Odion Ighalo and Stefano Okaka, getting in each other’s way in a three-man attack. The sending off of Miguel Britos, for a needless pull back on Xherdan Shaqiri, kind of summed things up. It bordered on the ridiculous when Valon Behrami, on four bookings, did the same seconds later. He, like Britos, will now miss the game at West Brom.
Stoke bossed the first half against a Watford side who dipped alarmingly below the high standards they set against Leicester. There was no trace of the anger Walter Mazzarri injected into the team for the game against the champions. If they were quick out of the traps against the Foxes, they were stuck in the stalls this time round.
Sloppy in possession and spending too much time playing sideways passes in their own third of the field, Watford were outworked and outfought by Stoke in the first period and they could have few complaints when they fell behind on 28 minutes. Stoke have some big lumps in their side so it would have been frustrating that it was Charlie Adam, who is not renowned for his aerial prowess, who peeled off Behrami to head past Heurelho Gomes.
The Watford goalkeeper had earlier made a smart double save to deny Bruno Martins Indi and Shaqiri but was relieved to see a howitzer from Giannelli Imbula fly over the bar. Imbula hit it so well and so true that Mark Hughes, who was right behind it, thought it was in.
Watford’s best, and only, chance fell to Daryl Janmaat who, in an advanced position, intercepted a pass across the face of goal, strode forward and then tested Grant with a firm daisy cutter. Aside from that the half was played out amid a series of contentious blasts from the whistle-happy referee Robert Madley. He booked three Watford players, all for dissent, and left the field at half-time to a chorus of boos. The jeers could easily have been for the home side. They were that bad.
They were lucky not to be two down at the start of the second half when, with Jose Holebas down injured for the second time, Stoke broke and Marko Arnautovic was inches away from finding Jonathan Walters at the far post with an overhit pass across the face of goal. Mazzarri had seen enough and, already having used one sub to replace the injured Younes Kaboul, he hooked Holebas, who was walking a disciplinary tightrope anyway, for Odion Ighalo.
It barely changed things. Watford huffed and puffed but Grant, in the Stoke goal, was able to throw his cap on anything the home side lumped into his box. If anything, Stoke looked the more likely to add a second and it wouldn’t have flattered them if they did. Watford’s performance in the corresponding fixture last season was arguably the worst of the campaign. This one will take some beating this time around.
Watford: Gomes; Kaboul (Kabasele 20min), Prodl, Britos; Janmaat, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas (Ighalo 56); Amrabat (Okaka 78), Pereyra, Deeney. Subs: Pantilimon, Mariappa, Guedioura, Guedioura, Zuniga
Stoke: Grant; Pieters, Muniesa, Johnson, Martins Indi; Adam, Imbula, Arnautovic (Crouch 81), Walters, Shaqiri, Diouf. Subs: Given, Bony, Bojan, Sobhi, Ngoy, Verlinden