First Team 31/08/2019

Match Report: Newcastle United 1-1 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

The Hornets are up and running this season, off the mark with a hard-earned point away at Newcastle United. Yes, it could have been better, yes, we all wanted more and probably expected more, but it also could have been worse given the chances Newcastle had. A point was probably about right in the end as nobody wanted a bagel in the points' column heading into the international break.

There was again much to be encouraged by, particularly the performances of Christian Kabasele, who got better and better as the match wore on, the sprightly Will Hughes and the industrious Tom Cleverley. They are exactly the sort of blokes you want in the trenches with you after you've lost three on the bounce.

The travelling fans might have liked to have seen a bit more stardust at the other end – Gerard Deulofeu, Danny Welbeck and Ismaïla Sarr got eight minutes between them – but Javi Gracia will have figured this was a time to dig in, shut it down and grind out a point. He just didn't want to get beat here. He opted for safety first. He will quite rightly say it worked and the Hornets are off and running, but there was still a feeling, like there was last season, that there was more on offer here in the north east than the team left with.

Ben Foster called for the team to start fast and get their noses in front and they did just that. There were just 81 seconds on the board when Hughes, quick as a flash, was first to react to a deflected shot from Cleverley. It was the sort of start Gracia would have dreamed of in his hotel room last night.

Having struck first blood for the first time since the 2-1 win at Huddersfield, the team were able to settle into their more conservative formation which looked like 5-4-1 at times and 3-5-1-1 at others. It enabled them to get men behind the ball, not leave Foster so exposed and play on the break. It worked nicely, although the home side did get round the back three times inside the first six minutes as the visitors got to grip with things.

Once they did, the defence was much more resolute and played with an edge to it. Craig Dawson won a towering header and crashed through Joelinton in a piece of defending reminiscent of his West Brom days. Kabasele won three aerial duels in the space of a minute while Craig Cathcart, captain for the day, bravely blocked efforts from Joelinton and Isaac Hayden from the same corner. It wasn't just the defence, either. Andre Gray pressed from the front and slid in on Jamaal Lascelles while the excellent Hughes did the same to Hayden. When Daryl Janmaat won a header he wasn't favourite to win on the near touchline, you knew the team were at it.

They could have done with a second goal and may have had one had Kiko Femenía curled one in instead of over after a length-of-the-field break while Gray may feel, on reflection, he could have taken a chance first time following a lovely ball from Roberto Pereyra.

Still, the Hornets were just four minutes away from executing an ideal first-half performance when Hayden caused havoc from a cross into the box from the right. He occupied two defenders, leaving Fabian Schär, up from the back and unable to believe his luck, to tuck the loose ball home. It was a real blow as the team could really have done with the confidence that would have come with leading at half-time.

The signs looked promising at the start of the second half when the omnipresent Cleverley nipped in front of Schär deep in the final third to win possession. It was the sort of high press and defending from the front that Gracia loves. But instead of sparking a period of front-foot play, it was followed by a searching period defensively. Schär headed one across goal, Kabasele produced a terrific sliding block to stop a certain shot on target from Miguel Almirión and possibly more. Hayden then let fly with a shot that swerved all over the place that Foster somehow managed to get something on and deflect over. There was also a smart interception from Dawson on Joelinton that prompted optimistic cries for a penalty.

Gracia needed to shift the momentum, and quickly, and he sought to do that by bringing on Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success for Abdoulaye Doucouré and, surprisingly, Hughes. He then, just over ten minutes later, loosened the team's top button and slung on Deulofeu. The summoning of Success almost worked a treat. The strapping Nigerian craned his neck to send a header towards goal that had Martin Dúbravka scrambling and then almost teed up Pereyra for what would have been a sensational winner. It would have been slightly unjust on the Magpies had the Hornets nicked a late one but, as this lot have found out, you don't always get what you deserve in this game.

HORNETS: Foster, Janmaat, Dawson, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Doucourè (Chalobah 71), Cleverley, Hughes (Success 71); Pereyra, Gray (Deulofeu 82). Subs not used: Gomes, Welbeck, Masina, Sarr.

First Team 30/08/2019

Foster: “We Need To Start Brightly”

By Kevin Affleck

Ben Foster believes the key to tomorrow's game at Newcastle United is getting their noses in front first.

The Hornets have not scored first in a league game since the 2-1 win over Huddersfield Town in April and it's no coincidence that drawing first blood at the John Smith's Stadium played a big role in securing what was the team's last Premier League win.

The goalkeeper feels the confidence would surge through the veins of the side if they were to strike first at St James' Park and that it would set them up nicely for a maiden win of this campaign.

“It would be nice if we could score first,” he said in an interview with Premier League Productions. “Scoring the first goal in any Premier League game is such an important thing, especially for us. When you let the first goal in you are straight on the back foot. You spend all week preparing the game plan and then you let the first goal in and everything changes. We need to start brightly and try and get the first goal.”

From there, a first league clean sheet since February 9 would be just what the doctor ordered.

“We need to be not so open on the counter-attack,” he said. “Against West Ham we were really pushing for a goal and they counter-attacked. I was like, 'C'mon lads, we need to get back here.' I haven't had too much to do and I haven't had much of a chance with some of the goals. It would be nice to keep a few clean sheets. I try and help as much as I can.”

The goalkeeper also feels the team is not far away from really clicking at the other end. The side have mustered 44 shots on goal in the first three games and Foster reckons it is only a matter of time before one or two start flying in.

“We need to keep doing what we are doing attacking wise,” he said. “We are creating chances but just not getting the rub of the green. We should have scored five or six goals with the chances we've had, but we've only scored one goal. We need to turn some of those chances into goals. We've got lots of options. Andre's goal record speaks for itself and we've got Sarr, Welbeck, Deulofeu and Isaac Success, so we are well stocked in the front line.”

Foster is the most positive person around the place and there is no chance of the morale dropping with him in the building. He's a classic glass-half-full type of guy.

“The only thing we are lacking is a bit of confidence,” he said. “We started last season with four wins so the confidence was naturally high. When you don't get results, the performance and confidence can drop and the stuff you were doing doesn't come as naturally as when you are flying. All we need is a win to get the confidence back and start flying.

“The lads are still pretty buoyant. It's not been a great start, but we know there are things to work on and get better at. The first game was a write-off but the last two games we have been back to our similar self. We've just not had the rub of the green.”