Wilder's Watford re-set gets off to a miserable start against relegation-threatened Huddersfield
Watford (1) 2 Asprilla 32, Assombalonga 90+2
Huddersfield Town (1) 3 Rudoni 44, Pearson 56, Harratt 82
How do you begin a footballing cultural re-set? Maybe in the long-term it will involve re-designing a playing squad or sticking by a manager for more than a few months. In those early few days, you can be content with calling out your current underperforming primadonnas and promising things will change.
A convincing home defeat to a side in the relegation zone would seem an unconventional first step towards future glory.
When Rob Edwards was appointed Watford manager in May of last year, chief executive Scott Duxbury proclaimed that the hire and fire culture that has typified the Pozzo family’s ownership of the Hertfordshire club was over. Edwards was to be backed ‘come hell or high water’.
11 months and two different managers later, current boss Chris Wilder has said that a cultural re-set is required as Watford languish on the periphery of the Championship play-off chase. A comprehensive defeat at local rivals Luton last weekend left him questioning the commitment of his players and declaring that the supporters deserved better.
Rather than being emboldened by the criticism, Watford started nervously against Huddersfield on Saturday. Joao Ferreira gave away possession on the edge of his own box and almost gifted the visitors a goal.
Perhaps the effort demanded was there, yet the execution was lacking. A determined charge down the left flank by Ken Sema was rewarded with a corner taken short and wasted.
Passes were played behind team-mates and shots were taken from bizarre angles as the visitors, who journeyed south with two wins on the bounce in the bag and the ever-lasting Neil Warnock in the dugout, justifiably began to believe that the victory required to take them out of the relegation zone was on the cards.
But this Watford team does have plenty of quality. Joao Pedro can dance beyond opponents in a way that perhaps no other player in the Championship can, and Imran Louza would likely have played a significant role in Morocco’s expectation-defying World Cup campaign had he been fit.
The midfielder’s whipped effort midway through the first half was the first genuine test of Tomas Vaclik in the Huddersfield goal and a glimpse of how good Watford probably should be.
By this point of the game, murmurs of discontent had developed into audible dissatisfaction. However, the Vicarage Road crowd were offered far more than a hint of the potential of their side, and Yaser Asprilla in particular, before the interval.
After taking a touch to unbalance his marker on the right of the penalty area, the Colombian unleashed a fierce early effort that found the bottom corner of the net before Vaclik could even contemplate moving. The 19-year-old’s first goal for the club a seemingly appropriate way to begin Wilder’s brave new vision.
This was not destined to be a smooth start to a brand-new process on a sunny Good Friday afternoon though. Jack Rudoni slotted into the bottom corner of Daniel Bachmann’s net a minute before half-time to ensure Watford would be boo’d off when the whistle blew, and the mood rarely threatened to change in the second half.
After Asprilla had aimlessly backheeled a promising situation away from goal and Pedro had collected a booking for a shirt pull that followed yet another occasion where the separate components of Wilder’s team failed to combine effectively, things got even worse.
From the free kick that followed, a Matty Pearson header evaded every flying boot and outstretched toe in the Watford penalty and arced into the far corner of the goal. The painstaking speed of the ball’s trajectory allowed the home support to appropriately prepare another cacophony of displeasure.
Watford huffed and puffed as they had for most of the 90 as they searched for an equaliser. Attacks broke down in similar ways every time the ball went forward. The crowd responded in a similar way every time an attack broke down. Former Premier League star Ismaila Sarr was summoned from the bench and did next to nothing.
Substitute Kian Harratt secured the result with his first touch, an excellent glancing header beyond Bachmann. Britt Assombalonga’s late response did little more than delay the inevitable for those brave enough to remain in their seats by the closing stages.
An embarrassing red card for Bachmann as he lunged to try and attack the ball during a desperate late attack was all that the punters who had left missed out on.
Maybe Watford can re-set again in time for Easter Monday?
Watford: (5-2-3) Bachmann – Ferreira (Ngakia 45), Porteous, Cathcart (Sarr 57), Hoedt, Sema – Choudhury, Louza – Asprilla (Kamara 66), Pedro, Kone (Assombalonga 57). Subs not used: Hamer, Kabasele, Bacuna