Quique Sanchez Flores first programme notes from his second spell as Manager.
A selection of images as Watford draw with Arsenal in Quique Sanchez Flores’ first match since returning to Vicarage Road
Watford had the chances during a breathless finale when the outstanding Gerard Deulofeu fired inches off target and Tom Cleverley saw a shot deflect wide off David Luiz before, at the very last, Abdoulaye Doucouré blew a gilt-edged opportunity, shooting too close to Bernd Leno.
And so Quique’s back, and inevitably he’s given a warm welcome because such is the way of things in such situations even if the man in question isn’t a good bloke from recent memory. His first team selection is encouraging in its shape… a return to the 4-2-3-1 of Marco Silva’s brief successful period with Tom restored to the buzzing around role in front of two sitting midfielders, Étienne Capoue stepping into the role vacated by Nathaniel Chalobah after his knee injury. More odd was an extremely conservative bench, no out-and-out striker with Welbeck (reportedly injured in training on Friday) and Success omitted from the squad.
It was fun, it was a lot better and we could have even won it. Jon, Jason and Mike talk through Quique Sanchez Flores’ first game back as Watford Head Coach, and it gave us plenty to talk about.
Plus Jon is joined (prematch) by DCW and Colin to reflect on Javi leaving a week on and the 20 leaked badges for possible new Watford badges.
Whatever your reaction, to Javi’s departure, it’s surely not surprise. As countless pub-bore pundits have no doubt already reminded you, this is What Watford Do. (One might be forgiven for thinking that this is ALL Watford have done, since getting promoted, such is the limited range of opinion of such pundits. Chelsea, Huddersfield, Fulham, Southampton and West Brom have all had three managers during Javi’s Watford reign, incidentally).
We weren’t going to do a podcast this week. We were going to rest and let our brains think about something other than Watford – it didn’t last long. Late on Saturday afternoon, you probably know this, Watford announced that Javi Gracia was leaving the club as head coach. 31 minutes later, we found that he was going to be replaced by an old friend, Enrique ‘Quique’ Sanchez Flores.
Quique Sanchez Flores final programme notes from his first spell in charge.
Quique Sanchez Flores says the memory of Watford fans will “be in my head forever” after bringing down the curtain on his year at the Vicarage Road helm with an emotional lap of the pitch following today’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland. The Hornets head coach, whose departure was confirmed on Friday, was joined by his family as he waved goodbye to the fans, who sang his song loudly after watching their side finish their first season back in the Premier League 13th in the table.
The Spaniard has taken the club to 13th and Premier League safety since his appointment at the end of last season’s promotion-winning campaign, not to mention a Wembley appearance in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Sunderland proved much more clinical, scoring from their first significant opportunity. Prödl’s slip on the halfway line allowed Dame N’Doye to run unhindered down the left before passing inside to Jeremain Lens, whose drive was well saved. The ball was immediately worked back to Lens and this time his low centre was turned into a now totally exposed goal by Jack Rodwell.
Several Watford players putting in performances that captured their seasons like a highlights reel… Paredes thundering down the flank before dropping a cross into Pickford’s arms, Jurado prompting gasps with his adroit, clever footwork without generating an awful lot (although in fairness his boldness did at least yield a shot or two on target and draw a penalty), Guedioura surging enthusiastically past opponents before losing control, or clumping a volley into the Rookery. Seb Prödl’s goal was just great, exactly the sort of goal that a centre-back built like a brick outhouse ought to be scoring. And young Sunderland sub Honeyman one minute being bullied off the ball in a grossly unfair confrontation with Troy, the next hacking the ball into the stand in terror in the mistaken expectation that his adversary was closing in…
Flores made a trademark substitution at half time bringing Paredes on for Cathcart. The Hornets equalized three minutes into the half as a corner from Guedioura was headed home by Prödl. A cracking strike just in front of us, which cheered us up no end. Sadly the good mood in the home stands was short lived as Deeney was flattened following a corner, play was waved on and the counter attack finished with Watmore finding Lens who finished past Gomes to restore the lead for the visitors. Watford came close to getting an equaliser soon after as Aké unleashed a shot that had to be tipped to safety by Pickford. From the corner Britos headed just over the bar. Then Jurado found himself in space but his shot was awful. The Spaniard turned provider as he cut the ball back to Guedioura who shot over. There was another scare for the Hornets as a free-kick was headed home by N’Doye but, again, it was disallowed for offside. Watford’s fortunes improved when Paredes crossed for Deeney, he headed the ball back to Jurado who was sandwiched between two defenders and the referee pointed to the spot. Having learned my lesson at West Ham, I put my camera away as Deeney stepped up and was delighted to see him send Pickford the wrong way as he buried the ball to the keeper’s left.
As the game wore on the atmosphere inside the ground began to grow. Watford fans were keen to show Flores their thanks, his name ringing around all four sides. Watford finished the stronger. The Hornets however couldn’t get the win on Quique’s last game.
The final table looked like this
Crystal Palace will play Manchester United in a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup final after beating Watford 2-1 in Sunday’s semi-final at Wembley. Yannick Bolasie headed Palace into an early lead but Troy Deeney levelled the match on 55 minutes. But with the game on a knife edge, Connor Wickham popped up with the winning goal on 61 minutes to send Palace to their first FA Cup showpiece since losing out to United in a replay following a memorable 3-3 draw.
Watford scored from one of only two shots on target during the game and, after a sequence of just three wins from 17 league matches, this was a display that will do little for manager Quique Sanchez Flores’s chances of keeping his job.
Yet, for all that Adlène Guedioura smeared a stoppage-time volley just wide and Joel Ward almost inadvertently converted Allan Nyom’s dangerous centre, Flores’s team were rather disjointed throughout and handicapped further by a knee injury sustained by Étienne Capoue which could yet prove serious.
Sometimes these reports are enjoyable to write. Winning helps, of course, but it’s not a perfect correlation… there are interesting defeats too, defeats that don’t quite feel like being slapped in the face. This isn’t one of those times. This is the sort of occasion when you kinda suspect that everyone wants to forget it as much as you do.
One of the most important football matches of your entire life is about to end. You spend its last ten minutes trying to work out how best to get back to civilisation. You wish it away and it meekly obeys.
Generally I try to take positives from games, but it is hard on an afternoon like this. I can take a defeat if we have given our all and were beaten by a better team, but I came away from Wembley thinking that, given the talent in our squad, we should have done better. If you had told me in August that we would retain our status in the Premier League and reach the FA Cup semi-final, I would have been thrilled. But that defeat will hurt for some time.
I’m not angry, I’m not sad. I’ve spent the last 24 hours following our defeat feeling morose, listening to Einaudi in the hope the tears will eventually come and I’ll feel alright. What I do feel however is let down. Which is not something I ever want to say. If we gave our all, if we left everything out on that pitch and still lost, then fine, we can leave with our heads held high. But we didn’t, we were slow and unadventurous.