Gerard Deulofeu’s first‑half strike was vital but the heroics of Foster at the other end were equally important. Foster’s form has been a rare highlight throughout a largely miserable season and fittingly his magnificent saves – the pick a sensational point-blank effort to deny John Fleck – ensured their upturn in form continued.
It says plenty about Sheffield United’s season that Watford will see this as a well earned point while Chris Wilder will view it as a chance missed, given that his team have occupied the European places in their fairytale campaign.
Four days since Manchester United but a very different challenge… the two United’s might occupy similar areas of the table but there’s a world of difference between a vaunted side that’s less than the sum of its parts and a less glamorous opponent fully exploiting theirs, even if it leaves them in the same place.
Watford earn their first clean sheet in 20 league matches with goalless game against Sheffield United
Watford head coach explains Etienne Capoue’s absence against Sheffield United and sends a ‘message’ to his squad
Despite having just 39 per cent of the ball and registering just two shots on target, Watford created the big opportunities in the match but Andre Gray, Danny Welbeck and Craig Dawson were denied as Blades goalkeeper Dean Henderson redeemed himself after last weekend’s error against Liverpool.
Watford’s teamsheet read like a classified ad: Desperately Seeking Solidity. Their manager, Quique Sánchez Flores, tried to repair a defence that had conceded 20 goals in their previous seven league matches by changing formation and giving Sebastian Prödl a first league start for 17 months, putting him in the heart of a five-man rearguard. Flores later denied it was his intention to sit deep and hope for counterattacks at home to a newly promoted team; but that is how things panned out. The Blades had most of the ball but were unable to unpick the Watford padlock.
Six months ago, as we entertained realistic hopes of European competition, it would not have seemed credible that we’d go into a match at home to a newly promoted side, even a Sheffield United who have started the season in decent form, not being strong favourites to win.
The main positive from the afternoon was that this was the first clean sheet since February. Our defence has been dreadfully leaky and we looked much stronger with three at the back, although this improvement at the back may have been helped by the opposition being Sheffield United. Still, Prödl had a great game, he is much more of a commanding presence at the back than either Cathcart or Dawson. Kabasele was immense and was named man of the match by the sponsors and thoroughly deserved it.
This week, Mike and Colin have two very different reactions to the draw against the blades. Regular listeners will be able to guess who took a positive and who took a negative perspective of the game.
Interpretation of the result will be distorted by the perspective introduced by two red cards in the first half (see below), but it shouldn’t be. It’s perfectly possible to make heavy weather of a numerical advantage, and on this occasion we did anything but, belying the number of kids on show (which was considerable, even if this was as experienced a line-up as we’ve been able to field of late).
Poor defending contributed to the Blades’ defeat as Tom Cleverley took advantage of sloppy play to open the scoring before half-time. Heidar Helguson capitalised on more slack defending from the visitors to score the second before Don Cowie completed the scoring from a free-kick.
How very badly did we need to play against a side as accommodating as the Blades. For twenty minutes we looked quite tentative, and then… it wasn’t merely a matter of noting that our opponents weren’t as good as their position suggested. More that a United side comprised of a pick-and-mix of second tier journeymen (many of them ours…) scrawled this in large, difficult to miss paint-spray all over their penalty area every time a ball went anywhere near it. Nonetheless, it took an unchallenged flap from Mark Bunn and a couple of unexploited free headers before we realised that this was there for the taking, and took it increasingly confidently.