Friday 18 October 2019

Doucouré makes point off bench for Watford

Watford 1 Newcastle United 1

Abdoulaye Doucoure of Watford celebrates after scoring. Photo: Getty
Abdoulaye Doucoure of Watford celebrates after scoring. Photo: Getty

Paul Doyle

For a long time it looked like Salomón Rondón's powerful headed effort would earn another precious away win for Newcastle, but then Abdoulaye Doucouré came off the bench to deny the visitors with a header of similar quality. It was a fair result, even if the visitors were the more tidy side for long periods.

Newcastle's sky-blue kit contrasted with their manager's gloomy forecasts, Rafael Benítez having predicted that only a miracle could save Newcastle from relegation unless the club make significant investments in January. Despite that, Newcastle had cause to be optimistic about this particular fixture, as Watford are one of only two teams to have been beaten by them at St James' Park this season and Benítez's team have tended to be even stronger on the road. Few managers plot smash-and-grab performances as expertly as Benítez. That was his plan here.

Isaac Success of Watford shakes off a tackle by Mohamed Diame of Newcastle United. Photo: Getty
Isaac Success of Watford shakes off a tackle by Mohamed Diame of Newcastle United. Photo: Getty

Javi Gracia unwittingly played into his compatriot's hands by making six alterations to his starting line-up. He said the intention was to ensure Watford had "fresh legs" during the gruelling festive schedule but instead the home team looked short of balance, strength and ideas. They started well enough, mind, and might have taken an early lead if not for a vexing habit of overplaying around the opposition box. On one of the few occasions where they opened up Newcastle efficiently - thanks to a deft flick by Will Hughes - Gerard Deulofeu dawdled before shooting straight at the goalkeeper, Martin Dubravka.

Deulofeu had been guilty of similar dithering in the third minute, when his hesitancy in front of goal allowed Paul Dummett to make a decisive tackle. The fear for Watford was that such wastefulness would prove costly, just as it had done at St James' Park in November, when Deulofeu frittered away several chances before Newcastle nicked a 1-0 win.

That fear moved closer to being realised in the 29th minute, when Newcastle struck with a ruthless counter-attack. Christian Atsu dislodged the home defence with an artful turn in midfield before pinging the ball wide to Matt Ritchie. Ritchie, making his first raid forward from left wing-back, delivered a superb cross and Rondón applied a suitable finish, darting between Craig Cathcart and Adam Masina to send a powerful header into the net.

Now the hosts reeled. Their passing became erratic and they were caught frequently in possession as Newcastle looked sharper and better drilled. The Watford goalkeeper, Ben Foster, twice had to charge out of his box to prevent Rondón from collecting clever passes over the top of the home defence. On another occasion Rondón was foiled by an incorrect offside call.

Salomon Rondon of Newcastle United scores a goal past Ben Foster of Watford. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Salomon Rondon of Newcastle United scores a goal past Ben Foster of Watford. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

With Troy Deeney on the bench, Watford had no one up front to provide a presence comparable to that of Rondón's for Newcastle. Isaac Success tried but his tendency to drift wide to avoid three central defenders meant that the hosts often lacked a fulcrum in the middle. They would have to be extremely precise to break through, and precision eluded them.

Still, Success was the first Watford player to show the benefits of directness when, in the 43rd minute, he stormed through the middle before unloading a potent drive from 20 yards. Dubravka needed two attempts to hold it.

Two minutes later, Success ignored his own example, taking so long to pull the trigger after being put through by Hughes that Federico Fernández was able to get in the way of his shot.

Gracia waited until the 54th minute to admit his selection had flopped. He made a double substitution, replacing Hughes and Domingos Quina with Deeney and Doucouré. The Frenchman, omitted from a starting line-up for the first time in the league this season, gave Watford more security and thrust in midfield and then underlined that point in the 82nd minute by heading an equaliser from 10 yards after a rare accurate delivery by Deulofeu.

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