Tuesday 20 March 2018

Pulis method takes sting out of Hornets' air of celebration

Games like this will define Watford's top-flight future

West Brom manager Tony Pulis
West Brom manager Tony Pulis

Dion Fanning

At Vicarage Road yesterday, Watford played their first Premier League game in eight years.

In May, 2007, Marlon King equalised from the penalty spot as Watford headed out of the top division with a draw against a Newcastle side containing Shay Given, Steven Carr and Michael Owen.

Watford High Street wasn't overcome with excitement at the prospect of the return on Saturday. 'The Moon Under The Water' might have had a busier day than normal, but the shoppers went about their business while supporters edged through them heading for the ground on the edge of the town.

Watford is not a place that easily brings out the romantic in many and, maybe for that reason, it is as good a spot as any for a Premier League club in 2015.

As a club, Watford represent many of the Premier League's key features. The ownership by the Pozzo family, who also own Udinese in Italy, has been radical. Alexis Sanchez is their brand ambassador, the player they would like to say best sums up their methods. Sanchez was spotted in Chile by Udinese when he was a teenager and eventually sold to Barcelona for more than £20 million. He has been their greatest success, but there have been others.

They have also been told they are all that's wrong with football, but last season they were automatically promoted from the Championship and they have spent the summer readying themselves for the Premier League.

Naturally, they appointed a new manager. When Quique Sanchez Flores was given the job in June, he became Watford's fifth manager in a year. Flores is a footballing blue blood. His father played for Real Madrid and Alfredo Di Stefano was his godfather. Watford would seem like an obvious choice.

This summer they have spent £20m, which seems to be the standard spend for a mid-table side at the moment. They are one of those clubs banking on being around for the new TV deal, but a lot of clubs are banking on it.

Around Vicarage Road, there was more anticipation yesterday. Supporters queued to get into the club shop and when the teams who have the players everybody wants to see show up, there will be real excitement.

The Elton John Stand smelled of fresh paint and inside there was a feel that work had been completed just in time. It added to the sense of urgency. "It was like a party," Flores said afterwards.

West Brom, it's safe to say, are probably not one of the teams you would hope to have for that party. Tony Pulis is an intelligent and interesting man but he's not the manager you would turn to if, say, you needed someone to head a panel investigating ways football could become more entertaining.

Pulis took his squad running this pre-season. They ran as players used to run and they kept running until the end of the game at Vicarage Road. It was their only obvious talent on display yesterday. They wanted a scoreless draw and they got what they wanted while maybe making another point to the home side. Watford moved through midfield beautifully and they broke well on the counter-attack, but they couldn't score.

Watford have a bright manager and have recruited players with European experience who they hope will keep them away from the bottom. Etienne Capoue and Valon Behrami linked well but they will, however, need to win matches and score goals at home. There has been a lot to encourage them in their first two games but, while a draw at Everton was a good result, they missed an opportunity for a victory yesterday. They were the better side but they struggled to break down West Brom who could have got all three points if Saido Berahino hadn't headed wide from six yards in the final minutes.

On the evidence of this game, West Brom will have more problems than Watford but Pulis's ability to get results could change that. He spent the game prowling on the sideline. In the first half, his voice bellowed around the stadium as he became infuriated with West Brom's mistakes in defence (he was calmer when they made errors in attack).

Pulis acknowledged afterwards that Watford had taken them by surprise. West Brom looked like the novices but, as the game wore on, they took the life from it like the pros they are.

Watford's football was as fluid as you'd expect. Ikechi Anya had moved back to left-back to allow Odion Ighalo to come into the team and they had West Brom worried - you could tell, because Pulis kept throwing gum on the ground in frustration. West Brom were better at the start of the second half.

Berahino went down as Heurelho Gomes came out and it could have been a penalty, it could have been a dive, but it was simply a goal-kick.

West Brom had spent money too, notably on Salomon Rondon, a club record signing at £12m, who came on in the second half. He had received his international clearance on Saturday morning and he looked a bit startled to begin with.

James McClean had started on the bench as well. There were a few lacklustre boos when was sent on but Pulis credited Rondon and McClean with his side's improvement in the second half.

The crowd had given up on booing McClean long before the end. They may well have been bored into silence. It was entirely possible.

This might have been a day to celebrate for Watford as they returned to the Premier League but it was also a reminder to those watching of Tony Pulis's methods.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport