Long serving Watford coach Vladimir Ivic was relieved of his duties following defeat at Huddersfield Town, who produced a disciplined and mature performance to earn their 4th home victory in a row, and their third straight 2-0 victory built on early momentum and secured with accomplished game management.
The Hornets’ hierarchy’s patience and forbearance is marginally longer than a toddler’s, but it is difficult to sympathise with a coach of an expensive and talented squad who has delivered such meagre returns away from Vicarage Road.
Blessed with athleticism, extensive Premier League experience and the finances to blow this division away, Ivic has inspired his charges to score just 4 goals on the road and though sporadically threatening in this encounter, they showed precious little personality and fully deserved their defeat.
In contrast, Town shrugged off the drab midweek display at Coventry with one of their best showings of the season. With 4 points in the bag in the space of a few days, perhaps Corberán’s decisions which resulted in a hammering at Bournemouth can be viewed in perspective, if not entirely forgiven by all.
The game followed the same pattern as the previous 2-0 home victories but against significantly superior opposition. Establishing a two goal cushion by around the half hour, defending it with intensity and threatening on the break against tiring, likely demoralised opposition is giving the lie to the supposed danger of leading by 2. If they could push on and actually grab that 3rd, however, that would be most welcome.
Town started on the front foot with Pipa carrying the ball forward with menace and linking well with Mbenza down the right. An early corner was forced along with a free kick in Mbenza range which the Belgian fired over the bar.
Another surge by Mbenza lead to the opener. Despite losing possession, he pressed on towards Foster who inexplicably tried to bypass Mbenza with a ball to a team mate only for the inevitable ricochet to fall for Campbell to convert from close range. Arguably the best keeper outside the top division, Foster’s aberration was difficult to comprehend but after suffering so many similar reverses this season, it was particularly sweet to finally be the recipient.
Watford responded to the setback and Town were grateful for Schofield’s excellent positioning to deny Garner at close range, while a Cleverley drive from just outside the area sailed just wide, though Schofield had it covered. It was the only decent effort from a puzzling series of attempts from distance by Watford players.
Schofield was similarly well positioned to block a glance off the head of the hugely disappointing Andre Gray and a 10 minute period of dominance from the visitors had been negotiated.
Just past the half hour mark, Campbell played in Mbenza with an excellent ball down the left and Watford were only saved by a late intervention as the rehabilitated winger shaped to shoot. The reprieve was instantly negated as Capoue inexplicably sliced the resultant corner in to his own net, under no pressure.
The lead was as welcome as it was flattering, putting the Terriers in a commanding position, but the visitors came again to try to grab one back before the break. Town were grateful for Schofield again as he cut out a dangerous low cross and the advantage was preserved.
Unsurprisingly, the Hornets set up camp in the home half on resumption. Despite being largely pegged back, Town soaked up pressure with a reasonable amount of comfort and the excellent Sarr, unflappable Edmonds-Green and industrious Hogg swamped the increasingly urgent probing with discipline and controlled aggression.
A rare foray upfield lead to a very good opportunity rather wasted by the off colour Eiting. Epitomising possibly his finest 90 minutes in a Town shirt, Frazier Campbell burst down the left, fed O’Brien who moved the ball on to the Dutchman. Rather than finding one of the 2 unmarked players to his right, Eiting hit a weak shot at Foster.
Content to sit back and soak up pressure, Town dealt with the visitors’ diminishing threat reasonably comfortably but were once more grateful to Schofield for a close range save blocking Gray’s touch on a Garner drive.
An enormously satisfying victory over a very good, if clearly dysfunctional, Watford was achieved with resilience, discipline and calm.
A good indicator of the high level of performance is the difficulty in pinning down the man of the match for the Terriers. With candidates from all over the pitch reflecting the collective excellence, it was a triumph of the whole unit from Schofield to Campbell.
Sarr put his Bournemouth nightmare behind him and outshone his more celebrated namesake while beside him, the poise and elegance of Edmonds-Green belied his inexperience; it will be fascinating and joyful to witness his development.
Pipa, despite a tendency to overplay on occasion, demonstrated his class once more while Toffolo, with no little help from an unusually disciplined Bacuna, stemmed much of the danger from Watford’s right flank.
Jonathan Hogg was Jonathon Hogg. Aggressive, pivotal, leading, cajoling and everywhere against his former club. O’Brien made further steps towards the player he was before his injury and rather compensated for Eiting’s subdued display.
Up front, Mbenza had an excellent first half and was directly involved in both goals. Surely, even the most unforgiving will accept that his transformation is complete?
Above all, however, was Campbell. Despite carrying a knock for a worryingly long time, his managed aggression, intelligence and harrying of the Hornets’ back line was an exemplar of centre forward play and topped off with a goal.
A wholly satisfying victory and the prospect of new recruits adding much needed depth to the squad in the New Year points to a bright future as we watch the Corberán project grow.
Merry Christmas everyone.