Having been gifted 3 points by Watford a few long weeks ago, Town’s generous reciprocity sealed a hugely predictable defeat in a game of largely uninterrupted banality with few positives for Corberán, who is facing the biggest challenges of his short tenure.
An already meagre squad shorn of experience and continuity faced a Hornets side notably strong at Vicarage Road with several players making rare starts and with the regulars, particularly Pipa and Toffolo, being asked to compensate accordingly, the possibility of a Bournemouth sized disaster loomed ominously.
Unlike the South coast debacle, most of Corberán’s choices were enforced, though perhaps one or two of the omissions had an eye on Millwall in midweek and, to their credit, a solid if uninspiring first half raised hopes of snatching a point against a side rather more frightening on paper than on grass.
The back 3 of Edmonds-Green, Vallejo and Critchlow knitted together well with the Spaniard catching the eye with calm distribution and essential availability while the two youngsters produced authoritative performances against the experience of Deeney and the growing talent of Pedro.
Restricting Watford to a couple of efforts well saved by Schofield, the defensive effort nevertheless emasculated the visitors’ threat. Bar a half decent opportunity which was wasted by Bacuna, Town’s reliance on the willing but rusty Aarons and Rowe rarely looked like troubling the home defence.
The reluctance to commit was understandable as the alternative of leaving the central defence open to the pace of the home side, as the potency of Pipa and Toffolo was deliberately restrained, would have been, to put it mildly, rash.
The defensive game plan, given the personnel available, was as forgivable as it was necessary, but the almost total neutering of attacking intent made for a difficult watch.
Things may have been different had an incident on the half hour been adjudicated differently. Troy Deeney’s assault on Bacuna, who had released Aarons some time before being clattered, was as worthy of a red card as his scything down of Quaner in the first Premier League season.
The failure to play advantage was more understandable given the severity and immediacy of the challenge, but not to follow this up with dismissal simply added insult to injury.
A half of football lacking excitement if not endeavour ended, deservedly, goalless and perhaps Watford’s pedestrian display encouraged Town to open up a little in the early stages of the second half as they attempted to impose themselves a little more (it was hard to imagine them being less progressive).
They began to look quite comfortable, even managing a shot by Bacuna following a neat move down the left involving Toffolo who had finally managed to get forward.
On more than one occasion, neat play at the back extricated Town from Watford’s press and the game suddenly held some promise for the visitors until the bright start came crashing down in bizarre circumstances. Perhaps over emboldened by their earlier calm, O’Brien played a simple ball back to Vallejo who, in turn, moved the ball on to his goalkeeper. Inexplicably, Schofield didn’t react and, in fact, took a step backwards which allowed Cleverley to pounce and open the scoring.
The young keeper’s scoresheet remains firmly positive despite the error, but the circumstances of the day demanded diligence if a positive outcome was to be achieved. As it was, defeat seemed inevitable as the second half plan imploded.
Within ten minutes, Watford sewed up the points as Pedro swept the ball out to Femenia who easily beat Pat Jones before finding Pedro on the back post to tap in. That the ball travelled that distance without intervention was disappointing, though the lack of challenge by Jones, who was barely minutes in to his League debut, made life too easy for the hosts.
Watford appeared largely content with a lead which seemed almost certain to be unassailable, while Town changed formation to involve Ward to join Campbell up front. The injury plagued substitute’s cameo was sadly, though not altogether unexpectedly, anaemic and featured a break down the left which he managed to run out of play.
Scott High, however, had a promising 20 minutes including Town’s one shot on target of the afternoon, comfortably gathered by Bachmann, who rarely if ever had to go in to overdrive. Sadly, it wasn’t a case of him not seeing anything yet as his afternoon continued untroubled.
An expected defeat then with all the problems pervading the club laid out across the field despite a defensively commendable first half. As it stands, there are no January signings which will bring immediate relief; Aarons was energetically ineffective and clearly needs gradual introduction, Grant is injured before even making the bench and Thomas more likely to go out on loan.
Millwall, and the return of Mbenza, perhaps, offers a good opportunity to get back to winning ways which increasingly feels necessary despite the still comfortable gap to the relegation zone. A losing spiral is not exactly far from supporters’ memories.