Watford 3 : Liverpool 3 – 12th August 2017

What a day. A fair result, although even if Watford hadn’t equalised at the death I would have been really pleased with the performance. The team played with a new found commitment & intensity, no doubt thanks to Marco Silva. There were some great performances too. Okaka. Holebas. Britos. Doucoure. Richarlison. Pereyra. Gomes. They all stood out for me.
I had to admit I was slightly anxious as The Witch & I walked to the stadium. No, not about Liverpool.  Where would our season ticket seats be? Would we be sitting with The Crazies? Thankfully, not only are our seats close to a kiosk where we can seemingly easily get a quick pint before kick off, the folks surrounding us we’re actually quite, well.. normal. Thank god for that. And we had a good view, a lot closer to the centre of The Rookery than we’ve sat in for years.
Anyway.. The team news was a bit of a shock but, after some reflection, was perfectly logical. I thought Richarlison & Gray would go straight into the side but Silva kept faith with those who’ve played during pre-season. That meant Okaka up front on his own & Amrabat wide on the right. Unfortunately, Femenia wasn’t able to knock Janmaat out of the side. The need to have midfield defensive strength & experience on the bench was probably the reason that Watson & Capoue were preferred to Hughes. Not something of any significance in terms of Will’s long term future at this club (obviously) but an opportunity for some Derby County fans in my twitter timeline to revel in. Some fans still don’t understand why he would want to leave Derby for a “little” club like Watford. Idiots.
Coutinho may not have been in the Liverpool side but there was still plenty to fear, surely? Well, not really. Liverpool were awful in that first half. Disjointed, defensively suspect & fitfully dangerous in attack. They improved a lot in the second half but it wasn’t enough.
Watford started off on the front foot, playing with plenty of tempo & were in the lead within ten minutes. Pereyra attacked from wide on the left, weaving in & out before firing in an excellent shot that deflected for a corner. All it needed was a decent delivery from Holebas, the usual incapable defending from Liverpool & up popped Okaka for an excellent headed goal. He had a great first half, all bullish power & not a little skill. Almost unplayable. For a bit, at least.
Even Janmaat appeared to be having a good game at right back but, as normally seems to happen when he’s not having a nightmare game, he pulled up with a muscle strain. That’s about the third time I’ve seen that happen to him. Sign of a long term, underlying problem maybe? Anyway, it allowed Femenia to come on. Neat & tidy & not prone to mistakes, that’s what I want from a right back.
Liverpool were all over the place but with Saleh, Firmino & most of all Mane in their front three, they were always going to be a danger. And so it proved after 29 minutes when he slid into the box & curled a fantastic shot into the far corner. He’s top class. If a bit of a whinger.
Last season, Watford would have struggled after losing a lead like that but, impressively, they were back in front within a few minutes. Doucoure finished off a decent move which he started, after some good work by Cleverley in the right & some more traditional abject Liverpool defending. 2-1 at half time. Well deserved but scarcely believable.
Doucoure was excellent throughout actually. He covered a massive amount of ground, pressed well & used the ball effectively. Him & Chalobah are a shoe in for those two central midfield places if they carry on like this.
Things changes after Pereyra’s groin injury early in the second half. It was great to see Richarlison come on in his place, he looked a signing of great potential. Pace, skill, workrate & tall enough to be a threat in the air, what’s not to like?
However, Liverpool had clearly been given a lashing by Klopp at half time, as they were a different proposition. Their midfield began to dominate & Firmino & Saleh began to look very dangerous.
Ten minutes into the half, Gomes conceded a penalty when he brought Salah down & Firmino scored with aplomb. It didn’t seem a penalty from where me and The Witch were sitting, although to be fair, we were the other side of the stadium. Two minutes later, Liverpool went 2-3 up, courtesy of a tap in by Salah. Again, last season that would have been it for Watford but, on this showing, they are a different proposition. Gray came on for the tiring Okaka and they pressed for an equaliser.
Liverpool started to show their failings again & rather pathetically began to time waste at every goalkick (eventually earning Mignolet a booking) & substitution. They didn’t get away with it though, deep into injury time Watford’s persistence & endeavour paid off & Britos bundled over a deserved equaliser.
A goal at the death. I haven’t celebrated a goal with that much sheer delight & relief for many a season (yes, Derby County, I am referring to you).
So. A satisfying day out. A great team performance. A deserved draw. Lots of hope for the season ahead. And it was great to go to a match with The Witch rather than being frustrated & angry 120 miles up the road watching Derby. I could get used to this.

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