There’s nothing quite like an injury time winner, is there? Especially one that’s spectacular. Especially one that puts your side ahead for the first time in the whole game. Especially one that takes your team five places up the table. Especially one that puts a tin lid on a performance that emphasised your team’s character. Especially…
… any more?
Actually yes, but the Watford fans with a masochistic streak who have happened upon this site don’t deserve any more agony. How their tiny travelling following must have felt at the final whistle yesterday is anyone’s guess. Well, actually, we can most of us guess, as the Tiger Nation has suffered such burned fingers frequently over the years. It’s a horrible feeling.
But, c’est la vie. Watford don’t look a very resourceful side but boy do they work hard, and for almost all of the game they looked more likely to earn something than City did. They were ahead at half time, quickly re-took the lead after City equalised, hit the crossbar after City levelled and seemed set for a point on their travels which, given their form and position, would have been most welcome back at Vicarage Road. But, through little fault of their own, they conceded a winning goal that, crucially, they wouldn’t have tried nor been able to score themselves.
For City, there’s width and pace, and when that doesn’t deliver, there’s strength and stamina and an indefatigable appetite, and when that doesn’t work either, there’s the option of giving Robert Koren the ball 25 yards out. And that does work.
Koren lined up in a midfield that sported City’s only change from last week’s goalless draw at Brighton, to wit: Basso; Rosenior Chester Hobbs Dudgeon; Brady Evans, Koren Cairney; Mclean Fryatt.
Tom Cairney was back in for the injured Martin Pusic, and the consequent effect on the bench was obvious, with Nigel Pearson picking two defensive midfielders simply due to a lack of senior figures available. Nick Barmby and Martyn Waghorn were both unfit so only Dele Adebola represented an attacking option among the subs.
The game started very slowly, with Robbie Brady having one slightly scuffed effort that only served to highlight how much of a berk in luminous green boots he looked. City forced two corners that came to nought while Koren, defying detractors who say he doesn’t contribute sweat for the cause, made one important clearance from inside his own box as Watford attacked and centred on the counter attack. Corry Evans did slam one shot into the net but the referee had already stopped things for a foul by Aaron Mclean.
The intricate passing from the Tigers produced applause but didn’t make a chance. Watford were less pretty but did make a chance, headed over by Chris Iwelumo after good running by anseriformic ex-City winger Mark Yeates and a blindly delivered cross from Jonathan Hogg. Then the long-serving John Eustace tapped one in from an obvious offside position as City struggled with a set-piece.
These should have acted as a warning but City stayed pretty and Watford stayed direct, and took an unsurprising lead when another Yeates free kick caught City too far forward and striker Troy Deeney apparently stuck up a foot to deflect the ball past Adriano Basso. It was, however, credited as a James Chester own goal. No matter who got crediting though, as City were behind and in a bit of bother.
So, half time. Much concern expressed in the various queues about how little end product there was to some fanciful, even self-indulgent, football. Watford weren’t good but were playing the classic away team card, and somehow the City players hadn’t noticed or accounted for it. Something needed to change.
Fortunately, writ on a classic away team card is always the one ghastly error that ruins it, and the visitors committed this error just five minutes into the second half. Cairney swung a low ball in roughly in the direction of Matt Fryatt’s run to the six yard box, and Eustace unnecessarily attempted some kind of clearance. Exactly what he hoped to do remains a mystery but what he achieved was stopping the ball dead, allowing Fryatt to turn and steer his shot under Scott Loach.
So, the early leveller that the Tigers desperately needed had arrived. Shortly afterwards, many howls of protest aired as Loach caught a Liam Rosenior through ball on the cusp of the area, which could easily have been outside. The referee gave nothing and was probably right to do so, suggesting Loach was either reckless or amazingly confident about where the ball was. Fair enough.
Watford nearly took the lead again when Marvin Sordell skipped over Jack Hobbs slightly lumpen challenge and struck a low shot at the near post, which Basso did well to paw out. Again, it should have acted as a warning but City didn’t see anything worth heeding. The corner was taken short, the Tigers defence snoozed and Yeates waddled into space to deliver a cross on to Iwelumo’s head, and the huge striker headed home, via the angle of post and bar, his 427th goal against Hull City.
So, the good work of the early stages had been quickly undone again. City seemed devoid of ideas, momentarily. Then they began to use Brady’s skills more often, and the green-booted craftsman nearly sent Mclean through with one sublime ball that Eustace saw just as swiftly.
Then a Brady shot was deflected out for a corner. The clearance from Cairney’s kick allowed a Rosenior overlap, and having taken Evans’ ball his first shot was blocked back into his path, but his second found Mclean in space and, though the shot was slightly scuffed, it went in and that was what mattered. So, 2-2, a first goal at the Circle for the likeably industrious City centre forward, and a game to be won again. Brady then hit one cracking right-footed shot after his usual mix of heel-toe nonsense earned half a yard, but Loach tipped it away.
City forced a corner from which Evans, as one of the men hanging back, slipped as he tried to deliver a second ball, and Watford broke, at a stage when they didn’t seem interested in getting the lead back for a third time. The ball was zipped out to Yeates as spare man, but he quacked under the pressure and struck the top of the bar with a slightly wild shot. A major, major let-off.
Brady then hit a superb driving pass to Fryatt on the edge of the box, from which the shot was deflected out for a corner. This was Brady’s last bit of action as Pearson withdrew the blowy winger, bringing on Dele Adebola and switching the structure to a 4-3-3 that demanded Mclean venture further wide. The enormous substitute was rarely given the chance to show his aerial power though, with balls aimed more for his hardly twinkling feet. Late on, Evans was replaced like-for-like by Paul McKenna.
Watford, going full pelt on the cynicism by now, still didn’t seem bothered by winning the match, for which it was hard to blame them, but they still nearly did so anyway courtesy of an unmarked Eustace, who met Yeates’ late free kick with a forcible header but put it straight into Basso’s grip.
Four minutes were added and it felt like two points dropped. Koren then delivered a free kick that two City players attacked together, committing the double whammy of being both unable to connect and both offside in failing to do so. That kind of summed up parts of City’s performance, but as the fourth minute of four ticked into view there was still time for Koren to skip past a challenge into a central position and thump a low shot across Loach and into the far corner.
It was the first time we’d come from behind to win under Pearson, and it truly was a great way to do it, through both the quality of the clinching goal and the drama of the timing. Watford can feel aggrieved and we can be sporting enough, with our grip on three points firm and immovable, to offer condolences. That’s a tough way to lose after playing almost the perfect away game and nearly returning south with a point that the form of neither team should have pointed them towards. But, well, something is happening with City right now, and it’s something good. Wins like this prove it.