Saturday’s lunchtime kick off saw Watford earn a 1-1 draw at the home of newly-promoted Fulham. The scoreline arguably didn’t do the game justice, with both sides producing exciting football in what turned out to be a fascinating tactical battle in west London.
The Hornets kicked the game off in perfect fashion as Andre Gray netted his third of the season inside the first two minutes, which was the springboard for a dominant first-half display from the visitors who will have been disappointed to go into the break leading by only one goal.
However, the tie was turned on its head in the second-half. Fulham changed formation and gained full control, creating chance after chance and making it almost inevitable that they would find the equaliser, which was buried by Alexander Mitrović with 12 minutes of regulation time to play.
Watford pushed for a late winner but were poor in the final third and had to settle for the draw in just their second away game of the season.
What could have been
In a season where Watford have performed well on a fairly consistent basis, the first 45 minutes against Fulham was the best half of football they have produced in the six league games of 2018/19. It was a near-perfect display of grit, intelligence, cohesion and skill, where the only thing that was lacking was end product.
Gray’s early strike was the saving grace in a half of wasted opportunities. Roberto Pereyra picked the ball up in a similar position to the goal he scored against Brighton but fired the ball wide, when Will Hughes was rightfully screaming for the ball at the back post.
Jose Holebas sent four free-kicks straight into the arms of Fulham stopper Marcus Bettinelli, and Gray was caught in offside positions on numerous occasions, undoing the sumptuous passing moves that the Hornets were creating.
Watford may also question some of the refereeing decisions in the first-half. A rash and potentially leg-breaking challenge on Troy Deeney from Timothy Fosu-Mensah only warranted a booking, while a valid penalty shout was waved away by man in the middle Martin Atkinson after Hughes was felled in the area.
While the visitors were less impressive in the second-half, they still managed to create — and miss — an abundance of goalscoring opportunities. Gray, Deeney, Abdoulaye Doucouré and substitute Isaac Success all came close to wrapping the game up for Watford, however Fulham capitalised on their opponents’ lack of clinical nature and ultimately earned their point after being the superior team in the second 45.
The strength in Watford’s spine
On an afternoon where a draw may feel strikingly similar to a loss, one positive to reflect on is the ability Watford are showing in central areas up and down the pitch.
Ben Foster in goal was solid when called upon, most notably tipping a Mitrović header onto the bar in the dying stages of the game. However the Englishman was rarely troubled due to the defensive prowess of Christian Kabasele and Craig Cathcart sitting in front of him.
Doucouré and compatriot Etienne Capoue were characteristically energetic, breaking up Fulham’s possession play and providing adequate support to Deeney and Gray up front along with the aid of Pereyra and Hughes cutting in from wide areas.
Ultimately it was the full-backs that struggled the most, with Daryl Janmaat largely at fault for the Cottagers’ equaliser having failed to clear the ball. Holebas, meanwhile, was not his usual self in attacking areas, supplementing the attacking efforts with poor delivery and often finding himself exposed to the pace of World Cup winner Andre Schürrle.
Watford, who maintain their position in the top four of the Premier League, face off against two north London sides in the space of four days as they visit Tottenham in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday before making the trip to the Emirates to play Arsenal next weekend.
Fulham play Millwall in the cup before travelling to Everton on Saturday, where two former Hornets managers — Slaviša Jokanović and Marco Silva — will battle it out on Merseyside.