It was a match devoid of any real quality, but Watford weren't in the business of caring. The one moment of individual brilliance from midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré had them a goal to the good heading into the closing stages of a crucial clash on the south coast against Brighton & Hove Albion.
But their lead was squandered in the most unfortunate and yet preventable of fashions Adrian Mariappa slammed past Ben Foster and into his own net. This was the latest in a string of cruel and damaging blows which the Hornets are becoming all too used to nowadays.
Watford were under considerable pressure amid the fragility of their lead, particularly in the second half, but head coach Nigel Pearson was generally pleased with how his team coped both before the equaliser and afterwards to hold on for a point.
“It’s a game where we worked very hard out of possession, we were very disciplined and frustrated them," said Pearson. "Apart from Foster making one save in the second half, we didn’t really give them too many opportunities to hurt us.”
Disciplined, dogged, but ultimately disappointed
Under the management of Graham Potter, Brighton are known for a style of play which treasures control over the football and, competing at home, it was clear that they would enjoy more possession than their opponents here.
Still, the Seagulls were restricted to scant opportunities and rarely threatened the Watford goal. Pearson believes it was testament to both the tactical set-up and commitment employed by his side.
“In terms of frustrating a side who are possession-based, we worked very, very hard. Our mixture of being both defensively deep but pressing from the front was very good; the problem was that sometimes we didn’t make enough of our own possession when we had it.”
Plainly, it was a far from perfect performance from either a technical or statistical perspective, but the head coach and no qualms about the devotion to the cause demonstrated by his players.
“When you factor in what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, conceding late goals, there are going to be moments where you’ve got to keep your nerve. I thought the players were very honest, they worked exceptionally hard, but we know we can play better.”
The equaliser came as a result of a moment to forget for Mariappa, one of the club's most loyal and reliable servants. Pearson was full of sympathy for the defender following the bizarre own-goal.
“It’s a ball that flashes into the box and as a defender you have to try and deal with it," said the 56-year old, a former centre-back himself. "I do also recognise the fact that if he misses it they probably don’t get anybody on the end of it, but I think you’ll find with situations like that the timings of it don’t give you an awful lot of reaction time. It’s unfortunate.”
Time for reaction
Watford now have a two-week winter break to see out before they travel to the north-west in search of a league double over Manchester United, and Pearson will be hoping the disappointment of this result doesn't prey on the minds of the players all too much: “The players are ready for a few days off so they can recharge, refocus and come back ready to go all again.”
It's now eight points dropped from winning positions in their last three league games — that could come back to hurt Watford at the end of the season, but the head coach tonnes to uphold an optimistic outlook on the chances of his side beating the drop; for him, this was merely another chapter in the long and turbulent bid to survive.
“People talk about how things change when you suffer setbacks and whether there’s a shift in how people are, but I always thought that we might get some setbacks that we would have to deal with. Now it’s about making sure that when we play we give ourselves the best chance of winning games.”