By Tim Hodges
Watford 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Albion’s winless streak continued as they lost narrowly to Watford at Vicarage Road this evening (Tuesday 1 November).
Although Gus Poyet has said before that he is not superstitious, he must surely now look out for ladders propped against walls and black cats, as for the second game running an Albion player was injured in the pre-match warm up and was unable to take his place in the starting eleven.
This time Gonzalo Jara Reyes was the unlucky man. Ryan Harley replaced him from the start, with Romain Vincelot dropping from a intended midfield berth to one in defence.
However, the misfortune didn’t end there. Just half an hour in, Liam Bridcutt was replaced by Mauricio Taricco, in a move that is unlikely to have been tactical.
Long before this Watford had somewhat startled Albion, having almost scored within the first 30 seconds, and they had a decent shout for a penalty.
As the game progressed Watford threw everything at the Albion, Adrian Mariappa hitting the post on the quarter hour.
Eventually Albion got hold of the ball and Craig Noone made some promising runs. But he wasn’t able to provide the telling ball, a hallmark of his early season performances.
Matt Sparrow and Harley were beginning to link well together and both were trying to involve both Marcos Paynter and Craig Mackail-Smith in the match.
Billy Paynter already brings another aspect to Albion’s game.
He eagerly comes to look for the ball from a central position and Mackail-Smith is learning to feed on whatever Paynter can win.
Albion’s only real shot in the first half however came from Noone who blazed well over from about 20 yards.
Before the half was out former Albion man Chris Iwelumo tried to have an impact on the match but was well shackled by Inigo Calderon.
It was goalless at half time.
With the second half ten minutes old Albion retained the ball, zipped it about and generally worked hard to maintain possession. Noone got more involved but still could not find the killer ball that would unlock Watford and be decisive for either Mackail-Smith or Paynter.
Albion continued the high tempo with Sparrow striding forward. When Noone did swing a ball into to the Watford box it was dealt with well by Nyron Nosworthy.
By comparison Calderon was dealing brilliantly with the occasional threat from Iwelumo and Marvin Sordell who both tried to work themselves into scoring positions.
Albion brought on Ashley Barnes and again went for the three-pronged attack.
But Barnes struggled to get into the game.
Paytner was still digging in and Mackail-Smith tried to feed on whatever the big man won in the air.
Watford were restricted to long shots, until after bringing on substitute Troy Deeney with 12 minutes to go.
Almost as soon as he stepped on to the pitch, a cross from Prince Buaben fell perfectly for the substitute, who scored from the rebound after Steve Harper had initially saved, though the ball seemed to ricochet in off an Albion defender.
Kazenga LuaLua replaced Sparrow with about eight minutes left but all he could do was create a half chance for Barnes and whip in a cross Paynter could only head at Watford keeper Scott Loach.
Again, Poyet’s probable game plan was undone before a ball was kicked.
Albion : Harper; Vincelot, Greer, Calderon, Painter; Bridcutt, Harley, Sparrow; Noone, Mackail-Smith, Paynter. Subs:
Ankergren, Barnes, Navarro, LuaLua, Taricco
Watford: Loach; Hodson, Nosworthy, Mariappa, Dickinson; Hogg, Yeates, Forsyth, Buaben; Sordell, Iwelumo. Subs: Gilmartin, Deeney Jenkins, Kightly, Mirfin.
Ref: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)