Rafa talked about changes before the game but the wholesale reengineering of the side that some expected didn’t materialise. Conspicuous by his absence was Mbemba from even the squad, surely singling the end of his stay at Newcastle. Just the two changes in the starting line up with Murphy replacing Ritchie and Yedlin rested with Manquillo coming in.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Manquillo (Yedlin, 67), Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Shelvey, Diame (Merino 84, Murphy (Ritchie, 53), Perez, Kenedy, Gayle
Few would have thought with half the season gone that Newcastle would be entering this one with a 3 point lead over the team from London who started with the dangerous Gray and the Newcastle linked Deeney.
It didn’t take long for the home side to pounce, just 2 minutes in fact, Doucoure picking the ball up after Newcastle failed to clear their lines and his clever pass to Roberto Pereyra to side-foot home.
And it could have been much worse just two minutes later but for Dubravka who would make a double save from Pereyra then Deeney. Awful defending.
Newcastle offered nothing other than a few speculative balls over the top for Gayle to chase to no avail as Watford totally dominated the first half.
Pereyra now turned provider after a great run down the left would find Gray in the centre to nod home. Easy!
The first half would prove one to forget for everyone ofter than Dubravka. Having already made a string of good saves, including from Gray just before his goal, the keeper would be made to face a penalty on 38 minutes after Dummett brought down the dangerous Gray in the penalty area. The Slovakian loan man would stand strong however, first brilliantly saving the Deeney penalty before denying the same player from the rebound. You’d have to think, with a minimal sum included in his loan contract, that Dubravka will be pretty much the first signing to be confirmed when the transfer window opens.
Whatever was said at half time by Rafa seemed to do the job. The Magpies looked like a different side from the whistle that signified the start of the second half.
And the changes made by Rafa too improved Newcastle.
Jacob Murphy was the first to be sacrificed after doing little to impress the manager and fans alike. On came Ritchie and within two minutes of his entrance Newcastle had a goal back. A cross, by Manquillo, found Perez ghosting in at the far post with the Spaniard using the outside of his right foot to push the ball back across goal and past the helpless Karnezis into the corner of the net. Game on!
Tails up, Newcastle would keep knocking at the door from here on in. Gayle and Lejeune would both go close before Perez couldn’t come any closer as his effort, from a Shelvey pass, would hit the woodwork.
Watford, now hanging on, should have conceded another with Merino missing a glorious opportunity to get the Magpies level late on.
No joy however as Newcastle couldn’t find a way through the stubborn Watford defence again.
Rafa will at least be encouraged by the second half display as, had his side continued their first half form, they could have easily been heading home on the end of a spectacular hiding.
More talk of ‘players not good enough’ after the game. More singing ‘get out of our club’ aimed at the chairman. Easy to forget we’re just happy to be in such a comfortable position after all.