Vicarage Road was buzzing with action ahead of the kickoff as Watford welcomed Brighton & Hove Albion.
The pitch, pristine as the newly unveiled Graham Taylor statue looked down upon the teams as they emerged from the tunnel for pre-game festivities. Teams switched ends as Watford kicked off and from the first whistle of Jon Moss, Watford started the 2018/19 campaign.
The Hornets fielded a 4-4-2, surprising many, as Troy Deeney and Andre Gray started up top in a 4-4-2 formation; shades of 2015/16 when Odion Ighalo partnered with Deeney. It didn’t take long for the Hornets to create the first chance, just two minutes in. Daryl Janmaat made a darting run to the to top of the 18 yard box, finding Roberto Pereyra, who unable to control the ball with the first touch. Moments later, Brighton won the first corner kick, which was quickly cleared by Watford as they went on the counter attack with Abdoulaye Doucouré down the left, but the ball got stuck under his feet, tripping himself up as he fell to the ground, allowing Brighton to recover defensively.
Just five minutes in and the Hornets were patient, controlling the ball and dictating the pace. Pereyra continued to look very lively down the left side, raiding the Seagulls defence repeatedly. Bernardo created the first offensive chance for Brighton, with a beautiful delivery from Solly March, just inches away, missing Glenn Murray’s head.
On the restart, Ben Foster launched a deep ball, as Gray got behind the Brighton defence, firing a quick shot at the near post that was parried away from Ryan. Just a minute later, it was Deeney and Gray linking up well, providing Pereyra another chance that got caught under this feet and the attack was thwarted. Will Hughes got on the wrong side of the Brighton defence and won a free kick about 24-yards, to the right of Ryan, who set up his 5-man wall. Jose Holebas stood over the ball, but banged the shot off the wall for a corner.
Watford continued to look lively, maintaining early possession, not allowing Brighton to get a foothold in the game. Daryl Janmaat got loose down the right, sent a cross toward the box that was headed out by Lewis Dunk for another Watford corner. The Hornets continued to put pressure on, inside the first 15 minutes, winning back to back corner kicks giving the Hornets repeated chances, but Brighton stood tall and had just enough to clear the ball and relive pressure.
Through the first quarter of an hour, Watford were in control and dominating on the attacking end of the pitch, but were unable to capitalise on those chances. Defensively, the Hornets were composed, but untested, as Brighton couldn’t muster much possession to set up chances. Minutes later it was Gray partnering with Deeney and Pereyra, in support as the Argentine launched a shot that rebounded back to Deeney who turned and fired on goal, quickly saved by Mat Ryan. Brighton’s were defence looking vulnerable.
The best moment for Brighton came in the 20′ minute, as Anthony Knockaert found Bruno, sending a pass in the direction of Dale Stephens, firing a shot just wide of Ben Foster’s right post. It was Brighton’s first real attacking opportunity of the game. As the ball came back into the Watford end, Knockaert made a move into the right side of the 6-yard box, defended by Christian Kabasele, that sent the Brighton midfielder to the ground as play was waved on by Jon Moss. A stoppage in play as Stephens saw yellow for a dangerous and late challenge on Pereyra. During the stoppage, Bruno was attended to on the pitch as the defender was clutching his hamstring, as Gaetan Bong replaced him.
Watford continued to press Brighton in their own end, showing good prowess to make it difficult for the Seagulls to maintain possession and get out of the half. Another chance created by Deeney but found Hughes on his weaker foot, sending the shot wide right. Pereyra continued to dazzle down the left side, attacking the Brighton defence, gaining some great positions inside the box, but was unable to come up with a final product.
Though after 30 minutes, Watford continued to pressure the Seagulls and dictate the pace of the game at both ends of the pitch. Deeney looked reinvigorated up top, combining with his strike partner, Gray and Pereyra in the box, and all three will be key to a successful Watford campaign.
Watford finally broke through in the 35′ minute, as Pereyra was rewarded. A short corner taken as Doucoure returned the ball to Holebas, who sent in a beautiful cross as Pereyra volleyed the ball past Ryan in the top left corner. Watford 1-0.
The Hornets continued to have great build up play, did not back down after taking the lead, and continued to pressure the Brighton defence with Deeney, Gray and Pereyra. Foster continued to be untested, as Brighton had been on the back foot through most of the first half, as Watford continued to pressure the Seagulls when they had the ball.
By all accounts Watford were a step quicker to the ball the first 45′ minutes, showing patience as they dominated play, controlling the pace of the game by maintaining possession and applying great pressure on Brighton.
Teams returned to pitch after the break, unchanged. Brighton needed to increase the intensity and urgency in their play, to open up the second half, in order to get back into the game. In the first minute, Brighton got forward, a long pass found Murray in open space, but play was stopped as it was deemed offside. More poor decisions ensued from Brighton in the middle of the pitch, as they continually gave the ball away, as Watford controlled the game, but slowed the paced.
Early into the second half, Stephens, already on a yellow, caught Etienne Capoue from behind, stopping the game, as Jon Moss issued a final warning for the Seagull’s midfielder. None of the Brighton players were able to make a mark on the game, as the game progressed in the second half. Pascal Groß, noted for his play last season as a key factor in Brighton’s success, was a non-factor in this game.
In the 52′ minute, Bernado got loose for Brighton, sending a ball into the arms of Ben Foster who started the attack from the back. Down the left side, it was Capoue finding Pereyra, as the Argentine looked composed, dashed into the box, bending a shot past Ryan into the far corner giving Watford a two goal advantage.
Brighton looked to change things up as Groß was substituted for Yves Bissouma. Soon after a long pass found Murray, who split the defenders, but was whistled for hand ball. Though the first quarter of an hour in the second half, the game slowed, as Watford lost some of the possession they jad in the first half, but they were in control. Brighton just had no rhythm on the day, failing to create any real scoring chances.
Through much of the second half it was Watford on the attack, continually creating chances. Capoue was shown yellow in the 64′ minute, 30-yards from goal, as Foster set up a 3-man wall. Bissouma stood over the ball, looking to pull one back, but his shot was launched high and wide, not testing Foster. Alireza Jahanbakhsh came on in the 70′ minute and it took the midfielder less than a minute to charge down the right side, as he sent a blistering cross across the ground that was met by Foster.
In the final 10′ minutes, it was clear the Hornets were the better team on the day, continuing to put pressure on Brighton defense, as Deeney continued to put in an excellent shift, holding up play in the attacking end and partnering with Gray and Pereyra. In defensive moves, Ken Sema replaced Will Hughes, while Kiko Femenia spelled Pereyra, who was man of the match with his play and two goals.
Javi Gracia has lots to be proud of after a home victory to start the new season. On the back of an active transfer window and successful preseason, the Hornets look like a team not to be taken lightly, as they will be fighting for survival and hopefully more this season. As for Brighton, Chris Hughton has some work to do, as this was not the same looking Seagulls squad we saw last season. Question marks over the entire pitch, as there were not many bright spots, outside of the play of Bissouma and Jahanbakhsh.