Both sides went into this game with a lack of form, likely caused by their positions in the middle of the table; Newcastle had lost their last two, while Watford were on an eight game winless run.
However, the hosts hit the ground running and were a goal ahead after just two minutes. This came courtesy of Roberto Pereyra, who slotted home after some atrocious Newcastle defending left the Argentinian unmarked in the box. Abdoulaye Doucoure provided a neat assist squeezing the ball into Pereyra’s path.
Only four minutes later, Pereyra is played through on goal after further static defending from the away side. Fortunately for the Magpies, Martin Dubravka made a superb double save to deny the hosts. Only six minutes had past but the Hornets already appeared in control of the encounter and this should have been a wakeup call to Newcastle.
On multiple occasions Newcastle United lost the ball in midfield and suffered from a slow transition, while the Watford burst forwards into space. Despite creating multiple chances the hosts were unable to capitalise up to this point and were let down by poor finishing.
Pereyra produced an exquisite first half and provided the spark for most of the home side’s moves. A cultured flick on half way created space to run into, on the left flank. After reaching the goal-line, he produced a lofted ball which delicately floated over all Newcastle personnel, eventually falling to an unmarked Andre Grey at the back post to tap in.
At this stage Watford were comfortable and regularly left Newcastle chasing shadows.
Then late in the first half Grey sprints into the box and before he’s able to fashion a cross, Paul Dummett slides in, clumsily conceding a penalty. This presented Troy Deeney with the chance to seal the game from the spot. Although, Dubravka had other ideas, producing a fine double save to give the away side a lifeline.
That hope continued to grow in the second half as Jonjo Shelvey released Matt Ritchie on the right, the Scot cut back inside onto his favoured left foot and cast a cross in Ayoze Perez direction. Perez displayed sensational technique to guide the ball back across goal with the outside of his right foot and into the bottom right corner.
From that moment onwards the home side appeared nervous and Newcastle’s confidence grew. The traveling team continued to create chances but lacked a focal point, as Perez appeared the only goal threat but wasn’t allowed a clear shot at goal – instead hitting the post with a flick from a low corner.
Newcastle applied waves of pressure but to no avail, as the match finished 2-1.
Rafael Benitez conceded after the game, that it was “very clear” his side had lost this encounter in the first half, paying dearly for costly mistakes early on. However, after securing safety the Magpies top priority must be making sure the Spanish tactician remains at St James Park next season, his Premier League guile is integral to the clubs progression.
In contrast Watford could produce their highest finish in the Premier League but still look likely to change their manager during the summer. Performances under Javi Gracia have been a far cry from the dynamic unit Marco Silva moulded at the start of the campaign and once again the Hornets have suffered from a decline at the turn of the year.
Written by Harvey Sayer.