Football Features

Nigel Pearson’s revolution rolls on: The winners & losers as Watford end 2019 with win vs Aston Villa

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:12, 28 December 2019

Nigel Pearson’s revolution continues as 10-man Watford beat Aston Villa 3-0 at Vicarage Road.

Troy Deeney gave Watford a first-half lead and doubled the advantage from the penalty spot after half-time, but not before Adrian Mariappa was sent off for two yellow cards.

Despite the disadvantage, Watford sealed the win through Ismaila Sarr to close the gap on Villa in the Premier League table.

But who were the biggest winners and losers?

Winner: Nigel Pearson

What an impact Nigel Pearson has had at Watford. When the former Leicester City manager arrived at Vicarage Road, he had to watch on in a goalless draw against Crystal Palace, planning what to do with a team tipped for relegation.

Things weren’t going to start easy for Pearson as Watford faced Liverpool, Manchester United and Sheffield United in his first three games in charge. Although Watford lost 2-0 to Liverpool they looked a completely different team from the one that had struggled under Javi Gracia and Quique Sanchez Flores. The players had more fight, more cohesion and more confidence in themselves, not willing to go down without a fight.

It all clicked fully in Pearson’s second game, a 2-0 win over Manchester United where Watford exploited their opponents’ weaknesses and punished defensive lapses for just their second win of the season. Already Pearson had bettered Gracia and equalled Sanchez Flores. A draw with Sheffield United followed, with another good performance, but arguably the most significant result came against Villa.

Watford went into the game five points behind 18th-placed Villa, and needed a win to close the gap and keep their survival hopes alive – even a draw wouldn’t have helped the Hornets mentally. After just four games Pearson has already won seven of Watford’s 16 points, level with Sanchez Flores’ record (which he got from 10 games) and Vicarage Road is a positive place once again.

Even when he had to substitute Nathaniel Chalobah who was brought on at half-time, Pearson made sure to put his arm around the midfielder, trying to limit the hurt that the midfielder undoubtedly would have felt. Following recent incidents where former Everton interim manager Duncan Ferguson made headlines by replacing players who had come on as substitutes, this was the right way to deal with the situation.

Watford are still 19th, but the great escape looks more likely now that Pearson has steadied the ship.

Loser: Dean Smith

When Aston Villa booked their return to the Premier League, many had hoped it would be the start of their revival. One of the Premier League’s founding clubs and a historical giant, Villa were missed in England’s top flight.

With the likes of Jack Grealish and John McGinn in their team, Villa were expected to be comfortable in their first season before building up in subsequent seasons with Dean Smith at the helm. But with every passing week, they edge closer to relegation.

The Villans have won just five of their opening 20 games of the new campaign and sit in the relegation zone, two points off safety. Although this is by no means a gap they can’t overcome, recent form counts against them.

Villa have lost eight of their past 11 league games, winning twice against relegation rivals Norwich City. But Watford was where they could have stamped their authority. An eight-point gap would have come with the win, almost condemning Watford and Norwich to relegation and leaving Villa to fight with the teams above them.

But they allowed the Premier League’s worst scorers to put three past them, two of which came when Watford had 10 men, accounting for 20% of Hornets total goals this season. And they offered very little going forward themselves as the attack floundered.

Winner: Troy Deeney

Troy Deeney hasn’t had the greatest season so far, managing just eight appearances from Watford’s opening 19 games. The Englishman started the first two games of the season but missed the following nine due to a knee injury that required surgery.

Even after his return, Deeney took some time to be embedded back into the Watford side, finally returning to the starting XI in Watford’s 2-0 defeat to Leicester City at the beginning of the month. Since then, the Hornets captain has gone on to make six consecutive starts including against Aston Villa on Saturday.

Deeney opened his account for the season in Watford’s shock 2-0 win over Manchester United last weekend, scoring from the penalty spot and he didn’t have to wait much longer for his first goal from open play.

Watford enjoyed a positive first half and had the better opportunities but looked like they would be going in level at half time, especially when Deeney missed a sitter from close range as he was unable to fully connect to a header from Abdoulaye Doucoure. But, just moments later, he was in the right place at the right time to fire the ball under Tom Heaton, after Doucoure’s shot was saved – having initially closed down Ezri Konsa’s attempted pass out from the back.

He wasn’t done there though, as Deeney went on to win and score a penalty in the second half to put Watford in more control despite having Adrian Mariappa sent off for two yellow cards.

A boyhood Birmingham City fan, Deeney has now scored five goals in three games against the Blues’ bitter rivals, having scored in both meetings during the 2015/16 Premier League season.

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Winner: Ben Foster

Despite Watford’s poor form over the majority of the season so far, Ben Foster has been brilliant. The 36-year-old has been reliable at the back, even when conceding eight, and was one of the only Watford players who could hold their heads high under the reigns of Gracia and Sanchez Flores.

In recent weeks Foster has been even more important, with a number of saves earning Watford points including a ridiculous won on Boxing Day against Sheffield United. He looked to be in for a similarly busy day against Villa on Saturday, having to pull out another top-quality stop on Wesley’s downward header from close range somehow pushing it over the crossbar.

But then he had a relatively easy game, able to watch on as Watford controlled the match, only having to make two saves in total. It was a rest Foster fully deserved and showed how his performances have bred confidence in those playing above him, even when Watford had 10 men.

Foster now has six clean sheets for the season, with only Dean Henderson, Nick Pope and Kasper Schmeichel managing to keep more.

Loser: Jota

Signed from rivals Birmingham in the summer, there was some excitement following the arrival of Jota at Aston Villa.

However, the 28-year-old hasn’t managed to make an impact on the team so far and has rarely been in the team since starting three of the first five games of the season.

With just 20 minutes across the past 14 games, Jota was handed a start against Watford as Smith rotated his side to try and keep things fresh.

But it was more of the same from Jota, who failed to create a single chance, had just one shot and completed one take-on before being hooked at half-time.

Although none of the Villa players impressed at Vicarage Road, Jota’s performance may stand out more than most given his early departure and replacement by Anwar El Ghazi – Smith’s usual starter on that flank. Once the FA Cup is out of the way next week, it could be some time before Jota is given another chance in the Villa team.

Winner: Ismaila Sarr

Being a club’s record signing comes with high expectations, even if you are just 21 as Ismaila Sarr is. Despite being signed under Javi Gracia’s reign, the Senegalese forward played just 16 minutes in Watford’s opening four league games of the season, only really coming into the team under Quique Sanchez Flores.

Even then, Sarr didn’t really hit expectations, hindered by the defensive style of play that Sanchez Flores tried to impose. Although he did score his first Premier League goal under Sanchez Flores, Sarr has really flourished since Nigel Pearson took charge.

After scoring and winning a penalty against Manchester United, Sarr started consecutive home games with Aston Villa travelling to Vicarage Road and he was excellent.

In the first half, Sarr continuously caused Villa problems with his pace and dribbling ability, with Jack Grealish and Matt Targett having to double up to try and keep him quiet – though they failed. But he didn’t use his time on the ball well enough as his final delivery was lacking, either mishitting passes or over-hitting crosses.

That changed after half-time as Sarr became more calculated on the ball and picked his opportunities to get at Villa’s defence. It resulted in a well-deserved goal to cap off a quick counter-attack as Sarr timed his run into the box perfectly to finish Capoue’s cross.

Sarr ends 2019 on a high and he will hope to carry that form into the New Year when Watford face Wolves on Wednesday.

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