Fulham follow Huddersfield out the gate as Watford pile on the misery
Late goals boost Javi Gracia’s side as they look forward to FA Cup semi-final
Watford’s Troy Deeney celebrates scoring their third goal during the Premier League game against Fulham at Vicarage Road. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters
Watford 4 Fulham 1
Another one bites the dust. Three days after Huddersfield’s fate was sealed Fulham fell to the defeat that means that they too will be relegated at the end of the season.
For an hour here they held their own, threatening to add to the miserable haul of two points with which they have awarded their away following over the campaign, but after Watford took the lead for the second time what had earlier been something of a trial for the home side became an exercise in pre-Wembley confidence-boosting.
A run of eight consecutive defeats, and 12 in 13 games in all competitions, had exhausted Fulham’s supply of second chances. At kick-off they sat so far behind Burnley, Brighton and Southampton, the teams closest to the bottom three, that nothing but victory would reasonably extend their survival hopes. At least with Watford five days away from an FA Cup semi-final there was a chance that their opponents would be a little distracted.
Not that there was any sign of alternate priorities in Javi Gracia’s team selection. In his programme notes the Watford captain, Troy Deeney, labelled this “a defining week in our season”, and with their sights set both on seventh place in the league and season-ending Wembley showpiece, there could be no loss of focus. Even Étienne Capoue, balanced precariously one booking from a two-match ban with a yellow-card amnesty due on the final whistle, was named in a full-strength line-up.
But if the right names were on the team sheet, they appeared to have the wrong mindset. Within 10 minutes the away fans were lustily olé-ing every pass as their team dominated possession and suggesting in somewhat crude terms that the fact that Aleksandar Mitrovic, back in the team after a stomach injury, had a headed effort – however wide it went – reflected poorly on their opponents.
But in this early period where Fulham needed luck it was absent, and when they needed quality that was missing as well. Ben Foster blasted a clearance into Mitrovic but the ball rebounded to a defender; the same player skewed a weak effort wide after André-Frank Zambo Anguissa had nicely pilfered the ball from an opponent’s toe in midfield; Ryan Sessegnon’s technique failed him when Ryan Babel lifted a lovely pass into his path.
And then Watford scored. The closest they had come had been when Roberto Pereyra’s lovely turn on the edge of the area in the 16th minute allowed him to surge into space before shooting into a defender. The Argentinian was also involved in the goal seven minutes later, letting Will Hughes’s pass run through his legs and giving Abdoulaye Doucouré room to burst into the area and drive a left-footed shot into the net.
But Fulham were not deflated, and Watford barely buoyed. The home side’s play for the majority of the first half was lamentable and eventually Fulham took advantage. No Watford player so much as contested Foster’s goal-kick, and Zambo Anguissa’s header was swiftly worked to Babel, who profited from Adrian Mariappa’s slip, took the ball round the goalkeeper and slotted into an empty net.
Fulham continued to look the more threatening side for the remainder of the half, and as boos rang out while the players left the field at the interval Gracia sent on Daryl Janmaat and Andre Gray to warm up before replacing Pereyra and the tricksy but ineffective Gerard Deulofeu respectively. It took Janmaat only two minutes to make an impact, though when he did it was to Tom Cairney’s knee, earning him a swift booking.
The Dutchman’s next significant contribution to proceedings was more positive, as he latched onto a loose ball in midfield, swiftly passed it to Gray and kept running, eventually taking it back from Deeney inside the area only for his first touch to give Sergio Rico a chance to come out and claim.
After the half-time changes, and whatever Gracia had to say to his charges at the break, Watford were transformed. If they did not exactly threaten to dismiss their opponents with overwhelming quality, their passing was at least less risible. Gray added pace and urgency to the attack and for the first time the elementary errors that dogged Fulham’s defeat to Manchester City at the weekend returned.
Watford had only vaguely threatened another goal, Rico turning José Holebas’s deflected cross over the bar and Gray’s long-range drive deflected wide before they retook the lead. Maxime Le Marchand headed a corner to the edge of the area, where Doucouré and Hughes competed with each other for the free volley. The Englishman won the duel and smashed an irresistible shot past Rico and into the roof of the net.
Fulham’s resolve, which had held impressively after the first goal, finally crumbled. Gray set up easy finishes for the unmarked Deeney and the almost insultingly ignored Kiko Femenía – with Doucouré again losing a battle with a teammate for the right to administer the coup de grace. - Guardian