Welbeck recovers scoring touch in fine style at perfect time for Watford
The last time Danny Welbeck scored a Premier League goal, he was still an Arsenal player and Boris Johnson was a backbench MP. What a way to emerge from a 23-month hibernation; a sensational overhead kick to light up a drab game and secure Watford all three points. And quite possibly keep them in the Premier League.
This crucial victory lifted Nigel Pearson’s faltering team four points clear of Aston Villa and Bournemouth and out of the relegation zone, albeit having played a game more than their two nearest rivals. But more than that, it breathed new life and hope into Watford’s season.
This was a must-win game for Watford, at home against a Norwich
City team whose heads have long since dropped. And they made very heavy weather of it.
For much of the first half, as Onel Hernandez ran at the Watford back four and Emiliano Buendia buzzed about Vicarage Road, Norwich looked the more fluid side, as if they were playing with less pressure on their shoulders. Which they were.
It took the visitors just four minutes to add to Watford’s recent misery; Kiko Femenia bullied off the ball by Hernandez, who advanced to the edge of the area and slipped a pass across to Buendia on the right.
The Argentine still had plenty to do, but he checked back on to his left foot and sent the ball arcing past the despairing dive of Ben Foster.
Watford got back into the game a few minutes later, when Craig Dawson was allowed to ghost in at the far post and meet an Etienne Capoue free-kick. But while that gave Watford parity, it also summed up their deficiencies. Dawson, a centre-back, was also the scorer of Watford’s only other post-lockdown goal until this game, against Leicester City last month.
No wonder Pearson looked so pleased by Welbeck’s contribution at the end. It was not just the winner – spectacular though that was – it was his athleticism in general. His willingness to drive at Norwich’s defenders. A fit-again Welbeck is a real boost.
Yes, this was his first Premier League goal for 23 months, since netting for Arsenal against West Ham in 2018. But that can be largely attributed to the fact that Welbeck has hardly played since then. A broken ankle ruined his final season with Arsenal and this was only his fifth start for Watford.
But, with Troy Deeney still labouring post-lockdown, he looked like the man most likely to score. Twice in the first half he went close with headers.
And a few minutes before his goal he drove at the heart of the Norwich defence and drew a foul on the edge of the area.
His winner owed a lot to Norwich’s weak defending; Ismaila Sarr outmuscling Kenny McLean far too easily on the right and Max
Aarons fluffing a clearance. But the 29-year-old’s strike was sensational. “It means a lot to me and means a lot to the whole team,” he told Sky
Sports afterwards, adding that he had “done it a few times in training”.
“It is one that puts us on our way now. We will give it our all from now, but I am speechless after the goal. I knew I had caught it, kept my eye on the ball and it went in.”
How Watford needed it. They have four games remaining and two wins could well be enough. They may need to get them against Newcastle at home and West Ham, with Manchester City (home) and Arsenal (away) their final two opponents.
“No this does not give us breathing space,” Pearson admitted. “We do not have an opportunity to not stay focused.”
Spectacular: Danny Welbeck scores the precious winner for Watford at Vicarage Road