MAC: WE’VE MESSED IT UP...
Automatic hopes over as ten-man Watford hit back
DERBY manager Steve McClaren admitted his side’s title bid has become a battle for the playoffs after a suicidal secondhalf lapse allowed ten-man Watford to snatch a point.
Top of the table just four weeks ago, the rickety Rams have failed to win any of their last seven games and are now clinging to sixth place.
It is a disastrous run at the worst possible time – and this latest dose of misery was entirely self-inflicted.
Behind to Matej Vydra’s opportunist opener, Derby were dealt a promising hand when Marco Motta was sent off for felling Johnny Russell on the stroke of half-time, allowing Darren Bent to equalise from the spot.
And when Tom Ince then weaved through Watford’s back four to make it 2-1, the home side looked set to run riot.
But as the killer blow failed to materialise, Derby’s nervy players shrank into their shells and Odion Ighalo capitalised to net a leveller that keeps the Hornets in the title hunt.
“We should have won,” said McClaren, whose side travel to struggling Wigan tomorrow. “No ifs, no buts. No excuses. We’ve only got ourselves to blame for not getting back in the race.
“At 2-1 we were controlling the game. The plan was going great. Then we stopped. We should have been going for a third and a fourth but we played like it was the last two minutes of the game. Watford were never going to allow that.
“It must be so frustrating following us at the moment. There’s certainly anger and frustration in the dressing room. But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’re not in this situation because of bad luck or referees or anything like that. It’s because we keep conceding bad goals.
“We’ve got six games to get ourselves out of this mess and the important thing is that at the end of the season we make sure we’re there in the play-offs.”
That Derby were below par is indisputable, but their failure to collect three points also had much to do with an imperious display from Watford’s veteran keeper Heurelho Gomes.
The first of four world-class stops came just a few minutes in, as the effervescent Ince picked out Bent
for a deflected shot that Gomes stopped with his legs.
There was, however, no stopping Watford’s opener, the result of a double-blunder from Rams’ rightback Cyrus Christie. Attempting to atone for losing possession on halfway, the 22-year-old raced back into position only to thunder a panicky clearance straight at Ighalo. Vydra, lurking eight yards out, gleefully accepted the gift to volley his 13th of the season.
Bereft of real penetration, things looked bleak for Derby. But when Ben Watson was robbed by Jeff Hendrick, Ince played a fabulous ball to Russell and Motta dangled a leg that sent the Scot sprawling.
Would Craig Cathcart have made a covering challenge? Ref Kevin Friend didn’t think so and produced Watford’s seventh red card of the season. Hornets boss Slavisa Jokanovic was less convinced. “It was a foul,” he said.“But not enough for a red card. Unfortunately the referee had a different opinion.”
When Ince then slalomed in from the right wing to put Derby ahead, it looked a matter of how many. But that was to underestimate a gritty Watford side who played on the break and snatched a deserved leveller.
Fifteen minutes from time, Ighalo found Adlene Guedioura on the right, and the Algerian capped a tireless display with a sensational no-look return pass that took out the entire Derby backline. Ighalo couldn’t miss from eight yards.
Gomes then performed more heroics, saving from the clean-through Bent and tipping over in stoppage time as Watford made it six unbeaten on the road.
“I am very proud of my players,” said Jokanovic. “We believed we could change the situation. Three thousand supporters believed it.We have shown we will fight to the end.”
DEADLY DUO: Watford’s Matej Vydra celebrates scoring their first goal with Odion Ighalo
LEVELLER: Odion Ighalo coolly scores the Hornets’ equaliser 15 minutes from time
INCE-PERFECT: Tom Ince scores Derby’s second