Newcastle looking better after ugly win over Watford
There are moments over campaigns, single flashes of drama, that end up defining the outcome of them. This felt like one of those for Newcastle United.
Outplayed, unable to string more than a few passes together and forced to send on all three substitutes before an hour, Newcastle were looking at a sixth successive home defeat when Ayoze Perez glanced in Ki Sung Yueng’s free-kick to give them the lead at home for the first time in five months.
Somehow, in a collective show of defiance, which had started on the pitch and spread into the stands, they managed to take the lead and then, with their backs against the walls and, with the tension in the stadium almost unbearable, hold on to it. It was a gargoyle of a triumph, ugly but symbolic.
This is what Newcastle home games should sound like. Even when the team were playing badly, the supporters, sensing their fragile state of mind after 10 games without a win, stayed with them in the first half and roared them on in the second. The win lifts Newcastle out of the bottom three and into touching distance of a typically crowded Premier League mid-table.
“You could see everybody was trying their best and the connection between the fans and the players was there,” said manager Rafael Benitez. “Everybody was pushing in the same direction. The players are giving everything. We are making mistakes, starting from me, but still trying our best. The fans appreciate that. Even in the worst situations, they were still behind the team.”
Watford can feel aggrieved. They had more than enough chances to take at least a point but paid the price for some woeful finishing. Gerard Deulofeu missed twice in the first half when he should have scored, the worst coming when, one-on-one with goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, he panicked and dragged a weak effort wide.
Adrian Mariappa also missed with free header from a corner blocked on the line by Jamaal Lascelles, then poked a loose ball wide from six yards after a goalmouth scramble.
Newcastle’s only efforts on goal in the first half were a long-range shot from Mo Diame and another from Kenedy, blocked by Craig Cathcart.
They looked to be heading towards more suffering as Lascelles was forced off at half-time, closely followed by their only creative midfield player, Jonjo Shelvey, but the substitutions shifted the game in their favour, with Ki and Perez combining for the goal.
The joy that erupted was followed by anxiety, with 25 minutes still left to play. Watford should have equalised, Andre Gray denied a tap-in by a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Kenedy before Stefano Okaka scooped over from six yards in stoppage time. “If you don’t kill the game when you have chance to do it, something like this can happen,” said manager Javi Gracia.