You’re not breaking our hearts this time, Ben Watson.
As I said in the preview, the stars are aligning for us, guys. That’s a first away victory since September 12th, Sergio Agüero’s first league away goal of the campaign and possibly the first time Manuel Pellegrini has made a potentially disastrous, yet incredibly significant, tactical decision to help win us a game on away turf all season. Who’d have thought bringing on Wilfried Bony for Eliaquim Mangala and plugging the gap with Fernandinho would be so effective? The answer to that question, of course, given the monstrousness of Elia’s performance tonight, is absolutely everybody. But we’ll talk about that later.
First, allow me to bask in the brilliance of those last ten minutes. I’d put that Yaya Touré strike up there with his best goals for us. The technique he showed to keep his eye on the ball, delicately wrap his foot round it and direct it into the top corner was absolutely mind-blowing. We’ll talk about that effort against Arsenal the other week for a long time – it’ll be a regular guest on the Premier League years – but his goal tonight was much more important in the scope of our season. When great teams don’t play well, they often have to rely on individual brilliance and over the years, no player has provided more inspiration in the trenches than Yaya.
Agüero is another who has this ability only world-class players have to turn shit into gold. Think the hat-trick against Bayern Munich in November 2014, and I suppose you can also mention that one against QPR in 2012. The Argentine was on hand to save our bacon once again at Vicarage Road, rising like the proverbial six minutes from time to convert Sagna’s excellent cross and to secure us a vital three points. It was an exquisite header, one reminiscent of his goal in the FA Cup semi final against Chelsea in 2013, and one potentially as valuable. Sergio has been compared to the great Romario, with admirers citing his low centre of balance and ability to tangle the legs of opposition defenders as the basis of their comparison; but the South American demonstrated Michael Jordan-like hang time qualities to net our winner on Saturday night.
And I can’t go on without mentioning Sagna. After the game, Joe Hart sang his teammate’s praises, insisting that the right-back “deserves so much credit” for his consistency this season. I’ve got to agree with Joe. Sagna has been fantastic in Zaba’s absence and has easily been our best defender this term.
It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, though. No. It was an away performance we’ve come to expect from our lads for 80 minutes and Watford could have been out of sight before we staged that dramatic late comeback.
Swarming around our left flank, the Hornets enjoyed the majority of the first half. Almen Abdi’s ferocious early strike set the pace, and the sight of the prolific Odion Ighalo spinning Otamendi with troubling ease just moments later set an ominous tone. A couple of comical swipes and needless tackles from Mangala later, and I was just about ready to grab the remote and send it through the TV. With the money we’ve spent on our defence, it should resemble the beauty of Mila Kunis and the strength of Žydrūnas Savickas; but this was all a bit Pete Burns and Spongebob Squarepants from our back line.
The shambles became too much even for Manuel, who has shown a reluctance to tinker despite obvious problems in the back line, when Bony replaced Mangala after 75 minutes. The brilliant Fernandinho temporarily plugged the gap and we began to look miles better.
We did manage to wrestle our way into the first half with Silva and De Bruyne finding space in the pockets left by Watson and Capoue, but a strike fired over the bar from Sterling and a dipping effort from Kev represented our only real chances. The Belgian, understandably, looks tired; but I was impressed with his work rate and determination to get the ball into the box. His delivery is terrific and by moving him onto the left flank late into the second half, Pellegrini ensured we had guns firing from both sides of the pitch as we looked to reply to Watford’s 55th minute opener.
That goal was scored by our old nemesis: Ben Watson. The ex-Wigan midfielder was rightfully booed by our travelling fans for scoring the winner for Wigan in the 2013 FA Cup final, and although the goal may be officially recorded as a Kolarov own goal, it’s going down as Watson’s in my book. Any excuse to voice my scorching hatred for the bloke.
Quique Sánchez Flores side squandered a number of good opportunities to ensure they’d be taking at least a point from the game – Capoue failing to make himself at home after being kindly escorted into our penalty area by Nico and Ighalo smacking one straight into the arms of Hart – but luck was on our side.
It’s been a season of surprises, but I’ve got to say, this win really did surprise me. Let’s hope there’s more of it to come in 2016. Nevertheless, and although all the talk may be about Isco this evening, Manuel has got to think about either bringing in a defender or recalling Jason Denayer from Galatasaray this month.
Enjoy the Everton game, folks. Hopefully we can take a huge stride towards winning our first trophy of the season!
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