Just under 1000 Bolton Wanderers fans made the trip down south and they weren’t disappointed as they witnessed a brave and resilient defensive performance. The first chance of the game fell to Jermaine Beckford early in the first half. Alex Baptiste swung in a corner from the left flank aiming for Beckford, but Manuel Almunia made a routine save. Beckford arrived extremely late and crashed into the ex-Arsenal keeper. Almunia was obviously in pain after holding his back and joined the Watford fans in feeling aggrieved that the referee only awarded the Bolton striker a yellow card.
Moments later the deadlock was broken. In the 28th minute Neil Danns hit a fairly poor ball into the box which bounced in front of Almunia as he attempted to seize it; the usually reliable keeper let the ball squirm out of his grasp and under his legs, gifting possession to Beckford, who fired home his 5th goal of the season. This goal sent the travelling fans into raptures taunting and terrorising the veteran keeper whose confidence may have taken a knock from his collision with Beckford earlier on. That was about it for the first half with the only real chance resulting in a goal.
Watford boss Gianfranco Zola made some brave choices at the break, changing to a more attacking formation and replacing Almunia with Jonathon Bond, who made his first league appearance of the season. It was reported that Almunia had an ‘illness’. Another notable change was the introduction of Diego Fabbrini. He and fellow ex-Udinese team mate Fernando Forestieri lit up the game with their great skill and flair. Thankfully the Trotters defence answered all of their questions and limited the Hornets to just one shot on Andy Lonnergan’s goal all afternoon.
As the half wore on the Italian switched his tactics again and adopted a more direct style of play, but the men in a white shirt dominated everything in the air. I can’t emphasise enough how impressed I was with our back four. They worked as a unit and didn’t give Watford’s strikers a sniff at goal. The defensive due of Matt Mills and Tim Ream worked a treat with Alex Baptiste and (apparently not injured anymore) full back Kevin McNaughton played his respective parts.
Leicester City loanee Neil Danns had two chances in the second half to put the game to bed. He squandered both. The first was hit straight at Bond while the second was deflected over the bar after Danns dawdled on the ball and wasted the opportunity. After another 10 minutes of faultless defending Brendan Malone ended the game giving the Wanderers their third consecutive win on the road for the first time since 2008.
In all honestly it was a poor game with very few clear cut chances; we capitalised on a mistake and defended brilliantly. Dougie Freedman got his tactics spot on as we were solid at the back and quite effective on the counter attack. It was the perfect away performance. Watford are without a home victory in the Championship since beating Wigan on 28 September and will try to rectify that poor stat when they host Yeovil Town next Saturday.
This win puts us in 15th place and only 3 points off Wigan and 7points of off the play-off spots. After our impressive run of 8 games unbeaten we’re currently 1st in the championship form table. If we can continue this run and improve our home record there’s no reason that we can’t be in the top 6 by New-Year.