O’Kane came back into the team at the expense of Kermorgant as Eddie opted for the five man midfield that had worked well enough at Norwich. Camp was relegated to the bench by the arrival of Boruc on loan (three international goalkeepers in the squad? – now we’re just showing off), Harte kept his place at left back and Ritchie and Stanislas were the wingers du jour.
Bournemouth started positively, and in just the third minute Ritchie played a neat chip forward down the right which saw Wilson comfortably outmuscle Tamas, followed by the Romanian clumsily barging the striker from behind in his desperation to make up for the error and conceding a penalty in consequence. Excellent, 1-0 up after three minutes against 10 men we thought, but the referee and Ian Harte had other ideas. As Wilson’s next action would have been to shoot it was puzzling to say the least that the referee didn’t produce a red card, and positively bizarre that he didn’t even see the foul as being worth a yellow. Perhaps there’s a new rule about trying not to spoil games as a contest when they’re live on Sky. Frustration at this was then further compounded as Harte, one of the best dead ball strikers we have ever had at the club, proceeded to drag his penalty wide of the right hand post.
Watford passed the ball around nicely at times but lacked a cutting edge in the absence of the injured Deeney, which made for a largely stress-free debut for Boruc. After 32 minutes Tamas was stretchered off with what looked to be a nasty injury after another failed attempt to stop Wilson, which probably helped Watford as his sketchy defensive work was providing us with plenty of attacking options down the right hand side.
The only other clear chance came just before half time. Ritchie and Francis combined well to open up Watford down the right yet again, the full back’s cross picked out Wilson at the back post, but although he got plenty of power in the header he was unable to direct it down or far enough away from Gomes, who made a good fingertip save as he was scrambling back across the goal.
The second half continued in similar vein with both sides looking to pass the ball and get forward whenever possible, but with Bournemouth having more joy against the Watford defence than the home side were finding against a very solid looking Bournemouth back four.
Wilson had the ball in the net, following up after Gomes parried a sweetly struck drive from Surman, but was correctly ruled offside. No risk of that from the effort which eventually gave us a deserved lead. Ritchie picked out Arter with a cross field pass and the midfielder produced one of the gems of which he is occasionally capable, unleashing a 25 yard shot with power and a bit of swerve which flew past Gomes left hand before hitting the net in front of the delighted away fans.
Bournemouth continued to press forward with some purpose, particularly on the break, but failed to capitalise on a number of promising opportunities when the final ball failed to find its intended recipient. Five Bournemouth and two Watford players were booked as referee Langford alternated between lenience and officiousness in a fairly random manner. Arter was one of those booked and was particularly unlucky as Forestieri ran into him with the ref just guessing that someone must be at fault with two players on the ground. Anya had a reasonable shout for a penalty denied when he went down in the box following an awkward challenge from Francis.
Not for the first time when protecting a lead in the closing stages we started to defend deeper, and, worryingly, a number of players looked to have run out of steam. Pugh was brought on for Stanislas to provide fresh legs on the wings, and for a while with Watford struggling to convert possession into actual attempts on goal it looked like we would hold on for a deserved three points. Then a Cook header dropped to Cathcart in the box and the centre back struck a perfect volley with his weaker right foot which evaded the attempted blocks and found its way just inside the post.
O’Kane, having an uncharacteristically sloppy game on his return, almost cost us the game when he was caught in possession attempting to bring the ball out of defence, and was lucky that Watford’s finishing remained woeful.
A huge improvement on last season’s result at Vicarage Road, but once again we failed to get full value for a good performance.
Simon Francis was the pick of the back four, hardly beaten defensively and an attacking threat throughout.
AFCB: Boruc, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Harte; Ritchie, O’Kane, Arter, Surman, Stanislas; Wilson
Subs: Camp, Smith (Ritchie 88), Daniels, Pugh (Stanislas 73), Fraser, Pitman, Kermorgant
Richie Barker, Leyton