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Second goal of Lloyd Doyley's career doesn't hide Watford's defensive frailties at Bolton Wanderers
Watford’s 2-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers will be remembered for two things - one positive and one negative - as their inability to defend set pieces led to the home side going two goals ahead in the first half, before the second goal of Lloyd Doyley ’s career almost created in a spirited fight back.
The Hornets failure to defend set pieces adequately was the catalyst for their humiliating 5-1 defeat at Derby County in their last outing and it was again to prove their downfall as Matt Mills and then Kevin Davies scored before the break.
Watford were much improved after the restart and the second goal of Doyley’s career lifted the travelling supporters, but despite being the better side in the second period, the Hornets could not find the equaliser.
The Hornets made just once change from the side who were thumped by Derby two weeks ago, with new signing Neuton replacing Carl Dickinson at centre half.
There were five of the signings in the starting XI and five on the bench – Marco Cassetti, Joel Ekstrand, Nathaniel Chalobah, Fernando Forestieri and Steve Leo Beleck.
There was one noticeable absentee from Bolton’s line-up as former Watford striker Marvin Sordell started the game on the bench, with Owen Coyle opting for Kevin Davies and David Ngog; a decision which was quickly vindicated.
Bolton almost scored in the opening minute from a Chris Eagles corner as David Ngog beat his man and Manuel Almunia needed to make an excellent reflex save. The danger still wasn’t cleared but Nyron Nosworthy was able to get enough on the subsequent block to allow Almunia to return to his feet and gather.
But two minutes later and an almost identical situation resulted in the opener. Eagles’ out-swinging corner was met by a Bolton head but this time it was Mills and Almunia could not get enough on his save to stop it from squirming over the line.
Bolton started with a high tempo and was causing problems not only from set pieces but from open play as well.
Their attackers were finding space in the final third and both Kevin Davies and Keith Andrews tried their luck from distance in the opening quarter of an hour.
Watford enjoyed a brief positive spell, when Mark Yeates created space and had a shot saved and Almen Abdi dragged a long-range effort comfortably wide, but it wasn’t long before the visitors were on the back foot once more.
Half an hour into the contest and Watford again needed Almunia to save them as Ngog got the wrong side of Nosworthy but the former Arsenal goalkeeper rushed out and saved from the striker.
The ball was again in the goal a minute later when Mills headed into the empty net but the whistle had already blown for a foul on Almunia.
The Hornets then went up the other end and almost grabbed a surprise equaliser. Daniel Pudil sent in a deep corner and Nosworthy pulled off his marker to stab goalwards, but Zat Kinght was there to clear off the line.
Bolton were the superior side in the first half though and were always a threat from set pieces; Davies next to go close as he had a powerful header go wide.
Watford were more of a threat going forward though compared to the debacle at Pride Park. Matej Vydra should have at least tested Adam Bogdan after he won the ball back 25 yards out and then fired wide.
But it is the defensive problems which must be concerning Zola; in particular their inability to defend set pieces. This was evident, once more, with Bolton’s second goal just before the break as another Eagles delivery caused havoc and Davies volleyed past Almunia.
Mark Yeates hit the crossbar with a 20-yard shot with the outside of his boot but the Hornets could have few complaints about going into the break two goals behind.
The Hornets began the second period more positively and had three corners inside the opening ten minutes but on each occasion, whilst the deliveries from Sean Murray were good, it amounted to nothing.
But Bolton went agonisingly close to making it 3-0 with their first attack of the half. Ngog was slipped in on the left and his low cross was just blocked before it reached Davies. The ball dropped to ex-Watford youngster Eagles and his low drive would have nestled in the bottom corner had Neuton not made the block a yard from his line.
Watford did carry more of a threat following the restart though and kept possession better. After a good passage of play, Daniel Pudil sent a low drive from 20 yards wide of the far post.
Then on 58 minutes the moment which lifted the Hornets faithful; Doyley picked up the ball on the corner of the area and sent in a curling cross. But instead of finding Chris Iwelumo, it looped over Bogdan and nestled into the far corner.
Watford, and their fans, were lifted by the goal, and the goalscorer, and moments later a slick passing move almost resulted in Murray picking out Iwelumo six yards out, but the cross was just blocked before it arrived to the Scot.
The visitors also had a penalty appeal soon after when Vydra headed a cross back into the middle of the penalty area and Watford claimed it struck the arm of Mills.
Eagles tried his luck from distance and Davies headed straight at Almunia but Bolton’s attacking threat did reduce in the second half.
Among the second-half substitutes for Watford was Fernando Forestieri and the midfielder’s desire to support Vydra in attack meant the ball broke nicely for the Udinese loanee following a challenge and he burst to the byline, only for his low cross to be cut out yards from the Bolton goal, with Iwelumo waiting at the far post.
The Hornets were the better side in the second half and showed good character as they tried to find a way back into the contest, but ultimately their inability to defend set pieces before the break was the deciding factor.
Bolton: Bogdan, Mears, Mills, Knight, Alonso, M Davies, Andrews (Pratley 66), Spearing, Eagles, K Davies, Ngog (Afobe 59).
Subs: Lonergan, Petrov, Ricketts, Sordell, Chung-Yong.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Neuton, Nosworthy, Pudil; Hogg, Abdi (Smith 80), Yeates (Beleck 88); Murray (Forestieri 67), Iwelumo, Vydra.
Subs: Bond Cassetti, Ekstrand, Chalobah.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton.