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Watford do everything but score against Tottenham Hotspur in FA Cup
If ever there was a game when everyone associated with Watford could take a great sense of pride and even pleasure in a defeat then this was it after Spurs booked their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup at Vicarage Road with a 1-0 victory.
The outcome was ultimately decided by a speculative 43rd-minute strike from Rafael Van der Vaart that Scott Loach should have dealt with but that moment apart, a replay was the very least the Hornets deserved.
Every player in yellow put in an excellent shift to produce the performance of the season to date, playing some superb football at times and consistently taking the game to the third best team in the country at the moment. All that was missing was a goal – but it wasn’t for the want of trying.
Sean Murray and John Eustace both hit the woodwork, Troy Deeney missed a golden chance to convert the rebound from the former, while Prince Buaben had another effort hacked off the line by Carlo Cudicini. The result was the Hornets had 25 goal attempts – Tottenham managed just six, although Van der Vaart also hit the woodwork after the break.
Sean Dyche was forced into one change from the side that lost 3-0 at Birmingham City last time, as Jonathan Hogg was sidelined with a knee injury, but he also made two others – and the names to come into the side would have surprised some.
While Lloyd Doyley’s inclusion at the expense of Carl Dickinson was less of a shock, the appearance of Joe Garner and Murray, for only his second senior start, certainly did raise a few eyebrows. Along with Dickinson, the other player to drop to the bench was Mark Yeates.
Harry Redknapp walked into Vicarage Road alongside his coaching staff and players following the fifth day of his trial at Southwark Crown Court on two counts of cheating the public revenue – charges which he and co-accused Milan Mandaric deny - and he selected many of his big guns, with Scott Parker, Luka Modric, Van der Vaart, Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor all starting.
Unsurprisingly, it was the visitors who had most of the possession in the opening stages but it was the hosts who had the first opening in the sixth minute when Deeney intercepted a misplaced Van der Vaart pass and released Marvin Sordell on the counter. He attacked down the right before checking back inside former Hornets loanee Danny Rose but his shot lacked power and Carlo Cudicini was able to save low down at his near post.
The former Chelsea keeper was tested again moments later by a low drive from Murray, who had started promisingly, and then had to be alert to scoop the ball away from Sordell, who was sliding in looking for the rebound.
The opportunities continued to come the Hornets’ way, and in the 15th minute Sordell got across the near post to get on the end of Deeney’s low centre from the right but he was unable to turn the ball goalwards under pressure from Cudicini.
Buaben chanced his arm soon after with a shot from 20 yards that was always curling away from the near post but it did make the goal attempt count 6-0 in Watford’s favour in the opening 17 minutes.
The Hornets had clearly been the better side up until the halfway point of the first period and they had another chance in the 25th minute when Murray intelligently switched play to the right where Deeney laid a first-time pass into Garner, who was in space in the area, but he didn’t make a decent enough contact with his first-time attempt.
Spurs finally mustered their first attempt in the 29th minute when, after Van der Vaart and Adebayor had played some intricate one-touch football on the edge of the Hornets’ area, the ball for Defoe, but he could only volley into the ground and the ball bounced up for Scott Loach to make an easy save.
Sordell and Buaben had long-range efforts blocked at the other end as Watford continued to play confidently, and very effectively at times, although their opponents did enjoy some more prolonged spells of possession as the half drew to a close.
A share of the spoils was the least the hosts deserved to take into the break but two minutes before the interval Spurs made the breakthrough.
Kyle Walker made the initial inroads before laying the ball inside to Van der Vaart who, from 25 yards out, hit a speculative left-footed shot that Loach should have dealt with but he misjudged his dive and the ball bounced up over it to give the visitors an undeserved lead at the break.
Redknapp decided to make a change at the start of the second half, replacing Modric with Aaron Lennon, but it was the Hornets who had the first attempt after the break, with Buaben firing his fourth attempt of the night high and wide.
The Hornets had a better opening soon after when, from the game’s first corner, Murray’s deep set piece from the right was played deep to Eustace at the back post and he chested it down before shooting over the near post angle.
But from the restart, the visitors were very lucky not to be pegged back.
Tottenham were far too casual in playing out from the back, lost possession and then found themselves outnumbered as the ball was worked to Murray in space on the left side of the area. The youngster did everything right, opening up his body to shape a shot wide of Cudicini, only to see it rebound off the far post. Even then, Deeney should have buried the rebound from the right angle of the area but he put it wide of the near post.
This seemed to wake Spurs up and they had the next opportunity in the 53rd minute when Loach decided not to come for Rose’s cross from the left but then had to push Walker’s header over his own bar.
Rose almost created another opportunity with a driven cross from the same side but Defoe was unable to get a touch as it flashed across the area.
It was Watford’s turn to get a lucky break in the 65th minute when, following a careless Garner pass, Spurs broke, with Defoe leading the charge and picking out Lennon in space on the right of the area. He then played it back to Van der Vaart, whose right-footed shot rebounded to safety off the face of the bar.
Dyche made his first change in the 68th minute, bringing on Yeates for Murray, who could be pleased with his night’s work, but still the chances kept coming Watford’s way, with Deeney firing wide from the edge of the area.
Eustace went closer still two minutes later, heading another deep Yeates corner against the outside of Cudicini’s left-hand post after Cudicini had to claw a Lee Hodson cross away from beneath his own bar.
Buaben had the next opening, placing a shot too close to Buaben after more fine build-up play, and then Garner got up well to meet another Yeates corner but couldn’t direct his header on target.
The feeling that it might not be Watford’s night was further strengthened in the 80th minute when, from a Yeates free-kick on the right, the ball was headed down in the area to Buaben, who turned it goalwards, only for Cudicini to instinctively stick out a leg to save on his line and then Sordell’s follow up was blocked.
Both sides made a change with ten minutes left – Matty Whichelow replacing Garner for the Hornets, while Defoe made way for Steven Pienaar – before Yeates joined the ever-lengthening list of Watford hard luck stories in front of goal, seeing his goal-bound effort hit a Spurs head.
Loach was forced into a rare piece of action four minutes from time when he had to beat out a Parker snap-shot but the last action of the night saw Yeates’ 25-yard free-kick easily saved by Cudicini.
Watford: Loach; Hodson, Nosworthy, Mariappa, Doyley; Deeney, Eustace, Buaben, Murray (Yeates 68); Garner (Whichelow 80), Sordell. Not used: Dickinson, Iwelumo, Forsyth, Jenkins and Bond.
Tottenham Hotspur: Cudicini; Walker, Dawson, Kaboul, Rose; Livermore, Van der Vaart, Parker, Modric (Lennon 46); Defoe (Pienaar 80), Adebayor (Pavlyuchenko 90). Not used: Bassong, Kranjcar, Friedel and Assou-Ekotto.
Bookings: Hodson for a foul on Ross (89).
Referee: Chris Foy.