After their excellent away victory against Aston Villa last week, Manchester City were back to their frustrating worst last night. Watford's goalkeeper, Richard Lee, led a superb defensive effort, and Stuart Pearce had praise for the visitors' performance.
"Watford are organised and dogged and aggressive," said City's manager. "They stifled us and they will be pleased they have got a point at a place where it is difficult to do that. Yes, we are disappointed. But I'm pleased at least we never left the back door open, and sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition."
Watford took the initiative in the early exchanges but once City found their rhythm it was not long before first Micah Richards and Georgios Samaras went close. It is no easy task to make quality count on a miserable winter's night when pitted against lesser opposition, but using the ground and serving your best playmaker, Joey Barton, with generous quantities of ball would seem to be prime requirements.
Watford dictated that aerial balls were the order of play, which meant Darius Henderson and Dan Shittu were more influential than their more skilful counterparts. Jordan Stewart's header, intended for Lee's grasp, was City's most threatening moment of the first 45 minutes.
City re-emerged with a clear directive to keep the ball down, but that was easier said than done. Watford proved annoying as they muscled their progress down the byline, winning consecutive throws. But they had only a weak drive from Ashley Young, which Nicky Weaver gathered easily, to show for their efforts.
By now the rain had abated and at last City tried to use the flanks to get round the back. It was a set-piece from Barton just after the hour after one such effort that brought the best out of Lee following a free-kick against Gavin Mahon.
"I had a few saves to make, but I thought we acquitted ourselves well, defended well and fully deserved a point," Lee said. "[It] was always going to be a tough game, so to come here and get a point is definitely a point gained."
Watford had weathered a fairly feeble storm and a point began to look probable even if their football suggested more a case of never mind the quality, feel the lack of width.
Bernardo Corradi was dismayed when the referee, Mark Clattenburg, refused him what seemed a reasonable call for a penalty, but Pearce defended the referee's decision. "My coaches tell me it wasn't a penalty, so the referee has got it right," he said.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher; Barton, Reyna (Hamann, 80), Samaras (Miller, 64), Trabelsi; Corradi, Vassell. Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Dickov, Onuoha.
Watford (4-4-2): Lee; Stewart, Shittu, DeMerit, Chambers; Bouazza, Mahon, Francis, Smith; Young, Henderson. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), McNamee, Bangura, Mariappa, Priskin.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham)
Booked: Manchester City: Vassell; Watford: Francis, Mahon, Chambers.
Man of the match: Barton.
Attendance: 35,915.Reuse content