• Awful Albion make wretched start with dismal defeat at Watford

    Watford 2-0 Albion

    In an uneven, unmemorable game festooned with poor passing and uncertain defending, Albion failed to produce a shot on target in a start to the season that felt ominous rather than promising.

    Only the scoreline, rather than the respectability, of last season's initial defeat to Manchester City was repeated, and Albion's two further games in August – a visit from Manchester United and a trip to Liverpool – will surely yield nothing without dramatic improvements in every department.

    The first 10 minutes, for all their lack of quality, were arguably Albion's best, even if the balance of early chances still suggested the dominance Watford would achieve.

    Solly March, whose inconsistencies drew occasional howls from the away end, earned a corner, from which Watford broke dangerously through Troy Deeney, only for the striker – who constantly threatened through the kind of presence Albion seemed to sorely lack – to lose the ball for an Albion counter-attack, ineffectively seized upon by Anthony Knockaert.

    Almost immediately afterwards, Watford set a pattern in motion that would rarely change during the rest of the match, first through a shot that Mat Ryan had to save well from Andre Gray, who had escaped the debutant Bernardo, and then through a succession of free-kicks and corners.

    That Albion fell behind was unsurprising, but the quality of the goal might save this game from the final slot on Match of the Day it would have been earmarked for by producers.

    Attacking midfielder Roberto Pereyra started the sequence by winning a corner off Bernardo down the left.

    José Holebas sent the corner long and to the edge of the box, where Pereyra met the ball with a searing volley on his right foot that flew into the opposite corner of Ryan's net in front of the home end.

    Whether any Albion player should have been marking the Argentine more closely is contentious, but any suspicions will be intensified by memories of Albion's fallibility from set-pieces last season, and they very rarely looked comfortable when defending them here.

    Albion had played their part in a frenetic contest prior to the goal. An arrowed crossfield ball from Knockaert found March down the left, and when his cross was repelled the ball fell to Davy Pröpper, whose inswinging cross fell just too far ahead of Glenn Murray.

    Neither Murray nor his original partner upfront, Pascal Gross, ever truly looked likely to score, and Gross was replaced by Yves Bissouma before the hour mark.

    On this team selection, following a comparatively prolific pre-season, Tomer Hemed must sense his Albion career is nearing its end, failing to even make the bench.

    March and Knockaert, for their part in the attack, lacked the spark and creativity to suggest Albion could come back into the game, while Alireza Jahanbakhsh showed scintillating pace when he came on in the second half.

    Knockaert was full of pace and trickery, but his claim for a first-half penalty looked like fanciful play-acting at close distance, and he appeared to receive some criticism from his teammates following Watford's second goal shortly after half-time.

    Pereyra could not have made his second goal look much easier, cutting inside twice, first down the left wing and then inside the box, before curling a simple shot past the grimacing Ryan, who would have needed exceptional luck to have saved at such close range.

    The move might have met more resistance from the Albion defence without the absence of Bruno, who had been clutching his hamstring for several minutes before being replaced by Gaëtan Bong with the score still goalless.

    With or without its captain, Albion's defence was in disarray, and Bernardo was booked as he tried to contain Abdoulaye Doucouré.

    Only Watford's wastefulness prevented the result from being worse, with Deeney playing a poor through-ball after Dunk had given the ball away in a deep position late on, requiring Bong to just about clear.

    Tellingly, Depeche Mode's Just Can't get Enough was chosen by the DJ as the stands emptied, and Watford's talk of a top ten finish will be emboldened by a match they would have longed to continue, such was their ascendancy. For Albion, the final whistle signalled relief.
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