Miles Starforth's match analysis: Watford 2 Newcastle United 1
It was beach weather at Vicarage Road.
There was even free ice cream outside the sun-baked stadium.
But the first 30 minutes did nothing to suggest that Newcastle United’s players weren’t on the beach themselves.
It started badly, and got worse before it got better.
And had it not been for the efforts of Martin Dubravka, Watford would have been out of sight by the half-time break.
There were only two minutes on the clock when Abdoulaye Decoure rolled the ball to an unmarked Roberto Pereyra, who beat Dubravka to end Watford’s three-game run without a goal.
And there’s more. Javi Gracia’s side kept on coming.
Dubravka stopped shots from Pereyra and Troy Deeney.
Newcastle needed to get hold of the ball and slow the game down. But they couldn’t take the sting out of the Hornets.
Jonjo Shelvey needed to get on the ball, but time and again, they gave possession away.
Kenedy wasn’t in the game, though he did have one shot deflected wide.
Dubravka denied Andre Gray with his legs before Watford got their second goal.
The goalkeeper couldn’t claim a Pereyra delivery into the six-yard box, and Gray, unmarked, was waiting at the back post to head home.
It was too easy.
Soon Gray, chasing a ball towards the byline, went down under a challenge from Paul Dummett.
United felt the decision was harsh, though Dummett didn’t get the ball.
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Penalty-taker Deeney, however, still had to beat on-loan Dubravka, who last month spoke about the importance to him of the club’s final few games.
The 29-year-old, hoping to earn a permanent move to St James’s Park in the summer, said he had to “show himself”. He did just that, again, with a double save from Deeney.
The second half was better, much better.
Winger Jacob Murphy, recalled to the starting XI, was replaced by Matt Ritchie, and soon Newcastle had hope.
Javier Manquillo – who had struggled against Pereyra in the first half – delivered a deep cross for Ayoze Perez at the far post, and the forward superbly finished past Orestis Karnezis.
From then on, United had the upper hand. They pressed and pressed, but couldn’t get a goal.
Manager Rafa Benitez felt his team lacked “concentration”.
“We didn’t start the game with the concentration we expected,” said Benitez.
“We made too many mistakes, and that’s why we lost. The reaction in the second half was good. So, if we had done what we were expecting to do from the first minute, we would have had control.
“We had control during the second half, but we made too many mistakes in the first half.”
It was a game of two halves, and learnt more about some of his players.
United can’t afford a repeat of their first-half performance against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley on Wednesday night. Or against Chelsea for the final game of the season on Sunday.
But, whatever happens in those games, this season has been a success.
That success is down to Benitez and those players who took to the field against Watford.
And when those players do finally, and deservedly, head to the beach, the future of the club will be decided by a meeting between Benitez and owner Mike Ashley.