29 December 2023

Valerien Ismael left with goosebumps as 10-man Watford dig in for draw

29 December 2023

Watford head coach Valerien Ismael hailed his players for holding on for a point from a 1-1 draw with Stoke despite Vakoun Bayo’s 52nd-minute dismissal.

Striker Bayo was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball clash with Potters defender Luke McNally.

The pair initially tussled for the ball and both ended up on the turf – but when they picked themselves up referee Scott Oldham was convinced he saw Bayo strike McNally as play continued elsewhere.

Hornets fans stuck with their side afterwards – and gave referee Oldham a hard time throughout.

“With 10 men we played some great football,” Ismael said. “The spirit was unbelievable in the stadium – for the first time this season I got some goosebumps. The fans gave us a lot of energy.

“I’m proud of my players because they stayed calm and showed great fighting spirit.”

Ismael agreed with the home fans’ assessment that Oldham had lost control of the contest.

“Everyone got that feeling tonight that something was wrong,” he said. “It was difficult to manage all the emotion because it was not only the players, it was all over the place.”

Oldham showed a yellow card to Ismael for dissent in the first half.

“My feeling was of injustice,” the manager said. “I know I have a job to do on the sidelines, to be an example, but I am human.”

Stoke head coach Steven Schumacher admitted his players had failed to capitalise on the red card but reckoned the decision itself was routine.

“I just saw the two lads clash on the floor, I don’t know what Scott’s seen,” he said. “It was a decision that went for us but the momentum of the game changed. Unfortunately we didn’t make the most of it.

“I’m sick of talking about referees – I’ve been on the end of a few mad decisions as well. It’s part and parcel of football – it’s what happens.”

Jake Livermore put Watford ahead in the 15th minute, bundling home from close range from a corner to celebrate his first goal for the Hornets.

Ryan Mmaee’s fine strike levelled the scores in the 34th minute and despite chances for both sides before and after Bayo’s departure there was no further scoring.

The draw extended Stoke’s unbeaten run to five matches, three of which have been under Schumacher, who replaced Alex Neil on December 19. The Potters are 19th, seven points clear of the relegation places.

“We showed some good character, especially after going 1-0 down from a set-piece,” he said. “That was a disappointment but we responded really well.

“It was a great finish from Ryan. It was a goal he deserved. He has led the line really well in the last three games.

“At half-time I said to the players that the game was there for the taking if we continued to play with some energy and show more quality in their box.

“Unfortunately, especially when they went to 10 men, we just didn’t have that killer pass that would have been the difference.

“It wasn’t a poor performance but you could see there were some tired bodies out there.”

The result left Watford in 10th place, four points off the play-offs, but the draw was an upgrade on Boxing Day’s 4-1 home loss to Bristol City.

“From minute one we were much better than Tuesday,” Ismael said.

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