WATFORD closed out pre-season with an entertaining 2-2 draw against French Ligue 1 side FC Lorient at Vicarage Road this afternoon.
Troy Deeney opened the scoring with a penalty, before Odion Ighalo doubled the lead with a neat lob, but Zargo Toure and Romain Philippoteaux goals saw the visitors return to Brittany with a share of the spoils.
In sunny 26°C conditions, the new playing surface laid over the summer looked pristine, with ‘keep off the pitch’ signs prominent prior to the team warm-ups.
Watford showed off their yellow DryWorld home kit for the first time at The Vic, while the visitors from Brittany played in white.
Heurelho Gomes began behind a three-man backline of Craig Cathcart, Sebastian Prödl and Miguel Britos.
Prödl came into the starting XI ahead of Allan Nyom, who had been playing at centre-back, with the Austrian given extra time off after representing his country at the European Championships this summer.
Ikechi Anya and José Holebas were the Hornets’ wing-backs, flanking a midfield trio of Ben Watson, Adlene Guedioura and Etienne Capoue.
Six years to the day that Deeney made his Watford FC debut, the Birmingham-born striker led the line alongside Ighalo.
Watford’s attacking play was certainly more fluid in the opening 10 minutes than it had been in the Hornets’ last pre-season game with Queens Park Rangers.
The travelling Lorient fans began to sing just as the Golden Boys created their first clear-cut opportunity.
Ighalo was crowded out before he could strike Capoue’s perfectly weighted through ball, before Guedioura’s follow-up was blocked.
The French top-division side showed neat interplay at times, but high-pressing from Watford meant that mistakes were common and cost them possession in the middle of the park.
Phillipoteaux was proving a real test for Anya on the right-hand side of Watford’s defence, with the Scotland international doing well to balance attacking and defensive responsibilities.
A drinks break was taken in the 27th minute due to the warm conditions, and the Golden Boys’ new Head Coach took the opportunity to give further tactical instructions to his players.
Cathcart came off as a precaution due to a knock to the back, the Hornets switching to a back-four of Anya, Prödl, Britos and Holebas. Club-record signing Success came on to take up a position on the left-wing in a 4-3-3 formation.
The away side forced Gomes into a smart save at his near-post shortly after play resumed, as Benjamin Moukandjo broke the Hornets’ back-line for the first time.
Success’ relentless harrying won possession and allowed Ighalo to wriggle free of his man and release Guedioura, but the Algerian’s curled cross was just over-hit.
The Hornets looked comfortable with a four-man defence. With Ighalo and Success coming in from advanced wide positions, the movement in attack improved and gave Lorient’s defenders a lot to think about.
Carlos Miguel Cafú was becoming an increasing creative threat in forward areas, as he started a move which ended in his driven shot stinging the palms of the largely unworked Gomes.
Prödl then picked out Success running in-behind on the left-wing, but the Nigerian was unable to divert the ball into the net after he rounded Lorient captain and stopper Benjamin Lecomte.
As two minutes of added time were announced, an illegal block on Holebas in the area resulted in a penalty for the Hornets.
Deeney placed the ball on the spot and thundered into the top-right corner – keeper Lecomte would not have saved it even if he had guessed the right way.
Watford began the second-half with precision and purpose, Ighalo feinting one way and then the other before feeding his compatriot Success on the left side. Success’ effort was perhaps curling into the far bottom-corner before it was blocked.
Just before the hour mark, the Hornets doubled their lead as Ighalo produced a goal of immense quality at the empty Rookery end.
Surging through onto a Capoue pass, he lifted the ball up and over Lecomte, who was helpless to defend against the Nigerian’s superb finish.
Eight minutes later and the comeback was complete, as a scooped ball over the Hornets’ defence allowed Phillipoteaux to prod his effort into the back of the net from close-range.
A scrambled clearance from Capoue’s corner allowed Hornets’ new-boy Doucouré to fizz an effort into the body of the Lorient goalkeeper – the substitute applauded for his early attempt to change the game.
Watford will next take to the pitch at Vicarage Road when they face Chelsea in the first home Premier League fixture of the season on Saturday August 20.
HORNETS: Gomes (GK); Cathcart (Success, 25 (Sinclair, 74)), Prödl, Britos; Anya (Zúñiga, 82), Watson (Behrami, 58), Guedioura (Doucouré, 66), Capoue (Suárez, 86), Holebas; Deeney (c) (Vydra, 78), Ighalo.
Subs not used: Pantilimon (GK), Arlauskis (GK), Nyom, Kabasele, Hoban, Amrabat.
FC LORIENT: Lecomte (GK); Rose, Lautoa, Touré, Le Goff (Koffi, 74); Bellugou (Marveaux, 63), Cafu (Ben Khemis, 62), Mesloub, Philippoteaux (Barthelmé, 81); Moukandjo (Selemani, 76), Waris (Hamel, 89)
Subs not used: Delecroix (GK).
Goals: Touré 61, Philippoteaux 69.
Referee: Jonathan Moss.