Watford 0-0 Sheffield United: Blades frustrated but Dean Henderson excels at Vicarage Road
There were times, particularly during a first-half lacking real quality, when even Chris Wilder probably felt sorry for opponents Watford.
Devoid of confidence following a miserable start to the Premier League campaign, many of Quique Sanchez Flores' players appeared scared witless by the prospect of receiving the football and unsure of how to react whenever they did.
The only trouble was, Sheffield United were also lacking their usual zip. It meant they were unable to exploit the opposition's mental fragility. And, on two occasions, saw them present the Spaniard's team with the chance to actually seize control of the game.
In the event, thanks to Dean Henderson's powers of recovery and strength of character, the fixture finished goalless. Neither United nor Watford, despite keeping a rare clean, sheet will be satisfied with the result.
For Henderson, however, the afternoon was a resounding success. Criticised for his costly slip against Liverpool seven days earlier, he responded in style by thwarting both Danny Welbeck and Craig Dawson after the break.
Despite criticising his team's attention to detail "in both boxes" during last weekend's defeat - a match which otherwise saw United impress - Wilder resisted the temptation to make changes; naming the same starting eleven which began the meeting with the reigning European champions. But Billy Sharp did return on the bench, having completed a three match ban following his sending-off against Southampton last month.
In an attempt to arrest Watford's alarming slide - they began they afternoon without a league win since April – Flores made a series of bold pre-match calls. The most dramatic - and potentially catastrophic - was the decision to mirror United's three man defence. It is a ploy many opponents have tried since Wilder's appointment three years ago. And like the overwhelming majority of those, it was very quickly ditched.
Still, despite chasing the ball for most of the opening 10 minutes, Watford should have taken an early lead. A lapse in concentration at the back - or a breakdown in communication between Enda Stevens and Henderson – allowed the hosts to whip in a cross which found its way towards Andre Gray. But somehow, even though it looked harder to miss than score, the centre-forward managed to pull-off the seemingly impossible; hooking the ball over from point black range, unmarked and starting at an empty net.
The miss, after United had controlled the beginning, changed the contest's dynamic. Suddenly it was Watford, previously twitchy and nervous, who seemed full of confidence. Wilder's men, for a short period, appeared strangely hesitant.
The momentum changed again midway through the half, when Ben Foster made a fine save to prevent United from taking the lead. John Lundstram drive a low centre across the Watford box and when that took a deflection, Craig Cathcart feared the worst when he turned the ball towards his own goal. Foster spared his colleague's blushes though, clawing the ball around the post at the expense of a corner.
Watford survived another scare just before the interval, when Oli McBurnie stretched but failed to connect with Chris Basham's pass. Had he got a touch, and directed his shot on target, then Foster would almost certainly have been powerless to prevent it from finding the back of the net.
Soon after the interval, Henderson came up trumps when he saved with his legs to deny Danny Welbeck, who had darted into the penalty area after escaping his marker on the halfway line. The United goalkeeper immediately raised both arms and then pointed a finger at the away fans congregated at the other end of this refurbished stadium. In added time, Henderson impressed again by scrambling Dawson's header off the line when he met a deep free-kick.
Watford: Foster, Janmaat, Prodl (Dawson 58), Cleverley, Welbeck (Sarr 76), Cathcart, Doucoure, Gray (Deulofeu 59), Holebas, Kabasele, Pereyra. Not used: Gomes, Chalobah, Hughes, Femenia.
Sheffield United: Henderson, O'Connell, Egan, Basham, Stevens, Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Lundstram, McBurnie (Mousset 63), Robinson (Sharp 72). Not used: Moore, L Freeman, Jagielka, Osborn, Besic.
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).