- Albion beat Watford 3-0 at Vicarage Road
- An Abdoulaye Doucoure own goal gives Albion the lead
- Florin Andone doubles the advantage with his first touch of the game
- Neal Maupay adds a third on his debut to secure a convincing win
Abdoulaye Doucoure’s own goal, and second-half strikes for Florin Andone and Neal Maupay gave the Seagulls a superb opening day victory in Hertfordshire, in a display that showed plenty of confidence and hopefully a sign of things to come under the new boss.
The two performances in the final two friendlies against Birmingham City and Valencia certainly gave Albion fans plenty of reasons for optimism, but it remained to be seen whether it could be translated to the opening day. On today’s evidence, those doubts were well and truly extinguished.
Graham Potter deployed the same 3-4-3 formation that had served Albion very well in those two pre-season friendlies, but made one change from those line-ups, as Pascal Gross replaced Leandro Trossard.
The Belgian was one of four summer signings named on the bench, alongside Adam Webster, Aaron Mooy and Maupay.
Albion fans have become accustomed to a free-flowing style of football under Potter, but found themselves penned inside their own half during the opening stages. Gerard Deulofeu was first to test the water, but saw his rising effort go over the bar.
The first opening for Potter’s men came after a neat one-two involving Gross and Martin Montoya, but the latter’s ball across the box was fired straight at Ben Foster by Jurgen Locadia.
Straight down the other end, Troy Deeney took advantage of some space on the edge of the box, but his effort was comfortably saved by Mat Ryan.
Albion really started to find their confidence in the game from that point, imposing their passing style on the opposition, which resulted in Davy Propper trying his luck from distance with a dipping left-footed strike that went narrowly over the target.
There were some very encouraging signs for the 2,100 Albion fans in attendance, and Potter’s men got a goal which their play deserved with 29 minutes on the clock. After Dale Stephens intercepted a pass from Craig Dawson, the midfielder eventually crossed towards the back post and Jose Holebas's clearance only got as far as Gross, whose attempted cut-back to Glenn Murray was diverted into his own net by Doucoure.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Seagulls, as Etienne Capoue found Kiko Femenio unmarked inside the box, but his cross was deflected behind for a corner. From the resulting set piece, Femenio blazed an effort over the bar from just outside the box.
The hosts had their tails up after falling behind, and Holebas almost went from villain to hero when his searching free kick was tipped over the bar at the last moment by Ryan.
But other than the scoreline, another telling statistic from the first half was Albion’s 56% of possession, summing up an excellent 45 minutes of work from Potter’s men.
Albion looked to continue from where they left off after the break with a neat one-two involving Shane Duffy and Propper, before Lewis Dunk headed the resulting corner wide.
The changeable weather conditions certainly aren’t what you’d normally associate with an opening day fixture, and Albion looked to utilise the extra zip which the rain had given the pitch with some short-sharp passing football.
But their lead was almost wiped out after Femenia took advantage of March’s hesitancy on the ball and teed up Andre Gray, whose shot was brilliantly saved by Ryan.
Watford were in the ascendancy and VAR came into play for the first time in the match to determine whether Murray had handled Roberto Pereyra’s free kick inside the box. Despite the Argentinian’s protests, no penalty was awarded.
It proved to be Murray’s last action of the afternoon, with new signing Maupay entering the pitch just past the hour mark to make his Albion debut. But despite the Frenchman’s entrance, it was another substitute that came on to make an immediate impact.
Andone entered the fray at the same time in place of Locadia, and he doubled Albion’s lead with his first touch of the game from Propper’s cross to double their advantage with 64 minutes played.
The Hornets looked to regain a foothold in the game when Femenia picked out Dawson, but Ryan was equal to the latter’s header.
But Maupay got his share of the headlines to put the result beyond any doubt when he latched onto Dunk’s sensational long ball forward, and coolly rounded Foster to make it 3-0 with 77 minutes played.
That’s how it finished, and what had been billed as a brand new era began in perfect fashion.
ALBION: Ryan; Duffy, Dunk, Burn; Montoya, Stephens, Propper, March (Bernardo 90+1); Gross, Murray (Maupay 63), Locadia (Andone 63).
SUBS NOT USED: Button (GK), Webster, Mooy, Trossard.
Graham Potter's side are next in action on home soil on Saturday 17th August against West Ham United.
The contest with the Hammers will be the new head coach's first top flight game at the Amex, and tickets are now on sale here at two spaces per fan number.