Braced with the £35 million that was used to sign 16 players back in the summer, it took a large dose of faith for Watford to avoid signing a goalkeeper. Instead they offered Heurelho Gomes, the mainstay of the Hornets’ promotion season but approaching 35 and with the catalogue of errors from his time with Tottenham fresh in the memory, a new three-year deal.
Manager Quique Sanchez Flores delved into the market six months later to sign Costel Pantilimon and while the Romanian has been between the sticks for Watford’s run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, it is Gomes who is unmovable in the league. The Brazilian has not missed a single minute of Watford’s domestic campaign so far and only Spurs and Manchester United have conceded less than the 30 goals he has seen go past him.
Only Stoke’s Jack Butland, Arsenal’s Petr Cech and Lukasz Fabianski of Swansea have made more saves than Gomes who has made 86 while in the race for the most clean sheets, led by Manchester City’s Joe Hart with 13, Gomes is joint-fourth with 10.
Despite the goal-scoring exploits of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, only Newcastle and bottom-club Aston Villa have scored less goals than Flores’s newly-promoted outfit but thanks to their miserly back-four and vastly experienced goalkeeper, the Hertfordshire club are set to book themselves in for a second year in the top-flight.
The Hornets are currently a comfortable 12 points clear of the relegation zone and only 3 points shy of the 40-point mark which will assure their safety beyond any doubt. That target should easily be achieved, leaving them free to focus on their Wembley date with Crystal Palace and the potential of a first FA Cup final since 1984 which lies in wait afterwards.
Flores’s policy of fielding his reserve ‘keeper in the cup, bar the confusion that preceded their quarter-final victory at Arsenal, will mean Gomes will have to enjoy Wembley from the comfort of the bench, but his work has been done in the league and his manager will be indebted.
That debt will run two ways of course as the Brazilian has Flores to thank for persisting with him for Watford’s first-season back in the Premier League and for remaining steadfast in his loyalty when a pair of Gomes errors handed Leicester a 2-1 win over the Hornets back in November.
Gomes took to Twitter to say sorry in the aftermath as footage of N’Golo Kante’s tame effort squirming under him would have jogged memories of his time at Spurs when he eventually paid for his inconsistencies, but Flores said there was no need to apologise, refusing to entertain the idea of dropping the Brazilian who he said would be supported more than ever.
Such trust has been commendable and Watford and Gomes have been stronger for it. The blunders that marred his spell in north London have been rare and the type of easy spill against Real Madid which spelled the end of the Brazilian’s time with Spurs have been unable to reappear to undermine a goalkeeper who remains supremely agile and still able to make the type of stunning save that denied Steve Cook’s acrobatic effort in a draw away at Bournemouth.
De Gea comparisons
Flores compared the “Octopus” Gomes to David De Gea, who the Spaniard formerly managed at Atletico Madrid, after that game and plaudits also came from Chelsea’s Guus Hiddink, who worked with Gomes at PSV Eindhoven, after the Brazilian made a string of excellent saves to secure a 0-0 draw against the champions last month.
His excellent reflexes denied Branislav Ivanovic and Diego Costa in that game, ensuring Watford a seventh home clean sheet of the season which has since been turned into an eighth with a 0-0 draw with Bournemouth. Only Manchester United have a better home defensive record.
Flores’s ragbag back-four of Allan Nyom, Craig Cathcart, Miguel Britos and Nathan Ake, helped by the fine form of Etienne Capoue in front of them, have been consistently solid but Gomes’s know-how and expertise has been a huge factor behind Watford’s defensive thrift.
There has been no repeat of the type of fumble that allowed Simon Davies to farcically score for Fulham against Harry Redknapp’s Spurs in 2008, or the rash decision to chase the ball that gave Blackpool’s Charlie Adam a penalty which denied Tottenham a place in the Champions League at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 season.
Instead he has been a figure of reassuring calm, commanding in the box and still able to make the type of excellent save that has always been apparent in his armoury but so often pushed aside by his clown act.
Gomes, now approaching the end of his career, admits that he wakes up to neck pain every morning since a collision in a game with Aston Villa at the end of November, but says it arose from a “type of ball I cannot leave”.
“I’ve had so many problems because I am brave in a situation like that” he said, “I am not doing my job if I leave it”.
It is such dedication and willingness to the cause that makes Gomes worthy of the redemption he is enjoying with Watford, who he thinks can develop into one of England’s biggest clubs under the ownership of Gino Pozzo.
The Brazilian will probably not be around much longer to be part of that and Pozzo will have to delve into his pockets to eventually replace him, but in establishing Watford a place back at the top table, Gomes has played a massive part. The faith placed in him has been greatly repaid.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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