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Watford 1 Brighton and Hove Albion 0 02/11/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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“Past midnight. Never knew such silence. The earth might be uninhabited.”
“Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Beckett

23:45 London Charing Cross Station. It’s bloody late and it’s only going to get later. Somewhere ahead, two hours into the darkness at the end of the line, is Hastings, a warm, soft bed and what’ll remain of a night’s sleep. Here, there’s me and an old laptop with a fading battery and a tosser on a mobile phone talking very loudly about fancy dress costumes. Midweek games are brutal; commitment is required.

23:56: A little south of London Bridge. Commitment is required more than ever this season, it has to be said. This really isn’t a Watford side that tugs at the heartstrings; it has barely a hint of romance about it. You could fall in love with it in time, I guess, but even if it was just the two of you on a desert island, it’d require beer goggles, a consignment of oysters and a personal appearance from Barry White. You want it to win – your team, for better or worse – but you wouldn’t if you had no direct stake in it all.

00:10: Orpington. So you end up with six very valuable points from two pretty entertaining games…and you want to conjure up prose that’s at least a bit mauve, if not actually purple…and there’s not enough to draw on, not enough of a story to hang it all from. For half an hour here, faced with a makeshift Brighton defence, we were suddenly the side that we mistily remember being before we poured quick-drying cement over everything: y’know, football in the final third, with players from the other places joining in as if we meant to do more than merely persist.

Against Peterborough – who were marvellous, reckless fun – we were rather swept along as if dragged onto the dancefloor at a stranger’s wedding. Here, we actually looked as if we were having some fun: Lee Hodson trundling forwards to the point where Mark Yeates didn’t quite know where he was supposed to put himself, watching on as the young full-back delivered a series of ferocious, belting crosses; Prince Buaben occupying the hitherto-vacant space outside the penalty area to pen Albion right in; Chris Iwelumo momentarily looking as unplayable as his physique suggests that he ought to be; Marvin Sordell actually appearing slightly lost amid the sudden flurry of movement and activity all around him.

00:31 High Brooms. It’s the bit of Tunbridge Wells that emphatically isn’t Royal. That was all great, an altogether different Watford to the one we’ve had to endure…and we were genuinely unfortunate not to capitalise on our complete dominance in those early stages, Sordell and Yeates forcing early saves, Mariappa’s header bumping against the foot of the post, Forsyth’s flick from Hodson’s finest cross drifting inches over.

And the game was lively too, made more so by the arrival of the 87-year-old Mauricio Taricco as a substitute right-back-stroke-pantomime-villain, a competitive tangle ending with much face-clutching, a yellow card for Forsyth, and ten minutes of rare agitation from the Rookery. That was all made worse – or better, if you like – by a booking for Buaben for a clattering touchline challenge on Painter that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow back when football was a contact sport. It was back to being a contact sport again in the second half, evidently, as Carl Dickinson – more and more an early Robbo tribute act – got away with ploughing frustratedly through an opponent without so much as a talking-to. Games like this need referees like this, no matter how much you might want to throttle them at the time.

00:55 Stonegate. Middle of flippin’ nowhere. Not a light for miles. But amid all of that, we faded and faded and faded. A team whose natural inclination is to rock back on our heels in expectation of a punch, we stepped off Brighton and allowed them to become increasingly comfortable as time wore on. There’s tactical sense in not pressing the keeper, but it sets a tone…and that tone is thoroughly depressing, as if we’ve slightly given up on life. As if the answer to such a suggestion would inevitably be: “But what’s the point…?”

By midway through the second half, we were something of a spent force: Forsyth hapless, Yeates anonymous, Buaben knackered, Iwelumo infuriating, Sordell lost. I have sympathy for Forsyth – in a grey squad, he at least has a tale worth telling – but the failure of his earnest endeavours can be painful to watch at times; I have less sympathy for Iwelumo, whose attempts to compensate for dismal anticipation with muscular, obvious fouls are intolerable…especially as he shows good touch and awareness when he gets himself in a position to win a contest.

Anyway, the drive through the midfield had gone, the thrust up the wings had evaporated; even if the defence looked sound, the threat that we’d be made to pay for failing to make our superiority count seemed very real indeed. You could see it coming a country mile away. Fortunately, it crashed into a ditch somewhere en route.

01:10 Battle. Has a goal ever summed up a player’s Watford career more perfectly? Get yourself into the right place, mis-kick completely when presented with a sitter, then score with a blush-saving tackle. For all that it’s a transfer that really hasn’t worked out, it’s hard not to feel more than a little fond of Troy Deeney.

01:19 West St Leonards. Hardly anyone left on the train, still fewer awake, no life in the world outside the window. Two more tunnels, one more station and then Hastings. A long night, a long season. These two wins – battling, heartening, deserved, but fortunate too – have lifted the spirits, certainly. It’ll take more before we can believe in the project as a whole, before it becomes a Watford team rather than just a team in Watford colours. But it’s a start…and on Saturday morning, it was hard to see anything other than the end.

Night night.

Our thoughts are with the family of Ed Messenger, who sadly passed away at the weekend. A Hornet to the last, he’ll be deeply missed but warmly remembered by many in and around Vicarage Road.

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Comments»

1. Ian Lay - 02/11/2011

So sorry to hear of the passing of Ed Messenger. Takes the shine off what has been a good few days for the Horns. Ed these last two wins were for you. Rest in peace sir. A hornet through and through.

2. Harefield Hornet - 02/11/2011

Good summary. Buaben faded after Painters attempt at conning the ref into sending him off. Another good effort from Hodson, it will be interesting to see what SD does when Doyley is fit again. Pleased for Troy – he always gives it his all when given the chance. The next 3 games after this Saturday are very winable, lets hope we can start climbing the table.

3. Chris - 02/11/2011

Ian

Pure poetry – well done

Chris

4. Jeremy Clarkeson - 02/11/2011

JC here

IG..and not a mention about Nosworthy whose loan kicked it all off, who IMHO would be above “Tiny” in the pecking line, fine performance, efficiently went about his businees, a thinking mans (John Mcclenlland style) Shittu

5. SteveG - 02/11/2011

Another splendid piece from IG…

As has been mentioned elsewhere, the Doyley detratctors do overlook the fact that he is a good defender. But in this team, at this moment, given the lack of invention that has been evident, I think Hodson’s attacking threat shades it for me, even given his defensive frailties. Mind you, although I don’t think I’ve ever got anyone to agree with me, I think we could do worse than try Hodson as right midfield in front of Doyley. Hodson’s crosses carried real mance last night.

Just for a moment in the first half you glimpsed the sort of threat that Iwelumo and Sordell might be as a partnership if they could manage to get on the same wavelength.

You’re right, IG, it might have been pointless in absolute terms, but Danny Graham would never have let Steve Harper have that much time on the ball. That kind of manic energetic endeavour lifts the spirits of the team and the crowd, and occasionally, just occasionally, the keeper will make a catastrophic error and you get an easy goal.

You wouldn’t want to rely on Mirfin, Bennett or Thompson to put in a 40 game stint, but you feel that between them they should be able to provide cover for a few games when your first choice centre back is out injured. Otherwise why have we got them in the squad, and how are they going to get experience? But, if you are going to make an arguably daft decision to bring someone else in, Nosworthy looks a very shrewd choice. Short term loans have their limitations, but if we end up somewhere just above mid-way by the time they depart, that will bring some breathing space and hopefully some confidence to the rest of the squad. The Nosworthy/Mariappa partership looked remarkably strong given that they’d only met less than a week ago.

Ian Grant - 02/11/2011

The only problem with the Hodson-at-right-midfield thing is that you get much less time on the ball. In the first twenty minutes last night, he was consistently receiving it with ten yards of space to advance into; you don’t get that if you’re up against the opposing full-back.

SteveG - 03/11/2011

Fair point – there’s just a kind of longing for a player who combined Hodson’s attacking flair with Doyley’s defensive tenacity. But I guess that a player like that might have been snapped up by another club some time ago.

Does this suggest a Nick Hornby-esque challenge? – the ten best Watford players who weren’t quite good enough to attract the interest of another club.

6. Mike Jackson - 02/11/2011

RIP Ed Messenger. Loyal LP member but even greater Hornets supporter.
Fine performance but fine line between winning or losing on show. Could see us succumbing in second half. No leadership on the pitch. Early failure to score punished after defensive lapse. The old story. But for once the substitutions were early enough and worked. We needed a bit of luck and we got it. Some big six pointers later in the month will probably define our season.

7. Toddy - 02/11/2011

ig

I could paper my walls with your reports. … brilliant sir.

Toddy

NickB - 02/11/2011

Agreed, managed to conjure up the rhythm of the train, I thought; fine piece.

Whilst not as encouraging as Saturday, opponents didn’t display any of Peterborough’s buccaneering approach, and demanded a different solution. I think they’re pretty detestable and Gus Poyet is the new Billy Davies. Got what they deserved.

For me, progress has come from a fine instant understanding between the CBs, Prince’s energy and willingness to push forward and the removal of Doyley. However good a limpet-like defender, his lack of basic ball control and inability to pick out a colleague was responsible for a lot of our pedestrian
attacking, and not just this season.

8. Roger68 - 02/11/2011

Iwelumo is also incredibly slow on the turn –there was an excellent through ball from Hodson in the first half that he was just too slow to capitalise on. And that attempted overhead kick–he started to go for it, then thought better of it–more Anne Widdecombe than Wayne Rooney. He spends a lot of time applauding his team-mates, when they have delivered a ball he should have done better with. It would be nice to see them applauding him for actually doing something with the ball! And yes, Sordell was loth to close down the keeper when he was in possession –and slow to anticipate a back pass to the keeper, which he could have challenged for–Luther would have! That is the way to get the crowd on your side.

I think playing Kightly instead of Forsyth for the couple of games we have him would be worthwhile. The next few games will be a good test for Dyche– will he keep this more creative formation and starting line-up? Can the team begin to express its personality, and deliver a few results, so that we can identify with what so far has seemed like a collection of strangers in yellow shirts?

Ian Grant - 02/11/2011

I wonder whether we might get to keep Kightly for a little longer. Since the aim of the loan was presumably to get him up to match fitness, it might be reasonable to suggest that he needs another month to achieve that. Looks a hell of a player to me.

9. Joonz - 02/11/2011

Lovely stuff IG.
A couple of thoughts:
– Hogg was outstanding last night and he could turn out to be a v.gd signing indeed.

-Iwelumo’s half hearted attempt at a bicycle kick was embarrassing. When he claps a good ball from the back that he has made no physical effort to jump for, I cringe.
– When Dyche picks the team, I hope he considers how each player might win the match for us: Marv’s goals, Yeates’ crossing, etc. . I honestly don’t know how he thinks Forsyth will do that? With a creaking Taricco on a yellow card and Forsyth moving at the pace of a badly wounded tortoise, surely the intelligent move would have been to get Kigghtly on at half time and get him the ball? He’s the best player we have available to select at the moment. He must start at Boro.

-Another solid and commanding display from Loach. So clearly our best keeper that dropping him is laughable. He won’t get better on the bench.

-Mariappa has been our best player this season. Class.

Harefield Hornet - 04/11/2011

Strange how Loach has played a lot better since he was dropped though!

10. Nick - 02/11/2011

Another great article.

Brighton are an incredibly odious team. Constantly in the referees ear encouraging him to book a player, rolling around on the floor feigning injury and playing incredibly boring football.

Forsyth is doing enough to show that he will be a good player when he gets up to speed with the pace of the game down here.

11. Sam Barratt - 03/11/2011

Nicely done. A fitting tribute to Ed who was a great man and dad. He will be missed by many of us, not least for the red trouser and pink coat combo and his love of Roger Milford…

Well done Ian I really enjoyed that, very John Betjemen, an ode to Keats next week?

12. Mark Pearce - 03/11/2011

Living in Newcastle but now working in London three days a week, this was my first game of the season (like London buses, ‘boro on Saturday follows on immediately). After 30 minutes I couldn’t work out what was going on. This side looked nothing like the dull side I had read so many reports of. And then, as the game went on adventure seeped away to be replaced by uncertainty, doubt and fear. However, Brighton weren’t good enough to take advantage and a deserved win followed. Hogg and Buaben looks a good pairing in central midfield, albeit one that might get overrun by a stronger side, at least they played football, though and got forward with the ball.

It seemed to me that Iwelumo’s game mirrored that of the team. He started well but, when momentum was lost he faded fast. Not at all convincing. Nosworthy’s performance summed up the gap between Divisions 1 and 2. He’s out of his depth in the top flight but was completely assured and comfortable here. A very reasuring presence for as long as he stays.

13. oldhorn - 03/11/2011

Great stuff IG. What better way to pass the time on a train.

My only comment about the desire for forward players to put the goal keeper under pressure is simply this. Bright On did NOT want to play a long ball at all. If either of our front players had pressed too far on the keeper, there were sufficient players aound him to play simple triangles and get the ball to the mid field. By holding back a bit, they forced the issue. Easy from the stands, isn’ it.

Here’s one for you…how about Forsyth up top? He does win an awful lot in the air and hasn’t got the pace to go round players. With Marv, Prince and others sniffing around to pick up the knock on, perhaps some potential? It would mean no place for Iwelumo, but in my book, that’s not an issue. Competiton for places is healthy.

R.I.P Ed M

Ian Grant - 04/11/2011

Yeah, I agree that there are good tactical reasons for not pressing the keeper: it does make sense to cut out the short passes to the defenders instead, particularly against a team like Brighton that wants to start moves in that way. But how ever sensible it might be, we’re a side that tends to play at a steady, comfortable medium pace and drop into areas that don’t threaten the final third…and you could feel the game drifting away from us during the second half on Tuesday night. Sometimes, you just need someone to set the tone from the front, even they only do it once or twice to change the pattern.

14. S - 03/11/2011

Carl Dickinson…..”an early Robbo tribute act”. I will never look at him the same way again. Brilliant observation, IG.

15. DM - 07/11/2011

Thank you all for the kind words about Dad…. He’d have loved that game..


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