Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Watford 3 (29/12/2012) 30/12/2012Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. At some point in the first half, as possession starts to deaden an initially open and promising game, I wonder quite what the purpose of writing about televised matches is, quite what I can add that you can’t see perfectly well for yourself from the sofa. Often, you can take in the whole picture from high in the stands, what’s happening off the ball rather than just a window onto a small rectangle of the pitch…but if the Amex stadium were someone’s living room, then we’d have the seat in the corner that you only clear of mess and muddle when the whole family’s round, with a view of the telly that’s a bit squinty. “Can you see all right from there, Mum?”
In which case, I must be here to report on The Matchday Experience. The sights, sounds, smells of live football. The noise, the buzz, the electricity in the air. But I have to report that, courtesy of a pre-match downpour, The Matchday Experience consisted mainly of having a damp arse. And it’s hard to take much enjoyment from life with a damp arse.
2. And then, of course, there’s the bit when mere seconds after scoring our heavily deflected second, Matej Vydra is roaring clear of the Brighton defence and you have time to think “He doesn’t ever miss these, does he?” and even time to think “Bugger, I hope I haven’t tempted fate there” before the ball is whistling into the bottom corner courtesy of a finish so emphatic that it could’ve been fired out of a cannon…and Vydra continues his unstoppable trajectory to its natural finish in front of the away end…and the roar which escapes from your lungs doesn’t care if you’ve got a sore throat from the cold you always get at Christmas. It doesn’t care about your damp arse. It doesn’t care about anything much except this acute, perfect moment. (Apart, possibly, from briefly remembering and again savouring another two-goals-in-two-minutes celebration on 4th October 1997. These things live long in the memory.)
And that, obviously, is why you’re there…
3. Like finding out that your genial Uncle Terry from Leatherhead who drinks sherry and wears a brown cardie leads a double life as an assassin for hire, there’s something more than a little unnerving about all of this. We have watched many Watford teams win many away games, occasionally via decisive scorelines…but rarely have we glimpsed a version of our Golden Boys as ruthless and lethal and remorseless as this one.
At home, where we play teams freed from the demands of their own paying punters, we are only sporadically allowed to see what happens if you don’t, for example, stop Nathaniel Chalobah from ambling into spaces beyond the halfway line. Here, in front of a record Amex crowd, our opponents are obliged to do more than worry about us…and yet worrying about is precisely what they ought to be doing. Worrying about the pace and accuracy of Matej Vydra, the force and muscle of Troy Deeney, the craft and vision of Almen Abdi, and so on, and so forth. Worrying even more about the combination of all these things, attacking interchanges so swift and fluent and precise that defenders are twisted into knots. Not switching off for a second; not letting that space appear for us to exploit, not letting it appear there or there or there. And definitely not there.
But if you must be seen to be positive, you cannot hope to contain us for the whole ninety minutes…and we will punish you for it. Maybe a couple of warning shots first, just to be fair…but then, wallop. An away win as blistering and ferocious as the ones you hardier travellers have all been going on about.
4. If we want to keep our feet on the ground, then we ought to note that there remains much room for tightening up in certain areas. Were we – and let’s not get too carried away just yet – to be encountering higher quality opposition on a regular basis, we would find them ruthlessly exploiting our lapses just as we’re currently exploiting others’. The penalty, clearly, was a nonsense…but there’s plenty of detail to attend to elsewhere, a tendency to get caught in possession in exposed areas in particular.
We have a casual, over-confident air about us sometimes, a touch of the cavalier, easily and quickly deflated when you come up against teams with even more raw fire-power. We’re currently a desperately exciting side. But a great team comes through challenges that we haven’t yet even earnt the right to face. We’d do well to remember that. And, in passing, I’d be reassured to see our club captain there to remind us in his own inimitable way.
5. But enough caution. Somehow, after clawing our way up to sixth before Christmas, we kicked off last night in the same position, nobody stamping on our fingers or hanging onto our boots despite having played twice more. It felt like an opportunity, a potentially significant moment. My word, what a response…decisive, potent, nerveless. Jesus. We are a coiled python of a team, and you really don’t want to blink in our presence…