Watford 6 AFC Bournemouth 1 11/08/2013Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. Even for world-weary types like your correspondent, who prefer their battles hard-fought and their victories without any sense of entitlement, this is terribly hard to resist. It almost feels as if the anticlimax at Wembley didn’t happen; perhaps it was such a non-event, swimming in the spring heat haze, that any memories have simply evaporated and left little trace. What might’ve been a watershed moment just passed quietly into history, and here we are: the old gang, back together for another shot at the big time. Even for world-weary types, it’s a tantalising prospect.
One of the curious aspects of our ownership model is that it’s impossible, rather than merely difficult, to accurately gauge the level of investment being made. Perhaps it’s not particularly relevant any more. But even with three sides, Vicarage Road at the start of the Pozzos’ second season is a noticeably different place: there’s an attention to detail, a creative energy at play and a sense of clarity and purpose, from redesigned graphics to a properly working big screen to a new singing section. It says much about football that a well-run business is worthy of comment, but there we are: Watford Football Club feels like it’s being run by people who might actually know what they’re doing and who might be doing it for something other than to stoke their own egos. Heaven help us.
(Cue a load of comments about intolerable queues for pies or something. You can’t always get it right. But you can at least try.)
2. Forgive me for being a spoilsport, but it has to be said: the scoreline might give you the wrong impression altogether. It’s not that we were flattered by six goals, not really; we were every inch that good, and that ruthless, for a spell. But any suggestion that this was easy is misleading. The argument, tempting as it is, that our class told in the end isn’t quite right either.
If you want to find the really important lessons, then, as so often, you need to look at the periods when the result was still in question. Because it was very much in question until we scored second and third goals in quick succession, almost without warning. If you want to be encouraged by something, it should be a new facet to our game: a real threat from set pieces. A source of ugly, functional, cheap goals, stacked up high like bog rolls at Poundland. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve gone a bit Stoke over the summer.
Without Angella’s two goals – particularly the majestic second, leaping high above all to meet a free kick cleanly and nod into an empty net – we wouldn’t have been in a position to add the remaining four. The plain fact is that we were not winning the game in open play; it was nervous and a bit tetchy and our opponents had a good measure of control. That goal, remote from our sexy football, changed the entire game. A free kick won by chasing a lost cause into the space behind the Bournemouth defence, a free header by a central defender from the set piece. Note the word “free”.
We were a terrific side last season, full of attacking verve and creative flair, but sometimes you need something else too. It’s not a Plan B, just a more all-encompassing Plan A. Sometimes you just need a goal from a big bloke at a corner, some manual labour to pull open the floodgates. Sometimes you just need a goal.
3. The Bournemouth supporters were absolutely right to give their team an ovation at the final whistle: they were excellent, in truth, for all that we picked them off once they had to chase the game. Through the central phase, the last half hour of the first half and the opening nearly-ten minutes of the second, they were as neat and efficient and quietly confident as anyone we’ll face, thoroughly deserving of their equaliser and promising more.
The gameplan is one we’ll grow over-familiar with, especially if we find no replacement for Vydra’s searing pace. Push up, squeeze the midfield, compress the space. Force key players into positions that don’t suit them: Forestieri on the shoulder of the last defender, the “hole” having been filled with rubble and clutter; Abdi picking the ball up where Chalobah once did, harmless so far from the final third; Anya on the back foot, defensive failings exposed; Deeney chasing through-balls that he can’t hope to reach. If I’m implying that Bournemouth were mere spoilers, then I’m doing them a disservice: they were constructive and positive in possession, of which they had plenty. But they weren’t daft either, and only when the game finally opened up did our superiority tell.
4. Of course, when it did tell, we were every bit as devastating as you’ve come to expect. Rarely, perhaps never, has a Watford side made a particular area of the pitch so dangerous: if you let us have the ball in the ten or twenty yards ahead of the penalty area, and especially if you let us have it with a yard of space, you might as well call to the bench for the white flag. In the likes of Abdi and Forestieri, with some added hustle and bustle from Deeney, we have too much craft and cunning to be allowed to play there. Thing is, it’s very hard to prevent us from doing so if you’re also trying to push forward. Don’t let us take the lead, whatever you do.
Bournemouth got away with it once, recovering their composure after a difficult opening fifteen minutes in which Angella blasted home from a corner. Then, we stepped back enough to allow them off the ropes; perhaps we took them a little lightly and were nearly made to regret it. Second time around, there was no mistake: Deeney’s first to clinch the victory before our opponents could draw breath, then all the way home in pure luxury and style, training-ground flair and flamboyance. We know it already, but it’ll never tire: we’re capable of being a brilliant, brilliant football team.
5. For a moment there, you wondered whether the first home hat-trick by a Watford player since whichever-date-you-choose would be scored by a central defender. Instead, appropriately, it was scored by Deeney, without whose physical presence everything would look so much less substantial and so much more fragile. Take anyone else out of this Watford side and, while poorer, it’s still essentially the same beast. Take Deeney away and it loses focus altogether.
It’s a telling sign of the revolution our club has undergone, and the security and certainty now underpinning it, that we’ve worried little about losing such a vital player to richer suitors. We have everything in place. But this is where the hard work really starts. Don’t let the scoreline fool you: Bournemouth took some beating.