Watford 2 AFC Bournemouth 0 (28/09/2013) 29/08/2013Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. On close inspection, it turns out that the feeling I haven’t quite been able to pin down throughout the day is one of anticipation. That’s not right on all kinds of levels: whatever the division, the early rounds of the League Cup have always been a reliable touchstone, as everyday as puddles and socks and farts and equally unlikely to inspire anticipation. And yet, here we are. Anticipation. That’ll teach me.
Thing is, it’s not merely that recent games have been terrifically entertaining. They’ve been that, but they’ve had a chess-like fascination too: the need to stop us from playing in key areas is now a given, the ability to do so is very much up for discussion. The result is an engrossing cut and thrust, contests in which attempts at controlling us have met with varying degrees of success, our attempts at slipping free likewise. Contests which have ended without really feeling as if they’ve been settled.
And so the prospect of a second game against the same opponents in such a short space of time is unusually appealing, somewhat intriguing. Bournemouth took a kicking in the latter stages of the league game, but their approach was pretty successful until then, and they might well have squeaked out a lead to defend with more decisive finishing. No need to dig out Plan B just yet. As for us, even with a second-string line-up, there’s enough here to expect some artistry and adventure….
2. We don’t get much artistry and adventure, in truth. We don’t really get that cut-and-thrust contest either, in any comprehensible sense. Instead, we discover that we accidentally recorded whatever was on the other side: the end of a documentary about hippos and some adverts for shoes and holidays and washing powder and a bit of a new sit-com with that bloke with the beard from that panel show and then ten minutes of the test-card. It’s not simply that the scoreline doesn’t accurately reflect the game. Rather, it doesn’t seem to belong to it at all. Someone stuck a label saying “TWO-NIL WATFORD WIN” on it, but they’ll spot the mistake when we take it to the counter to pay.
There were momentary flashes, of course. You don’t put Fernando Forestieri on a pitch without momentary flashes, and his acrobatic cross-field pass to launch a first half attack was worth the effort alone. Early on, this was a tidy, patient game between two tidy, patient teams, but there was never any question which side was the more potent. We began to throw a few live rounds into the training exercise; we scored an elegantly worked, if comically finished, goal; we waited for the fun to start.
2b. Why do players only “put through” their own net, by the way? Why don’t they put through the opposition net too? Why’s that, then? There you go, I can do quizzes too.
3. To make a mistake once is forgivable. Twice, blah blah blah. We took the lead against Bournemouth in the league too, then squandered it by bunking off to the pub when there was hard work still to be done. Much the same here, really. That we weren’t level or worse by half-time had precious little to do with us, beyond one fine Jonathan Bond save to divert a low free kick onto the inside of the post. It had rather more to do with the visitors’ lack of conviction in front of goal, the one thing which stands between them and being a very decent outfit indeed.
It’d be easy to fall into the trap of putting the result down to a certain amount of quality at vital moments. As if to sell that con, we scored the most exquisite counter-attacking second: Acuna’s ripe peach of a through-ball, Battocchio’s dainty chip back-spinning its way in off the underside of the bar, game over. But we produced little else of note, our midfield disappearing into cloudy nothingness with two in-and-in strikers, playing in holes but not in a good way. We didn’t do much to soothe worries about losing Troy Deeney, to be frank; all perfectly pleasant, but not a lot of goals here, not a lot that actually threatened the penalty area. I’d be interested to know how many times we were caught offside; my guess is not more than a couple, which perhaps reflects where our forward line wasn’t playing.
4. Meanwhile our goal led a charmed life at the other end, Bond again outstanding and again grateful for the absence of a confident striker as a succession of chances came and went. We know all about Joel Ekstrand, but his positioning between Reece Brown and Essaid Belkalem led to some awkward moments, none more than when MacDonald was allowed to wander onto an uncharacteristically direct through-ball and was prevented from equalising only by Bond’s athleticism. As clean sheets go, this one had rather a lot of suspicious-looking stains on it.
When people say “we’ll play worse than that and win”, they mean this one. Walking away from the ground amid the contented chatter of victorious fans, you couldn’t help but chuckle at the fickleness of it all: we were a post’s width away from this being a bit of a fiasco, from that contented chatter becoming angry inquest. On another day, on Bournemouth’s day, our two moments of quality wouldn’t have been enough. I hope they have that day, I have to say. They must be sick of the bloody sight of us.
5. As unsatisfying as it was, the evening demonstrates the value of the cup, and the gradual transformation of this particular tournament from an inconsequential distraction to something useful and interesting in its own right. With a squad large enough to produce a reserve team of real substance, and with a number of players either settling in or pressing a case for a step-up, this isn’t a waste of anyone’s time. These players need football; we’ll be calling on them at some point between now and May, and we’ll hope for something more substantial than this.
Beyond that, a bit of a cup run would do us no harm at all. And it’d be jolly good fun.