Southampton 0 Watford 3 (18/10/2008) 18/10/2008Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Just for a change, here’s a match report…
It’s not quite the case that this was my first experience of an executive box. I vaguely remember a similar set-up at Old Trafford in 1987 (and one of those occasions when Worrell Sterling played well – he only ever did so as a straw to cling to in a defeat) although I can’t remember why or what justified the exalted environment on that occasion.
But certainly my first visit for 20 years or so, and much as it would take some getting used to there’s something about free food and an assistant to bring you free drinks from the bar that tends to win one over.
Thanks are due to Joons and his employers for access to this box. This thought was bubbling around somewhere near the front of my mind as we shuffled out to our padded seats at around 2.45 – it doesn’t take much alcohol to affect my sensibilities these days, and I was conscious of not wanting to embarrass or cause ructions for my host as I took my pew above the Southampton directors’ box. Any celebration, berating of officials and general raucousness to be kept to a minimum.
The deceptive chill that defied the bright sunshine helped me retain a degree of self-awareness. So too the discovery that the “Lawrie” who had given his name to the adjacent executive box was indeed Southampton’s celebrated ex-manager (and one time GT-sidekick). His schoolmasterly demeanour, even at the age of 72, demanded a straightening of seating position and attentiveness to matters in hand.
Not that there wasn’t quickly enough going on to grasp the attention, as a chaotic forty-five minutes ensued. Form and a glance at the teamsheet suggested that a painfully young Southampton side might cause us a few problems going forward, but a back four with an average age of nineteen was there to be pressured and bullied. Heaven knows what Doris will do to them on Tuesday…. both suggestions were proven accurate beyond dispute within the first half.
And the home side started on the front foot, making us look very clunky indeed at the back as we endured our now customary stupid first five minutes. We’d been put under pressure – and looked far from comfortable – even before the second minute, but the first pivot of the game came when a ball from deep towards the lively McGoldrick saw the Saints’ youngster, Ward and Lee collide on the edge of the area.
It’s beyond dispute that McGoldrick was fouled. It wasn’t obvious to me who had committed the foul or even – based on an admittedly addled memory alone – whether it had been in the area. But a penalty having been given, and our keeper having been held responsible, we can probably consider ourselves fortunate to have retained his services. Not a clear cut decision – Darren Ward clearly in attendance – but we’d have been looking for red had the roles been reversed. A long thirty seconds was endured before the yellow card appeared.
Thing is, as the Reading game illustrated, sometimes it bounces for you, and sometimes against you. Wittering about refereeing inadequacies or otherwise continues to miss the point. What differentiates a strong mentality from a weak one is the ability to deal with the situation. And both in the Reading game and here we overcame the impact of a refereeing decision – against us a month ago, for us today – to push on regardless and get a result.
Although admittedly we were helped by both a weak penalty from McGoldrick and a confident stop by our goalkeeper. Not for the last time we jumped around in isolation in our pocket of the main stand under a particularly stern glare from our right.
The game remained open, and we were under pressure again as a wicked ball in from the right found McGoldrick attacking the far post and only a fine block from Mariappa prevented us from going behind. It was hairy, and it might have got hairier still but for the sudden discovery that Southampton couldn’t defend to save their lives.
Darren Ward on the scene or otherwise, it won’t have escaped your notice that we’re hardly a threat from set pieces any more in these post-Shittu and post-Doris days. That didn’t prevent an almost complete failure to deal with a ball into the box as Harley received Williamson’s short corner from the right, flicked it rather aimlessly into the middle where it cannoned around for a bit before finding Hoskins and Priskin playing scissors-paper-stone at the far post for the right to drive the loose ball past the unprotected Kelvin Davis. The Hungarian won, and delivered emphatically.
Good job, because whatever story the final score tells we were under pressure again quickly. John Eustace put himself under unnecessary but increasingly traditional pressure by picking up a yellow for executing a Southampton midfielder on the halfway line. And then the home side won another penalty.
At the risk of “The Championship” making me look silly tomorrow morning, no doubt about this one for me. A shove in the back, only questionable because it was so unnecessary (he can’t have bloody pushed him, can he?). Paul Wotton, one of only two of Saints’ starting eleven able to ride a bicycle without stabilisers, grabbed the ball early and took responsibility, but several of our number called the outcome before it transpired. A long run up heralded a smack down the centre of the goal where the ball met Richard’s legs and cannoned away to more celebration and another stern glare from our right.
More hurly-burly followed… we seemed to be under instruction to bully Southampton’s youngsters and deny them the space on the ball which had already hurt us. Referee Kettle wasn’t having any of it, pulling up anything approaching a physical challenge. This isn’t basketball you tart. Lee Williamson, however, is paid not to lose his cool in the face of a stupid refereeing decision, so his yellow for dissent was somewhat irritating, the non-foul that he’d just been penalised for notwithstanding. Jon Harley’s own yellow minutes later was slightly harder to understand, and perhaps prevented him from picking up a booking by the traditional means of a petulant hack on his marker later in the game.
You’ll notice that our attacking forays aren’t featuring much here. The truth is that there weren’t many of them, with those that we did carve out coming the way of an increasingly purposeful and aggressive Priskin, who won a corner with a bullish drive down the left that probably ought to have resulted in a clear shot on target but for his customary hesitation.
At which point I must confess to availing myself of the facilities… such are the perils of a free bar before a football game. As I returned into our suite an “oooooh” from the noisy Watford contingent to our right caused me to rush to the window in time to see John Eustace nod home. Given the chaos that preceded our first goal, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how the second had come about.
Particularly as a similarly preventable third followed ten minutes later. Southampton displayed the twin vices that would cost them the game – the inability to finish off a couple of bright breaks followed by utter refusal to deal with a ball bouncing aorund the box, Tamas Priskin grabbing his second with a smart backheel of all things.
The mood in the box at half time was one of cheerful bemusement. We hadn’t played particularly well, and had the bases loaded against us in the number of yellow cards already assembled. We had in fact defended like idiots for much of the half, hadn’t attacked particularly expansively, and were 3-0 up.
It’s tempting to dismiss the second half as a non-event. Compared to the first half of course, very little wouldn’t have been a come down and it’s fair to say that the slow down in the passage of events suited us rather better than it suited our hosts.
But they gave it a good go, and we had both our goalkeeper and no small fortune to thank for our clean sheet.
This was Richard’s sort of game, of course. No big strikers to compete for high balls with, little in the way of crosses from the touchline into the box, and no real demands on his sometimes wayward distribution given how easily we’d picked up a convincing lead… but plenty of shot-stopping and handling which he managed pretty much immaculately. There were chances in the first fifteen minutes of the half that, had an outstretched leg connected, Lee wouldn’t have been able to do anything about – and the Bromby/Ward pairing, on this evidence, isn’t one you’d want to test again against more bullish opposition.
As it was Southampton’s failure to break the deadlock resulted in the rest of the half being more comfortable than it might have been. We had a few more chances of our own – Priskin twice chasing and harrying (yes really) to generate a couple of chances to complete his hat-trick, one of which resulting in a snap shot that Davis did well to stop, the second in an astonshing shank wide that would have attracted derision but for the sterling display and two goals that had preceded it. Rasiak is supposedly back in contention on Tuesday. Improbably, he’s far from a shoe-in on this evidence.
Will Hoskins, after a disappointingly incidental first half, was much more significant in the second, working hard to occupy Southampton’s young defenders with little reward. As the game petered out, Saints fans stirred themselves to sing about how quiet the Watford support was, which probably passes for irony on the south coast. Our subs wandered on… a feisty cameo from the likeable Henderson and a less eyecatching ten minutes from John-Joe O’Toole, followed by a welcome return for Lloyd Doyley, giving us proper options at the back for the first time in a while.
We won’t always have it as easy as this. And it was easy, however much of the rub of the green we got. Southampton’s plight serves as a warning of the perils of NOT living within your budget. Here but for the grace of God go we. If you can’t deal with the most inoccuous of balls into your box, you’ve got a serious problem.
Watford move up the table, but there are tougher challenges to come. Starting Tuesday.
*Lee 4*, Mariappa 3 (Doyley NA), Sadler 3, Ward 2, Bromby 2, Smith 3, Eustace 3, Williamson 4, Harley 3, Hoskins 3 (Henderson NA), Priskin 4 (O’Toole NA)