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Watford 1 Hull City 2 (09/04/2011) 10/04/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. In the latest issue of Clap Your Hands Stamp Your Feet, it’s interesting to note, among other things, how often young Adrian Boothroyd’s now-chirpy-now-bitter-now-chirpy boatrace comes up. Even now, his three seasons seem so eventful, so loudly opinionated and thoroughly debatable, that he dominates proceedings as if he was still at the helm. Testament too, perhaps, to the relatively calm period since, and the lack of satirical possibilities therein.

That first full season under Boothroyd’s charge, ending in promotion at Cardiff, will always be the most hotly contested, and it was so even as it unfolded. But I’d discount one theory, voiced a little too often and a little too gleefully by his detractors in an attempt to undermine the achievement: that he was merely lucky. It’s not much of an argument, since promotion without healthy measures of good fortune for a club of Watford’s stature is inconceivable; these seasons always turn on moments like that first half at Selhurst Park, when we could’ve been swept aside and somehow survived.

Those are the moments you need, the moments that give you the momentum, the moments that are forgotten when that momentum delivers something as undeniable and unforgettable as that second half. There were arguably even more of those moments in ’99, from that absurd win over Tranmere right up to and including that magical day at Wembley: watch the playoff final again if you want to explode the myth that Bolton didn’t turn up, if you want to remember that we were the ones who took time to find our feet….

And so to this year, to this opportunity…and to the feeling that these things are sometimes meant to be. And sometimes not. On an afternoon of glorious spring sunshine, on a pitch that’s now playable, against a team alongside us, we found ourselves missing the moments that make it all come together, labouring honestly without a catalyst to breathe fresh life into our tiring limbs. On another day, in another season, a handsome win would’ve left us looking hopefully upwards. But it just didn’t happen.

2. Which isn’t to put it all down to luck. You can avoid letting your opponents score after three minutes, for a start. And even allowing for saves and woodwork, there were enough chances to spare, and with time to spare too; we had ample opportunity to turn it around and failed to do so.

It’s hard to escape the impression of a team that’s gone about as far as its legs will carry it, walking home because it couldn’t afford the bus ticket and stumbling exhausted through the front door. That we’ve made it at all, let alone with several games to spare, is deeply, deeply admirable. But the eager zest that surrounds our best play has been replaced by something slightly heavier, slightly more saggy. One incident summed it up: Danny Graham breaking forward in the first half, delaying his pass too long, and running clumsily into a defender; just one moment, but so untypical of the player. We lacked a keen mental edge, a certain brightness. Who knows what effect a win might’ve had – that’s rather my point – but nothing about us suggests a team that’s ready to push on towards the playoffs.

3. In the waxing and waning of our young players’ form lies some of the explanation of the runs of results that’ve been a feature of the campaign. Is that really Lee Hodson, who appeared so beleaguered, lost and, frankly, terrified only a few weeks ago? He now looks every inch – not many inches, I grant you – the earnest, focused and rather likeable defender we turned up last season. Is that Will Buckley, who tormented Cardiff so relentlessly that they had to kick him until he stopped? As too often, a wafting, wilting absence.

You can’t win anything with kids? We’re Watford, we don’t win anything with adults either. If the price of bringing youngsters through under a regime that genuinely cares for their future careers is inconsistency and occasional bewilderment (“What’s happened to [insert name here]?”), it’s a price well worth paying, as far as I’m concerned. Because whether Lee Hodson and Will Buckley end up playing for Manchester United or the second eleven of the Dog and Arse in Leighton Buzzard, there’s infinitely more interest, fun and satisfaction in watching them emerge than in forking out for a known, limited quantity from a Championship rival.

4. It’s been a terrific season. Another terrific season. At some point, when pressure mounts on Malky Mackay, people will inevitably try to undermine these achievements, to suggest that someone else could’ve done similar, perhaps even could’ve done better. To pick out and dwell upon the moments of good fortune. To answer that, point them at the list of ‘goal of the season’ contenders for a quick summary of what this has all been about: another year of bright, inventive attacking football from a team with plenty of stars but without puffed-up egos, put together by a young manager without any money to spend. His name should echo around Vicarage Road…and probably would, if it had four sides.

5. Nigel Pearson, on the other hand, just scares me a bit. Well, a lot. He looks a man quite capable of grabbing you by the throat and pinning you against the wall, hissing insults about how you’re not quite so smart now, are you four-eyes, and making you run around the playing field in your underpants until you faint from tear-stained humiliation. May I congratulate you on a fine victory, sir…



1. rousman - 10/04/2011

Agree with most,in fact bloody good piece. The fact is that we have over achieved,as I was saying to a few people yesterday going back to the first game of the season on that nice summer evening in Norfolk most would have taken 4th from bottom,so to be standing there before the game yesterday talking about the play offs (however unlikely)was to say the least amazing. The small squad we have has taken its toll over the last 3 games with players who have given there all over the last 38 games looking tired. In saying all that we should have got something from the game, you can see why a lot of Hulls games end one nil, the two central defenders are very effective to say the least & the rest of the team all know there jobs,Pearson has done well but not in the same league as Malky. Manager of the year why not !!

2. Sequel - 10/04/2011

A fine blog and a fair summation of Watford, too. However Ian, I take issue with you over your assessment of the pitch. Like the team, it looked refreshed with the sun on its back, but when asked to do its job, wasn’t quite up to it. At times, the bounce was more akin to a beach ball on a pavement, and Buckley in particular struggled to stay upright, while Loach was almost beaten by a googly late on.
Or am I just used to watching cabbage patch football?

3. Tim Turner - 10/04/2011

Amid the hoards of people who made for the exits the moment Hull’s second goal went in, one bloke near me stopped long enough to yell “Great way to throw away your season, Watford!” in the general direction of the pitch. He sounded bitter and angry.

If there was a prize for missing the point by the widest margin, this pillock would win hands down. A terrific season? Damn right, it has been, and anyone who doesn’t get that really doesn’t get Watford.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I agree with all of the above. Well, apart from number 5, which sounds worryingly as it’s emerged from a dark recess of your memory.

4. Andrew J - 11/04/2011

“The season is a marathon, not a sprint.” Well, most of our squad are not used to the demands of a marathon season, so fair play to them for getting this far and still being in the top half of the table. To go up this season, we would probably have needed to be on steroids! Let’s not let a few below-par results take the shine off the season – we’re all level headed fans on this site, I think.

5. Marcus - 11/04/2011

Yes – + remember we haven’t been blessed with the loanees of the past 2 seasons and cruelly missed out on Taylor and/or Mutch in December. All credit to the lads and the management; it’s been a really enjoyable season in truth. Here’s hoping we win the last 6!

PS I really thought we missed McGinn’s ability to pass a ball directly forwards along the ground on Saturday.

PPS I read he (McGinn) just had his knee op – I guess there is a medical reason to have waited quite so long???

Ian Grant - 11/04/2011

A very good point about Stephen McGinn, whose contributions are frequently undervalued and who would’ve made a difference on Saturday, if only in providing some extra industry in midfield.

6. NickB - 11/04/2011

Hate to put Lloyd’s fan club here on alert, but a player of his experience should NEVER make a misjudgement of that sort. What on earth was he thinking of?

Yes we had a few rather random chances, but going behind to a well organised side like Hull was always going to end badly.

Wider point about the season’s overall achievements well made and agreed with.

Matt Rowson - 11/04/2011

From my vantage point in Addis Ababa, can I just say “nonsense Nick, how dare you besmirch the Doyley”.

That is all. Too hot.

NickB - 11/04/2011

Mind you say hi to Mr Gebrselassie for me, Matt

7. Harefield Hornet - 11/04/2011

Lots of good points above but to be fair it was a incredible we actually failed to score until 90+4 or whatever you call injury time these days. The bloke who sits next to me said their keeper was a bit of a clown before the match started – shades of Mr Clough V Poland circa 1973? Bad finishing and their keeper cost us the points on Saturday, despite all the other stuff mentioned already.

8. JohnF - 11/04/2011

Thoughtful piece Ian and you didn’t sound too depressed. We’ve had a decent season, we haven’t been in a relegation battle and we haven’t been so dependent on loans. That has to be good, particularly since the youngsters are gaining experience all the time. The players will all be really disappointed after creating so many chances but sometimes that happens. I also disagree about the pitch. It wasn’t good. The bounce was totally unpredictable and not being able to keep your feet is a real issue for tricky, quick turning players like young Buckley.

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