Watford 1 Brighton and Hove Albion 0 02/11/2011Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
“Past midnight. Never knew such silence. The earth might be uninhabited.”
“Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Beckett
23:45 London Charing Cross Station. It’s bloody late and it’s only going to get later. Somewhere ahead, two hours into the darkness at the end of the line, is Hastings, a warm, soft bed and what’ll remain of a night’s sleep. Here, there’s me and an old laptop with a fading battery and a tosser on a mobile phone talking very loudly about fancy dress costumes. Midweek games are brutal; commitment is required.
23:56: A little south of London Bridge. Commitment is required more than ever this season, it has to be said. This really isn’t a Watford side that tugs at the heartstrings; it has barely a hint of romance about it. You could fall in love with it in time, I guess, but even if it was just the two of you on a desert island, it’d require beer goggles, a consignment of oysters and a personal appearance from Barry White. You want it to win – your team, for better or worse – but you wouldn’t if you had no direct stake in it all.
00:10: Orpington. So you end up with six very valuable points from two pretty entertaining games…and you want to conjure up prose that’s at least a bit mauve, if not actually purple…and there’s not enough to draw on, not enough of a story to hang it all from. For half an hour here, faced with a makeshift Brighton defence, we were suddenly the side that we mistily remember being before we poured quick-drying cement over everything: y’know, football in the final third, with players from the other places joining in as if we meant to do more than merely persist.
Against Peterborough – who were marvellous, reckless fun – we were rather swept along as if dragged onto the dancefloor at a stranger’s wedding. Here, we actually looked as if we were having some fun: Lee Hodson trundling forwards to the point where Mark Yeates didn’t quite know where he was supposed to put himself, watching on as the young full-back delivered a series of ferocious, belting crosses; Prince Buaben occupying the hitherto-vacant space outside the penalty area to pen Albion right in; Chris Iwelumo momentarily looking as unplayable as his physique suggests that he ought to be; Marvin Sordell actually appearing slightly lost amid the sudden flurry of movement and activity all around him.
00:31 High Brooms. It’s the bit of Tunbridge Wells that emphatically isn’t Royal. That was all great, an altogether different Watford to the one we’ve had to endure…and we were genuinely unfortunate not to capitalise on our complete dominance in those early stages, Sordell and Yeates forcing early saves, Mariappa’s header bumping against the foot of the post, Forsyth’s flick from Hodson’s finest cross drifting inches over.
And the game was lively too, made more so by the arrival of the 87-year-old Mauricio Taricco as a substitute right-back-stroke-pantomime-villain, a competitive tangle ending with much face-clutching, a yellow card for Forsyth, and ten minutes of rare agitation from the Rookery. That was all made worse – or better, if you like – by a booking for Buaben for a clattering touchline challenge on Painter that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow back when football was a contact sport. It was back to being a contact sport again in the second half, evidently, as Carl Dickinson – more and more an early Robbo tribute act – got away with ploughing frustratedly through an opponent without so much as a talking-to. Games like this need referees like this, no matter how much you might want to throttle them at the time.
00:55 Stonegate. Middle of flippin’ nowhere. Not a light for miles. But amid all of that, we faded and faded and faded. A team whose natural inclination is to rock back on our heels in expectation of a punch, we stepped off Brighton and allowed them to become increasingly comfortable as time wore on. There’s tactical sense in not pressing the keeper, but it sets a tone…and that tone is thoroughly depressing, as if we’ve slightly given up on life. As if the answer to such a suggestion would inevitably be: “But what’s the point…?”
By midway through the second half, we were something of a spent force: Forsyth hapless, Yeates anonymous, Buaben knackered, Iwelumo infuriating, Sordell lost. I have sympathy for Forsyth – in a grey squad, he at least has a tale worth telling – but the failure of his earnest endeavours can be painful to watch at times; I have less sympathy for Iwelumo, whose attempts to compensate for dismal anticipation with muscular, obvious fouls are intolerable…especially as he shows good touch and awareness when he gets himself in a position to win a contest.
Anyway, the drive through the midfield had gone, the thrust up the wings had evaporated; even if the defence looked sound, the threat that we’d be made to pay for failing to make our superiority count seemed very real indeed. You could see it coming a country mile away. Fortunately, it crashed into a ditch somewhere en route.
01:10 Battle. Has a goal ever summed up a player’s Watford career more perfectly? Get yourself into the right place, mis-kick completely when presented with a sitter, then score with a blush-saving tackle. For all that it’s a transfer that really hasn’t worked out, it’s hard not to feel more than a little fond of Troy Deeney.
01:19 West St Leonards. Hardly anyone left on the train, still fewer awake, no life in the world outside the window. Two more tunnels, one more station and then Hastings. A long night, a long season. These two wins – battling, heartening, deserved, but fortunate too – have lifted the spirits, certainly. It’ll take more before we can believe in the project as a whole, before it becomes a Watford team rather than just a team in Watford colours. But it’s a start…and on Saturday morning, it was hard to see anything other than the end.
Our thoughts are with the family of Ed Messenger, who sadly passed away at the weekend. A Hornet to the last, he’ll be deeply missed but warmly remembered by many in and around Vicarage Road.