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West Ham United 1 Watford 1 (07/03/2012) 08/03/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five Thunks from the Boleyn Ground.

1- Away matches are brilliant.  Evening kick-offs are brilliant.  Nothing-to-lose, dammit games are brilliant.  So an evening kick off at the  Boleyn Ground, preceded by several hours of build-up… verbal, nutritional (Nathan’s Pie and Mash shop a thing of rare beauty) and liquid is something to savour.  Yet more so given that astonishingly sensible stewarding permits actual standing for the entire ninety minutes.  That’ll never catch on.  And of course that the Boleyn Ground is a claustrophobic, suffocatingly intense venue.  Industrial-scale bubble machines of a size that would cause my daughters to combust with excitement are stationed at the side of the pitch, propelling countless swarms of the things into the night sky.  I must have seen that here before, but I can’t believe it’s anything like as effective when the floodlights aren’t catching them.  Not sure it would work quite as well with Hornets, one to mull over though. I’m sure there are financial reasons for leaving Upton Park, reasons that might even benefit the football club, but you’d have to be bloody mental to want to abandon this place.  If the atmosphere is slightly subdued before the game, from kick off onwards it positively crackles.

2- There are resigned sighs when the teamsheet reveals itself, I suspect we weren’t alone in that. Joe Garner hasn’t always endeared himself and has rarely looked like, you know, scoring a goal, but running around a lot disguises ineffectiveness and Big Chris doesn’t even give you that, bless him.  Dickinson’s introduction to rest the irrepressible Hodson is not a popular move, a good wave of the fist only gets you so far Carl.  And Nos is poorly, provoking an unheralded first start in aeons for still-young-but-not-quite-so-young-any-more Dale Bennett. Blind enthusiasm typical of such occasions still dominates but  an objective assessor might be apprehensive.

We were tremendous.  It rather helped – perversely, remembering the Hammers’ comprehensive demolition job on an earlier Tuesday night in August – that this really is our sort of game, asking us to do lots of the things that we’re rather good at – keeping our shape, challenging, hassling, closing down the midfield – and less of the things that we’re not very good at.  Shooting springs to mind.  Whatever.  The first half sways hither and thither in intensity, West Ham’s spells of pressure intermittent and not always convincing.  There’s no denying that we’re earning our corn, though;  a lunatic midfield performance from Eustace and Hogg is the highlight, ferociously stamping on any space that appears as if they were playing that fairground game with mallets that requires smacking whichever gopher pops its head up.  West Ham’s midfield didn’t like that at all, and the home side were rapidly pressured into playing long balls forward from the back.  Nonetheless, the chances came… an extraordinary sliding challenge in the area from Bennett to deny Faubert and one quite inhuman save from Kuszczak to claw Noble’s curling effort out of the top corner only the two most memorable instances of a defiant defensive display.

And as for the bits that we’re not very good at… much as Sam Allardyce has laughably bemoaned his lack of a clinical striker despite hoovering up forwards as if in anticipation of a global shortage, we had as much cause in the first half to bemoan our finishing.  Our periods of pressure were fewer and briefer, but our chances no less presentable and invariably lacking only a decisive finishing touch.  That said, as strikers who don’t score goals go, the performances of Deeney and Iwelumo were faultless.  Both put in a colossal amount of effort, textbook “defending from the front” stuff.  The most compelling performance I’ve seen in yellow from Big Chris – like several others  unappreciated by the Vicarage Road crowd, he gets a song aired by the more creative and supportive away following this evening.

3- Dale Bennett’s injury, it transpires, amounts to no more than concussion which is a blessed relief.  The immediacy of Kuszczak’s urgent demands for attention suggested a more alarming conclusion.  Bennett’s performance to that point had been simply magnificent in a solid defensive display and here too, actually, he played his part if inadvertently – the home side had started the second half like a train, and the nine-minute interruption took the wind out of their sails.  The break also saw Captain Eustace, the other victim of the clash of heads, depart briefly to reappear with his head bandaged.  He couldn’t have looked more combative brandishing a cutlass.  Martin Taylor entered the fray after a long absence and played his part in clobbering away most of what West Ham threw at us.  Cracks began to show… Dickinson was badly exposed more than once, Lloyd Doyley coped rather less comfortably with substitute Ricardo Vaz Te than he had with Matthew Taylor.  But the lasting memory from this game will be of bloody-minded defiance.

4- Except it won’t, will it.  Perhaps it should be.  Perhaps an apparent deflection takes the edge off?  No. It doesn’t.  It would be wrong to suggest that our goal was completely out of the blue… we’d had chances in the first half, even if we’d been unconvincing in our attempts to convert them, and in an open game had broken well in the second.  But we had been under pressure.  And yet Murray was growing into the game; for such a slight figure, as against Spurs, he seems perfectly prepared to mix it with those twice his bodyweight.  The Hollywood moment was preceded minutes earlier by a wonderful spin into space that had the two markers closing on him suddenly facing each other with their charge having apparently dropped through a trapdoor and taken the ball with him.  And then he’s on the right, in front of the away block, and looks up and there’s a wonderful certainty about how the next couple of seconds are going to go.  Never any doubt.  He made an angle for himself and let fly.  Time slowed down, the ball travelled some way and was hit with venom and yet… everything’s in slow motion.  I’m reminded, writing now, of Gary Porter’s dramatic winner at Norwich in 1996.  Then as now, you almost heard the contact of leather, and then silence as you watched the trajectory.  Robert Green dives but he’s not going to reach it.  That’s clear, that was clear from before Murray pulled the trigger, deflection or no deflection.  It bounces almost silently off the inside of the far post and into the net.

Always better when it’s in off the post.

Then, everything goes a bit multicoloured for a few minutes.

The players’ celebration is a splendid thing as well.  Ferocious, cathartic, the Watford team in the corner in front of the away support.  You can feel the harshness in your throat, you know this is going to hurt tomorrow.  Doesn’t matter, not at all.  “That boy Sean Murray, he’s one of our own…” we bellow, and mean it.

5- It doesn’t matter that we didn’t hold on.  It doesn’t matter that there was seemingly a foul in the build up to Vaz Te’s equaliser.  Well, it does.  It matters because otherwise DM would have been right, which is clearly ridiculous, and because a win would have been a mighty thing to be cherished against a side surely destined for promotion even if they’re going to do it in unglamorous fashion.  We leave the stadium with a spring in our step.  The spring in our step becomes a spring in only very occasional steps in the extraordinary queue for the tube, but the wait doesn’t take the edge off.  Most of all the sentiment, the whole evening, ridicules the pompous nonsense spouted by Alan Green, a man as far divorced from an understanding of football support as I am from particle physics.  “Football supporters demand success”, he’d argue.  “That’s where the pressure comes from.  They demand to win things”.  Bollocks, Alan.  The few who call your radio show do, they’re hardly representative.  God, I hope they’re not representative.  What matters is having a team to support.  Having a team to watch.  Even to cherish sometimes, on nights like this. Ask a Pompey fan.  And imagine having no more such evenings.  Doesn’t bear thinking about.  You.  Orns.


1. rod - 08/03/2012

Excellent write-up as ever, Matt. Your comment about Murray being prepared to mix it with those older and bigger than him reminds me of when he outfought a Burnley player on Saturday – think it ended with a free kick for us. I couldn’t immediately see it was him: from the way he was getting stuck in, I’d assumed it was Hogg.

2. bradwhu - 08/03/2012

good read…from a west ham fan’s point of view agree about the boleyn and the game in general. Good luck for the remainder of the season

3. K - 08/03/2012

Bloody minded brillance. Sean Dyche making a better fist of it than Malky in his first season in charge.

What was needed this summer was a squad that could compete for a whole season not half, one look at our bench last night proves a point strongest bench i’ve seen in years at Watford. Loach- experienced keeper, Taylor- experienced defender, Buaben- good prospect building with experience, Garner- a regular starter in last few, Trotta- promising youngster from the premiership. Yeates not even on the bench.

Its also nice to see no-one shouting and singing for the return of Wichelow that boy looks like he’s got an attitude problem, and if you don’t work hard you won’t get in our team currently. Murray has outshone him and looks by far the better player currently with a hard working attitude to go with his obivous talent.

Bringing Iwelumo in to combat the aerial threat posed by set pieces, espeacially in the wake of Nyrons illness worked a treat.

Onwards and upwards


Matt Rowson - 08/03/2012

Not to sound like a broken record but I’d still suggest that Dyche could haven been less cautious with youngsters. Whichelow may have an attitude problem, but he’s one player… Murray looks extraordinary, but could have been used earlier when we were screaming out for creativity. Bennett, Thompson, Mingoia, Massey have all been used far less than they might have expected. Delighted that Murray is playing and doing so well. Doesn’t justify the withrdrawl of the kids to my mind.

Kris - 09/03/2012

You could argue that previously youngsters have been used out of desperation which piled pressure on them to perform above what could be expected. Now they’re being used when deemed good enough to merit a place in the side rather than by default.

I think it is a combination. I believe SD is trying to protect the youngsters that are huge prospects ready for Championship football. For the rest, I think he feels it is more valuable for them to get more games at a lower level than a few in the championship. And I honestly feel that if someone like Whichelow, Mingoia or Bryan fails to impress at League 2 or League 1 level, they cannot be relied upon to keep us up!

Whichelow has been sent back from Wanderers, Bryan can’t get a loan anywhere, Mingoia and Massey seem to remain in limbo being at the Vic without getting games. But who should they displace?

One of the main reasons I fell in love with Watford in the early 90’es when I started following the club was the fact that youngsters were brought through, given a chance in the first team and allowed to develop. We should still do that but I feel the championship has become so tough that only the very best young talents can make it early on. The rest need time to develop in lower leagues and if they are good enough – they WILL make it but maybe just that bit later.

We’ve seen in the past what it can do to a young player to have the pressure of being a first team regular. O’Toole, Jenkins, Bangura, and probably many more I can’t think of right now – were great prospects and have fallen away. Jenkins is my greatest regret of the three as I honestly thought we had someone special in him – now he’s lucky to get a reserves game with Eusty, Hogg, Buaben and when fit – McGinn all in front of him for two midfield berths!

Matt Rowson - 09/03/2012

re your first point – you could argue that, it wouldn’t be true. Playing the youngsters was part of a strategy, not (merely) necessity. The theory would go that if kids are demonstrably getting games then we have a real competitive advantage, which ties in with Harefield, in convincing youngsters to join/stay with us rather than moving to bigger clubs, something which EPPP makes much more of a risk than presently.

I don’t doubt that Dyche sees it as you describe – that he’s protecting players, giving them experience. I would still prefer them to be getting this experience with us. Irrespective of recent performances, a large proportion of our summer signings have been mediocre at best, and these guys are blocking our kids’ route to the team.

Wrighty - 09/03/2012

The thing with loaning out our younsters that I struggle with is Dyche’s insistence that he is protecting them by not putting them in our team. They then go off to another club, presumably to play games, where he then has no control on how they are used and how often they are played.

4. Joons - 08/03/2012

I like that you’ve gone multimedia Matt.

Great report to match an equally great away trip to a proper football ground in East London.

I didn’t understand the Iwelumo selection but that was a decent performance from him, albeit he never looked liked scoring. Eustace and Hogg were exemplary, and I thought that was Mapps’ best performance since the transfer speculation nonsense. DB was awesome for his time on the pitch.

The look of pure joy on Murray’s face as he screamed in delight in front of us was worth the extortionate £32 ticket price alone. If Eustace’s lob had gone in I think there might have been a pitch invasion.

Matt Rowson - 08/03/2012

It’s not multimedia Joonz, it’s a picture.

Yes, that Eustace lob could have been special. Was trying to crowbar it into the thunks but gave up… not sure whether it was wide or over but it was close enough for Green to think it was in…

Joonz - 09/03/2012

Green definitely thought it was in.
Lloyd’s third time lucky throw in was a hilarious interlude. Only he could produce consecutive moments of comedy gold.

As good as TK’s save from Noble was, his flapping at crosses worries me.

I will be interested to see who gets picked at centre half on Sat – MT looked like he needs more game time to get fit.

I don’t know what it is about west ham away but there some absolute morons in the away end who seemed to think they were in a Danny Dyer film. Not welcome.

5. Sirhornet - 08/03/2012

Of all the wonderful things you have ever written, your summation of the odious Alan Green and all he stands for is close to the pinnacle. I salute you!

6. sahorn1 - 09/03/2012

Great write up on a brilliant team performance.
The image of releasing a few zillion hornets as part of pre match entertainment an amusing highlight …!

7. nick - 09/03/2012

I love watching Watford play at Upton Park. Always a great atmosphere and its a proper football stadium steeped in history unlike the current crop of identicate concrete meccano sets teams are moving to.

What a game. Its difficult to pick a star performer for us as the whole team played their part. Iwelumo had easily his best game in a yellow shirt, If he keeps playing like that he might prove useful after all.

Welcome back Dale Bennett. I hope if Taylor leaves in the Summer we dont go splashing out on another Centre Back. I think Bennett is plenty good enough at this level. He coped briliantly with Cole until his injury.

I see the EDL chants are back in the away fans for a couple of knuckle draggers. I also had the misfortune to walk to Forest Gate station after the game rather than queue up only to have to get on the same train as those idiots. I had to admit a grin when the idiot got on a tube at Liverpool Street acting hard in front of his mates only for a West Ham fan (just the 1) threaten him and his mates and his guts seemed to fall through his arse at that point.

8. HB - 09/03/2012

You absolutely captured the emotion of the evening Matt.

It was so action-packed a game there was no room to mention Doyley’s three attempts at a throw-in to actually get the ball in play – hilarious.

Less hilarious is any ‘meeting’ between Kuszczak and a cross ball. Whilst Wednesday’s two magical saves will have boosted his confidence and the evening will hopefully made him feel more a part of the collective, he still has quite a bit to do to convince on anything coming in from the wings.

9. Harefield Hornet - 09/03/2012

Re – the earlier comments about blooding the youngsters. Dyche gives his in-depth thoughts on this in an article posted today on the official WFC site.

Matt Rowson - 09/03/2012

Yes, and he’s done so equally lucidly before. I can still disagree with him tho…

10. Roger Smith - 09/03/2012

Unfortunately I was in Scotland on Wednesday evening, so it was the Stevenage commentary and snippets from West Ham on 5 Live. Then, when they might have switched to the Watford game, it was over to swimming.

So thanks for a really illuminating report. I particularly liked “The Hollywood moment was preceded minutes earlier by a wonderful spin into space that had the two markers closing on him suddenly facing each other with their charge having apparently dropped through a trapdoor and taken the ball with him”. Now who does that remind me of? Oh, yes, Lansbury.

I also liked the report in the Telegraph that I came back to today: a draw that both sides will see as a defeat. 5 Live were going on about the Dickinson hand-ball, but not a mention of any foul in the build up to their goal.

Perhaps the person who came out of the game with the most credit was Sean Dyche. With his team selection, motivation and crisis management he really earned his spurs. Now we need fear no-one, and certainly not Derby on Saturday. COYH.

Matt Rowson - 09/03/2012

Thx Roger. Highlights are here for the moment: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/17301559

Appeal was for high boot (twice, arguably). Couldas rather than shouldas for me.

11. Paul Baxter - 09/03/2012

I live in the North West so rarely get to see Watford play but I did get to see Sean Murray’s debut at Preston on the last day of last season. It reminded me of the first time I saw John Barnes play as he looked a class above the rest of the team. I expected him to be a regular on the bench this season and was surprised that he was ignored for so long.

To judge from what I have seen on the TV and the match reports, I am sure he should have at least been used as a sub earlier; however, I think this season has been a learning curve for Dyche, and he has done well enough with the resources at his disposal.

12. JohnF - 10/03/2012

Listened on Hornet player and watched the extended highlights. Two high boots in the build up to their goal so thay can consider themselves fortunate indeed. Still, a fantastic and somewhat unexpected point.

All that is said about Alan Green is correct and deserved, he is a grade A arrogant and ignorant prat with an ego the size of his fat backside. He doesn’t commentate but shows off like some smart-alec kid.

What you say about having a team to watch is spot on Matt. Let’s not forget that we nearly didn’t and it could happen again. That’s what the Supporters’ Trust is about.

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