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Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Watford 3 (29/12/2012) 30/12/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. At some point in the first half, as possession starts to deaden an initially open and promising game, I wonder quite what the purpose of writing about televised matches is, quite what I can add that you can’t see perfectly well for yourself from the sofa. Often, you can take in the whole picture from high in the stands, what’s happening off the ball rather than just a window onto a small rectangle of the pitch…but if the Amex stadium were someone’s living room, then we’d have the seat in the corner that you only clear of mess and muddle when the whole family’s round, with a view of the telly that’s a bit squinty. “Can you see all right from there, Mum?”

In which case, I must be here to report on The Matchday Experience. The sights, sounds, smells of live football. The noise, the buzz, the electricity in the air. But I have to report that, courtesy of a pre-match downpour, The Matchday Experience consisted mainly of having a damp arse. And it’s hard to take much enjoyment from life with a damp arse.

2. And then, of course, there’s the bit when mere seconds after scoring our heavily deflected second, Matej Vydra is roaring clear of the Brighton defence and you have time to think “He doesn’t ever miss these, does he?” and even time to think “Bugger, I hope I haven’t tempted fate there” before the ball is whistling into the bottom corner courtesy of a finish so emphatic that it could’ve been fired out of a cannon…and Vydra continues his unstoppable trajectory to its natural finish in front of the away end…and the roar which escapes from your lungs doesn’t care if you’ve got a sore throat from the cold you always get at Christmas. It doesn’t care about your damp arse. It doesn’t care about anything much except this acute, perfect moment. (Apart, possibly, from briefly remembering and again savouring another two-goals-in-two-minutes celebration on 4th October 1997. These things live long in the memory.)

And that, obviously, is why you’re there…

3. Like finding out that your genial Uncle Terry from Leatherhead who drinks sherry and wears a brown cardie leads a double life as an assassin for hire, there’s something more than a little unnerving about all of this. We have watched many Watford teams win many away games, occasionally via decisive scorelines…but rarely have we glimpsed a version of our Golden Boys as ruthless and lethal and remorseless as this one.

At home, where we play teams freed from the demands of their own paying punters, we are only sporadically allowed to see what happens if you don’t, for example, stop Nathaniel Chalobah from ambling into spaces beyond the halfway line. Here, in front of a record Amex crowd, our opponents are obliged to do more than worry about us…and yet worrying about is precisely what they ought to be doing. Worrying about the pace and accuracy of Matej Vydra, the force and muscle of Troy Deeney, the craft and vision of Almen Abdi, and so on, and so forth. Worrying even more about the combination of all these things, attacking interchanges so swift and fluent and precise that defenders are twisted into knots. Not switching off for a second; not letting that space appear for us to exploit, not letting it appear there or there or there. And definitely not there.

But if you must be seen to be positive, you cannot hope to contain us for the whole ninety minutes…and we will punish you for it. Maybe a couple of warning shots first, just to be fair…but then, wallop. An away win as blistering and ferocious as the ones you hardier travellers have all been going on about.

4. If we want to keep our feet on the ground, then we ought to note that there remains much room for tightening up in certain areas. Were we – and let’s not get too carried away just yet – to be encountering higher quality opposition on a regular basis, we would find them ruthlessly exploiting our lapses just as we’re currently exploiting others’. The penalty, clearly, was a nonsense…but there’s plenty of detail to attend to elsewhere, a tendency to get caught in possession in exposed areas in particular.

We have a casual, over-confident air about us sometimes, a touch of the cavalier, easily and quickly deflated when you come up against teams with even more raw fire-power. We’re currently a desperately exciting side. But a great team comes through challenges that we haven’t yet even earnt the right to face. We’d do well to remember that. And, in passing, I’d be reassured to see our club captain there to remind us in his own inimitable way.

5. But enough caution. Somehow, after clawing our way up to sixth before Christmas, we kicked off last night in the same position, nobody stamping on our fingers or hanging onto our boots despite having played twice more. It felt like an opportunity, a potentially significant moment. My word, what a response…decisive, potent, nerveless. Jesus. We are a coiled python of a team, and you really don’t want to blink in our presence…



1. Jim - 30/12/2012

Goosebumps. Thanks ig

2. Craig - 30/12/2012

And it’s hard to even remember or comprehend the idea that, if needed, if Chalobah has to return to base, if there is an injury or four, or perhaps most likely if the powers that be decide they want a grab at the 60M brass ring… there are actually resources potentially available (actually actual resources!) to *strengthen* us.

Lord almighty.

3. Keith Hanigan - 30/12/2012

Absolutely, bloody brilliant. Not the game actually (well, it was, but that’s not my point), but the write-up. The reason we (ok, I) read your stuff is not for accurate but inevitably unsatisfactory prose recitation of kicks of the sort ground out by the poor deadline constrained journalists (“Andrew Crofts should have at least hit the target when he was picked out on the edge of the area by LuaLua’s pull back from the left, but he lifted his right-footed shot over the bar”). Nor is it exactly the sights, sounds and smells (?) of match-day. Rather, it is the combination of thoughtful reflection and bone-deep empathy that makes this some of the best football writing anywhere.

As for the team and game, I feel as if I’m finally gaining my balance. I mean, once you get past the improbability of this happening to our little club, is it really that surprising for a mid-table Championship club which added a bunch of good players and a good manager to improve? My god, look at the players on our bench and ask how many of them would be starters on 75% of the teams in the division. We have a squad deep with people who are good at playing football and they are being asked to play in a way that is consistent and in keeping with their abilities. Simple, yes?

Except, of course, it isn’t. To quote a movie about the other great game, “If it were easy, everybody would do it.” I have a sense of the Pozzos playing the whole 21st-Century-international-football thing as chess while most other owners are plodding along at checkers. They seem able to leverage their multi-league, multi-platform advantages with great efficiency which results in braces of talented footballers under contract. Then, a truckload of that talent was delivered to Vicarage Road where Zola and company sifted through it, melded it with the best of the existing squad and created this remarkable team. When you think about how far and how fast we’ve come, you almost can’t give too much credit to the players, the manager and the organization. It has been (will continue to be?) a remarkable ride.

Anyway, a piece of what makes the ride fun is this site and your writing. Particularly for those of us who live overseas and don’t ever get to see the lads in person, your descriptions are one of the best and most tangible connections we have to this piece of our shared identity. It is an act of tremendous generosity for you to write for us. Thank you.

Ian Grant - 30/12/2012

Thanks, Keith. Very kind and much appreciated.

NickB - 31/12/2012

Second that emotion, and very well written yourself, if I may say so.

Ed - 01/01/2013

Thirded. Good match reports give the reader a view on what happened, what it felt like in the crowd, but bhappy provides something more, a opinion on : what you should take from the game, how it fits in context. A really great site.

4. Roger68 - 30/12/2012

I think you mean “coiled cobra”. We do not crush the life out of teams , we strike with venomous accuracy and deadly effect….

Ian Grant - 30/12/2012

Yes, point taken.

Roger Smith - 30/12/2012

Granted, but is the python the one part of our game that’s missing? Sometimes you just have to grind out a win by wearing the opposition down. If so, then Eustace is surely the missing piece in the jigsaw.

By the end of the season we’ll be a formidable outfit, and woe betide the Championship if we’re still in it next year.

5. Sirhornet - 30/12/2012

Just breathtaking at times yesterday but Almunia, Hogg and Hoban delivered the required reality check to remind us that this is still a Watford team and as such is capable of giving away ludicrous goals at any time.

Still, can’t wait for Charlton and City! COYH!

6. Dogwfc - 30/12/2012

Spot on as always. Someone said Vydra is like Helguson at his best but with pace to burn and deadly one on one

7. Lesley-Anne - 30/12/2012

An excellent day all round. The AMEX is a wonderful stadium and to be part of a record crowd and see us play so well is hard to beat!! I thought the whole team performed brilliantly, with perhaps the only exception being Almunia who had a couple of lapses. For once this didn’t cost us the result! Criticism of Hogg, I feel, is very unjust. I thought he played well and having seen again the incident leading to the penalty, he was in no way at fault shepherding the ball back to Almunia and could even have claimed a foul as he appeared to be pushed off the pitch by LuaLua after Almunia lost the ball.

Vydra and Deeney seem to have become a fantastic double act that I would be wary of breaking up even to bring in Forestieri! They are both scoring almost at will and we need them to continue that as we head towards next Saturday if we are to have any chance at all. I think with Cassetti back from his ban in place of Anya that this would be our best 11 with the option of Forestieri coming on for the last half an hour to run rings round tired defenders!

Hopefully we will get a good crowd for Charlton on New Year’s Day. Why people are not coming in droves to watch this team I will never know!

8. hornetboy84 - 30/12/2012

Agree with all. Especially Dogwfc view of Vydra being helguson on/with speed. I think we saw the early signs and now Foresteri unbelievably may have to be very patient.

Thanks IG as usual. We may however have just fully blown our cover. I was smirking a couple of weeks ago when peter Beagrie said he didnt think we could last the pace… and I thought that we still might have a couple of gears to go yet! I still think we can grab automatic promotion but Cardiff are astonishing in how many wins they are piling up.

One question. I recognize the Eustace-leadership option/need but from a midfield 3 of Abdi/Hogg/Chalobah who misses out – or do you just see a key role for Eustace in certain games (Hull for example?)

Zenon - 31/12/2012

Young NC returns to Chelski in January. Straight swap for JE.

9. Rookery Jim, Singapore - 30/12/2012

Must admit, it does look rather good right now. Looking forward to seeing the Charlton game – hope there’s not too much tinkering from Franco, and hope Hall / Chalobah issues are minor.

That said, Neuton did look better than I had expected when deputising for Hall

10. Leggatts 'orn - 30/12/2012

After last night I wonder if there are some people in Telly Towers saying “Bolleaux.. wish we had signed up the City v GBs game for live coverage.” Top report ig.

Roger Smith - 30/12/2012

There’s always the replay.

11. Ralph Jackson - 31/12/2012

Magnifico. The match and the report/thunks,as ever.

12. Luke - 31/12/2012

Without wishing to spoil this love in, our results against Cardiff, Boro and Hull demonstrate that we are not quite a top level side just yet. And let us hope that the capitulation against Derby is now filed under “ok, we learned from that” But I agree, this is becoming an exhilarating ride. OK, back to the love in…

Ian Grant - 31/12/2012

Bringing up Derby seems a little churlish – that was a long time ago – but you’re right that Hull proved that it’s possible to prevent us from playing in the areas where we’re most dangerous. There’s plenty of room for improvement in that regard.

13. SteveG - 31/12/2012

A very different kind of matchday experience in our local where the Watford game was showing at one end of the bar and the Arsenal match at the other. A convivial rivalry in alternating cheers for most of the second half, with the Hornets end more than holding its own.

Agree with Rookery Jim that Neuton looked fine – but still hope that Hall is back. Hoban will make mistakes, but for me the positives that I’ve seen hugely outweigh any negatives. And, in reply to HornetBoy, and without wishing in any way to start any ‘Hogg-bashing’, I think if Eustace were fit I think he’d shade it over Hogg at the moment.

14. Adam J - 01/01/2013

A not very investing point to note is that we have two players who are into double-digits in terms of goal scoring. Troy I’m fact got 20 for 2012. Not a bad return for someone who wasn’t showing much goal scoring prowess before.

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