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Hull City 0 Watford 1 (02/04/2013) 03/04/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Difficult to know how to start this one.  Difficult to know how to do justice to the enormity of the spectacle.  ig once wrote, with reference to that lunatic Tranmere game that it was “too huge for a football pitch” and if this one didn’t quite compare in terms of carnage there were elements of it in the epic drama that unfolded.  That rare event, a much anticipated fixture that lives up to its billing – appropriately on the tails of the debut of the new season of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  Raucous, breathtaking, exhausting, you can’t watch, you can’t tear your eyes away, twists, turns, huge characters, heroism, villainy, adrenaline and staggering scale.  The TV series looks pretty good, too.

And the goal, when it came.  Deeney’s sharp turn and wicked, bending, perfect strike at the end of yet more precision flicking of passes.  A thing of magnificence, of course… and greeted with a sonic boom.  The ball hit the net and for the tiniest fraction of a second there was pure and beautiful silence.  Then a flash of light, a wall of noise, utter bedlam, one of those goal celebrations where the nervous tension that has been accumulating for minutes, hours, days lets rip.

And at the end of the evening, despite the hour, the journey, the prospect of the trip home… buzzing.  Absolutely bouncing.  Never has a long trip home flown by so effortlessly. “Anyone going to bloody Hull is a fool”, said one sage a week or two ago.  No, this was the kind of stuff that you tolerate the fruitless dross for.

2- It’s easy to be smart after the event, but I fancied us.  Our failings, such as they have been, have been rooted in fatigue and, occasionally, complacency.  Sometimes we’ve just been beaten by the better team, of course, but not often… and that’s hardly a failing, not really.  After an international break with players returning from injury and regaining sharpness fatigue would be less of an issue and no chance of complacency, not tonight.

Despite which, as the game started we were on the back foot.  Hull’s approach throughout was attritional rather than elegant… not overly aggressive, certainly not dirty and not without skill.  But… blunt.  Disciplined defending, competitive and tidy in midfield and then… an attack without an obvious focus.  You got the impression of a wall moving forward, pressuring the ball vaguely but inexorably goalwards, sort of like the garbage crushers in Star Wars.

And we couldn’t get out, not for a good ten minutes.  Fitz Hall was hugely significant in this period;  City’s formation loosely matched our own, and their wing backs got forward and flung crosses into the box.  Onesize was aggressively, definitively on the end of most of them, a merciless bully.  Nonetheless, we were struggling to get any kind of control of the ball and midfield and briefly a sense of horrific inevitability clutched your gut.

Gradually we played ourself into the game.  Nathaniel Chalobah was the key here (eighteen by the way, in case like me you needed reminding.  Eighteen.  My god he’s going to be a player)…  the pendulum in the middle of the park, now keeping the ball, turning away from challenges, killing Hull’s attempts at momentum.  Never has the value of simply retaining possession been more elegantly demonstrated.

And once Chalobah had turned the tide of the half, it kept turning and accelerated away from the home side.  Now it was Watford with all the possession and Hull who couldn’t get out.  All the darting and flicking and holding on to it in impossible positions that have characterised our best performances this season were back on show.  We asked the questions… and in fairness Hull had answers to much of them, defending deep and sometimes desperately but providing the riposte, ultimately, even if occasionally with their backs to the wall having been unpicked through passing and movement.  We did have chances, such as when Abdi worked his way through on the left of the area to fire over, but it was more a case of us teasing, tormenting the Hull back line, waiting for the opportunity.  It would have to be something special, and it was.

In the wake of which it could still have gone badly wrong again before half time…. George Boyd found himself with what would turn out to be as clear a chance as Hull would have all evening with time to drive in from the edge of the box.  Bond was slightly fortunate that the ball came through within reach;  nonetheless, partially unsighted and with precious little time to react he produced a stunning stop that kept us ahead at the break.

3- Hall had exited midway through the first half – another injury, evident from his glum, resigned posture sitting on the turf despite no obvious contact.  His contributions when fit have been massive but he’s just not fit often enough, and one has to suspect that his contract won’t be extended;  Lloyd came on for his 400th appearance and Joel Ekstrand, who had looked nervous in the opening exchanges, moved to the centre. Despite his relative lack of inches (he’s only 6’2″) the Swede looked far more comfortable, and put in an assertive 70 minutes at the middle of the three.

He needed to.  Hull, inevitably, came back at us and if there was still little focus for their attacks – crosses thrown in slightly haphazardly, little in the way of actual penetration – they were on top for much of the second half.  Jonathan Bond excelled, earning his first clean sheet in Watford colours with some confident handling and a couple of decent stops… we were trying to break, but it wasn’t Matej Vydra’s night (again).  Someone behind me suggested that his heart wasn’t in it… I didn’t see that, he was working hard, busting a gut, involved in build ups and closing down.  But that lethal predatory weapon has been stifled by attention, and it was no surprise that he didn’t last 90 minutes.

His replacement was Prince Buaben, very much in from the cold following Hogg’s knock for his first appearance of the season.  Tidy enough it was too, providing us with willing legs when players (on both sides) looked dead on their feet, and making good use of that trick he’s got of retaining possession by shuffling through a pirouette with an extended leg hooked protectively around the ball.

But the star of the second period was Cristian Battocchio.  We’ve suggested on here before that the young Argentine has played well when the team has played well around him but struggled to impose himself when the team was struggling… well this was new.  A fine team performance to be sure… but Cristian was at the forefront in the second half, dragging the side along.  As his exhausted teammates sat back frustratingly, precariously, Battocchio didn’t stop moving from the first whistle to the last.  A whirling Tasmanian Devil in the midfield, relentlessly pursuing every unchallenged opponent and lost cause, hounding a disappearing opponent, burrowing in to win the ball, turning and charging back upfield at the forefront of the next counter to increasing adulation from the boisterous away end.

4- At the final whistle the celebration was epic.  Off the pitch, sure – exhausted, relieved, fist punching and delighted.  But on the pitch, visibly, comprehensively.  No rag-tag mob of Carlos Kickaballs this – not that this has been in question for a long time, not amongst those who are actually paying attention rather than learning things from match programmes – but a team as ferociously more than the sum of its parts as any that has gone before.  Many, including the incomparable Deeney, Cassetti, Abdi, Ekstrand threw their shirts into the crowd.  Fernando Forestieri, not involved beyond responding appreciatively to songs in his honour whilst warming up – was as ecstatic as anyone, clambering onto the back of Cristian Battocchio with the wild abandon that we all felt.  One individual, whose energetic if alcohol-fuelled participation in events had rendered our area of the stand more… colourful, entered the playing arena in a state of undress and was escorted away – the comparison to Game of Thrones rendered complete, if inelegantly and without beauty.

We’ve seen this Watford side grow throughout the season, utterly dominating sides at the peak of our powers when the breaks have gone for us and on other occasions winning tighter games simply through having that little bit of quality.  Here was something quite different… a victory that demanded blood and guts and nerve, bodies thrown in front of the ball, every last ounce of energy spent.  You’d have backed Sean Dyche’s side to deliver that kind of second half, but we’ve not been that kind of animal this season whatever else we’ve achieved even if occasionally (such as at home to Bolton) we’ve needed to properly dig in.  We got in in spades tonight, and it augurs well.

5- I would have no moral objection to Hull going up with us, certainly not when presented with some of the alternatives – although naturally you’d much rather we got the rather less stressful second place and were permitted to watch the tigers stamp all over Palace in the play-offs.  At the end of the game, along with the inevitable if slightly subdued exchanges of opinion with the delirious away end, there were Hull fans offering us applause.  Big respect to them in the circumstances.

And on the way out, trying to keep our excitement contained and inconspicuous as we made our way back to the monstrous car park amongst the doleful away fans, we overheard comment.  “They were a good side weren’t they though?”, said one.  “Played good football”.  “Keeps it interesting as well, doesn’t it?” came the reply.

It does that.  Bring on the Cardiff.


1. John Hamilton (@johnxhamilton) - 03/04/2013

Great report Matt, as a Bradford-based ‘Orn this was my 5th away trip (Leeds, Man City, Burnley, & Barnsley) and I seem to have seen all shades of the GHBs this year. What a terrific win it was, far more satisfying than a 2- or 3-nil – although clearly my nerves would have preferred one of those. I was surprised by the match stats when I got home, it just didn’t *feel* like Hull had that level of possession or those many chances. That is testament to the quality of play (particularly in defence where i felt Cassetti deserved a mention) but more importantly our composure both on and off the ball. Battochio was first class, he seemed to be everywhere, all of the time

On that showing you’d fancy us to make good fist of staying up if (when?) we make it. Not sure Hull fans would say the same, sure they are well organised and work hard, but they lacked flair and creativity. In contrast to our season I suspect they’ve risen to 2nd place by being a brilliantly-ok Championship side.

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2013

Cassetti did deserve a mention, an oversight… but you’ll appreciate the challenge of squeezing that lot into thunks. It’s already a monster piece…

2. Mark S - 03/04/2013

As much as I absolutely loved this result,I am now really worried about the Cardiff match as we will be without a dominant centre back unless One Size Glass is fit enough.True, the 3 CBs played magnificently last night, but I can’t see them having as good a game again against a Cardiff team boasting the dead ball deliveries of Whittingham and the heading ability of Helguson,the giant Gestede and CB Hudson.
Is it too late for Zola to bring in another CB as Briggs IMO is not up to it.
Oh for Danny Shittu!!

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2013

Well Hudson is injured if that helps – out for the season with an ankle injury. That’s causing them problems already, defensively. Ekstrand was very decent last night; we could do without the injuries of course, but to be able to carry injuries to Hall, Nos, Hoban and Neuton, and still have Lloyd, Cassetti and Ekstrand with Briggs and Thompson as options isn’t half bad.

I don’t agree about Briggs. Not seen him in the back three, but thought he did no worse than ok last night. Can see us trying to sign him… left sided, 22 but not played much senior football, versatile. His error on Saturday stands out, harsh to judge him on that.

3. NRC - 03/04/2013

Big respect to all who were able to make it. Wonder if it was as hard to watch as it was to listen to (although Luther was brilliant!)? Would be interested in your view on the difference it has made to have Abdi back? Roll on Saturday.

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2013

Yes, extraordinary…gripping and agonizing at the same time. Dad spent most of the second half swearing at the Hull scoreboard for intermittently displaying ads rather than the clock.

Abdi started slowly and didn’t have his most influential game, but was neat and tidy and involved. There are games that he just dominates of course, this wasn’t one of those, but we’ve seen in recent weeks how much less effective a midfield without Abdi (or Chalobah) looks, this was miles better. Obviously.

4. stu partridge - 03/04/2013

My word, I dont think Ive been so nervous ever before.

Wholeheartedly agree with all of the above. Good to see Battochio get his own ‘Thunk’, he has fully deserved that prestigious accolade and was my MoM.

And an honourable mention to all the hornets that made the trip for providing a great atmosphere (at least in the first half, second half we spent busily gnawing our arms to ease the tension and therefore made it hard to sing)

Nothing else to add as Im still slightly speechless …oh apart from a quick rendition of
“Malky Mackay we re coming for you,Malky Mackay we re coming for you”

5. Gary Williams - 03/04/2013

An epic performance from the Golden Boys!

6. Hunsbury Hornet - 03/04/2013

Second time in two days, I’ve had tears in my eyes. Yesterday at the final whistle, and today reading Matt’s 5 thunks. Who needs Steig Larsson and his trilogy (I’m halfway through the third), when I can read Matt Rowson? Well done mate.

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2013

gawsh (blushes). thx

7. Nick - 03/04/2013

Great read and lovely to relive the awesome events of last night. I think I’ve finally recovered from the drive home and huge detour round Leicestershire.

Funny how people see things a different way, I’ve read reports from Hull fans stating that bond was erratic (I thought he was marvellous) and you’ve certainly given Chalobah a great write up whilst I think his decision making last night showed him up as 18.

Your dad wasnt the only one swearing at the screen, I thought my mate was going to attack after the unpteenth time of running down the stairs to see the time only to see an advert for cash converters or some other local business.

Bond, Cassetti, Battochio and Deeney were my stand out players last night for us. Hard work, determination and no little class from all 4 of them.

Briggs reminds me a little of Andros Townsend, has the qualities needed to succeed but looks like he doesnt want to be out on loan and isnt really whole hearted in his approach.

straightnochaser - 04/04/2013

I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, & it’s too soon to tell if I actually think it myself yet, but could an alternative view of Briggs be that he is condemned as ‘not caring/heart not in it’ on the strength of an unfortunate body shape/language much as Cally went underappreciated for so many years? Sometimes a player’s apparent lack of effort is an accident of physiology as much as a lack of heart or determination…

8. Nick - 03/04/2013

Gripes above aside, great night, great sense of togetherness and I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed watching a Watford side as much as this one.

Also a mention to Hull, we went to the Walton street social club before the game, good beer, good laugh with some of their fans before and after.

9. Keith Hanigan - 03/04/2013

I’m delighted with Battochio’s performance and the accolades he received but, for me, Chalobah is the irreplaceable man. (Have we ever lost when he’s played well?) What’s awkward is that, of course, we are going to have to replace him next year, whether we are promoted or not. Midfielders of that quality are not casually found and, Premiership or no, we’re going to need one next year.

What is it about my makeup that compels me to muse about next year’s squad at this of all moments? It’s a defense mechanism, I think. If I don’t occupy myself with this kind of distraction, all I’ll be able to dwell on is where we’d be with the 8 points we dropped against middling teams, and that way lies madness.

Thanks, as always, for the lovely write-up. You make life better for the rest of us.

10. Hunsbury Hornet - 03/04/2013

The trilogy I referred to earlier were of course The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and……wait for it….The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Just coincidence of course, and nothing to do with WFC, but all good reads.

11. ramsgate horn - 03/04/2013

Thanks to Matt and Ian for their continued excellent work on the blog,A great service for all Horns especially those who cant get to as many games as they would like to.
Hard to see where that one came from after Burnley, Just the sort of gutsy performance we needed to keep in with a shout of the top 2.
Only real disappointment Halls injury gutted for him, heis a fine CB who will be missed, especially with Nos out
Silver linings Ekstrand is a tidy customer, hopefully we can get T Hoban fit , Thompson could be another option, could we sign a free agent if really on our uppers?
thankfully we are ok in other areas especially attack, i will be relieved when vydra knocks one in, to all horns enjoy the big game sat lets hope for the right result

12. sherlock - 03/04/2013

From a non-English-mother-tongue (I’m an Italian Udinese fan cheering also for WFC), let me congratulate you for a really excellent piece. You’ve got talent in writing!
Also, I agree about Hull’s fans: from anything I’ve read in the web they seem to be quite above average of the typical football fan in competence and fair play, so I hope they go up with us. With Hull winning at Wembley of course! 😉

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2013

molte grazie Sherlock

13. Lincoln Hornet - 03/04/2013

Cassetti calmness personified if thats how you spell it, he was awesome . Thought there might be more praise for Deeney who was immense last night . He had decided we were going to win the game whatever and he was dragging the rest of the team kicking and screaming over the finish line with him. Sorry but for me Briggs is not at it, average last night and an unforgivable lapse of concentration for the Burnley 3rd which could be very costly come the end of the season. One size is a big loss I feel. That said it was a great night last night

14. Stu Partridge - 03/04/2013

Please allow me if you will, a little flight of fancy that has arisen whilst poring over the form tables based on the last 10 games (10 games, I find is a large enough sample to iron out most major inaccuracies whilst being small enough to reflect recent form, the most important factor in result prediction)

1- Cardiff are on 1.5 points a game.
Projecting this form forward for their final 7 games and they end up with 88 points as they are currently on 78 ( okay, okay I’m rounding down from 10.5)
Furthermore, great encouragement can be taken from the fact that 5 of Cardiff’s 7 games are against the top 5 teams in the form table ie Forest , Bolton, Watford, Hull and Barnsley . By far the hardest run in .
Cardiff , incidentally, are 11 th in this same table, not exactly title winning form.

2- If Watford won their remaining 6 games they would finish on the same as Cardiff, 88 points , but most likely with a superior goal difference.

Can Watford win their last 6 games ?
A big ask, no doubt.
But do able ? Most definately…
Forest have just come off a run of 6 consecutive wins , whilst Bolton only recently won 5 on the trot followed by a draw.

Currently I’m sitting at small white computer composing this message rather than a large white grand piano, and so yes you may say I’m a dreamer, but you know what ….’Im not the only one ‘

hornetboy84 - 04/04/2013

Interesting to consider our form overall in last 10 games;
1. Forest 21
2. Bolton 20
3. Horns & Hull 18

Cardiff is massive to see if we maintain form and also respond to reality that will probably start the game 4 points behind the Tiggers.

15. Simoninoz - 03/04/2013

….and Saturday’s game is live on TV over here in Sydney. Only 2 (and a half) sleeps to go. Nervous and excited.

16. Slovak Horn - 03/04/2013

As an ex-season ticket holder now living in exile in Slovakia, I’ve watched this season from afar with increasing amazement. But last night was the icing on the most incredible season long cake!

“Watching” the BBC text commentary whilst on Skype to my mate in UK who was listening to the radio commentary was both nerve wracking and exhilarating at the same time. Have been on a natural high all day but realistically it means nothing YET

But somehow it does – it sums up everything that Watford is to me. The shattering disappointment of the last minute on Friday suddenly replaced by the joy of last night. It’s never been easy being a follower of the Horns! But once it’s in your blood it’s there for life.

Over 4 years now since I’ve been at The Vic regularly and this website has been a lifeline for me with quite simply the best writing about the Golden Boys anywhere on the web.

Here’s to another great Watford day on Saturday and somehow my nerves will hold out for the next six matches!

17. winslow horn - 04/04/2013

Whilst waiting to exit ‘that’ car park I listened to BBC Radio Humberside – their fans were effusive in their praise of our performance ‘wish we could pass the ball like that’ was one of the standout comments.
I didn’t dare look at the scoreboard for the 2nd half and when I did glance at it 77 minutes had gone…still those last 13 + 6 minutes seemed to take an eternity!

18. Lesley-Anne - 04/04/2013

It is certainly very exciting and nervewracking!! But really, all, yes all, we have to do is equal Hull’s points tally by the last game and our goal difference will see us through!!! It has to just be between the top 3 clubs for automatic promotion now surely!!

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