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Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Watford 1 (28/10/2013) 29/10/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. Things I’ve learnt in the last two or three days:

a. There’s no sleepless night quite like the sleepless night in a tall house on a big hill next to the sea during a gale. Especially if you’re in the process of replacing the roof and there’s nothing but a layer of felt between you and the raging elements.

b. If you put scaffolding all around your tall house on a big hill next to the sea, the aforementioned gale makes it vibrate like a giant tuning fork.

c. The trees you’d like to blow down are rarely the ones that do. I can do you a poster with that on if you want.

d. The apples borne by our rather ancient apple tree were the last, for it’s now resting its head gently on our lawn.

e. Nobody tells rail passengers anything. It’s only a matter of time before train companies simply hand us pieces of paper with “P.T.O.” written on both sides.

f. Expectations were always likely to drown this Watford squad at some point. That point is right now, that line has been crossed. Time to start swimming, boys…

2. You saw the game, you already know what you think. There are times when writing these pieces requires no more than an attempt to echo the general feeling, to try to capture an essence of what everyone felt. There are other times when, frankly, there’s no point at all if we’re not poking and prodding at some lazy assumptions and half-baked certainties, if we’re not risking pissing people off a little bit. Guess which one this is…

There’s an inevitability to all of this, has been from the moment when that Palace penalty went in at Wembley…but it’s depressing and tedious nevertheless. There’s a bit during the second half when we’re surrounded by blokes bellowing at various players about…well, about what? There’s a lack of specific detail but plenty of fackin’ and cantin’, quite a bit of spittle and sputum. It involves quite a lot of anger management issues, but I bite my lip rather than suggest some kind of therapy group with weak tea and cheap biscuits. I know people who’d have a psychological field day here.

And above all, it involves English football’s solutions to absolutely bloody everything: show some fackin’ passion. Everyone on this island ought to be force-fed Jonathan Wilson’s “The Anatomy of England” with its piercing dissection of our national obsession with effort and commitment and urgency. It changes your landscape, that book. Football is a simple game, perhaps, but mercifully not so simple that the only means of attacking is to get numbers in the fackin’ box for fack’s sake. Halfway through the second half, the ancient chant of “fack ’em up, get into ’em” goes up and its disconnection with modern football – hell, with modern life – is so vast that it might as well be a crackly music hall recording played on a wonky gramophone. We’ve got some catching up to do, evidently. I include myself in this: I am unable to look at Diego Fabbrini without telling him to get up, even when he hasn’t yet fallen down.

3. Don’t misunderstand: there are indeed things that aren’t yet quite right with this Watford side. But the memory plays tricks if it isn’t watched carefully: you can instantly conjure up Matej Vydra’s superlative goal in last season’s ruthless drive-by, I imagine. Something of a turning point for the season, that…and in late December, pertinently. We didn’t ever look back. But there was no shortage of flaws in that performance, rough edges and work-in-progress and all of that. For example, we were, again pertinently, persisting with Iketchi Anya as a rather frail, vulnerable wing-back in the face of what appeared to be common sense and better options. These things don’t always work out, of course, but there are times when that kind of persistence pays off several times over. There are times when it’s necessary. A team is never finished, and especially not in October.

The quick-quick in our slow-slow-quick-quick-slow was particularly quick that New Year night. We lack that, obviously, and it got us out of plenty of trouble that we’ve probably forgotten about now. We’re trying to push on from last season, but it isn’t as simple as merely turning it up a notch: opponents are wiser and more cautious, our options are different, the second album is always more difficult than the first. We’re developing a more patient, slower style of play to cope with what we’re expecting to come up against; it isn’t as immediately satisfying and it may not even turn out to be as successful, but the process is necessary.

The bloke behind us has a voice as soothing as someone scratching their name on a piece of glass with a rusty nail, amplified over a faulty PA system to a relentless, ear-splitting scree of sound. He has opinions to match. Among them, towards the end of the second half, is the suggestion that Josh McEachran should show for the fackin’ ball. Josh McEachran has done almost nothing but show for the fackin’ ball, an ever-present option for a give-and-go in a way that immediately moves our work-in-progress on a couple of steps. While Fernando Forestieri is nearly the match-winner, it’s McEachran who points the way forward: unless teams happen to defend as badly as Barnsley, we’re going to be trying to shade games, edge them with a bit of carefully-applied quality. We’re going to have to keep probing away, then make the key moments count.

We should’ve won this, y’know. And contrary to inflated expectations, it would’ve been a very good result.

4. I’m a bit bored of the over-the-line discussion already. Thing is, the introduction of video technology changes that incident from something which is judged by the human eye to something which is judged by computer. As in tennis, it becomes a matter of millimetres, the margin of error reduced to nearly nothing. What looks in isn’t necessarily in: whole of the ball, whole of the line. Seeing a bit of grass between the line and the ball isn’t enough; unreliable testimony, your honour.

In other words, I remain completely unconvinced that technology would necessarily have found in our favour. I remain fairly convinced, however, that I would’ve missed my train. That’s progress for you.

4 1/2. Note, reader, how I’m managing to capture the rather disjointed and puzzling nature of the game with a set of thunks that are similarly disjointed and puzzling. Oh yes.

5. I do have two complaints. Sorry, two fackin’ complaints. Firstly, if we’re working on the basis of shading tight games, we ought to be making more of set pieces than this: Gabriele Angella’s two-goal haul against Bournemouth seems very distant, as does the time when Lewis McGugan made up for his sometimes over-casual midfield play with consistently lethal delivery. We currently give the impression that scoring from corners is a bit working class.

Secondly, there are spells – and moments – when we do drop our attention level. It cost us against Derby, a sloppy and avoidable defeat, sublime goals undermined. It should’ve cost us more dearly here too, really: Brighton were guilty of wasting far more opportunities than we managed to create and Manuel Almunia made the key saves of the game. We can’t afford that. We can’t be as defensively slack as last season’s attack-minded team while not being as free-scoring; that doesn’t work at all. We can’t have spells like first half injury time, when we wandered off the pitch before the game had actually stopped, brains in the dressing room three minutes before our bodies.

6. But we can be a team that’s still growing, still developing. We can afford that. And as fans, we can give that a chance rather than writing it off because QPR have got fifty-seven points, or something, already.

Hell, I’d argue that we should want it. It can be good fun, that. If we’re not careful, this isn’t going to be fun at all.

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Comments»

1. Mark - 29/10/2013

I watched it in my local pub with no commentary, and with the pub’s jukebox blaring out ‘Perfect Day’ at incredible volume as the Brighton goal went in. Made for a bit of a strange juxtaposition.

My take on it was the both sides did a good job of closing down the other team in midfield so neither side had any time on the ball, thus making the whole thing pretty scrappy. We couldn’t bypass the midfield because generally Deeney seemed to have a marker behind and in front of him, making longer balls not really an option.

Also, the games where we look best are the ones where our wing backs get forward a lot, and with Buckley being as quick as he is it meant that Pudil couldn’t push forward much or we’d end up being exposed.

Quick final point about sections of the fans thinking we’re not getting stuck in enough. Watching last night it was very clear (I think) that the players had been told to stay on their feet with challenges and that sliding in is an absolute last resort (as it makes retaining the ball after the challenge more difficult). Not sure whether I think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s clear that it’s a deliberate tactical decision, not players shying away from tackles (as some effin’, blindin’ fans would have you believe).

Ian Grant - 29/10/2013

All good points, Mark. Completely agree about the last one: I think it’s deeply regrettable, but you simply can’t go into a fifty-fifty challenge like you could five years ago. You can never completely control that kind of coming-together and you risk an instant red card. It’s a shame, but that physical element will be gone from the game entirely in another five years.

2. Mark - 29/10/2013

*The last point naturally exempts Forestieri’s lunging charge down on Kuszczak…

3. Leeso - 29/10/2013

For me, it wasn’t the lack of effort that was disappointing, it was the speed of build up in the second half. Compare and contrast when Fabbrini came on and ran at their defence directly for the last ten minutes to the previous half an hour where a Wilkinesque crab like side to side pass often allowed their defence to regroup and get numbers around the ball. Because of the was it, wasn’t it over the line debate it still feels like two points lost, but on reflection, Manu did keep us in it with two magnificent stops, and a point was probably fair. Finally, beautiful ground, great away vocal support and banter with the locals, but evening let down by some awful problems with the buses to and from the ground. Their organisation certainly needs some fackin effort!

4. Joe Richardson - 29/10/2013

All of the above, plus two random thunks of my own…

This chant “fvck Udinese, we’ll sign who we want”…

Fvck Udinese. Really?! Okay, I get it, we’re not Udinese B, but really? I like the Euro-family feel we have, I love that the guy in front of me last night had an Italian flag. In one breath we sing thay we’re Watford FC from Italy, and in the next we’re slagging off our parent/sister/kindly aunt club. Not one I’ll be joining in with.

Secondly, not sure if anybody saw the Forest highlights on the Football League Show this week…Chalobah scores and spins round to be cheered by his team mates, except they aren’t all that interested. Nobody even has a pat on the back for Nat. Wonder if his skill and charm hasn’t gone down as well up there as it did at the Vic…

Ian Grant - 29/10/2013

On the first one…I think you’ve mis-heard that. (Or I have.) It’s “from Udinese, we’ll sign who we want”, a vaguely amusing corruption of whoever-it-was (Manchester City?) who genuinely could sign who they wanted.

Joe Richardson - 29/10/2013

Haha! I had a quick look on a “chants” site and it’s definitely me mis-hearing this one…although apparently some fans substitute-in “fvck Ian Holloway”, so maybe that’s what has been confusing me!

Either way, I can now relax and enjoy it!

Nick - 29/10/2013

I think its ‘from’ Udinese we’ll sign who we want.

Jimbob - 29/10/2013

It’s “From Udinese…”

5. Nick - 29/10/2013

I think I’ve turned a little bit into one of those football fans I hate who needs instant gratification from their team. Forgetting the compared to the last 25 years I’ve been watching us regularly this is good. I’ve told myself off for this many times this season.

To be honest ‘m not enjoying it as much as last year, my expectations are higher, its not as fun but damn it its still early and we will I’m sure ‘click’.

Couple of things disappointed me last night. I thought Pudil was absolutely rinsed by Buckley time and time again; I’m sure he wont be the only full back this season. We’ve spent all week working on the defensive side of the game yet Pudil and Deeney fell asleep, lost their man and 1-1, Deeney didnt last night and hasnt for a while this season look half the player he did last year. Weak in position, too easily out muscled by the centre half, not really a threat.

Fessi and McEachran we’re fantastic though.

I’ll go back to my grump now.

6. Hunsbury Hornet4 - 29/10/2013

1) Yes, it’s definitely “from” Udinese (thank goodness)
2) I think, Ian, you must have been sitting near me, as the bloke losing his rag at McEachran, and also McGugan, was quite close to me. I actually felt quite disgusted at his ranting, and it was, as you pointed out, towards the end of the second half. From what I saw of Josh, he did ok, and he looks one for the future. And Lewis is always going to be potentially a match winner,despite his obvious lack of speed. One reason I get to every match, home and away, is that we’re never boring. I mean, does anyone ever watch the warm up before the match, and see some of the tricks that the likes of Anya, Battochio, etc do with the ball….worth the admission price on its own. But I digress…….

7. Rupert - 29/10/2013

Brighton last night were missing half their first team and they should have been beaten out of sight. Instead we bore witness to one of the most arrogant and lazy Watford ‘performances’ I have ever seen. It was utterly shameful that such obviously talented players strolled around as if they were playing beach football against their mates. There appears to be an utter lack of desire to win and gain promotion in this squad. Where is the desperation? We saw this in the play off final which was lost due to a total lack of heart and this has spilled over into this season. Zola’s post match interview was deeply worrying. He said that we were ‘improving’ and chuckled about the non given goal as if it wasn’t so terrible. He may be a wonderful chap but he projects an attitude where it doesn’t seem that he is that desperate of promotion. Until this Watford side acquires a no nonsense English enforcer who will suffer no fools along the lines of a Hessenthaler, Dyche type character who isn’t everybody’s pal and a manager who will not tolerate such lack of desire then we have no chance of promotion this season.

The Great Big O - 30/10/2013

Oi, Rupert, have a fackin’ word with yourself, son. All these long fackin’ sentences. Where’s the fackin’ urgency? Show some fackin’ passion in your comments.

Oh, and fackin’ read Thunk fackin’ Two.

Ian Grant - 30/10/2013

Ah yes, it’s all down to a lack of English passion. It always bloody is. I think we want different things, Rupe.

8. Dougie Brimson (@dougiebrimson) - 30/10/2013

Great article mate but to play devils advocate, at what point do the team stop learning and start failing?

Because in recent weeks, most notably Derby, some of the play was beyond sloppy.

Rupert is right, we are desperately lacking an enforcer (a role McGugan should be filling) but we’re also lacking a rabid, selfish striker (a role Deeney should be filling) and until we remedy those obvious failings, it doesn’t matter how much gelling the team do, we’re never going to make up the ground we need to.

Ian Grant - 30/10/2013

I think we probably agree about Derby. A bit of a mess, that: good things undermined by nonsense at the back.

For me, if we can get a bit tighter defensively, we’re on the right track. Even forgetting that opponents are now wary of us, the nature of the transfer model means that there’ll always be a new set of players at the start of every season and they’ll always take some time to adjust. That adjustment time might (but might well not) always mean that we’re trailing behind the top two after a slower start. If so, we’ll have to live with that.

9. James Dwight - 30/10/2013

I’m with you on the point about corners, its been like that for a while now. Whenever we win a corner I no longer see it as an advantage, more of a certainty for the opposition to counter attack once we’ve drifted an aimless ball to the near post. With the height we have, Angela, Belkalem (if selected), Ekstrand, Casetti we should be making far better use of them, as you say the Bournemouth game seems a far distant memory.

10. Mark - 30/10/2013

Ian, it looks like the rabid, myopic ‘fan’ has spoilt your enjoyment of the game. It REALLY p****s me off that one or two folk in a crowd can spoil it for others

Ian Grant - 30/10/2013

No, not particularly. I think I was just a little surprised by the overwhelmingly negative reaction to it all, both from a small contingent inside the ground (a minority, I’d say, if a loud one) and, particularly, from those who’d watched it on telly. My reaction was a little different.

NickB - 30/10/2013

It did come across rather badly on TV: reminded me of Wolves last season. Something depressing about watching these sort of games in a domestic setting, especially compared to an atmospheric ground like the Amex. Thought the ref was giving of a rather sulphurous whiff of Essence of Homer.

11. Matt P - 30/10/2013

I think raised expectations accounts for much of the disgruntlement felt from a point away. There is a great team somewhere in our squad more than capable of matching last years efforts, unfortunately we haven’t found it yet. I’m not sure what Battochio has done wrong to not get more game time, he would add bite to the midfield. Mcgugan is unbelievably talented but he disappeared in the second half. The slow build up was a problem on Monday night giving Brighton ample time to get 10 men behind the ball but more worrying for me is the general lack of “a plan” when going forward..there were so few crosses into the box as we tried to tik-a-tak through the middle of Brighton’s defence unsuccesfully with no one quite sure who was where or why. In all of the above there has been no mention of Abdi, his absence has only highlighted his importance to the team.

Ian Grant - 30/10/2013

Yes, agree about McGugan: there’s a fine line between lurking in dangerous positions and simply disappearing. Haven’t mentioned Abdi simply because there’s nowt to be gained by lamenting his absence as many are doing; we ought to have enough to find a combination that’ll work without him.

And it’s all about raised expectations. Big hairy bollocks to the idea that we “should” or “need to” beat teams like Brighton. Arrogant nonsense.

SteveG - 30/10/2013

The view from the pub … I, too, am amazed by this relentless negativity. For all the talk of lack of plans and poor penetration, in a parallel universe the ball is judged to have crossed the line (although I agree that having seen it ad nauseam on the replays the side-on view wasn’t conclusive and does certainly get the linesman off the hook) and Fessi’s header bounces in off the post and we’ve scored three goals. And the ref shows Bruno a second yellow and they are down to 10 men. So we win 3-1 for the second year running.

And you rewind the tape again and this time Brighton actually show that they can finish effectively and Almunia doesn’t make such a vital contribution and we lose the game 3-1 due to sloppy defending and a few moments of excellence from Buckley.

So actually it felt like a fair result, and a point away at Brighton isn’t the end of the world – and yes, of course it would have been great if we’d won, and we have played better and it would be great if Deeney was back in top form, but the big picture still looks a very good one.

“Scoring from corners is a bit working class…” Fackin’ marvellous!

12. JohnF - 30/10/2013

It is interesting how expectations have not only risen but hardened. Two years ago the hope, rather than the expectation was staying in the division. In many respects we have punched above our weight for years. The new owners and management have a different approach and have increased crowds and provided significant resources in terms of playing and coaching staff. However, success usually only lasts when it is built and we are still building. I was disappointed but in the light of day, not dismayed. It would be nice to get promotion for our new owners, although I seem to remember trhat our last two forays into the Premier League have been less than enjoyable. However, if we do get promotion we need to have built a team and set up that can stay there. This may take a bit of time but actually we are having quite a bit of fun along the way. The defensive frailties are annoying but we have some wonderful young players who are starting to look more like a team. Some day soon I am expecting them to all be on form at the same time and heaven help the team we come against when that happens. It will not be a ground out victory but a swashbuckling, breath taking, absolutely entertaining win that all will admire… and it’ll be little Watford doing it.

13. Andrewh - 30/10/2013

I am not sure I found Monday night a damp sqib because the game ultimately was a bit of a non event or because I really did not like the ground. Lovely seats (unused), but such a remote location, it made me really appreciate the ability to walk to football from home, and have the option to walk back via the town. Another season in championship would not worry me, if I get more front row views like Fabbrini, dancing into the opposition goal mouth, with sublime skill. Would I swap league places today with crystal palace, virtually relegated before Halloween, manager less, relying on goals from Chalamakh? I don’t think I would. When we do get promoted I want the club as well as the squad stronger than it is today, but things are going the right way at a gathering pace. We all know last year it took to December for the team to get it. I stil believe Hogg and Eustace have not been adequately replaced. And the squad is better but Hoban and Nosworthy as well as Abdi will strengthen the first team when available, so there is work to do to make the first eleven stronger. There are signs of improvement – Murray and Foresterri are becoming more consistent and influential. Saturday though could be a very interesting day with Leicester in top form and ourselves looking to benchmark ourselves against one of the better teams in the division.

14. hornetboy84 - 31/10/2013

Oh no! I thought this site was called Bhappy.

I must be watching from a different universe.
We have a watford side and leadership structure we could only dream of.
We could have won but Brighton is not easy – so a point is a shame but oh well.
We are on the verge of the playoffs and. Small run of 3 wins which is surely coming will catapult us forwards.
The problem was stupidly losing to derby not drawing at Brighton.
My glass is half full – looking forward to another great season whatever it may bring – and I it doesn’t happen – two words of consolation … Crystal palace !
You orns !

15. MartinG - 31/10/2013

Having stayed up to a ridiculous hour in India to watch the game I was completely hacked off with how turgid our build up play was, and also how poor Deeney appeared to be.
I’ve just got back home and read your, as usual excellent, points and it’s brought me back to my senses. Nick’s comment also hits the nail on the head. When I now remember the amount of dross we’ve watched over the years this is so much better.

16. Lloyd Arkill - 31/10/2013

You’re absolutely right about the overly negative reaction to the result from some quarters. The aggressively gloomy response of some sections of our support to setbacks is more likely to derail us than any lack of application on the players’ or management’s part – or, indeed, any number of piss-poor refereeing decisions.

But, I do think you’re being very generous when you suggest that there may be some doubt over whether or not our second ‘goal’ crossed the line. I have only just begun to put the injustices of last season behind me and this has put my recovery back significantly!


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