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Watford 3 Blackburn Rovers 3 (25/03/2014) 26/03/2014

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
13 comments

1. So, this is all a bit weird. For the first time in twenty-odd years, I’m visiting – definitely feels like visiting – Vicarage Road with almost no context in which to place the game I’m about to see. Last time around, a little person’s lifetime ago, it was all George Thorne and Diego Fabbrini and getting stuffed at home by Yeovil; our habit of wandering around with immaculate hair and shoelaces undone had, inevitably, led to us plunging head-first towards the bottom of a steep flight of stairs. All of last season’s joie de vivre had gone, leaving only the witless confusion of that ridiculous, disastrous second half against Leeds, the pivotal moment of Gianfranco Zola’s reign. It wasn’t any fun.

I looked up briefly from a dirty nappy to note Zola’s departure, which felt inevitable and essential and regrettable all at once. He’d created the side which convinced us that this project was possible, that a very new-fangled squad could produce an old-fashioned team; never under-estimate how difficult that must’ve been and how easily it could’ve failed. But he gave no suggestion of an appetite for creating its successor, a team steely and streetwise enough to deal with an entire division’s worth of other managers’ carefully-devised game-plans. Different job, that, for a different manager. And, really, for some different players.

Since Christmas, I’ve lost touch almost completely. I can usually manage to catch the scores, grunt sagely at the clean sheets and disapprovingly at the away defeats. I can attempt to watch the goals on the Football League Show by fast-forwarding to them with Fred’s bottle wedged under my chin during his Sunday morning feed. I can read Matt’s reports in several inattentive, distracted instalments. Beyond that, the frantic noise surrounding modern football is overwhelming. Once upon a time, there would’ve been a definitive opinion, probably belonging to Oliver Phillips, and a similarly definitive source of news you actually needed to know with the guff stripped out. These days, it’s like trying to get a consensus from a hedge-full of sparrows.

So, forgive me, but I come to this game with about as much knowledge of what’s been going on as your mate who comes every five years when he’s at a bit of a loose end and it’s not too cold or raining or anything. I have often been proud to bring you what was hopefully a considered, intelligent, balanced, knowledgeable perspective on Watford Football Club. That was then. Now, my brain has been replaced by an empty space with a half-remembered version of “Nellie The Elephant” echoing around in it, my eyes tend to linger on an indistinct nothingness somewhere in the middle distance, everything aches, and I smell a bit of sour milk. You’re on your own, basically.

2. Back in December, the problem was entirely obvious: that whole thing of scoring one more than the other lot is tremendous fun up to a point, that point being where the other lot work out that they only need to defend well and the game is theirs. Then, it all looks a lot less like a fairground ride and a lot more like a village fete in the rain, damp bunting and runny icing. Everyone loves free-flowing football, but everyone loves winning even more.

The solution was no less obvious: tighten up at the back, dictate the terms on which the game would be played, do the basics properly. Focus, focus, focus. Obvious, but not necessarily easy: promising seasons, most notably Boothroyd’s post-Premiership campaign, have foundered hopelessly on an inability to correct an accident-prone defence. Not for the first time in the Pozzo era, all of this has been dealt with in a straightforward, businesslike way, without any of the usual faff and rancour. Get it sorted, move on.

3. For a short while here, between an early Blackburn flurry and their daft equaliser, it all looks extremely impressive. Gianfranco Zola’s Watford was characterised, for better and worse, by a certain relaxed arrogance. This is something very different, the result of several shots of espresso and a long hard look in the mirror. The defence and midfield fairly twitch with nervous energy, messages are passed to and fro via almost constant pointing and talking; spaces are roped off and confined; attacks are absorbed, smothered, buried. The whole tone is so different to what I saw back in December. It’s urgent and convincing. It’s excellent.

Our own forward forays are few and far between, but there’s a real threat from Anya’s pace, from Tozser’s vision, from Deeney’s strength. We appear to be concentrating so intensely on our shape and organisation that the ball is almost incidental at times; as Marco Cassetti lamps a clearance across the pitch and into the Lower Rous, I reflect that possession is no longer all. We’re better for it. We look like a Championship side, but in a good way. We look like we can handle ourselves.

We score early, require a couple of fine saves from Manuel Almunia , and build from there. After twenty minutes or so, the game looks won: we have Blackburn penned in like a woodlouse in a matchbox. It’s not even slightly pretty, not very entertaining either…but we’re that good, that tight, that secure. I’m sold. I love it.

4. Ah.

As if to prove quite how completely it all hinges on the lapses to which we became so prone under Zola, the game changes as Almunia’s miscued punch lands for Dunn to knock in from the edge of the area and level the scores out of nothing. That lapse, and we’re suddenly mortal again, worried by misplaced passes and poor decisions. Previously, we’d managed to turn our attacking deficiencies into something of a strength, a tightly clenched fist; now, you shift your attention to the disappointingly anonymous Merkel, to Anya’s tendency to drift into the wide areas he’s more familiar with, to the lack of anyone really threatening the penalty area with any intent, to a bench completely devoid of attacking options like a Scrabble hand with no vowels.

People start to grumble, understandably. If you’re going to play this way, especially at home, you have to accept that the lack of thrills doesn’t buy you much patience from the crowd. Blackburn grow in confidence, but are fortunate to be saved by the offside flag which rules out our second coherent attack shortly into the second half: one of those delightful dancing runs from Anya, a quick interchange with Merkel to get behind the defence, before squaring for Deeney to tuck home. Would’ve been a fine goal, that, and a reminder that not all here is industry.

5. Instead, we find that we are simply unable to cope with the physical presence of Rudy Gestede. Blackburn’s second comes from much the same  approach as their first: force Almunia into a slightly desperate punch by sticking the ball under the crossbar, react more quickly to whatever happens next. The three centre-backs, including Tommy Hoban, have fine, authoritative games in all respects other than the one which costs us three goals; we get bullied too easily by an old-fashioned centre forward’s game, all elbows and aggression.

You see less and less of that at this level: even the strugglers tend to want to play football these days. Even so, a team looking towards promotion is going to need to deal with it much better than we did. It comes as no great surprise when Blackburn’s injury time equaliser is a Helguson-esque header, in off both posts, from Gestede, flying in where others are merely jumping.

6. Hard to deny them that, really. It’s not been a game with very much quality and its six goals have come from not very many more chances (plus a rather soft penalty). The best of those goals ought to have won it, though: Deeney’s strength as a Blackburn corner is cleared, the threat of Anya’s pace terrifying the life out of those charged with stewarding him, and an absolutely superlative run and finish from Battocchio, hurtling through the centre circle as if emerging from the field to breast the tape in the ten thousand metres, blowing kisses as he crosses the line. It’s a joyous moment, worth the price of admission alone. Defence to attack in five blinding seconds.

7. I feel reasonably confident about booking a holiday in May this time around. There’s too much work-in-progress here for a last-ditch surge…and I’m encouraged by that, in many ways, for this is exactly the right time to re-build and re-think. We have games to do that. We have the manager to do it too, on this evidence. It’s up to the owners to make sure that we have the players – and, crucially, the continuity – to do it across the summer and into next season.

But I’m optimistic. Back in December, this was a club on the slide. I never felt that we were in any danger of getting into trouble at the bottom, but we were very definitely in danger of losing confidence in what we were doing, pulling ourselves apart with pointless squabbles about why we couldn’t recreate last season’s success.  It was a month or two from falling to pieces completely.

Now, we’re looking forward. We’ve got our heads up and we’re building again, literally and metaphorically. Sometimes, that’s all you should ask for.

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Watford 3 Barnsley 0 (15/03/2014) 16/03/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

1- The sun shone.  I even had an ice lolly, in March, of all things.  Less literally, the sun was shining too… the new stand continues to take shape, investment being made into the training ground.  In a season that’s been relatively low on such moments we all had a spring in our step.  There was naturally a concern about our forward line in the absence of the suspended Ranégie and injured Forestieri and Park, but our visitors boasted the worst away record in the division and two newly hamstrung centre-backs to offset our forward problem.  The travelling Tykes boasted a flag-to-supporter ratio unmatched in living memory, a turnout that spoke volumes for their expectations…  few in the home end can have been in any greater doubt as to the likely outcome given our home form.  And so it proved.

2- Beppe made a pointed comment post-match implying a simmering level of frustration after Tuesday night’s events and this was evident in a focused and dominant first twenty minutes or so.  In all honesty however, it didn’t look as if we needed to bring our A-game…  from the moment that the colossal Jean-Yves M’Voto, who was to have a high profile afternoon of the sort a centre-back doesn’t really need, sliced out for a corner under zero pressure Barnsley looked horribly vulnerable.  Danny Wilson has claimed that our opener knocked their game plan into the waste basket, but unless their game plan was based around giving the ball away in suicidal positions and standing off Battocchio long enough for him to take a touch before driving home expertly from outside the area it was all going wrong for the Tykes before they went behind, albeit after only five minutes.  Nor was it any great surprise to see Troy turn in a position that a self-respecting defence would never have permitted to put us two-up on the quarter hour.  As in our last game here against Blackpool the game was over very quickly with Daniel Pudil, who has evolved from an energetic, functional cog to one of the cornerstones of the team under Sannino, making hay down all sorts of space on the left hand side.

3- Dave, having taken a bet that set a three-goal-plus victory against his grumpy and not entirely heartfelt nil-nil forecast, paid up at this point.  Disappointingly, we failed to put the visitors to the sword in what descended into probably the dullest of the now twelve three-plus-goal victories over the last couple of seasons.  Ikechi Anya, doing a game job of supporting Deeney as makeshift striker, betrayed his lack of experience at such things by getting caught offside on several occasions despite often having miles of space and being the fastest player on the pitch – new tricks to learn if he’s to fulfil this role again.  It wasn’t that it fizzled out exactly, although we certainly took our foot off the pedal somewhat… more that the game was kinda over and everyone knew it.  Lewis McGugan was trying overhead kicks before the end of the first half, ,which rather summed the situation up.  At the other end, the highlight of the rest of the half came when Jacob Mellis got past Marco Cassetti (worth acknowledging in passing that he’d have been taken out in other circumstances, but the Italian evaluated the situation in context), and laid back to Liam Lawrence who demonstrated why he’s not playing in the top flight any more by firing wide when it seemed scarcely possible so to do.

4- It was that sort of afternoon for the visitors but if they shared Blackpool’s hapless lack of belief they did at least perk up in the second half.  Not in a fashion that ever seriously threatened the outcome, but enough to suggest that our increasingly astonishing home defensive record ( 1 conceded in 9 under Beppe) might be spoiled by something careless and unnecessary.  Meanwhile we were still regularly threatening to add goals ourselves, Kaiser Tözsér, dominant once more, getting on the end of one cross from the left to head narrowly wide.  That one would have been popular.  Instead, Ikechi Anya, inevitably if a little disappointingly more effective when pulling wide from his central role, danced down the left before laying back for Merkel to wrap things up.  A great half hour from Merkel today, his ninety over two games this week far more convincing that what we’d seen up to now.  He was followed off the bench by two debutants at the opposite end of their careers in Lucas Neill and Luke O’Nien, the latter of whom put in an excitable five-minute cameo up front that suggested an exciting turn of pace .

5- Extraordinary how things have flipped around.  Under Gianfranco our away form was passable, regular points away from home from perhaps stronger performances than the results suggested… but at home we were a catastrophe, increasingly without an answer to the same sucker punch.  Now… our home form is extraordinary, today’s result never in doubt.  In Blackpool and Barnsley we’ve faced two poor sides at low points in their season but we’ve put them away in style.  Our away form has been iffier, and the obstacle to a more credible play-off challenge.  Up to now, the distance to the play-offs has not been insurmountable… it’s been the fact that we haven’t been putting  together a string of results to threaten to bridge that gap that’s been the problem.  Whilst we still await another away win, the strong performance at Doncaster suggests that that win will come sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, we may be getting it together just as the games start to run out.

Doncaster Rovers 2 Watford 1 (11/03/2014) 12/03/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
9 comments

1- We’d expected a dull draw, I think.  There was a certain curiosity in assessing to what degree Blackpool had been that bad versus us being rather good, of course, and a feeling that perhaps our away form was overdue a bit of a boost and that bodies slowly returning to the ranks might provide it (albeit, as it turned out, bodies arrive at roughly the same rate as others were leaving it – Murray the latest absentee).  But as soon as a pre-match acquaintance took his leave with a “let’s go and enjoy another really dull draw, then” the pattern of the evening was clear.  I’ve been to a few aways this season, not enough for the inevitability of a draw away from home to be at the front of my mind but enough to recognise the eminent plausibility of the suggestion; the bubble of excitement provoked by any midweek away match was rapidly deflated.

So thunk 1 should really be “It wasn’t dull”, but you probably know that already, and in any case it took a while for things to get going.  Nonetheless, this perhaps most easily overlooked period of what was to be an eventful evening was instructive in itself.  Playing in the growing-on-everyone combo of home shirt with yellow shorts so as not to clash with Donny’s black we settled into a rhythm and whilst we hardly had the home side under the cosh we were increasingly in control of possession and comfortable.  Ranégie again looked a capable target man, providing a focal point at the far post that we really haven’t had for a very long time and Alex Merkel, whose hair seemed to have calmed down a bit, a lower-key yellow, was prominent in what was to be his best performance in yellow to date.  Gradually, the battlefront was edging towards Rovers’ goal.

And then, of course, everything changed.  There’s really very little to say about this… what looked a physical but rather innocuous tussle between Husband and Ranégie on the right wing ended with the Swede taking a swing of the boot at his opponent.  Video replay suggests that no contact was made but no matter… it was an act of idiocy from Ranégie, and changed the landscape of the game irretrievably – comparable to Samba Diakité’s red against Boro in that regard, if not in its recklessness.  Within eight minutes Rovers were ahead, an excellent deep cross from Coppinger not defended well enough, Chris Brown quicker to it with a diagonal run.  Suddenly a long evening stretched in front of us.

2- Donny had their first little spell attempting to put the game to bed and we were rocking on our heels.  It took us a while to reshape, eventually switching to four at the back with Lloyd at right back and Anya more advanced in a supporting role to Deeney, horribly isolated for five or ten minutes after Ranégie’s departure.  The greatest victim of this was Merkel, withdrawn into a more disciplined role after a sparky opening and subsequently the only plausible sacrifice in introducing Forestieri’s mischief.  Nonetheless, settle we did and were soon making light of our numerical disadvantage making inroads against a nervous (and, in-fairness, seriously patched up) Donny backline.  Troy’s flame was fully on…  if you’re restricted to playing with one out-and-out striker, make it someone who will charge things down, hold the ball up, batter people and shoot from twenty five yards with every expectation of testing the goalkeeper.  In the second half he would charge down first a tentative opponent, then a pressurised goalkeeper whose attempted clearance rattled against the onrushing number 9 and out for a goal kick.  Futile, in everything other than a statement of not-bloody-lying-down-for-you-pal intent, the small but noisy away crowd on their feet, waving fists.

Here, he chased down again forcing nervous backpass after nervous backpass, the last a hospital ball from Meité to keeper Johnstone. Deeney got his toe to that first and collided with the goalkeeper who, replays revealed, dragged him down unceremoniously.  Less clear at the time from the opposite end, reactions of players is the best guide and this left no doubt – nor, indeed, the reaction of the official who proceeded to give us a sequence of 50/50 decisions in innocuous areas of the pitch.  I’m a firm believer that, with a few exceptions – players with “reputations”, big home crowds pressuring decisions – the vagaries of refereeing errors are a random variable on a par with the weather and the mythical “rub of the green”.  No point bitching about it, in other words, you roll with the punches just as you would if a shot came off the inside of a post.  Naturally, this incident will stick in our minds longer than it will occupy the thoughts of the home fans, a sense of injustice will prevail to a greater extent than the roll of a die ought to. It was, though, a breathtaking bottle-job, a decision of outstanding incompetence and another one which, with Donny having an untried young keeper on the bench (we’ve been there…) worked significantly to the home side’s advantage.

Keeper Johnstone got the bird for the rest of the game, particularly in the second half when located in front of the away end.  A bit harsh this, however much an entertaining distraction – he’d committed a clumsy, instinctive foul that was neither malicious nor violent. There were more justifiable targets for ire, not least the official who looked nonplussed by a volley of Italian that lasted from the centre-circle as the half ended.  So too left-back James Husband, an objectionable little turd whose role in Ranégie’s sending off looks far less innocuous on replay.  Before the end of the half he collapsed clutching his face after precisely zero contact from Deeney, who dragged him to his feet, hands in armpits, with the weary air of a parent trying to drag a tantrumming infant around a supermarket; in the second he collapsed and rolled around in a futile attempt to extract another yellow card from an official who, whilst losing all semblance of control by this stage, clearly had at least one number accurately marked.

3- The third quarter of the game was ours, despite the numerical disadvantage.  An awful lot must have been taken out of those legs, and we probably benefitted through not having had a game at the weekend… but special mentions for Anya, Pudil and Battocchio in particular, none of whom stopped moving throughout their time on the pitch and all of whom made significant contributions.  Alex Merkel was the first to come close after Keegan had brought down the onrushing Kaiser Tözsér on the edge of the box… much to the Hungarian’s frustration.  Keegan, later booked, somehow escaped censure… Merkel took a magnificently evil, curling, snarling free kick around the wall and off the woodwork; Johnstone dived much too late and was stranded and fortunate when the rebound crashed into the onrushing Deeney and over, the goal gaping.  Forestieri was introduced to loud acclaim…  my brother had cited his persistent dog-with-a-bone threat as just what a nervous Donny defence didn’t need and was proved right in the 68th minute, a pass of breathaking vision and ingenuity dinked teasingly over Donny’s befuddled defence for the onrushing Anya to latch onto, open his body up and finish tidily, his goal celebration a round of applause for the away end.  The equaliser no more than the visitors deserved, and had we gotten a point it would have been worth far more than any of the nine we’ve gained from previous draws on the road this season.

4- We didn’t get it, you’ll have noticed.  Doncaster kitchen-sinked us for much of the remaining game, seemingly freed of the previously imminent threat of blowing their advantage against ten men by us actually grabbing the equaliser.  I’ve since read accounts that questioned our defensive organisation, that cited Donny’s winner as inevitable… I think that’s rather harsh.  Certainly Bond looked nervous coming out to claim balls but redeemed himself with a couple of terrific full-length stops as the home side turned the screw.  Daniel Pudil, arguably our man of the match, made another of his increasingly trademark perfectly timed bullet challenges to deny a clear Donny chance in the area.  Troy, of all people, made a goalline clearance.  Frankly, with legs visibly giving way, we had to weather a storm, but I thought we’d done so.  Until we hadn’t… the game had finished, this wasn’t the culmination of a wave of pressure, rather a last throw of the dice. Fair play to the home side, who kept plugging away.  They’re not about to pull up any trees but they were disciplined and tidy enough for the most part and looked a far more coherent, convincing unit than a Blackpool side similarly precariously positioned in the table.  On this evidence, you’d back them to cobble together enough points to stay up.

5- We’d arrived in Doncaster commenting on the warmth of the welcome in the gentle evening sunshine.  It wasn’t quite as friendly afterwards as Doncaster’s finest ran amok in the car park, breaking car windows and probably leaving a few wondering whether those experiments in cross-breeding humans with coatstands and UHT milk cartons were quite such a great idea.  The route home proved equally awkward, seeing as we’d failed to account for National Motorway Closure day, a quite extraordinary conspiracy that blocked off three alternative routes back to Bedfordshire and gave my brother a three hour jaunt back to Bradford.

Despite which grumpiness and sourness, it’s not all bad news on the face of it.  The scoreline doesn’t tell the story of the game that we would have won, perhaps handsomely, but for two moments of rare idiocy and should have gotten something out of anyway, and whilst the play-offs drift away into irrelevance the team finally looks to be putting together some consistent form that would yield away results sooner rather than later.  To what end, though?  One drawback, one unavoidable side-effect of what remains a hugely beneficial Pozzo model is that there’s kinda a slate-wiping exercise every summer, so what good a run of form now if some key cogs – for last year’s Vydra and Chalobah read perhaps Tözser? Merkel?  Deeney? Angella?  ….might not be around come August.  You’ve gotta enjoy the journey of course.  But it would be nice to know that the journey might be progressing us somewhere before next season.

Watford 4 Blackpool 0 (01/03/2014) 02/03/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
13 comments

1- I used to read Roy of the Rovers.  Seems odd, really, looking back…  we were doing things on the pitch in the early eighties that matched anything that the cartoon strips could throw up.  Anyway…  in retrospect, there were a limited number of storylines recycled through different guises.  A popular one was of a patchwork team, thrown together in the face of adversity.  It happened to Melchester Rovers once… they were supposed to be playing an exhibition match in an assiduously fictional Middle East state when their team bus was blown up by a terrorist bomb, killing half the squad.  Rovers rebuilt their side by botching together a combination of youth players, cast-offs and imports from other cartoon strips, eventually triumphing in the face of impossible odds.

Thing is, the reason that such a development is the stuff of a comic strip is that by and large, when a team is botched together out of odds and ends and held together with sellotape, it looks like Blackpool.  A who’s-who of players who were good once, players who were promising once, and others who have been passed around the division like members of an incomplete set in Happy Families.  Add an epic run without a win, chronic mismanagement, and you get a complete shambles devoid of spirit or shape, quite comfortably the worst side we’ve seen at the Vic in some considerable time.  There had been portents of what was to come within the first quarter hour, Troy Deeney effortlessly shrugging off attention in the area, his marker virtually wandering off and leaving him to drive narrowly wide with far more time than he realised.  On the quarter hour Kaiser Tözsér sent a monstrous, arcing corner onto Matthias Ranégie’s head, unattended at the far post; his bullet header gave us the lead.  This didn’t stop Richard Short crediting Troy Deeney, but then he’d twice welcomed Lucas Neill twice as a “loan signing” during the warm up so he’s obviously not a detail kinda guy.

2- Ranégie’s home debut was much anticipated, like a TV series plugged and trailed too far in advance.  Profiles, and word from Yeovil, had warned of a far defter instrument than the picture painted by a stern looking 6ft 5 centre-forward. Consequently his tidy control and neat lay-offs were no great surprise… but I for one hadn’t appreciated that he had the combative physical qualities that you’d hope of from a big centre-forward also.  Aggressive, powerful and extremely efficient with the ball he looks a real asset; his understanding with Deeney, monstrous again, already looks more developed than Troy has achieved with Nando and both of Ranégie’s finishes – the second a neat fooling of the rotund Gilks  following a flimsy Blackpool clearance – suggested a rich source of goals that we hadn’t perhaps anticipated.  Quite whether a Deeney/Ranégie partnership would work quite so well against a defence with the personnel and wit to defend a high line is questionable but the Swede’s presence – combined with Tözsér’s delivery – looks like a get-out-of-jail-free card at worst.  In reality as soon as Blackpool conceded the game was up; Troy scored a deflected second in between Ranégie’s two and we were an unflattering 3-0 up at the break.

3- I can cope with a huddle before kick-off, I get that.  But a huddle at the start of the second half is flimsy window-dressing…  not as if you need to re-focus after a warm up, nothing can have been said in Blackpool’s post-interval huddle that couldn’t have been aired in the dressing room at half time.  So this was purely for the benefit of the poor bastards in the away end, a far healthier number of Seasiders than the afternoon’s prospects could possibly have justified the sixteen years since our last Ronny-fuelled home win over Blackpool notwithstanding.  In fairness Blackpool did make a much better fist of it in the second half in that they resembled a limited football team rather than a bowl of blancmange that hadn’t quite set, prematurely poured onto the Vicarage Road pitch.  They made a couple of half-chances too, early in the half…  there wasn’t really any suggestion of a fightback but there was some fight, too little too late or otherwise, and in any event the prospect of a coconut shy and a cricket score were dispelled.  David Perkins was perhaps the one visitor to come out of the exercise with anything close to a balance in credit, a bleach-blond Battocchio-like whirligig in the second half fulfilling much the same disruptive role as he had done on recent visits to Oakwell before his move to the west coast.

4- But Watford’s key man in the second half, and arguably over the course of the ninety despite the goalscoring contributions of the front two, was the magnificent Kaiser Tözsér.  Too late in the day the Seasiders started closing down possession high up the pitch, pressurising as so many have done to greater effect before them and granted it’s far easier to respond to this pressure when there’s no great onus on you to get the ball forward by dint of an already comfortable scoreline.  But this was an absolute masterclass, the unflustered, undemonstrative ushering on of possession in complete indifference to apparent lack of space or options a joy to behold.  This wasn’t a perfect performance… he did overhit one pass in the second half…  but each of the right wing corners that he swung in from the corner of Rous and Rookery in the second half was preceded by a standing ovation from the 1881 and entreaties to “sign him up”.  Quite right, too.

(The game had been preceded by an aborted trip to the pub, incidentally, marginally too late to secure a table and therefore food;  instead a quick pint was followed by a voyage of discovery into Watford market.  Succour was taken at the Hungarian food stall where excited words were exchanged on the subject of Tözsér, including some animated explanation of his free-kick prowess which featured broken English, sweeping gestures with either arm to indicate two-footedness and lifting of spectacles to represent disbelief at power.  We have more to look forward to, perhaps.  The visit also featured a monstrous pile of very edible chicken, rice and peas, which will do no favours to my already ample wasteline if adopted as part of the ritual after today’s success).

5- We got a fourth, you’ll have noticed;  the best of the lot, requiring movement, teamwork and a quite bullish finish from Troy that spoke volumes for his resurgent form and thus self-belief.  Blackpool weren’t up to much but perhaps it’s a game that fell well for us after last weekend’s fiasco;  many benefitted from the space afforded them. Merkel made a second half cameo and nearly pulled off the pass of the game, a raking through ball having faked most of Blackpool’s defence with his eyes that was interrupted only on the stretch.  Murray had a combative, non-stop eighty-two minutes, Battocchio a fine second half after a patchier first during which he was nonetheless involved in the third goal.  Angella, Cassetti, splendid again.  The emerging skeleton of the new stand suggests a metaphor that’s too painfully obvious to state explicitly… but as far as it goes, we did what we needed to do, beat what was in front of us.  If we can build on this we might find ourselves more capable of tougher asks also.

And that’s one goal against in eight at home now, in case you’d lost count…