Watford 3 Rotherham United 0 (24/02/2015) 25/02/2015Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. I’m currently reading Jim White’s “You’ll Win Nothing With Kids”, his account of coaching an under-fourteens team which includes his own son. It’s a modest book, and its modesty comes from self-awareness, and from its self-awareness comes a certain melancholy. For every amusing anecdote about dog shit or committee meetings, there’s a moment that’ll make you wince: if you’ve ever kicked a football in a park with goalposts for goalposts, your story is echoed here somewhere, your childhood hopes momentarily re-kindled and then extinguished once more, and your father’s with them. It’s a terrific book, and it captures something essential about football.
I wonder what my own dad thought as he endured my short-lived participation in organised football, his pale, shivering, short-sighted son brought off the sidelines, with reluctance on all sides, and pitched into the action with the unspoken aim of avoiding the ball at any cost. My only surviving memory – a single mental image, quite clear – is of doing something wrong near a touchline in Cassiobury Park and being shouted at by everyone for being useless. You couldn’t really argue with them, but, equally, I’m not sure I learnt anything from the experience. I moved on, football moved on; best for all concerned.
1a. One thunk down, four to go.
2. Probably best for all concerned if we move on from this fairly quickly too. A football match whose only redeeming feature was the three point reward at the end of it, like a pat on the head for a baby that’s successfully filled its nappy. It may not have descended to my level of embarrassed incompetence, but it made up for that amply with a clear-eyed determination behind its turgid exterior. Not accidentally turgid, this, but deliberately, obstinately, resolutely so. The evening’s most apposite summary came from Pete Fincham over to my left as first half injury time began: a dismayed wail of “WHOSE F***ING IDEA WAS THIS?”
3. The answer, of course, is that it was Slav’s idea. To play four central defenders across the back, Tommie Hoban charged with duties on the left and Craig Cathcart on the right, made a certain amount of sense and effectively countered what would presumably have been a main thrust of Rotherham’s attacks: what I will always think of as “scary big diagonals” in honour of Micky Adams*, launched repeatedly onto the shiny head of Conor Sammon. We nipped that in the bud, and entirely sacrificed our own threat down the flanks in the process. To all intents and purposes, the game was played in a thin stripe of pitch down the middle and the rest could’ve been used for additional seating to house those eager to take in such a rich spectacle.
It was an act of pragmatism so bloody-minded as to verge on dogmatic. The contrary part of me quite admires its sheer miserliness; the rest of me, which had to sit through the resulting football, feels much less generous. In truth, Rotherham did precious little to justify the special treatment: they were largely toothless up front, with a penchant for self-destruction at the back; every bit a side fresh from a five-nil thumping at the weekend and out looking for another. The manager will no doubt point to the result, but I suspect that most of those present would’ve fancied our chances with a side that set its own agenda.
4. So it was a curious game, except that curious makes it sound interesting and it really wasn’t that. It was curious in the sense that we’d done almost nothing to earn our half-time lead, basically just sitting in our own half and watching the enemy through binoculars until their sentry fell asleep. Aside from a Deeney snap-shot, our openings were entirely of Rotherham’s making, a defender falling over and a clearance rebounding back into the penalty area. We were set up to be a brick wall, albeit one which still managed to allow Arnason a completely free header from a corner for what should’ve been a prompt equaliser. That might’ve changed things. If you’re going to play a formation as miserable as this one, you’d really better not screw it up. As it was, the grumbling was mainly concentrated on the inability of either of our makeshift full-backs to take a proper throw-in.
5. Half-time was subdued. There was little prospect of an improvement, simply because we were doing the job we’d been set up to do; Rotherham gave no hint that they were about to stray from the script. And so it continued, with this grey, awful brutalism, the strewn litter of errors its only humanity. The result felt inevitable even before we scrambled a second from the scraps of Tozser’s monstrous free kick, an appropriately industrial path to goal, and then an opportunist third shortly afterwards as Rotherham fell into disarray. We’d suffocated the contest mercilessly, and now we brought it to an end.
You could’ve blown the final whistle at that point, really. Let everyone go home early. The rest felt deeply unnecessary, particularly the six minutes of injury time: Rotherham were so thoroughly beaten that they appeared to be time-wasting in order to save themselves further punishment and gave the impression of being extremely eager to make their excuses and hit the motorway. For our part, we toyed with them listlessly, Abdi blazing over the bar and then hitting the post late on. Chances at both ends, but the result had already been phoned in and chalked up. Even the final minute seemed to drag out forever, impatiently waiting for us to stop faffing about and take a goal kick in order that the referee could bring proceedings to a merciful and long overdue end.
6. That we are capable of so much more is undeniable. But that there are occasions when we still seem a little green, a little vulnerable, is evident from both our league position and our results against the teams around us. It’s clear from this evening’s, um, entertainment that the manager is prepared to let the ends justify some fairly ugly means, that he isn’t in the least afraid of public opinion or terribly interested in courting popularity. That he’s perhaps treating all opponents as equal in the hope of dealing rather more effectively with the better ones, the ones we’ll have to start beating if we’re to be promoted.
He’s a brave man. A wise one? We’ll see.
7. I recall someone saying that they wouldn’t fancy paying to watch Blackburn every week. Hmmm. (Raises eyebrow.)
* There was a photo somewhere, probably in When Saturday Comes, of Micky Adams clutching his tactics notebook during a game. Or maybe it was a story someone told. Or maybe I just imagined it. Anyway, Micky’s tactical notes consisted of three scrawled, erratically spelt words: “SCARY BIG DIAGONAL”. Whenever someone bombs a long cross-field ball onto their centre-forward’s head, I think of Micky Adams and his notebook.
Watford 0 Norwich City 3 (21/02/2015) 22/02/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.
1- I’ve been staring at a blank screen for half an hour. I’ve even been distracted by bloody Jonathan Ross, of all things. Not fun, this. Not fun at all. It doesn’t matter that there is stuff to say, this isn’t a search for inspiration or a dredging up of five thunks. That can be difficult too… but this is just purgatory. Reliving five goal wins is fun, joyful. There wasn’t much to enjoy this afternoon, not much to take pleasure in. You want to forget about this one? Head home and think about something else? Yeah, me too. We’d all been looking forward to this, on the back of three unlikely wins from challenging positions this had been another chance to test ourselves against one of our fellow contenders. Nervous tension all week, nervous tension for much of the game as the noise of the crowd was sucked inwards by the gravity of the occasion. Now… I feel let down. Not by the team, or the manager, or the referee. But by myself. Why such an emotional investment in something so brittle, so unreliable, so meaningless. Screw this. Bastards.
2- Much of the game was very well balanced, a tug of war between two sides carefully, cautiously restricting their trading of blows to a congested midfield. Each side had spells in the first half, but chances were few; early on Layún picked out Deeney with a nine iron from deep in the midfield… a difficult ask, the ball coming over Deeney for him to head out of the air but not quite low enough, over the bar. An early encouraging move, we were keen to get behind Norwich’s high line quickly but this was to be as good as it got for the Hornets. City’s approach to defending revolved around preventing us having any possession in the final third, this largely achieved by Tettey and Johnson hounding down the space in midfield to hurry our attempts at penetration with Russell Martin and the monstrous Bassong, who looks as likely to return to the Hornets any time soon as John Barnes, Ashley Young or Clements, sweeping up much of what came through. On the few occasions when we did get hold of the ball in and around their box our we were able to do the things we’re good at and City looked vulnerable, get-attable. Late in the first half some snappy passing released Abdi; Johnson was befuddled and brought him down in panic, he got a yellow and the “shield” Tettey followed him into the book for his protests. Abdi’s free kick took a nick and went over but this was a positive way to end the half. Neither side had been on the canvas, but we were probably ahead on points… and with everyone above us losing or already condemned to defeat, the mood was positive.
3- Much has been made of the limited number of chances that we made throughout, but our defence had looked solid and Norwich’s compact shape cost them in terms of the number of bodies they were able to commit forward. Frankly, if anyone was going to score it was us but you would have been reckless to put money on that for all of our attacking riches. So… the award of the penalty was both unexpected on any number of levels and absolutely fundamental to the outcome; like ourselves City had barely had any controlled possession in the final third but Hoolahan put his head down and ran, and then fell over. The referee gave the penalty, Gomes went the right way and got down well but the kick was right in the corner. It hadn’t looked like a penalty, and the Hornets’ frustration with an official whose control on the game had been fingertip since the first whistle nearly boiled over. We’d nullified City’s threat, there seemed no prospect of them scoring and the decision to award the penalty changed the game; newly invigorated, the visitors had no cause to deviate from the sit-deep-and-break approach that so many have tried before, if rarely as effectively.
4- The point is, of course, that frustrating as the apparent injustice was it’s par for the course. Not in the sense that we have any more bad decisions go against us than anyone else – much as it feels like it sometimes – but in the sense that stuff happens and you’ve got to deal with it an awful lot better than we did for the rest of the game. If City were lucky to get the break then they didn’t half build on their luck, whereas the Hornets lost all shape and discipline. Yes, Cameron Jerome’s follow up was a brilliant piece of opportunism and skill, dropping a shot over the stranded Gomes from outside the box but we were already far more ragged at that stage than at any earlier stage. Subsequently we could have conceded a third before we did… Heurelho Gomes’ miraculous save to the incredulous Johnson’s thumping header low down to his left would have provoked a standing ovation in a less glum environment before City wrapped things up and compounded our misery by pulling off the move that Layún and Deeney had attempted earlier in the game, Grabban applying the finish to a ball from deep on the right. We have spent the last few weeks digging out victories from improbable positions, watching with growing respect as Slav’s switches in tactics have made us stronger. After going behind there was none of that… no sign of any fightback, nothing added by any of the substitutions. We fell apart, and concluded a shapeless mess.
5- It was good to see Slav acknowledge this in his post-match comments… that the real problem lay not with a bad refereeing decision, however consequential, but with our response to it. Slav’s dispassionate, analytical assessment of games as something that he observes rather than participates in jars a little to an English ear accustomed to observations made in an aggressive first person plural, but there’s great reassurance in him both drawing sensible conclusions and not hiding behind any bullshit. Much earlier in the season we were complaining about our side being less than the sum of its parts, being a collection of talented individuals without a common purpose. He’s applied corrective surgery and it’s questionable whether any of our three recent wins would have been achieved in similar circumstances in September or October. You’ve got to trust his ability to recover from this also. Because that’s the value today, if anything… this was, in many respects, a Premier League defeat; so much good work undone by one moment – of this case of bad luck, it might as well have been quality – following which things ran away from us resulting in a scoreline that was simultaneously both harsh and fully deserved. If we do go up, that’s going to happen against better opposition than Norwich. If we can’t cope with the fallout from that, if we’re not strong enough to recover mentally and take it out on the next mob then we need to stop kidding ourselves that we’re equipped for the top flight. Tuesday night at home is a godsend, and will be interesting. Today was disappointing, but needn’t be disastrous. There’s a load of games to go.
Brentford 1 Watford 2 (10/02/15) 11/02/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- Sainsbury’s Own Brand Low Calorie Ginger Beer is extraordinary. An anachronism, a throwback to when own brands really were truly revolting (cardboard breakfast cereal, yogurt you could use to hang wallpaper etc etc) this stuff is not just a little bit weak or a little bit too sweet but a work of fiendish invention, genuinely repulsive, unforcedownable. There’s a bit of me that finds that comforting in a way, that some truly unspeakable stuff is still on the shelves is how things should be. Not comforting enough to ever consider drinking any of it again, naturally… I’m still concerned about how to safely dispose of the remaining five cans in the fridge without causing an environmental catastrophe by contaminating the water course…
Other throwbacks are more unreservedly enjoyable, and Griffin Park falls into that category – at least from a Watfordcentric point of view, all too accustomed to out-of-town modern stadia’n’that. I’m perfectly aware that claustrophobic grounds where you’re close enough to the pitch to ruffle the corner flag as you exhale with a terrace under a tin roof at each end exist perfectly happily at other echelons of the game, but not often within our consciousness of late. And on a night like this one, where it’s chilly enough to flush your cheeks but not cold enough to be a problem, where the anticipation of a clash between two positive, competitive teams ratchets the tension, where the roof is almost low enough to touch and when the lights go out the terrace becomes less a group of people and more a single entity with many bodies, the Borg of Brentford, Griffin Park is simply fabulous. Realisation of how challenging the journey would be had briefly seen me contemplate writing off the cost of the ticket and staying at home; progress being complicated by signal failures at Waterloo and the consequent inhuman ramming of the train across from central London hadn’t improved my mood. “This had better be bloody worth it”. I needn’t have worried. I needn’t have worried at all.
2- A play in two acts, this, either side of Jake Bidwell’s sending off shortly before half time… which, for what it’s worth, was short of a nailed-on red but some way beyond something that he could reasonably have expected to get away with a yellow for. And thinking of the game as a piece of theatre or opera isn’t inappropriate, such was the rolling drama and evolution of the piece. Slav strode purposefully across the pitch beforehand, inadvertently contributing to his Geography teacher image by wearing a suit jacket that was just a little bit too short. On the pitch, he continues to make similarly bold statements and has surely built up a level of confidence in the Watford support now as a consequence. Here he switched to what turned out to be a 4-3-1-2 with Forestieri brought in to play behind the front two, and Tözsér reintroduced for the injured Munari. And the first half was… much as we might have expected. Both sides had chances, Brentford starting the brighter but the Hornets exerting a degree of control prior to the sending off. We were probably ahead on points… but not to a degree that guaranteed anything at all, this Bees side have plenty about them and whilst we were on top and had had the better chances before the sending off it was all still up in the air.
2b- A corollary here for Fernando Forestieri. Another throwback… we used to herald “The Jamie Hand booking” on BSaD. Now we have the Nando Thunk, reflecting on the enigma that is our mischief maker… equal parts dizzying invention and finger-chewing decision making. There’s not really a lot to say here that hasn’t been said before, hence a corollary to a thunk rather than a thunk all on its own… except that even in the high drama of the evening’s events there’s no overlooking the majesty of a first half incident that saw Forestieri win a free kick in the midfield after a tussle with Diagouraga, spring to his heels to take a quick free kick, disarm the former Hornet by facing “the wrong way” towards his own goal with the ball at his feet, and then impishly skip over the ball and backheel it to set in motion an attack that saw Deeney come close on the right side of the penalty area. You forgive a lot for moments like that.
3- The red card penalised Brentford, of course, and would cost them ultimately, but in the short term they benefited from developments rather better than we did. Having their backs to the wall rather suits the us-against-the-world siege mentality that Mark Warburton seems to have instilled after all, and the team was well equipped to sit back, snap into challenges in the midfield, and howl out on the break. The Hornets, meanwhile, looked confused and disrupted by developments, a pattern not helped by a predictable change in mood in the away end… from a positive “Come on, get at ’em” to a sense of expectation…. “Faaaaccchin’ ‘ell Watford, they’ve got ten men”. The success of Brentford’s approach was heavily reliant on André Gray, whose Bedfordshire heritage saw yet another throwback in the airing of songs about father’s guns and so forth but who played his role to an absolute tee… battling for possession, using his backside as a weapon of assault, chasing down everything , holding up sometimes and hounding goalwards on others which saw him score a stunning goal on the break, after which the Brentford team piled to a man on top of manager Warburton, the subject of some unheralded newspaper stories in the build up to the game. This did the mood in the away end no favours of course; less still Troy Deeney’s lame penalty after what looked a generous award for handball. As with Blackburn on Saturday, these aren’t the situations that you’d back us to get something from.
4- Which is why Jokanovic’s understated assessment of the second half so badly underplays what he and the team achieved (even if it does reinforce the Geography teacher thing still further – “see what you can do when you stop messing around and concentrate on your work?”). Yes, we did the sensible things… spreading the play, making Brentford run, allowing them on to us a little and then bursting forward, testing their legs. Easy to say, much less easy to do particularly against competent, hardworking opposition backed into a corner with something to defend. Juan Carlos Paredes attracted some stick for inconsistency of final ball (not to mention yet another bloody foul throw – detention for that, I think) but thundered up and down the right flank in inhuman fashion from right back, always an option. Ditto Ikechi Anya, hugging the left touchline and needing to cut inside but always on the move. Paredes it was who provided the cross for Ighalo to thump home a header to equalise; from then the patience on the pitch was largely reflected on the once-more boisterous terrace. We were finding space now, overlapping over and over again. Brentford’s stretched defence was increasingly cowering in its penalty box, David Button in goal excelling as the shots began to rain in. The screw was very much being turned… which isn’t to say that that late winner was inevitable, but the patience in the approach never wavered. Tommy Smith came off the bench for Brentford to polite (and perhaps overly restrained) applause from the away end, and soon picked up a harsh booking for blocking a Paredes charge into the penalty area. As the one man wall blocking Tözsér’s kick he was inches away from the Borg in the away end, who reminded him quite what he was and where his loyalties lie. Tözsér fooled the tiring defence by rolling back to a lurking Forestieri who drilled a low shot past Button but smack off the face of the post. In the end, of course, it was our incredible indiarubber centre forward, who would surely bounce back above the crossbar if dropped from the roof of a stand, who provided an immaculate volley to sub Vydra’s clipped pass to finish the night off in injury time. Words, of course, can’t do justice to the celebration behind the goal, so you can paint your own pictures of that.
5 – It would go without saying – even if I hadn’t already said it – that on top of Blackburn and red cards notwithstanding this is a stunning result in what could be a pivotal week for our season. Above all, the fact that we adapted our game – eventually – to the situation so effortlessly is hugely encouraging… make no mistake, this was a huge challenge, and one that gives us every reason to be positive about the final third of the campaign. As the division is shaping up, the top eight have pulled away and it seems inconceivable that anyone from outside will break into the top six. As the teams involved continue to rack up points it boils down to who blinks and who doesn’t. Brentford blinked tonight, and we poked them in the eye in that split second.
In the spirit of throwback, two old school items of memorabilia from BSaD to close. Lucky Half-time Chocolate was Snickers, a bar that I had in my pocket thanks to the persistence of the guy in the shop at St Albans station on Saturday who patiently and affably explained that I would save a quid by adding it to my order. That worked out rather well. Finally, your scores:
Gomes 3, Paredes 4, Anya 4 (Hoban 0), Cathcart 4, Angella 3, Layún 3, Watson 3 (Abdi 3), Tözsér 4, Forestieri 3, Deeney 3 (Vydra 4), *Ighalo 4*
Watford 1 Blackburn Rovers 0 (07/02/2015) 08/02/2015Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. At the time of writing, I’m just three episodes from the very, very end of Breaking Bad*. Those last three are going to get what’s coming to them on Monday evening when Andrea’s up in London, assuming that Fred doesn’t interrupt and I manage to stay awake beyond the usual nine o’clock watershed. It would be fair to say that my feelings about it as a series are more mixed than most: it’s artfully written, beautifully played and frequently breathtakingly tense, but it lacks an essential humanity that I find in my very favourite things. Spectacular as it is, it hasn’t really made me care as much as I’d want.
What is beyond question, though, is the exquisite elegance of its plotting. In particular, its use of flashbacks and flash-forwards to drop clues and hints and bits of intrigue, ensuring that no matter how dense it all gets and how unexpected some of the sharp turns are, you never, ever know nothing. At their worst (hellooo, Heroes), these shows simply avoid giving you any kind of straight answer, to the point where you stop being interested in asking any more questions; it’s like conducting a conversation with a random phrase generator via Google Translate, and it ends with shoes being thrown at the television. But this…ah, this is wondrous to behold, honest and gleeful in its manipulation, rewarding at just the right moments. You never quite know what’s going to happen, but you never entirely don’t know either. You can’t look away.
The same is very much not true of our season, in which I confess I’ve lost a certain amount of interest over the last two or three months. Basic Shearer-level punditry would highlight our inconsistency, suggesting the Heroes-style, stick-it-in-a-blender approach to plotting, each result as unpredictable as the last. That would be quite wrong, of course. In fact, my attention is drifting for precisely the opposite reason: our results appear to have become rather easily predictable, a straight line in a frequently bumpy division. We’re thoroughly consistent, when, in fact, doing really well in this division involves being able to ride the waves.
So it feels as if you could have a pretty decent stab at filling in the rest of our fixture list (lose at Brentford, win at Bolton…), our final league position (sixth), and the eventual outcome (losing to a better organised bunch in the playoff semi-finals before changing the coach again in the summer). Removed from weekly involvement, from seeing it all close up and understanding all of the nuances, it feels a bit monotonous. Yeah, all right, I’m still sore at missing Blackpool. But you get my drift….
2. And this one felt more predictable than most, even leaving aside the bit where we’d scored several hatfuls since my last visit to Vicarage Road and now I’d turned up again. You could see it a country mile away: a one-nil defeat in the bitter cold, the only goal of the game being a free header from a corner after 71 minutes. I wrote that on Facebook in the morning and, as if we’d all read it and taken it as gospel, we endured a full minute’s worth of complete pandemonium when the clock reached that point, Heurelho Gomes flapping at a cross and then recovering incredibly to scramble the resulting shot from Rhodes around the post, then tipping a ferocious drive over the bar from the corner. Living to see the clock tick over to 72 minutes, it was as if we’d somehow defeated destiny.
3. Because this was a proper win against proper opponents. Forget yer cricket scores, promotion campaigns are built on these results. It’s not about whether you’ve played well. There are too many occasions, particularly in this division, where there’s no opportunity to play well, when your opponents simply aren’t going to let that happen to them. And then what do you do?
In this case, you hope to capitalise on one of the occasions when you can break against a depleted midfield…and, indeed, we come closest by that route, Steele saving smartly from Layun’s shot early on. And then, as the game settles into a routine, you spend much of the time trying to pick a lock. The occasional mis-hit shots from long range and over-hit passes from defence are just the equivalent of booting the bolted door in frustration. It’s not that Blackburn are especially negative, merely that they’re streetwise and they’re equipped to do a job. We misplace countless passes, lose countless fifty-fifty challenges, get crowded out everywhere we turn. We push our wide men forward in an attempt to get around the sides, then find Ben Marshall rampaging into the open space behind Juan-Carlos Paredes, threatening to punish our adventure. Even when we bring on the lockpicker-in-chief, Almen Abdi, we get no closer: he barely touches the ball.
4. Blackburn dictated terms for long, long periods here, including the whole of a second half in which we barely created as much as a half-chance and, I suspect, mustered no more than one vital, decisive shot on goal. They set the agenda, they shaped the game, they’ll feel with complete justification that they should’ve won it. They were well-organised, robust and physical, and a bit charmless in a way that I find oddly charming; these kind of Championship gurners are gradually dying out, and more’s the pity. In Chris Brown, they had a proper old-fashioned villain of a centre forward, all bad-temper and elbows, whose only failure in the service of his side was to miss the couple of chances that came his way. In Jay Spearing, whose resemblance to one of the boulder-trolls from Frozen is uncanny, they had a proper midfield hatchet man, treading the kind of disciplinary tightrope that any midfielder worth his salt ought to spend his career walking. The rest aren’t exactly shrinking violets. There’s something Victorian and industrial about them, and I’ll regret the day when our legion of continental fancy-dans doesn’t have to overcome this kind of challenge. They’re a good side. Not a nice one, but a good one.
All of this is our worst nightmare. A recurring nightmare at that. We hate games like this. We lose games like this. The Bloke Behind Me spends the entire second half shouting “FAACCCHHHING HELL! WHAT’S GOING ON?” over and over again at every wrong decision and every crap pass and every single faaaacccchhhing thing, inadvertently capturing the sense of idiocy and impotence perfectly. We get to the point where we’ll appeal for anything, then howl at the referee for not giving it to us. We demand substitutions, none of which make any noticeable difference, even though our bench appeared to hold untold riches when read out before kickoff. It gets colder and colder and colder, and the game gets bleaker and bleaker and bleaker. Only one team is going to win it. It sure as hell ain’t us.
5. It is us, though. And that’s a truly marvellous thing. We win it with a proper goal too. None of your modern ways here; none of your passing and movement and that. Odion Ighalo wheels away having scored a winning goal thoroughly befitting the game: wonderfully scruffy and scuffy, in off the post via the keeper’s glove and just creeping over the line. Echoes of your favourite low-budget goal-hanger of yesteryear, echoes of vital and memorable wins secured by mis-hits and deflections in winters passed. A proper goal, a proper win.
As injury time dawns, a long cross to the far post threatens to pick out the unmarked head of Gestede. As we hold our breath, Gomes, sometimes a complete liability and sometimes a crusading green-shirted hero, back-pedals to reach the ball, flips it over the forward’s head and then gives chase beyond his area. He reaches the ball as it bounces and gleefully carts it high into the darkening sky, a great cheer of relief and joy rising from the crowd as it clears the roof of the new Elton John Stand. You half-expect him to follow it, climbing over the wall, finding the garden it’s landed in and giving it another gigantic heave-ho, then bounding onwards, a silhouetted figure, to the horizon and beyond. Get out of it.
It was his afternoon, his victory. Because what you do more than anything when faced with this kind of challenge is hang in there. Don’t concede, even if you have to ride your luck at moments. Stay in the game. Sometimes, when you’re up against it, that’s all you can do. I’m reminded of last weekend’s Murray-Djokovic Australian Open final and the point early in the third set when the eventual winner was caught in the corner, the match escaping from him at an alarming (or thrilling, depending on your point of view) rate. Sometimes you just have to hang on, to weather the storm. And then when your opponent drops their guard, you have to punish their failure to finish you off.
A fortunate win? Oh, sure. Without question. But the kind of win that can turn predictable seasons into something else entirely, the kind of win that can make you believe in things you previously questioned. We should be relishing that trip to Brentford. We should be eager for another challenge. Come on.
* Do. Not. Even. Think. About. It.