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Nottingham Forest 1 Watford 3 (15/04/2015) 16/04/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- A professional in the field – and not a football fan – once told me that attending a football match is one of the most “mindful” things you can do.  “Mindfulness”, in this sense, denoting the focusing of one’s attentions entirely on something real and current – something you can feel, see, hear, thus not allowing space for stressing about stuff.  This is supposed to be healthy, a Good Thing, and I don’t doubt that football serves and has served that purpose for many.

Any broader suggestion that watching football is good for your mental health might not have found great support in the aftermath of this victory, however.  Once the boisterous celebration, exploding with relief at Almen Abdi’s late third goal and extending for many minutes after the final whistle, had died down all that was left was a sort of human detritus, a zombie band of 2000-odd Hornets  drawn and battered by the events of the previous two hours on top of the days, weeks and games that preceded them.  Elated, certainly.  Back slapping and grinning in the concourse.  But always with a slightly unhinged look in the eyes.  Much talk about which of the four clubs will hold their nerve, who will be the first to blink when none shows a sign of blinking.  Forget the players, I wonder if the Canaries, Boro and Cherries fans are going through this glorious torment too?

2- Fortune had shone on us as we arrived in Nottingham.  The small private car park where we’d stopped a year ago was empty with its barrier up on the first pass but having done a loop we saw the proprietor opening up in time to duck in, less than an Heurelho Gomes throw from the away end and in plenty of time to beat what was soon to be an epic queue outside the Bridgford Fish Bar that would have made Fry Days’ equivalent look tame and half-hearted.

Luck played its part on the pitch, too, but only up to a point.  There’s nothing lucky about a clinical forward line, as we’ve discussed several times recently.  Nothing lucky about taking your chances.  Nothing lucky, either, about having a goalkeeper who has quietly – as quietly as a gregarious goateed Brazilian is capable of doing anything quietly – developed from being an athletic but excitable custodian to being a cornerstone of the side’s success, a leader and a daunting opponent.  He earned his corn this evening, as he has done more often than not recently… the first of what was to develop into a formidable string of vital and non-trivial stops came in the opening exchanges when Chris Burke found himself in space on the right of the area with the ball at his feet.  He should have scored, and would have done but for the massive keeper who hurled himself into Burke’s shooting window blocking out the light and deflecting the shot wide for good measure.

No luck there.  The luck, perhaps, was in our ability to engineer an opportunity to take the lead so quickly, before the anxiety inflated by that early exchange had a chance to fester.  As it transpired I completely missed it… from the back row of the lower tier of the Bridgford Stand at the far end of the pitch I had a pillar box view anyway, but Almen Abdi’s early corner coincided with the emergence of a group of Hornets emerging from behind the back row of seats which they’d attempted to use as a thoroughfare… I saw Ighalo reeling away as the away end, underneath a low roof, exploded.

3- Beyond that, I would contest, luck played little part.  The Hornets had the better of the half on balance but it was never anything other than an end-to-end battle in which both sides had plenty of both possession and opportunity.  For the Hornets, Cathcart headed over, Abdi was played clean  through but prodded wide, Guedioura drove over.  At the other end Gomes was forced into two or three sprawling saves, typically shots from distance  but struck with accuracy and purpose and through legs.  Buoyed by their advantage the away end was relentless, and just as nervous gaps started to wedge themselves between songs we went further ahead.

And what a fine thing it was.  Defensively we’re still making up our minds about Matt Connolly… he’s a big brute of a defender such as we’ve needed for a while, but has been caught once or twice more than you’d like, even allowing for settling in rustiness.  This goal, however, was a thing of chest-thumping magnificence…  he surged into an interception to snuff out a ball to Akpom on the edge of our box and didn’t break stride, charging comfortably half the length of the pitch in front of scattering opponents who too slowly realised that they ought to be closing him down rather than covering passing options,  before he fed Ighalo.  In truth his pass was slightly overhit, Ighalo made light of the issue and battered the ball goalwards.  Connolly, who had slowed up but not stopped moving, was there to pick up the pieces and provoked comparisons with Moses parting the Red Sea and “what rugby would be like if it wasn’t crap” in half time reflections.

4- At two-up it really should have been about quite how much we might win by.  Clear water between ourselves and a Forest side with nothing to play for, what can we do to our goal difference?  But hereby the inherent flimsiness in the assumption that games against such opponents at this stage will be easy that might be worth bearing in mind in terms of what may or may not or “will definitely” happen over the next few weeks.  Forest were reduced to ten men early in the second half, a skirmish that from our distant and very limited view could plausibly have been adjudicated either way for all that Dougie Freedman acknowledged the veracity of the decision… and yet the home side didn’t lie down as we seemed to struggle, suddenly, to capitalise on what should have been an unplayable two-goal and one-man advantage.  The home side pulled a goal back… Cathcart conceded a free kick on the edge of the box, Gardner curled the ball over the wall and under the bar, an admirable feat… and yet perhaps, on the replay, close enough to Gomes that you’d hope that he’d get a finger to it. We had no sense of this at the time, our heads were in our hands.

5- So this was a massive result on several levels.  Bottom line, of course, the three points, sure, given.  But beyond that proof of the unshakable single-mindedness of this squad.  A huge challenge laid down by Bournemouth, Norwich and Boro on Tuesday night as we all stamped grumpily around our kitchens lamenting the collective failings of Leeds, Reading and Wolves.  All the pressure, all the focus was on us and Forest played the role of a fair-to-middling side with something to prove but nothing to lose to a tee.  And the squad came through it, came through the game and came through that iffy second half spell when Forest smelled blood bullish and defiant and roaring.  It shouldn’t have been in doubt, we’ve demonstrated our spirit in coming from behind so many times, but still hugely inspiring to see them not give a stuff about what had happened the night before.  Alex Neil had been unable to resist the temptation to put further pressure on Watford with a “let’s see if they’re up to this” kinda quote on Tuesday night.  Right back atcha Alex.  Yooooooooooorns.  Next?

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Comments»

1. watf0rdfc - 16/04/2015

Great report as always. Being a Watford season ticket holder living in Norwich I can tell you the atmosphere in the office has been ‘ interesting ‘ recently! This morning I was greeted with gruff good mornings and words along the lines of ‘ bloody Watford, they are like a terrier biting at our heels. ‘ They are definitely feeling the pressure!

2. Lincoln Hornet - 16/04/2015

Well put as always. My wife and daughter were also sat on the back row of the first tier and my daughter said she was sat next to a man who was writing notes throughout the game. I wonder who that could have been? Seat number?
U ‘Orns

Matt Rowson - 16/04/2015

Wasn’t me. Never make notes any more. Spoils the fun…

3. ourtimeisnow - 16/04/2015

I have never been so nervous through a match, never looked at the clock so much, despite many tense times this season and in seasons gone by.

I couldn’t understand why at the time, but walking away from the ground and sipping a pint half an hour later, I realised why.

The way this team moves the ball around so quickly, puts in so much effort, is so clinical with its finishing, is so damn good, it would be even more heart breaking than 2013 if we didn’t make it on the final day.

They so deserve to go up for themselves, let alone us.

Having said that, if its the Play Offs, I’m now confident that we have the mental strength to cope with it. The reason for that.. Mr Jokanovic

4. Adam Segal - 16/04/2015

As i said on the mailing list the other day, let’s not worry about anything. We are quite capable of winning the playoffs if we have to go that route. Keep winning, and we’ll go up; it;s as simple as that. Norwich and Bournemouth both won’t win their remaining games. We may not either but ho hum. 😉

5. simmos - 17/04/2015

Listening to the game on 3CR was probably even more tense than actually being at the game because you are never quite sure where the ball is, although Jon Marks and Rene Gilmartin are both excellent. Your report on the game bears all the similarities to the commentary and another good job by you.

On a slightly different note, I find myself torn between wanting us to be promoted to ensure we keep our best players and rewarding our owners or remaining in this league which is far more competitive and less tedious than the Premier League but knowing we will probably have to rebuild our team yet again. Sorry to ask you to be my agony aunt but your views are appreciated.

Matt Rowson - 17/04/2015

Yes… doesn’t pay to think too hard about it does it? Fundamentally though hoping for us not to do as well as possible just doesn’t compute, whatever the perverse outcomes.

simmos - 17/04/2015

That was my logic as well. I want us to win every game but the PL can be soul destroying at times. Even in the glory days of Division 1 under GT we had some pretty boring seasons.

6. Wrighty - 17/04/2015

”as we all stamped grumpily around our kitchens lamenting the collective failings of Leeds, Reading and Wolves” yep, precisely what I was doing.
As for the game we gave the ball away loads, let them run at us, didn’t close down near the penalty area quick enough and wasted some good opportunities, and yet we won 3-1. This team has got something and it’s damn exciting, although as you point out maybe not great for our state of mind

7. Mark T - 17/04/2015

Just to let you know that the tension reached across the continent to Switzerland. Desperately trying to get my ipad to work on WiFi after returning from the restaurant….very happy to see the scope after I had convinced myself that Forest would win….


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