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Watford 1 Birmingham City 0 (18/04/2015) 19/04/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- We’ve not half had some games against this lot.  Some will remember victory in the Cup in 1960…  Cliff Holton helping the fourth division newly-christened Hornets to knock top-flight Blues out in front of 31,000 at the Vic.  In 1984 perhaps the most impressive single result of our run to the Cup Final came at St Andrews; Ron Saunders’ aggressive side came into the game on the back of a twelve-match unbeaten run in the top flight and had the majority of a 40,000 crowd behind them.  John Barnes ripped them to bits.  In 1999 a play-off semi-final concluded with an epic penalty shoot out that resulted in our second trip to Wembley.

That night at St Andrews was extraordinarily tense, a ferocious night of football.  We’d lost our one-goal first leg advantage within two minutes and battled against the tide from then on. The presence of Loz alongside me that evening achieved the impossible in making an already frantic evening all the more anxious… he articulated all of our fears and radiated them back at us, exaggerating them through reinforcement with clenched fists and terrified eyes.  A more occasional visitor to the Vic these days, Loz was behind me in the Rookery again this afternoon…  as the Vic drifted frequently into simmering spells of anxiety in the sunshine Loz was once again giving a voice to the gremlins in everyone’s head…  “ohhhhh god”, “not there….”, “we need to score”, “so tense…..”, “Nooooo….”, “Aaaaaaaaaaargh…..”.

2- That tension was briefly evident on the pitch too, at least initially, and never more clearly than when Cathcart clouted into touch a speculative cross that Gomes had come to claim.  Ultimately, the greatest impact of such incidents was on the mood off the pitch which, as already described, became edgy  as soon as the clarion call of the magnificent flag display had died down.  It was only after the final whistle in the way towards the concourse that it was pointed out that Blues offered very little threat throughout…  it hadn’t felt like that.  Certainly, however they set up to contain and obstruct and grab what they could on the break and if, ultimately, that threat was theoretical in practice they certainly did the destructive part of their job well enough.  It wasn’t until midway through the half when Guedioura, off beam in the opening spell, settled down a bit and Birmingham were increasingly penned back and resorting to clubbing clearances towards Donaldson that we began to look the better side.  Matej Vydra crashed a shot against the bar… from the Rookery it looked for all the world as if that had gone in, replays of the volley rebounding smack back off the woodwork incompatible with what had happened in our mind’s eye, the celebrations took a while to be abridged and bemusement reigned thereafter.  There are several templates for these games against midtable sides… on Wednesday we saw “nothing to lose, something to prove”.  Here we saw a side with no reason to do anything but make life difficult for us.  At half time they’d done just that.

3- Ten minutes into the second half Slav made a couple of changes and instigated a change in shape… that flexibility in formation that we now almost take for granted is serving us so well.  How many times in years past have you looked at a game and not been able to see a way out, not been able to see a way to change things?  Our squad gives us options of course, rich options, but that ability to change our shape almost – not quite – effortlessly is a huge benefit.  Layún on the left of midfield had again looked nimble and willing and elegant and not quite worked.  Anya as wing back made hay for his first ten minutes on the pitch, a new weapon in a different role.  His brilliantly assertive run in behind demanded a pass from Deeney, he dinked a gorgeous cross into a crowded box from the left and Craig Cathcart, surely an outside bet for Player of the Season, executed a quite brilliant scissor kick that won the game.  Just as Chris Holland’s failure from the penalty spot in 1999 instantly released waves of pent-up tension, the celebration of this goal was inflamed by relief as much as by the brilliance of the finish (that’s a centre half , that is).  In reality we hardly pummeled Blues for the rest of the game but we remained in control and made a few chances… Angela met Abdi’s cross almost immediately but couldn’t get high enough over it, Guedioura screamed in down the right but shot when he should have squared.  Off the pitch, everything had changed.  The furrowed brows and anxiety were replaced by songs and fists in the air and a few of those flags again and kids standing on chairs and screaming.

4- Through all of which, one figure dragged us onwards.  During the iffy nervy bits he was back in the box at set pieces and getting stuck in.  On the attack he was extraordinary, taking on all comers and tanking across the pitch often hauling woebegone markers in his wake.  Troy has failed to score against his boyhood club this season but has tormented them nonetheless… we dismissed Birmingham’s attacking threat earlier on in the report, but his inhuman ability to hold the ball up buys the defence time and relieves pressure.  He remains the most vital component of the team and was utterly unplayable today.  Let’s never take him for granted.

5- The whistle blew to great relief, much as we’d spent the four minutes of added time playing a comfortable game of keep-ball down by the corner flag.  News that Bournemouth had come from behind to take the lead late in the game against Sheffield Wednesday was treated philosophically; they’ll do what they’ll do and it doesn’t really matter.  We win our last two games we go up, it’s that simple. Still in our control, job done today, on to the next one.  The acknowledgement of the team was long and noisy, but gradually we detached ourselves from the Hornets collective and resumed our individual consciousness.  There’s a point at which this happens… probably when you move from your seat and edge down the stairways towards the concourses and thither back to the rest of your life.  Your mind enters contemplative mode, reflecting on the new reality given the day’s results and then towards your plans for the rest of the day.  Loz had hot-footed it towards Watford Junction at the final whistle.  My mind was on meeting Dad at the top of Occupation Road.

So the epilogue to the afternoon was its highlight, outstripping the bravado before the game and the crazy celebration to Cathcart’s goal.  In the busy concourses it became clear that the game at Bournemouth hadn’t finished,  crowds were dawdling beneath the Sky screens for final confirmation.  Then news of Sheffield Wednesday’s penalty award sucked everyone in.  Suddenly nobody was moving, nobody at all, and we were sucked together once again into a collective consciouness.  Not for over 25 years has reading Paul Walsh’s body language been of any interest, but here we were trying to judge how the penalty had transpired.  For a second the collective consciousness was fooled, surely the celebration in the stands behind Walsh indicated a missed opportunity, Cherries celebrating.  Until someone, somewhere, with an alternative source of information breaks the tension.  “They scored!”.  Then, this.

The philosophical angle went out the window pretty sharpish as you might imagine. Eyes were glowing, strangers were slapping each other on the back. Here’s the deal, then. If this team, this team that has risen above the anxiety in the stands in indifference to pull out yet another result having solved yet another conundrum and pulled out another stunning goal to do so, if this team wins at Brighton next Saturday we will be four points clear and disappearing over the horizon by the time any of our rivals take the field. It’s in our hands, in our control.

Bring it on.


1. ianu05 - 19/04/2015

3 clean sheets in 4 games. That’s promotion form that is.

2. Roger Smith - 19/04/2015

One of my favourite Watford goals v Birmingham saw Vydra break out of defence with Anya going like a train outside him. He took the pass, first-time cross, and Deeney volleyed it into the net.

“One game at a time, etc” – absolutely. But if we do go up, how long would it take to put a second tier on the Sir Elton John stand?

3. Peter - 19/04/2015

Great read as ever but I think what is worth mentioning is how much more of a spring board and balance Anya gave us as opposed to Layun. I appreciate the tactical change and I understand what a huge settling in experience Layun must be going through however at this time of the season we do need to not be selecting him. He has not got used to the physicality and pace of the league and if we are to play three in deep midfield play munari or Tozser rather than Layun. As a left wing back Pudil is the better alternative option – why is he not getting a look in by the way? Troy was simply awesome and is now so much more a person, player and leader than he was prior to his well documented issues. A better argument for reform and rehabilitation it would be hard to find. COYH!

4. Kentish Hornet - 19/04/2015

Firstly, which you seem to have somehow very characteristically and modestly overlooked, very well done on the article in the programme. I have thoroughly enjoyed BSAD and Bhappy for the last 20 years, thank you very much for all your blogging! Onto the game: when I heard layun was in the team I was worried. i am sure he will come good eventually but not sure left wing back is his best position and he always looks to come inside. he is for me short on confidence. anya for me every time and sure enough as soon as he came on, we offered a threat down the outside and et voila a goal – what a finish! as a former centre back (from a level somewhat below mr cathcarts!) those goals are always fantastic – the icing on the cake. and cathcart does the cake bit very well as well. another underrated player, who for strange reasons always seems to get stick, is parades. he has actually featured more times this season than anyone expect deeney, gomes and tozser. yesterday he was excellent, offers a real threat. We have to understand, coming back to layun, that it takes time to adapt. Anyway, my best man is a huge brighton fan and he tells me they can’t score for toffee but are hard to break down. Playing first is a big advantage. up to us to keep calm and be patient. COYH!

SteveG - 19/04/2015

While I’m never a fan of giving players a lot of stick, I can see some of the issues with Paredes. He has looked defensively vulnerable at times, although yesterday I thought he managed some clearances which combined considerable style with a no-nonsense approach. Going forward, he certainly gives us options with width, he has entertainment value and he clearly does worry opposition defences. Having said that, there is still in my mind a question mark over the quality of delivery of that final ball. As you rightly say, Anya made an immediate impact yesterday and while he, too can be maddeningly inconsistent, he has offered a genuine threat down the left hand side coupled with a decent record of providing chances for others. We have also been spoilt recently by a couple of stunning deliveries from Guedioura from the right flank which gave us game-changing opportunities. Matt’s ‘Helping Hands’ statistics at the end of the season will no doubt prove me horribly wrong, but I don’t get the sense that we’ve had those assists from Paredes. But no reason to give him stick – or Layun for that matter, who hasn’t quite ‘clicked’ either, but no suggestion that it’s due to poor application or attitude.

It’s another three points in the bag, though. Looking good.

5. Krisv - 19/04/2015

So pleased we’re top but it is by no means over yet. We have two games left against decent teams which are under no pressure at all. We on the other hand are under extreme amounts of pressure. I feel confident and we are in a great position but let’s not take anything for granted.

I want to commend the 1881. The Vic looked amazing yesterday across all stands and from what I’ve read the atmosphere was top drawer. Keep it up – you are making a massive difference.

Lastly – Troy Deeney. What a star! He’ll play in the Prem next season whether we go up or not. 3 20+ season is amazing but it is all the other stuff that elevates him to legend status in my mind. He simply makes all other players better through leadership and inspiration. I know there are other candidates for PotS but surely none will get close!?

PS. No matter the outcome – what an extraordinary season. One of the best in my 20+ years following the mighty horns.

RS - 19/04/2015

I’d take issue with Brighton not being under pressure; surely they need to keep a firm “eye over the shoulder”?

For me I’d rather play them while they need a result, rather than them being safe, playing for fun and trying to spoil someone else’s party (a la Sheffield Weds on the last day?).

Matt Rowson - 19/04/2015

agree with that

Harefield Hornet - 20/04/2015

And we all recall how effectively Leeds did that 2 years ago – albeit we’d lost our first and 2nd choice keepers. Can’t believe Eddie Howe had the audacity to moan about referring decisions going against his side on Saturday and even hinted at a conspiracy theory i.e. no penalty or sending off after the man who wasn’t fit enough to play for England (But who has payed every league game since) was axed in the box (yet again) Never mind Eddie – what goes around comes around!

6. Luke - 19/04/2015

Great fun listening to Jon Marks on the radio as he was confused why, 5 minutes after the game had finished, suddenly there were people dancing in the Rookery. Then the news came through. Much dancing in our kitchen!

Goldenboy60 - 20/04/2015

I would also like to add that watching from the GT stand on the TV monitors,the disappointment in Paul Walsh’s face that Sheff Wed had equalised said everything. Now that’s brilliant…..

7. Goldenboy60 - 19/04/2015

I felt even before the game that the result would hinge on the first goal being scored. Yes we were better than them overall, but until that first goal goes in, the game is not safe and as the clock ticks down we would have got more desperate, and left ourselves more open.

So the goal was scored at a perfect time when Brum would then have had to chase the game. But I never felt that quite happened. I also believe that other teams have massive respect for us now.

Same again at Brighton I feel.

The result at AFCB was not only celebrated in the Rookery, but also with large numbers under the GT stand.

I am concerned that Guedioura cannot play in the last game. His energy and never say die attitude has been outstanding, not withstanding his ability at times. And Watson got through so much work. Angella for me never put a foot wrong against an awkward customer in Donaldson. He and Cathcart were outstanding.

8. Ian Lay - 20/04/2015

Matt your writing seems to get better and better. You captured the emotion so brilliantly I could have sworn I was there. I, like yourself and Loz, was there that night at St.Andrews. The tension was incredible. It seems saturday was a similar affair. But the epilogue of your report was just so spot on and the video clip the icing on the cake. I could feel the emotion, feel the happiness and joy. Brought a tear to my eye.

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