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Watford 1 Manchester United 2 (21/11/2015) 22/11/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- I’d been looking forward to this.  A lot. Not, as the away end would have you believe, because “we were only here to see United”.  It’s exciting to be at the top table (or near it… United now only one of the top teams), but frankly anyone would have done.  Swindon.  Barnsley.  Palace.  Any of our bog standard opponents of yesteryear.  We were here to see the Watford, our team, and that’s what was always going to be needed this weekend, after a shitty week at work.  That’s the thing, you see, that’s what’s special about English football… the sheer number of clubs with proper support. That matter.  Which is why the occasional rumblings proposing reserve teams parachuting into the lower leagues are so misguided.  The approach might benefit the national team.  Maybe.  It would also suit the biggest clubs, which is where any momentum will come from – the Premier League itself is testimony to the success of the national team being worth other people’s sacrifices.  But the lower leagues are too important to devalue in the name of England getting back to the position of going out in World Cup Quarter-finals.  Or even winning the thing, frankly.

It’s cold.  Bloody cold.   This sort of detail doesn’t feature in any statistical record of a season, but it should, it can be a defining piece of information.  Think… Torquay in the Auto Windscreens Shield.  Fulham on the last day of the season in 1998.  Any visit to bloody Oldham.  Characterised by the weather. Lest this slip through the cracks of your memory, should soccerbase fail to expand their database to accommodate weather conditions, let it be recorded for posterity that it’s cold.  “Proper taters”, as ig puts it… so cold that even reasonable precautions in terms of layers, hats, gloves, scarves are nowhere near enough to repel the sudden icy wind that permeates before you’ve even got to your seat.  In which circumstances my two daughters were perhaps ill-advised accessories.  My word.  Love you, girls.  I had been looking forward to this.  Too much expectation, never a healthy thing.

2- The start of the game is ragged, and it’s impossible not to sympathise. Heaven knows we can barely stir ourselves to clap along, expecting the players to recreate ballet as the wind malevolently drags aerial balls hither and thither is unreasonable.  Disappointingly, United are far more aggressive and punchy than we are, and naturally this isn’t how it should be at all.  United are allowed to be better than us, they’re not allowed to work harder, get stuck in more.  To bully us.  But bully us, ultimately is what they do…  Capoue and Watson both have decent enough games for the most part but we’re absolutely murdered in midfield for the first half an hour or so, Schneiderlin and the tremendous Schweinsteiger bossing it and forcing us to go long to bypass which asks far too much of Troy and Odion, game as they are to give it a go.  Jurado is back in the side for the first time since Palace, and while you can see the thinking – the value of finding space in a busy midfield was never greater – in fact he looks lightweight and incidental, as if he once again needs to get himself up to speed.  Anya, also, looks overwhelmed, not strong enough. Eleven minutes in Depay drifts onto a wicked Herrera cross and we’re behind. We’re not in the game for a while, hanging on.

For all that fists were waved at the discovery of the attacking options on our bench, you wonder whether Valon Behrami might have been useful in this situation.  It feels like a long way back… but with our shape just about holding out in the face of United possession, their forward line far less impressive than their midfield and the wind a bit of a wild card we have a couple of good chances and have dug in by the end of the half. Capoue mugs Ashley Young, who has had as warm reception as is reasonable to accept in this wind and has predictably been bombing on from right back, and gallops goalwards.  His ball to Ighalo is slightly behind him, Ighalo’s first touch isn’t great…  he manages to add Schweinsteiger to his list of victims this season but slices his shot into the crowd with Capoue screaming for a square ball.  Capoue is later the culprit, blazing over under minimal challenge from the edge of the area after good work on the right by Nyom.  We’ve had a poor half, but avoided the game running away from us and there are positive signs.

3- Half time, then, and gentle boos ring out as the teams leave the pitch.  I’m conscious that the boos reflect disappointment at the performance (and are influenced by the miserable wind) rather than the fact that we’re one-down to Manchester United but…  seriously?  Disappointing that after several years of the 1881’s relentless positivity in the face of lesser challenges than these, there are elements of the support who still think that booing a sub-standard performance is productive, intelligent and reasonable.  It’s not even about whether the performance merited it (which itself is highly questionable), but what you want to achieve.  Booing every weak performance whilst cheering the positive ones is everyone’s right, but is the coward’s way out.  “Us” when we’re winning, “you” when we’re struggling… not a million miles away from the implied cheapness with which United supporters are labelled by chants like “we support our local team”, which I’m sure they’ve never heard before.

I have my own confession to make, however.  Yes, the concourse is warmer.  No, I don’t go back to the girls and drag them into the hubbub, them having turned down a trip to the loo in favour of doing their bit with the lucky half-time chocolate…

4- The second half feels more of an even contest.  It’s still scruffy, and is “even” on United’s terms… much easier to spar if you’re already a goal to the good.  But whilst Aké’s omission in the wake of a busy international week in his first full season was understandable, we don’t half look tougher with the Chelsea loanee at left-back.  Most encouragingly, this isn’t a game that United are ever able to “manage”.  And yes, they’re understrength… but with the exception of recent call-up Lingard they’re all internationals, and there are two World Cup finallists on the pitch and another on the bench.  Blows are traded at either end, and both of the keepers earn their corn…  de Gea perhaps fortunate to find Deeney’s blunderbuss fired straight at him through the crowd… either side and he simply wouldn’t have been able to react.  React he does though when Abdi’s mischievous shot through a crowd takes a deflection that requires the Spaniard to claw the ball out of the bottom corner after it has passed him.  At the other end, twice Gomes denies Lingard… the second occasion is a bad miss by the youngster, failing to get the ball past the Brazilian’s massive frame.  If we were at the other end we’d be thinking “we’re going to regret missing that…”.  The suggestion that something is coming is enhanced by Capoue’s ridiculous humiliation of Lingard in the left back position…

And come it does.  Ighalo’s been kept fairly quiet, but is an eel in the box and Rojo is tempted into a silly challenge, wrapping his left boot around the Nigerian’s shin.  Troy, worth so much more than merely three goals in four games, doesn’t flinch and blasts past De Gea the first goal that United have conceded in over ten hours.  The cold is now truly banished, and we’re bouncing.  Obi Oularé, poised for a debut against a side he faced for Club Brugge, sits down again.

5- It’s truly aggravating that we didn’t withstand that late pressure.  Gomes makes a tremendous stop to deny Smalling, his save from the shot from the next corner is decent enough but Schweinsteiger buys a ticket by driving the ball across the face in hope rather than expectation and Deeney’s tired momentum does the rest.  The combined efforts of the side in the second half hadn’t deserved that.

But the fact remains that despite not playing terribly well we nearly nicked a point off Manchester United, and can probably make a case for having deserved to.  That we didn’t isn’t an indication that anything is “wrong”.   “Wrong” is the state of Newcastle or Villa, or Bournemouth blunted by injuries and incapable of putting away games that they’re dominating, let alone nicking points from the top sides.  We’re capable of being our own worst enemies in the stands though, and need to get ourselves sorted before next weekend.  Ostensibly we have three games – Villa, Norwich, Sunderland – that we’d hope to get points from, followed by Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and City over the festive period.  There’s a pressure suggested by that Christmas fixture list, but we can’t let our expectations, heightened by how well we’ve been doing, work against us.  A home game against a newly promoted side will be one that every opponent will pencil in for three points.  We need to go into each game with that in mind…  this games narrative suggested that we’ve got more than enough about us on the pitch.


1. Roger Smith - 22/11/2015

“We nearly nicked a point off Manchester United, and can probably make a case for having deserved to.”

It’s not much that we deserved a point, overall I’m not sure we did, but Man Utd certainly deserved to drop two for their disgraceful spoiling tactics in the final half-hour that so nearly backfired.

2. hornetboy84 - 22/11/2015

The last 2 times we were here we were pretty much relegated by this point.

We are now competitive and as close to Man United as we have been since 1988.

Some fans unfortunately just dont get it.

5 or 6 points from the next 3 games and then a run of 5 where if we get 2 we will be lucky… and that will really test the patience of the unforgiving few.

3. MartinG - 22/11/2015

Well summed up. Freezing. Flat atmosphere, unusually nowadays. Pub football in the first half where it must have been a record for misplaced passes. And we could still have got a point.

4. Adam Segal - 22/11/2015

It just shows you what a fine line there is between winning and losing in this league. I think we are learning and I’m really looking forward to the next three games. As for the boo boys, I’m sure most of them are our new found fans that have jumped on to the premier league bandwagon. I say just ignore their silly cakeholes!

5. Harefield Hornet - 23/11/2015

Great 2nd half performance to go with the 1st half performance at Leicester and the fact we’re irked about losing to Man Utd speaks volumes. Interesting that 4 of the 5 teams that have actually managed to beat us this season occupy the top 4 positions, which suggests we’re doing something right! – some of our supporters need a reality check on expectations already and I came very close to thumping the little T**t who sits in front of me after he spent the entire game throwing unecessary four letter word abuse at Ashley Young. As irritating as some of is time-wasting antics were, some people have very short memories, or perhaps the size of their brain doesn’t allow enough space for memories.

6. Goldenboy60 - 23/11/2015

After the excitement of entering the Premier League on a real positive note from last season, we are now beginning to see the real live situation we are in. We look like we can compete and boy we have. If we can can maintain this form we can celebrate a very successful year in this League.

As for the boos, it is to be expected because they do not really understand the game and just how well are doing, and I agree with Adam.

The club from top to bottom is still progressing and I’m sure the Pozzo family must be well pleased so far and certainly won’t take any notice of any small issues. They have a goal and only see the end picture. But I do hope the good feeling and the flags continue because our clb is a very special place to be at.

7. Goldenboy60 - 23/11/2015

Oh and just wanted to add that United seem to have forgotten the fortune they had with the winning goal. A) It was not going in. B) You have to ask why Deeney was in that area, but you cannot fault him because of his determination and team ethic. c) Without a United player there to tap it in, had Deeney not been there, it would have gone straight into the hands of Gomes. Game ending 1-1.

In all the reports and including the TV they all seem to have conveniently brushed that aside. We were well worthy of a point.

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