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Manchester United 1 Watford 0 (02/03/2016) 03/03/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- I’ve done three trips to the North West this season and the journeys have, without exception, been rubbish.  It doesn’t matter how much of a buffer you leave for the M6, it always bites you in the arse…  this occasion, as the previous two, featured what ought to have been comfortable buffers whittled away in traffic jams, swearing at the SatNav’s helpful updates and trying not to think about how much we needed the loo.  I’m sure Altrincham’s got a lot going for it, but if the purpose of the trip had been to spend an hour crawling through the town in the rain I wouldn’t have forked out £46 for the match ticket.


We arrived.  We parked – mercifully, a pre-booked slot close to the ground, in time if barely so.  And we joined the swarm of people, a dark amorphous mass heading towards Old Trafford, cathedral-like in the dampness.  And we queued through several cordons of stewards, all perfectly affable and of course you understand the justification…  I’m even reasonable and polite when a steward confiscates my pocket torch – a present from my Mum to help me navigate the unlit walk home from walk in the winter months and resident in my coat pocket – because it probably was on the list of prohibited items that I should have given a bit more thought to.  It was only on the way up the steep staircase to the congested gangways and overpriced kiosks selling creatively terrible pies that it occurred to me that slogging all the way up here and paying through the nose for a ticket is questionable enough behaviour without having to put up with being treated like an idiot also.

2- And then we step out into the magnificent arena and everything changes.  There’s a vigorous wind with none of the icy malice that characterised the return fixture earlier in the season; this bluster adds to the sense of wild expectation, the dark sucking in and creating a bubble,of insulation against whatever’s going on in the rest of the world.  The away end, as away ends tend to be, is buoyant and loud and defiant.  And it’s like a drug, the whole thing… as the teams come out, it’s a hit… and all the stress and irritation disappears to be replaced by anticipation and utter focus on what’s about to transpire.  You don’t want to be anywhere else.


It helps that we’re great, of course.   This is not the Manchester United if yore in many respects, but this line-up in particular is full of kids, necessitated by injuries.  Shame.  And, talented kids, sure, but kids nonetheless.  Tim Fosu-Mensah, as Dave points out, could have wished for an easier opponent on his full debut than Troy Deeney; he picks up a booking early and though he stands up to the challenge he’s second best throughout.  We are not going to be humiliated here as we have been on recent visits. Indeed, with United’s attack looking lightweight and samey the home side look getattable.  And we get at them.

3- Consensus seems to be that we bossed the first half.  I didn’t see it that way… certainly we had the better of the chances, we’ll come to that, but although Memphis Depay made himself look an idiot twice by entertainingly skewing shots that were designed for the top corner but got badly misdirected en route there was no escaping that United were creating things too.  Many of our own chances in that opening period fell to Iggy, desperate to do well and suffering from a lean spell that’s reach the stage where every snatched chance, every bad decision provokes someone within view to lean to their mate and say “he really needs one to go in off his arse or something”.  Which he does.  He gallops into a free shot on goal… and snatches at it weakly with his left foot, de Gea fields easily.  He hares clear on the right and shoots when he should have squared.  And so on.  And the stewards behind us are openingly questioning whether their interest in him – such as it is, seemingly generated by his own reported support of United – is such a good thing.  Such thoughts are going on in many United heads, one suspects, perhaps Iggy’s too.

Thing is he’s doing most of it right.  He’s working bloody hard, and in both halves he’s getting himself into positions.   It’s just not going in for him at the moment.  Lest we forget, whilst his electric form in the first half of the season was wonderful I don’t imagine that many of us really expected that level of impact.  His reliability has been a bonus, but more than that it’s meant that Quique’s defensive emphasis has worked, since there’s been a reliable source of (a few) goals to capitalise on that defensive solidity.  Very well it’s done us…  but now, with Iggy in a lean spell, the lack of goals from elsewhere, the lack of attacking emphasis – Almen Abdi, for all his diligence, has scarcely been permitted to bomb on to support an attack all season – it’s more visible.  That’s not Iggy’s fault, something that escapes a critic behind us who bellows his impatience at the striker.  On a night of retro chants in which EJTMA gets a good airing, I like to think that this bloke was shouting “Get your chequebook out Tayla!” back in the day.  Maybe.

4- Ighalo’s current limitations are visible, but equally so are the gusto and welly that the whole team are giving it, him included.  Valon Behrami couldn’t look more menacing with a cutlass between his teeth (“Ray Train with no morals” was Dad’s view, one for the older supporters to critique…).  Allan Nyom is back with vigour and has his best outing for months, Holebas and Britos are on top of their games, Troy batters anyone who makes the mistake of getting in the way.  Ben Watson is just tremendous, his set pieces defying the swirling wind and causing havoc in a penalty area where we have the physical advantage… Sebastian Prödl, whose bulk is unmatched by anything United can offer, thumps in a near-post header that’s blocked on the line, and then has a strong penalty call as he bundles a far post cross wide with a marker hanging round his neck.

But the star is Étienne Capoue.  As obviously off his game as Iggy over the last few months, it was widely speculated that this game might see him given a rest with Mario Suárez, whose sumptuous late through ball bounces off Iggy’s heels, taking his place.  Instead he lines up on the left of midfield and puts in a virtuoso performance combining skill, aggression and a lot of balls.  The first half sees him have a penalty appeal which the BBC describe as “a good shout” but which we couldn’t really see – in any case since, you know, nobody died, he’s not going to get a penalty in front of the Stretford End from any ref let alone Mike Jones this evening. Capoue is our creator in chief, tormenting Varela… the away crowd sing his name and whilst I’m still kinda uncomfortable with taking other team’s songs and inserting-name-of-choice-here, it works this time and “We’ve got Étienne Capoue…” is the loudest bellow of an evening in which many players get their own chorus.  He responds by thundering a second half shot narrowly over from 30 yards.  Flame on.

5- So Mata’s exquisite free kick, as the Watford pressure was ramping up after United’s spell in the second half was repelled, was a choker.  Simultaneously worthy of winning a game and yet delivering three points that the home side hadn’t merited… we’d been on our feet, anticipating the mental when we finally claimed a big scalp.  It didn’t happen.  I didn’t leave feeling downcast though, as many others seemed to.  Losing is never good, but there are many worse ways to do so than this.  We were mugged by United (for the second time this season)… which feels crap, but, you know.  We were mugged by United.  They had to be lucky. We went up there, took the game to them, remained tight, created a load of chances.  We lost the game; trivially, if you don’t take your chances at any level blah blah blah.  But this was perhaps our best performance since at least the similarly choking defeat to Man City at the start of the year.  United got away with one.  Every right to be proud of our team… I was still humming “I just don’t think you understand…” as we pulled in at 1.30 this morning.  You ‘orns…


1. Harefield Hornet - 03/03/2016

Had to endure 3CR – I’m sure the commentator is a closet Man Utd Supporter from the delight he showed when they scored and Danny Webber’s glib comments didn’t help either. I understand it’s different when you’ve been to the match but I was absolutely gutted we lost this. Let’s face it this is the probably the weakest Man Utd side we’ve ever faced (or ever likely to face again) despite the fact some dreadful Arsenal defending gifted them 3 points last week. We are good side defensively and we’re never going to gete a better chance to beat them in their own backyard. An opportunity squandered I’m afraid, now matter how well we played against a very weak Man Utd side.

Matt Rowson - 03/03/2016

Jon Marks was commentating I think, and would take umbrage at your accusastion! In any case, you’re wrong…

As for result vs performance… you’re right, we’ll rarely have a better chance to win at Man U and a chance missed. But, you know, a chance of winning at Old Trafford. A little perspective, please. If the result was the only thing that mattered, why did you listen to the commentary at all? You could have checked the result later…

harefield hornet - 03/03/2016

I couldn’t care less if it’s Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool , Stoke or whoever. They are all top clubs and we are now in the same division. Christ I’ve waited long enough over the years to see us compete at the same level again. My point was that if we can’t beat them when they’re forced to field a weakened side, when will be them? As for listening to 3CR, it’s the only option if I can’t get to the match but the commentator did sound very happy when Utd scored! I haven’t got a clue why? Rant over.

2. johnsamways - 03/03/2016

Excellent, Matt – I’m referring to your comment as much as the report (excellent as usual). ‘Balance’ (‘a little perspective please’) is a rare treasure in social media (witness WFCForums!) – invariably it is present in the BHappy reports. Listening to JM on 3CR reminds the listener (no matter how ‘dyed-in-the-wool/committed supporter he is – i.e. me) that football is not (or more important than ….) a matter of life and death.
Surely, a little bit of perspective on this season,whatever the inevitable, transitory frustrations, yields the conclusion ‘A memorable journey to be a part of.’ Certainly up there amongst any of the past 62!

harefield hornet - 03/03/2016

Perspective is not relevant here.Man Utd played a weakened side who we ought to have beaten. I’m not the type of poster who goes overboard for the slightest reason if we lose a game.Just felt it was a missed opportunity and given the amount of times I’ve seen us lose against Man Utd going back to the 1960’s I feel think I have s point.

3. Vaughn Smith - 03/03/2016

‘Ray Train with no morals’ – classic. Who would merit being described as ‘Roger Joslyn with no morals’…?!?!

Matt Rowson - 03/03/2016

Roger Joslyn?

An uninformed comment, I just missed Roger…

Vaughn Smith - 04/03/2016

I was ‘fortunate’ enough to enjoy a couple of seasons of Roger – he was the absolute epitome of the caricature of the 1970s midfield ‘hard man’…no doubt some of the more senior users of this site will have ‘fond’ memories of him too…

Martin B - 05/03/2016

AKA “Super Studs”

4. Adam - 03/03/2016

I have been in the fortunate position of seeing every single game live this season with the exception of the FA cup games here in the US and I can safely say that this was a magnificent performance that just lacked the win. Yes, I am gutted as the next person but we have a terrific team,an astute coach and world class backing in our owners. We’ve punched above our weight on so many occasions this past year. I for one thought we’d be in a relegation battle (although I never thought we’d go down). I hope the team can go out there and enjoy the last 10 games and play with some freedom. Prodl seemed very down in his post match interview but he shouldn’t be for very long.I can’t wait for the Leicester game. if we play like we did last night we may well go on and win it.The future looks very bright and very yellow. COYO!

5. Goldenboy60 - 03/03/2016

Yes a wonderful team performance at high intensity and no shortage of nous and skill. We clearly did not deserve the result after that performance, but it is the realities of the Premier League.
Going back to Iggy, I just wonder how good he could be if his decision making was better at times. The team is ALWAYS more important than the individual. I feel that many times in his hunger for success he loses sight of the bigger objective. I can forgive one to two, but not squaring across for a tap in, in my opinion cost us the game. We were in ascendency and playing with pace tempo and no little class. I believe we could have won that game last night, as I agree with Matt that it was clearly the best chance we have ever had in the the League. Man U were ordinary, but of course are always a threat in any game no matter what their team is. I was frustrated with Iggy at Sunderland for not squaring it to Ikechi and putting the game to bed and ultimately getting very close to a Sunderland equaliser after that.

What I do know is that I cannot see any of the top 5 paying big money for him, because he does lack in many other areas. Amrabat looked the more likely last night after he came on and his pace gave them so many problems, but he too needs to work on his finishing. I’m not moaning because and as Matt has said the performance was one of the best this season. Can we repeat that performance and put the ball in the net, because if we do, we will beat Leicester. As for Iggy, to improve he needs to get his head up and improve his decision making at times.

6. MartinG - 03/03/2016

A chance wasted. Iggy can be frustrating with some of his decision making but he’s the one that keeps getting in to space and having the chances against quality defences. He’ll score a hat-trick before the end of the season. Enjoyed watching that game after a few turgid performances recently. We seemed to have our zip back.

7. Simononoz - 04/03/2016

Roger “Studs” Joslyn with no morals? That would be a sabre-toothed tiger methinks. Opponents feared him; we loved him.

8. Keith Endean - 04/03/2016

. I have been a Watford supporter since 1970, 52yrs old and work as a nurse. I have been to many matches away from vicarage road, each having niggles that makes you know you’re an away supporter. Hillsbourgh just herding the fans into the seats they want you to sit in not what it says on your ticket. Oakwell sitting you in the coldest windiest part of the stadium. Elland Road giving you a corner with the worst view f the ground, and others. It was always great to be able to stand in terraces when we were in the lower leagues.

Last nights visit to Old Trafford was one of my worse away experiences ever. I paid £46 plus a booking fee for my ticket, for which Manchester United even specify what size your phone can be. You cannot take a flask of coffee in. On arrival I had to join a large queue (only at the away supporters entrance) where we were held by a line of stewards. One trying to wind people up for being cockneys. We gave him a quick geography lesson about Watford not being in London and not the east end. After being made to open our jackets on a cold wet night We were then allowed to move forward in groups after having sniffer dogs around us to get searched. We could then enter the ground. Once in the ground it was the Watford fans who created the atmosphere. My step son (who came for the experience of visiting old Trafford) posted, Just been at old Trafford and not heard any Man U fan sing for the entirety of the 90 minutes. Even when they went 1-0 up nothing. Proper plastic fans. 75,000 inside and the 5,000 Watford fans were heard much louder. I wonder how many of the 70,000 were actually Man U fans! We then were kept in the stadium until the Man United fans had left (I guess they had further to travel) before being allowed to leave.

Watford has never been a club associated with violence. I have never seen a flare at a match. I felt as though I was being judged by Man United’s own standards of the late 70’s and 80’s and not entering a major sporting event in 2015. For fans such as me visiting places such as Old Trafford is a big thing. This time even thinking we could reasonably expect a point at least. The experience made me feel as though I had done something wrong just for following Watford.

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2016

Eloquently put, Keith. Share the sentiment entirely.

Keith Endean - 04/03/2016

have sent to 6o6 as well never know they may pick it up

NickB - 05/03/2016

Any relation, Keith?

Keith Endean - 05/03/2016

My dad always said he was a cousin but now I’m much older I realise he wasn’t but have used the name to help get tickets once

9. Moralee Reprehensible - 04/03/2016

Roger Joslyn…an absolute hero. Played in that League Cup win at Old Trafford in 1978, then later that season was single-handedly responsible for dragging a knackered team over the promotion line. My modern-day reference is Valon Behrami. His wobbly-shouldered running motion puts me in mind of Joslyn every week.

10. Vaughn Smith - 04/03/2016

For a top notch Panini pic of Ray Train and Roger Joslyn!

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2016

Good work. Football 80? My first album…

Vaughan-Smith - 06/03/2016

Even the players’ names are redolent of a different era. I can’t imagine a Trevor Putney playing for the club again. Great stuff.

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