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West Ham United 2 Watford 4 (10/09/2016) 11/09/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Well it’s not Upton Park.

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At one’o’clock it was pissing it down with rain.  We’d arrived early, partly because That’s What We Do, partly because I felt the need to justify Daughter 1 missing her gymnastics.  Partly because, you know, football.  Come on.

An away trip with the girls is still a gamble, a reckless dice roll.  Now we were sheltering from the rain on the vast Olympic Park next to something that looked like a melted helterskelter outside a bar that only admitted home fans.  The girls were starving, the only food on offer that didn’t involve getting drenched was a barbecue put on by the bar.  Fortunately there was a cashpoint too.  We were a captive audience, and charged accordingly.

The stadium.  Well… imagine Upton Park.  Its claustrophobic, intense scruffiness.  Now imagine something diametrically opposite to it. We were nine rows from the front, and bloody miles from the pitch.  There’s acres of space between the edge of the pitch and the front of each stand.  The lower tier is itself a bracing walk from the concourse across walkways suspended above the permanent but concealed and unused seating, some sort of ghost town.  There are still bubble machines, woefully incapable of creating any atmosphere in this vast bowl. Fittingly, the bubbles sink listlessly to the floor.

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2- There are bloody loads of people here, though.  “Where were you at Upton Park?” emerges grouchily from the home stands during the first half, but it’s an intimidating sight nonetheless. This was, we were told all week, when West Ham would spark.  Their big guns – Payet, Lanzini – were back, the new signing – Zaza – in place.  The Hammers had had a tough start to the season, their points total reflecting this. This was when their season would start.  “West Ham will win this,” opined Michael Owen. “Watford might struggle this season”. Someone pays him.

Much of that applied to us too, of course, but we’re still small fry, not top flight establishment, so few cared.  There’s part of us thinking that maybe some of this week’s papers might have made it onto our dressing room wall, so to speak.  All of which was forgotten as the Hammers started the game with exactly that thought – that this is game one, the game they must win, the game they will win – at the front of their minds.  They hit us like a train, and the stands made a complete racket.

3- We looked slow.  Or maybe West Ham just made us look slow.  We were behind almost immediately, a corner, one flick – two? – and Antonio’s angling his header past a helpless Gomes.  How did he get to that header?  Why was there nobody on the far post?  Too easy.  It’s a long way back already.

Actually we rallied a bit at 1-0.  Ighalo had already had half a chance at nil-nil… now the lively Pereyra suckered Masuaku on the right of the penalty area – with hindsight, a portent of what was to come – and Ighalo was teed up again, his shot deflected wide.  This didn’t last though.  The home side simply made it look easier, they were on top and enjoying it, like a dog being let out for it’s first run in ages.  The achilles heel of a three-man defence – someone, Holebas, being caught upfield and leaving the flanks exposed – caught us out.  The devilish Payet hugged the right touchline, Britos was too slow out to him and an outrageous cross found Antonio stealing in at the far post.

4- The most redundant thunk of the season, but one of those that needs saying anyway.  We didn’t see the result coming at all at this point.  West Ham were worth the two goal lead and were heading off into the sunset, or would have been if it hadn’t still been grey and miserable.  One of those where you feel the stadium closing in on you and just want it all to end.  It could have been anything at this point.

Here’s the thing though.  West Ham came at us.  Zaza wanted a goal and tiptoed across challenges looking for an opening.  He didn’t get one.  Antonio sniffed a hat-trick and galloped in from the right.  Payet lined up a free kick ominously after Noble drew a foul. It was blocked.  We were stretched, but we stood up to it… blocks and tackles; you’ll have gathered that things got better in the second half but Valon Behrami’s masterclass lasted ninety minutes, he was magnificent.  Kaboul was a wall, Troy was getting his head to things.  We definitely, defiantly, weren’t lying down.  And by standing up we gave ourselves a chance.  By not folding, we made it more than a footnote, more than a mere detail when Ighalo chased Capoue’s deft flick and his shot deflected beyond Adrian. We made it possible for Deeney to capitalise majestically on a complete catastrophe in West Ham’s defence.  Suddenly it’s half time and it’s 2-2.  How?  Because unlike West Ham, whilst we made defensive mistakes we didn’t fold.  Our heads were in the game.  You suspected that West Ham never contemplated the possibility of such resistance.  The presence of one Manuel Britos (sic) in the programme’s player list, of a pic of Capoue captioned as Holebas, was consistent with the national press’s billing of the Hornets as bit-part players, a supporting act.  West Ham believed their own publicity and found themselves level at the break in a game that they should, could, have had in the bag.

Incidentally it was also at 2-0 down that Sofia had remembered that her yellow Watford teddy, whose match-influencing powers seem to wane when left forgotten in my backpack, had not been brought out to witness the game…

5- The second half was the best football Watford have played for some considerable time, certainly since Arsenal in the cup, arguably this calendar year.  We took the bag that West Ham thought the game was safely tucked away in, emptied it, clubbed them round the head with it, popped Dimitri Payet inside and lobbed it to Younes Kaboul who drop-kicked it into the stinking River Lea.

Front and centre of this masterclass was the midfield trio of Behrami, Capoue and Pereyra. Valon and Capoue have looked utterly content in their new roles this season already despite our modest points total to this point.  Behrami is the pit-bull, cut out to do the dirty work.  He was fearsome and magnificent, full of ferocious blocks and tackles with his best lunatic stare and blood dripping from his jaws.  Capoue is relishing the licence to get forward a bit more, and loves the box-to-box role of the three.  He clubbed in a third to put us ahead for the first time after teasing now fretful West Ham defenders on the edge of the box.

And now there is a conductor, a string-puller, someone to tease things apart and let the liquid flow through the cracks.  Pereyra’s 45 minutes against Arsenal had been hugely encouraging, but in the context of a game against a side who also (perhaps more credibly) believed their game was won and of us being desperate for him to prove his worth there was the concern that we’d imagined his impact, over-egged the pudding in our minds.  Given him an impossible billing to live up to.  Not a bit of it.  Elegant, mischievous, industrious, class.  An absolute joy.  These three are now the core of the team, and we won’t go far wrong if they stay fit.

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6- You’ll have heard about the disturbances in the crowd, none of which were terribly near to us but plenty of which was clearly visible.  Blog posts from home supporters pre-match confirm that this was far from being a one-off… segregation both in the stands and in the concourses was grotesquely inadequate.  Complacent, even.  Yes, football has become a politer, more pleasant thing over the years.  But this isn’t cricket.  People are going to get over excited and in a fifty-odd thousand crowd you’re going to get some idiots by the law of averages.  If you’re raking in revenue from this enormous and extraordinary level of interest having taken advantage of an unusually generous set of circumstances then the very least you can do is ensure that the vast majority who want to simply go and watch their team are able to do so safely.  West Ham lost a two goal lead at home, but their biggest embarrassment was off the pitch.

7- Meanwhile, Jose Holebas snaffled a fourth as West Ham backpedalled, completely incapable of changing the direction that this game had decisively decided to travel in.  Much of the rest of it consisted of Watford possession, passing the ball out of reach of their wearying opponents.  The Hammers had possession too but their chances were remote, half-glimpses of an opening.  Even when Fletcher, on as a sub, won a knock-down to create a clear chance Gomes was there to block before the offside flag was noticed.  At that point the game was up, and the home stands were emptying.

In front of us, Pereyra slalomed through the Hammers’ defence and would have brought the house down (or our little bit of it) but couldn’t quite find the finish.  The subs were all significant – Prödl replaced Kaboul to get his head onto ever more hopeful crosses, Success and Okaka demonstrated another big improvement on last term – attacking threat from the bench, options that allowed Troy and Iggy a rest.  Both had chances… Success screamed in on goal but flicked his effort narrowly wide.  Okaka bundled Kaboul’s knock-down into the roof of the net and celebrated for half a second before seeing the flag.  Burdened with relatively low expectation (a multi-million pound signing with low expectation.  Jesus) he was a muscled, boisterous pain in the arse; with huge upper body strength he had the physique of Johnny Bravo and was precisely what West Ham didn’t need in the circumstances, until doing his hamstring and leaving us to see the game out with ten men. He’s a favourite already.

8- So much for the tough start to the season.  We’d all have taken four points, I think, and United on Sunday suddenly becomes a free punch.  Whilst we’re always going to be vulnerable defensively the magnitude of the achievement, wresting what should have, could have, in so many other seasons would have been a runaway cathartic home win from their grasp is every bit as immense as it sounds.   Michael Owen’s column next week will suggest that Watford might surprise one or two people.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a team.

Yooorns.

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Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 11/09/2016

Quite an extraordinary afternoon in many ways. Being a veteran of countless trips to Upton Park since the 1970’s I decided to leave my daughter at home. And given I was sitting where most of the trouble occurred near the top of the upper tier I’m glad I did! Any anxiety for my own safety was more than offset by that wonderful performance in the 2nd half.My god we rubbed their noses in it. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch;

2. Kentish hornet - 11/09/2016

Great report as always Matt thank you.

Definitely an ” I was there moment” which my two boys and I absolutely loved. While I didn’t see us coming back at 2-0 down – it had arsenal MKII written all over it – I did predict beforehand a high scoring game and sure enough there was comedy defending in spades. We looked shocked at 2-0 and it could have easily been 3 or 4 – what on earth Janmaat was trying to do I have no idea when he hit his own post under no pressure. But as you say we didn’t let our heads drop and Deeney and other senior players revitalised us. Great team spirit.

The midfield as you say was superb and Peyrera will rightly get the plaudits but I thought holebas and Janmaat were excellent going forward ( if not exactly rock like at the back). The fourth goal was all holebas a great tackle on payet who was left flat on the ground and then he’s shooting from edge of their box – goal! Kaboul was also good very strong and dominant and brings the ball out well. Slightly different to poor old wet spams cbs who got bullied by a resurgent Deeney

The crowd trouble was totally avoidable. Having got the stadium for free the unpleasant owners have skimped on proper barriers between home and away fans and have the worst stewarding I have ever seen. No police at all. Bottles coins and beer flying into the lower area and it was worse in the upper. Someone is going to get hurt sadly it was like being back in the 80s.

But a few cretinous home fans, dodgy defending by West Ham and toxic owners can’t take away from a wonderful experience . I would say our best away league performance for many years, above all to come back away from 2-0 down and score 4 goals in about 20 minutes is superb.m

Finally, full marks to WM especially for bold substitutions : at 4-2 up we were still positive.

Looking forward to next Sunday !

3. Alan Ahern - 11/09/2016

We do indeed have a team ! We also now have a squad with some meaningful depth. On top of that, we have a manager who can make changes to the formation to influence the game. Under QSF I feel at 2-0 down it would have been a damage limitation exercise rather than an effort to get something from the game.

I too have confidence for the coming season on one condition – Pereyra must stay fit – he is the one player we do not have an adequate back up for. He will be the buy of the season.

4. Dougie Brimson - 11/09/2016

Excellent write up as always.

Matt Rowson - 11/09/2016

Thx Dougie

5. Keith Hannigan - 11/09/2016

Nothing like a Matt write up for the first win of the season. Better than the first robin of Spring. While there is much deserved praise to go around (that Deeney chip was remarkable), I agree with Alan – Pereyra is in a different class. Without him, we are a slogging team that hopes to get goals from sporadic moments of individual skill. With him, we are genuinely dangerous. I’m trying to stay level-headed (“We’ve only seen 135 minutes.” “The League is going to figure it out and start kicking him from the moment he gets off the bus.” “He couldn’t stay fit for Juventus.”) but I’m having trouble thinking of any Watford player ever who had those skills and significance. However, the haircut is tragic. Combined with the tendency to roll his training shorts up like an adolescent girl and we have a real problem. We need him to start hanging around with Ighalo and Gomes so they can quietly set him straight.

6. Back from Hammerau - 11/09/2016

My first visit or the Olympic Stadium was to watch a dress rehearsal of the Games opening ceremony. Although it didn’t include the Queen parachuting in with James Bond or Mr Bean performing the Chariots of Fire theme, it was still a memorable show and I thought it would forever be my abiding memory of the Stadium.
Step aside Danny Boyle and make way for Walter Mazzarri because 4 years later your creation has been eclipsed.

7. Lincoln Hornet - 11/09/2016

And then we’re up and running for those winnable games. And on this evidence, running like a train with defences scattering in our wake. Keep the faith. This could be fun.

Last weeks final paragraph. (Ever thought of being a clairvoyant (if that’s how you spell it!!!)

Great report as ever.

Matt Rowson - 11/09/2016

I saw no future in it. (B’dum tish!)

8. Clive Silver - 11/09/2016

Johnny Bravo …. absolute genius comment …. love it.
When he was introduced we thought oh oh, this is a bit dodgy. But literally within seconds he was running with the ball with defenders just bouncing off him … and as you say, a favourite already.

This game will live in the memory for a very long time, and your write up pictures it perfectly … thank you.

Matt Rowson - 12/09/2016

Thx Clive

9. Keith Endean - 12/09/2016

The press seem to have written us off already, just like last year, but the 4 same fixtures last year got us 1 point and only 2 goals, so a 4-2 win at West Ham and an away draw with Southamton both improvements from last season and we failed to draw with Chelsea so we must be favourates to go down


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