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Watford 3 Manchester United 1 (18/09/2016) 19/09/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- I should perhaps preface this piece with a warning; specifically, surprisingly and somewhat contrary to the popular line I’m not going to concentrate on the visitors.  It’s not that Mourinho isn’t newsworthy (he is), or that Rooney wasn’t shocking (he was), or that Pogba wasn’t comically ineffective (he was).  It’s just that there was another team on the pitch (no, really) and we’re really rather more interested in them.  You’ll find that there are plenty of other places to read about the team in red of varying degrees of shoutiness and one-eyedness. Unless, of course, coverage of the last week’s football has left you – understandably but incorrectly – suffering from the misconception that West Ham and Manchester United both managed to comprehensively lose games despite the absence of any opponent.  This would in any case be a bigger story than our humble blog could hope to cover.

2- So the other team, then.  Not the team in red, the other lot.  Bit good.  Bit bloody wonderful, by the way.  We’ve got used to looking back at the early eighties as our golden period, the highlights and the details etched on the memories of those old enough to remember.  Last season… last season was brilliant.  You can look at it and say… yes, well, different era.  Tougher now.  Standardise, normalise, put in context and “it’s as big an achievement as the eighties thing.  Bigger”.  There may be something in that, in a dull kind of way.  But some things don’t need context.  This is bigger than dicking Liverpool last season.  That was great, of course, but was special because we beat a name.  This time we beat a team – yes a name too, but a team that had been talked about as title contenders.  Hell, competing with them would have been an achievement.  But we didn’t just compete.

3- We’re a bloody massive team all of a sudden.  Even without hamstring victims Kaboul and Okaka – the fact that Kaboul, who looks like some kind of Marvel comics supervillain, doesn’t stand out in a line-up says it all.   And even those that aren’t huge – Behrami, Pereyra, Ighalo – are hard as bloody nails.  This was key today.  United are no shrinking violets, they’re a huge side too.  But we set about them with menace, energy and vigour and bullied them into submission.  Behrami tormented Pogba.  Holebas and Janmaat thundered up and down the flanks like angry rhinos. And Chris Smalling must have done something pretty grievous to upset the skipper.  Troy enjoys a good scrap of course, but most of the time he only runs through the opponent when he absolutely has to.  Today every run seemed to involve ploughing through the hapless United defender, as if wherever Troy needed to be just happened to be on the other side of Smalling and demanded urgent attention.

4- Which isn’t to say we had it all our own way.  Indeed the first half saw the visitors afforded plenty of chances, too many.  Smalling had the first and perhaps the best of that period, crashing an early header narrowly wide from a set piece in the first few minutes. Pogba, with no space and outside a crowded area, lazily slung a shot into the narrow postbox over Gomes and back off the bar.  Valencia broke down the right and sent in a cross… Ibrahimovic was hovering at the far post, poised.  The ball never reached him; Seb Prödl, on the penalty spot, wallop. Zlatan slouched.  Not for the last time.  The Austrian produced a masterclass to comprehensively blunt United’s focal point, the highlight coming when a rare slack pass from Behrami released the Swede and a flying challenge that was both brutal and immaculate denied him.

But at the other end, once we got onto the front foot we stayed there.  Iggy enjoyed the first opening when Smalling – who looked as unlike a commanding centre-half as is possible to conceive throughout – collided needlessly with De Gea to present Ighalo with an open goal.  He scooped his shot nervously wide in attempting to avoid the grasp of the scrambling goalkeeper and you thought “this is going to be one of those days”.  Iggy seemingly thought the same, briefly losing his focus and making bad, deliberate decisions before settling down into an industrious if unspectacular job holding the ball up and often breaking wide.  Prödl headed a deep cross back across goal, Deeney narrowly failed to get a touch.  Janmaat sent in a missle, Deeney ferocious header was clawed away. Meanwhile, hared down by Behrami, Capoue, Janmaat, Holebas United were increasingly rattled.  Passes flew into touch, to jeers from the stands.  This culminated in Martial being dispossessed by Britos on our right… I’ve not seen it again, reports seem to suggest that it was a clean tackle, “could have been given” at worst.  It seems that only United are permitted to benefit from such narrow calls… but on this occasion Oliver gave us the benefit of the doubt.  I was surprised, United too… Janmaat pulled back from the touchline and Capoue, precisely, fiercely, crashed us into the lead.

5- At half time we were happy but nervous.  Sam confessed that she wanted to go home.  Many of us would have taken a draw.  Unsurprisingly the visitors came at us after the break  and eventually equalised after a quick break in which Zlatan’s sudden urgency transmitted the genuineness of the threat; Rashford finally got the finish at the second attempt and the stadium exhaled.  We’ve been ahead at home to Chelsea, at Southampton, would this be more dropped points?  Ibrahimovic finally got on the end of a deep cross and Gomes was equal to it, pulling off an impossible reflex stop that provoked a standing ovation.  We’d all have taken a draw at this point.

6- We didn’t fold, as you’ll have noticed.  At West Ham we pulled ourselves back from the brink, turned a game around.  If anything this was more impressive still… a game that we’d been on top of suddenly slipping away, a belief that we’d blown our chance but done OK would have been, if not forgivable then understandable. Not a bit of it.  As last week, each of the substitutions was completely brilliant… Amrabat came on for Janmaat, who appeared to have hurt his shoulder after being piled into an advertising hoarding in the first half, and relished the hovering-on-the-edge aggression of the afternoon.  In the move of the game he released Pereyra down the right who pulled back for the second sub, Zuñiga.  The Colombian hasn’t had much of a window to show us what he can do, but grasped this one.  His finish, first time with the ball running across him, was sublime, unexpected and utterly marvellous.  Few, suddenly, were taking the draw.

7- The rest was just tremendous.  United picked up a rack of bookings as they visibly, comically, gave up on composure altogether.  Wayne Rooney, a fishwife who expended more energy bitching at the officials than he did in pursuit of the ball, was tormented by Pereyra as we calmly retained possession around the corner flag.  Echoes here of one of those 1980s highlights, Steve Williams of Arsenal in meltdown as we won the Cup quarter final at Highbury. In that game, Luther’s late breakaway goal sealed the win and relieved all tension.  Here Isaac Success, the third sub, broke down the left and turned Bailly inside out before cutting back for Zuñiga who fooled Fellaini into giving away a penalty.  At that moment we knew, and now nobody was taking a draw.  The away end couldn’t get out fast enough.


8- Superlatives are dull, but I’m not sure I’ve seen us play much better than this.  Certainly not within the window, twenty years maybe, that makes comparison halfway feasible.  From five opening games that could have left us pointless we’ve taken 7 and a positive goal difference.  That’s ludicrous.  Now comes a different type of challenge… games that range from those that we might reasonably expect to win to those in which we’re the outright favourites, a rare privilege but the outcome not to be taken for granted.

But that’s for tomorrow.  For now… well you just enjoy these moments.  As much as you can.  Suck it all up.  We’ve said it before, but these are the good old days.  Enjoy.



1. 'Arrow 'Orn - 19/09/2016

As always, encapsulates exactly how I was feeling. Keep up the good work!

I was worried about how we’d cope with the threat of Ibrahimovic before the game, but I thought Prodl was immense. And even with Man U using Fellaini to mark Deeney from set pieces, it didn’t stop Troy winning most of his aerial battles. Right through the team we just wanted it more, and that, as much as the skill we showed, was what was pleasing.

2. Harefield Hornet - 19/09/2016

Am still floating after this one! After the crowd trouble at West Ham and this absolutely monstrous performance I feel as though I’m well and truly back in the 1980’s – surely Michael J Fox will turn up at the Bournemouth game! And to cap it all yesterday the MOTD 2 pundits revealed, “well you can change your manager and lots of players every season but you must keep players like Ighalo and Deeney, because they hold the side together” Such wisdom as last – I’m in awe of their perception! – 30 years but it was worth the wait!

3. Adrian Rolfe - 19/09/2016

Damn right Matt enjoying this to the max ,to the woe of all the Man U fans at work 🙂 I couldnt be happier !

4. Lincoln Hornet - 19/09/2016

“Sam confessed that she just wanted to go home” That’s just how most of us felt but wasn’t it great to see it out to full time.
Great report as always Matt. I was lucky enough or old enough! to be at the game in 1986 and was looking back at the starting line up that day. I couldn’t decide how many of those players would slot into todays starting eleven but there are definitely a few.
Coton, Bardsley, Terry, McClelland, Talbot, Richardson, Jackett, Rostron, Cally, Blissett, Roberts(Scorer)
Answers on a postcard??

Matt Rowson - 19/09/2016

Yes, I was there too. Difficult question to answer isn’t it. I think you’d have to have Johnny Mac in any line up ever. And I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell TC he wasn’t involved. But the fact that we now have a team where this is anything like a balanced discussion speaks volumes in itself.

Lincoln Hornet - 19/09/2016

Good shout on TC and Johnny Mac but I’d have to have Cally in there. Everytime he picked the ball up you knew he would make something happen. I remember being at a game at Notts County and we were 2 down early doors. Cally got 2 crackers and we won the game 3-5. As I left the ground I nearly ran Mo Johnstone over in the car!! Happy days are here again. As its been 30 years I’ve warned my daughters to enjoy it, I hope you’ve done the same.

Matt Rowson - 19/09/2016

I think the gravity of the situation may not quite be appreciated. Nonetheless, daughter 1 brought a friend and the two of them were ferociously punching the air shouting “Deeney! Deeney!” at the whistle, so little danger of them not enjoying it.

Harefield Hornet - 19/09/2016

I was also lucky enough to be there! Was Roberts making his debut that day or is my memory playing tricks again?

Matt Rowson - 19/09/2016

He’d played a few games the previous season. His first goal tho.

5. Another Hampshire Hornet - 19/09/2016

From going ahead for the second time, I was reminded of a line penned by ig about the victory at Liverpool back in ’99…
“Repeat: Watford made Liverpool look shabby and amateurish.”
This looked very very similar to me (except better), and every player involved played their part. Truly wonderful.

6. simmos - 19/09/2016

At last we look a completely balanced side from 1-11 (or should that be 1-37). Despite the criticism at the end of last season it seems the Pozzo’s have got it right yet again in replacing Flores for Mazzari. No more stubborn square pegs in round holes with every player now fitting their position properly. Yesterday proved that we don’t have to put 9 men behind the ball when out of possession and we now have a team that can play attractive football and still win.

7. Wimborne Hornet - 19/09/2016

Your 1) is what really riled me about the coverage on TV. My daughter took my season ticket and I watched on BT Sport. All Jake thingy would talk about was whether MU can play Rooney/Ibrahimovic/Pogba etc etc. Its a bit like describing a boxing knock-out in terms of the defence of the beaten fighter. Poor.

8. Neil M - 19/09/2016

Spot on. I can’t agree more about the medias blindness to the superb performance put in by Watfords players yesterday.

There was a lot of talk about a ‘foul’ in the lead up to our first goal but in the context of earlier challenges (particularly one by Ibrahimovich on Prodl, from behind with no contact on the ball) the ref had no choice but to let it go. If that was a foul, then by the letter of the law we should have had a penalty earlier for a tug on Deeney’s shirt by Fellani.

I don’t want to pick any one particular player out for praise as all our players were magnificent; and just look at the quality we have that wasn’t even on the bench yesterday. I think it’s going to be a good season for us this time round. Well done the Pozzo’s. COYH.

Harefield Hornet - 19/09/2016

And similarly Janmaat was clattered in front of the GT stand in the first half without anything at all being given.

9. Adam Segal - 19/09/2016

Great report Matt, Thanks! I’m now intrigued to see how we fare in the next five games? It will be very interesting indeed. One thing for sure though is if we can play with the same application as the last two matches, we will be in for some very exciting and positive results. Hope the team can lift themselves after that performance. It was one of the best I’ve seen since we beat Liverpool 2-0 circa 1986 with that John Barnes wonder goal!

10. Old Git - 19/09/2016

Very good to meet the Talismanic Teddy yesterday, Matt! And Iggy’s terrible (and inconsequential!) miss would have wrecked the confidence of a lesser player – so it was very pleasing to see him putting it behind him and producing a heroic performance. He’s back to his early season form of last year which is great to see after his poor end to last season
And, Lincoln Hornet, it would be good to be reminded of the United team from 1986, if you don’t mind.

Matt Rowson - 19/09/2016

Turner, Sivebaek, Albiston, Moses, McGrath, Moran, Robson, Blackmore, Stapleton, Davenport, Olsen (Sub: Hogg, not used)

NickB - 21/09/2016

You forget what rubbish masqueraded as Man U during that period. Take out Robson, Stapleton and McGrath and they’d have been lucky to stay up.
Not that their counterparts of today look like worldbeaters…

11. Goldenboy60 - 19/09/2016

I don’t want to think of this as a special day. Of course it was, BUT…….this team is different. Its a proper team, its one that knows what its doing, one that is growing in confidence and belief, one that will surely get every WFC fan right behind them, even if it goes wrong in a game. Its one that could be hugely respected by the big guns. In fact we could well be one of them….

The story since 2012 is one I think that will be written in many books. I wonder where we will be in 2020, but if what we’ve seen is anything to go by, boy what an era it will be….

This is mindful of the way I felt in the very early 80’s when you just knew that something very special was happening.

By the way, who agrees with me that our stadium is the best it has ever been by a very long distance. Vibrancy, colour, atmosphere, excitement…..BELIEF!

Enjoy this journey because we could be on a very fortunate and hugely enjoying ride.

12. jeremy ottman - 19/09/2016

At 1-1, when Man Utd were in the ascendancy, my son Jack asked` what does Mazzari do now`?
Like most regular football watchers, I am rarely short of an opinion, especially when it involves giving unsolicited advice to the manager from my seat in the Rookery.
This time, I had no words of wisdom to impart.
Like most, I suspect, I thought we would struggle to hold on to one point.
Strangely, enough, I didn`t foresee Capoue being removed and being replaced by Juan Zuniga, who had underwhelmed against Gillingham.
Nor did I see him scoring his first goal since 2012 which, as you so rightly say was `sublime… and utterly marvellous`.
Football, don`t you just love it?…..

13. tonyfirasse - 19/09/2016

Fantastic report as usual, Matt! Couldn’t help thinking how we have got better value with OUR club record signing from Juventus! Great to see Walter so happy and pumped up at the end of the match, seen live and unforgettably on TV here in Abu Dhabi.

14. David Allen - 19/09/2016

A great football match is a roller-coaster of emotions – the better the match the higher the heights, the deeper the dips. This was one of those. Congratulations Matt for once again being able to put all this emotional upheaval into words that we can all share and relate to.

15. Tadcaster Hornets - 19/09/2016

Point 1. I’m all for us flying under the radar but yesterday’s coverage was excessively sick-making. Not just the telly but also boring old Radio FiveLive who barely gave us 10 seconds of their 10 minutes ahead of the match. And that was just the start. Made me wonder that if we want coverage perhaps we too should start losing matches because clearly that’s the way to go. Trusting that our press department don’t read this ahead of the Turf Moor classic next week…

East Yorkshire Hornet - 22/09/2016

Great game indeed!! Tadcaster Hornets how many of you are there? I live just outside of York and run the Yorkshire and North East hornets with a friend of mine, are you in our group? If not search for us?!

16. rsnmccoll - 19/09/2016

As a hornet living in Colombia it was awesome, truly and inexplicably delightful to see Zuniga come on and show what he can do. Remember, this is the guy who ended Neymar’s WC in Brazil. He is a force and prefers attacking to defending. Seeing Watford on the front pages of the press here in Bogotá is a delight, everyone now knows who Watford are here. And of course, it was all about Zuniga and not Rooney et al, very refreshing!

17. Paul - 21/09/2016

Tadcaster Hornets?!! – There was me thinking I was the furthest north Hornet by latitude. Tremendous stuff – take me now, for it is truly a wonderful day

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