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Watford 2 AFC Bournemouth 2 (01/10/2016) 02/10/2016

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. There’s something delicious about an English autumn. Something charming and old-fashioned and gently melancholic, like daydreamily eating a delicious apple on a park bench in very light drizzle. The lingering sweetness of something coming to an end. I appreciate that many people hold great affection for spring and its tiggery springiness, but if you suffer from hay fever, the promise of sunny days ahead comes with something of a catch; it’s a bit like being mugged by Floella Benjamin. As for winter and summer…well, they just tart themselves out for Daily Express click-bait – the coldest, hottest, wettest, driest on record, at least since the last one – and no-one likes an attention-seeker. You never turn on breakfast news to find Carol Kirkwood talking about the most damply orange autumn since records began. It’s a lovely time of year. I expect it’ll be sold off to Channel 4 soon or something…right, kids?

2. And this is the bit where the real football starts. No, no…I was on holiday for that bit, so it bloody well is. This is the bit where it all begins to sort itself out: where Stoke start to be Stoke, where Arsenal start to be Arsenal, and so on. The musical chairs for billionaires that is the transfer window is all done with, the league table begins to take some kind of shape, the first managers fall like yellowing leaves. Or in the case of this week’s high profile casualty, like great big thudding conkers.

3. Much of the reaction to Sam Allardyce’s departure has expressed different degrees of anger and dismay at the idea of the England manager’s salary being apparently insufficient; the word “greed” has featured prominently, as if, somehow, greed weren’t the foundation upon which the entirety of modern football were built. I’m not sure that greed is quite the right deadly sin, anyway. Hubris, perhaps, is more accurate. An essential part of a manager’s job is, at pretty much all times, to be the most important person in the room. And it turns out that being the most important person in the room might actually be a little bit addictive. Who’d have thought?

4. For a while, it was terribly fashionable to admire Eddie Howe for appearing to be someone capable of holding a conversation rather than merely delivering a lecture. And then, for a while and possibly still now, it was terribly fashionable to sneer at all of that as middle class fluff, the superficial gloss over a less flattering profile, just Aidy Boothroyd in a wig. But this week’s events ought to remind us that simple humility isn’t cheap: among managers, both past and present, there are very few who’d think that anything even slightly interesting might occur during the bit when you’re talking and they’re pretending to listen.

I’m projecting onto Eddie Howe, of course. I’ve never met him, probably never will, and might find him an insufferable pardew if I did. But he seems like a man who might not require a massive desk to lord it behind, who might speak quietly sometimes, who might enjoy a cup of tea rather than, say, a pint of wine. Perhaps the day will come when there are too many of those people in football, but it seems unlikely. I bet he’s about to pop up and say something utterly infuriating on Match of the Day now. Bastard.

5. There’s little to the mini-rivalry with Bournemouth, really. It isn’t that there’s nothing of substance. Rather, it’s that there’s nothing but substance: any proper rivalry requires an element of the patently unreasonable and flagrantly irrational to stoke its fires, it requires something to pass down to the next generation. Wash your mouth out, son. Nevertheless, games with Bournemouth have been terrific fun since their arrival in the Championship a few years ago: the pleasing openness of their football and the apparent decency of their manager don’t obscure more than an element of the irritable and irritating. There’s not no Boothroyd in their DNA.

6. Most of the first half was spent digesting a lunch consumed in great haste barely half an hour previously. The football had a certain indigestible quality itself: we began intently and earnestly in the manner of a side wishing to right some of Monday’s wrongs, bright and confident in possession and disappointed at Odion Ighalo’s failure to convert an early opportunity. Different game if that goes in. Obviously.

But gathering irritation at Mike Dean’s petty interventions culminated in a booking for Sebastian Prodl and a ticking-off for Walter Mazzarri, and it felt as if we began to lose our focus. A certain fragility was revealed by our willingness to become the victims; we needed to brush it off and get back to the football, but we fell into squabbling and quibbling, and it was one of those occasions when a home crowd doesn’t really help very much. At the umpteenth contentious free kick, Bournemouth caught us napping, and Wilson snuck ahead of Prodl to meet a deflected cross and, predictably, wind up the crowd a little further with his celebration. We needed to take a few deep breaths. We needed a bit of a break.

7. There wasn’t much sign as it kicked off, but the second half was an absolute belter. Our efforts to get Nordin Amrabat into the game – very much the key, in the absence of any real threat on the left and significant congestion in the middle – eventually paid off as excellent work in wriggling out of a challenge and cutting to the by-line was tidily converted by Troy Deeney. I’ve been frustrated by Amrabat until now, by his frequent failure to influence the game rather than merely enthusiastically participate in it, and his name would’ve been among those bearing a question mark a month ago. But he more than delivered on this occasion, quality and quantity and variety. Add consistency to that and you’d suddenly have quite a player. (Yeah, six million. Times have changed.)

8. Of the new faces – to me, at least – the most obviously eye-catching is naturally Robert Pereyra, not least for his striking resemblance to Craig Ramage on one of his bothered days. The same low-footed sway, head aloft, ball held under a spell, challenges brushed aside. I found Ramage exasperating, but I confess to a shiver of nostalgia. Something wondrous about a player so in command of his art.

But then all of that is cast into shadow by the arrival of Isaac Success, who somehow manages to get involved in virtually everything during his half hour on the pitch, as irrepressible as Eric Morecambe with a trombone. The Pozzo era has brought us no small number of very large forwards, several of whom have made no impact whatsoever. But Success looks like a different prospect altogether: he’s nigh on unplayable here, a remarkable combination of fleet-footed winger and massive centre forward, equally happy skipping past tackles out wide as hurling himself at crosses in the middle. The only flaw is that he can’t cross to himself. Bournemouth simply don’t know what to do with him.

9. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Deeney’s equaliser really starts the fun. It’s been a sensible, coherent and slightly boring game of football, the kind that’d wear matching socks from M&S. From here on, it’s a descent into joyful chaos, end-to-end bedlam, trousers hurled to the wind, shoes in a gutter, asleep in a roundabout flowerbed. It’s thrilling and splendid. As we digest the idea that we might be onto a win, Wilshere cuts inside, picks his spot and hits the base of the post. He hits pretty much exactly the same spot again later for good measure, before strolling off for a rest. (I got the memo about Wayne Rooney, but I seem to be have been out of the room when everyone decided that Jack Wilshere was a bit of a laughing stock. Still, boo and so forth.)

The order of events starts to blur; there’s too much going on at both ends. Deeney meets another cross, just a little short of the desired power, Boruc saves low. King wanders forward after Holebas misjudges a high ball and his low drive takes a deflection and careers past Gomes. Success wins a free kick and converts it to level again, gliding a beautiful near post header into the top corner. A free kick wallops against the bar with Gomes beaten. There are scrambles, scares; Deeney attempts to score with what can best be described as an overhead backheel. It’s hectic, chaotic, not a little fractious too. It deserves a winning goal, something to crown the final fifteen minutes whether for good or ill. Something to bring the house down.

10. It doesn’t get it, but still. We’d have shut up shop with ten minutes to go last season, brought on an extra holding midfielder to help the valiant Behrami, taken the point. There may come a time when that seems appealing again; there’s nothing fun about throwing a game away, after all, and much of our defending here was somewhere south of precarious. But for now, the lack of caution, and the sense of conviction, is really rather wonderful. Both dismissed as cannon fodder only recently, but neither of these sides ought to struggle, neither ought to be looking downwards in January.

11. A spectacular cloudburst floods the streets on the way back to the station. Autumn is fleeting; that’s part of its charm. Winter soon enough. Long months. But nothing to fear. Surely, nothing to fear.

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Comments»

1. thehornet35 - 02/10/2016

Chose this as the first opportunity to take the misses to a game at the Vic, mainly as this was the first chance we had due to her busy work rota. Glad it ended up that way though as the second half was rollickingly good fun. I think it wouldn’t have been harsh on us for Bournemouth to have won, and in fact I turned to her after 70 minutes and said “it doesn’t matter who wins its been a good game of football”. The next fifteen were mainly in the hands of them, a degree of luck maybe to get a point. But I left with a smile, glad that the fiancée had seen an entertaining game, and glad we hadn’t lost. I’m looking forward to seeing Success a little more, and looking forward to more fun at the Vic, win, loose or draw.

2. Roger Smith - 02/10/2016

Thanks, Ian for a host of allusions that had me chuckling, but summed up on MoTD as a thoroughly entertaining game, despite or perhaps because of the best efforts of Mike Dean.

3. Paul Caruso - 02/10/2016

Whimsy, analysis and charm. Nostalgic thoughts of a Blaupunkt-bedecked Ramage on my programme cover, mitre stripe ball at feet, cycling shorts and wet parted hair still perfectly in place. Have Kirsty Young read these reports for an audiobook for my commute and I will moan nevermore.

4. qm - 02/10/2016

Yes, and also we were in the downpour towards the station. Accurate in all respects. Great reporting, thank you.

5. Nick B jnr - 02/10/2016

Just brilliant

6. Stuart Campbell - 02/10/2016

Thanks IG. Classy piece.

I couldn’t get to the Vic yesterday due to a combination of ManFlu and, these days, living a long way from the Vic. Listening to Derek Payne on Internet radio and watching MOTD through a haze of Lemsip doesn’t quite deliver the essence of the game. And, to be honest, sharing the downburst back to the station would not have been wise for a sneezing old fart with a dodgy leg.

It seems we’re getting closer to being a really effective premier league team. Despite missing two or three first team picks we held our own against a decent side. Both Bournemouth and the ‘Orns have become media benchmarks for survival teams. We’re both a grade better than that.

Judging a new manager/chief coach this early is obviously absurd. But there’s an exciting new tendency to go for goals rather than settle for the draw. Wonder what Luther thinks?

I’ll be there for the next home game. Even if it takes an efffing zimmer on top of efffing Virgin East Coast. Great days. You’Orns!

7. Andy M - 02/10/2016

Superbly written! Rather glass half full but like it!

Ian Grant - 03/10/2016

Thanks…and yes, fair point. It felt like an occasion to enjoy rather than to quibble with, but I’m aware that had one, two or even three of those woodwork moments turned out differently, everyone would have a much gloomier take on it all.

Matt Rowson - 03/10/2016

True… but had King’s shot not taken a cannon of Kaboul’s privates, or Troy had tucked his header a few inches further into the corner…. Bournemouth are decent, and had just beaten a flying Everton. A good afternoon all round.

8. peter tomlin - 03/10/2016

Our louder and much joyous all four sides of the Vic we score when we want was memorable moment for me

9. Dave Jackson - 06/10/2016

“…Aidy Boothroyd in a wig”……
“… might find him an insufferable Pardew”
Great comments about cuddly Eddie

10. JohnF - 06/10/2016

Harking back to West Ham, the Football Supporters Federation wants to hear from Watford Fans about their experiences at the West Ham game – http://www.fsf.org.uk/latest-news/view/appeal-for-information-on-west-ham-united-london-stadium-experience


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