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Chelsea 4 Watford 3 (15/05/2017) 16/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- This kind of doesn’t need an intro does it?  Whether you’ve been experiencing the last few months by attending games or watching on from greater distance you can’t have been looking forward to this.  Chelsea’s title having been confirmed on Friday didn’t help matters at all… it removed the final straw to be clung to, the one where there might be a nagging nervousness in the home stands, something that still needed sorting if we could just hold out for 20 minutes or so.

So much for that.  Now it was going to be a party.  The Underground screwing around didn’t improve our mood, nor did the drizzle.  Gallows humour was in full flow by the time we got to Stamford Gate; we navigated a bizarrely well-manned but porous corridor of stewards that seemed to have been planned by the guy who designed games for Gladiators.  Analogies about our defence’s capabilities immediately presented themselves, one thunk sorted before kick-off.  Any lingering good humour was extinguished once inside by news of our starting line-up.  Shackles off, Premier League status finally definitively secured, and no proper striker.  Bloody hell.

2- An aside here to discuss Chelsea’s catering.  You’ll appreciate that as a travelling football fan with a healthy appetite one’s bar of acceptability is necessarily quite low.  Given a captive audience the food is invariably pricey, and the quality hugely variable.  Genuinely, variable… some places get it right, but we’ve generally been trained to accept anything edible albeit at prices that no sensible person in any other environment would ever contemplate.

But this was spectacular.  Will, first to the counter whilst the rest of us addressed other priorities, quickly and darkly warned us off the pasties.  “Inedible.  Genuinely inedible,” he exclaimed whilst brandishing something that looked like an old shoe containing an insole of dry mud.  Forewarned, I went instead for an object advertised as a tandoori chicken roll.  An inner layer of foil wrapping guaranteed that the contents remained hotter than the sun, but absolutely devoid of either flavour or texture.  The closest comparison I can draw is of strands of soggy, watery lettuce and lumps of soft chalk wrapped in baking paper and heated to a point that would strip the plaster off your walls. And I paid six pounds for it.  Naturally, this improved our mood still further.   It was going to be a terrible evening.

3- Which just goes to show how wrong you can be.  The first surprise was quite how warm May suddenly was… we located our seats and removed several obsolete layers until we were in t-shirts.  The home side, as anticipated, were in party mood;  their side contained a vast number of changes as anticipated, but retained a core of the senior side in Kanté, Hazard and Azpilicueta.  It’s tempting to view what follows through that prism of course… “we lost to Chelsea’s reserves”, but that would be misguided.  These are still excellent players, and we were missing a large number of players ourselves, injuries depriving us of four centre backs and two of our more creative weapons.  Chelsea made changes, but had the luxury of picking them voluntarily rather than botching a side together.

Meanwhile, further insight into our trajectory and some of that Modern Football stuff in the fact that the Chelsea line-up contained no less than three former Watford loanees of varying vintage, two of whom have seen significantly more action in yellow than in the blue of their parent club.  Nathaniel Chalobah was making his first Premier League start for Chelsea, four seasons after looking so elegant at the back of Gianfranco Zola’s midfield.  He was the pick of the three on the night, looking far from out of place in his surroundings.  Nathan Aké is a more recent Hornet of course;  his performance was decent enough though not flawless,  a fair précis of his loan spell last season.  Kenedy, the most recent of the three, was afforded an inconsequential fifteen minutes at Turf Moor in his Watford career and did little here to suggest that we’d underutilised his talent.  In contrast, Adrian Mariappa demonstrated that he’s come full circle since the days when he captained Sean Dyche’s necessarily pragmatic Watford side in the second tier.  Via Reading and Palace he’s back at Watford and now “Adrián” Mariappa, with a hispanic flourish, according to the tannoy announcer’s proclamation bellowed mercilessly into the away end.

4- So, that no-strikers thing.  Strictly speaking we weren’t playing with no forwards;  Niang was nominally employed in a lone striker role, albeit he’s rarely suggested that he’s suited to such a job.  He provided no compelling support for the decision here either;  our attacks, such as they were, frequently foundered on no target presenting itself in the box as the Frenchman too often chased involvement and the ball rather than providing that option.

That aside, the formation worked rather well for the most part which once again demonstrates how little I know.  It wasn’t just the formation though, albeit that might have provided a platform.  More remarkable, more rewarding, was the fight.  The guts. The spirit.  There’s been a suggestion, not entirely unreasonably, that whining about being mere also-rans in the top flight is a bit rich.  I can cope with the relatively mundane target of mid-table obscurity if it comes with a bit of welly like this, rather than the soporific acceptance we saw at Hull.  The opening 20 minutes or so were Chelsea’s but we were scrapping and fighting.  Seb Prödl kicked off an eventful evening by decisively winning the opening rounds in a heavyweight battle with Batshuayi, dismissively brutal in extracting the ball from the striker’s feet.  No less aggressive was Mariappa, who flew in with a laser-guided tackle on the briefly bewildered Hazard. Defiance on the pitch bred the same in the away end.

5- All of which could have been rather undone by our complete failure to defend a corner.  Scrapping as we were, Chelsea were nonetheless creating chances when they got the ball wide and from their first corner Mariappa bounced unconvincingly under the ball, others stood around looking lost and John Terry took advantage at the second attempt.  Of course it was Terry.  The inevitable procession suddenly stretched tediously in front of us; fortunately Chelsea’s skipper, who occasionally seemed to be depending on his more nimble minders either side, himself afforded us an immediate route back in.  Capoue was the grateful recipient, it’s quite conceivable that the game wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun if he hadn’t done so.  It was our first attempt of any description, and it was a gift.

Nonetheless we were behind by half time.  A corner, again, after we’d defended slicker, less formulaic threats more competently.  A near post corner this time, Janmaat flicked an inadequate header across the face of goal to where Azpilicueta waited to drive the ball home.  Down, then.  But not disgraced.  We’d probably have taken that.

6- So when Chelsea got a bit of a lucky break and went 3-1 up early in the second half we were once again lurching towards the humiliation we’d feared.  Lucky in the sense that they got a kind deflection from a long-range shot that set up Aké, no luck in him taking advantage and teeing up the finish.  It felt as if we were in danger of being overwhelmed again.

And this is where this stopped being just another game, a game in which we put up a bit of a fight but got dicked anyway, and entered the sphere of games that just need to be enjoyed independent of context.  Stuff the result, if you can’t enjoy nonsense like this just go home.  It turns out that Chelsea didn’t touch the ball in the two minutes between their goal and Daryl Janmaat bundling through to skim the ball into the net but that detail didn’t register at the time.  What registered was that we weren’t rolling over.  This is what Watford have been about, what we’ve missed.  Not bloody giving up.  Janmaat has had ups and downs and bumps and bruises over the season, he’s manifestly a better attacking wing-back than he is a defender, but with this one we passed the point where we give much of a toss about what he’s good at or not.  This was bloody-minded take that you bastards.  We rose from our resigned stupor as he progressed into the area and as the ball hit the net we were screaming again.  More of this. More of this.

7- At this point detail becomes fuzzy since we re-entered what was always the traditional away-day mindset, the anything’s a bonus determination to enjoy ourselves.  So the stuff on the pitch was incidental, although I suspect that this was the bit where Heurelho Gomes excelled himself.  Eventually, we brought on a proper target man…. Stefano Okaka and Troy had staged a particularly half-arsed warm-up on pitch during the interval but there was nothing half-arsed about the Italian’s approach to his twenty-odd minutes.  The game had descended into that very British high-speed wide-open frenzy; within a minute GT was getting his minute’s ovation (with significant Chelsea acknowledgement), within another Okaka was thumping a neglected ball low past Begovic. In the stands, all hell broke loose.  On the pitch, it all got a bit narky… Pedro added himself to the list of people you’d like to kick up the arse, given half a chance.  Batshuayi got off without censure when Prödl opted against collapsing in a heap on getting the Belgian’s forehead in his face.  The Austrian eventually saw red, cruelly if not undeservedly.  His was a Trojan’s performance in a side suddenly short on muscle;  he waved as his season ended, what flavour of goodbye we’ll find out in time.  It’s Mapps, Holebas and Walter Mazzarri at the back for Man City.

8- By which time Cesc Fabregas had struck the decisive goal.  Cesc Fabregas is a dick.  Not because he struck this fine and deserved winner, painful as it was.  Not because there’s any question about his playing ability.  But because he’s a dick.  Stop by on Sunday and I’ll explain why, and my daughters will think I’ve got a load of mates’n’that.

9- Not a lot to be drawn from this.  A unique game in unique circumstances.  A feather in Walter’s cap in this most bewildering of seasons, despite the result.  A decent showing, we’re still capable of it.  But most of all, this was fun.  That’s what I want from a night out.  A good bellow and a sore throat.  Give me a proper pie next time and I’ll be well happy.




1. Smudger jnr - 16/05/2017

Actually the lamb pie wasn’t bad

2. PEDantic - 17/05/2017

Glad you enjoyed the game Matt (if not the pies). I too enjoyed it for what it was, and of course that was a typical end-of-season game with no greater significance. Once again there was a baffling team selection with four players (Holebas, Amrabat, Janmaat and Niang) out of position, despite alternatives being available, but all credit to the team for keeping going and putting in a creditable performance, although not getting any points.

As a Watford fan of several decades, time was when I wouldn’t have dreamed of not going to any of the away games in London. Recently however I decided not to go to either Spurs or Chelsea. This was probably partly because both games were live on TV but certainly because I didn’t fancy paying £30 plus all the extras to see my team probably get hammered. I have been to eight away games earlier this season but this is a sad indication of the disconnection from the club I feel at the moment. I hope things will change soon.

Matt Rowson - 17/05/2017

Disconnection from the club or the team? Club is harsh. Team… yes, get that, although being dicked at Spurs etc is kind of an occupational risk…

Goldenboy60 - 17/05/2017

Its in the difficult times we supporters should stick with the club we love. We ask that of the players and should expect it also from ourselves. We knew the top 6 would be difficult to get points from. In actual fact we got 6 by beating Arsenal and Man Utd. But we have struggled against other clubs that you would expect we could and/or should have beaten, i.e. Hull. Those days are when the players don’t switch on because it’s not a top 6 game.

I want some improvement and consistency from them next season in that department.

PEDantic - 17/05/2017

Well, well. A change sooner than I expected…
(Yes, team more than club – agreed.)

3. Simoninoz - 17/05/2017

Whilst in one of the smaller rooms in the house just now I glanced, as one does, at ‘Watford FC on this Day.’ It’s a great little book. Buy it now! I wonder who wrote it? On this day in 1985 we also honourably lost 4:3 away in an end-of-season game to one of the top sides. It was Liverpool, who were ascendant in those days but were second to Everton that year. Matt tells us scorers for WFC were West, Beglin (og) & Barnes. For the scousers it was Wark (pen), Rush x 2 & Dalglish. Happy days then (as they are now) although it was a week after Bradford and Heysel was only two weeks away. May I be one of the first to thank Matt & Ian for their superb reports again this season? I hate it when you both miss a game.

Robin - 17/05/2017

By some distance, the 4-3 defeat at Anfield was the best game of football I have been to. Despite having lost, we left the game exhilarated and happy. It probably helped that the 2 previous games we had beaten both Spurs and Man U 5-1.

The following Monday was Keith Mercer’s testimonial at Blackpool, which we also won 5-1. Heady days.

Matt Rowson - 17/05/2017

I went to the manu and spurs games. Huge fun.

NickB - 18/05/2017

The Liverpool fans REALLY didn’t like us being two up at half time. Their reputation for fair mindedness was for me buried forever
that night.

Peter - 18/05/2017

I was standing on the Kop with a friend from L’pool – mouth firmly shut at half time. Best football match I have ever seen and mainly because we were not satisfied with 2-0 at half time we wanted to batter the Reds. It didn’t work out that way, but we earned so much respect that evening and I was proud to leave Anfield without having to hide my allegiance. God bless GT.

4. Goldenboy60 - 18/05/2017

Fair mindedness from the Liverpool fans tend to only come when they have won. It’s great for them when we go to Anfield for a 3rd round FA Cup replay in the sixties and lose 3-1, but not so when we are leading 1-0 at the Vic in the FA Cup. There was a horrible feeling that night as I looked at Liverpool fans crashing the gate to get in, sitting on the concrete of the Shrodells stand even though they didn’t have a ticket. A very threatening atmosphere only relieved by Rush ‘buying’ a penalty in the last minutes to beat us.

Of course I am not branding every Liverpool fan that way.

Prawn - 18/05/2017

Ah, Liverpool 3 Watford 1; third round Cup replay in 1967. I was studying in Manchester at the time, and drove over the 30-or-so miles in my old “sit-up-and-beg” 1172 cc Ford van. Being by myself, I made two big mistakes that night; (1) it being the days before crowd segregation, I bought a ticket at the Kop end, and (2) I was wearing my Uni. Science Faculty scarf, which was yellow and black stripes! Ken Furphy’s team, (Stewart Scullion and all), were outgunned that night by a frankly superior outfit. However, they fought all the way, and got their consolation goal right in the final minute. The Scouser crowd round me were delightful to this unfortunate interloper, though I well remember one saying to me at the final whistle, “Your little team played great; lucky for you personally that you lost though!”

A big THANKS to Matt and Ian for providing this Puerto Rico-based ‘Orn with the “Watford Spirit” throughout this sadly-underwhelming season. An enjoyable close season to you and yours.

5. Sophie L - 18/05/2017

Great report, Matt. I enjoyed it on telly, but this made me remember the sheer joy of Okaka’s goal, wildly celebrating from the sofa. More of this, please. On another note, my pie at Selhurst this season was so inedible I asked for a refund. The lady was set to protest, but had a peek in the pie and duly handed back my cash.

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