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Watford 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 0 (26/08/2017) 27/08/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- So.  August Bank Holiday, then.  End of the first bit of the season prior to the first international break, first chance to take stock.  End of the transfer window approaches too, a transfer window during which we’ve been linked to well over 100 players and have revised the squad significantly.

Little wonder that my co-editor struggles to keep up, feels less connected on the odd occasion that he makes it to Vicarage Road these days;  there are long-serving members of the squad but the turnover is extraordinary and unprecedented, and in this window in particular we appear to have made a conscious decision to up the ante, to start trading at a higher table.  You won’t need reminding that times have changed somewhat, that not so long ago we were grateful for Paul Mayo and Mark Yeates.  Some of us were.

Does it matter?  The high turnover affects Ian’s ability to keep up but does it make it harder for those of us attending more regularly to feel a connection?  Or is Ian’s detachment a consequence more of his occasional participation than of the ever-changing make-up of the team?

The happy bedlam of our pre-match meal offered no doubt.  A table for sixteen including eleven Rowsons of three generations, laughter, discussion and plenty of yellow shirts (my better half excluded, her first visit for over a decade sufficient sacrifice).  This is what it’s all about.  This is why it matters little who’s on the pitch really.  The Watford we support is more than a badge or a multinational list of names.  It’s us.

2- After a positive start to the season one of the questions posed by Tuesday’s defeat was to what extent our early optimism was enabled by our two League opponents to date both coming onto us and giving us some space to play.  Bristol hadn’t done that, and Brighton’s early reports could be summarised as “little up front, hard to break down”.  And “got broken down anyway”, I guess.

Our initial approach to this was hugely positive, the opening ten minutes or so purposeful and aggressive. For the most part Brighton’s defence held up fine, although Mat Ryan flapped excitedly at a cross and Nordin Amrabat found himself in a position where aggression was all that was needed, mugging Suttner on the right and bundling free.  He put across a decent ball that wasn’t converted;  it should have been. Meanwhile Brighton’s armoury had been strengthened by the return to the side of pantomime villain Anthony Knockaert, who proved largely indifferent to the crowd’s booing (as my brother pointed out, surely laughter would have been more appropriate) and provided the visitors’ most consistent threat.  He cut in from the right and fired a shot against the post which seemed to alarm us sufficiently for the game to settle back into some kind of equilibrium.  And then that equilibrium was irreversibly altered.

3- I say irreversibly, but their remained until half time the possibility that Bruno, already booked for hacking down Richarlison, would even the score.  His withdrawal for Liam Rosenior was only rivalled in predictability by his being booked in the first place.

But the big event was the Britos thing, of course.  This was a telegraphed weak point, telegraphed by Marco Silva having publicly decried our lack of cover at left back in the days prior to José Holebas removing himself from consideration in this fixture.  Before kick-off a discussion point was whether Britos, Brandon Mason or perhaps Brice Dja Djédjé would be asked to fill in.  Silva went with the Uruguayan, and much as his afternoon couldn’t really have gone much worse in this respect and much as the reluctance to field a youngster is in itself perhaps regrettable you can understand why he did it.  Mason has looked decent, but the most decent bits have not been the bits that would give you confidence in facing him off against the likes of Knockaert.  Not unreasonable to suggest that an experienced defender who has played left back in the past might be expected to do a better job.  Good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes.  Nor does Britos’ performance condemn him to exile or demonstrate his inadequacy, as some of the more excitable social media postings have suggested.  There are reasons for him being a more or less automatic pick since we got promoted (suspensions permitting…).

Nonetheless, and for avoidance of doubt, this was the most ridiculous, disgraceful challenge on any number of levels.  Accounts differ only in their choice of adjective, insert your own if you have an alternative preference. To give him the most generous benefit of the doubt, you could imagine as Knockaert put the burners on down the right that Britos approached the challenge intending and expecting to be able to win the ball.  Within the space of a fraction of a second, a fraction of a second exaggerated by slow motion replays, it became clear that this wasn’t going to happen and Britos made the decision to execute the challenge anyway and, by the way, much higher than the ball was ever likely to have been.  No decision for Graham Scott to make (else, on the evidence of his rather hands-off approach to the rest of the game, he might not have made one).  As an aside, something of a shame that Nordin Amrabat’s Watford career should surely be brought to an end in such a fashion as he was sacrificed.  His performance had dipped since that early high water mark but whatever his recent ineffectiveness his time at the Vic has been characterised by effort if not belief or end product, and deserved a little better of a denouement.

4- So the tone of the game changed, and if it didn’t suit us then, perversely, it didn’t really suit Brighton either since despite having the better of the rest of the game on the whole and creating more and better chances, they threatened relatively little.  Nothing in their performance – not even the lively irritation of Knockaert – challenged the suggestion that they will go the same way as Middlesbrough, tough and organised but with a hugely conservative outlook and without a cutting edge.  That lack of penetration will get them down after a while, indeed there was already evidence of it in Chris Hughton’s rueful post-match acknowledgement that they will rarely have a better chance to score a goal (let alone win a game) in the Premier League.  Many better teams would have penalised us, so in that sense we got away with it.

But that we did so owes loads to two things that were sadly lacking last year and have been evident so far in this.  The spirit of a side that buckled down and battled and battled and battled for the remaining three quarters of the game.  And the midfield.  That midfield that has never quite worked since our promotion despite the quality that it contained now looks absolutely magnificent.  The bedrock of Chalobah and Doucouré is extraordinary, already a thing of pure joy.  Chalobah edges the Man of the Match thing for me purely on the basis of that impossible headed clearance on the run off the goal-line, the closest Albion came to breaking the deadlock.  There’s been some tediously ignorant wittering about how unreasonable his England call-up is by people who’ve never seen him play and would rather call up someone plainly inadequate than blood a youngster who very clearly will be.  Both were tremendous.

Meanwhile as tantalising as the possibility of Richarlison, showing his physical strength and hold-up play more than tricks here, Pereyra and Carrillo, whose immaculate tackle and charge upfield was a late highlight, is across the front three of the midfield, it would be a brave man to drop Tom Cleverley at the moment.  He’s not stopped moving all season, and his dynamism here was employed ultimately at right-back in the end as yet another injury forced another re-jig; two unplanned disruptions to the team, albeit one of which self-inflicted, accommodated much more successfully than we managed last season.

5- If there’s a concern it’s the lone striker position; André Gray’s ask was thankless from 20 minutes onwards, he ran around a lot but was unsuited to the job he had to do.  He couldn’t get hold of it, he couldn’t hold up the play and provide relief and, more concerningly, there’s a fatalism about the way he responds to missing a chance already.  This isn’t Luther missing a sitter, not caring and being there to score the next two, this is eyes to the heavens “how did I miss that”.  Some complained that he was left to be ineffective for so long, but with ten men in the heat you can understand Silva wanting to conserve his one unenforced change in case of tiring legs in the engine room.

Meanwhile Troy looks combative but heavy and continues to be linked to any sub-top six club that needs a big stiker whilst Stefano Okaka, so effective against Liverpool, is significant by his absence.  His hold-up play would have been invaluable today in a game that you fancy we’d have won had it stayed eleven against eleven, even if we weren’t quite able to answer that “how will we do against this sort of team” question.  Brighton’s best tricks were inadequate against ten men, albeit new signing Izquierdo only got a cameo;  our attacking shape was limited by Britos’ dismissal.  We’ll see what the squad looks like in a week’s time.

But in any event, whatever the names, it’s still Watford, the things that are important won’t have changed.  Amongst the many Rowsons were nephews Toby and Jacob making their competitive debuts, two of our latest new signings.  Their enthusiasm, exercised down the front of the Sir Elton John stand, was undiminished by a goalless draw against Brighton that won’t look any better on paper by the end of the season but was a great, inspiring point in context.



Gomes 3, Femenía 3, Britos 1, Prödl 3, Kabasele 4, *Chalobah 4*, Doucouré 4, Amrabat 3, Cleverley 4, Richarlison 4, Gray 2

Subs: Cathcart (for Amrabat, 28) 3, Carrillo (for Cathcart, 47) 3, Deeney (for Gray, 83) 0, Success, Watson, Capoue, Pantilimon


1. Keith Hannigan - 27/08/2017

My word, that midfield. Chalobah and Doucoure are magnificent, the best pairing I can recall ever wearing yellow. I’m a little less convinced by Cleverly than you. I’m glad he’s here, delighted to have him in the squad, happy to have him get 20-odd appearances. I just think he is ultimately an average Premier League midfielder. That’s no small thing. An average PL player is a very good footballer but if our ambitions are more than hanging on to mid table survival (Gino’s endlessly talked up “Project”), then a player like Cleverly has to be around the edges, not smack in the middle.

More generally, I hate that every comment praising Doucoure comes with a “If he keeps this up Watford will surely lose him to a bigger club.” First, can we please simply enjoy a brilliant young player without reinforcing the narrative that there are only 15 clubs in the world that matter and everyone else’s purpose is to enable their hegemony? Makes me irate. Second, I think the assumption we will surely lose such players is last-century thinking. There is so much money in the PL now that success there is probably more valuable than revenue from player sales. There seems to be a realignment as more clubs are prepared to stand on their contract rights and not sell players just because a larger club makes an offer and the player is willing to go. The new Pozzo model does not seem to be predicated on selling anymore and I think the way they’ve handled Deeney over the last two years (reject seemingly overwhelming offers but keep the player happy with a lucrative new contract) is more relevant to the future than how they sold Sánchez back in the day.

I enjoy the thought of your bedlam meal. It made me wish I was there and could introduce my girls to yours.

Silly Granddad - 28/08/2017

Join the bedlam,Hannigan?! Your mad, daft or both.

Matt Rowson - 28/08/2017

His what?

2. Vaughn Smith - 27/08/2017

Sorry Matt – whilst everything written on here needs balance and context, you’re defending the indefensible with regard to Britos’s actions. I’ve not witnessed a Watford player behave like that in 40 years of visiting the Vic. He quite clearly intended to maim his opponent, and there’s no place for that at Watford, or indeed any football club. His protestations of innocence and refusal to leave the pitch or go down the tunnel further compound his guilt and lack of empathy/regret. Whilst i’m not clamouring for his dismissal/a lengthy ban etc, I’d be more than happy if he never wore a Watford shirt again.

Matt Rowson - 27/08/2017

I’m not defending anything. I’m suggesting that maybe the assault was a snap decision when he realised he wasn’t going to make the tackle. Maybe. But that doesn’t justify what he did in any shape.

On the other hand if your objection is to the suggestion that one albeit appalling tackle doesn’t make him a bad defender, we have to disagree.

Vaughn Smith - 28/08/2017

Difficult to respond to this as I don’t want to get into a war of words. Fully respect your views…but…as a Watford (and football generally) supporter, what Britos did (in my view) is unforgivable at any level. Anyways, let”s not fall out on this – i’ve never doubted his footballing abilities, but someone who’s incurring 3 red cards in 20 games (regardless of how they’re accrued) is surely a liability that needs discarding?

Matt Rowson - 28/08/2017

The “unforgivable” bit is where we disagree. Unforgivable yes in the sense that nothing excuses it. But if you’re saying that unforgivable means show him the door then I can’t agree. “How they’re accrued” is entirely relevant; if Britos were making a habit of such horrendous tackles then you’d have a stronger case but he isn’t. The two other red cards were both for double yellows and the West Brom one was extremely harsh.

3. SteveG - 28/08/2017

“There are reasons for him being a more or less automatic pick since we got promoted (suspensions permitting…).”…

…not the least of which was a storming performance from Kabasele, I thought, especially second half – by some margin the best I’ve seen him play. If he reproduces that in the next three games when Britos is out, then I think the CB slot will be his for the forseeable future.

Also thought the fans were excellent on Saturday – they fed off a battling performance and contributed to a surprisingly positive atmosphere given that we will have started the afternoon hoping (expecting?) to pick up three points.

Goldenboy60 - 01/09/2017

Not even Duncan Welbourne would have made that tackle… WOULD HE?

As it happened virtually in front of me, I could see it coming from Britos. It was like….. No you can’t do that, but he did it before I could complete my sentence.

4. Graham Daly - 28/08/2017

First – superb report, captured the atmosphere and the reality.
Second, in response to Vaughan smith – he obviously never saw Paul Robinson – and in particular his attempt to destroy a players career at Port Vale by breaking his leg.
Third – giving Britos1 is too generous. I think he set out to get Knockaert off the pitch. Sadly, we cannot afford 2 players like that and Holebas’ penchant for cards makes one of them superfluous.
Fourth – Gray became irrelevant as soon as Britos went off, but I see now why he was kept on. Catchcart going off again was sad.
Next, at the start of every season we have to get used to a few new players. After 8-10 weeks of seeing (some of) them every week, it’s as if they’ve been here years. I’ve no worries that we are losing touch. I do think Pozzo genuinely wants a stable group for 2-3 seasons, at a level where we are confident of staying up, could get to a cup final, and might have a sniff of Europe. It’s just a question of getting there.
Finally – in this context, Brighton looked dismal.

5. Old Git - 28/08/2017

Granted, Chalobah and Doucoure look great together but to give them the accolade of ‘best pairing ever’ after three matches, only one of which was against seriously quality opposition, seems a mite premature.
Maybe Keith Hannigan wasn’t yet around when Les Taylor and Kenny Jackett took us to the Runners-Up spot in the First Division, one place behind champions Liverpool and one place above Manchester United. Yes, above Manchester United…. If Chalobah and Doucoure play in a side that achieves anything like that, then maybe then we can think of them as ‘best pairing ever’.
And I’m glad Graham Daly has brought up the example of Robbo to give the Britos thing some perspective. Robbo is ‘a legend’, notwithstanding the Port Vale match. Due to referring incompetence he was only yellow-carded after that particular incident (see BSaD) but was later taken to court by his maimed victim, who was awarded a six-figure pay-out. Then shortly after that, he got himself sent off in the Play-Off semi-final in what BSaD described an another act of ‘idiocy’ thereby jeopardising the whole team’s progress. I am told by a West Brom supporter of my acquaintance that Robbo is also a ‘legend’ at West Brom, notwithstanding the red card he received after breaking a Birmingham player’s jaw with an elbow. Or maybe that’s why he’s a legend there.
Not sure that Britos qualifies as a ‘legend’ though.

Adam Segal - 28/08/2017

You really can’t compare Les Taylor and Kenny Jacket to Doucore and Challobah (apples to oranges). Different era and time, totally different playing style and not as technical. They also would not be able to keep up with the modern players of today. That’s taking nothing away from them in their day, but football has changed and standards are much higher now.

JohmM - 28/08/2017

Yes. Bring them forward in time and play them in the current team and they would struggle. Bring them forward as youngsters and subject them to modern coaching, fitness and systems and they would be just as good. They can only play to their time in football history. By what you are saying Charlton, Best,Matthews, Finney, DiStephano, could not cope and were inferior players. Jacket and Taylor were the second best midfield in football inEngland at one point. Who’s to say wouldn’t be now under modern fitness and coaching. Incidently, the Watford team of that time were probably the fittest of their day

Keith Hannigan - 29/08/2017

It’s an interesting argument JohmM makes. Would Taylor and Jacket benefit from modern training and nutrition regimens? Almost certainly. But if you grant them that hypothetical improvement, would they be “just as good?” In other words, would a modern Taylor/Jacket be the second best midfield in England? I don’t think they would because the pool of potential players has become SO much larger. In 1980, almost all of the players in the First Division were British. Watford didn’t have a single non-British player on the squad. Hell, Jackett was considered exotic because he was Welsh. Britain’s population was 56 million in 1980 and Jackett/Taylor were comfortably in the top half of the ~500 Britons who played in the First Division that year. So, they were in the top 0.00001 of the pool. Clearly, very impressive. Props to them.

But today, the Premier League draws from the entire planet. Last year, there were 20 different nations on our squad alone. How many kids grow up around the world now aspiring to be Premier League footballers? The 500 guys who will play in the Premier League this year are drawn from a population of literally billions. Being in the top 0.00001% of British players just isn’t good enough to be at the very top of the Premier League.

JohmM’s plea for the timeless greatness of Best, Matthews, Di Stefano et al is a slightly different argument. You could reasonably argue that the very extreme outliers, the top 0.0000001%, would be great in any era. I had a chance once to talk with a local coach who had actually played briefly with Pele on the Brazilian national team near the end of Pele’s career. I asked him if we brought a young Pele at the peak of his physical prowess to the modern Premier League, would he still be clearly the best player ever or would he be “merely” one of the greatest of players, on a level roughly comparable to Messi or Ronaldo. For what it’s worth, this guy (who knows so much more about football than I can even imagine), was unhesitatingly certain that Pele was clearly the greatest ever, in any era.

Matt Rowson - 29/08/2017

(*cough*) Jan Lohman. Not that he really affects your argument…

Keith Hannigan - 29/08/2017

Lohman? Bah. A 1981 johnny-come-lately.

Keith Hannigan - 28/08/2017

Well, if we are going to pull out our back-in-the-day credentials, I suppose I could say that my first game at the Vic was before Taylor even arrived at Watford in November of 1980 (but after Jackett came in April of that year) so yes, I remember them, although I must confess I was far fonder of Luther. They were good footballers and their team’s achieved great things but I don’t think they get on the pitch for this current squad. Les was hard-working, dogged and fierce (didn’t Graham Taylor once refer to him as a “ratter?”) but he literally couldn’t keep up with Chalobah or Dourcoure. Today, I think he’s a Championship level destroyer like John Eustace. That’s no disrespect – I loved Eustace but he’s not enough for the current Premiere League. Jackett was terrific before he did his knee (sigh), but the standards are so much higher now that he would be run off the pitch.

JohmM - 29/08/2017

Yes, to an extent I would agree. But, in some ways, we are entering a similar realm to the medieval theologians who dedicated years arguing how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. We can debate this until we are carried away to a home for the bewildered, but will never find a resolution! I prefer to remember the players of the GT era as brilliant in their day, and the current era players as growningly brilliant today.

6. PEDantic - 29/08/2017

I must agree with this too. The argument as to whether or not the players of 30 or 40 years ago would make today’s team is a superfluous one. However I would make the point that the 1982/83 team is the greatest Watford team ever by definition because they were proved the second best team in the country at the time.

Matt Rowson - 30/08/2017

To be, um, Pedantic that rather assumes that the overall quality of the league hasn’t changed. Certainly that’s the best Watford team relative to the standard of the time. However it’s entirely open to question whether this is the best team ever, since it might be argued that the league is now “global” (yeuk) and therefore of a higher standard.

This doesn’t apply to John McClelland, obvs, since he was completely brilliant full stop.

PEDantic - 30/08/2017

That’s the point I was trying to make, Matt. Of course Rostron, Jackett, Blissett and the rest can’t be judged against today’s players but equally they never had the chance to face Maradona, Platini and Zico in the First Division. So they can only be judged against their opponents of the day – the likes of Hoddle, Lineker and Dalglish – and they finished higher than any other Watford team has managed in its own individual era.

Not even John McClelland did that, but I agree he was completely brilliant!

Goldenboy60 - 01/09/2017

Spot on Matt. John McClelland was majestic and a Rolls Royce athlete to boot. He would always be in my best ever Watford team. Did he ever break sweat? but hardly ever got beaten by an individual opponent.

7. Old Git - 01/09/2017

This pointless (but enjoyable) debate reminds me of what Bobby Charlton said last summer just ahead of the Euros, when asked how he felt the 1966 World Cup winning side would fare against today’s England side. He thought for a moment and said that he thought the 1966 side would win, although it would be very close and possibly by just one goal. He then paused, before adding rather brilliantly (I paraphrase), ‘two of us are dead and the rest are well over 70, but I think we’d still win’.
GT’s 1982-3 team against today’s side? No contest!

JohmM - 01/09/2017

Absolutly! The 82\83 team, at their peak, would win 2 times out of three. They were so much more as a team than the individuals, and playing well they could steam-roller over anyone. I suspect.however, that the current top four or five teams would be too much for them.

8. David Davies - 02/09/2017

On an aside and bearing in mind I am coming to the party late, Mark Yeates is still plying his trade down in Hampshire with my second club, Eastleigh, whose Assistant Manager is one Andy Hessenthaler. Last season we had Darius Henderson for three games, until he got injured for the rest of the season. I wonder if Paul Mayo fancies a game, we need cover at left back. Anyone know his telephone number?

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