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Southampton 0 Watford 2 (09/08/2017) 10/09/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- On Friday night the Palace Theatre played host to the latest Tales from the Vicarage event.  The latest of several, the first I’ve been able to get to.  Adam Leventhal is the host and John Barnes is the guest;  it’s a fine evening for a number of reasons.  Barnes is a relaxed and convivial interviewee if a little too rehearsed, as befits someone practised in talking about his career at such events.  These stock stories are occasionally engaging but impersonal;  only when Leventhal leads him onto less routine ground does Barnes become intimate, earnest and genuinely likeable.  When he talks about the influence Graham Taylor had on his career, something presumably less well covered on the Liverpool circuit, the slick laddish wisecracks disappear and he’s plaintively appealing to his interviewer and the audience, desperate to convey the gravity of his sentiment.

The evening features a recital from the voice(s) of Hornet Heaven  Colin Mace, and the recreation of some photos from back in the day, some of whose subjects have been treated more gently by the passing of time than others.  Most of all though, it’s another opportunity to spend time with Like Minded People.  One of the best things about match day itself, of course.  Diverse opinions on most subjects are to be welcomed, even football, especially football.  But sometimes it’s good to be with people who Understand.  The highlight of the evening is Leventhal orchestrating a series of chorusses of “Yooooorns” before the main man even appears.

2- So to matchday.  And bearing in mind what’s gone immediately before it’s tempting to compare and contrast, this team with that.  A thankless task, a fool’s errand.  Scale of achievement versus shift in standard, a top division now drawing talent from a much wider pool.  The best footage of Barnes is timeless, he would have been a star whatever the era but, more generally, how do you compare?  You can’t penalise the current side for playing in a faster league with better players but you can’t penalise the 1982/83 side, say, for playing when they did either.

Actually, if you spend any more time than it took you to read that paragraph thinking about this nonsense you need another hobby.  Learn a language, take up cookery or something.  Whatever.  Such comparisons are moot, this team needs to compete with the Premier League teams of today not the Watford teams of thirty-five years ago.

But there are some absolutes.  Barnes, as above, is one. A performance like this is another.  An absolute that is what it is irrespective of time.  We’ve played well at times since we’ve been promoted.  We’ve won impressively and deservedly against intimidating opponents.  But we’ve not won like this.  It’s not that we merited the win; that’s beyond dispute but not unique.  It was the way we crushed Southampton between our jaws.  The way that, more than merely deserving to win the game we were much, much better than our opponents.  Play this game a hundred times, we win ninety nine times.  Away to Southampton, a side who it could be argued are a reasonable target for our ambition in some ways. The victory is absolute, awesome, magnificent and magnificently straightforward.

3- The game starts as it’s going to continue.  We’re absolutely in charge and it’s that extraordinary midfield that’s crucial, the rock on which everything else is based.  There’s another historical comparator here;  that Boothroyd team that got promoted in 2006 when, even if we didn’t have the best players man-for-man we had a way of playing and individuals who had been expertly picked to make that system work.  So you had a solid defence and a hard working midfield that could soak up pressure, Foster’s distribution, King’s pace and aggression and so on.  Here, it’s the midfield.  It’s Doucouré striding across the pitch like he owns it (because he does), with adulation thundering from the away end.  It’s Chalobah one moment sashaying into space the next mincing an opponent and emerging with possession and a diffident shrug.  More than once he’s taken down off the ball as the move that he engineered escapes, they can’t live with him.  It’s Cleverley the dynamo, the duracell bunny, he’s fetching and probing and ferrying and providing an option.  This is the bedrock that will continue to provide Richarlison and Carrillo and Pereyra the licence to do whatever the damn they please.

If there’s a problem it’s that we’re on top but not actually creating much.  The 22nd minute’s applause in honour of a Saints fan who recently passed away risked being punctuated by a Richarlison goal as he wriggled into space but otherwise we’d not tested Forster.  Southampton, it should be noted, create nothing either but are holding us at arm’s length and with Femenía twice being caught flat footed by overlaps that went nowhere we don’t look invulnerable early on. Having missed Bournemouth the last win I saw was the West Brom victory and this was reminiscent of that in that we were going to need something special.  So we generated something special.  Half a second before which, Daughter 2 demanded my attention;  I’ve long trained myself to respond to such enquiries as patiently as possible irrespective of timing, for karma purposes.  You’re welcome.  For what it’s worth, she wanted to know whether Emma Watson was an adult or not.

4- We cut and thrust for the rest of the half, trying to capitalise on the spectacular development which had provoked a ferocious reprise of that chant, as if any excuse were necessary.  Chalobah drove at Forster, Doucouré got on the end of another fine move and did the Darren Bazeley thing of trying to recreate his fine strike but this time crashing a volley over the bar.

The second half started, predictably, with a bluster of pressure from the home side.  A bluster of pressure high on energy but short on conviction, the greatest injury we suffered was, predictably enough, injuries to personnel as Kaboul’s hamstring clocked off again and Femenía went off simultaneously.  Aidy Mariappa and Daryl “made of biscuits” (© Mike Parkin, FTRE) Janmaat came on to replace half of our defence and we caught our breath for the first time.

Here, for perhaps the only time in the game, we relied on a little fortune.  The timing of this goal was crucial and in that sense we curtailed any impending kitchen-sinking that the home side might have mustered in response to this development.  As it was, Daryl Janmaat galloped to the edge of the box and clouted a drive beyond Forster.  Game Over;  we stomped all over the rest of the game with Mariappa looking comfortable alongside the majestic Kabasele, who has surely nailed down a starting place over the last couple of fixtures.  If there was going to be another goal it would have been ours; André Gray, who had worked tirelessly and thanklessly throughout, scampered onto a through ball and outmuscled one chaser-back before being outdone by the second.  Carrillo screamed down the right making up a quarter of the pitch outside the touchline such was his momentum before cutting inside, leaving Bertrand on his backside and curling a shot wide.  Troy came on to an ovation and looked more mobile and combative in ten minutes than he has all season so far.  If a Southampton midfielder stuck a nervous head above the parapet, Nathaniel Chalobah stamped on it. It was a full back that finally registered a shot for the home side, Gomes fielded comfortably.

5- Returning to John Barnes, then.  It’s been clear for a long time that kids like mine who have gotten into it over the last few years will be cursed in the same way that those of my generation were.  By the time they realise that Watford Doing Well, scoring goals, winning games, isn’t the default state of affairs it’ll be too late.  There will be no going back.  For all of us…  this suddenly looks like a very special team, and whilst maintaining a Champions’ League position might be a little overambitious there can be no dispute that these are the new good old days.  Enjoy it.  This side looks really rather special.


Gomes 3, Femenía 3, Holebas 4, Kaboul 4, Kabasele 5, *Chalobah 5*, Doucouré 5, Carrillo 4, Cleverley 5, Richarlison 4, Gray 4

Subs: Mariappa (for Kaboul, 61) 4, Janmaat (for Femenía, 62) 4, Deeney (for Gray, 84) 0, Success, Watson, Capoue, Karnezis


1. Rod - 10/09/2017

My first TFTV event as well, and a rare away match for me as well, so an excellent weekend. One notable link between the two events was how Digger talked about GT’s emphasis on each player understanding and doing their job in the team. The same was evident yesterday, along with the pressing and hunger from the first great era. And it was – fun. I must try and get to more away games.

Still miffed that you wouldn’t give me your autograph on Friday, though: one taste of the limelight goes straight to some people’s heads…

Matt Rowson - 10/09/2017

That request got the response it deserved…

Matt Rowson - 10/09/2017

…agree about the performance tho. Completely.

2. johnsamways28 - 10/09/2017

I wondered how you would summarize what was for me – despite my admittedly limited knowledge of such things – arguably the best team performance I’ve witnessed in over six decades of watching WFC. I needn’t have worried – as ever, Matt, you have beautifully captured the whole afternoon.
This was a performance that would have had GT smiling knowingly, purring even – not because of any particular moment but because of the creative harmony on display – the fruit of hard work, extraordinary innate ability and the willingness of each participant to be a member of an ‘us’ team and not a ‘me’ team.
‘Thank you’ GT for opening our eyes to such things, ‘thank you’ Gino, Marco et al for building upon this foundation. Today we are all sharing ‘a living hope’.

3. Old Git - 10/09/2017

Calm down! Yes, Chalobah and Doucoure have been brilliant – extra extra exciting. But they’ve only played together four times and yet many are saying they are the best ever midfield pairing. Come on please!! If they are a big surprise to us, then there are nineteen Premier League managers who will also be surprised and they will be working out ways to restrict their effectiveness. Up until now they have been something of a secret weapon but how will they cope once the surprise has worn off? Let’s give them at least half a season before we start the hyperbole. Remember Iggy? Paolo Vernazza? Miserable sod, aren’t I?

Matt Rowson - 10/09/2017

Yes. Boo you…

But to play devils advocate AD and NC are destructive more than creative. I’m not sure how you go about bypassing them. Unless you levitate.

Goldenboy60 - 11/09/2017

The Jenkins and Blissett partnership took a while to gel too. But it is about the quality of individuals. As the Jenkins/Blissett partnership blossomed, you feel that the Doucoure and Chalobah will also. That was a pleasure watching that on Saturday. My experience tells me not to get too excited, but somewhere in me I can’t help doing so.

4. Andy C - 10/09/2017

After a run of miserable away days in the latter part of last season it has been a real joy to have been to the Bournemouth and Southampton games this season. Consecutive away winning days are a rare but beautiful thing at any time, but in our current Premier League era they are to be particularly treasured.

The performance yesterday was particularly pleasing in that the squad is so strong that the two injuries were almost absorbed without any major disruption to the shape of the team on the field.

I think that Matt has summed up a lot of our feelings in the last few lines of the report. This is a time to enjoy watching these players while they are still ours, to live in the moment and just be there. I’m not sure but this feels as if it is the start of something different after a lot of promising periods since 2012. A lot of things seem to be coming together – a promising and genuinely talented new young head coach, some truly talented new signings who have adapted very quickly to their new surroundings, a closer bond with the fans (including at least one iconic new song to replace Iggy’s) as well as a an all round positive atmosphere. Yep, we are all of four (that’s 4) games into the PL season with Man City up next, but blimey, it don’t half feel good. Here’s to the new good old days as Matt says!

5. simmos - 12/09/2017

I know we are four games into a season but after that performance I feel we will only get better. Absolutely terrific stuff but the one touch passing at speed will improve as will Carrillo’s and Richarlison’s understanding of when to release a pass to a player in a better position.

I always felt the players were better than their performances last season and now we can see what they are able to do under a coach who clearly allows them to play. The additions to the squad have
stepped us up another level.

I know most people felt Dacoure was MOM but I agree with you that Chalobah was just a little better.

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