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Watford 0 Stoke City 1 (28/10/2017) 29/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
28 comments

1- This was always going to be a different sort of challenge.

After a couple of marquee games from which three points and plenty of kudos was a very reasonable return, the first of three matches against sides who have been a bit rubbish and who have suffered through none of the promoted sides being completely terrible thus far and have consequently been getting edgy.

And much as we tried to convince ourselves that this was going to be a case of New Watford putting a struggling side to the sword, the day hadn’t felt right.  Wonky. Our reserved table set for the wrong number of places at the restaurant.  Harry the Hornet heading resignedly into the Red Lion pre-match.  Empty seats in the stadium.  Lots of them, despite what was officially a 20k+ gate.   And a confused pre-match process involving a bagpipe recital and a minute’s silence in recognition of Remembrance Day in which nobody seemed quite sure what was happening.  Wrong.  Wrong.

2- Two further things went wrong from the off, the one compounding the other.  First, as you’ll have noted, we conceded; on the back of an opening 15 minutes in which we’d utterly dominated possession without getting particularly close to the goal, Darren Fletcher’s strike following the first corner of the game felt like a sucker punch.  Didn’t look great on Gomes however composed the finish and deflection or not; “oh for f***’s sake”, said everyone.  For the sake of your sanity as a spectator you don’t want to be giving this Stoke side a head start.  And if they’re going to get a winner you’d almost rather it came late to spare you what was to follow.

The second thing that had gone wrong had actually gone wrong an hour short of a week earlier.  Given the above, given the very real  possibility of the sort of game that actually transpired, Roberto Pereyra’s lock-picking skills were the last weapon you’d choose to be without.  Étienne Capoue’s inclusion as an extra body in midfield was interpreted by just about everyone in the ground as yet another (last?) chance for the Frenchman to demonstrate that increased competition would coax more urgent, reliable brilliance.  Instead he was particularly culpable in a ponderous first half display that was too easy for the visitors to defend against.  The last thing you need against a side minded to defend deep and strongly and to slow the game down is a midfielder whose instinct is to take an extra touch.

3- Stoke executed an away day mugging thoroughly effectively.  We’ve been on the right end of this sort of thing before and there’s little credibility in begrudging it or criticising it as Marco Silva, slightly disappointingly, did after the game.

But that doesn’t mean you have to like them. There was briefly a suggestion that, post Tony Pulis, Stoke would be pursuing a more refined blueprint.  Instead, this more exalted set of names is utterly callous and brutal and with manager Hughes at the forefront there’s a snide arrogance about it.  At least there’s a humility of sorts, a brazen honesty about Pulis.  There are few redeeming features about this menagerie of trolls and mutants.

The performance began early, as after Kurt Zouma had afforded Richarlíson the Brazilian’s traditional welcome to a game Xherdan Shaqiri followed up with an altogether nastier, sulkier assault.  The young winger has stood up to all such intimidation up until now, but had the poorest game of his fledgling Watford career to date.  He can be forgiven an off-day, but we could really do with a proper winger to provide respite from the bench.  Jack Butland, meanwhile, was wasting time as soon as City took the lead while both Mame Biram Diouf and man of the match Ryan Shawcross belied their tough reputations by inventing assaults and reacting to them accordingly.  Joe Allen was the poster boy for Sexy New Stoke when recruited last summer, evidence of a new ethos at whatever-the-stadium-is-called-now.  Instead he’s gone thoroughly native, a horrible little goblin who spent the game mouthing off at officials and opponents alike whilst making cheap, cowardly tackles in the midfield.  Stoke’s fans will be revelling in an away mugging.  Rightly so, there’s a certain profound joy in such a thing.  But I can’t imagine that this side is one that they’ll look back on fondly – Aidy Boothroyd’s 2007/08 team an obvious comparator.

4- None of which excuses what happened at the end of the game.  Troy Deeney won’t have been the only Hornet in the stadium minded to take the little scrote by the throat, but he’s the captain.  A captain with a colourful past to boot, he’s the last person who could afford to be succumbing to that temptation.  Whilst our record of yellows and reds might not reflect it, one of the less highlighted areas of improvement this season is the side’s discipline but this was a weak and disgraceful reaction from the captain.  I don’t share the confidence expressed elsewhere that the referee having seen and adjudged the incident will prohibit further sanction.

Not that anyone comes out of that little episode well, Mark Hughes least of all.  His typically pious post-match interview reflected in mock outrage at Deeney’s failure to return the ball after Stoke had put it out for a throw-in as befits “the spirit of the game”.  This would be the same spirit that his own side had trampled, spat and grunted over with callous disregard for the previous hour or so, not least when Erik Pieters had collapsed with “cramp” in the incident provoking the conflict only to recover quickly when referee Oliver motioned to call on a trainer.   Oliver himself  did a reasonable job of handling a game that was always volatile, but should have clamped down much quicker on City’s timewasting – blame City’s attitude to “the spirit of the game” rather than the official, but the combination of the two – and our captain’s nerve finally snapping – led to him losing control in the final moments.

5- The second half had been an improvement.  Jack Butland may not have been called to make a save, we were never quite laying siege to the visitors’ goal for all of our 70% possession, but the keeper did make some crucial punched clearances, and other goalbound efforts were denied by defensive blocks some of which – Shawcross a key protagonist here  – reflecting outstanding awareness and some merely volume of big blokes in the area.  Kiko Femenía, not for the first time, was a potent threat frequently overlapping on the right where Carrillo developed a good line in slick through-balls.  Andre Gray came on for Capoue and was lively – he was twice denied by flying blocks.  Richarlíson, for the second week running however, was found wanting in front of goal; he made a bad decision in trying to convert Carrillo’s brave header from too wide, and must have shut his eyes in failing to head in Britos’ cross unchallenged.  Ultimately I think we were worth a point, but taking something from such a position requires wit and/or luck, and we didn’t have enough of either although admittedly Stoke twice broke and could have extended their lead but for a fine save from Gomes – missed by the officials – to deny Berahino and a comical miss by Charlie Adam.

6- A defeat, then and arguably – given the context of Britos’ red card against Brighton and the strength of the opposition against City – our first truly disappointing result of the League season.  We’ll learn much about our already coveted head coach in the fallout… more than one managerial tenure – Alex Neil at Norwich springs to mind – has foundered on an inability to cope with failure once results start going awry.  Silva’s public calling out of Tom Cleverley for failing to close down Darren Fletcher – the same Tom Cleverley so often at the heart of marshalling a defensive set-up against a set piece – doesn’t entirely augur well.

On the plus side, losing to Stoke in miserable fashion has become something of a tradition and as such we’re still ahead of the game – no worse off in comparative terms than we were on Saturday morning.  Getting something from Goodison Park, traditionally a similarly unprofitable fixture, would be most welcome.

Yooorns.

Gomes 3, *Femenía 4*, Holebas 3, Kabasele 3, Britos 3, Carrillo 3, Doucouré 3, Cleverley 4, Capoue 2, Richarlíson 2, Deeney 2

Subs: Gray (for Capoue, 58) 3, Hughes (for Carrillo, 80) 0, Janmaat, Mariappa, Zeegelaar, Watson, Karnezis

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Chelsea 4 Watford 2 (21/10/2017) 22/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5 comments

1- “It’s a Saturday building up to Christmas, remember” warned Dad, as his agitation at the vague nature of my travel plans – and his ticket’s travel plans – bubbled.

So much wrong with this statement.  Firstly it’s not bloody building up to Christmas as anyone older than, generously, nine ought to be in no doubt about.  Secondly, even if it were building up to Christmas why on earth would you be thinking about in anticipation of a big game?  Voluntarily?

Seeing as he brought it up we’ll dwell on Christmas very briefly before getting on with the plenty of other stuff that there is to discuss.  This comes in the form of a public service announcement for those of you considering shopping for your necessaries on line during the festive period.  John Lewis has a reputation for excellent customer service.  Don’t believe a bloody word of it.  Lies, lies, lies.  For the second time in the space of twelve months we’ve fallen victim to an aggravating, grotesque combination of  practised incompetence and supercilious dismissiveness.  Seriously.  You’ve been warned.

2- If there’s a way in which the Chelsea matchday experience resembles the Watford matchday experience it’s in the Fulham Road beforehand, a seething artery that channels the masses towards the stadium transforming it into something quite unrecognisable to those who see it on a “normal” day, in much the way as Vicarage Road always feels odd if you chance down it during the week.

Today the October spinning dial that promised sunshine and rain and wind and made preparation next to impossible settled on sunshine, fitting for a rare trip to the Bridge that didn’t  come with the knowledge that we were likely to get stuffed.

We’d made a bright start, Pereyra’s gorgeous flick releasing the flying Femenía for the first of many screaming runs down the right.  This reassured those of us convinced that a game against a talented but emotionally brittle Chelsea would surely be won or lost on the first goal.  Score it, and you could see the anxiety in the host’s stands and team ratchet up.  Concede it and you risk getting overwhelmed by a side needing something to rally behind.

3- We were wrong, as it turned out, but not necessarily entirely so.  Chelsea got that goal but didn’t run away with it…  we’ll never know what would have happened had we scored it.  There’s more to the opener than referee Moss’ inexplicable failure to award a goal kick as Eden Hazard shuttled the ball off…  there’s our brief lapse in concentration, ruthlessly exploited by a quick corner, there’s Pedro’s exquisite finish damn his eyes.  Nonetheless, as the Hornets briefly lost their rag in frustration and the referee briefly lost control, flinging cards around with a flamboyant lack of authority I was thinking about John Lewis Customer Service again;  not much to choose between them and a weak homer of a ref in terms of the sense of impotent vexation that they provoke.

“Cojones” has undoubtedly been the word of the week.  Troy’s interview last Saturday was typically entertaining, his manager’s lukewarm reaction completely understandable, the outraged response of (some) Arsenal supporters simultaneously utterly baffling and not.  Whatever social media’s plusses, giving a megaphone to the witless isn’t one of them.  Whatever…  plenty of cojones in evidence for the rest of the half.  Succumbing either quickly or obstinately is the default in these circumstances but instead, having ridden our luck when the charmless Fabregas was put through, we wrested control of the game back from the home side with the composed patience of those annoying parents who know how to deal with tantrumming children calmly.  Bastards.  The half ended with the peerless Doucouré, top of a strong class in keeping cool under pressure himself, slinging a half-cleared ball inside Courtois’ near post.  The Frenchman sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the air-punching, bellowing yellow corner.

4- The opening twenty minutes or so of the second half saw us showcase the most spectacularly incisive football we’ve played this season.  We barrelled at Chelsea whose defence, exposed by an overrun midfield, backpedalled in panic.  Femenía howled down the right and put in an outrageous cross that Richarlíson should have converted.  A minute later the lower-key but still brutally combative Deeney fed the Brazilian and he found Pereyra who had floated into space at the far post and finished brilliantly, fooling Courtois with his eyes and clipping it over the keeper.  The away end took  a little while to calm down.

We remained on the front foot.  Richarlíson met a perfect Britos cross too strongly and sent a free header wide.  Kabasele had another free header, this time beyond the far post but he didn’t put enough on it to trouble the keeper and would have done better to nod it back across goal.  “We might regret these”, thought everyone.

5- “He lost it with the substitutions,” was the popular insight expressed at the final whistle, by experts both in the stadium and elsewhere.  Quite a lot wrong with this statement too, not least the rather accusative tone towards a manager who is so far in credit that his tab doesn’t even merit checking.  Plenty contributed to this…  principally our failure to make the most of our period of utter superiority in the second half; another goal would surely have precluded any resistance.  Add to that the ongoing absences of Kaboul and Prödl – it could be argued that we’re still missing our best three central defenders, either of these two in particular might have been expected to be able to cope more effectively with the robust threat of sub Batshuayi.  Referee Moss’ hand in the first goal – yes, it’s a long time ago by now but a different game might have followed – and his failure to send of Antonio Rüdiger, already on a yellow, when he aimed a petulant kick at his tormentor Richarlíson’s achilles after the ball had gone are also frustrations.  A final factor, the machinations of the other team so often overlooked in post mortems – the changes they made from the bench created a threat were none had existed prior to their equaliser.

But there’s little doubt that our subs didn’t work.  Watson-for-Deeney is the major bone of contention, although Chelsea were level by the time that switch was made, Batshuayi’s run surprising Britos who was caught flat and beaten to a cross that again stemmed from a quickly taken set piece that we hadn’t anticipated.  Before then Pereyra had limped off to be replaced by Carrillo who, as the hosts began to get desperate, was forced backwards into an unnaturally defensive role.  This factor adds credibility to the Watson substitution – by sticking in a proper defensive midfielder and pushing Richarlíson up you free Carrillo to use his speed to keep the visitors on the back foot.  That it didn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea…  but as it was Carrillo failed to get involved and Watson looked horribly rusty, in part reflecting his own lack of game time and in part the absurdly high standard being set in our engine room this season in which anything less than outrageously good will stand out like a sore thumb.

6- That we lost to the League Champions is horribly frustrating;  personally I sulked most of the way home.  But, you know, there you have it.  That we lost, away at the League Champions having been a goal down despite this, despite that, is a disappointing and that in itself is a marker of our progress.  Marco Silva argues that we deserved to win;  I tend to disagree.  To deserve to win you need to match what your opponent throws at you, and we really didn’t in the last few minutes.

But that doesn’t mean that we weren’t, for the most part, brilliant.  That this isn’t a completely wonderful, loveable, inspiring Watford side.  That we shouldn’t be relishing the next challenge, that of getting the disappointment out of our system in time to lock horns with a capsizing Stoke next Saturday.  That’ll take cojones too.

Yooorns.

Gomes 4, Femenía 5, Holebas 4, Mariappa 4, Kabasele 4, Britos 3, *Doucouré 5*, Cleverley 4, Pereyra 5, Richarlíson 4, Deeney 4

Subs: Carrillo (for Pereyra, 65) 2, Watson (for Deeney, 80) 0, Gray (for Mariappa, 90) 0, Janmaat, Wagué, Capoue, Karnezis

Watford 2 Arsenal 1 (14/10/2017) 15/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
12 comments

1-  The 1980s, then.  You’ll have a position, no doubt.  Mine tends to depend on what mood I’m in and who’s asking.  Dad’s rather dismissive attitude towards anything since the mid-seventies tends to rather force me into a defensive stance citing the icons of my childhood but there’s little reasonable argument in support of Thatcher, big hair bands or velour tracksuits.

This evening featured some 80s flashbacks of its own, some welcome and some less so.  In the latter category, the outbreak of fighting in the Rookery as some witless Arsenal incursion was met aggressively. This was far enough away from us not to be an immediate issue, but close enough for the always anxious Daughter 2 to dwell upon it despite all that happened after. Slightly depressing that the incursion of away fans in home ends that happens in all grounds at most games, mates sitting with mates and so on, is still necessarily low key because of idiots like these.

On the upside.  Well.  The 1980s was by and large a spectacular time to support Watford, as those of us fortunate enough (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) to be impressionable during this period could testify.  We took on all comers.  We had guts, and style, and bravado.  We won games like this.

There’s another eighties nostalgia detail of course, but we’ll get to that…

2-  We’ve noted this before, but if you were to list the things you missed about the Second Division, floodlit matches at the Vic would be up there.  And no, this wasn’t strictly an evening game but the sun was on its way home for “Strictly” and beans on toast by kick-off and the marvellous focused intensity of such occasions was thick in the air.  The 1881’s latest magnificent flag shrouded the Rookery as the teams came out and then rattled back down the stand like an opening curtain on the spectacle.

Team news had revealed Andre Gray back in for Troy, Pereyra for the jet-lagged Carrillo and a switch to a back three with Miguel Britos returning to the fold.  As an aside, telling that already we look at such a change from Silva and trust it instinctively.  Mazzarri never earned that confidence.

The first half was absorbing, if not thrilling.  With Doucouré loping around the pitch and dictating our play we enjoyed more of the possession and territory…  but the visitors’ attacks had more menace about them.  This arose in part because the Gunners pressurised us high up the pitch and forced us to either move backwards or to resort to longer passes that didn’t suit Gray, once again willing and industrious but limited in his effectiveness.  Much of our penetration came through Richarlíson, Pereyra twisting to try to divert a cross goalwards, but we weren’t getting very far.  At the other end the three/five-man defence generally kept Arsenal at arm’s length, resisting the visitors’ efforts to stretch the play by switching flanks, but as the half went on they were getting closer than we were.  Elneny clouted narrowly over, Bellerín flicked a shot wide.  Five minutes before the break when we’d have gratefully taken all square at half time, Per Mertesacker crashed in Xhaka’s corner.  Aggravating…  we’d done enough, only to stuff up on a set piece.  Half time arrived to a backdrop of grumbles about about zonal marking.

3- In such circumstances, going behind avoidably shortly before half time to one of the big sides, you expect the match to pan out a certain way.  That it didn’t reflects upon both sides.  Our lot we’ll get to, though tales of guts and spirit and ability to hurt teams should already be a surprise to nobody.

But as for Arsenal…  it’s no mystery, and no great insight, but this side is completely gutless.  As ever, Troy put it best…

Ability, yes, even allowing for rested stars and injured defenders.  But no spirit, and no leaders.  No leaders for a long time, actually.  Not even the utterly likeable “BFG” Mertesacker, who showed class by treating Richarlíson’s cramp late on in the midst of what had built gradually to an onslaught in the second half.  Mertesacker is an experienced, respected player but he’s not a warrior.  Arsenal haven’t had one of them for an age.  And we have them in spades…

4- Not least the man who came off the bench on the hour for a tour de force.  Critically, Arsenal’s pressing game that had so disrupted our attempts to build an attack had dissipated instantly on their taking the lead.  Throughout the second period we had loads of space… but had still been struggling to make the ball stick.  Richarlíson, the one dependable source of penetration, did a sterling job in the wake of concerted attention, but the arrival of Deeney with that look in his eyes changed the game entirely.

Mertesacker’s first league start for eighteen months has been cited as a silver lining for the visitors, but he was completely unable to cope with Deeney despite his six inch advantage, and very quickly looked like a player who was out of practice.  Troy was in full battle mode, relishing every confrontation, setting down a challenge and finding no takers.  He added glue to our attacking play and those around him thrived on it.

Arsenal weren’t out of it.  Özil came off the bench and was soon significant in counter-attacks that could have seen us put to bed by Iwobi, denied by Gomes, or by the German himself who fluffed a good chance on his weaker foot. But we were on the front foot by midway through the half, to the extent that even a 1-0 defeat would likely have been met with an ovation.  We didn’t roll over, we gave it some.

But we didn’t lose 1-0.  Because from Özil’s miss, we broke…

5- Whether you think it was a penalty depends rather on who you support, I suspect.  Certainly, the definitive condemnation of Richarlíson that accompanies even the more even handed of Arsenal reports already up on the web are ludicrous, since TV replays don’t reveal the extent of the contact, the extent to which he was tripped or exaggerated.

What’s beyond doubt is that tickets win raffles, and so forth.  Richarlíson had been running at Bellerín all night – that doesn’t earn him the right to a penalty if no contact was made, but it does increase the chances of his marker getting his timing wrong just once.  The Brazilian’s treatment this evening was less brutal than it has been in other games where, equally, he has gotten up again and kept going but nonetheless, his irrepressible refusal to take or give his marker a breather means stuff like this will happen.

Arsène Wenger would have done well to remember the penalty Alexis Sanchez earned in generous circumstances in this fixture last season before bleating too much about this one, but I don’t begrudge him his moan.  Indeed, he contributed to what could hardly have been a more comprehensive eighties tribute had he brought Kenny Sansom on to sit on his arse at left back whilst David Bardsley was jetted in from the US to sprint past him.  Again.  The other thing about the eighties, of course, is that We Always Beat The Arsenal….  P14 W9 D1 L4, if you’re counting, that including an FA Cup Quarter Final in our first season up in the second tier, and a relegation season.  This is now our third win in four.

6- Only one team was going to win this.  That’s not to say that it was always coming… indeed when Étienne Capoue’s drive thudded off Mertesacker’s chest and onto a post we’d clocked that this probably wasn’t going to happen, and when Carrillo rushed a good opening to fire over we’d resigned ourselves to a very respectable point.

So the winner was a thing of beauty in it’s scruffiness, exactly the sort of goal that Arsenal would never have scored.  There was finesse in there too, the unstoppable Deeney with the presence of mind to pull back from wide… but mostly it was pinball and determination and bloody-mindedness.  What a joy it was that it was Cleverley, so meriting and so needing a goal, who clouted the decisive strike through the debris of Arsenal’s defence in a manner that recalled his captain against Leicester four years earlier.  The roof came off;  I had a rush of blood and almost fainted.  Daughters one and two screamed uncontrollably.

7- The mood post-match was special, reflecting the value in this win above “mere” three points.  Hands were shaken in the concourse, embraces were shared.  Grins and salutes, no need to articulate this.  Bloody come on.

We go to Stamford Bridge now knowing that even a defeat is likely to leave us in the top six a quarter of the way through the season.  No flash in the pan, this.  Enjoy…

Yoorns.

Gomes 4, Femenía 3, Holebas 5, Mariappa 4, Kabasele 4, Britos 3, Doucouré 5, Cleverley 5, Pereyra 4, Richarlíson 4, Gray 3

Subs:  *Deeney (for Gray, 63) 5*, Carrillo (for Mariappa, 63) 3, Capoue (for Pereyra, 81) 0, Janmaat, Wagué, Watson, Karnezis

West Bromwich Albion 2 Watford 2 (30/09/2017) 01/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.
6 comments

1- Losing your voice.  That’s the one.  That’s when you know that it’s been a belter, that it’s been worthwhile.  Lots of components make up an away day on and off the pitch…  result, performance, excitement.  Journey, company, food.  Some of which might be more important to you and some less, but losing your voice, as a marker, trumps everything.  Doesn’t matter that it was wet, doesn’t matter that I scraped the bloody car again.  It occurred to me as I noticed the rawness in my throat on the way home that this hasn’t happened a lot recently – it used to be a regular thing.  Maybe I shouted more when we were crap, but I’ve never been a ranter and raver.  Maybe I’m getting old; maybe kids demand a degree of decorum.

As for them… they’d been less attentive than usual.  Daughter 2 in particular seems to have fallen out of love with standing on her seat, and so huddled sombrely in the shadows for the most part.  Daughter 1 seemed distracted too, though she was paying enough attention to ask how it was possible to enjoy so much possession and still be behind midway through the second half.  When it happened though… when it happened they were rapt and then as utterly caught up in the explosion of noise and disbelief as the rest of us.  The first proper mental I’ve had this season (I missed Swansea, perhaps that was similar).  Prolonged yelling, bodies flying around, trying to do justice to the beauty of the moment.  Gomes, up for the corner, able to join in the celebration for once. Come on.  Come on!!!

2- All of which seemed very unlikely ninety minutes earlier.  After a strong opening quarter of an hour or so, a quarter of an hour that had seen us dominate possession without, admittedly, getting terribly close to opening the scoring, Albion had taken the lead.  There had been portents of what was to come, long balls out of that resolute defence designed to catch us on our heels…  and one did.  Kabasele, who had had a wobbly start to the game, got into a horrible mess with Mariappa; Rondón, who was otherwise quiet, bundled through regardless, resisted Kabasele’s feeble attempt to batter him out of his stride and finished from a narrow angle.  Three minutes later we were still coming to terms with the shift in the balance of power when Albion’s trademark set piece involving bodies flying into the box saw them extend their lead.

It could have gone badly in so many ways from here.  In fact it has done, many many times.  I like coming to the Hawthorns but our record here over the years has been rubbish. We’ve been in this position before and seen Bob Taylor or Lee Hughes propel Albion into unassailable leads from just such situations.  We looked briefly woebegone and beaten and, with Man City still fresh in our minds, we feared this could get ugly.  Heurelho Gomes bawled at some slack marking from another set piece.  Tom Cleverley bellowed André Carrillo into shambling vaguely towards his charge at a corner.  We waited for the game that tends to follow in such situations to unravel, our hope that it would be over quickly.

3- So that it didn’t turn out that way speaks volumes about our character.  Quality too, obviously;  we regained the initiative and had a ridiculous amount of the ball thereafter, ridiculous enough for a half-attentive eleven year old to remark upon it.  But Albion’s resolute wall of bodies, a wall which executed an impossible number of blocks as we cranked it up in the second half, doesn’t tolerate or permit much quality.  No, it was our character that was tested, our determination, belief, focus.  No half-arsedness here (after that five minute slump…) whatever our limitations and whatever the frustration of yet another attack foundering on an Albion forehead.  It was ferociously bloody-minded and a point was the least that it deserved.

So it started gently… Deeney’s inclusion over Gray reflected the physical demands of the game, not least in defending set pieces given the relative lack of height that our centre back options afforded us, but as highlighted by the closing minutes at Swansea the “partnership” between him and Richarlison looks a natural one.  The first real opening came from them; Troy releasing the Brazilian into the box and his square ball presenting Carrillo with an opportunity that deserved better than being headed over.  Two minutes later Doucouré, our playmaker throughout the afternoon, surged into space to benefit from more good link-up between Deeney and Richarlison to narrow the deficit, a fine finish with his weaker foot.  The noise in the Albion stands, which had briefly reprised the Nyom nonsense that was already tedious by half time last season, died completely and didn’t return until the 85th minute.  The balance of power had changed again, and we were applauded in at the interval.

4- It would be wrong to describe the second half as one way traffic, but the Hornets dominated possession once again.  Pereyra was introduced for Capoue, which proved critical;  the Frenchman had a decent enough hour and had seen one drive deflected narrowly wide but he looks heavy and our ability – once again – to last the full ninety was to be decisive.  Pereyra danced onto the pitch, quickly executed his “wrong footing the stadium” thing and was crucial to our ball retention thereafter. If we weren’t knocking the door down with a sledgehammer then we were rapping repeatedly and annoyingly…

Our midfield misses Chalobah, but I’m surprised and pleased by the fact that it still functions well without him – less dependent on him than suspected.  If a Prödl or a Kaboul might have rendered either of Albion’s goals less likely, then our midfield at least still works… Cleverley a dynamo, Doucouré at the heart of everything, tremendous support from the wings.  José Holebas executed an heroic block to deny McClean in injury time…

5- …preceding the defining instant of the game.  One can only assume that Tony Pulis isn’t a Sheldon fan since his post-match comments were pitiful, borne of a mind aggravated beyond the capacity for rational thought.  I like Albion, and I like the fact that Pulis exists (managing someone else, natch).  I admire the unashamedly uncompromising approach, sucking the life out of a game and trampling on its carcass.  Yes, we dominated possession but got relatively little out of it…  whilst Albion broke once and converted a set piece and were two nil up.  No accident.

But you can’t reasonably complain about timekeeping when your side have been wasting time since the hour mark and had quickly been warned about such behaviour by ref Michael Oliver.  Leave aside the fact that the board is a minimum, not a stick to beat the ref with, leave aside the fact that you’ve still got to defend (as Pulis, in fairness, conceded).  You live by the sword, you die by the sword.  And the smug, cowardly belittling of the official’s decision to award the free kick at all just made Pulis look like an idiot.  McClean telegraphed his intent with a Britos-esque approach and if he stopped short of taking Richarlíson out and went for the ball then he nonetheless scissored him with both leading and trailing legs.  If there’s anything more gratifying than a late equaliser it’s a late equaliser in injury time provoked by timewasting at the hands of a petulant little thug of a winger.  Lovely.

6- So if Pulis is the muppet of the hour, Richarlíson is surely the hero.  As is increasingly the case, Albion attempted to bully the young Brazilian out of the game; Craig Dawson, all trailing arms and late tackles, the prime culprit. As ever, the youngster didn’t give a damn.  Since coming off the bench on the opening day, Richarlíson has missed ten minutes of football – despite being frequently targeted, despite being four months out of his teens. He’s quick and clever but tough and brave too.  Good in the air, yes, what a perfect header but we knew that too.  What today demonstrated was his resilience since he didn’t get it right every time, he did look silly once or twice.  This is a kid in a new country who doesn’t speak the language, if he’d retreated into his shell you’d have forgiven him.  Instead, he provoked this.

The remarkable thing, perhaps the most remarkable thing, the thing that perhaps defines our opening to the season as we head into an international break is that underlying the euphoria and the defiance is a tinge of disappointment.  We went to West Brom, a tough place to go where we’ve such a miserable record.  We went two goals down in traditional circumstances.  We came from behind to salvage a point with a glorious injury time header.  And yet…  and yet.  We should have won.  We know we should have won.

Enjoy the break.  Bring on the Arsenal…

Gomes 3, Femenía 4, Holebas 4, Mariappa 3, Kabasele 2, Doucouré 4, Capoue 3, Carrillo 3, Cleverley 4, *Richarlison 4*, Deeney 3

Subs: Pereyra (for Capoue, 62) 4, Gray (for Carrillo, 75) 3, Karnezis, Janmaat, Britos, Hughes, Watson