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Watford 4 Chelsea 1 (05/02/2018) 06/02/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.


9. Chelsea next. That might be fun.

Ian Grant, BHaPPY Stoke Report

I went down on the train. Sally (#notafootballfan) had dropped me off at the station. Her track record’s pretty good, Arsenal (A) last season was her previous drop-off. She left me with a promise to put money on Troy as first goalscorer as I grabbed the clockwork shuttle across from Bedford to Bletchley.

The route home was slightly easier; Dad dropped me at St Albans, I made the train waiting at the platform, grabbed the only cab on the rank at Bedford, home at not-quite-silly’o’clock.

And then lay in bed, staring upwards in the dark. For hours.  Completely wired.

2- A long time ago, Ian compared trying to describe the last 20 minutes of a particular game as being akin to trying to trap a hurricane a matchbox. 19 years on, another game that defies description, defies all attempts at meaningful summary. Appropriate, perhaps, that it was under the lights… Vicarage Road takes on a different feel at night, the dark seems to suck itself into the old quarry, claustrophobic in the way that sunlit games just aren’t.

There will have been intakes of breath at 7pm when the teams came up. No evidence of Tom Cleverley despite optimistic portents. No Christian Kabasele either, another hamstring victim. A 3-4-3 it seemed, with Holebas as a left-sided centre-back… but much as it’s easy to be smart after the event there was a lot to like about what Gracia had patched together. Janmaat and Zeegelaar as wing backs, for one thing. Following Bournemouth’s successful lead in matching Chelsea’s shape was another. As Chelsea launched an early attack and Janmaat was exposed on our right requiring Mariappa to sweep up I was briefly reminded of Sam Allardyce’s graceless deflection of blame onto his own team for their failure to follow Swansea’s blueprint for beating Arsenal. Would we suffer from aping someone else’s successful plan? No. This was very much not to be the tone of the evening.

Because we were brilliant. Have I not mentioned this yet? And of all the things to reflect on with glee, all the things and people to praise, surely the new head coach is at the top of the list. What a way to make an entrance. Not only did he cobble together a side, a team of all things, capable of thrashing the League champions, he injected a vim and vigour such as hadn’t been seen since, arguably, November. Gone was the nervous, hesitant, unconvinced shambles of recent weeks. Gone was the rigid adherence to a certain way of playing – we’ve played three different formations in three games. And throughout the first half – Christ, there were no goals until the 41st minute – we were on the front foot. Deeney sliced a chance wide as it came quickly across him, Richarlíson committed people, Deulofeu slammed a shot into the side netting. Chelsea didn’t have a shot on target in the first half.
They were nowhere.

3- It would be wrong to pretend that this was all down to Watford. The visitors looked as unlike defending League champions as its possible to look. Blunt, yes, without a focal point, this accentuated by our flooding of the midfield and forcing Chelsea into wide positions for the first half hour from which they couldn’t hurt us. But limp, too. Uncommitted, unconvincing and unconvinced. Eyes down, negative body language. Not unfamiliar, in other words, but if we’re honest it was latter day Silva Watford turned up to eleven by expectation and the nothing-to-loseness of their opponents’ circumstances.

Tiemoué Bakayoko’s hapless half hour is prominent in assassinations of Chelsea’s performance; from the Rookery, where even Chelsea are just a collection of Their Lot (plus David Luiz) it was less straightforward to highlight his culpability but certainly we stomped all over the midfield. Twice his loose control necessitated recovering challenges, twice he was penalised. You boss the midfield like that and you force such situations, impose them. At least one of those was soft, it turns out. Fine. We thank Lady Luck and maybe remember this next time an Eric Dier handball is missed. Nonetheless, as exhaling faces emerged from the concourse at half time reporting the generous decision you could help but worry that Mike Dean might seek to even the score in the second half.

He didn’t. Perhaps he would have penalised David Luiz more harshly for his kick at Doucouré in other circumstances but Dean had an excellent game and we never gave him the opportunity to even the score. By then, in any case, we were a goal up… Janmaat released Deulofeu, Courtois came bundling out and took out the winger. As an aside, if I could have wished for an extra cherry it would have been a red card for the odious Fabregas, not that he did anything to earn one beyond existing. But Thibault Courtois’ plaintive bleating about the penalty was a decent next best, and Jamie Carragher calling him out in uncompromising terms for having utterly messed up and taken Deulofeu out was an enjoyable part of the denouement. Troy smashed home the penalty, of course, the fallout from which was recorded on Sally (#notafootballfan)’s voicemail but in vain. She hadn’t placed the bet.

4- It would, equally, be wrong to pretend that this was all down to Chelsea. Of particular note is the number of individuals whose contributions were simultaneously ramped up significantly on recent showings. Least surprisingly perhaps Sebastian Prödl looked infinitely more comfortable in a three, more akin to his imperious best than the nervous giraffe of as recently as Stoke on Wednesday night. Daryl Janmaat, also in a more suitable position, was a rampaging rhinoceros on the flank rather than the rather clumsy, sedate animal of recent weeks. Abdoulaye Doucouré’s form had dipped to merely adequate levels but here he was again best at everything… passing, movement, awareness, tackling, driving the team on, big thumping twonks towards the top corner (we’ll come to that). Richarlíson was to be withdrawn in the second half as the visitors succeeded in prickling him but his flame was back on too, direct and uncontainable. Étienne Capoue… we’ve seen this before of course, but we thought this version of Capoue had left the building for good. Not so. A storming performance from the Frenchman worthy of pairing his compatriot in the middle. And Troy. Obviously Troy. For the first time in all the transfer windows where he’s been the subject of attention it felt as if he might actually be on his way this time. That the draw with Southampton was his sign-off, a reminder of what we were losing. Here he was magnificent, every inch the focal point that our forward line has been screaming out for all season even when he’s been in it. He murdered David Luiz, and led the line superbly… Jonathan Lieuw in the Independent summed up his contribution most appropriately:

“Troy Deeney scored a first half penalty and performed an essential role up front, part battering ram, part talisman, like the carving on the bow of a warship”

Jonathan Lieuw, The Independent

5- The second half, and more of the same. Except… from the moment when Chelsea went down to ten we were doing The Stuff That You’re Supposed To Do in such circumstances. Suddenly it was us getting it wide, switching it, making our opponents move. And as they were forced to push on bluntly we galloped back on the break… Deulofeu shot narrowly wide, Doucouré seized possession and hammered down the centre of the pitch before twonking it towards the top corner. Courtois, a better goalkeeper than he is interviewee, adjudicator or analyst, flung himself at it to paw it away. Chelsea still hadn’t had a shot on target.

The balance shifted when Giroud came on. This was preceded by some more fine refereeing by Dean, playing advantage despite Fabregas’ characteristically sulky, disruptive foul, ignoring Pedro collapsing in a heap under no challenge and then when Janmaat screwed the resultant effort wide booking the former and allowing treatment and ultimately replacement of the latter. And suddenly Chelsea had a focal point. Even the most exalted teams benefit now and again from a big lad up front and Chelsea’s threat was no longer theoretical. Perhaps conscious of it we looked a little deliberate for the first time. Sitting back, smothering the space. In fairness whilst we looked nervous there was still limited evidence of a threat… it was going to take either a rare lapse of concentration or something unprecedented and brilliant. Ultimately it took both… Janmaat afforded Hazard too much space, Hazard gobbled it up and slung an extraordinary shot past the blameless Karnezis. We’d have gotten away with that against anyone else. Olivier Giroud hared after the ball to retrieve it and the memory of late defeats to the Blues in each of our last three encounters loomed large.

6- The last ten minutes were ridiculous. They were what kept me awake last night such that I’m too tired to type as I write now, why this didn’t get written at lunchtime as a parade of visitors to the office wanted to discuss them.

But the turning point wasn’t Janmaat’s goal, magnificent and significant as it was. The critical moment, as called out by my brother watching dazed and exalted and frustrated in the distant northern wastes was slightly earlier… as Hazard was rudely dispossessed as he edged Chelsea towards their inevitable winner and Capoue, who we’ve so often screamed at to impose himself like this, changed the script again. He surged upfield leaving Chelsea defenders reeling in shock… memories of Arsenal’s hapless Tony Adams chasing Luther in 1987. This wasn’t the script. Capoue released Deulofeu’s brilliant run, the Spaniard clipped the ball over Courtois and wide but… we were still in this, boys and girls. No rolling over here.

And in our next attack Janmaat is careering into the Chelsea area, reminiscent of his pinball goal at Stamford Bridge last season but with the added bonus of an exquisite 1-2 with Roberto Pereyra (another who suddenly looked like the player in our heads) around the Chelsea bollards. A fabulous finish and the roof came off because now it was definitively All Going To Be OK. Not just this game, but the rest of the season, the rest of our lives, all sorted. All concerns blown away… the game, your job, your money concerns, whatever’s in your head tattered and blowing in the wind. In the Rookery, absolute carnage. On the pitch, Richarlíson has bombed down the wing from the bench to pile into the celebrations.

Then Doucouré’s doing this delicate dance around Chelsea tackles in the middle of the park and gets the ball out and somehow, who knows how, finds Deulofeu escaping down the right. His number’s up and he knows it, Andre Carrillo is stripped off and ready. So he keeps running, and keeps running, pointing either to Deeney or merely to confuse his marker who doesn’t need any help in that department. Troy’s run drags the defence apart, ties their shoelaces together and Deulofeu keeps going and again we get a break, a scuff of Cahill’s boot and Courtois looks a pratt as it rolls past him which is a shame but our luck is IN and you almost feel sorry for our opponents except it’s Chelsea. Deulofeu stands in exalted exhaustion, his last touch to roll the ball into the net.

And we’re not finished, because in the sixth minute of injury time Bobby Pereyra turns Azpilicueta inside out. That’s César Azpilicueta, not Jack Hobbs or Liam Fontaine or Darren bloody Purse. And Azpilicueta having been turned inside out he slams a ridiculous shot past Courtois and it really is all over. “We want five” shouts the Rookery. “Barcelona, we’re coming for you” replies what’s left of the away end.

7- Hugely significant, obviously. Changes the outlook, changes the mood… no, screws the mood up and drop kicks it into the nearest bin with a click of the heels. But in isolation, out of context, this is why you watch football. Nights like this, which are completely brilliant and really don’t come along that often. Not like this. Bring on the rest of the season. Bring on the returns of Kaboul, Femenia, Chalobah, Hughes and the rest. Bring on, suddenly, improbably anything


Karnezis 5, Mariappa 5, Prödl 5, Holebas 5, Janmaat 5, *Doucouré 5*, Capoue 5, Zeegelaar 5, Deulofeu 5, Richarlíson 5, Deeney 5
Subs: Pereyra (for Richarlíson, 65) 5, Carrillo (for Deulofeu, 89) 5, Gray (for Deeney, 93) 5, Ndong, Lukebakio, Bachmann, Mukena


1. Peter Wilson - 06/02/2018

League champions, you are having a laugh…

That was a fun night and a game, result and performance to be savoured after the last couple of months of the confusion and dross of the Silva regime. The team looked organised and on a mission, credit to the new man at the helm, who has a reputation as an organiser and slayer of football giants. Not a bad way to start at the Vic and he has set an impossible high standard to reproduce on a regular basis.

But so what, nights like the Chelsea game make going to the earlier matches, what football is all about. Forget about the last minute winner, three beauties in the last 8 minutes, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Up the Orns.

2. Gerard - 06/02/2018

5 for everyone, I like that and very fair too

3. Hugh Baillie - 06/02/2018


I didn’t think it was possible but you’ve matched last night’s performance.

I can’t match your eloquence beyond paraphrasing, this is why you read BHappy. Thank you.

Matt Rowson - 06/02/2018

Thanks Hugh… 😊

4. Neil M - 06/02/2018

Good write up Matt, but I’m afraid it’s not as exciting as being there last night; or watching highlights on You Tube with a commentary in Turkish.
I was worried when I saw the team sheet before the game, especially after the last two results but, boy were my fears unfounded? I don’t think I remember seeing us dominate a game so completely for a very long time and against a ‘top 6’ team, probably ever.
I had a Squeeze song going round in my head since Javi was appointed which I thought could make a good chant but I wasn’t sure it would be appropriate yet; after last night it just might be:- (To the tune of Electric Trains.

From Graham Taylor, to Javi Gracia, life was all fun and games.
Down at the Vicarage Road, guided by the Pozzos, we’ve played some fantastic games.

Sequel - 07/02/2018

I, too, have had a chant going around in my head, to the tune of “Holiday” by Bony M (yes, I know!): Hooray, hooray, Abdoulaye Doucoure. He skips along, all day long, Abdoulaye Doucoure.

It will probably never catch on, but it pops in to my head every time AD gets the ball. I probably need to get out more.

5. Old Git - 06/02/2018

‘But there’s nothing very wrong here that a good, bracing blast of confidence wouldn’t fix’. Thus spake young Mr Grant in his Stoke report, a match that other commentators had dismissed as lamentable dross. A very astute observation of Ian’s, I think, and one that none of us regulars, increasingly despairing at the terrible performances of late, would have made.
And when that equaliser went in, how many of us were desperately hoping we’d be able to hang on for a point? Probably all of us, I imagine.
Can a new head coach really infuse that much confidence so instantly? Apparently so. That will do thank you. I feel better now. That last ten minutes was the best last ten minutes since Barrow at the Vic in 1968.

NickB - 07/02/2018

Leicester 1970? Eddy (pen) 85; Endean (89), of blessed memory..

6. johnsamways28 - 07/02/2018

Monday 7.59pm. Perspective = ‘Hopeless end
9.59pm. Perspective = ‘Endless hope’
Exactly the same ‘ingredients’ but differently arranged….. so brilliantly summed up by your comment:
‘ A fabulous finish and the roof came off because now it was definitively All Going To Be OK. Not just this game, but the rest of the season, the rest of our lives, all sorted. All concerns blown away… the game, your job, your money concerns, whatever’s in your head tattered and blowing in the wind.

Brilliant as ever, Matt – star performance: 8 out of 5

Isn’t it amazing what ‘Good News’ can do!

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2018

Thanks John

7. David Wheatley - 07/02/2018

The last time I enjoyed a game so much was the evening cup game against Charlton in the early naughties. Like then, Monday night had it all, amazing (pick your superlative) skill, application, heart, desire, tenacity, exhilaration, delirium and a togetherness that has been forged over the last fortnight against the backdrop of a sustained period of relegation form. Each and every one of our players put a shift in comparable to any legend from yester year that rather blows apart my occasional lament about the “good old days”.

8. simmos - 07/02/2018

That felt like “payback time” for those close defeats we seem to suffer to Chelsea. Lets hope for more payback against some of the remaining opponents this season like Everton, Tottenham but most especially Palarse

9. Harefield Hornet - 07/02/2018

One of the most enjoyable nights at the Vic for years and such a shame it’s been (very slightly) overshadowed by the nonsense surrounding Troy’s response to the Chelsea fans, who had been goading him before he scored the penalty. I didn’t notice it at the time as I was too busy celebrating but in this day and age everything is picked up and he could possibly miss some important games for us if the FA take it seriously. I love the bloke but he’s a bloody twit at times!

10. Goldenboy60 - 07/02/2018

That performance was right out of a Graham Taylor book. Getting the ball forward more quickly, using wide players to open up the game, playing at a terrific pace, and playing with a lot of quality and imagination It could have been Cally and Barnes in the wide areas instead of Deulofeo and Richarlison with the same impact. I hope Gracia has a lot more up his sleeve because that performance was magnificent. I just hope the players now believe in what they can ultimately achieve this season, because I came out of the ground absolutely buzzing at the performance let alone the margin of the win.

For me that was a definitive top 4 performance. Consistency must now be the next objective.

My only down bit is Troy. For me he was nearing his best on Monday evening giving Cahill and Luiz a very hard time, but he must just allow his football do the talking. He has nothing to prove to us, just keep turning up and playing at that high level, and not making gestures and causing issues for yourself. There are a few who have moaned about you Troy but not many. Now we could lose him again at a time when we are building some head of steam, so Troy play to the level we all know you are capable of and there is no need to do all the rest of the nonsense. We are all behind you.

11. Stuart Campbell - 07/02/2018

In my East Midlands outpost getting to the game and back was unfortunately not an option, so it was the big footie pub in town which boasts as many screens as the average hospital ( gosh I miss those evening games at the Vic with that special concentrated, raucous atmosphere).
The other game watchers were all Chelsea fans. So I quietly sipped my pint as the game started deciding that silent old guy image was the wise option. It lasted 5 minutes as I lost all inhibitions or thoughts of personal safety. Nearest Chelsea fan was generous in his views and surprisingly knowledgeable about Watford players and highly impressed that we’d landed Deulofeu. All the Chelsea fans had gone before Bobby’s icing on the cake at the end.
Young barman – doubtless a Forest fan in these parts – was grinning ear to ear, “You slaughtered them, mate,”. We did, didn’t we!
Can’t remember feeling so ridiculously smug for a long time.
Love your player marks, Matt. Your report was five star too. Much enjoyed. What a special night.

greywhistler - 07/02/2018

“Love your player marks, Matt.”
Especially Carillo 5, Gray 5 !
And thanks, Matt, for giving up the time to capture this permanent record of an exhilarating, inspiring Monday night’s entertainment

12. Old Git - 08/02/2018

Was that Endean goal really that long after Steady Eddy’s penalty?I remember it being almost straight from the restart. And of course all of us of a Certain Vintage will recall Endean’s winner as being short-listed by ITV’s Star Soccer as Goal of the Season, so we saw it replayed a lot on the telly. These were the days, o younger readers, before we had such things as video-recorders or catch-up TV, so any appearance of the Golden Boys was eagerly waited for.
And a word about Karnezis. Call me old fashioned but I’m much happier when the keeper slugs it up to the half way line, rather than rolling the ball out to a defender, who is immediately put under pressure and risks being caught in possession. It’s far better for the old heart rate.

13. Royston RoF - 09/02/2018

Delafou new age man = Scullion of old age vintage

Stops on the ball, looks up, waits for tackle, head down and into 4th gear before you can put any milk on your cereals….

..at long last a right winger since Sir Nigel Callghan who shows not only technique but tenacity as well…long may it last..

Garcia I belive allowed the team to make mistakes by getting forward quickly rather than posing on the ball at the back and going nowhere….long may it last

…. Matt, a vintage write up, it really is something special at the Vic under lights…

14. reg - 10/02/2018

Deulofeu has imbued Watford with the spirit Barcelona.

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