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Watford 2 AFC Bournemouth 2 (31/03/2018) 01/04/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- I’m in a play this week.

I love acting. Being someone different is amazing, escaping completely into a story and thinking like someone else, getting into someone else’s head. Better still, doing it with a bunch of idiots who laugh at the same things as you do and have done this enough, done this together enough to know how to help each other and when to suggest things. It’s awesome.

It can become all-consuming. Enough of a focus to completely dominate your waking thoughts, quite apart from the practical considerations of a rehearsal schedule that is necessarily focused on evenings and weekends.

Enough of a focus that, whilst I was able to make both Arsenal and Liverpool I knew that I wouldn’t have the clarity of thought let alone the time to pen words. Hell, three paragraphs in and I’m still talking about the play. I’d apologise, but you know I wouldn’t mean it…

2 – So two weeks after that painful and memorably cold evening in Liverpool the question was how we would react. All of us… team, support, head coach. The Everton and West Brom victories had made the two subsequent defeats if not entirely affordable then at least not a disaster but the closing scenes of the last couple of seasons haven’t been particularly engrossing. A positive, vibrant finish, particularly from the point and assuming that safety is confirmed, would be a welcome thing.

The cast list revealed a return to 4-2-3-1 and most significantly the much-discussed-amid-awkward-shuffles-of-the-feet benching of the long-since wrung-out Richarlíson with Will Hughes starting behind Troy. The curtain rose to a bright and breezy encounter, but it was the visitors on the front foot from the off; quick movement earned a free kick on the right, an orchestrated slight of hand earned an angle to get a cross around the “wall”, Nathan Aké was ahead of the defence and should probably have done better than twonk a header off the bar and out. Minutes later and Stanislas slung a shot from left to right which Karnezis pushed away.

A statement of intent, so it was encouraging that we settled very quickly and were on the front foot, as ready and capable as our visitors of capitalising on an open game. Our first rattle into the open spaces in Bournemouth’s half seemed to make them slightly nervous and the game took on a new shape with the Hornets dominating territory and possession, but the Cherries screaming out on counter-attacks. One of these briefly saw the visitors escape beyond our backline only to be denied by a combination of Prödl and the flawless Karnezis.

Instead it was the Hornets that took the lead, José Holebas sent in a cross following a corner and Kiko Femenía, whose dynamism continues to remind us how much we missed during his spell out, took it on the volley. It would have been a routine save for the keeper, but Kiko was rewarded for his ambition and execution by King not having time to set himself and his crucial deflection left Begović helpless.

3 – Key in all of the good stuff that followed and the biggest plus in what remains a positive afternoon despite the galling finish was the performance of Will Hughes. Long in the wings waiting for a chance to play the lead role but denied by selection and injury, he’s looked great in virtually every minute he’s been afforded and here he was an absolute joy. Full of energy and movement, capable of deft one-touch lay-offs when moving at high speed thanks to his dexterity, balance and awareness but also willing to put his foot in, to work and to hound after possession. What’s not to like, frankly; this was his fifth start of the season and he’s already a hero.

As an aside to which, you can’t help but look at that midfield, add Chalobah, Cleverley and Deulofeu (fingers crossed) to it and feel rather comfortable with the murmurs coming out of the forum this week that the traditional summer flow of ins and outs might be more restrained this year. Sure, Doucouré may not stay (and to reiterate, I feel cheated that we might only get five games’ worth of Chalobah and Doucouré at the back of the midfield) but if he does go it’ll be for a great big wedge and you’d be confident in our ability to dig up a replacement. What an array of talent we have available.

Hughes’ effervescent calmness was at the centre of our second goal as Bobby Pereyra, once again looking far happier and more potent on the left flank, squirrelled in a shot to restore the lead surrendered meekly at the end of the first act. There’s been disbelief at Holebas’ actions but misjudged as they were it seemed to me that he was simply surprised by the trajectory of the ball, lost his bearings and decided that the threat of Jordon Ibe getting a decisive touch was greater than it probably was. So… a bit crap from Holebas who otherwise had a decent enough game, but not baffling… not like the ongoing bawling at the referee from those around us who clearly hadn’t seen the handball (fair enough) but lacked the self awareness to pick up on the comments and shrugs around from those who had.

4 – There’s a lot to like about Bournemouth. They’re positive and bold, try to win games with their actions rather than merely by default, and what this game showcased was two sides who were expected to be relegated on promotion (nearly) three years ago but weren’t and have dropped anchor in mid-table. That doesn’t guarantee you anything of course (ask West Brom) but nonetheless… an enjoyable engaging game from two clubs with every right to feel pleased with themselves that betrayed some limitations but also a lot of positives. For the visitors, Lewis Cook was absolutely terrific, a dextrous, nimble fulcrum in the centre of the park. Aké got his head to everything and looked like the centre-back in everyone’s heads and Ryan Fraser did a dynamic, purposeful job of filling in at right back. So… lots to like.

The reason that we don’t like them, then, is because they’re a bunch of cheating scumbags. Or to put it slightly less pejoratively… there’s something in the mentality of the club (the coaching?) that will grab any advantage that’s going. You can argue that every club does that (and Aidy Boothroyd isn’t far enough away for us to be getting too self-righteous), perhaps that they should… but with Bournemouth it’s so systematic that you can’t help but feel that it’s coached into the team. So… if cutting towards the edge of the penalty area as a ball-winning tackle comes in is merely giving yourself a chance then returning the ball to the opposition after a stoppage by kicking it halfway to the opposing keeper, forcing him to emerge into his own half is deliberate and cynical, and of course the repetitive throwing oneself down over tackles and springing up when a foul has been won is well established over recent seasons. One positive to come from this today was in Daughter 1’s reaction… she has a tendency to drift through games, combining attention to the matter in hand with contemplation of the social ins and outs of every eleven year old and any number of other things. Ryan Fraser’s swallow dive in front of us in the second half grabbed her though and she was potently outraged to the extent that she insisted in re-enacting the moment to her bemused mother in the living room later in the evening, several times, and accompanied by her younger sister who had been paying no attention at all but found the whole thing quite fun.

Dad had drawn a comparison with the Australian cricket team which those of you who know and care about such things might be able to comment on. I don’t, and so can’t.

5 – So the closing scenes here were demoralising for a number of reasons. Firstly because Richarlíson, who had entered stage left with ten to go, had looked vibrant and determined and quite capable of extending our lead as well as wrapping the aggravated Charlie Daniels in knots, but didn’t. Second, because a last minute equaliser is a last minute equaliser what every the context and the visiting support rightly celebrated accordingly – we’d have been pissed whatever. Thirdly because of our failure to just hold the line from a long ball for a few more bloody seconds. But also because of Steve Cook’s predictably over the top reaction to Okaka’s challenge which conned Andy Madley. It should have been innocuous, a challenge in the middle of the park and we should still have bloody defended it (see point three) AND it was a more aggressive challenge on review than the non-event we perceived at the time. Nonetheless, it was the latest in a growing list of such incidents against Bournemouth in recent years and we were particularly sensitised to it.

Instead, the natural gravity of the draw between these two sides prevailed – the seventh in the ten League meetings since Bournemouth’s promotion from the third tier in 2013. Consequently we’re still a few points from that mystical 40 point threshold (and yes, of course, 40 might not be necessary but “probably safe” is where we are already, “Safe” is better). It would take an awful lot though, and most Watford supporters will already have their relegation thoughts occupied with Palace and West Ham – the latter with a stinking run in despite their result yesterday.

When the curtain comes down on the season, you suspect that these two dropped points won’t matter much; the fact is that it was a good game and with more to like than to not. Doing the double over Bournemouth would have been a fine thing though. Next time.


Karnezis 4, Janmaat 4, Holebas 3, Prödl 3, Mariappa 3, Capoue 4, Doucouré 4, Femenía 4, *Hughes 5*, Pereyra 4, Deeney 3
Subs: Cathcart (for Prödl, 64) 3, Okaka (for Hughes, 75) 3, Richarlíson (for Femenía, 81) 0, Ndong, Gray, Lukebakio, Gomes


1. Mark Garrett - 01/04/2018

Thanks Matt, having lived in Derbyshire for the last 10 years I always look forward to your reviews as I generally only go to Midlands and North West away games. Interestingly I am getting the feeling that Chris Kamara is becoming increasingly anti Watford. Watching Sky yesterday you got the impression that Bournemouth were all over us for the whole 90 mins. I sympathise with your post on the midfield. To see Dacourre, Challobah an Hughes together before the end of the season could probably be one of the highlights of the season. maybe at old trafford ?

2. Harefield Hornet - 01/04/2018

I know I should have got over it but My Goodness they still like rubbing in the fact they pinched the Championship title off us on the last day! That really irked me even
more than ever after yesterday! Let’s hope we have more luck against Zaha and the other perennial bogeymen who are due in town in a couple of weeks!!

3. Robert Hill - 02/04/2018

What is it with Bournemouth? They always seem to be moaning. I don’t think they have ever got over the 6-0 drubbing we gave them in the 2013-14 season. They should thank us for that, as since then they have made huge strides and I really feel that the drubbing sparked Howe, as he thought it was plain sailing before that. His smile to me always suggests something sinister with him…… He certainly couldn’t handle Burnley, that’s for sure…..

What I do know is that we have the potential to keep growing, but am not sure with Bournemouth that they can keep this up for many more number of seasons. We shall see….

4. reg - 02/04/2018

Great report Matt, I must admit that when you started off by talking about “getting into someone else’s head” you were going to say something about Holebas’ inexplicable handball to concede the penalty butI guess we’ll all be scratching our heads about that one for a while. We gave them that goal and their second, Ake who as you rightly say was superb won the header, Deeney who’d gone back to mark him didn’t jump but instead stood there with his arm in the air appealing for I don’t know what. It’s the details which decide the outcome when teams are so closely matched and we can do better but hey I go to football to be entertained and it was an entertaining, open game which both teams went out to win.

5. David - 02/04/2018

One of the pills we supporters have to swallow for being in the Prem is the lack of games like this. Our 3 recent home wins have convinced this reader and seemingly our players that our “elite” status has at least one more year in it because there was a freedom of movement not seen in 2018.

As Matt has said, what a shame we will not have a season of all our midfield talents on show. We should enjoy Doucoure over the next 6 games. Hopefully Hughes will remain on our roster for a while yet but a top 6 club will come knocking if he performs like yesterday for a sustained period.

6. Matt Prout - 02/04/2018

I thought Bournemouth were one of the better teams to come this year and their approach enabled an entertaining game for a change. Their “professionalism” is what makes them so unlikable though, unless you happen to be in the media whom will forgive them anything because well they are little old Bournemouth.

I agree Matt with your thoughts on Will Hughes,a stand out performance and yes what a shame we have never had a chance to see the first choice Midfield together.

I am suprised how forgiving you are in respect of Holebas however. He must rank as one of the most stupid footballers we’ve been graced with, if this was an aberration then I would understand but it isn’t. He left Britos horribly exposed at Anfield, failed to jump with Mustafi at Arsenal, was involved with the mix up with kazenis at Everton, fell over and feigned injury rather than tackling to everyone’s amusement only recently and now this oh and he also offered to fight fans at Southampton. I for one hope we find a re,lacement next season.

Anyway, it was fun on Saturday regardless of the result and I thought we played with a real purpose and Gracia must be given credit for making the most of the international break.

Break a leg!

Matt Rowson - 02/04/2018

Thanks Matt. Yes, perhaps tolerant of a Holebas but on this occasion I saw it as “merely” a misjudgement.

7. Old Git - 02/04/2018

We’re all in a play, Matt, we’re all in a play. And not just this week, so the Bard reminds us…

8. SteveG - 03/04/2018

Given the number of teams below us who will inevitably take points off each other, I wonder if we are not mathematically safe already (no, I can’t be bothered to spend hours working it out) – it would certainly take a very remarkable and specific set of results for every team bar two to end up with more than 37 points.

Frustrating though it was to concede late on, I don’t think it will have a massive effect in the grand scheme of things, and this was an entertaining game and an encouraging performance for the most part. Not having been at the last two home games, which were by all accounts important wins if somewhat dour performances, I’ll settle for entertainment and mid-table comfort at this stage of the season, even if two more points would have made it an even better afternoon.

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