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Watford 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 0 (11/08/2018) 12/08/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Twitter is a fine thing in many respects.  The immediacy of information in easily digestible chunks, the accessibility of opinion.  The availability of independent points of view, not merely a government line or that of a particular newspaper or broadcaster.

But it has its downsides also.  The “echo chamber” is by far the most pernicious… the natural tendency to follow the feeds and to listen to the voices that you agree with whilst screening out any opposing point of view.  The BBC are often criticised (not always unreasonably) for their insistence on balance without judgement, but here’s an alternative at the other extreme:  the only voices you hear are those that reflect your opinion, and therefore your opinion is polarised and reinforced by the illusion of consensus.  Added to this is the fact that the only dissenting voices you do hear are the extreme ones, the ones retweeted and argued with:  “have you heard this idiot?”.  No moderation.  No balance.

In a football context, nobody who has wandered into Twitter’s feral wasteland should be under any illusions about the tendency for extreme positions to gain traction.  A tiresome shoutiness seems to be the default, and our limited transfer activity despite plenty of rumour in the dying days of the window were enough to upset some.  You’d think that Scott Duxbury and the Pozzos were somehow untried chancers, that they hadn’t earned a degree of trust with this sort of stuff.

The revelation that our starting eleven today would feature the same ten outfielders as the last day of last season – the wonderfully, hysterically welcomed Ben Foster for Karnezis the only change – was greeted with further derision. The untested attractions of Marc Navarro and Adam Masina deemed instantly and scoffably preferable to Daryl Janmaat and Jose Holebas. Reminding me of how I explained to my mate Joe in early 1988 how Stuart Rimmer was going to score the goals to save us from relegation. The Law of Other. Joe was scornful too, but I was only fifteen in my defence…

Meanwhile our visitors had also refrained from drafting in many of their summer recruits – only one, in fact, the full back Bernardo, beyond who only one further change was made to the starting eleven fielded by the Seagulls in this fixture almost a year ago last season.  Their biggest buys waited on an impressive looking bench.

2- Let’s not piss about with this.  We were really, really good.  Dynamic, energetic, organised and motivated.  Pressing high, working together, very quickly and obviously with the number of our visitors (of whom more later).  Early in the game Albion were suggesting a threat – we had the more possession, but a left wing cross floated too close to Glenn Murray’s head, and Dale Stephens sent a volley narrowly wide.

But the action was at the other end of the pitch where Troy and Andre Gray revelled in the forgotten attractions of a 4-4-2.  Whilst neither got on the scoresheet both looked thoroughly at ease with the other’s presence;  Gray it was who recorded the first shot on target, haring after a ball over the top and impressively holding off a tentative defender to snap a shot that Ryan did well to parry.    Later Troy had perhaps a better chance but the ball got stuck under his feet, he forced Ryan into another good stop but should maybe not have given him that chance.

Our ever-increasing dominance however was based in our midfield, from which the prodigious talents of Chalobah, Cleverley and Deulofeu remain absent.  Doucouré too looked ring-rusty, understandably – but what a joy to still see him in a Hornets’ shirt.  Capoue continued where he left off last season with the sort of focused performance that Gracia seems to have coaxed more regularly than his predecessors.

But it was the wide men who stole the show.  Will Hughes remains an absolute joy, simultaneously quick-footed, quick-minded and tenacious;  he’s as likely to tiptoe through Albion’s forest of space-denying legs as he is to scythe into it and whistle away with the ball.  And Pereyra, of course.  He was the out-ball throughout, prominent before Bruno’s removal through injury and all over Bernardo, tying him in knots from a position often close to the touchline.  There remains a doubt, a concern that we are well manned in midfield, that we have 18 senior non-home grown players, that Pereyra has been linked with a return to Italy all summer.  You desperately hope that he’s still here come September, for his ability to conjure something up as much as for, say, the technique and power evident in the opening goal which he clubbed through Ryan’s outstretched palm.

3- In many respects the question on Brighton is quite how bad they were, versus how bad we made them look.  The goal is an example…  someone should have been keeping an eye on Pereyra but he arrived late to fill the space on the edge of the box vacated by decoy runs to the near post.  Yes, Albion were dozy but we forced the issue.  Similarly in midfield, Albion were overrun and perhaps even complacent but it was in the face of our relentless and disciplined pressing that it crumpled.  When we broke, particularly in the first half having regained possession deep we hurtled through the midfield;  there’s maybe a concern that we didn’t capitalise but with Deulofeu’s pace and Chalobah’s awareness to return you’ve got to fancy us away from home.

Albion’s two second half subs, Yves Bissouma and Alireza Jahanbakhsh had both been linked to the Hornets in previous windows;  both suggested better things to come for the visitors.  Bissouma’s squirrelling run resulted in a shot that squeezed outside the post; he looked terrific, if immature and easily riled;  Jahanbakhsh had less of an impact but made a couple of aggressive runs down the right flank.

High on the of Albion’s culprits was Anthony Knockaert. His limited charm not enhanced by a bizarre metallic bleached haircut, he was a parody of himself.  Careless with possession throughout, he reprised his most notorious dive of five years ago with a very similar flop in a very similar position;  only the most blinkered in the away end appealed, most – including the rest of the Albion side – turned away in disdain.  Knockaert, again, was complicit in the second Watford goal which saw Holebas win the confrontation that released Pereyra to score his stock goal by cutting inside ad curling a shot around Ryan.

4- Perhaps the most telling contrast between the two sides was in the defending.  Albion’s central duo are rightly lauded, but it’s all about crowding and smothering, getting a block in, getting a head to something.  They’re very good at it, but it has an air of desperation and lack of control about it.  This is starkly different to the utter composure of Cathcart and Kabasele;  the latter had to make one forty yard dash to snuff out a threat but otherwise it was a masterclass of being-in-the-right-place defending.  Tougher challenges to come, but this again looks as strong a centre-back pairing as we’ve had for many years.  The one concern remains their ability to manage a physical confrontation since neither is massive for a player in their position, but Glenn Murray got precisely nowhere today.

5- So there we are.  Having managed the end of the game with absolute comfort the whistle went and our first opening day win in the top flight since football was invented in 1992 was secured.  One game, obviously, against a team that were terrible away from home last season.  It wasn’t perfect…  we could have, should have scored more.  But no Hornets will have left Vicarage Road concerned or disappointed.

And quite aside from that, from the mere detail of an inspiring and gutsy home win, football’s back.  Hurrah for that.  Hurrah for all the Other Bits… the pre-match meal.  The saying hello to everyone (“Do you realise this is our twentieth season in these seats” – yeah, thanks a bunch Pete), the gorgeous addition to the pre-match montage in which Rita Taylor turns towards the statue of her late, great husband.  The good-natured crowd sharing moments as a stream of folk took their turn for a pic next to the statue.  Four year-old nephew Jacob, witnessing his second home game and first win, gently singing “Abdoulaye Doucouré’s egg” at his great-grandma’s house as the excitement of the game segues into his dinner.  All brilliant.

Winning helps, obvs.  But football’s back, and it’s great.  Bring it on.

Yoooorns.

Foster 4, Janmaat 4, Holebas 4, Cathcart 4, Kabasele 4, Hughes 5, Doucouré 3, Capoue 4, *Pereyra 5*, Gray 4, Deeney 3

Subs: Success (for Gray, 75) 3, Sema (for Hughes, 81) 0, Femenía (for Pereyra, 87) 0, Prödl, Mariappa, Masina, Gomes

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Comments»

1. Tadcaster Hornet - 12/08/2018

Fabulous to be back but even better it’s a fabulous photo.

2. lendal - 12/08/2018

You have Twitter in a nutshell there, should be in any future social history syllabus !! Great report…and it was handball!

3. Neil M - 12/08/2018

Happy New Season Matt. Nice to start with a good win and then spend the rest of the weekend reading match reports and opinion. I’ve missed this over the summer.

4. James - 12/08/2018

“Twitter is a fine thing in many respects.”

You lost me here.

Good to read a new Bhappy report though. I’m cautiously optimistic about the season now, which is an unfamiliar feeling.

5. SteveG - 12/08/2018

So, level with City, ahead of Man U and Spurs on goal difference and three points ahead of Arsenal. I think we’ll settle for that at the end of the first weekend.

Matt Rowson - 12/08/2018

Yes but Bournemouth… Palace… call me Mr Fussy…

6. Roger Smith - 12/08/2018

“Added to this is the fact that the only dissenting voices you do hear are the extreme ones”.

No, the dissenting voices speak for the silent majority. The norm, such as respect for the Union or St George’s flag, is labelled extreme or racist in an concerted effort by the real extreme to silence any dissent.

But I did enjoy the match.

Matt Rowson - 12/08/2018

That would be your normal Roger. Thank you for demonstrating my point so concisely.

Roger Smith - 12/08/2018

Thank you. but I’d be happier if you’d described it as our normal.

SteveG - 13/08/2018

I’ve been to Sweden a couple of times. A lot of people display Swedish flags in their gardens, often on flagpoles. It seemed to this visiting tourist like a very friendly and non-threatenting form of national pride.

Unfortunately, and I wish it were otherwise, the use of the St George’s flag in football (and elsewhere) has become associated with a rather more aggressive form of nationalism that not only celebrates your pride in your team and identity but can demonise ‘the other’. I don’t think they are the majority and they are certainly not silent, but arguably they have helped to define what has become ‘normal’.

This doesn’t have to be the case – I don’t get any of that negative vibe when I see successful athletes doing a lap of honour draped in the union flag, for example.

One reason for coming back here so often is that the standard of discussion is so much more reasonable than elsewhere, even when contributors disagree – of course the moderation of comments by Matt will mean that “Kevin’s bollocks” gets filtered out before, rather than after, it has gone public.

So ‘our normal’ in this space may thankfully be rather different from what is ‘normal’ elsewhere. But it’s good to know that in this small corner of the online world there is a place for civilised discourse and honest disagreement.

Thanks, Matt, for making this possible.

7. Mark Garrett - 12/08/2018

Matt

Whilst I have never posted before I read your posts regularly. I date back to the glory years of the early 80’s and seeing you and your daughter sat by Graham made my day. Whilst my son was born in Harrow we have lived in Derbyshire since he was three. He is still a Hornet at 12 despite a dubious accent and I expect to see us sitting by the statue in the coming weeks. We tend to do midlands and Manchester/Liverpool games rather than home games but seeing the picture of you both by Graham made me remember wher the heart is. Keep up the good work.

Matt Rowson - 12/08/2018

Thanks Mark, and good work keeping your son on the straight and narrow…

8. Battersea Dave - 13/08/2018

Matt ……Thanks again for the excellent report.

We really looked a much fitter side than we have done for years. Deeney ran like a greyhound! We also seemed to have a game plan which again in my opinion has been lacking since the first six months of Quique Sanchez Flores tenure. Obs it’s only one game but we actually looked damn good. Even the referee had a good game.

On a different note I think it’s great that we have the GT statue but (and there is no another way of saying this) I don’t think it actually looks like him – agh heresy I hear you all cry!!.

9. Harefield Hornet - 13/08/2018

I think it’s supposed to reflect him in his younger days at the Vic and as good
As it is I think he was a bit thinner in the face in those days so you have a point! Still love it though!!!

10. David. - 13/08/2018

Thank you Matt, would love to share a beer with you one day to thank you for the hours of thought/insight you have provided since the BSAD inception.

Saturday’s highlight for me was, (as Baattersea Dave mentioned above), watching Deeney running like a greyhound. I was genuinely moved by his admission of falling out of love with the game and his potential declining contribution to the cause. I hope this season works out for both our captain and club this season.

11. Old Git - 15/08/2018

I thought Masina played his part perfectly. If things carry on like this, he might prove to have been a splendid signing.


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