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Watford 1 Luton Town 0 (26/09/2020) 26/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1-  So there’s a guy who lives in my village.  We won’t name him, let’s call him “George”.  I know him well enough to stop and chat – about football, typically, which may be no surprise.

I ran into him a couple of weeks ago and he wasn’t wasting time with niceties.  “I watched your lot on the telly”, he started, without a “hello”.  “What are they all doing kneeling before the kick-off?”.

It went downhill from there.  From “When I saw your guy holding his fist in the air I turned it off” via “That sort of thing’s why I don’t watch much football any more” to “Why they’re allowed to do that but they can’t put a poppy on a shirt I don’t know” before I was afforded a word.  I briefly suggested that I didn’t share his point of view and took his leave.

The point is, there are wankers.  They’re out there, hiding in plain sight. This probably won’t be news to many of you.  Some of them will support Luton.  Some will support Watford.  George supports neither, as it goes. With particular relevance to this week, the fact that it was deemed necessary to bring the match forward to lunchtime, to box up the GT statue, can only have been based on police advice – you don’t put yourself to that sort of trouble on a whim, because you’re at a loose end.  At the time of writing it seems that nothing “went off”.  That doesn’t make these decisions ill-advised.

There are wankers.  Empty vessels make the most noise.  Yes, it’s pathetic, but there are wankers.  That’s as interesting as it gets.

2- Meanwhile, the first local derby for however long.  I found it significant, in the build up, to reflect that there aren’t anti-Luton songs any more.  I don’t remember the last time “Wings of a Sparrow” or any of the less witty, more banal, “insert-name-of-your-local-rivals-here” chants got an airing.  As you’ll have gathered, I don’t really miss it.

Tied in with that is the fact that local derbies matter more when your teams are competitive rivals (which we haven’t been for a while) and particularly when both teams are rubbish (ditto, at least in our case). Add the fact that anyone under the age of 30 won’t remember the two sides being frequent opponents and the lack of it being quite such a thing any more is easier to understand.

Which isn’t to say that the game was anything other than hugely significant.  In the last week I’ve been reminded of that feeling you used to get, the excitement mixed with apprehension that it was them and we were probably going to lose because that’s what happened.  I hadn’t felt that for more than twenty years, but it was a staple twice-a-season thing once upon a time.

This lasted until the team news, which was a bit like the team news before the Palace quarter final eighteen months ago when Zaha’s absence was confirmed.  The anxiety washed away in blinking, grinning joy.  Suddenly there was no peril, just excitement.  Suddenly you knew we were going to win, like on that day in October 1997.  Ismaïla Sarr may still leave over the next few weeks, but that’s no reason not to enjoy whatever minutes we get.  At this level, he’s a cheat code.

3- Characteristic of too many of our League performances since the lockdown has been a poor start, to the extent that it’s been something worth noting in every game in its own right.  There’s no point taking the gamble of starting Sarr and not beginning on the front foot though, and whilst the opening fifteen minutes of a derby, any derby, is traditionally frantic chest-beating and “Hold on, did anyone bring a ball?” harum scarum, the lack of a crowd and therefore absence of noisy angst from the stands allowed a very entertaining game of football to break out.

In terms of vibe our performance was similar to that in the second half at Hillsborough…  verve, energy and movement lacking only an end product.  With Sarr in the mix however there’s all manner of extra potency;  his pace and threat alongside João Pedro’s awareness and deceptive strength seems almost unfair in the Championship.

For ten or fifteen minutes it was still a little incomplete.  We looked nice and tidy until the final third, but couldn’t get any controlled possession at the business end of the pitch, Sema coming closest by playing through Cleverley with a smart first touch.

But we were soon producing our most fluid football of the season, and whilst the squad remains up in the air there are all sorts of things to be excited about.  Sarr skating at opponents, combining deft touches with brutal physicality and ferocious speed.  No signs of rust whatsoever.  Ngakia uncontainable once again, always available on the overlap and putting in quality with either foot, a horrible player to have to mark.  Tom Cleverley, released from his sitting role by James Garner’s inclusion, in the more advanced ferreting position which has always seen his best stuff.  João Pedro, as above surprisingly resilient, tougher than his spindly frame suggests ought to be possible.  He received plenty of attention from his markers but stood up to all of it – there was a tendency to go looking for a foul but referee John Brooks did a decent job of letting the game run and not blowing up when he didn’t have to.

So with Ngakia and Sarr rampant, it was a bit of a surprise that the goal came from an attack down the left, Ken Sema once again demonstrating that he doesn’t need any space at all to get a cross in and João Pedro adjusting quickly to a deflection to prod home. His first goal in England on his nineteenth birthday.  Not the last.

4- Whilst we were on top it would be wrong to paint this as a completely one-sided contest. The visitors were the strongest side we’ve faced thus far, defended well for the most part, desperately on occasions but doggedly enough to stay in it and always looked dangerous on the break where their attacks were neat and tidy.  Harry Cornick was the biggest threat in the first half, too often finding space down the right.  His ball across was smacked off the underside of the bar by Collins with Foster doing well to come out and force the Luton striker to lift the ball.  That goes in it’s a different game;  as it was we broke and scored, and never really looked back.

At half time of that game at Kenilworth Road in October 1997 I met my now co-editor (as well as the estimable Nick Grundy) for the first time.  This time, things being what they are, I had to settle for grabbing a sandwich.

5- The visitors attempted to seize the initiative at the start of the second half, but this barely lasted beyond an opening corner.  Thereafter it was the Hornets with the greater threat, even if the concern remains that one-nil doesn’t reflect our superiority, that for all the flicks and tricks and movement we’re making scoring goals harder than it should be.  There are no stock goals.

That will come though.  Indeed at the rate at which the kids – and the team as a whole – are improving, that will come very soon.  This one should have been more… from one of a number of excellent James Garner corners Chalobah glanced a header that needed slightly more contact and went wide.  Cleverley fed João Pedro whose flick released Garner, his drive was saved and the Brazilian’s snapshot on the rebound went wide.  Tunnicliffe was sloppy in possession, Sarr put the burners on and Pearson was forced to concede the first booking of the game (in the 75th minute of all things).

By that point Chalobah – excellent and forceful for an hour – had gone off to be replaced by Tom Dele-Bashiru, a less conspicuous addition to the “available” roster.  Briefly it looked as if Chalobah’s physicality might be missed again as we entrusted the back of the midfield to the 21 year-old Nigerian and his 19 year-old Scouse partner in crime, but any concerns were misplaced.  Dele-Bashiru has impressed in fits and bursts with the few chances he’s had since his arrival a year ago, but this was for me his most convincing half-hour in a Watford shirt…  composed under pressure, stingy with possession, direct and purposeful when Luton really wanted to be allowed to have the ball a bit more than they were.  If Dele-Bashiru was bypassed, Garner too proved to be made of much tougher stuff than you’d credit, hurling himself at loose balls, holding off much bigger opponents, and again being mean and rapid with possession.

There wasn’t much of a kitchen sink, much as an equaliser and a distinct change of mood wasn’t entirely off the cards.  Instead the Hornets should again have extended their lead, João Pedro and Sarr combining on the left to allow Dele-Bashiru a shot which Sluga did well to save.  To round off the show, Troy came on like a pantomime dame, barely featured in the play but provided a comedy battering of Luton’s frustrated left back who had made the mistake of taking out his anger on Ngakia.  A “Gifton at the corner flag” moment.  We finished the game well on top, and if Luton look unlikely to be facing a relegation battle this season they were outplayed and outclassed here.  Yes, it’s nice to write that.

6- As suggested during the week, a result in this one makes all the difference to your perspective but the performance on top of that gives real grounds for optimism.  “Building from the back” is hardly a radical strategy, but it’s significant that we’ve conceded (generously) four decent chances across our first three League games.  We won’t go far wrong if that continues;  Cathcart, Kabasele and Wilmot looked very solid indeed and if Troost-Ekong’s signing is as imminent as Twitter seems to believe we seem well catered for here.  Our attacking play sparkled at times today, and whilst the pieces are still sliding in and out of view we have plenty of options – and of course if we do hold on to Sarr, even until January, an outrageous talent by the standards of the Premier League let alone the Championship.

And, a footnote, we beat our local rivals, in the League, here, for the first time since 1987.  It should remain a footnote.  Should beating Luton become one of the more significant details of this season then this team will not have fulfilled its dizzying potential.

Yooorns.

Foster 4, Cathcart 5, Kabasele 4, Wilmot 4, *Ngakia 5*, Garner 5, Chalobah 4, Sema 5, Cleverley 5, Sarr 4, João Pedro 5
Subs: Dele-Bashiru (for Chalobah, 63) 4, Deeney (for João Pedro, 88) NA, Quina (for Sarr, 90) NA, Dawson, Femenía, Murray, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Preston Fingerdyke - 26/09/2020

“Cheat code” Brilliant.

You saw the same game as me and favourite younger son; including the scoring inefficiency. My favourite moment? That Pedro back-heel in the rapid attack that opened up the them defence completely.

So much to look forward to.

2. Harefield Hornet - 26/09/2020

Excellent performance. I couldn’t understand all the negativity before this match and
always felt we would have too much quality to lose this fixture. Given their general ineffectiveness in most departments it was interesting to hear their manager whining about the lack of the crowd and there was only one goal in it etc etc. Stop kidding yourself mate you were outclassed. COYH!

Matt Rowson - 26/09/2020

Yeah. Dead classy, Jones. No, really.

3. David - 26/09/2020

I sent in an article “hate something” about Luton to your BSAD website some time back, my view has not changed. As for Your George, what a wanker.

As for today, we were greater than the sum of our parts, it has been some time since we have said that.

4. Vaughn Smith - 26/09/2020

Troy – a ‘pantomime dame’ – classic! He looked well up for it, as did Sarr, as did all of them. I’ll take 1-0 at home and 0-0 away all season. It’s not how you get the points but how many you get…very encouraging.

Harefield Hornet - 26/09/2020

Thought he looked a bit grumpy getting dragged on near the death to be honest!

Ashen Blow - 26/09/2020

Not a flattering camera angle when TD9 was stripping off for action. Plenty around the midriff there! He was out of puff running over to “calm down” the spat that led to the booking. Clearly up for it if he could be bothered to do that when 30% fit.

5. Ray Knight - 27/09/2020

Travelling to Durham so many thanks for your excellent write-up. So far Ivic is doing all the right things and reminds me of the Joka. Feeling much more optimistic ahead of the next couple of away matches. COYHs!

thehornet35 - 28/09/2020

Eye test?

6. PEDantic - 27/09/2020

Really enjoyed that yesterday – hugely encouraging. But the main thing I wanted to say: Ngakia is a fantastic signing.

7. Old Git - 27/09/2020

I can’t be arsed to work up any bad feeling towards Luton. I think any negatives vibes within me are better employed hating MK Dons, for what they stand for. Likewise Manchester City. As for ‘George’, we share our land with millions of them. How else to explain Brexit and a huge majority for Boris Johnson?

Matt Rowson - 27/09/2020

Cheer me up why don’t you. Agree about franchise tho.

8. Nick - 27/09/2020

Quarter of a century soon, Matt. You’ve done a better job sticking at the writing than me!

9. Graham F - 27/09/2020

Good solid win. Great write up as ever. We’ve an exciting young team developing, especially if we can keep Ismaïla. Agree about Luton. Can’t get too bothered , although they were once chaired by a ghastly tory MP. Can’t nor remember his name. On the other hand, West Ham, after their “fans” behaviour 2 or 3 years ago…

Matt Rowson - 27/09/2020

David Evans?

Graham F - 27/09/2020

That’s it . A racist & also successfully sued for libelling the Birmingham 6.
Back to the game, huge credit to Craig Cathcart for his crossfield diagonal ball that sent Ken on his way to set up the goal.

10. Graham F - 27/09/2020

Good solid win. Great write up as ever. We’ve an exciting young team developing, especially if we can keep Ismaïla. Agree about Luton. Can’t get too bothered , although they were once chaired by a ghastly tory MP. Can’t nor remember his name. On the other hand, West Ham, after their “fans” behaviour 2 or 3 years ago…

11. Pedantic Paul - 30/09/2020

“[João Pedro’s] first goal in England on his nineteenth birthday. Not the last.”
I think you’ll find it was his last goal in England on his nineteenth birthday…. 😉

Matt Rowson - 30/09/2020

Yes yes


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