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Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Watford 0 (21/08/2021) 22/08/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  “YES mate!  Yellllooooooooows” comes the shout from the right, where a bunch of lads are drinking on the pavement outside a pub on Queens Road as we trundle down towards the front from the station in our colours.  It’s that sort of day.  Last Saturday was the first proper game; today the first away trip is almost as significant – the first away trip for many, probably, since we were last here more than eighteen months ago.  The mood  reflects this, it’s about celebrating the event as much as supporting the team.  By this stage I’ve already been serenaded whilst availing myself of the facilities on the long Thameslink slog from Bedford by travelling ‘orns who had chosen, for reasons unclear, to locate themselves next to the loo in a half-empty carriage.  Not an experience I’d choose to repeat, but positive in spirit and intent.

Back on Queens Road, my response of “Yooooorns” is greeted with slight confusion, as if I’ve given the wrong response to the call signal, but this reaction is far less disquieting than the one behind me.  Things have progressed during the hiatus without proper football;  daughters 1 & 2 are now 15 and 12 respectively, no longer children and certainly of an age where sniggering conspiratorially at your embarrassing Dad is a done thing.  This is the first match we’ve done together  away from Vicarage Road since the Cup Final; in particular it’s the first game that Daughter 1 has been to since the win over Wolves at the start of last year so it’s particularly good to hear her singing along instinctively when such things begin a few hours later.  She has a good day; we avoid the malicious intent of the evil bastard seagulls on the front (unlike our family trip a year ago when daughter 2 lost an ice cream) and all major food groups are covered:  chocolate, ice cream, chewing gum, crisps and pie.

2- The boisterous party vibe (as daughters 1 and 2 would call it) continues at the ground.  To get to this stage we’ve had to navigate considerable security protocols outside the ground including two sniffer dogs (“am I allowed to pat them?”) but no COVID status checks.  The drizzle has stopped, the sun is out.

Having followed advice and tradition and arrived very early we’re in our seats for a long time watching Stuff Happen.  Much of the boisterousness is backstage until closer to kick off, but as the players complete their warm-up a lad is escorted past us with his arm genially around a steward’s shoulders, high fiving all comers.  It is reported over my shoulder that he skipped over the advertising hoardings, shared an exchange with a less inebriated but perhaps startled Ben Foster and then faced a couple of shots before the stewards wised up to developments.  All very naughty and so forth, but you can’t help but hope that the paperwork invoking the ban-from-all-football threatened by incursion onto the pitch is lost in the post in this instance.

But for all the bonhomie there is an air of being a friend-of-a-friend at someone else’s party.  If Brighton and the Amex, perhaps without the added detail of promotion since The Last Time, never has the volcanic exuberance of Vicarage Road a week ago there is no mistaking the mood outside the ground as we amble round to the southern end.  This is Brighton’s First Day Back, a factor that always felt like it might play a role, much as it helped us a week ago.  Friends are greeting friends with smiles on their faces, a Dad is eagerly asking his son where he’d rather get a match programme – inside the ground or out? – and the old boy in a blue and white shirt with whom we board the Falmer train from Brighton grins and says “it’s just so nice to be back, isn’t it?”.  But he’s not really talking to us, he’s staring into space.

3- A factor, then.  Fuel to the fire.  But there are bigger issues that get the fire started in the first place.  One of these is betrayed by our bench, which despite having nine names on it can’t find a proper midfielder with Kucka and, presumably, Gosling injured, contractually challenged pair Hughes and Chalobah non-grata (or “ill”), Tufan incoming and TDB and Phillips out on loan.  This means that the three out there are the last three cabs on the rank – Etebo, Cleverley, Louza – and whilst two of the three were exemplary against Villa and the other is a welcome debut, they are not going to have a good afternoon.

The other big factor is our opponent.  “In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team”.  If we benefitted against Villa from the increased familiarity borne of our early recruitment activity then here we’re on the receiving end of a much more settled, effective side who Know Their Shit.  We give the ball away immediately and are steamrollered;  in particularly our midfield, outnumbered by virtue of our formation and overrun from the off, can’t get hold of the game.  Louza stands out; more to come from him no doubt, but this is an afternoon he’ll need to learn from.  He wants far, far more time on the ball than he’s going to get from Yves Bissouma and yields possession on countless occasions.

We play a major role in our own downfall, contributing to both goals; nonetheless, we’ve got away with 2-0 at the interval.  The first comes from Shane Duffy, an old-school centre half who feels like he’s been on borrowed time since Albion were promoted, a championship-style defender in a Premier League side.  However many years on and despite a year out last year he’s still borrowing time, demonstrating that a bit of brutality has a place and a role in a three-man defence flanked by the ability of Webster and Dunk.  All the more so when he rises virtually unopposed to head a popular opener in off the underside of the bar from a left wing corner.  Dad, watching on TV, reports a healthy hand of Emmanuel Dennis’ shirt on the part of the Irish centre-back to which my response would be, why wasn’t Dennis kneeing him in the balls to hamper his ascent?  That’s going to happen.  Perhaps less so if it’s a big brute of a Chilean centre-back up against Duffy;  easy to be smart after the event, but this is an opponent, given Brighton’s threat at set pieces, that had Sierralta’s name all over it.

We look kind of vaguely threatening when we do get the balls in and around the Brighton area but not in as much as we generate an attempt on target.  Dennis is chasing scraps, Sarr, as always, is a weapon but is marshalled by March.  It feels laboured.  Meanwhile the midfield, drawing a parallel with my current Netflix binge, is like the US embassy at the end of Homeland season 4.  A wasteland, the terrorists have control, it’s no longer and was never a fight.  Towards the end of the half William Troost-Ekong, whose limited distribution was voiced as a concern pre-season by some and whose vulnerability here Brighton have picked up on by leaving him unchallenged and unharried at the back throughout, plays a suicide pass to Tom Cleverley.  Bissouma gobbles him up and releases Maupay.  Half of the away end don’t see the finish, heads are in hands.

4- “Same old bloody Watford, always losing” says a disembodied voice in the queue for sustenance.  The validity of the argument doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny but this is an expression of frustration and probably a little out of practice.  More generally there is rueful acknowledgement that this has been a car crash of a half on all sorts of levels but the mood is pretty resilient to it.  The crowd gets up again as the second period starts and good-natured hostilities are resumed with an individual out of my eyeline in the Brighton end.  The chants range from “Your shirt’s too small for you” to “You’re just a sh*t Father Christmas” via the slightly more niche “You’re just a sh*t Uncle Albert”.  The mind boggles.  Stewards linger uncertainly like parents at a toddler’s disintegrating birthday party.

On the pitch things are better from the off.  Too little too late, perhaps, the likelihood of a fightback never progresses beyond the theoretical and it’s difficult to judge merit comprehensively when the opponent is two-nil up, ostensibly comfortable and doesn’t need to commit.  One goal, deserved or otherwise, would have changed the mood however, and the fact that at least three of Brighton’s four yellows were earned for “take-one-for-the-team” break-stifling fouls suggests that there was more to this than just Brighton being able to sit back a bit.

Each of the subs improved the situation.  Cucho didn’t announce his arrival, inevitably in place of Louza, with the same fanfare as last week but his influence was more sustained, an effervescent force for good on the left.  A more comprehensive change in the balance of play was achieved with a formation change that saw Joshua King debuting off the bench in place of Cathcart, three at the back now and more presence in midfield with Sarr dropping deeper.  King was the pick of the bunch, some control and venom at last, whilst Troy’s cameo began on a bruising collision with Dunk that ended with a handshake but brought some welcome bite to proceedings. We didn’t do any more than draw the second half on points really, but you’d probably have taken that at half time.

5- A good friend has frequently observed that if you followed a football club, Watford for sake of argument, purely for events on the pitch you’d have a pretty bloody miserable time of it.  Rarely better illustrated than today.

On the pitch… disappointing to say the least.  Not the end of the world;  this was a failure of system and of personnel against a decent opponent rather than an irredeemable catastrophe (A decent opponent who nonetheless, in the same way that the concession of two goals nagged at us last week, might reflect on their own capabilities having been so dominant and yet only managing two goals, each of them facilitated.  As someone put it afterwards, “if Connolly could finish his dinner…”).  We knew we were lightweight in midfield minus Capoue, Doucs, now Chalobah.  If we’re going to be outmanned in midfield we can’t be outgunned as well.  Those solutions are coming.

But off the pitch…  losing, however badly or frustratingly, is part of the rich tapestry that we’ve missed. The investment in whatever it is you think you believe in doesn’t count for anything if it doesn’t matter when you lose.  Besides which, beating Palace and then Spurs will feel all the better for this, no?

And in any case.  Away days are back.  Daughters 1 and 2, having previously temporarily opted out of away games (don’t like being intimidated by the majority, miss the home routine) are back, and will be at Spurs.  We trundle into Bedford just before 11, they’re knackered but still grinning.  And football’s back.  That’ll do for now.  The rest will come.

Yoooorns.

Bachmann 3, Cathcart 3, Masina 2, Troost-Ekong 1, Kabasele 3, Etebo 2, Cleverley 3, Louza 1, Sarr 2, Sema 3, Dennis 3
Subs: Hernández (for Louza, 45) 3, *King (for Cathcart, 65) 3*, Deeney (for Sema, 82) NA, Ngakia, Rose, Fletcher, Sierralta, Baah, Foster

Comments»

1. Alan Ahern - 22/08/2021

I think you’ll find it was Massina’s shirt that Duffy had a handful of, and used that to push down on the defender, therefore nullifying his ability to jump and compete for the header. No matter, Massina had a nightmare first half, as did WTE. Where is Sierrialta – is he injured, unfit or not fancied? CH is definitely a position that needs looking at – it looks like we have missed out on Lycanco – he’s signed for Saints – shame, we still need a dominant CH.

Matt Rowson - 22/08/2021

Cheers. Haven’t seen any replays. Sierralta has been on the bench so far, presume late back from Chile and then no justification for dropping Kabs but we missed him yesterday.

2. David - 22/08/2021

The Duxbury interview given to the fabulous “The Rookery end”, contained the spoiler to end all spoilers. Almost certainly for the best; but, Watford will no longer gamble the future on finishing 7th-17th in the Premier league. That means ensuring all new player contracts will contain clauses reducing pay when we finish 18th-20th.

Watching the technically perfect but physically limited Llana receive & give passes in tight spaces with his head up was a painful reminder of what we are about to lose in Hughes.

3. Matt Lovett - 22/08/2021

Sadly an appalling display after the beauty of last week. Great report Mr R – as usual a very balanced view. Having read your (and IG’s) reports for the past 25+ years, it still makes my day when I find you’ve posted an update. Keep it going – fabulous stuff.

Matt Rowson - 23/08/2021

Thank you Sir

4. JohnF - 23/08/2021

Excellent report Matt, I hope that the return of the girls made it a good day out even if the team performance was disappointing. I didn’t attend but watched on Sky shouting at the screen in frustration and muting the ignorant Redknapp. We started off as we did on occasion early last season looking surprised that we had kicked off and the game had started. The loose pass by Etebo in the first minute set the tone and allowed Brighton to start on the front foot. We encountered some of the big centre halves at corners last season but they weren’t as good and we did have Sierralta.

Ekong has always had a couple of misplaced or underhit passes in him but as you say the consequences in the PL are greater because we are up against better players and Brighton were fired up. I know Masina didn’t have the best game but there was no support for him and he was often left isolated. It will be the team and playing as a team that will be important.

We knew this would be a difficult season and everyone would need to be at their best and working as a team to simply survive but with a disrupted pre-season I guess we should expect some set backs. It’ll be interesting to see who starts on Tuesday but I would be surprised not to see Sierralta and perhaps Danny Rose.


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