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Watford 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 2 (12/02/2022) 13/02/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-

‘Well, master, we’re in a fix and no mistake,’ said Sam Gamgee.  He stood despondently with hunched shoulders beside Frodo, and peered out with puckered eyes into the gloom.

It was the third evening since they had fled from the Company, during which they had almost lost count of the hours during which they had climbed and laboured among the barren slopes and stones of the Emyn Muil, sometimes retracing their steps because they could find no way forward, sometimes discovering that they had wandered in a circle back to where they had been hours before.  Yet on the whole they had worked steadily eastward, keeping as near as they could find a way to the outer edge of this strange twisted knot of hills.  But always they found its outward faces sheer, high and impassable, frowning over the plain below; beyond its tumbled skirts lay livid festering marshes where nothing moved and not even a bird was to be seen.

The Two Towers, JRR Tolkien

2- You’ll have spotted the intended parallels, perhaps.  Frodo and Sam are wandering around in circles in a shapeless, joyless land sometimes wondering whether they’re re-treading their footsteps and finding their confidence and energy sapped.  Similarly, it’s difficult to remain positive in the face of three months without a win, an ever darkening league table and no clear path out of the remorselessly hostile terrain that we find ourselves in.  Having missed Newcastle I haven’t seen us score in the League since Emmanuel Dennis found the net against West Ham in the last game of last year.  That didn’t end well, either.

Nor does it help, I think, that the in-stadium support has effectively been exposed to consecutive seasons of Premier League struggle, the first ending in relegation and the second pointed squarely in that direction.  It’s been a while, the Cup Semi-Final against Wolves arguably, since we had a successful team to watch in person and that affects your habits as much as your mood. Irrespective of whether the team is “good enough”, we’re going to games mentally on the defensive.  This much was evident when, towards the end of the first half at which point we were labouring but still level the blameless Ben Foster turned to the Rookery with the play upfield and waved his arms hopefully, encouragingly, to be met by a murmur.  That’s not a criticism of anyone, it’s just where we are.

3- For all that West Ham had been another strikeout at a largely unlikeable venue I thoroughly enjoyed Tuesday night.  No, we weren’t quite good enough in the end but it was an improvement on Burnley’s improvement – if defensive stakes were first planted at Turf Moor then here was some evidence that we could still threaten too.  And yes, Jarrod Bowen should have been denied the space to have his shot but it was still a fluke, the sort of miserable fluke that goes in when you’re where we are.  West Ham hadn’t been afforded many such chances.

I’d much rather have had the time to report on that one than this one.  It’s always tempting to be introspective of course; we should acknowledge that Brighton were a lot brighter, more comfortable, more positive than West Ham had been and hence a bigger threat.  One of the main reasons that we were only just about getting away with it in the first half until we didn’t was that the Seagulls attacked with verve and purpose.  Worth also remembering that the same scoreline in Sussex at the start of the season concealed a Watford performance far less able to withstand our opponents’ pressing than here.

Nor do I hold with the criticism of the starting lineup.  Roy’s remit was surely to make us harder to play against, harder to play through.  He’d already done that, quicker than might have been credited.  The progress, if and when it comes, will come through being confident enough with our defending to start throwing a few more punches in anger too;  Retaining that defensive mentality for a home game, for all that we have attacking weapons kicking our heels, didn’t work in the end.  That doesn’t make it the wrong decision.  It’s not as if playing more open football with the weapons available – and Sarr’s availability only stretched to the bench today – has gotten us very far up to now.  Daughter #1, happily sassing next to me with her sister, hasn’t seen us win since we beat Wolves on New Year’s Day 2020.

But it didn’t work.  A miserable first half saw us obstruct Brighton up to a point….  Samir impressed in the backline, doggedly getting a foot in, revelling in challenges.  But we didn’t obstruct enough to prevent those chances… Moder forced a good save from Foster, then put in a cross for Gross to head wide unchallenged;  Maupay shot from long range in too much space, Foster saved comfortably; Dunk headed over unchallenged from a deep corner.  Whether Maupay’s looping shot was quite what he intended or otherwise we had allowed Brighton enough bites not to be able to complain when they got lucky.  This wasn’t Bowen at West Ham.

The larger problem perhaps was that we were scarcely threatening ourselves.  Hell, we were scarcely anything. Dennis’ clever break midway through the half spoke volumes…  as he fooled Dunk and span into space on the half way line the home crowd roared in unfamiliar surprise and desperation.  We so badly need something to celebrate, something to cling to.  The Nigerian roared down the left flank;  a halfway confident player, a Dennis in the midst of his hot streak a few months ago, strikes it left footed across the face of goal.  Instead he turned into challenges to get it on his right foot and won a free kick that must have been very close to a penalty from the recovering Dunk.  It shouldn’t have come to that.

4- Let’s give ourselves a break from this bleak fare.  Hell, given the correlation between our results and this blog’s readership there’s little to justify me still being here typing at 11am on Sunday morning so I might as well try to enjoy myself.

Things on the pitch are difficult, fingers are being pointed all over the place.  But there’s lots the club continues to get right, and here’s one instance.  Anyone younger than, loosely, 45 isn’t going to remember Ann Swanson in her pomp but whilst few outside Watford will recognise her name she was an essential component of the club’s most successful, happiest era in the 1980s. My first season tickets were in the Family Enclosure;  Ann was unmissable, the matriarch, the dominant figure.  She’s spoken about how much support she received from GT in crafting the family areas; no doubt he shared her vision but he was a smart guy, he knew who not to pick a fight with in any case.  The club owe her a lot for the reputation that was forged, for the fact that 50-ish blokes like me still instil a romantic vision of what it’s all about into the eyes of their kids such that they (reasonably) happily agree to drive up to Burnley in the pissing rain, or sit here in the cold despite (see above) not having seen us win in forever.

So the best bit of an admittedly difficult afternoon was quite comfortably Ann’s clearly genuine, tearful surprise at being told that the Family Stand would now bear her name.  Well done Watford.  Well done.

5- During the interval, a clear signal was sent with both Imrân Louza and Ismaïla Sarr warming up on the pitch.  Sarr’s achievements with Senegal had been celebrated over the tannoy and the man himself seemed keen to both acknowledge his reception and to pitch back into the fray but it was Louza who made the most immediate impression.  The opening period of the half offered grounds for optimism as the much-missed pivot at the back of the midfield got hold of the ball and gave us a degree of control for the first time in the match.

If Sarr was less effective it wasn’t through lack of effort… there was no suggestion here of the slightly sulky ineffectiveness that his worst performances have been accused of.  Nonetheless we struggled to get him into the game… his first involvement was a wild if positive shot from distance, slugged over the bar and into the Rookery.  Dennis was the next to threaten, wriggling impossibly through challenges on the left before pumping a shot off the bar, his head in his hands.

Problem was, it didn’t feel natural.  Any patterns that had developed in our attacking play have been interrupted by AFCON in particular and stymied by lack of recent success in particular.  Joshua King, whose lack of goals conceals a steady work rate was less effective here.  You kinda feel that if we are to have any hope of digging our way out of this that front three needs to function as a unit better than it did here – almost every half chance was an individual’s creation.

By the time Adam Webster shovelled a second goal past Ben Foster the visitors had reclaimed control.  Tom Cleverley and Kiko Femenía both seemed to have a role in repelling another Moder shot, yet another was deflected wide.  A scramble that portended the one that would lead to the goal resulted in Cucurella forcing probably the save of the game from Foster.  Meanwhile João Pedro, whose name had been sung in a little desperation by some in the Rookery, had his most ineffective cameo of the season.  By the time the game finished the home stands were long since emptying.  A number of sulky and violent challenges on Lamptey betrayed our frustration. Sarr’s slug at Sánchez provided at least a shot on target and some hope of better to come – and, via his link-up with Kiko, a reminder of one of the few dependable partnerships in the team.

But we’re running out of time here, quite obviously.  Some had cited this as a must-win game, that we’re best resigning ourselves to the inevitable should we not turn the corner here.  I don’t think it’s quite “done”…  that we need Roy and Ray to turn it around immediately doesn’t imply that failure to do so constitutes a bad plan or a busted flush.  There are enough winnable games left and enough bad teams around us, but winnable games are only a meaningful concept if, you know, you’re winning at all.

Frodo and Sam eventually escape from Emyn Muil through help from an unlikely source.  We’re going to need a similarly unlikely break if we’re to end our search for a Precious three points any time soon.  Villa Park, where we’re still owed a break, would be my choice.

Yoorns.

*Foster 4*, Femenía 2, Kamara 3, Samir 3, Cathcart 2, Kayembe 2, Sissoko 2, Kucka 2, Cleverley 3, Dennis 3, King 2
Subs: Sarr (for Kucka, 45) 3, Louza (for Kayembe, 45) 3, João Pedro (for Cleverley, 70) 2, Hernández, Sema, Kabasele, Masina, Ngakia, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 13/02/2022

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion of course but I’m by mystified by the WO rating for Louza -i.e. anonymous following introduction? Apart from the brief rally after half time we just seemed second best all over the park yesterday. Significant that after Sarrs initial forays down the right Brighton switched the play for more or less the rest of the game down the opposite flank. They’re in a great place to be of course in terms of playing without any pressure on them, unlike us, there is no expectancy for them to win the league or even finish top in the top five and they’re miles away from the relegation mire. They can just relax and play their football exactly how they like and it showed .

2. Walthamstow Horn - 13/02/2022

So hard to keep the faith right now 😞

3. Duncan H - 13/02/2022

I feel for Daughter 1 as I’m in the exact same boat – 1 Jan 2020 was the last time I saw us win in person. For various reasons I missed Liverpool, Villa on the opening day of the season and that Man U victory. 13 games and counting…starting to feel cursed. I also agree that we supporters, and arguably the team as well, have been pretty unlucky in that none of us were there to enjoy the promotion and so we have mostly seen various shades of defeat for 2.5 years now. And – not a popular opinion among many supporters, I know – I also feel sorry for WTE and Sierralta, who were imperious last year and yet had no one there in the ground to appreciate it, and get back to a full stadium only to be blamed (in WTE’s case) for just about everything,

Football’s only a game and so on, but it often seems that your team’s fortunes somehow mirror your own, and yesterday was yet another draining experience at a time when I, and no doubt many of us, are desperate for something, anything, that allows us to forget ourselves whole-heartedly for a couple of hours. Oh well.

Matt Rowson - 13/02/2022

Agree with much of that Duncan; good point on WTE and Sierralta whose defensive record albeit in a lower division was extraordinary as you say.

As for your final point… yeah, I can empathise with that. Sometimes football is merely fun, others it becomes something that you rely on for a burst because it’s outside of the realms of other things that are going wrong. Hope things get better, hang in there.

4. Sequel - 13/02/2022

When Brighton had the ball, the pitch seemed lush, large and flat. When we had the ball, it was as though we were playing on a rutted cow field, with a beach ball, while wearing clogs.
Thankfully, Jon Moss took pity on us and only added on 2 minutes of injury time.
As for Ann Swanson; she deserves every award she gets. I, and many others I suspect, had tears in my eyes after the presentation.

simmos - 13/02/2022

The less said about the match the better.

Thank you for making mention of Ann Swanson and the tribute to her. She lived in a neighbouring road to my family and was a particular friend of my late father. When visiting our house she would regale us with stories of GT and Sir EJ and while she had great fondness for both, most of them would be complaining they wouldn’t let her undertake certain projects. It was absolutely right and fitting she should be recognised for her wonderful work and it is great credit to the Pozzo’s that they have taken this step especially at a difficult time for the club.

Matt Rowson - 13/02/2022

Agree with all of that. There’s a distinct lack of vanity in allowing stands to be named after previous chairman/manager and this is no different.

5. David - 13/02/2022

Great report Matt although Frodo & Sam’s prospects were never this bleak.

I love going to football and everything about it but on my journey home I began wondering why and I’m concerned I’ve found the answer. Since the home game against Fulham in March/April 2019 I have seen watford win in the flesh no more than 10 times in the league and I have been to every home game there was general entry for and a dozen or so away games.

Perhaps I only like football and everything about it as long as I watch watford win more occasionally than I have been of late.

Matt Rowson - 13/02/2022

I think we all need a bit of encouragement now and again… hang in there.

6. Jeff Lloyd - 13/02/2022

In the spirit of eternal hope I posit this: when R&R arrived at a ‘doomed’ Palace it didn’t turn around for a few games. I’m still faintly hopeful that we have a winning lineup but am worried it has to include Sarr, Dennis, and JP10 with no Josh King to link it all up. Kucka is still WAY off the pace in almost every game I’ve watched online, giving the ball away and not contributing anything special.
I still have hope. But could do with teams other than Burnley and Norwich not winning.

7. Luke - 13/02/2022

Great article. Agree with your synopsis around watching a loosing team continually surprisingly brings the baggage we’re seeing now. Unlike you, I’ve thought we’ve been down since before Christmas and nothing has changed my mind. Our club is great it will whether up or down (Anne Swanson Stand – also how many football stands are named after women – utterly deserved and fantastic). Hopefully those in charge will start making some better decisions and no matter what happens this season will still have great moments- the hope and joy of Villa and the glorious chaos of Man United (my 6 year old sons first ever Watford game). Thanks for the article- family holiday to Bognor meant I was lucky to miss this one..

Matt Rowson - 13/02/2022

cheers Luke

8. Watford Will - 14/02/2022

Great report Matt as ever. It was the first game I have been to at Vicarage Rd in the Premier League, and you captured it perfectly. The only thing no one has commented on is how bad Kucka was. He was lucky to stay on until half time.
Watching the game live sadly confirmed what I thought from reading your reports (and a few other people’s reports!), which is that the bottom line is that the squad is not good enough. There was huge excitement when Sarr entered the fray for the second half, but while he is clearly very good, he is still pretty raw, and I think would be just a regular starter in a team like Southampton rather than the star man (he has time to get better though of course). In my opinion, other than Sarr, only Foster and Dennis are of the requisite standard (and Foster is almost 40).
Talking of Southampton, I have just listened to an interview given by their chief executive on Five live. I recommend listening to it, and very much wish our club could be run in the same way, with a long term strategy in mind.

Simon - 15/02/2022

I heard that interview with the Southampton chief exec too. What struck me about it was that it all made perfect sense and sounded very like the interviews Scott Duxbury was giving in 2018-19.

I think we’ve lost our way a bit as, having made some mis-steps, relegation and COVID related finance issues have left us chasing our tails so the long term planning is less apparent.

Everything the Saints CEO said sounds really straightforward while it’s working. Prior to Hassenhutl, though, he presided over hiring Puel, Pelegrini and Hughes, none of whom lasted more than 57 games and two were sacked with the club in dire relegation trouble. They eventually got the right man but, track record doesn’t necessarily suggest they’ll get it bang on with the next guy.

Where I do think both Saints and Brighton expose a bit of a hole in our model is that they’ve stuck with managers they believed in even where there have rough spots. The year we went down, Saints were in the relegation zone deep into the Autumn and it was only really a stellar run at the end of the season that dragged them to 11th. The season before that, they escaped on the last day and folk on their message boards were doubtless posting about how they should be more like us, having finished comfortably in mid-table and made a cup final.

9. skipton65 - 15/02/2022

Remaining games are;

Villa away – (Draw?)
Palace home – (Win?)
Man U away – (Lose?)
Arsenal home – (Lose?)
Saints away – (Draw?)
Everton home – (Draw?)
L’pool away – (Lose?)
Leeds home – (Win?)
Bees home – (Win?)
Man City away – (Lose?)
Burnley home – (Win?)
Palace away – (Lose?)
Leics home – (Lose?)
Chelsea away – (Lose?)

If the above come in, we have 31 points.

I see Burnley and Norwich relegated on 24 points each, Newcastle surviving on 39.

Football is difficult to predict but this feels like the shape of things to come, UNLESS there are 9 more points to be found in those remaining games.

We always hope.

skipton65 - 18/02/2022

My apologies, further work on these figures spots that the home game against Burnley is more likely to be a draw – its the only relegation match left (6 pointer) – therefore we would finish on 29, so 11 points needed from somewhere

10. Essex Hornet - 17/02/2022

Anyone who has read or seen the films of “Lord of the Rings” will of course know(spoiler alert)that Frodo and Sam are eventually rescued from the Emyn Muil by Gollum, admittedly via the lair of Shelob the giant spider, who he hopes will eat them up and leave behind his “precious”. Any parallels?

skipton65 - 17/02/2022

Well there is that…. but eventually they’re totally, totally, completely rescued by giant talking eagles. We look forward to Matt working that one in. (not holding my breath)

Matt Rowson - 17/02/2022

Well that means the turnaround starts next Wednesday, surely, when Palace’s 1m90 CB Joachim Andersen talks himself into a red card in the first five minutes and things open up for us. No?


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