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Watford 0 Everton 0 (12/05/2022) 12/05/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  There aren’t many things that I genuinely hate about following Watford.

Even the rubbish things are OK really, much as you wouldn’t always choose them outright.  The Cup Final becomes part of the rich and varied landscape as it disappears ever further behind us in the rear-view mirror (and in common with everything pre-pandemic, might as well have been 20 years ago).  The grimness of of the catering in the away end at Stamford Bridge has to be suffered once a season at worst.  The crime against humanity that was the gents toilets at Fellows Park, Walsall is now the stuff of legend.

Ditto Scarborough away, and countless other stupid trips to watch ridiculously bad football.  If you’re in it just for the football itself you’re going to have a very miserable existence, as others have observed.  Don’t like some of these things, wouldn’t choose these things, fine.  But “hate” is a strong word.

I hate moments of conflict within Watford’s support.  Not… dispute about a particular player.  Or Paul getting all silly about black shorts again.  That’s fine, that’s normal.  But I don’t like conflict, I’m not very good at it… and at times when the sentiment towards the club is hostile, justified or otherwise and whether or not there’s confrontation between supporters…   it shatters the illusion that we’re in this together.  That for two hours on a Saturday afternoon we’re all the same, we are the club as much as anything is.  I like that illusion, it’s a big part of why I’m here.  To be part of a tribe of like-minded well-raised people.

2- I wasn’t looking forward to this evening.  This is rare, for any game whatever the circumstances; my seat in the Rookery has been My Seat for 23 years now and is a happy place, even if Daughter 2 thinks that she owns it now (she’s wrong).

But whatever your position on where we are and whose fault it is…  surely nobody was looking forward to this one.  The confirmation of our relegation at Selhurst Park was followed immediately by Roy Hodgson’s unusual behaviour post-match, and then the revelation of our sudden and suspicious injury list.

For all of it there’s mitigation if you want to look for it.  Gino/Scott… yes, another terrible season but, you know, ten years of which six in the top flight plus two promotions plus one more play-off final, a cup final, a semi-final.  Not bad is it?  Sheffield Wednesday were relegated with us in 2000, much bigger City, much bigger fanbase, not been to the top flight since, they’d kill for that.  I don’t doubt Roy’s assertion that he believes he’s here to manage the team not to perform for supporters – and after all, he left Palace during a pandemic, natural that he’d want to take an opportunity to say his farewells.  Far classier than coming back during Patrick Vieira’s opening months and watching on, passing judgement like a lingering houseguest.  And the team availability…  I don’t want to see Sarr and Dennis ambling around again if their heads aren’t in the game.  I don’t want them to get injured either if our financial stability is reliant on getting the best we can for them.  I can quite believe that Kucka, Cleverley, Kiko have been playing whilst held together with sellotape, a sacrifice no longer justifiable.

The above isn’t quite fair, either.  Gino and Scott HAVE presided over a miserable failure.  Roy’s conduct might have seemed quaint if he’d been doing it as someone else’s manager but was crass, arrogant and insensitive as ours.  Sarr and Dennis owe us something, they’re being well played by Watford (yes, “us”) to play football when we say so not when they can get themselves up for it.

But there’s got to be some balance.  Based on social media before the game I’d expected pitchforks, banners, and angry mobs. I don’t want that.  Mere incompetence doesn’t deserve that, there’s all sorts going on elsewhere that does.  The fear was that this was only going one way, and all it would take would be for us to fall behind.

3- Which, mercifully, doesn’t happen.  There are occasional gentle suggestions that some folk are ready to spring into action at the first set-back, but on a pleasant, warm evening with the mid-May sun catching the Rookery in a manner that the football calendar rarely permits it to do it’s a pleasant surprise to find that five minutes in we’re not three goals behind and nobody has been tarred or feathered.  Erica from New Mexico is here – no Daughters 1 or 2 on a school night – and feels rather short changed after my glum build-up.  There’s not even any evidence of the Mr Angry who was a source of fascination on her previous away trips.

It’s a patched-up team with back-ups in at full-back, in midfield and in the wide attacking positions.  The bench features three centre-backs and three academy forwards all making their debuts in a matchday squads.  (“Those guys are the seat-warmers, right?”.  “Bench warmers, Erica”).  Burnley and Leeds might feel justified in being peeved, but only for as long as it takes them to remember our supine collapses against both here with our first team.

Everton feature both Richarlíson and Abdoulaye Doucouré, who receive contrasting receptions, as well as Fabian Delph, sent off here on the Toffees’ last visit shortly before the pandemic lockdown in what felt like a critically expensive defeat.  They are roared on by an impossibly boisterous following who seem, from this distance, to have done an extraordinary job of mobilising behind their team in an hour of urgency (you know, “supporting” and such like – it’ll never catch on).

There’s a stoicism about our play.  Not much more than stoicism, admittedly, but let’s be realistic… we’ve been falling quickly and any kind of foothold, anything to stay the momentum is welcome. On WhatsApp, my co-editor asks why the League Cup first round is being played in May – and there’s something of that annual landmark’s curiosity about the return to view of some fringe players.  Former Evertonian Dan Gosling – whose ability to time runs into the box must surely owe something to having spent two years playing with Tim Cahill – does an inconspicuously disciplined job… scrapping, scraping, getting a foot in.  For someone who’s not played all season he’s straight back on his game.  So too is Jeremy Ngakia, who is bold and assertive while Samuel Kalu is far more convincing than during his most recent cameo at Molineux.  The world doesn’t collapse.  We’re doing OK.

4- It is, however, a monumentally terrible game.  Quite epically banal stuff, the 1970s supermarket own brand corn flakes of Premier League football. If you’re here for entertainment you’re going to be sorely disappointed;  the visitors stir themselves occasionally, Richarlíson brings a fabulous save from Foster, Demarai Gray’s game flickers in keeping with his entire career – rolling a ball so nearly , nearly… but wide across the face of goal before he completely disappears again.  Watford don’t manage a shot on target, and don’t even pretend to get a shot on target.

Fortunately, nobody’s here for entertainment.  Everton’s need is purely practical, and if there’s an edge to their anxiety it’s abated by Leeds capsizing once again elsewhere.  The Toffees could still go down, but they’ll need to try harder than this to achieve that goal in the face of some pretty stiff competition.  Watford, meanwhile, have progressed beyond the cheap, commercial sphere dictated by points and goal difference and now operate on a purely spiritual level.  Those who haven’t achieved this state of zen won’t have been quite as enamoured with what might, on the face of it and to the untrained eye, appear to be nothing more than eleven blokes passing the ball around reasonably competently, not terribly progressively but at least putting on a show of giving a shit.  To those in the know it’s a stark, nihilistic art exhibit.  Even Erica, who still doesn’t know quite what to expect, declares herself happy with a cod and chips from Fry Days and a brief, furious and wonderfully irrational tirade at the linesman on the nearside who she threatens with physical violence.  A born football (soccer) fan.

That Watford’s lack of ambition is shamelessly straight out of Roy Hodgson’s playbook evades nobody.  He was brought in to keep us up and has failed to do so… but he has made us more robust and more organised, our away form since he arrived would have been good enough to keep us up if paired with a halfway sensible home record; this was the fourth clean sheet of his tenure when none proceeded it (and the first of the season at home).  Our attack has been increasingly non-existent though, and as Will later grins as we rendezvous outside the Hornet Shop, the late replacement of Kalu with Cathcart is pure trolling on Roy’s behalf for all that it was undertaken to surgically maintain the kicking up the arse of Richarlíson, hitherto undertaken by Samir and Kabasele before his move to the left.  It’s designed to protect a point and does so.

5- That this perversely on-brand substitution provokes barely a clenched fist is symbolic of the transition that the support has made during the final quarter.  The beautifully inane “we’ve got the ball / we’ve lost the ball / we’ll win it back” commentary is a cult-like mantra that lasts twenty minutes solid and stifles even the away end who now know that their side are a short distance from utter humiliation, however theoretical.  The chant will become dull very very quickly on a par with “we’re the right side / we’re the left side” if overused, but it suits the evening down to the ground.  The lesser of two monkeys is off our back as a nil-nil draw against a relegation-threatened side at home is greeted with joy.

The relatively painless transition from looking backwards to looking forwards has been helped by the announcement of Rob Edwards’ appointment earlier in the day, the timing of which transparently with a view to precisely this objective.  Personally… I’m gutted that it wasn’t John Eustace but that’s a sentimental judgement.  Both appear to be the sort of young, positive, British coach that everybody seems to agree is needed with a view to defining a future that isn’t purely reactive and I’ve got no more profound insight than that to offer.  John Eustace is also John Eustace, which is a fine thing in itself but being Rob Edwards might turn out to be pretty cool too.

Let’s see.

Yoorns.

Foster 3, *Ngakia 3*, Masina 3, Samir 3, Kabasele 3, Kayembe 2, Sissoko 3, Gosling 3, Kalu 3, Sema 2, João Pedro 3
Subs: Cathcart (for Kalu, 86) NA, Etebo (for Kayembe, 89) NA, Cukur, Blake, Grieves, Morris, Sierralta, Troost-Ekong, Bachmann

Comments»

1. skipton65 - 13/05/2022

Thank you Matt – that’s a very comforting review to read this morning. In a season when there’s been far too much vitriol hurled at the club it’s good to hear a calm voice that subtly reminds us that supporting a club has a meaning and a degree of responsibility that we should all share.

And 23 years in that seat…. how time flies when you’re having fun!

2. Sequel - 13/05/2022

There were a few occasions where I almost got excited, but none which required Pickford to stub his fag out and brace for action. As Basil Faulty would have put it: “Entertainment? Oh yes, I remember.”

3. JP - 13/05/2022

Perfectly summed up. That was one of the most enjoyable drab/dull/turgid 0-0 draws I’ve seen. Like many, I suspect, I was quite upbeat at the final whistle. Heartily agree about Sarr and Dennis plus a few others. We all have our views as to who. But we’ll done Dan Gosling. He had every right to be “not bothered”. That was quite a shift he put in. A little unfair that people were unhappy about Cathcart coming on. Exactly who else? We had one, half fit, striker on the pitch. Excellent support under difficult circumstances. Not expecting miracles next season but some good home performances and a reconnect with the players will do me fine. One more game to go.

4. Ray Knight - 13/05/2022

You’ve captured the mood of the match perfectly Matt. Loved the phrase ‘like-minded well raised people’. Also known as genuine football supporters, not fair-weather EPL sycophants. Leaving the family stand it was actually heartening to see an older lady with an Everton scarf around her neck. A dull 0-0 draw was nothing to write home about but I am now more optimistic and looking forward to next season.

5. JohnF - 13/05/2022

Thanks Matt, important stuff to remember and thanks for all your reports and entertainment over the whole season. It appears that success (by Watford supporters’ standards) which is much greater than most smaller clubs and many “big” clubs, has led to a misplaced sense of entitlement among some of our supporters. Even though it has been a pretty rubbish season, there have been highlights, not many but some. Mistakes have been made but the senior management are obviously trying to correct thiese and actions seem to be backing up the words. In football it is important to remember there are no guarantees but trying hard is the next best thing.

I quite enjoyed Wednesday, with no pressure and a ready excuse but the excuse wasn’t needed. Indeed the effort from the players was 100% and the team looked a bit more balanced. We have much to be thankful for. In the 25 or so years that I have been a supporter with my family, we have had some real lows in a largely rubbish stadium with poor performances in front of small crowds in lower divisions, and some amazing times with promotions, play-off finals, cup semi-finals and the cup final.On top of that we have a pretty nice stadium and the club does a lot of good in the local community.

Here is to a cracking season for 2022-23 and a wonderful summer for you and your family (and Ian).

Matt Rowson - 13/05/2022

Thanks John, you too

6. Harefield Hornet - 14/05/2022

One thing I noticed on Wednesday was the largish group of Everton fans who took over a section of the SEJ stand. They didn’t seem to cause any untoward issues but I’m just curious to know if anyone has any idea how they came to be there in such numbers ?

7. Watnoel - 15/05/2022

Harefield hornet.

They sit in front of me in these corporate ‘type’ seats. Every game a new group turns up for whoever the visiting team is. Always well behaved.

Complete with team sheet, lanyard and escorted there, presumably from one of the restaurants.

Not sure where the seats are advertised. Presumably on away fans ticket details pages. Makes a mockery of fan segregation.

Be interesting to see how many seats are sold in this block next season. I therefore will have plenty of space to spread out, until they return, when we are next promoted.

I suppose we at least get a chance to reboot and look up again. 40 years ago it was our first visit to the top flight. At least there is a sense now we could bounce back up.

Keep up the good work Matt. You always offer a realistic sense of how things are going.

Harefield Hornet - 24/05/2022

Waynoel – thanks for clearing that up but can’t say I’ve noticed any groups who resemble visiting fans there before ? – They seemed to be quite animated, even from where I was sitting on the opposite side of the ground ?


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