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Watford 2 Middlesbrough 1 (30/08/2022) 31/08/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  The thing is, it isn’t like anywhere else.  Other places…  homes, schools, where you work… might have similar long standing but nowhere has this permanence in significance and role.  None of it looks like it did when I first came in 1980, not even the now-more-green-than-brown stuff in the middle.  There are no longer busses visible trundling along the top of the northern end of the ground.  There’s no longer a hotchpotch of bits of stand and terracing down the east side, nor is there any longer a place where you can swap panini stickers (is there?). The Shrodells Stand has long gone, as has the Watford Observer Clock (though – spoiler alert – only as far as the Museum’s excellent commemorative exhibition).

But it still serves the same purpose, a century on.  It still has what my daughters might call the same “vibe”, though vibe is a grossly inadequate word.  And for all that you’ll have been through a full gamut of emotions in your time here from boredom to irritation to anguish to exuberant joy if you’ve been to Vicarage Road as often as once, the constancy is provided by the fact that it’s a place of safety, a home from home.  A happy place.

I’m invited into Horizons in the GT stand as part of the celebrations;  Daughter 2 is my plus one, eyes popping at the food and the drink and the people not to mention the local royalty from Luther Blissett to Ann Swanson doing the rounds.  We’re later seated, unusually, at the front of the Upper GT from where we see the fireworks, the smoke, the flags, the yellow red and black. The first of the many local heroes re-introduced to the crowd – the legendary Lloyd Doyley and the significant return of Aidy Mariappa.  “Chariots of Fire” serenades the final warm up, a perfect echo of yesteryear for those old enough to remember.

Most supporters think that their club is the most special.  Everyone else is wrong.

2- So of course we’re absolutely pathetic as the game begins.  Just miserable.  Like we’d just been at an all-nighter, stumbling around with our head in a fog, shaking lager cans in the hope of half an inch of tepid Kestrel as Middlesbrough bundled down our right and Ryan Giles – that’ll be Ryan Giles with a “watch me, I’m trouble” sticker on his forehead – is in a crossing position from where Hassane Kamara should be except that he’s still asleep under the pile of coats on the bed upstairs and so Francisco Sierralta lurches over.  Consequently his head isn’t on the end of Giles’ cross where you’d expect it to be, Daniel Bachmann (6 foot 3 and an arm’s length) is still raving silently to the beats behind his hooded eyes and his flail is beaten to the ball by 5 foot 10 Rodrigo Muniz, who admittedly has something of Yáser Asprilla’s bounce about him.  Asprilla, of course, is sipping Ribena through a straw whilst watching Spongebob Squarepants on the TV, nestled in between the loaded ashtrays.  Boro don’t care, they’re one-up and their sizeable support – who sang throughout Mapps’ interview but were decent enough to respect the minutes’ applause for Vince McNeice, Sammy Chung and Tommy Carpenter – are making a racket.

3- Not so the home stands, who are quickly deflated.  But this Watford team is frustrating, not rubbish.  Like a machine with loose connections that will sometimes clunk and groan but when everything whirrs and the cogs align it suddenly looks fearsome.  Impressive.  The trigger for what evolves into a quite dramatic improvement is first Hamza Choudhury and then, and more persistently, Edo Kayembe surging out of midfield with the ball.  We look vastly more threatening with one of the two driving the ball forward rather than both sitting static… one of the duo will surely take a step back when Imrân Louza returns but here, suddenly, they look a pairing that can see us on the front foot rather than “only” protecting whatever’s behind them.

It’s one of these surges from Kayembe that sparks the equaliser, which is devastating and fabulous.  His ball finds João Pedro down the left who looks less like a precocious kid and more like an experienced pro with every game;  here he cuts in between two defenders and feeds Sarr with a crisp pass on the penalty spot.  Sarr sidesteps a challenge to open the goal up in front of him and rolls the ball past the helpless goalkeeper.  In contrast to our hapless start, suddenly we look effortlessly, matter-of-factly much much better than our opponents.  In a flash, both the main men have shown their Premier League quality and you kinda hope that nobody’s watching.

But JP is pretty relentless for the rest of the half.  The move that sees him wander from left to right, exchange a couple of one-twos, play through Sarr under pressure and then show for a pass that would have seen us take the lead had his strike partner seen it is Maradona-like…  absolutely in charge and running the game.  Kayembe’s enjoying his sudden liberation also, one turn on the run to flummox an opponent is almost balletic from the least balletic figure on the pitch.  As on Saturday, pulling level sees us revelling in the expectation of a gallop off into the sunset but it doesn’t happen before half time, at which we’re level despite another late lash at goal from JP.

4- The interval sees a parade of stars of varying vintages, including Peter Walker, Walter Lees, a remarkably trim looking Stewart Scullion and Kenny Jackett amongst others.  Also a rather awkward huddle of geeks and stattos  being recognised for various contributions to the club’s heritage work, none more awkward than Daughter 2 who, having been exhorted to join the crew, flicks second by second between blushing embarrassment at her out-of-placeness and wide-eyed giddy excitement.

Half time also sees Boro make a change, with the more defensive Dijksteel introduced for Jonny Howson, and the game changes once more.  Whilst never quite plumbing the depths of the first half we again look stodgy, unable to feed our most potent weapons.  The visitors meanwhile look like the promotion contenders heralded pre-season rather than a side floundering near the bottom of the table;  they own a ridiculous number of centre-backs, one of whom – new arrival Matt Clarke – was seemingly on our list of candidates for the left-side slot.  His header gives Bachmann the opportunity to salvage his own evening with a terrific point black save – though a better directed header would have given him no chance.  Muniz tries to beat Bachmann from the halfway line and briefly it looks worrying but only briefly – he’s OK, he’s no Sarr.

But Boro are undeniably the better side again, if never quite banging on the door.  Asprilla’s outing in black and white stripes hasn’t had quite the impact hoped – as an aside we have to be careful not to overuse the teenager in our occasional desperation for some zip from midfield – and Vakoun Bayo is brought on as the spearhead but he looks desperately flimsy, low on confidence.  He gets a chance with a header, a cross from the left it’s a carbon copy of Boro’s opener except for the last bit, from our considerable distance it seems to come off his shoulder.  First the redoubtable Kenzema and then Craig Cathcart go down with injuries and are replaced by Mario Gaspar and debutant Kortney Hause, who looks reassuringly big and steady.  Less so Gaspar, who is doing little to allay anyone’s concerns.  Four minutes of injury time.  Boro fans roar their team on.

5- It’s difficult to quibble with much of Chris Wilder’s post-match assessment.  Boro played well.  They deserved something from the game.  And maybe there was a sense of destiny about it.  Maybe the long ball from the back that saw JP, yet again, execute some extraordinarily controlled acrobatics to lay off was preceded by Tommy Carpenter collecting a cross, rolling out to Vince McNeice who played the ball out wide.  And maybe as Mario Gaspar burrowed infield in defiance of his wobbly start and scuffed the ball goalwards… perhaps it wasn’t a shot, it wasn’t a pass, it wasn’t deflected off Matt Clarke’s attempted block, it was Sammy Chung with a little lay-off to Vakoun Bayo who nimbly flicked the ball past Liam Roberts as George Camsell, Wilf Mannion and the rest watched on helplessly.

If there’s one thing that’s better than an injury time winner it’s a scarcely deserved injury time winner, let alone one that involves two struggling new boys igniting their Watford careers.  Mario’s “assist” may have been clumsy,  awkward, lucky…  but tickets, raffles, the veteran was there to execute it.  We take Ilias Chair’s opener from Saturday and we raise it.  And Bayo’s finish revealed a hitherto unsuspected dexterity.  He celebrated as you hoped he might, buried under a pile of team-mates.

As “Crocodile Rock” rang around the ground, as the Boro fans sloped out, quiet for the first time all evening and as daughter two bounced around the Upper GT with a big grin on her face we were able to reflect on the first great night of the second hundred years.  And that seven games in… it’s far from perfect, there’s things to sort out and we really could do with getting past Thursday night with a full complement… but we’ve faced four of the five teams projected to be our fiercest competition and dropped two points in those games despite our obvious limitations.

A special night.  Again.

Yoorns.

Bachmann 3, Kamara 4, Sema 3, Cathcart 3, Sierralta 3, Kabasele 3, Kayembe 4, Choudhury 3, Asprilla 3, *João Pedro 5*, Sarr 3
Subs: Bayo (for Asprilla, 73) 3, Mario Gaspar (for Sema, 79) NA, Hause (for Cathcart, 80) NA, Gosling, Hungbo, Troost-Ekong, Okoye

Comments»

1. David - 31/08/2022

I hope you and daughtery enjoyed the prawn sandwiches matt and your part in a special evening.

As for the game, I’m slightly lost for words to describe kayembe who showed a degree of balance completely at odds with what we have seen previously.

Matt Rowson - 31/08/2022

😊he’s a portly chap. I’m not sure balance is an issue. Anvils don’t struggle with balance.

Ray Knight - 01/09/2022

Your best write up for awhile Matt. Loved the way you mixed in the nostlagia, post party references, like ‘kestrel’, and observations on past players. For many of us, our first glimpse of a match at the Vic was probably from the top of a 321 London Country green bus after being dragged by our parents for shopping in Watford on a Saturday. It was rather fitting on the night I sat next to someone who regularly watched the imperious Cliff Holton play. As for the game we had more ‘luck’ than against QPR. Also in an era of football mercenaries, it was great to see the professional committment of JP and Sarr, as well as their silky skills. Ironic that a combination of Gaspar and Bayo should provide the winner. Maybe the unpredictability is what really draws us back to the Vic to watch the golden boys, come rain or shine.

Matt Rowson - 01/09/2022

Cheers Ray

2. Ben - 01/09/2022

Yes, important point at the end of the article. We are doing well against promotion rivals. Just need to start beating the beatable opposition. Away from home concerns me. Last time we were in the Championship it seemed to be a weekly trial to play any kind of passing football on some of these away pitches. I think Birmingham, with added rain, fell into that category. Let’s see what the New York stadium brings on Saturday.

3. Duncan H - 01/09/2022

Thanks Matt, as always, for capturing not just the game but the atmosphere so perfectly – including not glossing over the fact that we were pretty rubbish for 2/3 of the game! Seeing JP grow with stature every game is quite a privilege to watch; I hope we will not lose him but I guess we will soon find out. And the change in Kamara as soon as he was moved to the left was striking.

Anyway, here’s to the next hundred years!

Sequel - 01/09/2022

Matt, I think you should have given Pedro a 3. You never know who’s watching.
Great report, as always.

Matt Rowson - 01/09/2022

Fair comment. Sloppy on my part.

4. Graham French - 01/09/2022

Thanks Matt. The after a heavy night metaphor was genius . Saw the game on tv & as last sat we had some excellent passages of play & some pretty rubbish & disjointed. But when we do click it’s terrific to watch . Keep JP & Ismaela & it should be a great season .
The 100 year celebrations look to have been excellent

5. jtbodbo - 01/09/2022

Thx for capturing the atmosphere so well. I did think we were the better team for most of the second half , although not by much. Clarke’s header highlighted our major weakness. Defensive set pieces. (Offensive ones not much better) JP is an absolute joy !

6. Steve G - 01/09/2022

They say luck evens out over a season … or maybe four days? Two games where a draw might have been considered a fair result – one win and one defeat, so with three points rather than two, I think we’re a point up. Does this make the glass of tepid Kestrel two thirds full? Or maybe three quarters (50% more points than our ‘half glass’ performances deserved?) … or does 3 points out of 6 rate as half a glass anyway irrespective of performance level?

7. Harefield Hornet - 01/09/2022

Great Report as always. Just a word about Sammy Chung who I was privileged to have met many times when my brother in law was his number 2 at Wolves in the seventies. A nicer man it would have been harder to meet – always friendly and always with a smile on his face.


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