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Watford 3 West Bromwich Albion 2 (20/02/2023) 22/02/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-   Midway through the first half, the ever more loveable Ismaël Koné launched into one of his precision harpoon tackles to retrieve the ball, improbably, from a startled opponent.  He surged at a backpedalling defence, the home stands roaring their appreciation, as skittles tumbled nervously in his path before decisively lumping a pass to his left and into touch.  In so doing he encapsulated a ridiculous game of football.

It was violent.  Ryan Porteous and Brandon Thomas-Asante locked horns in the first minute, the whirligig West Brom striker all but ripping Porteous shirt off him – in, one assumes, response to a less visible transgression from one of the two new bastards in the house.  The other was subject to attention at corners – either from someone who’d been watching on Tuesday evening or just because that’s Hoedt’s thing.  Referee Robinson didn’t so much let the game flow as nip off for a pint or two, or three, lumbering back into play for a cursory “now now boys” every half hour or so.  A hatchet job on João Pedro very late in the game, a crude swipe long after the ball had gone, went mystifyingly unpunished.

It was also rubbish.  Wesley Hoedt has the turning circle of an eight-carriage Thameslink.  West Brom’s Yokuslu found the ball boy on the halfway line in front of the GT stand more frequently than he found a teammate.  Several of the goals were based in inept defending…  a Premier League game this wasn’t.

And yet it was completely brilliant and dynamic…  aggressive, purposeful, exhausting nonsense that left throats sore and fingers in scalps as, by the second half, both sides were hurtling after whatever was left of the game.

2- Slaven Bilić had intimated that it was time we started scoring a few more goals;  this was as true off the pitch as much as on it since an official crowd of 18634 failed to reflect the increasingly sparse home stands (not so the right hand side of the Vic Road End, where Albion have taken every seat).  There’s a cumulative effect of, in practice, watching successive relegation seasons and flattering to deceive in this, what should be the one fun season in two.

There was little promise of a goal glut for the first quarter of the game, in which a bright start was stifled by Albion dropping deep and smothering space.  No mystery about this blueprint, no blame to attach either since it’s worked against us so many times before – you wouldn’t voluntarily give our forward line space to fly into. This never felt futile however…  quick movement and bold, forward passes – with Koné again prominent – offered encouragement as did James Morris’ duel with Marc Albrighton.  The young left back had a big job on against Albion’s brightest spark in the first half but stood up to it well and made the most of the opportunity offered by the latest hamstring injury, this one afflicting Hassane Kamara.

So when we broke the deadlock midway through the half it was a relief, certainly, but no bolt from the blue which is progress in itself.  Mario Gaspar might conceivably have slipped to fourth choice right back once injuries to Ferreira, Ngakia and Dan Gosling gave him another opportunity but he’s done a very solid job ever since… his overlap down the right finally unpeeled Albion, a square ball found Keinan Davis who snapped a shot at goal which Phillips pushed to his left only for Ken Sema to gobble up the loose ball and lift it into the net.

3- Albion howled out of the blocks at the start of the second half after two subs at the break, displaying an attacking aggression that hadn’t been suggested to that point.  Bachmann made a showy stop to deny Swift and a vital reaction save from Thomas-Asante but little surprise and no little trepidation when Conor Townsend took advantage of some clunky defending to flick home.

But from this point the game untethered and never settled again.  Nine days ago there were glimpses of the flooding attack that our riches ought to have realised a whole lot more often but this was much more in evidence here….  Davis and Sarr bundled a chance, Sarr took it on cutting diagonally into the area from right to left before turning and shooting back across the face and off the far post.  Five minutes later João Pedro fed a galloping Morris whose cross was cleared as far as Koné.  The Canadian scuffed at goal, his shot was blocked but not cleared and Sarr gobbled it up to drive home.  That our forward line ought to be capable of more of this, of generating scruffy goals simply by virtue of which way the table is tipping, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy it when it happens.

4- We went to see “Noises Off” in the West End on Saturday, and the closing spell of the game had every bit of the accelerating uncontrollable chaos of a well executed farce.  Tumbling down a staircase with his shoelaces tied together, figuratively speaking, was Daniel Bachmann who played a slack and overconfident pass to a flat-footed and surprised Hamza Choudhury that West Brom’s urgent and rather desperate pressing gobbled up.  Replays suggested a marginal offside, but we can have no complaints for conceding after such slack defending.

The bottle of whiskey being chucked around the stage with astonishing speed and dexterity was Ken Sema.  Ever a force for good, Sema’s rugged, good-natured persistence was a deciding factor here.  He had made the move into the box to deftly flick the lively Sarr’s cross back to Davis, whose hammered shot was deflected and spun back towards Sema who re-entered the field of play to hook home.  The flag was up immediately, and correctly since Sema was beyond Albion’s keeper when Davis’ shot came in… but whereas with Albion’s second equaliser we should have gotten an offside but didn’t deserve it, here we were rightly offside but didn’t deserve that call either.  This was finally Watford putting an opponent to the sword, the offside call sheer bad luck and nothing to do with anything that the hapless Albion defence had contributed.

But the farce had one more slight of hand, one more chuckle to deliver.  It was instigated by Koné, who stuck out a foot to intercept a West Brom ball into the Watford box and brilliantly executed an immediate pass to his left to release another one of those galloping attacks on the break.  We had good numbers up, it appeared to fizzle out when Sarr’s cross was blocked but the winger retrieved the ball from the touchline and slipped it to Sema who looped in what was probably supposed to be an in-swinging cross from the right but Erik Pieters was falling through a window with his trousers around his ankles to deflect the ball inside his near post.  It looked an oggy to me, but nobody was denying Ken his moral hat-trick.

5- There was still time for more fingers-in-scalps stuff up the other end – tho Albion, in truth, didn’t come terribly close to salvaging parity for a third time – and for another screaming counter-attack which resulted in Sarr flying down the right, JP screaming onto his cross to force an heroic denying block and Keinan Davis performing a touching Devon White tribute with an optimistic but failed overhead kick. 

Tremendous fun.  The more so given the result, obviously….  Albion fans won’t remember the evening as fondly.  But much as it was three points that could easily have escaped us it’s a win that we thoroughly deserved.  Indeed, in contrast to most games of late, a game where we could and perhaps should have scored even more goals and won more comfortably.

Late in the day, sure.  But another step in the right direction, building on the suggested encouragement of the Blackburn performance and the near-miss at Turf Moor in the week.  Not finished.  Not done.  But the end of the season could be quite fun however it turns out;  Saturday’s trip to Bramall Lane could have fallen far worse.

See you there


Bachmann 3, Mario Gaspar 4, Morris 4, Porteous 4, Hoedt 3, Choudhury 3, Koné 4, Sarr 4, João Pedro 3, *Sema 4*, Davis 4
Subs: Bacuna (for Koné, 81) NA, Louza (for Sema, 84) NA,  Assombalonga (for Davis, 91) NA,  Araújo, Martins, Kabasele, Hamer



1. Vic Road - 22/02/2023

You serve Ken an injustice sir. From every angle shown his shot was (a) on target and (b) the WBA keeper flatfooted enough to not get across had Pieters not intervened.

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2023

🙂 The first statement may be demonstrable the second a judgment call. Either way I’m not sure it was even intended as a shot. Happy for Ken to claim it, still an oggy for me.

2. Ray Knight - 22/02/2023

The off-side law is baffling. Even putting aside the application of VAR in the EPL, its nonsense about Sema being ‘beyond the keeper’when he hooked it in. There was one defender on the line and another level with Sema. Once you have hit the byeline and crossed [assuming not offside in the build-up] in my book the defenders can have no complaint if it hits the net. I know it’s not the law, but the application is now nonsense. And don’t get me started on how VAR is skewed by Stockley Park refereeing supremos, nuetered lines persons, useless 4th officials and lack of consistency on camera reviews in the UK. Otherwise this was much better/ exciting.

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2023

Don’t disagree about the vagaries of the law, although I think VAR creates a problem with the precision it affords to something that was necessarily and appropriately “-ish” beforehand as a tool to deter goalhanging. But here… I see Ken on the line level with one defender. The rules say you need two to be onside, one of whom is the goalkeeper. This is unfortunate, but clearly offside.

Simon - 22/02/2023

In fairness, this one was and would have been under any iteration of the rules going back as far as I’ve been watching been offside. The only possible wrinkle was the loop hole that got closed a couple of years back which allowed players off the field not to be offside but, even then, the loophole was an unintended consequence and, here, I think Ken was on the pitch when the shot was hit anyway.

Vic Road - 23/02/2023

Can concur, the two player rule has been in use since 1925 regardless if one was the keeper (it was three previously). I think the loophole you speak of was closed in the nineties, if I remember rightly it was after Ruud Gullit (who was getting a drink) ran on to score from a punt upfield.

Fez - 24/02/2023

I refereed for 20 years, officiating in a dozen cup finals: Referring to Sema’s offside “goal”…
Offside, as a position (not a technical offence) is for an attacking player to be in the opposition half, in front of the ball, and behind the penultimate defender (level is onside).
There’s one WBA player on the goal line but the GK and all of the other defenders are two yards up the pitch. When the shot is taken Sema is in an offside position; when he becomes active (i.e. plays the ball) he is adjudged offside. Had a second defender been on the line as well then Sema would be “level” with the penultimate defender and defacto onside.
It’s a perfect example of how the law should be applied. They should use this in referees training.
Alas, it was about the only decision he got right.

3. Harefield Hornet - 22/02/2023

I was pleased at half time – I thought we’d looked solid and had the goal we deserved. Several people remarked how completely anonymous for the most part Chalobah had been in the first half – no surprise he was substituted at the break. The ensuing chaos in the second half was a glorious thing in itself but to emerge as winners, especially with Sarr getting on the scoresheet and that deflected shot from Ken, wrapped up an enjoyable evening nicely. I already liked Ken Sema a lot but I’d never heard him speak before and wasn’t aware
he had quite a pronounced stammer. So to see him later on a clip where he did a smiling post match interview sent him even further upwards in my estimation.

4. Ben - 22/02/2023

Love the image of Kone precision harpoon or grappling hook tackles. I’ll be looking out for them now.

5. Ben - 22/02/2023

Very excited for the trip to Bramall Lane this weekend. The tantalising prospect of a start for the lesser-spotted Imran Louza. The hosts are having a mini-wobble; a real chance to get under their skin early doors.

I’m desperately hoping for something to ignite and for that sense of ‘kind of looking forward to the run-in,’ gives way to some genuine enthusiasm and optimism.

There is also a rational voice of self-preservation telling me that every time we have hoped this season, an abject performance that shows we haven’t got the minerals quickly follows.

6. mikephipps - 22/02/2023

My first game of the season. Has it always been that chaotic?

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2023


7. Sequel - 22/02/2023

If Kenzema ever decides to have a bad game, don’t expect us to have won. He made me feel worn out just by watching him.
Great report, as ever, Matt.

Harefield Hornet - 22/02/2023

Fans always respect and love a trier, especially a trier with ability – and he certainly fits into that category!

8. Graham French - 22/02/2023

Wasn’t there but watched on TV. Very enjoyable & slightly bonkers game. Now our injury crisis is receding it is a little disappointing to no longer have Adeyamo on the bench. I suspect (& I know I shouldn’t judge on the strength of 15-20 mins max on the pitch, but I’m going to anyway) that Assombolonga isn’t going to provided such uplifting cameos from the bench

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2023

I know what you mean but… Assombalonga has a shedload of goals at this level, Adeyemo is starting out. There’s a difference between wanting to give him chances and needing to rely on him. Assombalonga hasn’t played for a while so needs fitness. Adeyemo still needs to put his name to a pro contract, else we’re warming him up for someone else.

Graham French - 22/02/2023

Fair points Matt. And I’d overlooked the detail about not having signed pro contract yet. Fingers crossed for that

9. David - 22/02/2023

what a great evening. I am aware there is a growing discontent about manager but as a fan, this is what I love about football. I saw some great skill, endeavour and yes chaos.

We have to average a higher points per game ratio than we have to date but Tuesdays game gave me hope we can.

10. Harefield Hornet - 24/02/2023

Discontent about the Manager? Where and from whom? The impression I get is that 99% of fans are glad we’ve got him?

11. Ray Knight - 24/02/2023

Nice explanation Fez from someone with authority. I still think the law changes in recent years combined with inconsistent application of VAR have hardly improved the spectacle. Handball has become a strict liability offence with no consideration of intent. VAR should be about validation, not the star. So referees should always have to go to the monitor if their’s is to remain the final determination on the pitch. It’s getting more like American Football/ Rugby Union with all the stoppages. Must be getting old.

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