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Watford 2 Stoke City 0 (08/05/2023) 09/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-   A much considered philosophical question demands, “if a tree falls down in a forest and there is no-one near to hear it, does it make a sound?”.

If a tree were to have fallen in the Graham Taylor Stand concourse at 2pm there would have been precious few folk around either to hear it, or to wonder quite how it got there.  Most sensible people have far better things to be doing with their time than getting to the ground over an hour early but such has been our routine this season: get in early, buy chicken and chips and a pint of Side Pocket, mooch around and chew the fat for an hour or so with Dad and whoever else is about.  Population density can be judged by how easy it is to find a space along the shelf at the back of the concourse.  No issues today.  Any number of trees, noisy or otherwise, could have slipped in with their own pre-match nourishment of choice without cramping anyone’s leaning space.

Watford’s difficult season is something most in the home stands are acutely aware of but unlike the sound of the falling tree it indisputably exists whether or not one chooses to bellyache it about it so quite why so many of the patrons seem determined to reconfirm its existence, as if failing to do so makes it even more real – the opposite of saying “I believe in fairies” to confirm their existence – is beyond me. Which isn’t to pretend that everything’s just lovely because of course it isn’t, and each to their own in terms of whether and to what extent one chooses to persist with it. 

But so many of the voices fail to reflect either any gallows humour (which can be dull, but less dull), or the possibility of the afternoon going well, or the fact that things could be and have been far worse.  Keen to give voice to the misery and to distance themselves from those accountable for it.  Not entirely consistent to sing songs about “since I was young” and “Watford ’til I die” and variations on the same theme and then act as if someone’s died when we finish mid-table in the Championship.

2- The match is preceded by a low-key awards ceremony.  Difficult to get the tone right of course, but hard not  to feel that apologetically slipping the voting form out less than a week before the game (and inconsistently so, I wasn’t the only one not to receive one) contributes to the gloomy narrative.  In an unsurprising turn of events the team’s stand-out player, Brighton-bound João Pedro, walks away with the Player of the Season award.  He’s only two months older than Young Player of the Season James Morris, but the rules governing such things have always been pretty fluid and nobody seems to object.  JP’s acceptance speech is polite and perfunctory, with the rather detached efficiency of a Christmas card from an accountant (I don’t have an accountant, or know many accountants to receive cards from but I’m guessing). 

By the time the match starts the stands are… still sparse, but not as sparse as that empty concourse had portended.  There is nothing as pedantic as a teenage daughter of course, and Daughter 2 witheringly reflects on the inaccuracy of my prediction at some length.  Our team selection sees a further thinning of the ranks, with Hassane Kamara joining JP in the out-tray, Yáser Asprilla (and Matheus Martins, irrelevantly) released for international youth-level duty and any number of others missing in action, presumed injured or bored or maybe wandered off while nobody was looking.  Ryan Andrews is of course tremendous, but what happened to João Ferreira?  Edo Kayembe, Francisco Sierralta, Samuel Kalu?  Good grief, Maduka Okoye?  You can’t play everyone of course and it’s a good thing, if hardly fulfilling optimistic expectations that Jack Grieves makes the bench, even if Adrian Blake being awarded the possibility of a League debut is odd.

Stoke City, meanwhile, inhabit that post-Premier League purgatory that we sense we’re being sucked into.  Every inch a Championship side, replete with nearly-weres (that’s you Dwight Gayle) and never-quite-will-bes, garnished with a bit of quality but not enough to cause offence.  There’s also the veteran star in the shape of Phil Jagielka – an impressive 40 (pushing 41), this was his 812th and surely final senior game.  He was being sent off against Watford (at Bramall Lane in the post-wage deferral game) before the younger members of today’s matchday squad were born.

3- The other marker of where Stoke are at is the level of excitement provoked in the away end by a scruffy little rat on loan from Bournemouth, for whom “sign him up” chants greet even wild slugs over the bar.  His first effort is a better one however, getting everything behind a right-footed drive from outside the box that is heading for the postage stamp before Daniel Bachmann intervenes.

This sets up an afternoon that is pretty much made for Bachmann;  our three-man central defence is utterly chaotic but energetically so, meaning that City both have a lot of chances but largely either rush them or take them from distance.  They’ll end up with seven attempts on target, all of them repelled by Bachmann who is troubled relatively little with crosses, since neither of the wide forwards Smallbone and Campbell are natural wingers.  Perhaps the closest they come throughout is through two rare such instances in the first half, neither troubling the “shots on target” counter… two balls from the left, the first reaching Smallbone flying in beyond Bachmann’s far post and shovelling narrowly wide, the second brilliantly intercepted by the keeper, flying forwards across the face of the ball’s path to steal it from the toe of Josh Laurent, who acknowledges the achievement with that highest of all praise, a tap on the back on the way back upfield.

The Hornets meanwhile are creating chances themselves at the other end where a slightly higher level of all-round competence is on show from both sides.  Imrân Louza will both start and finish the game strongly…  he expertly loads bullets for first Sarr and then Davis, the first with an evil through-ball that Sarr, inoffensively diligent throughout, screams onto before flicking a shot that is deflected wide, the second taken with his weaker right by Davis after hesitating with the initial chance as he will for much of the afternoon, more comprehensively deflected off target.

There’s an easy incompetence about the whole thing which, again, is characteristic of the middle of the Championship.  The half finishes goalless despite all best efforts to the contrary, our defending not least.

4- Stoke have brought a load of coaches and appear to have filled the away “end”, which is a very respectable effort in the circumstances and contributes to the fanciful official attendance of over twenty thousand.  Unsurprisingly they’re making a fair bit more noise than the lazily mutinous home stands but even this begins to fizzle out midway through the second half (the comedy highlight being “there’s only ten of you singing!” in mockery of a rare home chant, relayed by a maximum of ten members of the away end. If you’re the instigator of that chant realising your stupidity do you give up quickly and hope everyone forgets, or push on regardless?).

The scoreline being broken is preceded by two developments… the first the fitful chanting from the away end dying out altogether to lend the afternoon even more of the air of a pre-season friendly (but more so, since at least a pre-season game tends to feature players who will be seen again however irrelevant the outcome).

The second is a double substitution that removes Ismael Koné and Christian Kabasele and introduces James Morris and Henrique Araújo.  Koné has achieved the remarkable feat of more than an hour on the pitch in central midfield without affecting the game (or possibly touching the ball) at all while Kabasele, extraordinarily, has looked the least chaotic of our centre-backs but has received a knock – Wesley Hoedt appears to become the latest custodian of the armband.  Araújo will again look kind of useful but not quite right, which observation prompts the thought that this is really the best that can be said for any of the out-and-out strikers that we’ve employed this season and that maybe that’s a problem.

But the main consequence of the substitutions is a change of shape from 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 to 4-4-2.  It’s easy to read into the fact that we’re two goals up within ten minutes and never troubled again a tactical masterstroke and certainly we look more confident and effective, but in reality Stoke throw in the towel from the moment that Louza curls a lovely shot beyond Sarkic after Davis has scrapped to retain possession.  Four minutes later and a poor Stoke clearance finds Sema, whose wicked crossfield pass sets up Davis to once again take a shot on his weaker right foot, this time a helpful deflection off Fox taking it away from the keeper.  The game, to all intents and purposes, is over with a top-half finish (and finishing above Norwich) slim reward.

5- On the plus side, the kids are alright.  Grieves and Blake have little time to impress, but Ryan Andrews again looks the part (until he gets all excitable late on and sees an ambitious shot and an equally optimistic cross end up in the Rookery) whilst James Morris’ half-hour cameo involves a tremendous saving tackle on the edge of the box, and a Louzaesque laser-controlled humming knee-height pass that is bisecting City’s defence until a lunged limb deflects it out of harm’s way.

On the downside…  if few tears are shed at Millwall’s failure to make the play-offs then Sunderland’s ascent, with their late equaliser a week ago proving critical, demonstrates again that whilst automatic promotion was way beyond us, you didn’t really have to be hugely impressive to make the play-offs.   We’ve undersold ourselves dramatically this season, another six points was well, well within our grasp several times over.  Quite how expensive our inability to reach that target will be we’ll never know – a play-off place is only of ultimate value to one team in four after all – but we’ll get a feel over the next couple of months.  

Those who stayed long enough to witness the circuit of the pitch, wisely introduced as “a chance for the players and management to acknowledge the support”, saw a long goodbye from Sarr, and waves from Kamara and Wilder that left no doubt as to their departures.  Koné, oddly, was also vigorous in his gesturing to the stands which suggests either a more surprising exit or a young man keener than most to convey his appreciation.  As a horde of young Bachmanns and an even younger Sema took to the pitch in front of the Rookery, Daughter 2’s eye rolling finally had the desired effect and we exited the season.

Enough, frankly, said.  See you next year, obviously, and enjoy your summer.  All the usual summer stuff to follow on this Blog.


*Bachmann 5*, Andrews 3, Sema 3, Porteous 2, Kabasele 3, Hoedt 2, Choudhury 3, Louza 4, Koné 1, Sarr 3, Davis 2
Subs: Araújo (for Koné, 66) 3, Morris (for Kabasele, 66) 4, Blake (for Sarr, 86) NA,  Grieves (for Sema 86) NA, Bacuna (for Davis, 92) NA, Ngakia, Hamer



1. crisb - 09/05/2023

it hasn’t been reflected in the tedious ‘what was your highlight of the season?’ polls on twitter, but in many ways the bhappy ‘summer stuff’ is a highlight of every season. whilst the team floundered you were on your game as much as ever, so thanks for another great bhappy season!

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Cheers cris. Sometimes feels like I’m plodding through it out of habit so glad you enjoy it.

2. John van Dyk - 09/05/2023

Matt, a huge thank you to you. Your reports are always enjoyed regardless of a game’s result or performance.

Many thanks and here’s looking forward to next season’s missives and football!

Best wishes


Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Thanks John 🙂

3. Mike Smith - 09/05/2023

Another good report Matt. Thanks for all this season again. I wasn’t there yesterday due to family commitments but you painted a good picture. I’ll be back for more in August my 66th? season. For the younger element who seem to want instant success these days I’d say. Yes, we’ve underperformed but we’ve seen a lot worse over the years and in my opinion whoever goes up thro’ the play-offs will get slaughtered next season. So may be a blessing!

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Thanks Mike. You may be right about the play-offs, but it doesn’t pay to dwell too long on that else what are we aiming for? We’ve been promoted twice to the top flight and been slaughtered but once we got a largely fun five years. And yes the landscape is changing but it was never not changing. Enjoy the journey, see you for #66 in August (#44 for me…)

4. Neil Crawford - 09/05/2023

Thanks for everything this season Matt, it can’t have been easy. I was told to support Watford when I went to school in Kings-langely, so I did and have done since then. Ken Furphy was manager, and I went to one third division match where I think we beat Bournemouth 1-0, but I haven’t been able to confirm that. The one constant in all these years is that Watford never fails to surprise, and usually when you least expect it, so lets hope they do that next season too, in a positive way I hasten to add. Best regards Neil Crawford (living in Sweden since 1969)

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Thanks Neil. 1-0 over Bournemouth in Div 3 suggests 19/10/74, tho Mike Keen was in charge by then? https://www.watfordfcarchive.co.uk/opponent/afc-bournemouth

spad54 - 09/05/2023

Hi Matt, I worked out that it was the autumn of 1968, could it have been Brighton we played against? Whoever it was we beat them 1-0. My mates and me were in the Rookery with all the other young hooligans, it was probably for the best that my family moved to Sweden that Christmas.

5. Jeff - 09/05/2023

Thanks for these reports, Matt. As someone who can only go occasionally now (I like to go with my junior child but he lives in Scotland with his ma so it’s a twice-season opportunity now) it keeps me in line with some real assessment and not just the extremities of Twitter.

Incidentally, my understanding of the Koné situation is that he was only stopping off here en route to Udinese (unless we’d been promoted).

Here’s to another fun/interesting summer!

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Yes that rings a bell. Thanks Jeff.

6. Nashinho - 09/05/2023

Hi Matt. If the reporting does become only a habit then I hope it is one you don’t manage to kick.
Many other people have said it more eloquently, but your balanced opinions and reflections on all things WFC are a soothing balm during the lows and an anchor during the highs.
I too will be back in August, with various family members, for season #48. I’m glad of a brief respite, but will be chomping at the bit after the fixtures are released.

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Thanks… no, it’s the summer stuff that sometimes feels redundant/drudgery in particular.

7. Peter - 09/05/2023

Thank you for another season of being the go-to source of intelligent online comment about WFC, Matt. I look forward to next season as for the first season in a while our expectations are low. In my experience, supporting Watford is much more fun when we don’t have the pressure of expectations above the status of ‘little old Watford’

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023


8. Harefield Hornet - 09/05/2023

I for one certainly cannot understand the hysteria around the mid table finish? Yes we’ve underachieved but crikey a lot of us have seen a lot worse ! But thereby lies the problem – a chunk of our current fan base haven’t seen a lot worse and they’re throwing their toys out of the pram. Many thanks for your continued effort in providing some sanity on all things Watford FC – hopefully see you around the bazaars next season.

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Cheers Harefield

9. Graham Cooper - 09/05/2023

Hoedt merely the courier of the armband to Bachmann upon Kabasele’s withdrawal, Matt. More easily noticed from our vantage point in the Vicarage Road end.

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Thanks Graham, I did wonder.

10. David Wheatley - 09/05/2023

Thank you Matt for your season’s effort, you do deserve a lap of honour.

I agree with many above posters, the only issue with finishing 11th is that the club threw a significant amount of money at it. I can not verify this but I suspect that Millwall, Luton, Preston and Coventry have a wage bill significantly lower than us.

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Oh there’s no denying that it’s been rubbish and that some of the unseen stuff sends worrying vibes. But that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily time to tar and feather anyone, or that we need to spend too long telling each other how crap it is.

Old Git - 09/05/2023

We actually beat Bournemouth 1-0 early in the great Furphy inspired 1968-9 Championship season. Maybe that was the one you were at, Neil? It was a late goal from Barry Dyson, I think, stuck from about 20 yards at the Vicarage Road end. Maybe Mike Smith will confirm. For some reason I remember matches from that time much more vividly than games of more recent seasons. Luckily, I have virtually no recollection of the results of many games from this season. Apart from the home game with Huddersfield, obviously.
Looking forward to the End of Season report, Matt. And looking forward to finding out who will be our manager for the first few games of next season. Exciting!

Matt Rowson - 09/05/2023

Ah. True enough. Whilst still called Bournemouth & Boscombe. Linking together team changes still beyond the archive unfortunately. https://www.watfordfcarchive.co.uk/opponent/bournemouth-boscombe-athletic

11. Red - 10/05/2023

In a season of disappointment, hats off to the staff for keeping the pitch in a fantastic condition. Always the first thing I admire when talking my seat.

12. Graham Walker - 10/05/2023

Supporter of the season +- Geoff Wicken. Deservedly.
Runner-up. Daughter 2. Bless!

13. jtbodbo - 11/05/2023

What a refreshing change to read these reports & responses compared with the hysteria in the Wobby. Not to mention the hysteria almost everywhere else. So thx very much. It helps a lot to understand the games I’ve not seen – and sometimes the ones I have !
Having followed WFC since 1959 ( we would be smashing Europe if Big Cliff was leading the line) I do sometimes wish for it all to be a bit calmer. But the money is frightening, so I admire Pozzo enormously for sticking with us, even if not sticking with his coaches so much. Ah well – roll on August !

14. Graham French - 12/05/2023

Thanks Matt for another great report. For various reasons I’ve only been to 3 of the men’s games this year, but every one of your reports has been a pleasure to read. The combination of excellent, humorous , writing with a balanced & unhysterical ( unlike so many others) take on our club & its many, frequently self inflicted, travails has been a joy.
I think next season will be #39 for me (going to matches – several armchair supporting seasons predated that) My first 2 games were May 1985 Spurs away then Man U at home, by which time I was – obviously- hooked.
For the first time this season I’ve been to 2 of the women’s games. No shortage of effort, passion & pride in the shirt there! I commend anyone who hasn’t yet been to take the trip to Stadium MK next Sat, though Forest will be a tough nut to crack.
Thanks again Matt – & onto next season & whatever surprises it brings – for both the Watford senior teams.

Matt Rowson - 13/05/2023

Many thanks Graham. Remember those two games well. Going to see the women’s team for the first time at MK.

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