After an early Andy Reid goal it took a Lewis McGugan equaliser for Watford to draw 1-1 with Nottingham Forest. David Marples offers a fan’s eye view from Vicarage Road…
Vicarage Road is a good old-fashioned, old-school kind of ground (well, at least a quarter of it is); a place where we have mixed fortunes. Apart from the dilapidated tunnel stand, the place is unrecognisable from the Vicarage Road that witnessed an FA Cup quarter-final win in 1989 featuring a rare Brian Laws goal. Back then there was a chasm between the stands and the pitch, and none of this ‘incomplete buildings in the corners’ malarkey. On entering the away stand, a sign proudly boasted, ‘No booze’. Neither were there any programmes to be had either. The implication was clear: Sit down. Shut up. Watch the game.
And an important game it was too. After passing the ‘Bolton assignment’ with flying colours last weekend, this would be the real deal. Most fans would have taken a draw prior to kick-off, especially in light of the fact that Watford well and truly spanked us on both occasions last season. Also, there was the inevitability of a scorching Lewis McGugan goal to contend with.
Unsurprisingly, we were treated to the same starting line-up from the Bolton game. It made perfect sense and meant the continuation of the free-flowing movement between our four midfielders which has been christened in some quarters rather delightfully as ‘the washing machine’. This might have connotations of the four of them getting themselves into a dizzying mess but thus far, has indicated fluid and controlled movement in which each takes their turn at the apex of the diamond, since all are capable of bombing forward and scoring. Fluidity would have to be more disciplined today though.
Warm-ups ain’t what they used to be. The pitch was littered with people doing their ‘thing’. Darlow had two people to himself in order to prepare him for the game while a small army of observers watched the Watford men; standing arms on hips, looking intently focused and, well, Italian. But this is not the place to get into all the Udinese/Pozzi stuff.
A worrying thought lingered prior to kick-off: how will we react when we concede a goal? Especially if we concede first? Can we stand firm and find a way back in? Can we adapt tactics? Away from home we are usually set up to soak up pressure and then nick a goal and defend it with our lives. But maybe we are evolving.
There was also the ‘McGugan situation’. His announcement split fans between applause and boos. I hoped the boos were borne from fear of him scoring a worldy. Personally though, I was more alarmed by the inclusion of Anya on the wing. I have an eight-year-old daughter called Anya. I thought she was at home.
We started well. Very well. Our pressing forced a mistake. Reid to Mackie. Mackie running wide. Too wide. Chance gone? Back to Reid. Top corner. Crikey. Blimey. And indeed, to borrow a phrase from James Richardson, woof.
What unfolded was perhaps the most impressive away performance I have seen for a while. I have been a critic of away performances under Davies but tactics were more spot on than a Spot the Dog book involving Spot playing spot the dog. Guedioura was superb in winning the ball and I recall only one stray pass. I mention this as some fans vented their ire at him after the Bolton game. Our defence (increasingly becoming known as ‘The Great Wall’) stood up when their silky footed Italians, and Lewis, had the ball around our box. Indeed, Anya seemed their only threat: if only he could cross.
Half-time. Almost perfect. More goals would have been nice but Lansbury couldn’t have gone closer with his rasping shot which rebounded off the foot of the post. What was clearly apparent is that every player knew exactly what their job was. And when you see Reidy running around and tracking back and tackling. Well, what more could you ask for? A brief word for Karl Darlow too: our fans have really taken to him as every comfortable catch (and there were many today) was met with a chorus of DARLOW. DARLOW. DARLOW. And what a confident, tidily-coiffed young man. I bet he’s really polite too. I sense that a certain Brian would have really warmed to this young man.
Of course, it was only half-time. Watford would not stand for this on their own patch.
Second-half. Guedioura once again busted a gut to get a challenge in. Free-kick around the edge of the box. McGugan. You know the rest. Still, not a bad way to concede our first goal of the season. We panicked a little. Lewis almost scored again and we suddenly looked very tired.
But we are made of sterner stuff these days and although we had a spell where a gap the size of Darlow’s quiff formed between our midfield and attack, we edged back into the game. Mackie went through on goal but seemed to slow down as the goal gaped. Almunia stuck out a leg. Denied.
A series of substitutions resulted in our attack consisting of Miller and Derbyshire up top. We sort of broke down a little again. This spell featured lots of quiet words in players’ shell-likes from Davies. We weren’t preventing them building from the back as we had done. Movement was minimal and pressure was building. The gap was back… with a vengeance. Then suddenly, it worked. Miller was clean through as everyone in the away end screamed ‘SQUARE BALL’ but the chance was gone. Moments later, Miller worked himself some space and let fly from the edge of the area. It seemed goal bound but rebounded off the foot of the post. Again.
All in all, it was a fair result which left various fans and journalists alike muttering platitudes like ‘great advert for the Championship’. Listening to both sets of fans on the walk back towards one of the plethora of town centre car parks suggested that some sort of unofficial mutual appreciation society had sprung up during the game.
If we can not only contain, but match Watford, then this bodes well. Wigan away doesn’t look quite so scary after today’s performance.
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