After the horrible collapse at Forest on Thursday, I can’t say that I was looking forward to this game. Deadline day had seen some action with Iriney and Fabbrini departing on loan and Diakite and Park arriving. However, having been crying out for a defensive midfielder, the arrival causing most interest was Tözsér who had come in on loan from Genoa, hopefully to shore up our midfield. When the teams were announced, we found we were to get an early idea of whether he was “the answer”. The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Hall, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Battocchio, Cassetti, Forestieri and Deeney. In goal for the visitors was former loanee, Kuszczak, although I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognize him. I knew he looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place the face.
The first action of note came in the 11th minute. Almunia came out of his area to clear as Ulloa threw himself to the ground in the box, the clearance fell to Forestieri who tried a shot which didn’t trouble Kuszczak. We were a goal up soon after as Forestieri won the ball in the middle of the park, turned and fed Merkel, he found Anya on the left who made no mistake shooting across Kuszczak into the far corner. Anya was involved again soon after, going on a long run up the left wing, crossing the touchline just in front of the linesman at one point, but in the absence of a flag the run continued and culminated in a shot from distance, but Kuszczak was equal to it. On 25 minutes, Brighton threatened for the first time as a López cross flew across our area but Battocchio was back to make a crucial tackle. We should have been two goals up a minute later as Cassetti won the ball on the right and crossed to Forestieri who, with only the keeper to beat, opted to place
the shot instead of going for power and did so right into Kuszczak’s arms. Irritation at the miss was tempered with relief that we hadn’t built a two goal lead to throw away. Brighton’s next goal attempt came from a corner, the ball fell to Andrews but his shot from distance was well over the bar. On the half hour, Almunia had to come out to get a hand to a dangerous cross from Ward before Ulloa could get his head on it. López’s follow up shot was wide of the far post. Then another Brighton corner was met by Upson who headed well over the bar. On 39 minutes, an injury forced the first substitution as Forster-Caskey was replaced by LuaLua. In the closing minutes of the half, Forestieri played a square ball to Battocchio on the edge of the box, but his speculative shot was straight at Kuszczak. Brighton could have equalized as the substitute, LuaLua, went on a run down the left and unleashed a fierce shot that hit the corner of the bar and post, the ball reached Lopez, who shot into the side netting.
As the players came out for the second half, Kuszczak’s appearance in the goal at the Rookery end was greeted with very warm applause. Brighton threatened early on, as a ball into our box was met with a firm header by Hall, it fell to López whose shot was caught by Almunia. On 52 minutes, Brighton were wasteful again as the ball fell to Andrews on the edge of the box, but his shock was reckless and well wide of the target. Then Forestieri must have won the ball three or four times as he fought off the attentions of Brighton defenders before releasing Anya but, sadly, all that resulted from their hard work was a corner. Another Brighton attack failed to muster a shot on target as Ulloa’s shot was blocked, the ball fell to López whose shot was well wide. Deeney then closed down a clearance by Greer, but the ball looped over the bar. Watford had another decent chance to increase their lead as a ball came in to Forestieri who held off two defenders to head the
ball down to Deeney, but his shot was over the bar. At the other end LuaLua found Stephens but he shot well wide. Just before the hour mark, Forestieri won the ball on the left, dribbled around Kuszcazk and shot into the open goal. The goal was a just reward for Fernando’s tremendous performance. However, there were a few muttering about us being two up given what that heralded in the last two games. I was heartened at the fact that on the hour it was us scoring rather than the opposition. Soon after, new boy Tözsér lined up a free-kick which looped just over the bar. Brighton made their second substitution as Rodríguez replaced Orlandi. There was a let off for the Hornets on 67 minutes as a free-kick was headed past Almunia by Ulloa but it was ruled out for off-side. Harry Hornet was highly amused at this turn of events. Another Brighton free-kick was hit
straight at the wall, but they regained possession and a cross to the far post was met with a header that Almunia caught. Then a sliced shot by LuaLua was blocked by Angella. The resulting corner was met with a header from Ulloa that was going wide, but Almunia was taking no chances and claimed it. With 15 minutes remaining, Murray replaced Merkel after spending some considerable time standing on the touchline waiting for a suitable break in the game. Watford’s next attack was thwarted as Deeney received the ball in an advanced position but was hacked down by Greer, who was booked for the offence. Murray took the resulting free-kick which flew through the wall but was gathered by Kuszczak. With 10 minutes remaining March replaced López. Deeney had a half chance as he ran into the box to a ball that had bounced off Murray, but Kuszczak got there first. In the last minutes of normal time, Battocchio made way for Diakite, and Forestieri was withdrawn to a standing ovation and replaced by Park. There was five minutes of time added on, but the only action of note was a reckless challenge by Park on the edge of our area which led to another silly yellow card for Ekstrand for kicking the ball away. The resulting free kick curled over the bar and our clean sheet was preserved.
What a difference a couple of days make. Three points are always welcome, but it was the performance that really pleased. Tözsér impressed immediately, putting his foot in when needed and acting as that midfield fulcrum that we’ve missed. Hall was immense in the centre of defence. They formed the spine that was so obviously missing on Thursday and the overall performance improved immeasurably. I sometimes feel that Forestieri wins man of the match awards for being eye-catching rather than effective, but today it was thoroughly deserved. He was tireless, playing like a terrier whose favourite ball you were trying to take. But he wasn’t the only one in that regard. Where, on Thursday, we were nowhere to be seen as Forest took their chances, today we refused to allow the Brighton players any space. If a ball was lost, there was a player instantly fighting to get it back. While I’m not convinced that we’ll get anything at Leicester next week, I’m very encouraged that we are going in the right direction.