In the first weekend of October there should have been no surprise that there was a bit of a nip in the air, but it was still a little disconcerting to have to wear the layers that I have been carrying around for the past month. The dawning of 4th October always brings happy memories, even to someone who wasn’t actually at the game as I was living in the US at the time. But it is very hard to believe that was 17 years ago.
The major team news was that Doyley would make his first appearance for his ninth manager, Garcia having inexplicably overlooked him. His inclusion was forced by an injury to Cathcart so he was playing out of position in the centre of defence. The suspension of Pudil meant a start for Hoban. Abdi was fit again and Anya was preferred to Fabbrini. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Ekstrand, Doyley, Paredes, Tözsér, Munari, Dyer, Abdi, Anya and Vydra.
The visitors had the better of the early play as O’Grady beat Tözsér on the left but his cross-cum-shot was easy for Gomes. A free-kick in the centre circle was ambitiously launched goalwards by Gardner and flew well wide of the target. Dyer found Anya on the wing but his cross was headed clear. On the quarter hour, a cross from Colunga flew across the Watford box but no Brighton player was anywhere near getting a touch. Then Teixeira got on the end of a cross from O’Grady but his header had no power and glanced wide. Paredes dinked the ball to Anya who crossed back for Abdi, he couldn’t get a decent touch so the ball fell to Dyer who shot straight at a defender. Abdi found Vydra whose shot was easily cleared. Tözsér played a lovely ball through the middle where Anya and Abdi were converging but put each other off so neither got a touch.
Munari got on the end of a free-kick from Tözsér but his header was easily gathered by Stockdale. Then Tözsér found Anya whose dangerous cross was cleared. Tözsér took a corner that was cleared back to him and his cross was punched clear by the keeper. Doyley stopped a Brighton attack with his hand and was booked. Hoban attacked a Tözsér free-kick at the far post but couldn’t quite connect. Brighton made their first foray forward in a while as Teixeira played the ball out to O’Grady who shot into the side netting. Vydra had a great chance to open the scoring as he broke forward, played the ball out to Paredes who crossed it back to the Czech who turned and shot over the bar. Vydra broke into the box again and was tripped, but the referee waved penalty appeals away. Paredes robbed a Brighton player on the right, played it into the box where Vydra, Abdi and Munari each had shots blocked. The first half had been a bit disappointing. The visitors had started well but Watford had the majority of the play although chances had been at a premium.
Watford took the lead early in the second half. Vydra was fouled but the referee played advantage and Abdi had the ball in the box when he blew up and brought the play back for a free kick and to show Bruno the yellow card. The anger of the Rookery crowd disappeared as soon as Tözsér’s free-kick flew through the wall and into the bottom corner. Vydra broke forward but was tackled by Lua Lua on the wing and kicked out in frustration so was deservedly shown a yellow card. At this point the Watford crowd started a chant of “We are Top of the League”, which had been the case since Rotherham’s 43rd minute goal at Carrow Road. Such chants always worry me as they are tempting fate.
On the hour Abdi was replaced by McGugan. He made an early impact, receiving a pass from Vydra and curling his shot just wide. LuaLua played a dangerous cross into the box, but Ekstrand put it out for a corner. LuaLua appeared to run in to Munari, who I thought had won a free-kick until the referee pointed the other way and showed Munari a yellow card. A corner from LuaLua was headed well wide by Dunk. With 15 minutes remaining, Watford made another change with Murray replacing Dyer who applauded the crowd and left the pitch without incident. McGugan chipped the ball through to Vydra whose shot was weak and straight at Stockdale. Brighton then got their equalizer as a deep corner by LuaLua was headed past Gomes by Dunk. Watford tried to regain the advantage but Munari’s shot flew high and wide. At the other end, Gardner’s attempt on goal had the same outcome. A deep corner from Tözsér was headed back by Vydra but nestled on the top of the net.
Watford had a great chance to regain the lead when McGugan played a through ball to Vydra who unleashed a lovely shot that Stockdale did well to keep out of the net. Then Anya broke forward but his cross was cut out. LuaLua went on the counter and hit a cross that flew across the Watford goal. In time added on, another cross from LuaLua went begging. Then a cross from Teixeira was headed clear by Paredes. The last chance of the game fell to McCourt but his shot was over the target.
At the end of the game, we heard that Norwich had also got a draw so we ended the day second in the table. It was another frustrating afternoon as, despite some promising signs, there was a lack of cohesion. However, a lot of credit has to go to Brighton for a competitive game which was let down by the lack of chances that fell to either side. As a fan of his, it was pleasing that Doyley had a good game. Tözsér was his usual impressive self. Vydra didn’t have the best of afternoons but deserved credit for working his socks off while he was receiving little service.
On reflection, given the number of injuries and the management turmoil, the fact that we are second in the division without breaking stride is impressive. However we had a similar start to last season and the upturn never came, let’s hope that this season is different.