During the week, I changed trains at Embankment station and found myself looking at a poster for Sky Sports which featured a large photo of Troy Deeney. I sat staring at it, feeling ridiculously proud. I am sure that when Troy was working as a brickie he never imagined himself as captain of a Premier League team and that he would be a poster boy for Sky. But he has worked incredibly hard for his success and has become a real role model. I am delighted for him and a poster like this will always make me smile.
After the appetiser last week, it was back to the West Herts to prepare for a proper football match. Our party gradually gathered and the mood was positive. The transfer window has been a good one for us. The arrival of both Sarr and Welbeck this week was very welcome. The Welbeck signing came out of nowhere and seems to be an excellent piece of business. Added to that, we have kept all of our key players, so come into this season stronger than we finished last. Then, to make us all even happier, sweetie man, Glenn, arrived with a bag of freshly made pork scratchings that he gets from his local butcher. They are absolutely gorgeous and always welcome. The one negative for me going into the new season was the introduction of VAR. I have always been against the technology. Football is not a game that stops and starts, so is not suited to lengthy reviews. I have experienced them as a baseball fan in the US, and never been convinced that they always lead to ‘correct’ decisions. Also the idea that the spontaneity of goal celebrations may be impacted due to the wait for confirmation really bothers me. If the lino has his flag down, I am gone. My first experience of VAR in the Premier League was watching the West Ham vs Man City game in the West Herts and the interruptions were attracting a lot of negative comment and irritating me immensely.
As Trond was away, I had the honour of accompanying Don to the ground. As we reached the disabled entrance, the young steward who, to be fair to her, had never seen me before asked if I was into football. “Well, I’m a season ticket holder and have been coming here for 40 years, so ….” She looked suitably embarrassed. Entering through the opposite end of the Rookery to normal, I was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym. It was like old times, I must admit that I still miss seeing her in Bill Mainwood’s programme hut.
Team news was that there would not be debuts for either of the new signings with the only change from the Real Sociedad game being the return of Deulofeu in place of Sema. So the starting line-up was Foster; Feminía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu; Gray, Deeney. Even if we weren’t to see them on the pitch, Welbeck and Sarr were introduced to the crowd before the game and were given a very warm welcome.
Just before the teams took to the field, Z-cars rang out and was greeted with cheers throughout the ground. At last the club have seen sense. I wasn’t to know at that point, that it would be the highlight of the afternoon.
The game started positively and there was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu showed some quick feet to get himself into position and then took a shot from the edge of the area which was well over the crossbar. The first shot on target fell to the visitors, but Locadia’s effort was straight at Foster. The Hornets immediately launched a counter attack, Deeney was tackled, the ball fell to Hughes, who was also closed down, the ball fell to Deeney again, he managed to get in a shot, but it was easily saved by Ryan. There was a great chance for the visitors as Stephens played the ball out to Propper whose shot was only just over the crossbar. Watford then had a great opportunity as the ball broke to Deulofeu who charged into the box, but was tracked all the way by Duffy and eventually went down under a challenge. He called for a penalty, but his appeal was waved away. Brighton took the lead with a bizarre goal. From the other end of the pitch, it appeared that the initial cross was going out for a goal kick when Holebas headed it back in, it reached Groß whose cross was turned in by Doucouré. It was a poor goal to concede, but there was plenty of time to recover and Watford tried to break back immediately as Doucouré looked to make amends by finding Hughes in the box, but Will was being challenged and could only shoot wide of the near post. The visitors looked to increase their lead when a dangerous looking cross came in from Groß, Foster did well to make the catch as Murray challenged. At the other end Capoue tried a shot from distance, but it was well over the target. Capoue then played Femenía in, but the shot was deflected for a corner. The Spaniard had another chance from the set piece as Ryan’s punch dropped to him, but this time his shot cleared the bar. Watford nearly grabbed an equaliser before half time as a free kick from Holebas appeared to be heading for the goal until Ryan stretched to get a hand to it and keep it out.
It had been a disappointing half of football, but we were only a goal down and I was hopeful that the second half would see a similar turnaround to the previous week.
For half time entertainment, we had the introduction of the dizzy kicks competition. Bizarrely, it was won by the only bloke who failed to score. He was given the win due to getting the loudest cheer from the crowd!! Now, not that I am biased as I know one of the lads who was defeated, but the rules need to be examined as that can’t be right.
Gracia made a substitution at the break bringing a bleached blond Pereyra on for Deulofeu. I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this change, replacing like with like, but was happy to see Roberto tracking back and fighting for possession. The Hornets should have drawn level early in the half as Femenía nipped in while a defender was shepherding the ball out, he dribbled around him on the by-line before pulling the ball back for Gray whose shot was blocked on the line by a combination of Dunk and Ryan.
Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was brought down on the edge of the box. Pereyra took the free kick, which hit the wall prompting him to shout for a penalty. I had already moved on when the scoreboard informed us that VAR was checking for the penalty, and then confirmed that it was not a penalty. It all seemed rather pointless. If a penalty is awarded, I want to see the referee pointing to the spot and, if not, waving it away, the series of statements on the big screen just irritated me. Brighton made a double substitution on 64 minutes with Andone and Maupay replacing Locadia and Murray. The visitors got a second goal almost immediately as Holebas failed to stop a cross from Groß allowing Andone to score with his first touch of the game. At this point, the Brighton fans started a chant of “We’re gonna win the league.” Watford tried to reduce the deficit with a deep cross that was met by the head of Dawson, but Ryan was equal to it. Gracia made another substitution as Success replaced Gray, again this seemed like an odd change as the problem was not the finishing but the creation of chances. Sure enough, it was the visitors who got a third as a through ball was played to Maupay who rounded Foster to score on his debut. At this point there were loud boos from the Watford fans and the ground started to empty. Success was almost gifted a chance to get one back through a terrible back pass from Dunk, but Ryan was first to the ball. There was one last chance to spare our blushes as Pereyra was tripped on the edge of the box and Dunk received the first booking of the game. Pereyra’s free kick rebounded off the wall, the follow-up reached Dawson but, again, the shot was blocked on the line. When 4 minutes of added time was announced, there were loud boos from the Watford fans. The only action during added time was the appearance of Bernardo in place of March for the visitors.
The final whistle went to boos from the Watford faithful and, while the Brighton players spent some time celebrating with their fans, the Watford players disappeared pretty quickly. But, fair play to Deeney, he did his usual lap of the pitch to applaud the fans in each stand and, despite the anger and disappointment in the crowd, he was warmly applauded for it.
The crowd back at the West Herts were subdued. It had been a very disappointing performance with nothing to redeem it. Hughton-era Brighton were difficult to play against as they defended resolutely, and that hasn’t changed under the new manager. They gave the Watford players no space in which to play and this team has always struggled against teams who close them down. The midfield was smothered and any promising passages of play finished with passes going astray. But Potter has added some attacking prowess, so Brighton look to be a much better team than they were last season and we were all taken a little by surprise. The main disappointment, though, was the fact that we have so much talent in the team but were given a completely lacklustre performance. I was also disappointed in the substitutions. Given how the midfield was struggling, it seemed pointless to replace Deulofeu with Pereyra, I thought that Cleverley would have been a better bet as he could offer something different. Also, given that Gray has been on fire in pre-season, it seemed unlikely that Success would be a better bet up front. Anyway, with a visit to Everton next week (we never win there), I am trying to convince myself that we can’t possibly be that bad two weeks in a row. But, if we are, at least Everton is a cracking day out.