A late kick-off on the South Coast played havoc with my sense of order. It didn’t help that, due to engineering works, the timetable from Windsor had changed just for the weekend. Thankfully, I managed to catch the train that I was aiming for and, when changing trains at Clapham Junction, I bumped into Jacque. Others had been more organised than me, so she had arranged to meet Mike on the Lewes train. By some brilliant planning (actually, a lot of luck), when the train pulled in we found that we had judged perfectly and were standing right by the doors to the coach in which Mike was sitting so were able to make the journey south together.
When we reached Lewes, we headed for the pre-match pub, which seems to have been under different ownership every time we have visited. The new owners have introduced a Spanish feel to the menu and a new décor that I wasn’t totally enamoured with, apart from the lemur wallpaper in the bathrooms that was absolutely gorgeous. Due to the late kick-off meaning a very late arrival home after the game, a couple of us had decided to stay the night in Lewes. I had booked a room above the pub, so went and checked in. I was staying in the Glyndebourne room in which the accessories included a “bronze” bust and a selection of opera glasses. The bathroom was quite magnificent, including a deep bath and a shower that the landlady assured me was very easy to operate, even though there were multiple controls including one that turned it into a sauna. I have to say that I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to remember her instructions by the next morning and was a little disappointed that the built-in seat wasn’t designed for me to take a rest while showering.
As we got ready to leave for the game, I was in a foul mood and couldn’t work out why. It wasn’t until the game got underway that I realised that it was pre-match nerves that had kicked in due to the importance of this game. Earlier in the afternoon, it had been noted that Lewes FC were at home to Cheshunt at the wonderfully named Dripping Pan. There was a suggestion that we should attend the game prior to heading for Falmer, but we would have had to leave halfway through the second half and that seemed a little rude. As we waited for the train, we could hear cheers coming from the ground , we had assumed that this meant that Lewes were pulling ahead, but it turned out that Cheshunt were banging in the goals and ended the day as 6-1 winners. In hindsight, maybe we should have stayed there after all.
Team news was that Pearson had made just the one change with Hughes in for Chalobah. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa; Hughes, Capoue; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney.
As I retrieved my distance glasses from my bag in order to watch the game there seemed to be something awry. I couldn’t work out why my vision was impaired until I realised that one of the lenses had popped out. Thankfully, it was in the glasses case, but I couldn’t replace it, so decided to dispense with the glasses for the afternoon. It has to be said that, of late, there hasn’t been a lot worth seeing.
The game kicked off and the home side created a very early chance as Kabasele failed to get his head on a cross from Trossard, the ball reached March whose shot was blocked for a corner. March was involved in the next move, swinging in a cross that was met by Murray at the back post, but his header was easily caught by Foster. The first vaguely meaningful attack from the Hornets came as Pereyra played the ball out to Doucouré who crossed for Deulofeu, but the shot was weak and easily claimed by Ryan. By this time, my blurred vision was starting to irritate me and I decided that being able to see out of one eye was better than nothing, so I put on the damaged glasses just in time to see Capoue intercept a pass from Mooy, the ball fell to Doucouré who ran upfield and shot across Ryan into the corner. It was a gorgeous goal and it was interesting to see Abdoulaye immediately run to the bench to celebrate with Pearson and the coaching staff. The home side looked to hit back as a cross was headed out by Mariappa and the ball dropped to Mooy who shot well over the bar. At the other end Doucouré found Deulofeu who pulled the ball back for Hughes whose shot was deflected for a corner. The first booking of the game went to Schelotto for a foul on Deulofeu. From the other end of the pitch, the card looked rather harsh as Geri had run into his opponent as he tried to clear the ball. I had thought that we were fortunate to get the free kick, so certainly wasn’t expecting a card.
The Hornets threatened again as Deeney knocked Duffy off the ball and played in Pereyra, but the cross went begging. At the other end a cross from Trossard towards Murray in the box was cut out by Cathcart. There were shouts for a penalty when Schelotto went down in the box, but the referee wasn’t interested. As half-time beckoned a cross was deflected back to Foster by Pereyra, Ben caught the ball slightly dramatically and slid on his knees across the box giving a cheeky smile to the fans behind the goal. This loses a lot in the telling, but was one of the most entertaining moments of the half.
So, we reached the break a goal to the good. It had been a pretty dull half of football, although I was missing the action at our end of the ground as my view was restricted due to the people standing up in front of me in a shallow stand. There was a child behind me standing on his seat and I have never been so tempted to do the same.
The first chance of the second half went to the home side. March was fouled by Pereyra on the edge of the box, Groß stepped up to take the free kick and his delivery was met with a strong punch from Foster. The home side threatened again as a poor clearance came back to Schelotto, whose shot across goal looked dangerous, but there was no Brighton player on hand to turn it in. The first substitution came on 57 minutes as Maupay replaced Burn for the home side. The Hornets had a decent chance of a second goal when Deulofeu broke into the box, but his shot was poor and flew wide of the near post. Potter then made a second change, bringing Alzate on for Groß. There were then a couple of cautions for the visitors. First, Hughes was booked for a robust tackle on Maupay. Then Mariappa for a foul on March. On both occasions, the home side had won free kicks in a dangerous position, but Foster was not tested on either occasion. Even so, with our weakness against set pieces, this was causing me some concern. With 15 minutes to go, Brighton made their final substitution as Jahanbakhsh came on in place of Schelotto. There was some concern for the visiting fans as Masina was down for a while receiving treatment. Holebas was stripped off ready to take in his place, but Adam recovered and was able to continue. Brighton looked certain to grab the equaliser when Mooy broke into the box and shot goalwards, but Foster stuck a leg out and made a terrific save. Sadly, it would prove to be in vain as, a minute or so later, Jahanbakhsh put in a cross which Mariappa powered past Foster. The defender’s action was inexplicable. There didn’t appear to be any Brighton players close by and Foster could have gathered the ball had Mariappa not intervened. It was incredibly frustrating, and the travelling faithful were now bracing themselves for a defeat. Pearson made his first change on 82 minutes replacing Pereyra with Pussetto. The second change for the Hornets came soon after as Welbeck came on for Deulofeu. The game was fizzling out but, with a minute to go, the home side had a chance to grab a winner when Jahanbakhsh crossed for Trossard, but he could only flick the ball wide. There were 5 minutes of added time, but they passed without incident and the game ended in a draw.
The fans in the away end had been getting increasingly irate during the second half and, as the final whistle went, a couple of fans were venting their anger at the players. Normally I would dismiss the ranting, but these lads sit behind me in the Rookery every game and are absolutely lovely. They had just seen enough, and I had a lot of sympathy with their viewpoint. It is not often that I don’t applaud the players at the end of a game, but this was one of those occasions.
It took an age to get on the train back to Lewes. On arrival, the London contingent headed home, while those of us from the suburbs and further afield headed for the pub and it was a relief to be sitting with a glass of wine in order to reflect on the afternoon. It had been an awful game of football and, yet again, we had been the architects of our own downfall. There was one moment of quality in the game, which was the gorgeous goal from Doucouré. Although the late effort from Mooy and the save from Foster deserve a special mention. Other than that, it was really turgid with Watford sitting deep against an ineffective Brighton attack. It really hurt that we had lost two points due to a pointless own goal, especially as I am very fond of Mariappa, but I don’t know what he was thinking when he blasted that ball into the net. At the end of the day, we remain in the bottom three and, while we are not yet adrift, it is hard to see where the next points are coming from.
The decision to stay over after the game turned out to be a good one as the anger and frustration about the day’s performance was supplanted with a discussion of how you can’t enjoy the highs anywhere near so much if you haven’t experienced the lows. In the 40 years that I have been following the Hornets, I have experienced both, but I still marvel at the number of amazing days out that I have had while following a small, unfashionable club.
We all questioned why on earth we spend our Saturdays travelling to an event that gives no guarantee of any pleasure or entertainment. The wonderful company is a major reason but, at the end of the day, this is what we do, and I don’t see any of us finding a replacement hobby any time soon.