On Friday this week I took the day off work and spent the afternoon/evening at Glyndebourne for La Traviata, which was absolutely delightful. As I was staying overnight in Brighton before the game on Saturday, I had to make sure that I packed my posh frock and high heels alongside my Watford shirt and that I didn’t pack anything that would cause problems at the security check at the turnstiles.
I left Brighton early on Saturday to take the train to Bournemouth via Southampton. I had a naïve expectation of a picturesque journey along the South coast, but the view out of the window was sadly free of sea views instead dominated by housing estates. On arrival into Bournemouth, I bumped into Richard and we made our way to the pre-match pub, which is one of our favourites. As we settled down to enjoy our pints, we were puzzled to see a number of St Albans City fans in the pub until they explained that they were playing Poole Town and there were no decent pubs in that area.
Due to the time it took us to get through the security line at the stadium last season, we left in good time, just as Mike arrived, having taken 4 hours to drive from South London. When we arrived at the ground, the line was long and I did wonder how I would get through with the luggage from my overnight stay. My first offering for inspection was a tote bag that contained my opera handbag. This caused confusion and required a number of labels to be attached before it was considered safe. Then I presented my rucksack which I opened up to reveal toiletries. There was a look of horror. “Do you have any cans? Any sprays.” “No.” That was the search over, so she didn’t get to admire my posh frock and kitten heels.
Team news was that Silva had made four changes with Femenía, Prödl and Richarlison replacing the injured trio of Janmaat, Kaboul and Pereyra. Gray was preferred to Okaka up front, which seemed a bit harsh after his tremendous performance against Liverpool. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Chalobah; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.
For a few seasons now, the travelling fans at Bournemouth have been uncharacteristically unpleasant and there was an early attempt to enforce that reputation as a bloke along the row from me started screaming at the female lino to get back in the kitchen. She was the other end of the pitch from us so wouldn’t have heard anyway, but it wound me up. I’m afraid that my response to this abuse was neither reasoned nor nuanced, but it was to the point. On the pitch the first chance fell to the visitors as Cleverley turned and shot but it was blocked. Bournemouth had an excellent chance to open the scoring as King advanced and found Fraser in the box, his shot was parried by Gomes, the ball fell to Afobe, but Britos was on hand to block the shot and send it over the bar. It went quiet for a while after that, until Amrabat crossed for Chalobah who directed his header just wide of the near post. The first booking was earned by Britos for a rather desperate tackle on Arter. On the half hour, Afobe latched on to a long ball from Cook and advanced to shoot but Gomes pushed the ball to safety. At the other end Gray cut the ball back to Chalobah who turned to shoot, but the strike was weak and easily gathered by Begović. Richarlison impressed with a lovely move to beat a defender before cutting back to Doucouré whose shot was deflected over. Holebas swung the corner in and Richarlison met it but nodded over the bar. Bournemouth’s reputation for diving wasn’t done any favours as Afobe collapsed in the box with his hands to his face and no Watford player anywhere near. Play continued. Watford had a great chance to take the lead at the end of the half as a cross-field ball from Cleverley found its way to Richarlison, he beat a defender on the byline before playing the ball back to Gray who blazed over when he should have done better.
So we reached half time goalless after an end to end half which, judging by the reactions of my friends, I judged rather harshly as it wasn’t as good as the first half against Liverpool. The Watford fans were very loud throughout the half, although the repertoire was dominated by a chant that was new to me “Oo-oo-oo Abdoulaye Doucouré <repeat> never gives the ball away” to the tune of Earth Wind and Fire’s “September”. It is very catchy indeed.
The home side started the second half brightly as Cook met a corner from Ibe with a header that was on target, but Gomes was down to save. At the other end, a Holebas cross was headed on by a Bournemouth player to Amrabat whose shot was terrible, flying across the box and out for a throw. There was a baffling moment as Amrabat pulled the ball back to Chalobah who, while in a great position to shoot, opted to leave it for the man behind him, Harry Arter. Television pictures showed that the Bournemouth man had called for the ball. All the Watford fans who have been complaining on social media about this unsportsmanlike behaviour have clearly forgotten how funny it was when the loathsome Dai Thomas did the same thing at Kenilworth Road. Chalobah had a golden chance to put his team in the lead soon after as he robbed a player in midfield and found himself one on one with Begović, but he had too long think about the shot and his strike was blocked by the keeper. He had a second bite as the ball found its way back to him, but this time he curled the shot just wide of the target.
The referee was in action then, booking Grey for dissent after he was fouled by Cook. There was time for Pugh and Defoe to come on in place of Afobe and Ibe before the Bournemouth man was finally booked for the foul. There was a lovely move for the Hornets as Cleverley and Amrabat exchanged passes on the overlap before crossing for Richarlison on the other flank, he played the ball back to Chalobah who blasted his shot over the bar. The youngster’s day went from bad to worse as he was then booked for a foul on King. Watford were severely testing the Bournemouth defence and came close from a Cleverley corner which Richarlison met with a shot that was blocked on the line. The Brazilian was a constant threat and had two decent chances after receiving a long ball from Holebas, his first shot was blocked, the second saved. But he wasn’t to be denied and the GT chant had to be delayed as Gray crossed and Richarlison slid in to attempt to make contact. as he was on the ground with a defender and Begović in close proximity, it seemed that the chance had gone, but he stuck out his foot and prodded the ball past the prone keeper to give Watford a well deserved lead. The celebrations were passionate and a large number of fans decided to pile down to the front to celebrate at pitch side. The problem with that is that the disabled fans are located in the first row and, in the ensuing melee, were either trampled or found themselves no longer able to see the pitch due to the fans who remained standing in front of them. As in previous years, it got ugly at this point with fans arguing among themselves and with stewards, and the police got involved. It was all so unnecessary.
Back to the action on the pitch and Richarlison had a chance to increase the lead as he met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar. The visitors created another opportunity as Amrabat played the ball over the top for Gray but, as on so many other occasions this afternoon, Aké was on hand to stop the attack. Silva made his first substitution with 10 minutes to go, as Capoue replaced the goal scorer, who had been suffering from cramp. Richarlison was given a well-deserved ovation as he left the field. The home side had a chance to draw level as Defoe flicked the ball on to King who headed just over the bar, much to the relief of the travelling Hornets. Silva made a second change, bringing Kabasele on for Amrabat, whose place on the wing was taken by Femenía. Watford made the points safe with four minutes to go, a shot from Gray was saved, but the clearance was only as far as Capoue, who chested it down before hitting a powerful shot past Begović. One of those belters that causes an explosion of a celebration in the crowd. Watford had one final chance to increase their lead as Holebas tried a shot from outside the area, but Begović was equal to it. Silva made one last change, bringing Watson on for Chalobah for the six minutes of stoppage time, but there was no further goal action and, after the misfortune of recent visits to Boscombe, it was great to see the Hornets leave with a deserved win.
The players came over to celebrate with the travelling fans, who were loud and proud, as they had been for most of the game, and shirts were tossed into the crowd. There was a lovely moment as the players were heading towards the tunnel. Chalobah was one of the last to leave the field. He had a very frustrating afternoon and was trudging away when the away end burst into a rousing chorus of “Chalobah, my lord.” The youngster turned to face the fans with a beaming smile on his face. It was good to know that we sent him home happy (and that was before he met Alice!).
It took a while for the away crowd to vacate the stand, the stewards were pleading with us to leave so that they could go home. We headed back to the pub where we were joined by the victorious St Albans fans celebrating their position at the top of the National League South after a 100% start to their season. We congratulated them and then returned to the reflections on our deserved win and impressive performance. It had been another entertaining game. Richarlison’s first start had built on his impressive debut as substitute the previous week. He was certainly the man of the match. The goal was typical of his hard work for the whole game, during which he never gave up. At times last season the players appeared only to want to score perfect goals so to see a young Brazilian happy to score the scrappiest of strikes was a lovely contrast. Andre Gray had an assist for the goal and had worked really hard, but was up against Aké who was tremendous and gave him very little space. But the most pleasing aspect was the teamwork. This looks like a group of lads who are playing for each other and their manager. After the misery of the end of last season, that is just wonderful to see and bodes well for a terrific season. The future certainly looks golden.