Pre-match in the West Herts was unusually quiet, the bank holiday weekend clearly meaning that many regulars had made alternative plans. Before arriving, I had received a text from Don to tell me that there was hot food available and that the menu included jerk chicken. In fact, they were offering jerk chicken in a roll at a bargain price and it was absolutely gorgeous. My new favourite pre-match lunch. As we enjoyed our pints, the televisions were showing Bournemouth vs. Manchester City. The animosity that has developed between the Hornets and the Cherries was clearly shown when City scored a 96th minute winner and the West Herts erupted into a massive celebration.
As we walked down Vicarage Road, I was a little surprised to encounter touts. I have come to expect that when the top six clubs are in town, but touts for Watford vs Brighton is a new one on me. As I came through the turnstiles, “September” was playing over the tannoy, clearly getting us ready for Doucoure’s chant.
Team news was that Silva had made just the one change from the Bournemouth game with Kabasele in for the suspended Holebas, so the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray. Our old friend, Anthony Knockaert, started for the visitors, his name was announced to a loud chorus of boos. Also of note was the fact that Silva was back in a suit, having donned a tracksuit for the Bristol City game in midweek.
There was an early chance for the Hornets as Amrabat played a through ball to Gray, but his shot was well wide of the target. Our first chance to boo the pantomime villain came as Cleverley lined up to take a free kick and Knockaert took his place in a one man wall in front of the Rookery. The wall was ineffective and the delivery was met by Chalobah whose header was blocked. Amrabat beat a defender on the right before delivering a cross into the box, Richarlison and Gray both went for the ball but neither was able to make contact. The first decent goal attempt came from the visitors after quarter of an hour with a curling shot from Knockaert which rebounded off the inside of the far post. The first booking went to Brighton’s Bruno who was cautioned after clattering Richarlison.
The Brighton fans were yelling for a penalty after the ball appeared to hit Prödl, but it was clearly ball to arm and a corner was given. The game changed on a moment of madness. Knockaert was advancing down the wing and Britos just flew into a tackle with both feet off the ground. It was a straight red card, with no complaints from any of us. Thankfully Knockaert wasn’t injured. The sending off prompted Silva to make a tactical substitution sacrificing Amrabat for Cathcart, which was a bit of a shame as Nordin was having his best game for a while. The visitors had another chance to open the scoring as a corner from Groβ was headed wide by Dunk. The post came to the Hornets’ rescue again as Hemed’s effort rebounded to safety. At the other end, Chalobah tried a shot from distance that was just wide of the near post. In time added on, Gomes was alert to punch a cross from Knockaert out for a corner, which came to nothing.
The half time player chat was with Gerry Armstrong. As with all of the interviewee’s this season, he was asked about GT’s influence. He credited the gaffer with getting him fit and allowing him to shine for Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup. None of us who were around at the time will forget his goal scoring exploits at that tournament. A Watford player at a World Cup was a new experience in 1982.
Cathcart’s return from injury turned out to be short-lived, as he ran for a ball early in the second half and had to pull up. He looked as though he wanted to continue but was convinced to seek treatment, after which he left the pitch to be replaced by new signing, Carrillo. At this point, Cleverley dropped into the right back position. Brighton threatened with a dangerous cross towards Groβ in the Watford boss, but he was stopped by an excellent tackle from Femenía. From a corner, the ball was headed back to Hemed who volleyed just wide of the target. There was much discussion in the stands regarding the laws of the game when Knockaert went down in the box and, after a long consultation with the lino, the referee awarded an indirect free kick that was blasted off the wall. Brighton threatened again as a cross was headed back across goal by Knockaert, on this occasion Prödl put it out for a corner. A very promising break by Richarlison finished with a shot that was high and wide. At the other end, a dangerous looking cross was saved by Gomes with Knockaert closing in. Knockaert had yet another chance with 15 minutes to go, but his shot was saved by Gomes. Brighton’s next attempt came from a corner, but Duffy headed just wide. Richarlison lifted Watford hearts again after another break downfield, this time he fed Gray, but the outcome was the same with a shot that was well over the bar.
With 10 minutes to go, Knockaert was replaced by Izquierdo, which was a relief as he had run us ragged. Silva also made a late change, replacing Gray, who had worked very hard but never looked like scoring, with Deeney, a substitution that was very popular with the Watford crowd. Both teams had a late chance to snatch the victory. The Brighton substitute, Izquierdo, tried a shot from distance that flew high and wide at the near post. Then Watford’s new signing, Carrillo, had an opportunity to crown his debut when he met a cross from Femenía, but his header flew over the bar. With the last kick of the game, Femenía sent a shot high and wide and the game finished goalless.
The post match consensus was that the ten men had put in a sterling performance to win a very well deserved point. There was no sympathy for Britos whose tackle had been as reckless as it was unnecessary. But there was much admiration for many of the others. I don’t think he has been mentioned in the report at all, but Kabasele was absolutely immense. He battled hard and consistently snuffed out attacks. Femenía, who had replaced Britos on the left, had also done really well in the makeshift position.
The midfield players were excellent again. Doucouré and Chalobah continue to impress. Cleverley worked his socks off again and our first glimpse of Carrillo was a positive one. Even Amrabat had his best game for a while, finding some end product to match the surging runs. Then there was Richarlison, who has quickly become a favourite of mine. What chances we created mostly came through him and he also gave a rather lovely interview to the programme, presumably through an interpreter. It is clear that his attempts to settle in have been greatly helped by the presence of Gomes as well as a manager who speaks his language. By all accounts, he is a lovely lad and his future looks very bright indeed.
The international break comes at a good time. By the time we meet Southampton, we will know the final shape of our squad and hopefully will have some players back from injury. We are unbeaten so far this season and there is a lot to like in this new squad. If our next trip to the South coast is half as much fun as the last one, we have a lot to look forward to.