On Saturday, Watford played their third away game in 8 days. Thankfully, this was the second with an easy journey, this time to the south coast. I changed trains at Clapham Junction where I bumped into Jacque. As we sat on the train, Pete appeared looking for Richard, who was also supposed to have been on that train, but had left an hour earlier so was already in Lewes. As we disembarked on arrival, there were a lot of familiar faces who had also chosen this as their pre-match meeting place. On the walk to the pub, I admired the pretty town of Lewes that I only ever visit fleetingly on the way to Falmer or Glyndebourne, and determined to make a proper visit to take in their football ground, the wonderfully named Dripping Pan.
We have very happy memories of the pub in Lewes as we were there the day that Watford won promotion to the Premier League, attracting quizzical looks from the others in the beer garden as we cheered and hugged following the confirmation of the final scores from around the country. The pub had recently undergone a refurbishment, and it has to be said that the food and the beer were both excellent.
After lunch we took the short journey to Falmer and, on arrival at the ground contemplated the best way to head to the away end (which is about half way around the ground). A helpful local pointed to the left and I had to agree that the gentle slope is definitely preferable to the flights of steps at the other side (we had enough of those at Newcastle).
Team news was that Gracia had made just the one change from the Spurs game in mid-week with Sema in for Pereyra, who had picked up a knock in training. So the starting line-up was Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley, Capoue, Sema; Deulofeu and Deeney.
The concourse at the ground has the appearance of being huge, so it always baffles me that it is always so packed and you have to fight through the crowd to get to your seat. The game kicked off on an icy afternoon and took a while to get going, so I wasn’t moved to retrieve the notebook from my bag until the 17th minute when Janmaat crossed for Deeney whose header was just wide of the target. Brighton’s first chance of note was a shot from distance from Bissouma that flew high and wide. The next chance fell to Groß who shot wide of the near post. Locadia was the next to try his luck, but his shot was high and wide. Brighton threatened again from a free kick, but the header from Dunk was wide of the target.
The most entertaining moment of the first half came on the half hour as Holebas battled with March on the wing and ended up giving away the first corner of the game. In typical Jose manner he then walked towards the goal to defend the set piece, looking furious as only he can. He was looking for someone or something to blame, and suddenly focussed on his gloves which were ripped from his hands and thrown behind the goal line. I realise that this loses a lot in translation, but it caused great amusement to the Holebas fans in our party. Thankfully, for Jose’s blood pressure as much as anything else, the corner came to nothing. Brighton had another chance to take the lead as a free kick reached Pröpper at the far post but he fired wide. Foster, who had been a spectator to this point, was then called into action to claim a cross from Locadia while under challenge from Murray. The first shot on target came in the 41st minute as a lovely cross from Groß was met by the head of Locadia, Foster did brilliantly to push the ball clear. And that was it for a very dull first half.
Brighton started the second half with a dangerous looking corner from March that Foster tipped over the bar, but he was being fouled at the time so won a free kick. Watford had a rare goal attempt as a long ball was headed down by Deeney to Hughes, whose shot was poor and going wide when Ryan dropped to make the save. The Hornets created a better chance as Janmaat crossed for Sema but his header was just over the target. It had been the brightest spell of the game for the Hornets but Ryan didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name and it was very short lived. Normal service resumed as Brighton attacked with a Groß free kick that was headed wide by Murray. With 20 minutes to go, each side made a substitution as Gray replaced Deulofeu, who had another disappointing game, for the Hornets, and Murray made way for Andone for the Seagulls. The next goal attempt was a good reflection of the quality of the game as Locadia’s effort went out for a throw in. His next effort was considerably better, the header appeared to be goalbound until Foster pulled off another brilliant save to keep it out. The resulting corner was flicked on by Dunk to Duffy who tried an overhead kick that was blocked on the line by Foster. Gracia made another change as Sema was replaced by Quina, presumably to inject a bit of pace into Watford’s game.
The Hornets really should have taken the lead during a scramble in the Brighton box. It was right in front of us and there seemed to be a number of opportunities to get a shot in, but each time another pass was made. Hughes and Gray were both in the box and you felt that one of them had to score but, bizarrely, the ball then spent some time motionless between the legs of a defender before it was finally cleared without the keeper having to get involved. Brighton threatened again as Andone advanced into the Watford box, but Foster was out to clear. It was end to end at this point and the Hornets had a decent chance when Capoue found Hughes but the shot was from an acute angle and hit the side netting. Andone had another chance to snatch a winner as he turned and unleashed a shot that cleared the bar. The home side had one last opportunity to take all three points but Bissouma’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target and the game ended goalless.
After the final whistle, as is their habit, Deeney and Mariappa came over to give their shirts to fans. On seeing that Mapps was not wearing an undershirt, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “You’ll catch your death!!” However, the shirts were a distraction from the real prize which was Jose’s gloves that were still lying by the goal where they had been discarded. Unfortunately we were too far back to claim them and some lucky fan alerted an official who retrieved them and handed them over. I was green with envy.
On the way out of the ground, we walked past the celebratory banners. When the ground was first opened, these were of heroes from Brighton’s history, but they have been replaced with a series celebrating last season’s Premier League campaign, which was rather interesting but not a patch on Norman Wisdom.
We headed back to Lewes, although nearly missed our stop as nobody on the station had bothered to mention the fact that the doors in the rear carriages of the train would not open, this meant that there was a rather extended stop at Lewes station as the majority of the passengers in the rear four coaches left the train through the same door.
We headed back to the pub for the post game analysis, although there was little to discuss. It had been a very dull game in which Watford failed to manage a shot on target. The defence had again been impressive and restricted the opportunities for the home side who, any time they did manage to break through, were faced with the barrier that is Ben Foster, who put in yet another man of the match performance. But, despite the lack of entertainment on the pitch, results mostly went our way, so we remain eighth in the table with a decent cup tie to come. When these dull games have been forgotten (they almost have already), this will be remembered as a good season to have followed the Hornets.