As they reminded us in Apocalypse Now, good does not always prevail. And we didn’t today. Over the 90 minutes I don’t have the feeling that we were robbed, or that the referee cost us the game - which is not to say he had a good game; if it takes a ref 85 minutes before showing a card to a Watford player it’s fair to say he’s been lenient (OK, just crap). Watford were ugly, often if not nasty then brutish, but did more than us in the last 20 minutes, during which time they looked more likely to win it than us. But for a tremendous last-ditch block by Fortune they might have done.
Our sin was of course not being able to hold on to a two-goal lead. You don’t give a team like Watford any encouragement. The problem was maybe that the players at half-time felt like the fans (or at least me): 2-0 up, let’s get this game over and go home and celebrate. You had the feeling early in the second half that we weren’t attacking with the same intent, having carved Watford open a couple of times to establish the advantage. And having regrouped after conceding two in two minutes we didn’t seem to have the energy in the final phase to suggest that we could win the game. We failed to create a good chance in the second half and were restricted to a few shots and some threatening balls into the box which didn’t break our way.
It had all started so well. The same starting XI as against Sheff Wed and, while Watford ensured that much of the game was spent with the ball in the air, there were moments of pure class from us, most obviously the two goals. For the first a good ball in was flicked on by Gray, then helped on by Varney for the onrushing Ambrose to bury from short range. Watford couldn’t get a touch. And the second may have been an own-goal but it was such a wicked ball in from the right from Halford that the forward behind Shittu would surely have buried it. With Sam looking threatening, Gray having a much better game, and Ambrose having rediscovered how to take a corner things were looking good.
Watford offered little before the break and looked if not outclassed then at least incapable of matching us when we got it right. Youga was having a strange game, seemingly intent on showboating going forward and playing a succession of dubious balls forward but also making some key interceptions (and he did pick up after McCarthy put his arm around him and had a quiet word). A shot did come back off the post just before the break, but I thought we looked comfortable. Maybe the break encouraged such thoughts.
Their first goal was poor and Ambrose, possibly Youga as well, must shoulder a good deal of the blame. They were slow to close down their guy on the right edge of the area. He seemed to mishit a shot which bobbled towards the penalty spot, only to find a couple of Watford forwards who had held their ground (and didn’t look offside to me). We were rattled and Fortune conceded a corner. What happened then I’m not sure of. Some said that Shittu held down our defender before heading in. I’d need to see it again. The defence, including Weaver, seemed to freeze and the ball was headed in from close range.
Now we had to chase the game and failed to do so. Cook came on first for Ambrose and looked good to me. He delivered a number of superb crosses from the left and most of the time brought the ball forward with intent (he did get crowded out once or twice). Iwelumo and Thomas came on for Sam and Gray but didn’t really change the game. One day we will know why Thomas had to leave the field to replace his shorts. Watford were reasonably content to take the point, but as the clock wound down they were passing the ball much more than before and creating space as we seemed to tire. Zhi and Holland failed to hold them back and at the final whistle, while obviously disappointed at losing a 2-0 lead, there was the feeling that if the game had continued for much longer we would have lost. Booing the ref as he left the field is always fun – and he didn’t give us enough protection. But it wasn’t the key element.
Watford? You can’t really call them a yo-yo team. I quite like yo-yos and they have a purpose. Watford are more like a bad smell; you just don't want them around. I have nothing against them as a club but quite frankly they’re going nowhere. If they get promoted they will be an embarrassment (again). They are a long way short of having anything like the sort of quality that might survive in the top flight. I just don’t want to be in the same division as them. Their fans sang ‘we love you Watford’ and I don’t doubt that they do. There’s just nothing about their play for any neutral to love – and a lot to despise.
Dropping two crucial points is bound to have a deflating effect on the team and the fans. Thoughts are bound to turn again to having to settle for the play-offs. I guess it’s time to forget about such things and just concentrate on winning the next game. We probably now have to go on a run of three or four wins, maybe more. We can do it, but the two points not secured today mean no spring in the step. At least I’m going to win the lottery tonight.
Weaver: 7/10. Need to see their second again; he may have been at fault.
Halford: 8/10. Thought he had another splendid game.
Youga: 6/10. I’m not sure if he deserves a 9 or a 5. It was a peculiar performance and one that perhaps sheds light on why Pardew had to substitute him against Sheff Wed. First blot on his copybook as far as I’m concerned.
McCarthy: 9/10. I don’t think he was to blame for either goal and still has the defence operating far better as a unit than before.
Fortune: 8/10. Deserves a high rating for that late block after their forward had got the wrong side and looked about to score their winner.
Ambrose: 6/10. A very mixed bag. Good first half, scored a goal and seemed to have worked out how to deliver a corner. But disappeared in the second half and carries some of the blame for their first goal.
Holland: 7/10. No complaints once more. Did seem to tire towards the end.
Zhi: 6/10. Also tired towards the finish and I felt a few times didn’t want to take the responsibility when the ball dropped to him around their box.
Sam: 6/10. Looked dangerous in the first half and delivered some dangerous crosses. But faded in the second half.
Varney: 7/10. No lack of effort, but it just didn’t break for Luke today. Had a hand in the first goal.
Gray: 8/10. I thought he had a much better game than against Palace or Scunthorpe. Was more involved and linked play well. A goal would be nice.
Subs: Cook (8/10, looked lively), Iwelumo (6/10, did get brownie points for coming on and barging straight into Shittu), Thomas 6/10 (barely had the chance to get into the game).