This is The Championship
By Dan York
"This is The Championship!".
Hull's PA man was doing his best as the teams joined us on Saturday, but the KC Stadium seemed to be suffering from the muted atmosphere that affects so many of the new grounds. Perhaps the Hull fans don't feel quite at home yet, or possibly the apparent lack of enthusiasm was due to the uninspiring football the Tigers have served up so far this year.
Peter Taylor made a couple of changes to the Hull side, bringing back Nick Barmby up front, while Northern Ireland international Stuart Elliott was missing with a virus. Betty stuck with the same starting line-up that beat QPR.
The game began as a midfield scrap (This is The Championship, after all) but we didn't have to wait long for the first goal. Hull broke away down the left through Stuart Green, and his low cross to an unmarked - and, it appeared, offside - Barmby was neatly tucked away into the far corner of the net.
Suddenly, the KC Stadium woke up. But not for long, as Watford attacked straight from the kick-off to force a corner. Just as the locals were launching into "You're not singing anymore", Gavin Mahon's head connected with Ashley Young's corner and the ball sailed into the net. The home support were silenced, and remained so for most of the next 83 minutes.
Watford had the better of the rest of the half, although Ben Foster pulled off a superb save to tip a deflected Curtis Woodhouse shot over the bar. Paul Devlin was allowed plenty of space on the right, and consequently saw plenty of the ball. On the other side, Anthony McNamee was having a quieter game but threatened the Hull defence when he did get the ball, on one occasion cutting inside, beating two City defenders and crossing for Spring, whose shot was deflected wide. The physical but limited Hull centre-half pairing struggled to contain the pace and movement of Ashley Young and Marlon King.
Watford deserved to be in front, and the lead arrived just before half-time. A long throw bounced across the penalty area where was met by Spring, who leathered it past Myhill into the net. Scoring from set pieces is becoming something of a hallmark of this Watford side - an extraordinary state of affairs for those of us who can remember the times when we seemed to go whole seasons without converting a corner or free-kick.
Hull made changes at half-time, bolstering their attack with the tall Ben Burgess, and putting Craig Fagan on for the ineffectual Ellison. Watford had the first chance of a frenetic first few minutes when King headed just wide from a Devlin cross, but Hull countered and Leon Cort directed a header straight at Foster from a corner. The Watford defence was beginning to struggle, and on came Al Bangura for McNamee in an attempt to shore up the midfield. Watford reverted to the Boothroyd version of 4-5-1, with Young dropping back to the left wing leaving King on his own up front.
Hull continued to press, but failed to create any clear-cut chances. Instead, they were gifted one when Carlisle inexplicably clattered John Welsh in the box and the referee made the easiest decision of his afternoon. Fortunately, the burden of taking a spot-kick for a side struggling for goals seemed to affect Green, and he blazed the penalty over the bar.
Watford's response was to make two further changes, Mackay on for Demerit and Henderson replacing Devlin. King reverted to the wide-right role, and Henderson took up the task of battering the Hull defenders as the lone striker. He immediately caused problems, putting the ball in the net from a Young cross only to see the goal disallowed for offside. A minute later he made a nuisance of himself on the edge of the box, winning a header only for King to shoot wide.
Hull had one more chance to equalise, when Barmby broke clear of the defence, but Foster produced another fine save to parry his shot. Watford survived the last five minutes without any further alarm and held on for the win.
Hull will feel hard done by after they dominated the second half of this game and had chances to equalise. It certainly wasn't a great Watford performance, and a better side would have punished our uncertain defending. But despite lingering concern about the sustainability of our promotion push (I think we can safely describe it as one of those now), the very fact that we are winning games like these - frantic midfield scuffles punctuated by occasional moments of quality - is a very encouraging sign. For Hull, who simply aren't winning games like this, the opposite is true - what they would give for the creativity of Devlin, MacNamee and Young. Keep that mobile switched off, Betty.