By Pete Bradshaw
I seem to have spent much of the last five years looking round houses as I move gradually northwards. Buying and selling. Being subjected to overbearing niceties from estate agents. Arranging mortgages. Making houses fit for sale. You know the sort of thing. Last minute decorations, making do and mending.
Now I find myself in Leicester. This, then, was the first time I had seen Watford play in the town I live in since the 1979/80 - John Stirk, anyone? How good it felt to drive eight minutes down the road, park up in Morrisons (reason number 478 - close parking to a football ground, perhaps), have a pint and then stroll five more minutes to the ground...and queue up for fifteen minutes and miss the start. What is it about new grounds and queues?
Many years ago, I lived in Derbyshire. The house had very smart burgundy window sills. Over the years, the paint faded and cracked. Time came to get out the scraper, undercoat and gloss. It was a pig of a job, what with the up and down ladders and the precariously balanced paint tin. Still, when it was done, the sills were looking shiny and new. Trouble was, we hadn't bothered to prepare the surface fully and after a while, bubbles appeared. We watched in horror as the paint dried and set and then came up in spiky lumps that burst aggressively. In the end we had to get someone else in to do it properly. A professional.
This match felt much like that. At times as entertaining as watching paint dry; despite other reports to the contrary, personally I didn't find this the most enthralling evening out. The first fifteen minutes, the shiny new Watford. Dominating play, caressing the ball around. Devlin tormenting down the Leicester left. King imperious. Young everywhere. Carlisle majestic (or should that be King majestic?).
The goal came with a certain inevitability, even though the Leicester wall was about as solid as our burgundy paint job. The ball swept into the goal without getting more than a foot off the ground. We were up in the corner, so far away the Leicester players' numbers were virtually unreadable. From this rather dubious vantage point it seemed as if the defenders jumped over the ball. Why would you do that?
Boothroyd had said on the website that we were learning how to play when in front. Erm, maybe. But we've a long way to go. 'Working towards' is the phrase we use in my line of work. We're working towards knowing how to play when in front. For the rest of the half, we seemed totally incapable of doing anything. Slowly, the previously smooth gloss began to dull. Cracks appeared and spiky flakes aggressively flicked up. We were ragged and unattractive, conceding possession almost entirely to the opposition who suddenly played like they truly had the Posthorn Gallop at their backs. Foxes? Did you know that the Glacier Mints were made in this fair city?
Just like the slow decay of our paint job, there was an inevitable end to the half. First, Gudjohnsson got on the end of a cross that had eluded Doyley - one of the full back's only blemishes. Then he nearly scored again before Spring reprised his impression of a constipated wicket keeper and conceded a penalty. Gudjohnsson again. It could so easily have been three before half time but a miraculous clearance from Carlisle kept the score down. This was not so much the superficiality of flaking paint, but full scale rot. The half ended with Carlisle diving while in attack and getting a deserved yellow card.
Lucky half time routine: tearing some pages out of Paul Perkins' note pad. I had managed to leave mine in the car, and had started to make notes on a copy of the Metro, thanks to David Wright. Cheers, guys!
The usual extended half-time break, with visions of Boothroyd throwing tea around. He must have covered more paper than I had. There was just so much wrong. Forty-seven minutes and Carlisle found himself facing Gudjohnsson at full pace. Some say he got the ball, and that TV replays show that to be the case. I haven't seen that and on the night the otherwise unimpressive referee seemed to have got the decision right. A second yellow and we're down to ten men. With Carlisle having been head and shoulders above everyone else until then, things did not look good.
For a few minutes we were treated to the slowest centre back pairing imaginable with Mahon joining Mackay, but soon we saw the expected introduction of Demerit, along with Bangura. This would certainly give us more bite in midfield, but we wondered where the creativity was going to come from. True, Devlin had apparently given up just seconds after I noted how well he was playing. True too, MacNamee hadn't got much of a touch all game. But this seemed a curious pair of substitutions. Bangura played his usueal game and got booked a few minutes later. Notwithstanding this, he does look a player for the medium term and certainly puts Mahon to shame at times. The captain is either not fully fit or has lost some of his ability to read the game.
The second half drew on. Leicester showed us that they had no idea how to play when in front. We showed we had little idea with no wide outlets. Much huffing and puffing. Even Hornets' fans in defiant mood found it hard to raise much enthusiasm. Leicester fans were pretty silent throughout. It was much like watching spiky paint dry, I thought.
Still, we were getting our share of free kicks, throw-ins and corners as we pressed forward, even if it was without much of an apparent plan. Doyley found himself with the opportunity to piledrive a shot as the game entered the last quarter of an hour. Given that he hasn't scored since he has been at the club as a ten year old, it wasn't surprising that he turned the chance down. Substitute Dion Dublin had an easy chance to put the game out of its misery, but maybe his time as a defender has dulled his edge in front of goal and he shot wide. Neither goalkeeper had made a save yet and there were only a few minutes left.
Then the effervescent Bangura fed Mahon who defied my earlier criticism by picking out Young with a pinpoint cross. I thought that our leading scorer had notched another goal but it turned out that Mackay's tap in had been necessary as the ball hadn't crossed the line. Jubilation and a reprise of the Easy-Easy chant which belied that fact that it was anything but. Foster made the only save of note right at the death and our unbeaten run continued.
Thankfully, we don't have to play Leicester again for a while, even though it was nice to have a drink afterwards and still get home for ten thirty.
The season is going very well. We may not be showing the early season gloss, but we are covering up the cracks well and we have a professional in charge doing a good job. Let's hope that like our window sills in the 1980s, his work lasts for many more years. Lucky manager? Maybe, but who cares....