Date: 3 October 2015
A very disappointing draw against the kind of team we really need to be beating at home if we’re to stay in the Premier League beyond one season.
Eddie Howe graciously stated after the game that he blamed neither Murray (who’d failed to convert a penalty) nor Boruc (who’d gifted Watford their goal) for this afternoon’s defeat. But on those two errors the match result depended (1-1’s very different from 2-0!) so the significance of these two incidents can’t be over-stated. More about both later.
The team had been forced to change following Wilson’s long-term injury sustained at Stoke. In the event not only did Murray come in for Wilson (as expected) but King replaced Tomlin too. Murray was heavily involved from the start – on the receiving end of three good crosses in the first six minutes, from the third of which he managed a shot on target – but he had to wait till the 28th before he met, at the far post, a deep cross from Ritchie and headed the ball into the net for 1-0. Murray’s first goal for the club, and cue an ecstatic crowd. For most of the rest of the first half, we settled into an end-to-end game in which Watford made no threat on our goal at all (Deeney was playing very deep). King and Surman were both heavily involved in the game but each with moments of brilliance alternating with moments of direness. Whenever the play failed to excite the home fans, they kept themselves amused by mocking Watford over the way the 2014-2015 season had ended (“1-0 to the champions”, etc.).
And then, on the stroke of half time, disaster struck. Boruc met an innocent back pass from Distin, but instead of booting it up field he hesitated – then decided to try and return the ball to Distin. Combined with a slight wobble the ball found Watford’s Ighalo, who couldn’t believe his luck as he casually rounded Boruc and struck into an empty net. 1-1.
The most significant moment of the match was always going to be the “fifty-fifth minute” (though, pedantically speaking, as it ran from 55:00 to 55:59 it was the fifty-sixth minute). In memory of Mick Cunningham, founder of the Exiles Club (without which I probably wouldn’t know a single other supporter these days), there was to be a one-minute applause. It was impeccably carried out. Everyone stood as Mick’s photo appeared on the giant screen. Not only fans on both sides, but players and those on the bench, applauded. (The significance of the fifth-fifth minute was Mick’s age when he died.) Bizarrely, play continued throughout the minute, and there were scoring chances at both ends during that time.
The game proceeded and Boruc partially redeemed himself by stopping one rare Watford shot (though the best save of the match was made by Watford’s Gomes when Cook attempted a Callum Wilson-style bicycle kick late in the half). Eddie brought on Smith for Pugh (Ritchie switching to the left wing to accommodate him) and O’Kane for King (O’Kane for the second game running coming into the ‘number 10’ position even though both Tomlin and Kermorgant were unused substitutes). Then very late in the game a foul on Smith won us (after much argument on both sides) a penalty. Who would take it? Daniels was on the pitch, had had a good game, and used to take our penalties a few seasons back. But no, it was Murray – who looked somewhat hesitant before he played a very soft shot into the Watford goalie’s hands. What a waste! So the score remained at a disappointing 1-1 and the Watford fans were the only happy ones at the final whistle.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (7), Cook (8), Distin (8), Daniels (7);
Ritchie (7), Surman (6), Gosling (6), Pugh (7);