Date: 19 August 2017
Well, I know we’ve had a stuttering start to each of our seasons in the Premier League, but this result – and this performance – in one of the (on paper) easiest matches we’ll get all season, was particularly troubling.
The day began badly because those people who organise league fixtures had not only put Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth all at home on the same afternoon – but had put both Bournemouth and Southampton at home to London teams. So the train, which would already be busy because it was a summer Saturday morning heading for the coast, was filled with Watford and West Ham fans. “Standing room only” doesn’t begin to describe it. The second challenge was the new method of picking up Exiles Club tickets – from the ticket office. Only one ticket window out of six was open (two hours before kick-off for the first home match of the season!) but it wasn’t easy to see this – especially as the light reflects off the windows and two of them, in any case, are down at wheelchair level. The guy who served me asked my surname, couldn’t grasp it, and asked me to write it down. We then went through the same charade for Christian name, postcode and seat number (one at a time) but he still couldn’t get any luck out of his computer. So he disappeared for a full ten minutes (during which no window was manned!) before returning with – amazingly – my ticket! The only remaining challenge was the bar code reader at the turnstile which, though not exactly being intuitive, worked for me at the second attempt. (But it’s SLOW – anyone arriving after about 2:45 missed the kick-off.)
I’ve been putting off mentioning the match, because for large periods it was simply dire. We had Smith on for the injured Francis, as expected; and Ibe for Pugh, because Eddie still doesn’t know which he prefers (even though this meant Fraser had to play on the left flank whereas he surely prefers the right?). But most surprisingly Defoe was again on the bench. And the team showed no positivity at all – so unlike what we’ve come to expect of these players. Despite the reported gruelling pre-season training schedule, no-one seemed up for it. And you can’t blame the new players – because Begovic (who made some excellent saves) and Ake (the undisputed man of the match) played better than established players like Steve Cook, Daniels, Arter and King who were all a shadow of their former selves. And the less said about Surman – with his sideways and backwards passing – the better!
Afobe, despite receiving little service, worked his socks off for us and was involved in most attacks, but the final touch that would count just wasn’t there. And while Smith got forward well on the right wing, and was never marked, the other players seemed reluctant to pass to him. Neither team showed much likelihood of scoring in the first half, though Watford looked slightly more likely than Boscombe did. We were lucky to still be drawing at half time.
The second half, initially, didn’t look as though it would be very different. The only change Eddie had made was that not only had the two wingers been swapped (as often happens) but so had the two central midfielders and the two forwards – for no obvious reason other than to prepare for the double substitution planned for the hour mark. Defoe came on to replace Afobe (who was now on Bournemouth’s left) and Pugh to replace Ibe (who was also now on the left). Afobe didn’t look very happy about being substituted, and actually a big strong guy like him seemed to be exactly what we needed. In the event, the substitutions didn’t help our cause at all because the first goal came from Watford’s Richarlison. His first shot rebounded but with the follow-up he could hardly miss, at close range. 0-1, with 73 minutes on the (shiny new) clock. This was the cue for Watford fans to go berserk and invade the pitch.
The away supporters had outsung the home ones (who at times seemed as disinterested as their team) for much of the match. They’d sung their hearts out about having a garden shed that’s bigger than our stadium. But after the goal their preferred chant switched to “Merson what’s the score?” – a reference to Paul Merson having predicted, on Sky, 3-1 to Bournemouth. The best response home fans could come up with was the inevitable reminder that we were the champions two years ago. Anyway, the game continued. King had a chance to score but headed over the bar. Eddie made another substitution: Mousset for Fraser (King moving to the right wing). But Watford made a more significant one, bringing on Capoue – whose shot from distance on 86 minutes put Watford 2-0 up. To a man (or woman), home fans rose from their seats and started walking out. They knew that, even though six additional minutes of time was added to the match by a very generous referee (no idea where the six minutes came from), it was already Game Over.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (6), S Cook (5), Ake (7), Daniels (5);
Ibe (6), Arter (5), Surman (4), Fraser (6);
Afobe (6), King (5)
A Smith, S Cook, Ake, Daniels;
King, Surman, Arter, Pugh;