You know the score. You've seen the stats. You know that the latest in the long line of "must-win games" ended in defeat at Watford where we allowed a not-so-clever but clever enough side to take the points. You, like me, will have avoided MOTD (in my case because I couldn't find the bugger on the recording device thingy, which personal technological failings were a blessing in disguise) but, like me and thousands of others, you couldn't avoid the bare facts.
We lost by a solitary goal to a moderate (and I mean no disrespect by that - I'd simply love us to be that moderate) Watford. Their ground is wonky, their toilets are too small, and their electric turnstiles are less efficient than our defence - but they work, and that's why mid-table obscurity, a blessed target for us, is what they'll deservedly get.
The day looked to be starting well as the rain of the North East gave way to sunshine in the home counties, and we managed to negotiate an early drop-off near the town centre. That's when breasts began to point skywards, as we spotted a gap in the traffic and attempted what passes for a sprint at our age. The sight of three lanes of traffic bearing down on Winks, as he went to ground the victim of a busted hamstring, was a bit scary, but he managed to regain his footing and get to safety. That meant that the planned town centre rendezvous was scrapped in favour of a limp to the Oddfellows and a bit of sunbathing in their beer garden.
We weren't quite sure what team Moyes would pick, what with O'Shea having more stitches than an argument in an embroidery shop thanks to Bale's nasty international challenge, but we lined up…
Jones O'Shea Denayer Kone Oviedo
Gibson Rodwell Januzaj Borini
Well, that's what it looked like at the start, and to be fair, the start was fairly bright with us winning five early corners. It quickly became apparent that Denayer was allowed to push up, and he did just that. We were kicking away from the visiting support, whose loyalty never fails to amaze, and we were sort of getting quite happy with the way Gibson was getting his foot on the ball and the way Borini was getting stuck in and actually playing the ball to one of our own. Rodwell put in a deep cross that took a slight deflection and hit the roof of the net, as the game was fairly end-to-end, but the running from their central midfield was always a problem - as was their running down either wing, to be fair.
Borini got on the end of a decent move, only to attempt a clever revers pass to a non-existent team-mate when a shot would have been better - oh for the Fabio of three years ago who would shoot, and score, at the merest glimpse of anything vaguely resembling the white of the goalie's eyes.
Pickford had to pull of three smart saves, which we've sort of become accustomed to, and commanded this box well, before Kaboul who'd been well received by our lot, did a Winks (you were right, Spurs fans) and had to be replaced by Janmaat, who was warmly welcomed onto the field of play. (I lied about that).
For all that it had been a fairly even contest, with the ball moving swiftly from one end to tother, Pickford had been the busier keeper, which is all wrong when Watford have the most cowardly man ever to pull on a football shirt between their sticks - we should have battered him all awa the place, but the closest we got was a soft shot from Defoe that was well wide of the mark. Two added minutes, no goals, and we thought that if we kept going as we had, with Gibson moving the ball about reasonably well, we could win this one.
No changes for the second half, and no action had been taken by the FA, the Premier League, or any other organisation about their drums. Sorry, but they're all wrong. Percussive annoyance apart, the re missed a foul on Defoe and the linesman missed the ball going out of play before Borini lost out and they won a corner - which we cleared, but didn't do so well with the second, and it was headed in just before the hour. Insert swearwords of your choice, I can't be arsed.
Five minutes later, Gibson made way for Ndong, but we were almost two down straight after when Kone made the cardinal mistake of letting it bounce to let their ironically-named sub Success through, but thankfully Pickers was up to it when most keepers, including Jordan's idol Hart, wouldn't have been.
We were getting a little more than frustrated with the ref's refusal to do anything about Defoe getting splattered every time went near the ball (OK, he only had 18 touches in the game, but he'd have had 38 had he not been lifted from the floor by their defence) and his eagerness to blow against us every time we made a tackle. We nearly got the equaliser when Jones won another header and Ndong rolled it to Januzaj - but he rolled it to Gomez. Even he wasn't scared by that effort.
With 20 to go, Januzaj was off, to some boos, replaced by Khazri. Whoohoo! With him and Nodong in midfield, there was a bit of energy, creativity, and positivity about our play and we actually bother the home side a bit. Wabi lost his pip when another decision went Elton John's way and was booked for telling the linesman that Bernie Taupin couldn't spell, then our favourite (but not Moyes's) north African slung in a corner that was so deep Quinny would have struggled to meet it sat on Stan Varga's shoulders. Needless to say, they broke and Kone was booked for a crude challenge on halfway.
With the ref struggling to not blow against us at every challenge, we eventually managed a shot, when Wabi found Borini and Gomez actually got his gloves (which pathetically match his boots) dirty, but his clearance only found Oviedo. The rugby tackle that Watford produced only avoided a yellow, presumably, because it was so ridiculous. From then on the game spiralled way from us (OK, I know, it had never been that close to us, but hey, we were only one behind and there wasn't that much between the sides) as the ref based his ten paces on how far the home defender could be bothered to walk. Obviously, this meant that when Khazri took a free 30 yards out, their wall was barely ten feet away, and the shot was blocked.
I do believe that four added minutes were played, in which we had a few frantic but ineffective moments.
Forgive me if I've been less than critical of the players, but, like many, I've had this for several years now and, at my advanced age, I need to look for positives in things. Nine corners. They got thirteen. No goals. They got one. Defoe had eighteen touches in ninety minutes, which - come one midfield - is neither use nor ornament. Pickford's distribution was excellent - one of his second half "clearances" was of Zidane class. That Lad really is a beaut, but not beaut enough to get us the necessary three points. The rest of the results went against us, as they always seem to do this season. C'est la vie, as they say on the Barbary Coast.
Is this it? Is this the season when the cat's ninth life proves to be not sustainable? Fans with more miles on the clock than me have indicated they've had enough, and I can't muster up an argument against them. Still, we're planning to follow the under 23's (under 21's? I forget which it is) to their European final. Little victories and that, plus Moyes's natty cardigan.
Man of the Match? For what it's worth, Ndong was the most positive of our players and he only had 20 minutes, so he's it. I bet he's chuffed to bits. At least our driver(s) got us back in time for me to avoid MOTD in the Welcome over a few Double Maxims. If only....
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