The fiftieth graduation from our Academy in 12 years is something to be hugely proud of, rightly celebrated over the tannoy. Assombalonga looked the part, keen, strong, rangy… but also raw, and not helped by the limited service he received from a hurried midfield.
West Ham needed a late Ricardo Vaz Te goal to earn a point as they blew their chance to go top of the Championship. Teenager Sean Murray fired Watford ahead midway through the second half with a fierce low drive.
Sean Dyche’s Watford, by contrast, were fearless. Outclassed on paper, they defended heroically and “looked after each other”, as Dyche put it. Leaders stood tall all over the pitch. Captain John Eustace shed blood for the cause. Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, in his third game on loan from Manchester United, kept Watford in the game with some excellent saves. “We believe in what we do,” Dyche said. “We’re realistic, you know you’re in for a tough task at a place like this. But the mentality of the team is fantastic, and that was on show tonight.”
A clash of heads between John Eustace and Dale Bennett, Watford team-mates, forced a seven-minute delay. Eustace left the pitch, returning with a large bandage on his head, but Bennett, his neck in a brace, was taken off on a stretcher and then to hospital. “We suspect it’s not as serious as it looked,” Sean Dyche, the Watford manager, said. “We’re waiting on the doctors to see if he’ll be kept in overnight.”
Away matches are brilliant. Evening kick-offs are brilliant. Nothing-to-lose, dammit games are brilliant. So an evening kick off at the Boleyn Ground, preceded by several hours of build-up… verbal, nutritional (Nathan’s Pie and Mash shop a thing of rare beauty) and liquid is something to savour. Yet more so given that astonishingly sensible stewarding permits actual standing for the entire ninety minutes. That’ll never catch on. And of course that the Boleyn Ground is a claustrophobic, suffocatingly intense venue. Industrial-scale bubble machines of a size that would cause my daughters to combust with excitement are stationed at the side of the pitch, propelling countless swarms of the things into the night sky. I must have seen that here before, but I can’t believe it’s anything like as effective when the floodlights aren’t catching them. Not sure it would work quite as well with Hornets, one to mull over though. I’m sure there are financial reasons for leaving Upton Park, reasons that might even benefit the football club, but you’d have to be bloody mental to want to abandon this place. If the atmosphere is slightly subdued before the game, from kick off onwards it positively crackles.
More games from 7th March at https://oldwatford.com/tag/mar7