As Jas Bailey neatly summarised; with my wife at home with our boy I took a trip to Bristol to spend the evening with my boys ― My annual visit to Ashton Gate to see the golden boys. I very nearly didn’t go. The past few years spent largely watching non-league football, coupled with the fiscal prudence brought about by a baby in the house, leave me feeling very uncomfortable spending £25 on a football match.  Had this not been my beloved team, had I not badly required a fix of yellow goodness then there is no way I’d have gone. A quick note on this; If the people who run the game think my eventual attendance is justification of this pricing strategy they are hugely mistaken.   I may be hooked like a crazed junkie spending beyond his means to achieve a high, but this price will scare off all but the most loyal. Where will the next generation of loyal fans come from?  Those with no emotional ties to their local club will not pay £25 a game.  This situation is unsustainable.

Back to the game, you can get the factual match reports from your usual sources, and superior insightful analysis from someone whose seen most games. But I will offer a few thoughts on the game and mini iSpy reports on some of the team; six of whom I’d never seen play before live.  I was actually a little taken aback to see David James in the Bristol City team, I remember his Watford debut as a teenager in 1989, a fantastic servant to the game and a very eloquent speaker on it.  It will be a sad day when he finally hangs up the gloves, which if this evening’s performance is anything to go by will be very soon. Obviously at fault for the first goal, attempting a punch clearance when catching was the simple safe option, but his mistakes didn’t end there; He fumbled a few more crosses and his choice of distribution was often questionable.  At the other end Tomasz Kuszczak quietly impressed, making two or three smart saves, one of which from a Stephen Foster shot could probably be considered out of the top drawer. But quiet is a good adjective, for whilst he had little to do for long periods his communication with the back four seems minimal.  Despite this, we’d do well to sign him permanently; though whilst I suspect the upper levels of the Championship are his natural level, but I doubt we can afford the type of money he would want.

The other new face for me in the defensive unit, Nyron Nosworthy, had a mixed game. Largely solid and organised he seems prone to some quite horrendous lapses in concentration and judgement. One reckless challenge on the edge of our penalty area in the opening ten minutes was lucky not to be more harshly punished by not only the referee but also Brett Pitman ― whose freekick was only parried by Kuszczak and by Kalifa Cisse ― whose humongous air-shot on the follow-up produced howls of laughter from the travelling horns and spared Nosworthy’s blushes.  One suspects that Nosworthy benefits from a more senior (read: organised) defender playing along side him, and I’m not sure he’ll be the right foil to lead our younger defenders in the years ahead.

Ahead of him this victory, with it’s element of “smash-and-grab” was built upon the foundation given by Jonathon Hogg and Prince Buaben. Hogg in particular looks a fantastic signing. He didn’t let the City midfield settle at all; snapping at their heels like a terrier. When he wins the ball he is quick to pick out a pass and gets the game moving quickly into the opponents half.  Whilst I have seen Buaben play before in the league cup defeat on penalties at Rovers earlier in the season, he looked very unfit in that game. This was a different performance. Whilst those who are blinkered to only see the player with the ball will consider Buaben had a quiet game he harried as much as Hogg, perhaps winning less ball, but his harassment of City defenders with the ball showed that the team weren’t going to allow their hosts to settle on the ball in any part of the pitch.  The dominance of Buaben and in particular Hogg was epitomised by the sending off of Liam Fontaine for an ugly challenge on Hogg with 10 minutes to go, whilst the challenge wasn’t particularly nasty, it was high and late and stank of the desperation of a player whose had little time on the ball in the previous 80 minutes.

Upfront Troy Deeney worked his arse off as always, and he is obviously much more comfortable here than playing on the wing. Whilst his footballing weaknesses are apparent ― his goals-to-shots ratio is I suspect poorer than many in the division ― if he gets himself into the right position enough times he’ll cause enough problems to justify his selection.  Apparently his blocked shot was pounced on by Murray for Watford’s second, but I couldn’t see as the view from the East End making further mockery of the entrance fee. I’ve got a big love for Troy; he wears his heart on his sleeve, he’s bloody-minded and he gives 100%. So much about him including his build and his limitations remind me of Sir Tommy Mooney. I hope Watford fans get behind him, because I honestly believe he could be a club legend in the same mould.

This was my first view of Chris Iwelumo; honestly I can’t see what you’ve all been moaning about! He’s a beast of a 6 foot 3 inch striker, were you expecting the speedy guile of a Kevin Phillips?  Recent reports suggest his performances are vastly improved over the last few weeks, so perhaps I’ve only seen his good side, but here was a mature and steady performance from a target man. Most importantly he appears to me to be a leader on the pitch. Constantly chatting and encouraging the younger players and I’m sure that he is a huge benefit to the club off the pitch even if he isn’t banging the goals in on it.

And so to the wingers. Oh my, football is fun when players like Alex Kacaniklic and Sean Murray are playing it. Players who run with the ball ― Remember them? It’s like the good old days. Both are very similar in style, their fearless running with the ball at defenders. Although both often ran into trouble, the excitement when either get the ball is tangible and there’s noting quite like watching an opposition defender back away at pace, this is how football should be played.

Kacaniklic is perhaps slightly better at delivering a final pass than Murray, but the fact that Murray is 2 years younger (and the extra time to develop this affords him) plus of course one of our own, make him by far and away the more exciting prospect. It’s really essential that we protect Sean. It’s going to be a tight balancing act to ensure he gets the first-team football he deserves whilst assuring he reaches his optimal potential and doesn’t burn out. I really hope we get two or three seasons out of him before he inevitably goes on to the greater things which are within his grasp. But in the meantime I have a feeling that the next few years may be an exciting time to be a Watford fan. The future is bright.

So in summary, this was an organised performance in which Watford, whilst never spectacular, made few mistakes and picked off a poor City side at relative ease and rarely looked like conceding a goal let alone losing.

But a final word about Bristol City, much like the performances of my adopted Bath City this season their performance was full of effort and possession, but lacked quality and confidence. Undone by individual mistakes they look like a side waiting for the trap door to open.  As a Hornet in exile in the South West I really hope this doesn’t happen. Not just because I would miss my annual visit of the Hornets to this part of the world, but the dearth of West Country teams in the top two divisions of the football pyramid is a bit of an embarrassment to my adopted home and the region deserves more sporting success.


Addendum: It was amiss of me to discuss the passing of the 50-point mark generally considered safety in this division without passing comment on the performance of the gravel-voiced ginger one. Mr Dyche – thank you. It would have been quite an excellent achievement to achieve safety with games to spare in April, to do it with games to spare in March is remarkable.  I can’t claim to have held my nerve completely, although I was in a significant minority who were happy with his appointment, I have have called once or twice for him to go during the darker days back in October & November.  I don’t think I was ever truly serious, but Laurence Bassini, for all of his faults, should also be given credit for not listening to idiots like me.