This game was always going to be an interesting experience. Sure, we had a bit of momentum and positivity about us after the “Return of the Mac” (©DCFC) but this was Watford. The place I live, the other half’s team & my tip for Champions this year.
I can’t remember how many times I’d said before the game, “I’d be happy with a draw”. A few people also asked me if I would have split loyalties for this one. No chance. I was in the Derby end, shouted myself hoarse and was nearly in tears at the final whistle. Aside from the second half comeback in the 4-4 draw against Ipswich, this was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had as a Rams fan since well… the 5-1 win over Watford last season.
The game started well for us. After a brief scare when Watford’s giant Algerian defender, Essaid Belkalem, nodded wide from a corner (still need to work on the frailty at set pieces then..), we attacked with verve and flair. Wardy, Martin, Bennett and Bryson all looked capable of causing trouble to the somewhat lumbering, disorganised Watford defence. When Wardy knocked in a cracking header after eight minutes, I couldn’t stop myself from shouting, “He’s only little and you’ve let him score with his head!” Not sure who specifically I was directing this at, (although I did cast a glance at The Witch with her arms crossed resolutely in the Lower Rous). To be fair, the cross from Bryso was driven in with such pace, any defender might have struggled with it. But Pudil did look a tad bemused by it all.
Of course, Watford equalised almost straight away with what can only be described as a “dink” by Forestieri after he was put through by McGugan (via a decent ball from McEachran). Not sure there was much we could do about that one.
I didn’t know what I expect after that but, despite losing Whitbread to injury, I still thought we coped pretty well with Watford for the rest of the first half. And, of course, we took the lead again, courtesy of a horrendous lapse from the Brazilian, Iriney (more about him later). Bryso did brilliantly here, what a great season as a counter attacking Lampard-esque midfielder he’s having.
A 1-2 lead at half time. Outstanding. The 15 minute break was a jolly affair, with the young tyros at the back leading what seemed like 600 renditions of the “Derby Army” chant. Even the baseball cap wearing pensioner next to me joined in with that.
The second half was a bit of a blur as Watford increasingly dominated. They played some exhilarating stuff, running straight through us in midfield and forcing us into conceding several free kicks on the edge of the penalty area. McGugan surprisingly wasted two of these but to his credit he kept his head up and scored a superlative equaliser, curling the ball past Granty into the top right hand corner.
Watford continued to push for the winner, with Pudil having the beating of the hapless Smith at right back and Forsyth not doing too much better on the left (to be fair, he did make one brilliant interception to stop Forestieri in the box earlier in the half). Smith should have got sent off for two bookable offences but luckily Eustace had actually been booked by mistake for his first offence. McClaren has GOT to do something about the full back situation. Bringing Freeman back would be a start.
McClaren, on the touchline now and increasingly frenetic, threw Conor Sammon on (“Simmo told me to go for it” – good advice Simmo!) and he had an instant impact, worrying the frail Watford defence and keeping some pressure off the rest of the team. One chance came and went but to Sammon’s credit he took the next one with aplomb (running on to Hughes’ perfect sliderule pass). The Derby end exploded. And there it was, a deserved 2-3 victory.
Just a few words on Simon Dawkins, McLaren’s first signing (albeit only a 93 day loan). Looked lively for the first ten minutes of the second half. Was all over the place for the rest of the game, losing possession easily and showing a complete lack of familiarity with his colleagues. Not surprising really. Let’s hope he repays the faith McLaren has showed in him and makes a contribution.
A few words on Eustace. He was brilliant. Again.
What about Watford? To be fair, they were missing their three most dangerous players (Anya, Deeney and Abdi) plus their defensive lynchpin (Doyley). I think the game would have been different with them playing against us. Iriney was awful. Pedestrian and increasingly becoming a bit of a hacker as the game passed him by, he was lucky to stay on the pitch. Watford improved immeasurably when Murray replaced him. Overall, it was a haphazard error strewn performance from Watford and it left a lot of their fans annoyed and frustrated. Including the one I walked home with.