First Team 13/08/2019

Affleck’s Angle: Wake-Up Call

By Kevin Affleck

As deflating as Saturday's result was – and boy was it deflating – it's important to add a dose of realism and a sense of perspective. Please bear with me.

These results out of absolutely nowhere, the ones that you just didn't see coming, do happen, even at home. The evidence is right there.

Just last season the team were turned over 4-0 by Bournemouth on the very same patch of manicured grass. That one hurt. The season before there was the capitulation against Huddersfield. Remember that one? Ouch. The season before that there was a dreadful showing against Stoke. That was a tough watch. This columnist still remembers a going over at home to Barnsley under Aidy Boothroyd in 2007 when the Hornets were going for top spot and Barnsley had just been knocked out in the semi-final of the FA Cup.

Even the late, great Graham Taylor wasn't immune from the odd rogue result. In the riotous promotion-winning season of 1998/99, there was an anaemic 1-0 loss at The Vic to Swindon. The season before, the one that ended in that glorious day out at Fulham, the team lost 2-0 at home to Gillingham. You would have thought the footballing world was about to end in this leafy corner of south-west Hertfordshire after those two results.

Fortunately these results and performances are few and far between and, by and large, recent history suggests they happen once a season. It's just the timing was particularly lousy on Saturday. In fact, it was really lousy. 

England international Danny Welbeck and Ismaïla Sarr had just whetted everyone's appetite with a rousing unveiling on the pitch. That particular cheer had just died down, Welbeck and Sarr had just taken their seat, when the return of Z-Cars had everybody clearing their throats again, particularly in the Rookery End. The sun was out, the ground looked a picture, optimism was high and a home win looked on the cards. And then bang. The whole thing went up in smoke.

 

“It was something we didn't see coming,” said Craig Cathcart. Javi Gracia certainly didn't. “I have no doubt about that [we were ready],” he said. Neither did Ben Foster. “The prospect of a draw or a defeat didn't even enter anybody's mind,” he said in the club's new post-match offering Added Time. Even the Brighton players were caught a bit on the hop by that one. “To win by that scoreline away from home in the first game is quite unexpected,” said goalscorer Florin Andone. 

The inquest began immediately and Gracia and his coaching staff were spotted early on Sunday morning at the training ground picking over what went wrong and why. You can bet the Spaniard was up most of the night poring over the footage. He won't let this one rest. “We need to improve and maybe this is a good wake-up call for the rest of the season,” said the Head Coach. 

The big positive to cling to was the way the Head Coach, and indeed the team, responded to a similar result at home to Bournemouth. There is precedent. Gracia rallied the troops, changed one or two things tactically, left no stone unturned in the analysis of Wolves and plotted a brilliant 2-0 win at Molineux. It was the perfect response.

He will also, you suspect, get out the big stick in training and be as vocal as he was in one revealing clip posted on the club's Twitter account during the training camp in Austria.

There are likely to be one or two meaty tackles flying about. “We've got to get back to doing the basics on the training pitch and make sure everyone is accountable for their own performance,” said Foster. 

Things can change quickly in a game, let alone week to week. We saw that first hand in the FA Cup semi-final. Graham Potter, the Brighton coach who came across very well in his post-match press conference, knows this only too well.  “I bumped into Ken [Sema] and we were just laughing,” he said. “Eighteen months ago we weren't doing so well. We had just come off the Europa League run but that just goes to show what can happen in football and in life.”

That's why you wouldn't bet against the Hornets getting something at Everton. The team went there last season, if you remember, on the back of five matches without a win and came from behind to come within seconds of taking all three points at Goodison Park. It might even be the perfect follow-up game given the subplots around this fixtures these days. 

It didn't feel like it at the time, and it still doesn't feel like it now to be honest, but what happened on Saturday could serve to refocus minds and remind everyone that the Premier League is an unforgiving place and that you get diddly squat if you are even slightly off your game. It might just have been one of those afternoons. 

“It's not great to get off to a 3-0 defeat but it might be a good thing, it might ruffle a few feathers, might wake a few people up and not a case of waiting for the big players to turn it on,” said Foster. 

We should see what this group are made of on Saturday.

Under-23's 13/08/2019

Crichlow: “It Was A Big Help”

By Kevin Affleck

Kane Crichlow is grateful for the mentoring of several first-team players and believes it was a big factor in his impressive start to the Professional Development League season.

The Bermudan youth international signed from AFC Wimbledon in the summer was taken to Austria by Javi Gracia on the strength of his attitude and performances in the first fortnight of pre-season and he soaked up the whole experience.

Although he didn’t play against Ajax or Bayern Leverkusen, the 18-year-old trained alongside senior internationals every day and got to see how they carried and conducted themselves around the team hotel. In his first competitive match since he got back, Crichlow scored twice and made another against Hull City on Monday afternoon as the Under-23 side ran out handsome 5-0 winners in their biggest win for nearly two years.

“It was a big help,” said Crichlow. “Their level is really high. They are Premier League players, some internationals, and they really helped me prepare for the Under-23 season. Deeney was giving a lot of advice to me. Him and Andre [Gray], [Adrian] Mariappa and [Nathaniel] Chalobah really took me under their wing. I was talking to them the most, getting a lot of advice. They said work hard, keep your head down and continue to work hard, catch the head coach's eye and hopefully get on the bench some time this season.

“It’s was great. Seeing these guys on TV you are like, ’Wow, I want to be in this type of position, travel with them and play with them.’ It’s a real motivator for me.”

The Under-23 side are back in action on Monday night at Sheffield United and that provides another swift opportunity for Crichlow to work towards his target.

“I’ve set a few goal; obviously to score lots of goals and assists for the Under-23s, and hopefully get called up to the [first-team] squad once or twice before December – or throughout the season, really,"he said. "Those are my goals for the first year.”