Jekyll and Hyde. Beauty and the Beast. Esmeralda and Quasimodo. Just six characters that no one dressed up as on Fright Night. But there were more than a few scares before the end of a match for which those characters are the perfect metaphor.
The St Jude Storm that battered Southern England for about half an hour on Monday morning, leaving my neighbour’s front garden in pieces and pictures of upturned chairs all over twitter also accounted for the total cancellation of the trains during the morning rush hour. Trees were cleared from lines, tracks cleared and an emergency plan was enacted. That emergency plan being, presumably, to sit around drinking tea while Network Rail finished the tree clearing job, rather than planning for what went after. Long after the final big gusts blew trains were being cancelled randomly like some small child had been let loose on the timetable with a red marker. I didn’t get the train and neither did Scoffers, which is a good thing as, when we arrived, the Amex was half deserted. There were therefore very few people around to hear his “Inigo Calderon should be renamed ‘Cauldron’ for the evening” gag. Ha ha. Sigh.
But if Mr Barber had missed a trick in not ordering hundreds of commemorative t-shirts bearing our reserve right back stirring up a spell while clutching a cat, it seems Oscar has missed a trick in making Senor Cauldron our reserve right back. Kick off was put back to 8pm to cope with the train SNAFU and it appeared that Bruno had spent the extra 15 minutes having a stereotypical siesta. One he was still indulging in on the pitch. It didn’t help that Watford took the lead after only four minutes. A deflected long range strike may be considered an unlucky way to go behind but it isn’t if you don’t do the basic job of closing down the man with the ball. We allowed Watford to fire at Will which was a little harsh as after that he became our most dangerous player.
With Bruno going in the book early and some fairly flaky distribution from both him and Andrews, as well as JFC looking frankly lost, we still somehow clawed our way back in to the game by way of finding Buckley by any means necessary. The former Watford player was enjoying himself and, for once this season, the crosses were matching the dribbling and pace. One particular scamper down the right led to a tremendous headed chance as the ball threaded through Watford’s three centre backs but Almunia made a fantastic reflex save. I’m sure he never did that for Arsenal.
Too often, however, Watford looked dangerous on the break. The side that gave Poyet’s team a footballing lesson last December may have been shorn of some of it’s dodgy loanees (noticably the magnificent Vydra) but they were still pretty pacy. Too often we were second to the ball. Too often we over complicated our passing. Too often the midfield went missing. Barnes and Buckley apart the feeling at half time was that we had under performed somewhat. Mind you this is the opinion of two blokes who saw the delayed kick off as an opportunity to have an extra pint and tell Fright Night gags.
What would have been a disaster would have been if we had got sliced open immediately from the restart and gone two down. So of course that was exactly what happened. Only a referee I had been berating for over fussiness and under-punishing a late challenge on the Pole in Goal in the first half suddenly became my favourite man on the field. Watford whipped the ball round our static defence but PIG got a touch to the finish and Greer cleared off the line. Then he didn’t. Then he did again. During the ‘didn’t’ bit the Watford fans and 60% of NSC responders saw the ball cross the line but the officials were convinced that the whole of the ball had not crossed the whole of the line and it stayed 0-1.
We woke up. I’m not sure yet if that moment is a turning point in what has been a wretchedly unlucky season but it was a turning point in the game. Barnes MARAUDED. The previously derided Bruno now linked up effectively with Buckley, doubling the threat down our right that had already been our best feature. Ok he also committed a foul that could have seen a penalty and sending off on another night but, that apart, it was the Bruno of old. We finally saw flashes of why we’d signed Conway. The midfield energised itself. And, glory of glories, we equalized with a simply stunning finish from from that man Crofts again following a dangerous corner. Whatever you think of Oscar he has revitalised Crofts, considerably to our advantage.
This being fright night there was still time for one last scare as we needed to clear off our line again but a much improved second half performance secured a draw that would have been a fair result but for the disputed ‘goal’. 1-1 to a team that took us to bits last season with the injury list we have at the moment is fantastic.
At Falmer station afterwards I saw a skeleton. Finally someone had joined in I thought. It turned out to be a bloke who’d been waiting for a direct train to Eastbourne.