Mackay's relegation favourites pass their trial by television
The script was written. Norwich City, the division’s new boys, had won the League One title in a manner that had the experts cooing. Now, Paul Lambert, the Canaries’ manager and the latest cause célèbre, was ready to make an impression in The Championship.
Watford were in the grip of yet another financial crisis. Favourites for relegation. Again. With a squad described as ‘threadbare and painfully inexperienced’ by The Guardian.
The pundits and bookmakers are rarely wrong, are they? As has so often been the case with televised fixtures in recent years, the Hornets were not supposed to be the stars of the show. They were merely extras to support the overall narrative.
The opening match of the season was moved to Friday evening so it could be shown live. It served as the curtain raiser for the entire English league. Sky’s pundits hyped up the home team and their commentator’s opening words were: ‘Welcome to the crazy, unpredictable world of The Championship.’ You might have thought they’d seen this coming.
Once again, Watford looked like the Rossoneri in their red and black-striped away shirts. Once again, they played like them. The Hornets almost lost John Eustace to Leeds during the summer. How relieved they were to keep their increasingly influential skipper.
Eustace dominated the midfield. He got the first goal, bringing the ball down and lashing it low into the net. Ten minutes later, Danny Graham got the second. He chested the ball down to Marvin Sordell then ran into space to receive the through ball. Graham’s finish was sublime. He took the ball on with a touch of his left foot and then fired a powerful shot that caught John Ruddy cold. He was about to prove himself the most complete forward Watford have had since the days of John Barnes.
Norwich pulled one back when Andrew Crofts scored early in the second half. But Watford continued to batter the Canaries. Adrian Mariappa should have scored when Ruddy could only parry a long-range shot. Mariappa’s header fell the wrong side of the post.
Graham scored his second nine minutes from time. Receiving the ball on the left-hand corner of the 18-yard box, he was allowed time to pick his spot. He threaded the ball towards the far post and although Ruddy got a hand to it, the ball went in. Norwich got another goal back at the death but Watford fully deserved their win. Another one in the eye for the experts.
Watford Loach, Hodson, M Taylor, Mariappa, Doyley, Cowie, Eustace, McGinn, Buckley (Jenkins 59), Graham, Sordell (Deeney 58)
Manager Malky Mackay
Scorers Eustace 14, Graham 24, 81
Norwich scorers Crofts 52, Nelson 90
Why was this match chosen? Watford had been written off by most pundits before a ball was kicked. It was the first game of the new Football League season, live on TV on a Friday night. And the grin on chairman Graham Taylor's face as he watched from the directors' box said it all.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? The club was treading water, at best, when the book was being written. Malky Mackay, and then Sean Dyche, worked minor miracles with slim resources, and in the boardroom Graham Taylor was trying to provide leadership and stability against all the odds. But there wasn't an awful lot to feel optimistic about for the medium-to-long term and so an unexpected away win while dressed like AC Milan felt like it might be as good as it got for a while. Clearly there are several games from the Pozzo era which would bump this match out of the top 100 now.