By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Watford 3
A strong performance by Gianfranco Zola’s Watford left the Albion on an end of year low in front of the Sky cameras and a record crowd at the Amex early this evening (Saturday 29 December)
In two devastating second-half minutes Matej Vydra strode through the centre of the Albion defence to strike the ball past a bemused looking Tomasz Kuszczak in the Albion goal.
The Seagulls had started well. Wayne Bridge was getting forward from defence and causing the Hornets all kinds of problems.
The first real chance of note fell to Andrew Crofts who picked up a loose ball in the penalty area but fired narrowly over from about eight yards.
Craig Mackail-Smith was making a nuisance of himself as well. The striker turned provider and whipped in a great cross from the right,but this eluded the collection of Albion players in the box.
Liam Bridcutt was breaking up any kind of Watford attack more than effectively although the visitors had a clear chance through Hogg. But he shot tamely at Kuszczak.
In fact the visitors then got a foothold in the match. Almen Abdi headed wide from a corner when very well placed. Not long after came the first real scare for Albion as Kuszczak had to push away Troy Deeney’s shot from the edge of the area.
Vydra hit a shot that he miscued so badly that it went out for a throw, almost in the opposite half. Little did Albion know what was to come.
Before half time Kazenga LuaLua, who looked to have injured his back in the first few minutes, cut in from the right, beating two Watford defenders and unleashing a shot that produced an acrobatic save from Manuel Almunia.
At half time as the rain poured down the teams went in all square.
It was Watford who drew first blood ten minutes in to the second half. Albion’s attacking enterprise had been half-hearted at best, then Dan Pudil released Deeney with a ball that caught Albion’s defence flatfooted. Deeney raced away to score with a slight deflection off Kuszczak and put Watford in front.
Albion’s response wasn’t immediate although Craig Mackail-Smith was trying to get into a scoring position against his hometown club.
Albion got back into it when LuaLua pounced on an under-hit back pass and was upended by a combination of Almunia and Tommie Hoban.
From the resulting penalty David Lopez lashed the ball past Almunia to make it 1-1
For Albion fans though the joy was short lived as Vydra, who picked up a loose ball in midfield, simply ran straight at the Albion centre backs.
He hit a shot which looped up over Kuszczak, after taking a huge deflection from Adam El-Abd and put Watford back in front at 2-1.
Just as Albion were adjusting to this, and almost straight from kick-off, Pudil hit a ball forward, though it seemed El-Abd would get to first.
But Vydra showed an incredible burst of pace to leave the Brighton-born centre half almost standing still and the Watford man raced away and slid the ball past the advancing Kuszczak to put Watford into a 3-1 lead.
Apart from playing four strikers for the last 15 minutes, as Stephen Dobbie, Will Hoskins and Ashley Barnes supported Mackail-Smith, Albion showed no real enterprise in attack up to the final whistle.
And with rumours circulating the Amex that Will Buckley was omitted from the match-day squad because of a pre-contractual agreement with Southampton, it was a day that Albion fans will want to forget.
Rumours or not, the Albion certainly need a freshen up. If the current form continues much into the new year, Tony Bloom could have the hardest decision of his chairmanship to make in a month or so.
Albion: Kuszczak; Bruno, Greer, El-Abd, Bridge; Bridcutt, Crofts, Orlandi; David, Mackail-Smith, LuaLua. Subs: Brezovan, Dunk, Hammond, Dicker, Dobbie, Barnes, Hoskins.
Watford: Almunia; Ekstrand, Hall, Hoban; Anya, Abdi, Chalobah, Hogg, Pudil; Deeney, Vydra. Subs: Bond, Neuton, Yeates, Geijo, Mujangi Bia, Battocchio, Forestieri.
Referee: Oliver Langford (Wednesbury)