Nick Szczepanik's press verdict: Watford

Press round-ups are as enjoyable to write as they are to read after days like Saturday. The Sunday papers were unanimous in their praise of Albion’s 3-0 victory over Watford at Vicarage Road and hailed the influence of Graham Potter.

By Nick Szczepanik • 11 August 2019

Suddenly, it seemed, all the scribes of what we used to know as Fleet Street found watching Brighton a pleasure where before one or two had seemed to regard it as a penance.

Kieran Gill set the positive tone in the Mail On Sunday. “A pinch of Potter magic, and Brighton are flying,” he wrote.

“Graham Potter arrived on the South Coast with a great deal of scrutiny. Why sack Chris Hughton after he kept you up? Why think the grass is greener?

“This is why. Potter's Brighton and their slick style of play swept Javi Gracia's Watford aside after finishing last season without a win in nine Premier League games.

“Their back three of Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy and Dan Burn resembled a brick wall at times. They passed the ball wonderfully, and were set up to attack.

“It was entertaining, and the visiting supporters certainly enjoyed themselves at Vicarage Road. Several times they treated us to a cheeky rendition of 'We're gonna win the league’.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Lewis Dunk leads the team out at Vicarage Road

Paul Rowan in the Sunday Times also heard the fans’ refrain. He wrote: “Brighton boss Graham Potter made a triumphant return to the top flight, more than two decades since making eight appearances as a player for Southampton, and left ecstatic away fans at Vicarage Road chanting ‘We’re going to win the league.’

“The hyperbole was understandable; Brighton were excellent, and while Watford helped with some abysmal defending, the change in philosophy which Seagulls owner Tony Bloom sought with the arrival of Potter was evident in a performance which matched their biggest ever Premier League away win.

“’I didn’t make a particularly significant contribution to the Premier League,’ Potter laughingly said of his exploits in the 1996-97 season. ‘It feels like that was a different life and I was a different person to be honest. It feels that it wasn’t me, just a memory.’

“That was Potter’s way of deflecting attention from himself and the journey he has been on as a manager, with his extraordinary eight years at Ostersunds in the Swedish league and just a single season in the Championship with Swansea, before he parachuted back to the south coast as manager of Brighton.

“With him came dire warnings that Brighton should be careful what they wish for, following Hughton’s sacking in May, the day after what many considered to be a triumph, keeping Brighton in the Premier League for the second season in a row after having guided them up from the Championship.

“However, whereas Hughton has always been cautious, Potter has become fearless, both through his self-development and the confidence he has gained along the way as a manager.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Goalscorers Florin Andone and Neal Maupay

Nick Ames, in The Observer, had noticed the number of recent articles referring to the Albion head coach’s love of learning. He wrote:

“Anyone seeking information on Graham Potter’s route to the top flight has a veritable library to refer to. A pound for every time he has been asked about the team-building exercises he fostered at Östersunds would make him richer than, say, a Premier League manager but more afternoons like this will guarantee his football is the only thing remotely worth discussing.

“It all bodes well given that Potter, who spent £60m over the summer, fielded a starting lineup that entirely comprised players who were at the club last season. The same men who looked taut and inhibited towards the end of Chris Hughton’s reign radiated purpose here.”

The Mirror group papers also referred to the part played by the old guard as well as the new-look Albion rearguard:

“The travelling fans were delighted to see a Brighton side unrecognisable from the safety-first outfit of last season that just about scraped 17th place and Premier League safety.

“And as well as sending his team out to play enterprising and attacking football that clearly surpised Watford, Potter made a big call in starting all the club’s big-money summer signings on the bench.

“In any case, Brighton’s best bit of business was holding on to new skipper Lewis Dunk, even if he was never as close to leaving as some rumours made out.

“Dunk and regular sidekick Shane Duffy were joined in a new-look back three by Dan Burn, signed a year ago from Wigan Athletic but previously only seen in cup ties, who made an overdue Premier League debut.

“Brighton spent £20 million on Bristol City defender Adam Webster this summer but after Burn’s assured display he may have trouble forcing his way in.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Solly March in action.

Modesty forbids this writer from quoting more than a couple of lines from the Sunday Telegraph report: “Graham Potter’s first match as a Premier League head coach was all he could have dreamed of as his new-look Brighton side stunned Watford at Vicarage Road.

“The Seagulls have been mentioned among the relegation favourites in many pre-season previews but they had too many ideas for Watford here.

“Potter felt that defending a single-goal lead was not advisable and sent on Andone and Maupay after 64 minutes. He was rewarded almost instantly.

“’It's just the start for us,’ Potter said. ‘I'm just happy for the players, for the supporters. They enjoyed the afternoon and that is really important for us. But we're not perfect, we’re not getting too carried away and we won't get too carried away when we don't have a good day.’ This was a very good day.”

The Independent website found space for three separate pieces on Manchester City but relegated Albion to the lead slot in a round-up of other Premier League matches.

“Graham Potter's new-look Brighton recorded their first win in five trips to Vicarage Road with a comfortable 3-0 win over Watford.

“In Potter's first competitive game in charge of Albion, his side took the lead in the 29th minute after a ball across the box from Pascal Gross was turned into his own net by Abdoulaye Doucoure.

By Paul Hazlewood
Glenn Murray in action.

“As Watford looked for the equaliser in the second half, Brighton struck again with substitute Florian (sic) Andone (65) firing home with his first touch of the ball after coming on just one minute previously.

“The three points were sealed when fellow debutant Neal Maupay expertly rounded Ben Foster in the Watford net before tapping home in the 77th minute.

“Watford's impressive record on the opening day, having avoided defeat on the first match of each of the last 12 seasons, was brought to an end by Albion who recorded their first win at Vicarage Road in five attempts.”

Unsurprisingly, the Watford Observer took a more jaundiced view. “The Seagulls capitalised on some sloppiness at the back midway through the first half when Abdoulaye Doucoure scored the first goal of the season, but in the wrong net as he turned a Pascal Gross pass past Ben Foster.

“Andre Gray wasn’t far away from equalising eight minutes into the second half but, that chance apart, the home side were disappointing going forward and were to go 2-0 down when substitute Florin Andone netted with his first touch.

“But worse was to follow as Lewis Dunk was allowed to meander forward and was not closed down and his pass put another substitute, Neal Maupay, in the clear to score on his debut.”

Let’s hope that Dunky can ‘meander forward’ again to such purpose on a few more occasions.

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