It’s January. Watford have hit their stride. The Hornets are desperately trying to catch the eye of the flirtatious play-offs. What they need to stake their claim is a jazzy, impossible to ignore mating call…
3) “Battocchio” Goal vs Huddersfield (19.01.13)
The begloved midfielder brings a Huddersfield clearance down on his chest and under pressure from a Terrier loops the ball forward to the halfway line.
Killing the chest-high ball dead, the diminutive Argentinian oriundo shapes to make a forward run, but jerks back towards his own goal, sending a Huddersfield midfielder the wrong way, before laying the ball off.
Opening his body and surveying the pitch for an opportunity to extend the play, the skipper – on as a sub for only his fourth game of the season – shrugs off a challenge and prods the ball back to Forestieri.
He jinks, jinks and skips across the pitch, playing a casual pass to move play to the right of the pitch.
Lloyd, without whom no goal can truly be branded “great”, takes the pass and immediately slides the ball down the line.
Facing his own goal just beyond the halfway line, the whiskered wing-back cushions the ball inside with his first touch, turns tightly and takes off down the wing.
Using Forestieri’s dummy run, Battocchio puts his foot on the ball, turns inside and jabs the ball short.
Taking the ball on a wide about-face, Abdi sucks in a midfielder and arrows a pass into the right channel.
A little flick through the legs momentarily bamboozles the Huddersfield left back and guides the ball right into the path of his charging teammate.
Running onto the ball in the space created by Forestieri’s trickery, the team’s patriarch sends a first-time low cross in behind the rapidly back-tracking defence.
Arriving into the box level with the near post, the other diminutive Argentinian meets the ball perfectly in stride and, with his instep, guides it into the far corner of the goal with consummate ease.
As soon as I’d got my breath back, I texted my brother: “We’ve just scored the best goal I’ve ever seen”.
And in reasoned hindsight, it really was. Argentina’s team goal against Mexico is still talked about in admiring tones, but for all the patience and movement it required, it was just twenty slow, simple passes with a neat finish. This was different*. Nobody took more than three touches, and once the ball crossed the halfway line the rhythm changed, the pace ramped up and Watford flooded forward with élan. When Battocchio finally put an end to the move, there were four players arriving perfectly into goalscoring positions on the edge of the box. My word, it was a sight.
Detractors have pointed out that the goal was a meaningless fourth against a poor, down-spirited Huddersfield side; that if they had something to play for they would have pressed harder, been quicker to the ball, and so on. But to say such things is to ignore the beauty of Watford’s movement. This would have been a lovely goal with no opposition on the pitch. Once Lloyd receives the ball on the right, everything seems pre-planned, everyone knows just what to do, and they execute flawlessly.
The move of course won Battocchio the ‘Goal of the Season’ award, but a few scored after the nomination deadline pushed it close. The Guardian has even gone to the lengths of putting Chalobah’s thunder-bastard at Leicester and Vydra’s dipping volley in the Play-offs into their European Goal of the Year voting. But this goal surpasses them. With great strikes like those two, the undeniable skill – and audacity – is matched by a large degree of luck. Nate will try his hit again, and strike it cleanly into the concourse. The Battocchio goal contained no such semblance of luck, it was the result of decisive coaching, quick footballing brains on the pitch and a bloody ton of skill.
The goal was the high point of the style that Zola promised to enact in his team. There have been moments of magic, periods of flowery domination, but no phases of such pure, unbridled sexiness as on that snowy January afternoon.
*I do, of course, acknowledge that it’s easier to score this sort of goal against a demoralised Huddersfield team than a Mexico side in a World Cup.
Come back tomorrow at the same time for Number Four…