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Southampton 0 Watford 3 (18/10/2008) 18/10/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Just for a change, here’s a match report…

It’s not quite the case that this was my first experience of an executive box. I vaguely remember a similar set-up at Old Trafford in 1987 (and one of those occasions when Worrell Sterling played well – he only ever did so as a straw to cling to in a defeat) although I can’t remember why or what justified the exalted environment on that occasion.

But certainly my first visit for 20 years or so, and much as it would take some getting used to there’s something about free food and an assistant to bring you free drinks from the bar that tends to win one over.

Thanks are due to Joons and his employers for access to this box. This thought was bubbling around somewhere near the front of my mind as we shuffled out to our padded seats at around 2.45 – it doesn’t take much alcohol to affect my sensibilities these days, and I was conscious of not wanting to embarrass or cause ructions for my host as I took my pew above the Southampton directors’ box. Any celebration, berating of officials and general raucousness to be kept to a minimum.

The deceptive chill that defied the bright sunshine helped me retain a degree of self-awareness. So too the discovery that the “Lawrie” who had given his name to the adjacent executive box was indeed Southampton’s celebrated ex-manager (and one time GT-sidekick). His schoolmasterly demeanour, even at the age of 72, demanded a straightening of seating position and attentiveness to matters in hand.

Not that there wasn’t quickly enough going on to grasp the attention, as a chaotic forty-five minutes ensued. Form and a glance at the teamsheet suggested that a painfully young Southampton side might cause us a few problems going forward, but a back four with an average age of nineteen was there to be pressured and bullied. Heaven knows what Doris will do to them on Tuesday…. both suggestions were proven accurate beyond dispute within the first half.

And the home side started on the front foot, making us look very clunky indeed at the back as we endured our now customary stupid first five minutes. We’d been put under pressure – and looked far from comfortable – even before the second minute, but the first pivot of the game came when a ball from deep towards the lively McGoldrick saw the Saints’ youngster, Ward and Lee collide on the edge of the area.

It’s beyond dispute that McGoldrick was fouled. It wasn’t obvious to me who had committed the foul or even – based on an admittedly addled memory alone – whether it had been in the area. But a penalty having been given, and our keeper having been held responsible, we can probably consider ourselves fortunate to have retained his services. Not a clear cut decision – Darren Ward clearly in attendance – but we’d have been looking for red had the roles been reversed. A long thirty seconds was endured before the yellow card appeared.

Thing is, as the Reading game illustrated, sometimes it bounces for you, and sometimes against you. Wittering about refereeing inadequacies or otherwise continues to miss the point. What differentiates a strong mentality from a weak one is the ability to deal with the situation. And both in the Reading game and here we overcame the impact of a refereeing decision – against us a month ago, for us today – to push on regardless and get a result.

Although admittedly we were helped by both a weak penalty from McGoldrick and a confident stop by our goalkeeper. Not for the last time we jumped around in isolation in our pocket of the main stand under a particularly stern glare from our right.

The game remained open, and we were under pressure again as a wicked ball in from the right found McGoldrick attacking the far post and only a fine block from Mariappa prevented us from going behind. It was hairy, and it might have got hairier still but for the sudden discovery that Southampton couldn’t defend to save their lives.

Darren Ward on the scene or otherwise, it won’t have escaped your notice that we’re hardly a threat from set pieces any more in these post-Shittu and post-Doris days. That didn’t prevent an almost complete failure to deal with a ball into the box as Harley received Williamson’s short corner from the right, flicked it rather aimlessly into the middle where it cannoned around for a bit before finding Hoskins and Priskin playing scissors-paper-stone at the far post for the right to drive the loose ball past the unprotected Kelvin Davis. The Hungarian won, and delivered emphatically.

Good job, because whatever story the final score tells we were under pressure again quickly. John Eustace put himself under unnecessary but increasingly traditional pressure by picking up a yellow for executing a Southampton midfielder on the halfway line. And then the home side won another penalty.

At the risk of “The Championship” making me look silly tomorrow morning, no doubt about this one for me. A shove in the back, only questionable because it was so unnecessary (he can’t have bloody pushed him, can he?). Paul Wotton, one of only two of Saints’ starting eleven able to ride a bicycle without stabilisers, grabbed the ball early and took responsibility, but several of our number called the outcome before it transpired. A long run up heralded a smack down the centre of the goal where the ball met Richard’s legs and cannoned away to more celebration and another stern glare from our right.

More hurly-burly followed… we seemed to be under instruction to bully Southampton’s youngsters and deny them the space on the ball which had already hurt us. Referee Kettle wasn’t having any of it, pulling up anything approaching a physical challenge. This isn’t basketball you tart. Lee Williamson, however, is paid not to lose his cool in the face of a stupid refereeing decision, so his yellow for dissent was somewhat irritating, the non-foul that he’d just been penalised for notwithstanding. Jon Harley’s own yellow minutes later was slightly harder to understand, and perhaps prevented him from picking up a booking by the traditional means of a petulant hack on his marker later in the game.

You’ll notice that our attacking forays aren’t featuring much here. The truth is that there weren’t many of them, with those that we did carve out coming the way of an increasingly purposeful and aggressive Priskin, who won a corner with a bullish drive down the left that probably ought to have resulted in a clear shot on target but for his customary hesitation.

At which point I must confess to availing myself of the facilities… such are the perils of a free bar before a football game. As I returned into our suite an “oooooh” from the noisy Watford contingent to our right caused me to rush to the window in time to see John Eustace nod home. Given the chaos that preceded our first goal, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how the second had come about.

Particularly as a similarly preventable third followed ten minutes later. Southampton displayed the twin vices that would cost them the game – the inability to finish off a couple of bright breaks followed by utter refusal to deal with a ball bouncing aorund the box, Tamas Priskin grabbing his second with a smart backheel of all things.

The mood in the box at half time was one of cheerful bemusement. We hadn’t played particularly well, and had the bases loaded against us in the number of yellow cards already assembled. We had in fact defended like idiots for much of the half, hadn’t attacked particularly expansively, and were 3-0 up.

It’s tempting to dismiss the second half as a non-event. Compared to the first half of course, very little wouldn’t have been a come down and it’s fair to say that the slow down in the passage of events suited us rather better than it suited our hosts.

But they gave it a good go, and we had both our goalkeeper and no small fortune to thank for our clean sheet.

This was Richard’s sort of game, of course. No big strikers to compete for high balls with, little in the way of crosses from the touchline into the box, and no real demands on his sometimes wayward distribution given how easily we’d picked up a convincing lead… but plenty of shot-stopping and handling which he managed pretty much immaculately. There were chances in the first fifteen minutes of the half that, had an outstretched leg connected, Lee wouldn’t have been able to do anything about – and the Bromby/Ward pairing, on this evidence, isn’t one you’d want to test again against more bullish opposition.

As it was Southampton’s failure to break the deadlock resulted in the rest of the half being more comfortable than it might have been. We had a few more chances of our own – Priskin twice chasing and harrying (yes really) to generate a couple of chances to complete his hat-trick, one of which resulting in a snap shot that Davis did well to stop, the second in an astonshing shank wide that would have attracted derision but for the sterling display and two goals that had preceded it. Rasiak is supposedly back in contention on Tuesday. Improbably, he’s far from a shoe-in on this evidence.

Will Hoskins, after a disappointingly incidental first half, was much more significant in the second, working hard to occupy Southampton’s young defenders with little reward. As the game petered out, Saints fans stirred themselves to sing about how quiet the Watford support was, which probably passes for irony on the south coast. Our subs wandered on… a feisty cameo from the likeable Henderson and a less eyecatching ten minutes from John-Joe O’Toole, followed by a welcome return for Lloyd Doyley, giving us proper options at the back for the first time in a while.

We won’t always have it as easy as this. And it was easy, however much of the rub of the green we got. Southampton’s plight serves as a warning of the perils of NOT living within your budget. Here but for the grace of God go we. If you can’t deal with the most inoccuous of balls into your box, you’ve got a serious problem.

Watford move up the table, but there are tougher challenges to come. Starting Tuesday.

*Lee 4*, Mariappa 3 (Doyley NA), Sadler 3, Ward 2, Bromby 2, Smith 3, Eustace 3, Williamson 4, Harley 3, Hoskins 3 (Henderson NA), Priskin 4 (O’Toole NA)

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Comments»

1. Tybalt - 18/10/2008

I miss BSaD.

Great report. I was out in the park with my youngest (my new Saturday morning tradition conflicts badly with the 10am starts of Saturday games here in Toronto) and by the time I remembered to check the BBC ticker we had had four booked and were up 2-0. First refresh, we were 3-0 up.

2. Esp - 19/10/2008

“….Wotton, one of only two of Saints’ starting eleven able to ride a bicycle without stabilisers” Welcome back sir!

As someone not known for brevity myself I thoroughly enjoyed your (BSaD style) report Matt and at the risk of becoming your McEnemy I (like Tybalt above) much prefer your match report style to the traditional “Thunks”. I will refrain from wondering if the Chateau Rothschild had anything to do with the prose length. (Booze normally shrinks mine;…..prose that is)

Having to sit with the hoi polloi in the corner unlike your lauded position my recollection of the match was that we played poorly in the first half despite the scoreline (and opening up old wounds and sceptical analysis in the away end about our erratic, confused back four) and we played much better in the second. But our first away win of the season more than made amends for the rather bizarre nature of the match and defensive lapses

Whilst you and your executive box mates wer revelling in “cheerful bemusement” MR, us in the cheap seats witnessed the unlikely spectacle of Malky Mackay out on the pitch with the subs AND a member of the ACTUAL team namely Darren Ward. I know that goalies sometimes come out in the break but an outfield player? Surely this is unprecedented – unless someone can confirm otherwise.

Penultimately, I thought your score of “2” for Darren Ward was particularly unfair; yes he was guilty for one of the penalties but overall he was my outfield MotM; Lee scoring so highly in your team was just recognition of the crucial nature of those timely saves and he tips DW for MotM for that reason. We probably would not have recovered from going 2-0 down.

Finally I swear that the statue of Big Ted outside the ground uttered an expletive as I passed it on my way back to Southampton Central. Mister Bates certainly recognises a fan of a bogey team when he sees one!

3. JohnF - 19/10/2008

A weird game and strange to say that 0-3 away from home was a lucky and nervy win. The BBC comment about a comfortable win must come from someone who didn’t see our performance. I was pleased for Priskin, who I thought played very well following on from a good performance against PNE. Ward recovered well after his 2nd minute blunder when he completely misjudged the ball over the top. My immediate thought was penalty and see how the on-loan keeper would do and I agree with you Matt, I thought the second one was also a penalty and a needless one at that. As a team performance it was poor and better teams would have murdered us. The passing game all came from Southampton and we were reduced to lumping the ball anywhere for much of the game. It is interesting when so many played poorly that by the middle of the second half, somebody behind me was having a go at Priskin! I now think that what many Watford fans want is what they got last year but just with more wins.
There is still great support for Aidy but I have to ask what he is doing regarding the coaching, particularly the defence. Aidy brought in all but two of the starting line-up. I have fears about the coming week against two of the top sides and it will require much better performances than this one from the team as a whole to avoid a hammering.

4. Kris - 19/10/2008

Tybalt – we all miss BSaD. I must – however – admit that having read this fantastic match report on an incredibly surreal match – I was left wondering what Matt’s thunk are? Maybe there are just too many. Giving away and then saving two penalties? Priskin scoring? Twice? With a backheel? Our yellow card count? Our very very poor defense? Their very very poor defense? The fact that the Saints’ current problems are down to not being prudent – and their situation is where Watford could easily end up if certain fans were left to decide our spending policy.

Anyways – a good win away – and we suddenly have a winning streak (albeit a short one).

5. Matt Rowson - 19/10/2008

esp – I thought Ward had an incredibly ropey first half… more than just the penalty incident. The ball from the right that required Mariappa to block at the far post came from his mistake, and he barely won a clean header at the back despite being one of very few six footers on the pitch.

6. Esp - 19/10/2008

Re: my contradictory point about, err, points Matt – the NotW put both him and Lee in their Championship team of the week so I have that reputable and august sporting journal on my side about Ward which makes me feel particularly supercilious and smug this morning

Just watched the Championship (3,060 minutes of League football miraculously edited down to a 50 minute programme, minus the ad breaks) and I still think that Eustace didn’t score with his head, it still looks like an og to me both live and on the TV prog but hey-ho :-)

7. Simon in Oz - 20/10/2008

2 missed penalties! And just when, 31 years on, I was beginning to forget about US missing two spot kicks in one game in Mike Keen’s last season in charge. Brenford at home – and the transgressors were (I think) Bond and Mayes. Truly ugly, haunting stuff.

8. Andy Scott - 20/10/2008

I love keeping in touch with the Hornets via this fantastic website and enjoy reading the post-match comments each week. I am unable to make most matches because I live in the West Midlands. My brother is also a big Watford fan and his photo was in the last matchday programme (v Preston) because he has just got married. If there is anyone on this site who has a programme and would be graciously kind enough to part with it I would be willing to pay you decent money. He was on honeymoon when we played Preston at home but is very keen to see his photo! If you’d be kind enough to email me my address is:
andyandshonascott at blueyonder . co. uk

9. Weymouth 'Orn - 20/10/2008

Think you are all being a tad harsh on Ward.
From my vantage point (admittedly with the riff-raff in the corner), he had an excellent 2nd half and dominated in the air.
Agree with ESP – very strange to see Ward out on the pitch at half- time.
Mariappa always gives too much space to the guy he supposed to be marking and therefore has some considerable distance to cover when he needs to close him down.

And a conundrum for MR, because he enjoys them – who was the last Watford keeper to save two pens in a match? (Mind you who was the last to save one?)

10. Johnny Boy - 20/10/2008

Thanks for the match report Matt and the memories it brought back of the days of Bsad. But what to the future, are match reports going to be the norm or will there be a return to ‘thunks’.
Personally, I like the ‘thunks’ as they invariably cause more discussion which is essential for a blog site. On the other hand, for those who cannot attend matches like, a match report must be a godsend. What does everyone else think?
Looking foward to tomorow night.

11. Sirhornet - 20/10/2008

Can’t help with who was the last keeper to save two pens but I think Rich was the last to save one vs Gillingham in the Carling Cup last year.

This week will truly see how good we are. Fourth and first at home in two successive matches. FWIW here’s how I think possible outcome bode for our season:
0 points = relegation certs
1 point = struggle and then relegation
2 points = struggle and stay up
4 points = mid-table
6 points = play offs

12. DM - 20/10/2008

I’m going to add my name to the list of those dissapointed with Ward, but I was even more dissapointed with Bromby. Last season’s calm assured-ness is a distant memory at present. The sooner Jay DeMerit is fully fit the better, even though he has also been below his best thus far.

One other thunk – for all the lack of balance in our squad, a bench inclduing Doyley, O’Toole and McAnuff hints at some areas having more than adequate cover.

In all, another Saturday done, another step nearer a perfectly acceptable mid table finish. On the pitch at least, the unfolding season continues to be a pleasant and enjoyable surprise rather than the horror show many feared during the summer.

13. Matt Rowson - 20/10/2008

Johnny Boy…. if anything like regular match reports could be committed to, we probably wouldn’t have made the difficult decision to pack in BSaD. I’ll tell you for nothing that it’s thunks tomorrow night… but I’ll do reports when I can, they’re far more satisfying.

Sirhornet… I agree that it’s two far from easy home games, but I think you’re reading far too much into the outcomes. If we pick up an injury, or get a key player sent off tomorrow the carryover might well do us for Saturday. If we get the breaks again tomorrow then Wolves aren’t as invulnerable as their league position might suggest. Neither really impacts much longer than the next month, nor provides greater insight for me. Cardiff’s position tells you all you need to know about the division, fourth place but only four points ahead of us. It’s a morass and we’re right in the thick of it.

DM- agree on all counts. Must be something wrong with me…

14. Sirhornet - 20/10/2008

To be honest Matt I was really mentioning the effect these results would have on team momentum and morale. I agree that with the congested nature of the division, league placings can vary wildly from game to game.

I think the confidence in our squad is quite fragile- two losses will shatter it, two wins will shore it up.

15. Esp - 21/10/2008

If we’re in a “morass” as MR suggests was Saturday’s match a “moralee”? – one for the older viewers there :-)

As for confidence Sirhornet I think (at least) Priskin’s is at an all time high and as our bench rarely has any experienced strikers on it that is bloody critical ahead of tonight and Saturday’s important home games

16. JohnF - 21/10/2008

DM I agree with the implications of your post. The squad, now that the injuries are starting to clear up, is actually not bad on paper. It is much better than Southampton’s very inexperienced squad for example. The problem is that a significant number of senior players (i.e. experienced) who ought to be doing very well are simply not performing to the level they should. I guess this may have something to do with the “team” and the interaction between different players. However, there seems to be a disturbing inconsistency that may relate to fragile confidence that could be a hang-over from the second half of last season.

17. DM - 21/10/2008

JohnF – it’s a fair point. If you asked people to name the players that they feel have been under par this season, I suspect Bromby, DeMerit and possibly Eustace would figure heavily in most lists.

My feel is it comes down to leadership and organisation on the field, and certainly in the back four which has been lacking in both since Mackay’s retirement. None of our first choice 3 centre halves have much of either, while Eustace, who has the reputation as a leader from his Cov and Stoke days, seems to think bootering people is the way to show it.

One on field general, preferably at centre half, is the big miss from this squad – I think we would get more from those more senior players if we had that.

18. DM - 21/10/2008

Oh, and Matt – I’m sure I can put that right ;o)


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