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Watford 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 (25/10/2008) 25/10/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Not for the first time since August, it’s tempting to look at the stark contrasts between this season and last. Expectations dramatically lower, certainly. Sixth from bottom after this game, as opposed to sixth from top in May. By and large, playing our better stuff – and certainly picking up more points – at home; our away record was a proud thing last season, but merely loitered in the back of the mind of those who didn’t get to many away games.

There was no way this game loitered in the back of anything. No awkward youth this one, leaning with his back against the wall sipping a can of Kestrel as the party meandered on in front of him. This was the guy off his face by ten’o’clock, getting everyone dancing before snogging some girl’s face off in the kitchen, climbing onto the garden shed and falling through the roof before falling asleep on top of a couple of bags of compost. So… ugly and disgraceful in many ways but impossible to ignore. And very very far from dull.

That’s not to say that ig’s sideways “that was straight out of last season” comment a minute or so in was in any way inappropriate; at that stage a very long and uncomfortable afternoon seemed in prospect. Such had been the fear before the match had even kicked off, in fact, with Darren Ward’s enforced absence and Jay Demerit’s worryingly persistent injury leaving us with four defenders who’ve hardly been models of consistency this term. And, crucially, not a six footer in the back five. Quite who this big rugged Watford side that I keep reading about in the national press are I struggle to imagine.

It was slightly surprising to see Lloyd Doyley line up in the centre initially, with Mariappa at right back; for ten minutes following the farcical opening goal, he demonstrated what the thinking had obviously been, sticking closer to Sylvan Ebanks-Blake than a pair of cycling shorts. The damage was already done though… an aimless hump down the centre had found Ebanks-Blake springing higher than his marker, the ball had flicked on for Iwelumo to apply the most innocuous of touches as Richard Lee came flailing out at him. The ball bounced pathetically, apologetically into the net. From our point of view, there wasn’t a lot that wasn’t wrong with that goal.

Vicarage Road was very quiet. Actually, considering their massive following (appropriate, given that they’re such a massive club), even Wolves weren’t exactly giving it large only getting vocal when a linesman made the mistake of flagging them offside direct from a throw-in. An incidental error as it turned out, Wolves had contrived to waste the chance before the flag was noted.

We were grappling for a foothold, just trying to stay in the game. The thankless task of competing with Iwelumo for high balls was given to Leigh Bromby – who probably came off second best overall, but competed furiously despite the odds being stacked against him by a much larger opponent. Not unreasonably in the circumstances Wolves seemed to identify a big lump down the middle towards Iwelumo’s head as being a fruitful strategy, and it wasn’t long before Mariappa and Doyley were switched, the slightly taller Mariappa supporting Bromby in the face of the onslaught. Another ball came in, Stephen Ward’s header across the face really didn’t go very far wide at all…

But I’m going to skip to the point now, the conclusion of the narrative. Because whatever this Watford side’s problems, and there are obviously a few, a lack of character and guts really isn’t one of them. Another contrast to last season – maybe even the largest – what a thoroughly loveable team we’re currently watching.

Twenty minutes in and we’ve equalised. It’s not quite true that it came out of nowhere, this was an open game from the start and such forays as we’d managed had provided encouragement. Some furious industry from Smith and relentless pulling and teasing and ferreting from Hoskins – who must be a complete pain in the arse to mark – had suggested a weak underbelly and in particular a lack of confidence in dealing with crosses either on the part of keeper Ikeme, whose knees visibly trembled every time a ball came over, or on the part of his defence in his capacity in this respect. As with so much, Smith on the right was the instigator, a ball in knocked loose in the box and big Greg is Johnny-on-the-spot to tap in an improbable equaliser.

Game on, and no mistake. Shortly afterwards  Rasiak released Hoskins, who is developing a pleasing knack of looking like he might forge a decent partnership with whoever he plays alongside, on the left of the box and the young striker displayed some new-found confidence by opening his body up and attempting to chip Ikeme who had wandered off his line. Hoskins’ touch was much too heavy and the lob went well over to scorn from behind the goal, but we’ll take missed chances like that any day of the week if he keeps getting in positions to miss them.

Wolves came back at us… Iwelumo – again – met a cross from the left and sent his header narrowly wide. On the break, though, we put together the move of the half – some neat play from O’Toole saw him make space to feed John Eustace in the centre circle; the skipper advanced on a retreating Wolves before sending an astonishing ball into the path of the charging Harley with the outside of his boot. Harley hit his cross first time and it looked as if the gamble hadn’t paid off – the ball went very deep and we were about to bemoan the lack of a touch when time was available. How quickly one forgets the value of a big target in the box – Priskin has his qualities, but he wouldn’t have risen as Rasiak did to crash a header off the underside of the bar. It looked unfortunate from our distance; Hoskins seemed primed to snap up the rebound but his shot deflected over.

Implausibly we were in this, but our gusto hadn’t solved the rather large problems at the other end. The largest of our rather large problems was Chris Iwelumo, whose ongoing scrap with Leigh Bromby, each trading arms around shoulders, nudges and tugs of shirts, frequently presented situations that were impossible to officiate. On one occasion, Iwelumo bundled his way into the box after committing and receiving any number of dubious challenges, his tumble into a heap once past the white line worthy of twice the derision that it received.

Five minutes later however Iwelumo was treated more generously, again exchanging arm locks with the persistent Bromby and being given the verdict, this time ten yards outside the box. A wide wall was lined up and Richard Lee’s view was obscured as David Jones sent an extraordinary left footed shot curling around the outside of the wall and inside the wrong-footed keeper’s near post via a late glove.

The half ended with a frank exchange of views on the merits or otherwise of John Eustace, Waldorf behind us lamenting the captain’s contribution in defiance of the pass of the half and the only real leadership in a yellow shirt. Joons, to my right, reacting rather sensitively in defence of a player for whom he has confessed unnatural feelings – albeit he had called the impending moaning before it actually transpired.

And such was the general mood, despite a decent round of applause at the break for a stout attempt to make a fist of it. It felt like we’d again let in a goal at a crucial time, and that a procession awaited in the second half.

Ha. As at Southampton, when David McGoldrick’s weak penalty gave us a kick-start, it helped that we got an early free kick on the left about ten yards further back from the spot where Jones had hit his goal from twenty minutes or so earlier. Mick McCarthy’s head almost exploded in incredulous remonstration and a coffee cup appeared to go flying as Neal Collins was penalised for his latest exchange with Rasiak. Tommy Smith curled in a decent inswinger and Wolves completely failed to defend it, John-Joe O’Toole the first of several yellow shirts waiting in line at the far post to bundle home. Bedlam in the stands; in the dugout, the Wolves staff start to sweep up the widely spread fragments of McCarthy’s head and shove them back onto the stump of his neck like play dough onto a lollipop stick.

An aside about John Joe here. It will have been evident to many as early as the trip to Coventry a year ago this week that this was a midfielder who attacks the box as well as Tim Cahill. His goals, in the absence of pretty much every striker we fielded last season, have been a blessing, but they may cost us too. For the goals alone will attract the scouts… but for the goals, it might have taken them a little longer to spot a potentially outstanding midfielder.

Often his all round game doesn’t quite come together. His lofted passes can appear aimless, his energy rather randomly distributed. On other occasions, as today, he’s simply fabulous, his composure, touch and awareness in tight situations enabling us to retain possession far better than we have done for ages. And as I say, we might have gotten away with him for a bit… if it weren’t for those pesky goals.

Game on. Again. And if the first half was a matter of us battling our way back into the game, now we were giving as good as we got. Rasiak was continuously involved, and though Boothroyd had warned of lack of sharpness and match fitness after his long absence there was little sign of it here. The first of several chances to go begging came via the Pole but Ikeme snatched his ball from the head of Harley.

The next was altogether more dramatic. Yet another penalty – in our favour this time, and in fairness a bit of a soft one. As we’ve seen and discussed, however, you can’t afford to knock back the breaks that fate gives you… except we did. There was a distinct lack of clamour for the ball, Will Hoskins briefly discussing with Tommy Smith and Jon Harley, with form from the spot at previous clubs, noticable by his absence. Smith’s run up was greeted with a slightly nervous bellow of encouragement from the Rookery, whose cheers disappeared into their navels as Smith’s shot flew straight down the centre and several feet clear of the bar.

And ten minutes later the gravity of the miss was rammed home. The ferociously irrepressible Kightly was at the centre of it, both Bromby with a slack pass and Mariappa with a bizarre loose touch could have done more to prevent it; Michael Gray whose previous incursions from the left had been stymied by his lack of right foot made no mistake this time and grabbed the crucial third.

Aidy Boothroyd made a double substitution immediately, already planned in search of a winner and now designed to chase a point. Off came the industrious Harley – our only defensive cover – for McAnuff, to muted grumbles, but much more aggressive dissatisfaction greeted the removal of Hoskins in favour of Lionel Ainsworth.

Hoskins had been terrific, and grows more likeable with every game despite the relative lack of goals. But he’s been doing the thankless chasing, ferrying and pressurising job for several weeks, often twice a week and sometimes in the absence of any attacking alternatives or relief. Twenty minutes’ rest was perhaps overdue.

And a little surprisingly, with McAnuff on one side and Ainsworth on the other we began to look menacing (and I never thought I’d find myself saying that about Lionel Ainsworth) and enjoyed our only spell of dominance of the match. McAnuff cut inside from the left to fire in an evil cross that Neal Collins threw himself at to head wide. On the other flank, Ainsworth got clear of two markers and found O’Toole on the edge of the box who killed the ball’s momentum with his first touch and, still in the air, poked it goalwards with his second. Great stuff, only Kevin Foley on the line to head clear prevented the roof coming off the Rookery. We couldn’t have afforded to replace it anyway…

Minutes later some fine composure from Smith saw him beat two markers to make space for a shot… alas, if he’d been able to kick the ball hard he’d have spent his career as a Premiership striker. The blocked shot fell to McAnuff who must have thought he’d scored but that man Foley flew in from nowhere again to block. Genuinely breathless stuff.

Midfield was a complete scrap by now, and we were grateful for Eustace’s more belligerent supporting act to O’Toole’s endeavour. Not that this spared him from another volley of nonsense from Waldorf behind us, Joons controlling himself just long enough to witness the captain, with comic timing, lift another extraordinary pass into Ainsworth’s path on the right flank. His wicked cross nonetheless managed to wander across the penalty area evading the onrushing targets it was aimed at.

I’m making it sound like the alamo – it wasn’t, not really. Wolves countered, and at least once looked to have scored a fourth but for some good fortune and some bloody-minded defending. The ref, meanwhile, having courted occasional displeasure from each set of supporters but generally having made a decent fist of the whole thing (as far as it’s possible to placate and give order to a raging hurricane) finally began to lose it a bit; one particular altercation that ended with Collins shoving Rasiak two-handed onto his backside after the ball was dead right infront of the ref (but  was left uncommented on) was particularly perplexing. And then we all went home.

Preposterous stuff all round really. In the end we were probably a bit unlucky not to get something; even that crumb of comfort in defeat seemed a long way away in the second minute. In the end, our lack of physical presence – and leadership – at the back probably did for us again. Wolves, meanwhile, look a strong side, but far more fallible defensively than Cardiff did on Tuesday, albeit to the same end.

And back to the conclusion which was wedged somewhere in the middle of the first half. How much fun. Again. Seven home league games in, we’ve already enjoyed several times the excitement that the whole of last season served up. And frankly at the start of the campaign, most of us would have taken that, nineteenth or otherwise.

Lee 3, Doyley 2 (Henderson NA), Bromby 3, Mariappa 2, Sadler 3, Smith 4, Eustace 4, *O’Toole 4*, Harley 3 (McAnuff 3), Rasiak 4, Hoskins 4 (Ainsworth 3)

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Comments»

1. Chris Malthouse - 25/10/2008

I have watched the Hornets for over 40 years and though my attendance at the Vic is spasmodic , this was one of the most entertaining games I have ever seen. The result was disappointing but this is the sort of match that memories are made of; a match which shows that a team lacking in stars can reach to the skies.

2. MP - 25/10/2008

Fantastic match report, especially for one that couldnt make the game today.

hope you guys can continue to find the time and will power to keep the return of the match reports going through the season.

It may not be BSAD, but I like it!

3. JohnF - 26/10/2008

If only we could sort our defending we would be comfortably in the middle of the table. We should be renamed Watford early Christmas. The only problem is, as Matt says, that we are spurning some of the offered gifts. Although Bromby battled away I still have problems with his lack of concentration and frequent poor touches on the ground. I agree Eustace had a much better game but the booking was really silly. Now he will be suspended and who would bet against a longer suspension later in the season. I also suspect a fine we can ill afford unless we can sort out some of our disciplinary problems. Having said that, the problems ought to be fixable depending on what happens in January. I fear that we are yet to see the worst consequences of Aidy’s poor judgement with too many expensive signings who didn’t deliver/haven’t delivered.

Having said all of the above we are playing some great attacking football (one of the top scorers in the division not quite counterbalancing being one of the top conceders) and the games are so much more entertaining than last season. Just above the drop zone will be OK and I sense the added advantage is that the crowd at the Vic, when they can arouse themselves from stunned silence, are getting behind the players and have stopped getting on our team’s back. Maybe those responsible have gone off to join their compatriots at Wolves!

4. tet - 26/10/2008

Matt, fantastic match report, just like old times, thankyou.

Your final summary say’s it all, long may it continue.

5. Jamie - 26/10/2008

Waldorf here…

Great game yesterday, terrible defending but can’t fault the effort or the persistence of the Watford team. Like many have said before, a really enjoyable game of football.

As for my gripe with Eustace, allow me to put the following points:

– Yesterday his touch and his passing was atrocious. I counted in the first half alone around 6-8 poor passes that were either combination of being short in length or up in the air hoofs to smaller players like Hoskins and Smith. It was a shocking performance and I voiced (perhaps overly strongly although it was one of those funny moments when all the crowd goes quiet!) my opinion and my desire for him to buck his ideas up. Shit happens.

– For some time now he has flattered to deceive in my opinion. It’s great that he has got us a couple of goals (ones that we were probably not budgheting on) but I don’t see the player before me that we need. A leader, a tireless up and down player who grabs the game by the skin of the teeth and says I’m going to dig us out of this, or I’m going to get us through this and I’m going to drag the rest of the team along with me like a captain should.

– I thought Aidy missed a trick yesterday in not subbing him when 3-2 down and trying something different, something new. Subbing your captain is a brave decision but it also sends out a message to all. No one is immune. Missed opportunity.

– At present he is firmly (like all the squad to be fair) in O’Toole’s shadow. But for me its not just the goals. O’Toole has that get at ‘em spirit, the ability to get up and down the pitch, that verve that every team needs. I look at Eustace, and although I acknowledge they are different players with different tasks at hand, I don’t see any of the above attributes.

– For a player who is tasked with sitting in front of the back 4 then our defensive record suggests he is not doing that great a job.

To summarize I’m surprised you gave him 4 in a game when he set up none of the goals, played poorly and was the defensive part of a midfield that conceded 3 goals.

Would I keep him? Yes. On his day he can do a good job for the team but at the moment bench him.

6. Esp - 26/10/2008

A “loveable” team certainly (and I never lked Kestrel) and a match that will linger long in the memory for sure.
Great prose as usual MR and if copyright allows it I would love to send it in to WSC as an eloquent example of what it means to be a supporter of an honest football team not yet corrupted by the surreal “fit and proper” Premiership foreign millions
We are only a couple of defenders,a decent striker and a non-error prone defender away from being a play off contending side but (I will whisper this) – many of us I suspect wpould be happy for us to remain poodling in the neverland of mid table safety.
It certainly makes for a game which attracts breathless match reports like above (which I needed the extra hour in bed to stay awake to read)
Mediocre we certainly are not – how can we be with players like Ferreting Hoskins and Menacing Ainsworth (c-Rowson) and, of course, The Harrow Ronaldo (c- Coan)

7. Matt Rowson - 26/10/2008

Waldorf

I’d dispute that Eustace doesn’t offer leadership. Witness how quickly heads go down when he’s not in the side. Much as his performances in general this season haven’t been at last season’s standard he’s in the team on merit simply because we’re far too wide open without him… witness Preston, who wandered through our midfield making daisy chains against Willo and O’Toole and would have won if they had a forward line worth speaking of.

We have no option but to play Eustace when available, Bangura’s potentially an alternative but appears to be well off the boil. I didn’t see yesterday’s performance from JE in anything like the same light that you did… Jones was excellent in Wolves’ midfield, Kightly was a complete pain in the arse and Henry was throwing his weight around. And yet we gave as good as we got in the middle for much of the game, attacked with verve, created plenty of chances… O’Toole’s good, he’s not THAT good (yet). How did all this happen if Eustace was so poor?

Nor am I sure how you’d have accommodated Eustace’s removal, even were it appropriate. Do you go a man down in midfield? Or bring on Jenkins, who’s a great prospect but a teenage midfield? Against Wolves?

His rating was based on a consensus – and no I didn’t ask Joons, although I’d keep the critique of Eustace down in the future. He’s not very stable, that one… ;-)

8. Adam J - 26/10/2008

Mr Malthouse,

your final thought of ‘a match which shows that a team lacking in stars can reach to the skies’ nearly made me sick. for many reasons. one undoubtedly because i didn’t say it first.

sickly sweet, long may it continue.

9. Manc_Wolf - 26/10/2008

a very talented writer – an excellent report for those that couldn’t make it
thank you!

good luck this season… you guys don’t deserve to be down there in the league

10. MartinG - 26/10/2008

Agree with Jamie. Eustace is a battler and he wins a lot of tackles, but then he just gives the ball straight back. That daft slice into our own corner in injury time when we really needed to be attacking the other end sums it up. However I also think your last paragraph is spot on. Last year even though we were at or near the top it became like a duty to attend as it was so bad to watch. This year it’s been great entertainment. If Rasiak had scored rather than hit the bar on that counter attack it would been one of the goals of the season.

11. Dan - 27/10/2008

Eustace has really struggled this year. While I am not fully on the JJ bandwagon, right now he and Williamson should be our first choice pairing when both are fit. Iwelumo did an excellent impression of Doris up front, shame he was playing for them.

I was as sceptical as the rest of the crowd when Hoskins was taken off, but as Matt rightly points out we actually looked pretty dangerous after the change. We need to give McAnuff some more shop-window time, and hopefully we can sell him rather than Smith in January…

The defence is a concern, and as Demerit’s problems stem from his back I have a suspicion that they may be with him all season. It is good news that we have Ward for a further month. But we are scoring goals, so for that reason I am more optimistic about our chances (of staying up) than I was in August. We should have enough about us to beat some of the other dross in the bottom half, and that’ll be enough. Starting with Blackpool on Saturday (cue 0-3 defeat).

As with everyone else, I am enjoying this far more than last year.

12. Johnny Boy - 27/10/2008

Like everyone else – hacked off at the result but thoroughly enjoyed the game.
By the way, a Smith did score from the penalty spot on Saturday, brother of Tom, Jack Smith. He was a bit error prone when he was at the Vic but is he worth another look as we do need defenders. His brother, who is fast becoming a legend, came back a better player, albeit having played at a higher level. Does anyone know how he is doing? He seems to be an ever present for Swindon which is more than can be said for MR’s best mate – Anthony MacNamee

13. bob - 27/10/2008

great game to watch on saturday. pre-season, couldn’t see where the goals were coming from, not the case at all now. throughly enjoyable. dont care we lost at all. thought we played well agaisnt what are arguably some of the best players in our league (keira kightly, gray and iwelsumo – the most booed scot at the vic since andy gray of old?). That and their 2nd goal was unsavable. refereeing wasn’t half bad either.

JJOT has gone up so many notches in my expectations. after missing the pre-seasons i thought he was dead and buried but he is turning in some fantstic teenage performances and great to have that added threat in the box from midfield. when was the last time someone in that position gave us that? did anyone else notice the way he consoled/gee’ed up tommy after missing the pen. says a lot about his confidence and his standing in the team .

hoskins is turning into a personal favourite as well. his work rate is akin to HH’s and although not as strong on the ball, he is certainly the more skilful.

afraid i quite disagree with Jamie on the eustace subject. for one, subbing JE would have been a disaster – we were weak enough through the centre at the back already. aidy actually did try something new and brave, in subbing and bringing on ainsworth/mcanuff. much to our vocal dissapoinitnment too. but i have to hold my hands up and say I thought it worked brilliantly and once they were on it was some of the best attacking 15 minutes football i have seen in an age.

yes JE’s passing isn’t the best and i’d prefer it on the floor , but i also counted several very good passes that opened up wolves quite nicely. perhaps he needs to lead the charge out of the box a bit quicker admittedly and perhaps he could do a little to discourage us playing so deep, but in tight times he is a shoe in for the arm band in demerits absence.

my one whinge would be – considering lee’s dislike of the cross and our perceived weakness at centre back, aidy needs to get our left/right backs working their opposing players away from the box.

fix that, and more of this passing thing that has started happening and i am one very happy bunny..

the ‘likeable team’ label is spot on!

14. Esp - 27/10/2008

I didn’t buy my regular paper today as a Watford report is as rare as a Doyley goal for them so I was pleased instead to read David Miller in the Torygraph who made me chuckle with his description of Tommy’s penalty “shot high enough to have cleared John Terry’s wallet”. Succinct, accurate and satirical all in one sentence; Miller also correctly called Smudger the most technically adroit player on the field”. Premiership scouts cannot failed to have noticed can they?. The East Stand guest box was bulging I noticed and that’s where they sit.
For that rare bread in BHaPPY land “the NON- Guardian reader” I am happy to report that a borrowed Guardian later in the day did prove at last to have a comprehensive report from the Vic and, although it has been reported elsewhere, I liked re-reading Mick McCarthy’s press room description of the match. “It were Keystone Kops out there……rubbish defending and rubbish finishing…but an entertaining match” . The reporter summised that he only added the last bit as his team won; I’m not so sure.

15. ramsgate horn - 27/10/2008

1 Didnt see the game, but MR”s report was excellent and fills a gap, for the long distance fan who doesnt get to as many games as hed like. 2 Ironic to note we are 19th but very few fans are moaning, it seems the football is better and people realise that we are skint and lacking in squad depth, so they are seemingly patient. 3 plus points, SMITH , has scored 5 almost matching his total for last season,and cotributing assists,ive been impressed in the games ive seen, early front runner for player of the season, Rasiak , impressive cameo against Charlton and a goal in his comeback v wolves, I look forward to seeing if he can deliver for us starting saturday.HOSKINS,its finally starting to click has scured 3 and is creating.HARLEY looks a fine signing.4 OTOOLE deserves a separate mention, 8 goals this season is superb ,we are goung to struggle to keep him , 5 back 4 is main problem,good news we have Ward for another month but we need more cover, a bit strange AB hasnt tried AVINEL or BENNETT in the league as we need more cover options but it would seem a centre back is a prority.6 still beliene given luck we can do well comung saturday v Blackpool i was there for the corresponding fixture a 4-1 win lets hope we dan do it again COME ON.

16. Greg - 30/10/2008

looks like you’re prediction has come true seems Newcastle are interested in signing John-Joe and if the offer is anything decent he will be gone due to are ridiculous financial position. On the plus side looks like Boothroyd has finally delivered the attacking football he has always promised and hopefully with Demerit back we will get stronger defensively as we seem to be lacking a huge amount of leadership at the back.

17. markymark - 31/10/2008

Demerit has been poor all season and I’m sorry to say that whatever back four we have played it has not made any difference.We’ve brought in Ward and we are still conceding too many ; Lee is forced to play and though he’s saved 3 penalties he’s still been at fault for some goals;Doyley is back from injury but he’s still a liability.So, I’m afraid there is no answer -we can’t afford to go out and bring in a defender that will make a difference.
The problem is, if we allow 2 of our main goal threatas to go in January eg O’Toole and Smith we really will be in sh*t creek alley!!


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