Watford 3 Charlton Athletic 4 (01/01/2013) 01/01/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Five thunks from an icy wake-up call at Vicarage Road.
1- It’s been a shitty Christmas, frankly. A call from our destination on Christmas Eve confirmed two down with Norovirus already… we were left with a choice between going (and committing ourselves to a week of misery) or not going (and committing ourself to a week of misery, less colourful but noisier). We chose the former. My bullet finally arrived on Thursday night, and wiped out the planned trip to Brighton on Saturday. In the meantime, daughter number one went down. You’ve no idea how much I’d been working towards today…
…which contributed, probably, to going into this one with supreme confidence. Feeling alive for the first time in a week, daughter number one on the mend, and football thank goodness, on the back of an awesome away win at Brighton, against a side without a win for ages and leaking goals.
Thing is, I’m allowed to be overconfident. I’m a supporter and as such I have two options: glum pessimism and rampant overconfidence (only a small minority, including my co-editor, manage a degree of objectivity). Overconfidence is less forgiveable, I think, from the team and management.
To this end I was quite encouraged by the team selection; five changes (one of which enforced) appeared to head off the danger of coasting in on the back of Brighton; those coming in needed to stake a claim for next Saturday, surely no danger of cockiness amongst their number.
The stand-out selection however was the introduction of Murray, (in from the cold to the bloody freezing) for Hogg, far from a like-for-like switch which left the midfield short of an obvious ball-winner. Much as Hogg has been the least conspicuous of the first team regulars, his occasional absences have been as impactful as anyone’s…. at Blackpool, by all accounts, and here again today. Without his energy and defensive discipline the midfield lost its shape and effectiveness, affording our visitors much more of the ball. Murray, it has to be said, had a bit of a stinker, a couple of tidy touches notwithstanding he looked like a player making his first start for three months, but it’s the non-selection of Hogg that was more critical than the inclusion of Murray, particularly in the continued absence of Eustace. As my co-editor, excluded by train timetables and kick-off times, commented afterwards you’d feel a lot happier with the whole thing if you knew for certain that Eustace’s bloody-minded example-setting leadership was still part of the plan. God we could have used him today.
So… that aspect of the team selection felt cocky. And, after Pudil’s opener (and boy had that goal been coming) we coasted. Never in danger, no obvious threat… but we looked like we thought we’d won it.
2- That was rather a long, indisciplined thunk wasn’t it? Indiscipline must be the day’s watchword, there was very little that was disciplined about the day’s defending. Hogg’s absence was a big factor, sure, and we know that this is a formation that will always give the other side a chance, that therefore places a big responsibility on the three centre-backs. A responsibility that the various combinations of Hoban/Hall/Ekstrand/Doyley have been taking on manfully since the end of September by and large, but we saw today what happens when the level drops.
We missed Hall, obviously. And it’s easy to point the finger at Neuton, largely because whilst he slides forward with the ball looking every bit the stereotypical Brazilian defender who’s a creative midfielder at heart, he plays the same way when not in position and verges on being a liability… lucky to stay on the pitch as one crude hack earning a yellow early in the second half was followed by a number of iffy challenges borne of being back on his heels. Hoban, too, has had better, less anxious games… as Wilson agitated Almunia, who seemed bothered by a tight hamstring, Hoban nervously sliced the Addicks’ equaliser into his own net for their first equaliser. Something to sort out, then… good job we’re not playing anyone with any attacking threat at the weekend. Comes to something when Nos feels like a safe option.
One of the visitors’ effective strategies, whether designed for us or a regular trick, was to follow any goal for or against by piling straight at us and refusing to let the game settle. As we reeled in confusion and disbelief at the rug being pulled from under us, they capitalised on the shambles at the back again very quickly and we were suddenly behind at the break.
3- The other clear strategy, bluntly, was to put the boot in, an approach employed less successfully by Forest in our last home fixture. Such was the crudeness of many of the challenges that you really do suspect that this was for our benefit rather than the Addicks’ default approach. Players practised in midfield aggression would have been rather… more precise about it.
There’s no denying the approach’s effectiveness. A brutal assault on Ekstrand in the first half seemed to unsettle the whole defence, and this was far from the only late challenge offered by Charlton’s midfield. They were permitted to pursue this approach by an indulgent performance from referee Trevor Kettle… whilst we’ve suffered (and benefited) from some bad individual decisions this season, I don’t recall many bad refereeing performances, not in the completely losing control sense that we saw today – briefly the match was on the verge of imploding as the tackles flew in during the second half. Both sides got away with things, but Charlton’s approach was much the more aggressive… as already noted, Captain Eustace would have been less of a pushover, more of a voice, a big factor in countering it.
It’s lazy to point the finger. Actually Charlton’s brutal approach combined with lax refereeing probably was the difference between us getting a point or points and not. But as already noted, the role we played in our own downfall was higher up the billing.
4- And in the interests of balance, let’s finish with a couple of positive points. The first being that, contrary to some of the grumbling overheard on the way out, revising the forward pairing despite Saturday’s magnificence was far from the problem. Forestieri and Geijo made limited inroads in the first half (other than Fernando picking up his third booking in – to that point – an hour against the Addicks this season with an aggravating handball) but their linking up as we got a grip in the second half was a joy. Geijo does the Marlon King thing of sucking in any ball fired at him at whatever angle, whatever speed, and controlling it instantly. Forestieri playing off him was veering towards his irrepressible best after the break (albeit his finishing continues to let him down, a gorgeous piece of interplay thwarted when the Argentine, through on goal, played his shot straight at the keeper). Fernando won a penalty, Abdi dispatched with customary aplomb; Hamer knew where he was going to put it, Fuller tried some gamesmanship by appearing to spot a dropped set of car keys on the turf and trotting distractedly across Abdi’s path pointing at them as he lined up, neither proved relevant. And then Geijo and Forestieri linked up again for perhaps our sexiest goal of the season so far, Forestieri’s stunning pass setting Geijo up for a clipped finish. Geijo was mobbed, Forestieri took personal acclaim grinning in front of the Rookery, and I was composing thunks about how well we had overcome yet another set of challenges. We know what happened next (see 1, 2 and 3 above), but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that four terrific forwards is definitely a Good Thing.
5- The other Good Thing of course was the afternoon’s entertainment. I’ve lost my voice for the first time, I think, since Leicester last season. And despite everything, despite all of our failings and despite other circumstances conspiring against us we were really very unlucky not to take anything from the game. Chris Powell trotted out statistics needlessly in his post-match interview – his side’s 10 efforts to our 5 apparently, needless since surely his side’s victory needs no justification – but in any case his stats don’t come close to telling the story. Two goals were disallowed as we chased yet another game-changing goal – both offside, both correctly, but neither really very far from being pivotal – misjudgements that spoiled valid goals rather than goals that were only scored because players were gaining an unlawful advantage. And… as Zola accurately reflected, we need to learn from this as we’ve learned from so much already. Personally, given how quickly we’ve improved throughout, I’m confident that we will. In any event, overconfidence is unlikely to be an issue next Saturday.