Watford 4 Huddersfield Town 0 (19/01/2013) 19/01/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Five thunks from a snow-bound Vicarage Road…
1-The first surprise was that the game was on at all. Yesterday’s rather testing weather conditions had made that seem highly unlikely (even if it’s difficult to judge quite how the rest of the world is getting on from the arctic isolation of a cul-de-sac, media updates or otherwise). So… big respect to those who answered the call and turned up with shovels early in the morning, and to all others involved in getting the game played.
Praise and thanks wouldn’t have been quite as effusive half an hour in, mind. After an open start to the game which had seen us carve Huddersfield open a couple of times without capitalising the game had settled down into a slightly stodgy stalemate. There was no more snow, much as dusty clouds blown off the empty Main Stand gave the illusion of snowstorms in the blustery wind, but it was bitterly cold. Huddersfield were doing a reasonable job of pursuing the Forest/Charlton template of getting stuck into us and closing us down very high up the pitch; both sides were creating occasional chances but nothing so clear cut that a goal felt anything more than a vague possibility. An update from behind us suggested that virtually every game in the top two divisions was goalless. ”And everyone’s watching the same game as us…” was the resigned follow-up.
Except they weren’t, as it turned out. In its own way, this performance was just as satisfying as the win at Middlesbrough and boasted comparable hallmarks. Here, as a week ago, we were faced with a challenge and dealt with it, waited for our chance, took it and never looked back. At Boro we were on the back foot in the first half; here it was a case of being patient, keeping our cool and, yes, waiting for that chance. And as a week ago, as so often now, once we’d got the first goal we were gone.
2- Simon Grayson pointed to the penalty decision which resulted in our first goal as the moment that changed the game. Certainly it was pivotal, and if Callum Woods’ tackle was outside the area then we doff our cap to fortune and mentally, irrelevantly, cross it off against Vydra’s red card against Boro, the iffy penalty at Cardiff and so forth. But actually Huddersfield’s game plan was already creaking thanks to indiscipline that increasingly characterised their performance. James Vaughan was the chief perpetrator; having just avoided censure after going through the back of Nathaniel Chalobah, his clumsy, rather uncontrolled aggression saw him plough into Manuel Almunia as the keeper collected a ball that he was always favourite for. As the referee took a rather casual approach to dissolving the ensuing kerfuffle, Vaughan approached Almunia and took issue, no less aggressively.
Referee Scott Duncan generally officiated well, and consistent with an approach that saw him err on the side of keeping his cards in his pocket a yellow for the original challenge on Almunia (and no more) was probably about right but the event worked against the visitors’ strategy by agitating both the home side and the shivering stands. Perhaps significant that on being substituted in the second half Vaughan wasn’t even acknowledged by his manager.
Nor was this the last or most memorable lost rag of the afternoon. That honour went to visiting keeper Alex Smithies at the start of the second half, hereby providing the comedy highlight of the encounter. Harry the Hornet had been making the most of a rare prop, belly flopping on several occasions into the mounds of snow shovelled beyond the edge of the pitch. The half time interval had concluded with target practice as the front rows of the Rookery launched a barrage of snowballs first at the hapless mascot, then at the reasonably cheerful and tolerant Terriers coaching staff as they prepared to warm their keeper up. Smithies was far less happy with proceedings, and when a snowball coincided with him letting a dolly shot through his hands as he prepared for the half he reacted furiously to the catcalls behind him, collecting a ball and clouting it high into the stand. Disappointingly this resulted in only very moderate barracking during the second half despite Smithies absolute refusal to come off his line or risk any contact with the patchy snow on the turf contributing to both of Vydra’s goals, executed with customary ruthlessness. Nonetheless, his name joins those of Crewe’s Chris McCready, Sheffield United’s Simon Tracey and Tranmere’s Danny Coyne in the pantheon of those who have irretrievably lost their cool against the Hornets.
3- We’re three up already with only two thunks down. Frankly, this is because the fourth deserves a thunk all to itself. I’d been surprised to see Battocchio keep his starting place, much as he’d done a decent enough job up at Middlesbrough; surely these conditions were made for Captain Eustace, a bit of grit. In all honesty the game bypassed the diminutive Argentine in the first half; too lightweight, his touches were largely incidental… until Vydra seized on his pass before being felled by Woods’ challenge. As the game opened up after the break Battocchio revelled in the extra space and was involved in everything, spinning and whirling and flicking and finding space. The final goal was a thing of beauty and wonder, involving a Forestieri dummy, a backheel and a trademark wicked cross from the increasingly commanding Marco Cassetti to which Battocchio applied the daintiest of touches to roll it past the hapless Smithies. Just sublime.
4- Craig Forsyth’s name in the starting eleven was something of a surprise, even given the absence of Daniel Pudil necessitated by illness of his young son. Not that Forsyth looked without merit in his outings last season but… you didn’t have him in your list of those who might stay around. Contrary to expectation he more than held his own, taking advantage of the extra space that wing-back affords him, working diligently and tidily at either end of the pitch and contributing some useful height to the side. Not a threat to Pudil, perhaps… but an option who may finally have been able to play in his best position.
5- So. We are now beating solid teams with some comfort, albeit solid teams who quite visibly haven’t been winning many games recently. We are the leading scorers in the division. Despite injuries, we have a bench full of real options, allowing us to bring on a new forward line to torment a Huddersfield defence already at full stretch trying to contain what now looks one of the most unplayable partnerships in the division and still look frighteningly potent. Four points off second with a game in hand, with games at key protagonists Hull and Leicester to come, games that won’t be easy but in which you wouldn’t back against us if our opponents have to come out and play. We aren’t just cemented in the play-offs, we’re chasing automatic promotion and are in with a real shout. Bring it on.