Watford 2 Bolton Wanderers 1 (02/02/2013) 03/02/2013Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. Right on cue, right when we needed it, the clearest indication yet of how far the project might take us, how high it might be aimed. And I use the word “project” deliberately, for the sense of a work-in-progress involving multiple, and potentially changeable, parts is very clear; it extends further than “team” or “squad”…or even “club”. It is new and unknown and weird and, yes, rather exciting. And there’s still a lot to get used to.
Some of it feels plain wrong, especially to a generation brought up with Graham Taylor’s amplified version of 4-4-2. For me, the idea that a midfield trio of Christian Battocchio, Nathaniel Chalobah and Almen Abdi might be capable of winning football matches at this level rather than being bossed around by bigger, stronger, harder opponents, stealing their lunch money and making them buy fags from the corner shop, runs counter to every instinct and all experience; it couldn’t be further from Les Taylor and Kenny Jackett if it were comprised of Martians in tutus. And yet here it is, a win conjured up by being smarter and quicker and lighter than often dominant opponents, out-thinking them rather than out-fighting. A win achieved without a ball-winner and, often, without the ball.
Similarly, I see us flicking passes around and taking chances with possession in precarious places…and I want to grab people by the ears and shout at them to NOT DO THAT. I pine for an Andy Hessenthaler to put a stop to it all. And I want to offer grave wisdom about how you can’t do that in the Premiership because the ball will be nestling in the top corner before you’ve blinked. And yet…am I right? Are the occasional, and very visible, cock-ups merely an affordable price to pay for the attacking fluidity which has got us up to fourth in the table and threatens to take us much, much further? Is this, perhaps, just a means to an end, a percentage game disguised as cavalier conceit?
2. So, for much of the first half, we look like a team that’s believed all of the counter-attacking hype, as if we need take no responsibility for setting a tempo or marking out territory; leave the other lot to do all of the hard labour, then pick ‘em off when they fall asleep around the fire. We reek of that cavalier conceit, all ill-conceived cross-field passes and daft attempts to take people on when there’s no earthly need. Frankly, we’re a bit irritating, a smart-arse student incapable of answering a straight question with an answer that isn’t at once flippant, ironic, arrogant…and, annoyingly, correct.
We invite Bolton to have a go, which they duly do. And they’re a very tidy and confident outfit, driving at us from a solid midfield base with enough up front – hello, Marvin – to produce some nervous moments. They win and convert a soft penalty. We start to get a bit ruffled for the first time, shaking off our indolence and finding some urgency…and they’re done for. The remainder is an irresistible illustration of our recent class upgrade, for we attack infrequently and yet with such lethal quality that little stands between us and a bit of a rout.
We appear second best in lots of respects. Perhaps we are second best…although I struggle to know, now that my instinct and experience seem so out-dated. Regardless, we are so much better in the final third that the win is undeniable and ultimately rather emphatic. There was a palpable gulf in class here, between our work-in-progress and theirs. Extraordinary, when you think about it, when you consider how likely that might’ve seemed back in August.
3. The idea that this particular line-up is The One will last only until it’s challenged from without, by opponents, or within, by the extraordinary strength-in-depth that we possess. It’s not very long at all since Matej Vydra was a habitual substitute and Ferdando Forestieri an automatic starter, and that wasn’t because the manager had got it wrong. The breathtaking potential is within the resources available to Gianfranco Zola, now and moving forward.
That said, Vydra is extraordinary. A couple of months ago, he’d tend to disappear if the game didn’t suit his party pieces; he had to make an impact beyond the sudden sprints into spaces behind an offside trap. As with lots of things, that assumption now seems old, weary and redundant: he’s become such a lethal threat when facing goal anywhere that the whole game is stretched and distorted by his presence. Watching our equaliser – spin, gone, wallop – you can only conclude that our opposition now treads on impossibly thin ice, a defensive line and an offside trap and a goalkeeper and nothing else between them and oblivion. It’s like playing Buckaroo at gunpoint. Only a stupendous flying block from Tim Ream prevented another two-goal haul. He is frightening, unstoppable like nothing else we’ve seen at the Vic…well, ever, I venture.
Spin. Gone. Wallop.
4. The second was a joy too, somehow smuggled through enemy lines and over the border by a combination of Vydra and Abdi, moving silently under cover of night and sleeping in hedgerows by day. We have scored fine goals in years past…most recently, the goal-of-the-season competitions from Malky Mackay’s two campaigns contained some thrillingly concise, crisp football. But nothing like this. Every part of me wants to caution against allowing aesthetics to become the be-all and end-all. I desperately want to shrug and remind you all that it’s about moments…and those moments sometimes involve the ball deflecting off a defender’s arse…and that can be just as fantastic as any sculpted masterpiece.
But it is beautiful stuff, undeniably. Beautiful and successful.
5. Daniel Pudil is Kenny from South Park. “Oh my God! They killed Pudil! You bastards!”