Barnsley 1 Watford 0 (16/03/2013) 16/03/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- I woke up this morning with a plan. I like having a plan, I’m that sort of person. I suppose I should be grateful that the flat tyre was on the side of the car visible from the living room window, caused by a stray nail apparently. ”Oh, and you need petrol too” came the shout from the kitchen.
The fates were trying to tell me something, clearly, but my devotion to The Plan was going to take more disrupting than half an hour flailing gracelessly in the mud and drizzle switching on the space saver, a nervous drive to the service station to fill up and a new tyre. Trips to Barnsley have tended to be a bit rubbish, it’s almost a tradition, and that hadn’t proven a deterrent either. It’s not that Oakwell isn’t a good place to visit – a proper football club, a proper ground, easy enough to get to, decent away car park two minutes’ walk from what inevitably becomes the away “pub” (albeit nestled incongruously in a leisure centre). It’s just that the football doesn’t tend to be particularly memorable. I must have been to Oakwell a dozen times in the past 20 years or so. Off the pitch… aggressive stewards, a freezing night in 2000, a comedy eviction, jump starting a Ford Fiesta on a 45 degree slope without even thinking about it… On the pitch, I’ve got Paul Furlong’s mental goal in 1994 (at the end of the worst game of all time). And that’s it. This game won’t linger in the memory either.
2- The first half opened in briefly encouraging fashion, rattling from end to end in what looked as if it might end up an engaging, competitive game. Instead, our considerable possession foundered, as against Blackpool, on the flimsiness of our midfield. Cristian Battocchio has impressed intermittently since his arrival but tends to do so only when the team is playing well around him – he’s a good cog in a functioning team, but hasn’t suggested the maturity to influence a performance rather than merely participating in it. He was all but anonymous here. Mark Yeates was even worse, having an absolute stinker for 45 minutes (give ball away, run after it, commit silly foul, repeat) such that his withdrawal at the interval for the inevitable introduction of Chalobah was no surprise, despite Battochio’s lowprofile. And whilst Hogg fetched and carried as ever our attacking play was too slow, too deliberate, and short of confidence and ingenuity. All three have had better days.
3- Barnsley contributed to this by hounding down our possession relentlessly, crowding the ball when we had it and attacking with purpose when they did. Watford’s back three largely impressed and stood up well to the challenge but it took some last gasp interventions to deny a ponderous Jason Scotland, first Lloyd Doyley and then Nyron Nosworthy on separate occasions swooping in to dispossess the Trinidadian striker before he could get the ball out from his feet to shoot when through on goal. Jonathan Bond was twice called into action, producing one point blank save and then flying out to snatch the ball from the feet of O’Brien. The winger was bowled over by the challenge but had the candour to congratulate the goalkeeper with a slap on the shoulder on his way up off the turf – not that this prevented a few misguided catcalls demanding a penalty. Ultimately Hassell’s header to Mellis’ cross after the rusty-looking Cassetti’s silly foul gave away a free kick on the left gave the Tykes a deserved half time lead and refuelled their charging around for the second period. It had been coming.
4- The second half was better, even if it took Nathaniel Chalobah ten minutes of grotesquely giving every ball away under Barnsley’s lunatic pressure before he tuned in and started knitting our attacks together. Our play was still too deliberate, but Cassetti and particularly Anya were now being released into space, and the hardworking Deeney began to see more of the ball than hurried punts towards his head (albeit he courted controversy by twice going in aggressively on goalkeeper Steele in frustration at his lack of space and opportunity). Forestieri and Mujangi Bia were introduced for Anya and Hogg, the former on the left of a front three and the latter in a three man midfield. For the final twenty minutes we had the home side on the back foot for the first time – we’d visibly been stretching the play, hugging the touchlines, testing the legs of our adversaries who inevitably weren’t closing down quite as attentively in the final period of the game. It wouldn’t have taken very much – Forestieri tricked and twisted, Chalobah glided around looking for a gap, Vydra – still out of touch and not given nearly enough opportunity to grab the goal he needs – on the shoulder, Deeney dragging the team along. The rebounds didn’t fall for us, Vydra’s one, fine drive was anticipated by Steele. It wasn’t our afternoon.
5- One week on not a lot has changed – in particular our need for the international break is very real. We need to get our shit together again, we need Chalobah, Abdi, Cassetti, Hall fit and firing. But the most depressing aspect of today was that the home side wanted this far more. Much easier to stay on message when things are going for you – Barnsley got the lead, and were able to limit our effectiveness. Their gameplan was working, of course they were going to keep their heads up. But for all of our increased threat as the game drew to a close the body language was poor. Both sides looked tired; we looked beaten. Not for the first time this season, probably not for the last, you find yourself wishing for a bit of John Eustace’s bloody mindedness, we really needed a leader out there today. We’re going to need to withstand this sort of relentless pressure as the season draws to a close – it’s not as if the formula is particularly complicated, however well executed. We’ve been adapting and improving all season. We need to adapt again, and quickly.