Watford 4 Millwall 0 (26/12/2013) 26/12/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- A new manager always brings with him a sense of dislocation, wonkiness. A new start necessarily means that the status quo has been dispensed with and for better or worse you return to Vicarage Road with trepidation, not knowing quite what to expect. In these circumstances it’s natural to cling to familiar things: the fresh chill of Boxing Day air, turkey sandwiches as the lunchtime game kicked off. And a good chortle as a hapless opponent capsized and set themselves up for a hiding. We needed that. We needed it almost as much as the team did.
2- And boy did Millwall play their role to a tee. Before they’d dropped to ten men in the ninth minute they had already demonstrated the qualities that had lead to one point in their previous six away from home. In contrast to the established blueprint that has earned visitors to the Vic three points so reliably, they stood off us and allowed us pretty much whatever space we needed (“and if you need more, you only have to ask. Innit.”). This enabled us to get into a rhythm, revelling in the freedom, and you kinda got the feeling that if we didn’t win this one it was going to be a long time before we ended our spartan run. Danny Shittu’s physique, as we know, seems to have precluded him from ever learning how to defend; caught wrong side, not for the first or last time in his career, pulled Deeney back, red card, penalty. Not so much gifting us the win as sitting down next to us and gently asking if we’d like them to start the unwrapping for us.
3- What’s chicken and what’s egg? Did we look more aggressive, faster, sharper because we had the lead and found our mojo again, or was that aggression, that sharpness part of the recipe that gave us the lead that has eluded us at home since September? Would we have won this game under Gianfranco, or would Millwall have stuck to the blueprint that had been serving every opponent so well? It’s difficult to believe that any opposition would have been inane enough to deviate from that most straightforward of approaches, but there was little in the Lions’ performance to inspire confidence… Lomas responded to the sending off by taking off a winger and moving striker Jermaine Easter wide, leaving Steve Morrison on his own up front. He won more than his fair share in the air… once finding space at the far post from a set piece to power a textbook header downwards and forcing Ikechi Anya into a goalline clearance. Most of the time however there was simply nobody close enough to him to pick up his knockdowns; the ball didn’t stick, we took possession and the Lions’ penalty area began to resemble a coconut shy. Indeed, I’ve seen more movement in coconut shies than in the Millwall team whose attitude was exemplified by Ikechi Anya’s impudent third goal at the start of the second half; playing down the left, his dummy cut him inside two stranded opponents who he left isolated on the flank. They didn’t chase, nobody else closed down and he picked his spot with aplomb. Ten days ago, the last game at the Vic sounded the death knell of one manager; this one felt like Glenn Roeder’s team’s trip to Crystal Palace in 1996 for Lomas. Hapless.
4- As for the Hornets… plenty impressed, for what it was worth. Deeney was aggressive and mobile again, looking for the ball. Sean Murray was a livewire, involved in everything, always moving and keeping us moving. George Thorne, tidy and disciplined. Marco Cassetti revelling in being afforded yards and yards of space on our right in the mistaken belief that without any pace he couldn’t use it; Anya indifferent to the closer attention he got down the left. If there’s a frustration, and this despite the consideration of hitting the woodwork an extra four times (the inside of the woodwork three times) and having a rampaging counterattack rounded off by a flying chest from Forestieri ruled out for offside, it’s that this wasn’t the cricket score it should have been. For this, and I don’t think it’s too harsh a criticism, you have to blame a rather casual attitude to finishing those chances off. Lewis McGugan, whose low profile during our bad run and relative resurgence today appear to validate Forest fans’ warnings, should have squared rather than taken a second half chance himself. He hit the post, but teammates were queuing up. Later, Fernando and Troy were two on one with a resigned-looking Mark Beevers in vague attendance; Forestieri had time to bring it down, or to square to his partner. Instead he turned on the ball and attempted a scissor kick, straight down David Forde’s throat. I guess if you can’t try such things in the dying minutes with a 4-0 lead when can you? Nonetheless, Troy expressed his regard for the Argentine’s judgement.
5- So what have we learned of our new man? Not an awful lot, in all honesty, beyond that his charges haven’t lost the ability to completely demolish opposition that invite them to do so. With an optimistic squint it was possible to interpret communication between our backline as improved, more attentive, but this was in the face of next to no challenge, like mastering a computer game in training mode. Certainly he made no attempt to seize the limelight, a courteous but unshowy appreciation of the crowd both before and after. Simultaneously he made no attempt to keep rein in his emotions during the game. From the first whistle he was on the balls of his feet, like a tennis player spending two hours bouncing in anticipation of a return of serve. Despite the weekend’s much publicised contretemps he paid precisely no attention to the boundaries of his technical area, beyond the three seconds or so following entreaties from both his coaching staff and the fourth official. And he skipped along the touchline, cajoling Marco Cassetti in pursuit of the ball like an over-eager parent at a school sports day. But his team? You don’t learn much from watching a team rip up a paper bag. Tougher challenges to come. Starting Sunday.