Bristol City 1 Watford 1 (04/01/2014) 05/01/2014Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- When I got up this morning it was raining, as it has been forever. The complex logistics of family life with one car meant that me swanning off to Bristol involved being dropped at the railway station at 8.45 (in the rain). This, in turn necessitated getting the children in the car by 8.30 which, in turn, involved peeling one of them reluctantly out of bed and channeling the other’s haphazard energy in the vague direction of the vehicle. In the rain. The point being that sometimes you get a feeling that the world is trying to tell you something. Like, don’t bother, for example. Particularly not when it’s pissing it down with rain.
2- Actually, it wasn’t that bad. A good day out, anyway, and by the time we got to Bristol we’d left the relentless rain behind somewhere near Swindon. There were still showers, occasionally heavy showers, but as the covers came off the pitch there was barely a man with a fork in sight. And whilst what was to follow isn’t going to enter the annals of Watford’s history on the same page as Old Trafford 1978, Sofia 1983 or Wembley 1984 there’s solace to be taken in the fact that we at the very least didn’t lose the game – no small achievement in the context of a quite stunning injury list. Even a squad as extensive as ours can’t accommodate the loss of three wing-backs to injury. Plus a loan wing-back not available for cup ties despite being here for the season. The loss of Marco Cassetti at the end of the first half saw Cristian Battocchio, filling in as an awkward but wholehearted left wing-back for ninety minutes, joined by the equally out of place Connor Smith on the right. He too made a fair fist of it, but this really is pushing the limits of the available bodies. Lloyd Doyley’s relegation to the bench, where he stayed despite Cassetti’s injury, suggests that he too wasn’t fully fit, adding himself to the absences of Hoban and Belkalem in central defensive positions. And we still miss Almen Abdi, badly. And have lost George Thorne, and can’t yet feature our new men. In that context, not a bad result at all.
3- But there’s not much polishing up the game itself. The start was positive; both sides seemed intent on taking the game to the opposition… in our case, the chief protagonist was Lewis McGugan whose direct running cut straight through City’s back three. Given this, it’s a shame that our attacking play was to look like such hard as the game went on… there was hay to be made there. City built momentum more gradually, but were soon creating the better of the chances and were more effective than bottom-half-of-League-One might suggest. The home side suggested an inattentiveness to closing down in shooting range outside the area… it nearly cost them when McGugan had time to line up a curled shot which was heading for the postage stamp until Parrish clawed it two-handed around the corner of post and bar. Bobby Reid had one chance for City, slipping a low shot narrowly wide of Almunia’s right-hand post, and then fed the excellent Joe Bryan, an energetic left wing-back, whose low drive inside the same bottom corner was pushed around the post by the Spaniard.
As the game went on it got stodgier and stodgier. Our own attacking play looked particularly laboured – Sannino has warned Troy Deeney (and us) that chances might be fewer and farther between as he prioritises sorting out the defence. As it stands, we’re difficult to watch and too easy to defend against; Deeney looked particularly isolated, smothered by the deep-sitting Marlon Pack in front of the City defence, and cut an increasingly sullen figure. Diego Fabbrini continues to struggle to channel his undoubted ability; often dropping deep to pick up the ball he then doesn’t move it quickly enough. When picking up the ball on the edge of the area his ghosting-past-three-players thing is effective – this happened a couple of times, on one occasion unfortunately concluding with him treading on the ball and tumbling. There wasn’t much of an appeal, but City fans gave him the bird for the rest of the game anyway. However when picking it up deep there’s too much time afforded for an opponent to get sorted, and not enough movement behind that defence. An indicator that things aren’t really working up front is when Sean Murray starts charging around after the ball trying to force the issue. That’s all to his credit, but when this happens at the end of the first half you know things are getting a bit desperate.
4- Being positive, we do look solid enough defensively, which is no small progress. Iriney deserves some credit from this one – he’s not always looked comfortable, and made one conspicuous cock-up in the first half here when, on winning the ball with a fierce, well-timed challenge to curtail a City break, he played a square ball without looking straight to Sam Baldock, allowing the door to bounce back open so to speak. The destructive part of his role, however, he conducted pretty much flawlessly, and the back three generally stood up well to the questions asked of them.
It looked like we’d pinched a win, of course; Connor Smith cut in from the right in the 84th minute, made to cross it from the corner of the box and then squared to Murray. Marvin Elliott didn’t get close enough to him and the midfielder, probably the Hornets’ stand-out player over the ninety, picked his spot leaving Parrish unsighted. Frustrating, of course, that we didn’t hang on for the requisite five minutes but credit to City too… their quickfire equaliser was more their good work than our bad. An excellent pass spread the ball to Burns flying down the right, he pulled back from the byline and Emmanuel-Thomas finished. All things considered, fair enough.
5- In the grand scheme of things, as above, not a disaster. We assume that as a minimum, Merkel and Ranégie will be available for the replay… a wing-back or two would be helpful too. On the assumption that City won’t turn up at the Vic with their finger as firmly on self-destruct as Millwall had, the assumption that we’ll be too strong for lower division opposition at home merits at least a second glance though in the context of our recent form at the Vic.
The greatest concern perhaps is quite how patient we’re going to need to be in waiting for this rebuilding job to get as far as our attacking play. This one unusual, and not abetted by the injury situation… but it wasn’t particularly exciting. The momentum, the enthusiasm that was built by last year’s elaborate, carefree approach might not be carried particularly far by this pragmatism.