Watford 0 Reading 1 (14/01/2014) 12/01/2014Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
1- There’s an extra game-show-presenter bounce in Richard Short’s exuberance this afternoon, and you just want to punch it. “Enjooooooooooooy the game” lasts an extra few syllables, with yer man still on the pitch looking as if he’s sizing up whether he’s got a half chance of a high five with any of the team before he finally exits the stage and lets everyone get on with the game. Profoundly irritating – like Alan Partridge, but not funny. It’s going to be that sort of afternoon. By six pm I’m at my Gran’s watching “Reflex”, the latest astonishing depth plumbed by early-evening Saturday evening TV. It’s breathtakingly inane bollocks that makes Deal or No Deal look like University Challenge. Two incidents that bookend the afternoon perfectly and not much has happened in the interim to lift the mood; it’s been a playlist of different flavours of bloody nonsense from start to finish.
2- Reading didn’t help, in all honesty. Millwall were more civil visitors, taking their shoes off in the porch, asking permission to use the lavatory, getting a centre-half sent off early… it was perhaps unreasonable to expect the Royals to follow suit. Instead they swaggered in, grabbed the TV remote and proceeded to channel hop whilst picking their nose and wiping the yield on the arm of the sofa. In our faces from the off they were closing us down well inside our own half, no chance of building anything, no chance of gently easing into a rhythm. Instead it was Reading who took an early lead, bigger and more alert than us from a set piece, not for the first or last time.
If you’re in the position of building from the back, of course, in the work in progress stage where the defensive bit is getting sorted but you’re struggling to score then what you don’t do is give away an early goal against big, robust opposition. Reading continued to hassle us in possession whilst Pogrebnyak was every inch the pressure-relieving target man, winning every ball that went anywhere near him. Our own attacking play seemed concentrated on putting pressure on Chris Gunter at right back with long balls over his head; the highlight was an imperious arcing flick of the brush from the excellent Angella which dropped onto Pudil’s foot a good forty yards away but much of the rest was gormless and without end product. Once again the front two in particular failed to suggest much of a threat, Deeney fighting a lone battle against two uncomplicated centre halves whilst Diego Fabbrini mystifyingly persisted in dropping into an already congested midfield rather than providing an option in the box.
3- Reading’s aggressive approach did at least dispel any illusions Alexander Merkel may have had regarding the sort of football games he’s going to be involved in. Nominally an attacking player he sat deep in the midfield in this one, Iriney’s decent run-out at Ashton Gate obviously not pushing him back up the pecking order. The German took a while to settle, twice giving the ball away in circumstances that suggested he’d have preferred rather more thinking time. As the game went on, particularly as we got onto the front foot on the second half, he became increasingly influential… comfortable in possession, happy to receive the ball in tight corners and find space, find the pass and as he stepped forwards Reading, looking leggy after their first-half efforts, began to creak. Slight of frame, he nonetheless demonstrated early and with some gusto that he likes a tackle… already on a yellow, his silly, reckless challenge on Nick Blackman late on was always going to see him departing early – a straight red, it turned out. Irritating. As was the smattering of applause he received. Quite what was to applaud about a needless high tackle in the centre circle was beyond me.
4- The second half did constitute an improvement though, and much of it stemmed from 55th minute replacement of Hector Bellerin with Fernando Forestieri. The Argentine did well, but it was the change in formation from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 with Forestieri and Fabbrini either side of Troy Deeney that stretched the visitors and made the difference. The chances started coming… Deeney perhaps missing the best of them as the marauding Doyley squared to him on the edge of the box. He had a clear shot at goal but scooped over. Deeney provided a chance for Forestieri from the right seizing on some dawdling on the Reading left to break down the wing and cross to the far post; the Argentine had hurtled in from somewhere near the halfway line and got underneath the cross. Three times Alex McCarthy was forced into a save… McGugan down the right set up a move which lead to Deeney acrobatically stabbing at goal, the keeper’s reactions pushed it over. A long throw from the left dropped over Forestieri’s shoulder, inviting him to shovel a drive inside the near post which was pushed wide, and in the last minute a McGugan free kick swerved low towards the bottom right hand corner, but was pushed round. Not enough, not convincing, much as we probably did enough to have deserved a point… we’ve seen too many games like this of late. We know how the plotline goes. What differentiated this one was a fractious atmosphere and a greasy surface; referee Keith Stroud was under pressure throughout and lost all semblance of control with an erratic final fifteen minutes, the low point perhaps booking Forestieri for a dive after he’d been crudely sandwiched on the edge of the box. Irritating.
5- If you’re the bloke who sometime last season asked us to stop wittering on about John Eustace, you’d better stop reading now. As so often over the last eighteen months you found yourself wondering what a bit of bloody-mindedness might have achieved in these circumstances. Rarely has a Watford side appeared to amount to so much less than the sum of its parts; in the likes of McGugan, Fabbrini and even the still-improving and positive Forestieri we have three players whose contribution is so much less than their natural ability suggests they ought to be capable of. Oh for someone to be driving us on from the midfield, for someone to be cajoling and encouraging and propelling the team in the right direction rather than scowling and sulking at bad decisions or bad executions. Oh for a bloody leader. The WObby tells us that the club are still after a nippy striker and a midfield destroyer, and that’s all to the good. If the latter has cold blue eyes, battle scars on his shins and an upper arm with an indentation where a captain’s armband should be, so much the better.