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Nottingham Forest 4 Watford 2 (30/01/2014) 31/01/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- It feels a long time ago… but at the start of the evening there were grounds for optimism.  The Manchester cup tie was always going to be an anomaly, but whilst City’s second half comeback turned the game from a miracle to a curio in the eyes of the national press – coo, look at what plucky little Watford managed, bless them – it nonetheless constituted something significantly more positive than what we’d expected, let alone feared.  If Sannino’s plan is to be effective then a stabilising, sort-the defence-out period is to be expected – even if not very exciting to watch.  A corner would be turned at some point. Perhaps this was it.

And there was nothing in the first half that seriously challenged that optimism. Forest started aggressively, but we looked solid and disciplined and largely kept them at bay.  The home side’s clearest chance was a Collins header that smashed against the bar after a soft free kick, one of several borderline decisions that would topple the home side’s way, but this represented a decent return for the Watford rearguard away to a strong opponent.  They were getting the ball in wide positions but Paterson would try to beat one man too many as he cut in from the right and Abdoun wasted the space he found on the left. When Angella scored, an extraordinarily elaborate flick to a Murray corner, we looked in control and confident.  The second half started as the first, but again we drew blood… Deeney was felled as he attempted to release Anya on the break and Murray’s near-post free kick was met by an unchallenged diagonal run from Angella.  His celebration in front of the away end, the only one of twelve goals in the last week that travelling Hornets would have a close-up view of, was heartfelt.

2- We were cruising, and the home crowd began to turn.  They’re getting better at the City Ground in this regard… ten or fifteen years ago they’d have been on the grumble before the end of the first half…  nonetheless, the audible discontent had started and there was precious little sign of what was to come despite Billy Davies’ half-time switch in of Simon Cox for the less mobile Halford.  So… perhaps a shame that the goal came when it did, but either way it was a portentous.  The ball game from deep, the impressive Moussi lost his man at the far post and headed across to where Cox was far more alert than whoever should have been marking him.  After so long making life difficult for Forest, this was far too easy.

With the benefit of hindsight, you have to wonder what sort of difference having Onesize in there might have made.  A big lump to get his bloody head on the end of things; Forest’s first three goals all involved sloppy marking and lack of a decisive intervention as a ball came in from Forest’s left.  So too the flexibility within the squad to have introduced a plug at the back of the midfield, a role that Al Bangura fulfilled for a season or so, just to block the midfield up.  Or equally the much-vaunted quick striker, who might have given Forest cause to look over their shoulders once or twice when pushing forward… instead, the hardworking but isolated Deeney was dropping deep in search of the ball.  Forest smelled blood, and in the absence of any of those things the tide of the game turned irreversibly.

3- There’s an awful lot of quality in the squad.  A squad which is certainly lopsided…  lack of pace or variety in attack, lack of a ballwinner in midfield… but quality nonetheless.  You do have to wonder about fitness though.  The parallels with Saturday are of course startling and remarkable, and you can read too much into the strength of the weekend opposition.  Twice in a week we’ve been two up away from home with half an hour to go and conceded four… but not since Cristian Battocchio’s late winner against Wigan in September have we improved upon a half-time result and last night’s utter capitulation saw more than one set of weary legs far too early in proceedings.  If this is a problem then it’s hardly something that Beppe Sannino can be held accountable for – the seeds are sown in pre-season, and he’s had a relentless fixture list to accommodate.  But it will continue to be an issue, particularly in the light of new signings coming in from the cold and pressure on key positions.  By all accounts the tiring of Murray and Battocchio (and the withdrawal of the former) was a factor in Saturday’s developments; asking two young players – both of whom are lightweight, cogs not engines, to play the same role was optimistic.

4- More than anything, we’re in a funk.  The lack of belief is evident, the brittle lack of resilience astonishing.  My co-editor warned at the beginning of the campaign that every season in Watford’s recent history that has been preceded by expectation – principally in the summers of 2000, 2001 and 2007 – has been followed by abject misery. His words have proven prophetic (and he’s not even having to bloody sit through any of it) as yesterday’s match finds us in a trough every bit as low as the lowest points of those seasons. The context, the expectation, doesn’t help off the pitch or on it.  This isn’t a side set up for a scrap.  We need to find a win from somewhere rather urgently, some bit of flotsam to build on.

5-  And in the light of everything, naturally the Pozzo model has been questioned.  This model that has seen such a high turnover of players and a now disjointed and rudderless team, devoid of the fighting spirit that has characterised even the most limited Watford teams of recent memory.  For all of this though, for all of the problems, such criticism is unwarranted.  The model can be sound, but if the execution is flawed you’ll still end up in shtuck…  the scouting network, the buy-low-sell-high approach don’t guarantee success, they merely facilitate it and can’t mitigate for lack of fitness or failure to replace key cogs of the team.  So let’s keep our criticism balanced, and limited to the messageboards.  The last thing this team needs at the moment is further disunity.

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Comments»

1. Wrighty - 31/01/2014

I thought the first half was reasonably even until we scored, when we visibly relaxed and started playing with confidence. However the warning signs had already come with Collins hitting the bar, Halford fluffing a free header (after which Almunia went beserk at Ekstrand), and a number of other crosses which we didn’t deal with. The defensive side of our play still seems alarmingly precarious and strangely rudderless, Hall needs to be there for his personality as much as his aerial ability.

Also Almen Abdi, that was gutting

Matt Rowson - 31/01/2014

first half wasn’t perfect and accept that given what happened later the Collins/Halford incidents were more significant than they seemed at the time. Collins header was miles offside tho according to my bruv watching TV pics? Not that this alters what happened later… but as a recipe for an away win “level on points but ahead on goals” was just fine for me.

Abdi. Yes.

Wrighty - 31/01/2014

at half time I thought it was ours for the taking, but we never learned from our mistakes, Forest seemed to

2. Micahbwl - 31/01/2014

I watched the game on the telly last night. Agree we are a team of gifted, talented individuals, but the team itself is less than the sum of its parts. The foot injury to Abdi was a low point and does not bode well for the remainder of the season.

On the message boards, there is doom and gloom and a lot of negativity. I agree, we need a more defensive midfielder, to hustle the opposition and slow the game down. At 2-0 up, Beppe should have resorted to the Italian school of killing a game off – or in Aidy Boothroyd’s expression “manage the game”.

IG has obviously been to the Delphi school of football punditry, expectations were too high and whilst we are not currently getting the results, if we can remain in mid-table (which is achievable) then we can be a little bit more realistic about the team and its chances next year.

Forest are a team on a roll. There results have been a lot better than the Orns of late – so to get battered, albeit with a two goal lead isn’t the end of the world. The game on Sunday, though is important, as we have to turn the terrible home form around, the sooner the better.

3. John Hopkins - 31/01/2014

I worry about the lack of leaders in this team.

Undoubted quality, but when things start to go wrong, there’s seemingly no individual pulling everyone together or taking responsibility.

Some matches have tended to snowball out of control.

With a distinct lack of belief in the team, this is a problem.

I wasn’t sure I could name a natural leader in the starting XI yesterday.

4. Harefield Hornet - 31/01/2014

While Saturday was disappointing last night was downright worrying. Why have we collapsed twice in a week against teams who’ve had a poor first half and then simply improved in the 2nd half. Putting the Etihad Circus to one side It was all about gradual improvement in recent weeks but last night we just went back to square one – defending crosses is just basic stuff. You’ve suggested the fitness levels are to blame and I thinks that’s a key point. Throwing new players at the squad may seem to help but they’ve got be better than what we already have and your right in stating they’ll be cold on arrival. Toszer is here already and Diakite still looks imminent but they’ll be desperately short of match fitness and the mythical quick striker is still exactly just that. Perhaps we just need a bit of good old fashioned luck to turn things round starting on Sunday.

5. Red - 31/01/2014

I agree with John. We do lack a natural leader. Having a goalkeeper as a captain is certainly something I have never liked. Useful tip- count the number of times a ball is played out from our defence to a front man who then plays it backwards to either the opposition or a suicide ball to a team mate.
Have we made progress since Zola left?

6. Jimbob - 31/01/2014

I think once again last night we lacked a John Eustace type on the pitch. Andy Reid is niggly skillful player and we certainly gave him room to play. It seemed on tv that Battochio was tasked with man marking him but I think it took until they were in the lead before he put a tackle in on him. Last night was a prime example of the type of game where an early hard tackle to say hello to Reid and to send a message to his teammates may well have paid dividends.

7. NickB - 31/01/2014

Also agree on the leadership point; we looked completely spineless from the moment it went 2-1.
Alumnia should be dropped: failed to attack several crosses and laughably punched two soft balls that any of us could’ve caught. A light of former days, as is Cassetti.
Also think it’s time up for 3-5-2; as we do not have proper defensive cover at wing back and it is not in the least suited to Angella and Ekstrand, two decent players whose confidence looks shot. On the plus side, thought Deeney was more like his old self. Whilst not directly affecting the result, thought the ref was a plutonium grade homer.

Matt Rowson - 01/02/2014

Not sure I agree about 3-5-2. The wing-back cover, with Anya, Pudil, Faraoni and Bellerin, is OK… what’s been missing has been the anchor, and with Diakité and Tozser’s arrival hopefully that’s sorted. I don’t disagree that Ekstrand and Angella’s confidence looks shot but Ekstrand looked splendid in the same formation last season, and Angella looks good bringing the ball out which 3-5-2 gives him licence to do.

We didn’t play 3-5-2 at Forest incidentally, but the 3-4-2-1 that looked promising at City.

8. John - 31/01/2014

The lack of a leader is probably tne most significant problem. John eustace would never let team perform as they did for most of the match. The defence is shaky but it isnt surprising when midfield and forwards give tne ball awy so wantonly and regularly. The worrying thing is there appears to be no attempt to find such a player. But we need to keep faith with the pozzo family. It is not in their interest for the project to fail

9. Joe Richardson - 01/02/2014

I actually felt a bit nauseous after this one – must’ve been the combination of the last two results and then Abdi’s injury. I was half expecting Graham Taylor to announce after the match that he’s coming out of retirement to return to football management…at Wolves.

The lowlight for me was the abject passing in their half – so many bad decisions. I can’t remember the culprit, but there was a moment when the match was still winnable and Anya was screaming down the leftwing on a 2012/13-esque counter-attack and the ball could’ve been played anywhere in front of him, anywhere in the Forest half for a 1-on-1 chance, and it was given away, yet again. So frustrating.

Doyley aside (of course) not a lot of great games out there (Angella could easily have been red-carded to ruin his day). I was moaning to my partner about how woeful Murray had been and she started softly singing “he’s one of our own, he’s one of our own…” to try and cheer me up. Ugh. Again, a bit of nausea creeps in at the lack of achievement from him given the chance to play 1st team football every week.

I’m totally guilty of too-high expectations. I thought we had enough to be challenging for the playoffs at least, enough quality on the bench to maybe go further as other clubs picked up injuries and had to play their reserves whilst we dipped into our ‘extended’ 1st team. I thought the core of the team staying for a second year would mean we gel quicker, and the permanent signings meant a stable team to build on with exciting new loanees.

As of this morning I’ve come to terms with it. The club is financially healthy, we get to see a new slab of ‘interesting’ players every few months, and the best of the bunch will be moved on to higher places as always.

Same old mid-table second division Watford, just with a new ‘business model’. God I hate football.


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