Nottingham Forest 4 Watford 2 (30/01/2014) 31/01/2014Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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.