Watford 1 Birmingham City 0 (12/02/2013) 12/02/2014Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- Sometimes, football is a beautiful, breathtaking spectacle. Artistic and elegant, bold and dramatic, capable of lifting the spirit and carrying it away from all of life’s concerns to a happier place. This was definitively not one of those times. If football at its best is a duel between musketeers, all cut, thrust and dexterity, this was the equivalent of two trolls knee-deep in treacle heaving clubs at each other. And grunting.
Mark, Steve and Tom were with me, football fans but not Watford fans, colleagues of my brother’s from oop north accommodating his need for a fix on a business trip. He was apologising to them midway through the first half as passes went into touch, runs were mis-read and the game descended gently from a low starting point to knuckle-chewing tedium. We have become accustomed, of course, to the established successful recipe for playing Watford at Vicarage Road, which includes lots of closing down high up the pitch, harrying and waiting for us to make a mistake. Here, we pre-empted City’s closing down (which did come) by starting the game exactly as if we were being hounded in possession to a far greater degree than was happening, saving the visitors the bother. The goal itself summed up the evening nicely… Troy Deeney, rightly lauded by Sannino for a combative, bloody-minded performance, pirouetting an air kick, regaining his poise and having another go, this time driving home via a deflection of a defender’s leg.
2- It’s worth noting that, for all the continued use of the closing-down thing it’s not proving nearly as effective for visitors as it once was. That’s four wins, a draw and a defeat at home under Sannino, five clean sheets and one goal conceded against visitors including 3 of the current top 7. Lee Clark, who looks perpetually like a sulky schoolboy sitting outside the headteacher’s office, claimed that City were worth at least a point but his view was rather fanciful. City could have equalised, certainly (see below) but that’s not the same thing; in a miserable chore of a game, you did kinda feel that there was unrealised quality in the Watford side which was having a duvet day, whereas Birmingham were offering what they had and it wasn’t much, even if the combination of obstructiveness and a goal threat in Burke and Macheda will probably be enough to keep them up. In any event it’s a source of no small enjoyment, particularly amongst those who’ll remember the 1999 play-offs and trips to St Andrews around that time, that we’ve beaten City four times on the hop without conceding a goal.
3- Which shouldn’t oversugar the performance, and in particular a petulance that was perhaps symptomatic of a frustrating evening all round but aggravating nonetheless. In particular, given the high turnover of players that the Pozzo model has provoked, such conduct makes it very difficult to warm to a side… the same behaviour from more established favourites might be more readily forgiven, but this Watford will be in a constant battle to win hearts and minds. Andreas Merkel jumping in two footed on Burke for no reason at all doesn’t help that, nor does perpetually wandering away from the referee as he’s issuing admonishment (misguided or otherwise). Most concerning of all in this regard was Fernando Forestieri… arguably the success story of last season in terms of his trajectory from aggravating, sulky maverick to focused, combative dynamo. His recent performances have been excellent, despite which the whining and gesticulating is back with a vengeance. He didn’t have the best relationship with the ref last night, who offered him little protection and provoked a curious incident by appearing to beckon Forestieri back on after treatment, change his mind on realising how close the Argentine was to the action and then make to penalise him for entering the field without permission. In fairness the official acknowledged his own culpability, apologised and awarded a drop ball… but Forestieri really didn’t do himself any favours either, ultimately risking a red card by first clawing a ball out of the air in an attempt to fashion a break (for which he was booked), playing on and “scoring” on the break after the whistle had gone and subsequently blatantly slowing the game down by standing six or seven yards from a late Birmingham free kick. Much has been spoken of the need for leaders in the team. A few of our lot needed a kick up the backside last night.
4- Another recent hobbyhorse has been our tendency to sit back on a late lead, whether strategically or through lack of energy in the closing minutes. At Leicester we paid for it; last night we didn’t. Actually I thought the introduction of Hall for Forestieri and subsequent rearrangement of personnel leaving Anya – much missed last night – up front was a good call on Saturday, but good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes. Inviting pressure from a Birmingham side with scarcely the wit to fashion a clear chance but with enough about them to look a gift horse in the mouth and knock it’s teeth out was much less defensible; I’d have preferred us to take the game to them in the final minutes. If that sitting back’s a strategy, it might get tiresome.
5- Which shouldn’t detract from the fact that we did win the game. A game that, as the cliché goes, we would have almost certainly lost a month or two back. And amongst the morass there were straws to cling to… a tour de force from Lloyd Doyley, albeit that it speaks volumes that mere dogged competence stood out so brightly on a grey evening; another masterful showing in the centre of the back three from Marco Cassetti, and once again “Kaiser” Tözsér. Whilst the Hungarian was as sucked up into the humdrum as everyone else, he nonetheless did the Jonathan Hogg thing of receiving the ball under pressure and effortlessly moving it on, spreading the play, keeping things ticking. And his set piece delivery is a joy… one wicked free kick should have been converted by Faraoni, a vicious corner very nearly was by Forestieri’s diagonal run and diving header – but for the man on the far post. Ugly progress, then. But progress nonetheless.