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Watford 1 Huddersfield Town 4 (03/05/2014) 04/05/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Scarcely credible as it seems now, it started OK.  We’d arrived stupid early, disorientated by perverse kick-off times and disrupted routines, looked for some red in the new kit in the Hornet Shop, bought some lunch from Critellis.  By which time it was still… quiet…

photo (19)The quandary was resolved by a rare trip to the V-Bar.  Two pints of Guinness later the sense of obligation that tends to accompany irrelevant end-of-season stuff like this and the lingering disappointment at our limp challenge for the play-offs had both been set aside.  The sun was shining, as is traditional in book-ending the season, Jonathan Hogg was afforded (and keen to acknowledge) a warm reception and the club, to their great credit, restored the traditional awarding of the Player of the Season award, Troy inevitably collecting the trophy from Oliver Phillips.  Grins all round then, and in selecting Alex Jakubiak – in part through necessity given yet another injury to a striker in Ranégie – Beppe had given us a reason to pay attention as the game kicked off.

We began brightly; Jakubiak involved early and earning two quick chances… the first screwing wide from the left side of goal, then scampering onto a through-ball to fire too close to Smithies.  So far so good… but that was about as good as it got for Watford, and indeed for the youngster who spent the rest of his time on the pitch looking a little lost, reacting to things rather than anticipating them.  It was to prove far from the easiest game in which to make one’s debut, and with the benefit of the context of how the game was to develop I later found myself trying to remember quite how much support he’d received from those around him.  Either way, he faded from that bright start as did the Hornets… as the half progressed the visitors took control, driven on by the lively Hammill, and dominated possession.  There wasn’t a lot in the way of goalmouth action though… it comes to something when both  a half’s highlights involve Harry the Hornet and an inflatable beach ball.  Thank the stars for the play-offs, but for which so many fans would have to suffer this sort of inconsequential tosh on a far more regular basis from February onwards.

2- At half-time, Joonz bemoaned the tedium.  “Even three-nil defeats are better than this.  At least something happens”.  I didn’t see him after the game, but it’s inconceivable that he didn’t regret those morose words.  The second half wasn’t just bad, it was a monstrous heap of steaming manure, an embarrassment on an epic scale irrespective of timing or context. With the benefit of time to recover and gain some perspective, go on holiday perhaps, take out some frustration on some household chores (pity those bastard dandelions) it will enter legend alongside the greatest atrocities that recent-ish seasons have to offer.  You’ll have your own “favourites” of course… for me the one that bears closest comparison was the monstrous New Year’s Day capitulation to Millwall under Gianluca Vialli.

Then, as now, the difference between the sides wasn’t ability.  Huddersfield may have been our match in that regard also, but it was never relevant.  Huddersfield won the game through having spirit and balls and a semblance of discipline that we thoroughly lacked.  Not that they had to draw on deep reserves of character to win the game but there was at least some personality.  Some effort.  It was plenty good enough.  The comparisons with the Vialli season don’t stop there of course… in particular it’s unavoidable that when an opponent is compliant enough to amble into our bear-pit we have had enough ability to rip them up.  There have been plenty of comfortable victories, seven by three goals or more.  Whenever a bit of depth of character, a bit of digging in has been required, we’ve crumbled.  Not just now and again, but pretty much every time that the going’s got tough.  But this rant is getting ahead of itself…

Another parallel between this and that Millwall game was that one of the four goals in the Watford net provoked a nod of empathy from the home end.  In fairness, this might actually have been independent of our own lack of performance on each occasion…  you’d like to think that cancer survivor Neil Harris would have got some applause for his first goal back under any circumstances in 2002.  Here… it’s difficult not to empathise with a debut goal, even when it’s scored against us at the start of the second half with the game ostensibly still in the balance…  Town wanted it more than us from the off, Joe Lolley took some initiative (standing out like a beacon immediately) and ran at the defence and took advantage as it flopped apart in front of him.

I like Sean Murray, and there’s surely little to dislike about Cristian Battocchio but the pair of them fielded in the same midfield has begun to resemble the “we’re short of options” flare that Johann Gudmundsson’s occasional re-emergence on the bench did at one stage under GT.  This wasn’t merely ineffective though… Battocchio was invisible throughout, despite which there was little arguing with the immediate withdrawal of Murray in response to Lolley’s goal such was his hapless display.  His replacement was Samba Diakité, who challenged his critics by injecting a little impetus and poise to our attack.  This wasn’t a gamechanging performance but it was something, and thus more than was offered by a thoroughly disappointing Daniel Töszér who was able to ping a pass when he got the ball at his feet but rarely shifted his arse in order to engineer that opportunity.  So… little in midfield.  Up front, Deeney toiled, first alongside Jakubiak and later Anya with little more success and at the back we collapsed like a tower of cards at the slightest breeze, an alarmingly poor Jonathan Bond ushering in two of Danny Ward’s three goals for good measure.  To rub salt into the wound, Gabrielle Angella should have been sent off for shoving an opponent in the neck which would have aptly rounded off an uncharacteristically dreadful afternoon for the Italian. Not a good day.

3- Light relief was provided by the referee, who appeared to quash our flickering signs of life by cruelly and inexplicably ruling out Marco Cassetti’s far post header which appeared to have forced its way over the line. The official appeared to indicate that the ball had earlier crossed touchline – an inverse-Attwell if you will – before realising that the linesman was indicating precisely nothing. Nothing in the laws about how to dig yourself out of such a hole of course, so he improvised with a drop ball followed by a Watford penalty for the merest suggestion of a push on Deeney.  A half-hearted protester in stripes appeared to, not unreasonably, point towards the point at which Cassetti’s header had taken place, implying a level of evening up to which the referee could justifiably have answered “yes, and?”.  Deeney sent Smithies the wrong way to bring up 25 for the season but any relief to the misery was instantaneous.  An increasingly angry and frustrated figure throughout, Deeney clouted the rebound towards the roof of the Rookery, and celebrated his goal alone.

4- It seems utterly perverse now that we talked, after Ipswich, about winning our last four games in the context of a late play off run as something that was merely highly unlikely (NB: those four wins would have done the job, not that it matters).  That the last few games would have panned out rather differently – in terms of performances if not necessarily outcome – had we got that deserved win at Loftus Road is surely beyond dispute but the contrast in terms of both attitude and the apparent security of the manager’s position between QPR less than a fortnight ago and now – speaking as someone who didn’t see either of the two defeats in the interim – is startling.

That there was nothing, strictly, to play for in the last few games shouldn’t be forgotten;  it’s not irrelevant.  What’s far more relevant is the contrast between the utterly commendable position taken publicly by the manager, demanding improvement from the shabby offerings at Derby and Charlton and a positive end to the campaign, and what was delivered on the pitch.  You don’t need any experience of watching football at any level to spot the disconnect there, it couldn’t be starker.  That’s not a team that’s on message, not a happy or united camp.  Rumours elsewhere suggest a dressing room fallout, a rebellion over the cancelled day off in the week in the wake of Charlton and a boycott co-ordinated by names significantly missing from yesterday’s squad.  Dangerous to comment on mere heresay…  but that something had happened must have occurred to more than one onlooker as the normally ebullient Fernando Forestieri, dressed in a suit, glumly passed across the front of the Rookery early on, only reacting to his reception after much delay as if aroused from deep thought.  If there’s credibility in those rumours then it’s impossible not to instinctively side with the manager… but impossible also not to wonder about how tenable his position is.  Worth noting, yet again, what an extraordinary challenge managing a side in our current set-up is…  whether based in fact or not, this rumour describes precisely the sort of unmotivated, half-arsed bollocks that resided in our worst nightmares when the Pozzo model was first described.  This is what failure to get a disparate bunch of players playing as a unit might look like.  Gianfranco’s achievement last season – much as it helps to be winning, much as his departure remains inevitable and credible even with the benefit of hindsight – should not be underestimated.  The contrast with Burnley’s disciplined, focused draw with Reading couldn’t be starker.

5- The “lap of honour” at the end of the game was peculiar in the extreme.  The stands were… not empty, but not thronging with acclaim as they surely would have been given any kind of performance on the day.  It’s been a disappointing season, given the expectations we went in with… but it’s not been that bad for the most part.  There have been good wins, good performances, and everyone wants to leave happy.  As it was, those that remained were surely largely there for one man only.

photo (20)This is not the way Troy would have wanted to bow out, assuming (as seems inevitable on any number of levels) that this was his last game in yellow.  It could be argued that much of his astonishing form since Christmas has been in part for the benefit of those watching on who might play a role in his future but whatever, he’s been extraordinary and much as his form dipped early season when we badly needed a leader nobody has any right to feel short changed.  This is a guy who has made mistakes but recovered from them, grown as a player throughout his time here and will leave as one of the most complete centre-forwards we’ve seen at Vicarage Road for some considerable time.  His was the most reluctant departure from the pitch, dangling offspring upside down by the ankles, but only after boots and sundry items of clothing had been launched into the Rookery.  All the best Troy.

As for our future…   all bets are off.  For me, the contrast of the last two seasons tells you simple things.  That the model can work.  That inherent are huge challenges for staff at all levels, but huge potential also.  That it doesn’t come with any guarantees.  What remains, despite this disappointment, is a stable structure, investment in infrastructure, a club that has a plan and is evolving.  A plan can be sound but imperfectly executed, and that’s where we are.  As for Beppe… I’d still like him to do well.  If he stays, if he’s still here in August, the implication will be that things have been “sorted” and I won’t be unhappy.  After Saturday, however, dead rubber or otherwise, I’m far from convinced that that will be the case.

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Comments»

1. sean fulton - 04/05/2014

I’m glad I wasn’t alone in muttering even a loss will be better than 45 minutes more of that at half time. Plus THAT Millwall game was my first thought too…

But I hadn’t heard of any rebellion… Where’s this come from?

Thanks as always for the seasons reviews… it’s certainly been eventful.

Matt Rowson - 04/05/2014
Jimbob - 04/05/2014

The rumour is that Beppe has basically not only cancelled a day off in the week just gone but has also refused to release the squad and staff for the summer holidays for another fortnight or so. He alluded to this in his post-match interview so it’s no secret. However apparently it caused ructions in the squad as it was unexpected and it’s traditional for the players to only report back once or twice early in the week after the last game and then off they go on holibobs until July.

2. David Simpson - 04/05/2014

Great thunks as always. One point I would question is the reason for the penalty – as far as I could tell it was for the blatant shirt pull on Tommie Hoban rather than any offence on Deeney. And it was a nice try by Josh Doherty in asking Troy if he could take the penalty….but glad Troy signed off (in all probability) with a goal in front of the Rookery. He has been immense this season – where on earth would we have finished without his 25 goals ?

3. petebradshaw - 04/05/2014

You mention Millwall 2002 under Vialli and yes, this was just as embarrassing (I was minded to remember other Vialli debacles too – Sheff Wed, Bradford City, Man City and, heaven forbid, Stockport County Youth XI. But the game also reminded me of a couple of others – Preston at home 2005 and Blackpool at home 2008. The last games of RayLew and Adrian Boothroyd. Here as in those games we had a bunch of blokes in yellow who couldn’t give a monkey’s – not for the club, the fans, each other. That was a chilling similarity. The difference might be that ‘power’ is more broadly spread nowadays with Nani and Sannino being the equivalent of RayLew. And it is the end of the season, with no need for a kneejerk to avoid relegation. Oh and as for AB – well he had just got too big for his boots – I don’t think that has happened here. If anything, like under RayLew, it seems that some players might think that they are bigger than the club rather than the coach.

For myself I would like to see Sannino kept on, to look to freshen up his coaching staff (and to reduce the number – why do we need so many – not least two GK coaches), to prune the squad and get in some championship hardened players.

I suspect we won’t hear anything for a bit. The Pozzos have to sort out Udinese too. I also suspect we won’t hear much even once things start happening. Ours is not a club that washes its linen in public.

Roll on pre season. Roll on next season. Roll on the Capital One Cup First Round draw (but not Luton please).

Vaughn Smith - 04/05/2014

I also see strong similarities between this game and the two you mention from ’05 and ’08. However, I wouldn’t be overly concerned to see Sannino go. He is/was a hired gun to achieve one objective – safety this season (at least that’s what I and a few of the other st holders where I sit think). He achieved the objective with relative ease, as evidenced by barely conceding at home and only one loss at the Vic before this debacle. He has been found out though by his inability to get the team to kick on and make a sustained challenge for the play offs. Don’t get me wrong I think he’s done a sterling job to stabilise things after the turnoil of the last few weeks of Zola’s reign, but I really don’t see that he can take things to the ‘next level’.

4. SteveG - 04/05/2014

Of course at one level this match didn’t matter, but it really was a dreadful way to end the season. It seems scarcely credible that it’s only a couple of weeks ago that we could have walked away from the Ipswich game buoyed up by a highly competent performance and with distant dreams of the play offs.

It emphasised to me once again the extent to which Almen Abdi has such an impact on this side – this could have been a very different season if he’d have remained injury free.

Disappointing, too, that we seem to have achieved the remarkable feat of combining a lack of ability to compete in the more physical aspects of the football in this division with a dismal disciplinary record. If the petulance on the field is being matched by disharmony off it, it’s no wonder that it’s all become a bit of a shambles. If we’d managed to capture even a part of the camaraderie and team spirit that seemed evident under both Dyche and Mackay, the (over-hyped) expectations that we started the season with would surely have been realised – this is a talented squad of players, but on so many occasions the whole has been so much less than the sum of the parts.

Half way up the second tier is no disgrace – it’s become our ‘natural home’ and that, in itself, is no mean feat. But despite the calls on other sites for massive clear-outs and a ‘lack of quality’ this is a far better squad of players than we’ve had on many occasions in the past. It just doesn’t look like a team.

Thanks again to you, Matt (an Ig), for the consistently informative, thoughtful and entertaining comments which always help to ‘add some colour’ to those games that I haven’t got to and add some rational perspective to the emotion of those where I have.

5. Roger Smith - 04/05/2014

“This is a far better squad of players than we’ve had on many occasions in the past. It just doesn’t look like a team.”

Whatever the motive for dropping certain players, those that did start put in a fair amount of effort, particularly Pudil and Deeney (as ever). What was lacking was the ability to string a move together. and for that the blame must lie squarely with the manager.

We are used to Chamberlain giving the post-match analysis, but I wonder how Beppe’s lack of English is stopping communication with the players, especially at half time. However, good a coach he is, that to my mind would be a fatal flaw.

Matt Rowson - 04/05/2014

Don’t agree Roger, at all. Deeney worked hard enough. The rest… heads were very low.

6. Sequel - 04/05/2014

Well, the team may have under performed (in relation to most people’s expectations), but once again, our on-screen team of Matt and IG have produced another season of top-flight reporting.
Thanks, lads

NickB - 04/05/2014

Seconded.
I’m a bit troubled by the universal praise for Deeney. Yes, he has played extremely well since the the last transfer window closed, and, oddly enough, in August too, but in the period in between he was pretty damned awful and not too bothered. It says much about the rest of them that he still deserves POTS.
If rumours about unrest are true, it brings into focus the issue of coach vs manager: in GT’s day a few might have been heading for the exit on the spot, now the ‘boss’ has little to do with such decisions and the players know it.

Jimbob - 05/05/2014

Deeney got an awful lot of stick in that period between August and December when the wheels came off. I don’t think the club was a happy place to be, what with Zola coming to the end of his tenure and expectations being well and truly trashed. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a POTS who has played at 100% in every single game so to get 25 goals out of him and 5 months of bloody-minded work as our main striker is a good return in my eyes.

7. Red - 05/05/2014

Murray was not at all happy at being substituted and his reaction was a reflection of how unsettled the team are. We have got lots of reasons to be happy-the pitch is still better at the end of the season than many teams in the premiership, the new stand and financial stability. However…. when do Watford players get to go and play abroad for the other branches of the empire? Am I now a supporter of “Dirty” Watford? How does that fit in with our old ethos?

8. Simoninoz - 06/05/2014

I think we have a discipline and fitness problem as shown by:
1. The unacceptably high number of cards and sendings off
2. The high number of goals conceded after 80 minutes
3. The rumoured ‘strike’ before the Huddersfield game over lost holiday.
To cheer myself up I’ve just been rereading Lionel Birnie’s “Enjoy the Game,” his excellent history of Watford in the late 70s and 80s. Discipline was at the very heart of GT’s management style and, while the World is very different today, I think the Pozzos should closely consider this aspect of the season’s failure to live up to expectations as they make their decisions for 2014/15.
As usual, much applause for Matt and ig for their observations this year.

9. hornetboy84 - 06/05/2014

If Saninnio has cancelled days off and the holiday then he has lost the dressing room and must go – or we risk losing any semblance of a team.
It would not have been the time to do it . The players played superbly at qpr – blew it vs. Derby and then I think their heads and hearts have gone. It’s a hard season , they are disappointed … But the way to get them up for a farewell game isn’t to wield a big stick. The performance smacked of no energy but it would have been hugely contributed to by an attitude to anything seen as mis-management .

But I’m writing as someone who doesn’t “buy” Bepe. A nice suit and a great song surely does not make a manager.
he was dealt a far stronger hand than Zola since Christmas and his approach to seeing out games from good positions – inviting pressure – has cost us dear.

From my perspective – I can live with 2nd tier footy and flirting with play offs – but I would want the entertainment and madness of Zolaball to compensate.
What we had with Sanninio was mid table obscurity and barely getting to even tease a flirt at playoffs. But accompanied by turgid football that was only salvaged by a good home run of wins that in themselves at times were due to some luck or poor away finishing. If someone was to re study the home games they would see a grafting team but for the most part on flashes of last years control.
True – that when Abdi appeared the missing midfield cog was evident – but Zola too had that piece missing.
I did not see any real fluency under Sanninio and the myth of his defensive ability has been blown apart in recent weeks.

I think we have to change. We need a manager not just a gaffer.
We need someone who can accept the Nani model but can call some shots in player recruitment to ensure we get the right balance.

This team is currently shockingly lacking in pace apart from Anja and the acceleration Forestieri can deliver to unlock teams .

I believe we need a Malky. He is available go get him. We might then keep some of the players and build a team. If not expect to see him at Norwich or some other aspirational team.

Matt Rowson - 06/05/2014

I don’t disagree with all of this… as the thunks reflect, I’m at best agnostic about Sannino, I’d be delighted to see Malky back and there’s validity in some of your observations.

But you’re being incredibly unbalanced in your assessment of the season. There wasn’t much entertaining about the end of Zola’s reign… a tedious monotony, together with a lack of points, from the home games, is how I remember it. Sannino did steady the ship, whatever else. The defensive record was no myth either, even if it didn’t last and even if it was largely evident at home. We conceded one goal in our first nine home games under Beppe having shipped eleven (and scored two) in the last five under Franco.

You say that Beppe had a stronger hand, but the glaring deficiencies in the squad (pace, as you acknowledge, leadership, options up front) were not addressed – not Beppe’s job. Tozser, yes, solved a problem… but to complain about turgid football and not teasing a flirt at the play-offs given his starting hand is unreasonable.

hornetboy84 - 06/05/2014

Fair comment. And if Sanninio stayed .. I would fully support him . I have never chased a manager out … Not even Perryman. (where I guess on reflection compared to that … I really shouldn’t complain).. And I was away at Uni for the Bassett debacle…

But – we need someone to be at least part manager and have a say/idea/push for the players they want/need. And maybe someone who the players feel is worth hanging around for.

Anyway – let’s move the 1881 into the section of the GT stand beside the away fans … Can stand on the concrete if they forget to put that section in… And hope for a better season. I fear our rivals up the road will have a good season – so it’s time to move on !!

10. Harefield Hornet - 06/05/2014

On a lighter note – fair play to the humour and attitude of the Huddersfield fans who made the journey determined to enjoy themselves whatever the outcome. A 4-1 result obviously helps but the crowd I chatted to after the game were spot on. What a contrast to the nasty charmless morons from Leeds at the end of last saeson!

As for Watford……… Some Czech guy is rumoured to be on his way to replace Sannino. Apparently he was sounded out in December but didn’t want to arrive half way through the season.

Good summer to all!

Matt Rowson - 06/05/2014

“Some Czech guy” is Zdenek Zeman, who has had a long and largely successful career in Italy. I have been advised that that’s an old story recycled…

Harefield Hornet - 07/05/2014

A recycled-recycled rumour then! Apparently favours 4 3 3 and a hi-octane gungho attacking style which considers defending a side-issue. Not suited to grinding out promotion from the championship then!

11. Adam J - 07/05/2014

I read the disallowed goal as the ref blowing for offside before realising that the assistant had in fact given nothing of the sort. Which is a strange one all in all, but would explain the drop-ball and would fit in with a number of other poor decisions on the day.


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