jump to navigation

Watford 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (02/12/2017) 03/12/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5 comments

1- Football isn’t supposed to be played in the summer,   that’s the maxim.  It’s a winter sport.  The mental image of condensation on your breath, scarves and hats, cups of bovril, stamping your feet to keep warm is a romantic one, the clichéd “can they hack it on a December midweek in Stoke” a derisive put-down to your fancy dan foreign types.  They can’t, is the implication.  Not being British obviously makes them inferior because they don’t make them tough wherever it is that they’re from whereas we’ve done it.  We’ve been to Stoke midweek, braved the elements and the parking and the food, and we’re tougher for it.

It’s still bollocks though.  Cold isn’t fun, cold and wet less so.  This is, admittedly, an intro that could have been more aptly stored up until Stoke away midweek in January… but the elements were an overriding consideration today as the clammy damp chill clung to your cheeks and any attempt to make a noise was muffled by suffocating condensation.  It was Spurs at home, a vitriolic bad-tempered affair typical of this fixture, and yet the atmosphere had none of Tuesday’s bravado.  Damp, cold.  Slightly sullen.

2- Our visitors have been going through a bit of a blip, which formed an interesting backstory.  This young team has been flying for a couple of years… genuine title challengers for the first time in recent memory, lively and dynamic. The acid test is always going to be when things start going wrong though, really wrong… yes, of course Spurs have had wobbles over the past couple of seasons but, arguably, not like this. Not a run that has seen them drop out of the top six, however briefly, suddenly hanging on the coat tails of the leading pack.  That’s when the test of character comes, and a side that has had plenty of peevishness about it even when things have been going well – Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose – looks, unsurprisingly, rattled.

Not difficult, either, to attribute Spurs’ vulnerability at set pieces to the absence of Toby Alderweireld.  Certainly we appeared to perceive a vulnerability or a weakness as from the off we were very happy to send the ball into touch and compete toe to toe rather than risk being pulled around by Spurs’ midfield despite our own vulnerability from set pieces.  Little surprise, either, that our opening goal came from a corner, Cleverley’s ball angled in expertly by Kabasele under minimal challenge.

3- By then another of the game’s themes had emerged. Kieran Trippier had a stormer in his Burnley debut against the Hornets in 2011 and has reprised these barnstorming outings at regular intervals since.  He escaped on the right in the first five minutes and sent in a ball slightly in advance of Harry Kane who collided with the post in lunging at it and yet another recurring theme emerged with Kane prone on the turf.

With the Hornets holding a high defensive line and Spurs closing downing our possession high up the field the game became rapidly congested.  Through the damp and cold with scrappy play, bad tempers and tackles flying in it was a mid-table Championship game, if executed by much better players.  The one reliable outball was provided by Spurs leaving Trippier hugging the right touchline and launching hail mary passes in his direction.  It’s to our credit that little came of this, ultimately, but Marvin Zeegelaar was inevitably the man exposed.  He’s done well since coming into the side but wobbled on Tuesday and was horribly exposed this afternoon both by his opponent and by his own limitations.

4- The game was stodgy, and the stodgier it got the more volatile it got.  Much has been made of Martin Atkinson’s display in the middle but in assessing anything the context, the difficulty of the challenge has to be taken into account and in slippery conditions with players clashing frequently this was not an easy one to officiate.  He got things more or less right for me – with one or two exceptions, which we’ll come to – but more or less booked players when he had to and didn’t when he didn’t.  Certainly our first penalty call, of which I was oblivious from the Rookery until Match of the Day, looks a coulda rather than a shoulda on review.  From that incident Spurs broke – down their right, natch – and Son tucked in Eriksen’s cross.  We’d been pulled apart; harsh words were exchanged in the back line and we felt slightly precarious.  It could all have gone downhill from here.

So we should take something from the fact that it didn’t.  Indeed we restricted Spurs, held them at arms’ length and if our defence were aggressive in bullying the Spurs forwards into submission then the fact that the visitors didn’t get anywhere and resorted to sulky theatrics rather justifies the approach.  Nonetheless, the impasse rather suited Spurs better than us, since However Far We’ve Come they were still more likely to pull a goal out of nowhere.

5- That changed with the sending off of Sánchez, again an indisputably correct decision;  a flying elbow in the chops is a flying elbow in the chops, whether or not in contains Andy Carroll levels of malice.  Thereafter we did manage to get on top and to pin Spurs back a bit;  they’ll feel gratified that they kept us at bay with ten men and certainly we didn’t make enough of the situation.  The ball was zipped around, but heaviness of legs and minds maybe contributed to a lack of final ball.  Our closest calls came perhaps from balls bobbling around in the box and not falling for us… Doucouré arced a beautiful strike over the melee and off the inside of the post; Richarlíson rose to meet a deep Femenía cross at the far post and seemed to angle his header perfectly only to find Trippier’s forehead blocking the effort.  The Brazilian acknowledged the defensive effort with a handshake, but will not be sorry to see the back of Trippier who gave him little space all afternoon despite finding plenty of his own.

The penalty appeal changes your perspective a little bit, because we’ve had the possibility of finally beating bloody Spurs snatched from us by a refereeing error.  We’d been knocking on the door increasingly vigorously,  well-judged substitutions having again made us more potent through changes in formation and personnel as well as moving precarious yellow cards from the line of fire. Capoue came on for Kabasele, an extra body in midfield, Carrillo for Pereyra, as ineffective as his predecessor if more visibly so, Gray as an extra striker in the final knockings.  All positive, all aggressive.  Dier’s handball should have rewarded that, it didn’t…

But I think it’s stretching it a bit to argue that we deserved all three points.  Coulda not shoulda again; for all our numerical advantage we hadn’t put Spurs to the sword, hadn’t made enough chances, and had looked the less likely at eleven v eleven.  Nonetheless…  we’re talking about being irritated at not beating Spurs, who maybe be sulky and loathsome but they’re still one of the top sides in the country.

There are worse places to be.  Yooorns.

Gomes 3, Femenía 4, Zeegelaar 2, Mariappa 4, Prödl 3, Kabasele 4, *Doucouré 4*, Cleverley 3, Pereyra 2, Richarlíson 3, Deeney 3

Subs: Capoue (for Kabasele, 64) 3, Carrillo (for Pereyra, 67) 2, Gray (for Cleverley, 88) 0, Wagué, Watson, Janmaat, Karnezis

Advertisements

Newcastle United 0 Watford 3 (25/11/2017) 26/11/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
12 comments

1- It’s a long time since I was last at St. James’ Park.  Previous visits haven’t been particularly enjoyable… in 1992 I experienced my only eviction from a football ground, a very different looking St James’ Park after diabetic hypoglycaemia distorted a conversation with the local constabulary.   And Gerard Lavin got sent off.   Seven years later, ig, Loz and I caught the train up during our ill-fated season in the top flight under GT.  A good day out was rather spoiled by the game in which we struggled manfully, played OK and lost anyway.  A mundane victory for the Magpies, the sort of defeat with a few brownie points but no, like, actual points that that season yielded so often for the Hornets.

How times have changed.  Not just in that we come up to St.James’ Park and win, not just that such a win isn’t a smash and grab or a massive shock in itself, though both of those are remarkable.  The truly monumental thing is that we can come here and not play that well, actually, and win 3-0.  And deserve to. And of course Newcastle themselves have a role in all of the above, they’re not an unmoving benchmark to measure ourselves against; before the game started it was pretty clear that with Newcastle at home but kinda blunt in attack, needing a win against a Side They Ought To Beat against counterattacking as lethal as ours, well…  this wasn’t the least favourable of circumstances to find ourselves in, the least likely of outcomes.   Nonetheless.  Remarkable that, despite the gushing that naturally followed perhaps our most eye catching result thus far, we didn’t play particularly well.

But we won 3-0 anyway.  We are that good.

2- Back to the beginning.  As previous visitors will know, the away “end” at Newcastle isn’t to be braved lightly.  Your vantage point is in the top tier of the Leazes Stand having braved a seemingly endless tunnel of concrete staircases.  Your view of Newcastle (and Gateshead, and Belgium) from up there is pretty spectacular; your Sensible Soccer view of the pitch slightly less so.  The air is thin, and you feel very much like an unwanted guest tucked in a corner out of the way.  The one gents’ lavatory, baffling row labelling and token, indifferent stewards are tantamount to the club looking at their watch and sighing “I suppose you’d better be going?”.  On the up-side, the large screen keeping us company up in the ether chose to display the highlights of a 2-1 defeat here in 1980, a welcome break from the normal diet of swish graphics and montages however arbitrary.

On the pitch we retained the same starting eleven that beat West Ham, one of a couple of changes on the bench seeing Daryl Janmaat’s greater versatility preferred to José Holebas.  One other change just about visible from our distance was a striking white mask sported by Marvin Zeegelaar, protecting whatever Andy Carroll’s elbow left of his nose.

The parallels with the West Ham game were plenty.  Once again, the game looked scruffy to start with;  we weren’t particularly on top, indeed the home side looked more purposeful. Blessed with a little more confidence, more conviction, a sharper cutting edge they’d have had the lead as Joselu spurned a good chance and then Gayle got the ball stuck under his feet as the goal briefly opened up for him.  As against West Ham, we looked get-attable.  As against West Ham Will Hughes popped up with a goal, and the game changed.

3- A fine thing it was, too.  Kabasele hoisted a marvellous diagonal ball to the galloping Zeegelaar on the left, the Dutchman (whose nascent chant, “ooh ah Zeegelaar”, has taken two games to appear, in contrast to to Holebas still waiting after 50) pulled back impeccably for Hughes to sidefoot home.  A merciless goal, the sort of thing that a struggling team concedes and then thinks “oh f*** this”.

Kabasele would be to the fore again as Newcastle regrouped and pushed on towards the end of the half.  It’s been a favoured observation that we’ve done well this season despite (for the most part) the absence of our three best central defenders, but if there was any doubt that Kabasele is now in a back three on merit its surely dispelled after this monstrous performance.  His speed and strength were to the fore in snuffing out the home side’s edgy attempts to get back into it;  in the second half he topped his performance off with an heroic diving block to a Mitrović shot.

We were put under pressure by the home side;  Doucouré and Cleverley, for all the performance’s accolades, were never as dominant as we’ve come to expect this season; Shelvey in particular looked dangerous and Murphy and Ritchie were asking questions.  When we did break, however, it was invariably threatening and invariably down our left.  DeAndre Yedlin has been singled out for criticism, not unreasonably, but more revealing to me was the lack of cover – or botheredness –  provided by Matt Ritchie.  A suggestion, perhaps, of why Bournemouth made the surprising decision to let him move eighteen months ago.

We had acres of space down the left, where Richarlíson would distract but his strength and awareness would release the overlapping wingback.  We got another break just before the interval, another overlap, a lucky deflection and we were two-up.  Slightly flattering, and then at the same time not.  We’d produced the game’s move of high quality, and had exposed our hosts’ limitations.

4- Any grinning sheepishness at our half time lead was dispelled in a second half which showcased our superiority.  As above, a counterattacking side two-up at goal-shy opponents is onto a good thing, the one “but” being that we didn’t capitalise further.

Chief culprit was Andre Gray.  There’s something of the Danny Graham about him in that his relentless movement is valuable to the team, even when he’s not scoring goals.  Tom Cleverley was a chief beneficiary of this during his loan spell however many years ago, and all of our midfield have similarly benefited from Gray dragging defences around. Here, his movement and alertness twice had him through on goal and twice executing extraordinarily feeble finishes breaking in from the left.  We’ve talked about Newcastle’s forwards’ lack of confidence but on both occasions Gray’s finish screamed of a lack of belief.  Perversely, up until now he’s not really wasted too many chances.  Not many bad misses… it’s not as if the way the team plays requires him to be on the end of every move.  Nonetheless, when you splash out a club record fee for a striker and he manages one goal in his first three months or so you expect a little more grace and sense than for him to cup his ear to the crowd as he did after completing the scoring.  In all honesty he’s not had  a lot of stick in the grand scheme of things;  little surprise perhaps that someone so thin-skinned displays such brittle confidence in front of goal.

At the other end, the other key development of the second half was the re-emergence of Sebastian Prödl in place of Miguel Britos, who hadn’t shaken off an injury inflicted by a bizarre foul from Jonjo Shelvey before the interval.  Another marker of How Far We’ve Come that we can do so well despite the absence of our Player of the Season for three months but we didn’t half know he was back.  Suddenly there’s a centreback looking like a centre-back ought to, dwarfing Dwight Gayle, getting his head on crosses, organising his defence with trunk-like arms.  He even thundered forward to drop a ball over Newcastle’s by-now clocked-off defence to provide Gray with his second spurned chance.  Welcome back, Seb.

5- An eye-catching win, then.  Not our best performance of the season by a long chalk, but an effective one in a game that suited us and that demonstrates that we’ve become something quite different, something more than a side punching above our weight by hanging around in the top flight.  We’re not a big club – not like Leeds, say, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday.  Everton.  But we’re a very good, very potent one. Good enough, now, to win 3-0 away from home without being on our game.  Good enough to pick up points from more winnable games that make visits of Man United and Spurs games to be relished.

Yooorns.

Gomes 4, Femenía 3, Zeegelaar 4, Mariappa 4, *Kabasele 5*, Britos 3, Doucouré 4, Cleverley 3, Hughes 4, Richarlíson 4, Gray 3

Subs: Prödl (for Britos, 52) 4, Pereyra (for Richarlíson, 79) 0, Carrillo (for Hughes, 84) 0, Janmaat, Watson, Capoue, Karnezis

Watford 2 West Ham United 0 (19/11/2017) 20/11/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
6 comments

1-  I love the Park Run.  I’ve never been a runner, not my thing at all but it’s become a weekly ritual nonetheless.  A thing we do.  Aching limbs I can do without, but getting your heart rate up is good, being outside early in the morning is good.  Even being humiliated by Daughter 1 as she tolerates my sedate pace throughout and then sprints, sniggering away from her wheezing father as the finishing line at the end of the 5km approaches, that’s good too.  Best of all, the everymanness of it…  all sorts of people are out.  Proper runners, big lumps like me.  Old people, young people, fit people, unfit people, people with dogs, people pushing kids in push chairs.  All manner of football shirts.  This weekend, a gentleman in a checked shirt and business trousers who’d come to stay with friends for the weekend, not planning to run.  It’s the common purpose, the shared intent.  It’s magic.

…and is something that’s common to the football experience, the Watford experience.  Sharing something with a load of people.  Not knowing them individually, not all of them, but having the same purpose.  Wanting the same thing.  I value that too.  And so… anything that threatens that, any strong discord amongst the support, spoils the thing for me.  Perhaps more than the worst possible outcome of the thing causing the discord itself.  This was a concern today, as someone pointed out beforehand.  Given the week we’ve had, the speculation and – in some quarters – mistrust of Marco, what happens if the game goes against us?

2- There was a Sunday afternoon feel about it all, to start with.  A sort of simmering sleepiness.  That lasted a matter of seconds, long enough for Andy Carroll to launch into his typical aggressive, aerial, flailing challenge and take out Marvin Zeegelaar, surprisingly given a debut in preference to Holebas.  Welcome to the Premier League.  Carroll avoided a card, somehow, perhaps by getting his assault in so early that if the “too early to book someone” line ever had any credibility to it he had to get away with it.

The game stopped immediately for prolonged treatment, not for the last time.  A nervous, chill stillness took hold again, edgy shuffling in seats. When the game resumed it was scruffy and shapeless.  There was an ominous purpose about West Ham;  no great quality, but an in-your-faceness that didn’t bode well.  We needed a goal, badly, and with our first proper attack we got one…  more scruffiness in the West Ham area, Will Hughes was alert and finished adroitly.  Perhaps the game would have always ended up the way it did but… this change in tone felt definitive.  We settled, straight away, and looked composed and confident from that point on.

3- Whereas West Ham were a shambles.  It was noted later that this must all have seemed pretty familiar to David Moyes… time will tell whether West Ham go the way of Sunderland, but they’ve certainly got big, smelly problems.  A lingering smell of damp, evidence of knotweed in the flowerbeds.  That early show of determination dissolved with Hughes’ goal and never returned;  there was no energy and little discipline to the Hammers’ play and one, single focus.

Andy Carroll was a parody of himself from the off, a bad tempered flying limb waiting to connect with the back of someone’s head.  Following his early assault on Zeegelaar he picked up a yellow for an off the ball clash with Richarlíson as West Ham adopted the radical and almost novel strategy of testing whether the winger could be bullied into submission.  Later he provoked further ire from the front of the Rookery by seeming to lash out at Adrian Mariappa in pretending to lever himself off the ground.  By this point, West Ham’s discipline had gone, the Hornets well on top… Femenía’s deflected shot snuck past the post, Richarlíson seemed to be able to dance through the Hammers’ defence at will and was twice denied.

And yet we didn’t score, and the Hammers continued to rely on their blunt instrument up front.  We’ve seen this before ourselves, last season more than once… a team low on confidence opting for the easy option to their target man too often.  Carroll, in fairness, is a formidable weapon and if he was too isolated to cause havoc – excepting smacks to the head, punches to the kidneys and so forth – then he was still a threat.  Shortly after our goal his knock down was inches away from a tap-in conversion; later in the half first Kouyaté and then Arnautovic were denied by Gomes’ astonishing reflexes, and a little luck.

4- If there’s a lesson from the last couple of games it’s that for the moment, we’re far from watertight enough to be able to take our foot off the pedal.  Even with a two goal margin.  We miss Chalobah badly, that rock-solid midfield partnership with Doucouré that looked so wonderful early on.  For now… we have to make do with triangles from Doucouré, Hughes and Cleverley whilst wondering how we found ourselves with such a marvellous squad and trying desperately to enjoy it as much as it deserves.

After an interval in which the legendary Ann Swanson made an overdue return to centre stage the second half was ours.  In charge, in control, sometimes toying patiently with the ball in front of opposition that was physically, mentally, emotionally shot, sometimes ripping into them with abandon.  Such was the second goal in which Hughes, who was dynamic and bright and sharp throughout, hurtled onto a loose ball, survived a handball appeal and played in the irrepressible Richarlíson, who the beleaguered Zabaleta got no closer to all night than he did to the better days of his career when he could actually run.  The Brazilian’s finish wasn’t convincing but we’ll take that all day long, heaven knows he’d deserved a goal.  Gray, who ran tirelessly all afternoon, came close twice.  Mariappa had a header pushed away by Hart.  At the other end an acrobatic clearance from Kabasele denied the Hammers, but such threat as they had departed with Carroll midway through the half.

5- As for Marco… well.  It seems clear that we won’t release him from his contract irrespective of the money offered.  The Pozzos, as so often, making the right call… if we’re really aiming to establish ourselves in the top half of the Premier League then we should expect to be at a level where the top clubs want to pinch our best players and, maybe, our coach.  If we capitulate now then game over;  agents, players, clubs will know that a deal will always be done with enough pressure.  Our model could never survive that way.  If Silva wants to leave now he’ll need to break his contract, and can’t expect to walk into Goodison as a consequence.

But that aside, you’d have to say that for all you can understand Silva being tempted by the dramatically increased salary that’s suggested and by a bigger club, if he’s stupid enough to want to go then we might be better off out of it.  He has an awful lot to lose if he forces the issue;  after brief spells at Hull and Watford he’s in danger of accelerating the Peter Principle. If he reaches his level of incompetence at Everton, having walked out on Watford, what then?  If he’s sacked after eighteen months at Goodison, say, will another Watford or Hull be keen to hire damaged goods who have demonstrated a propensity to stray whenever a better offer flutters their eyelashes? On the back of what suddenly looks like fleeting success a couple of years earlier?

It’s not as if Everton is a stable environment, a well-run club in which Silva can expect to flourish.  This is a club who’ve just spunked an extraordinary amount of money on players who play in the same position, a position in which a precocious incumbent already has them pretty well covered.  Your average Football Manager enthusiast doesn’t make that sort of mistake.  Compare and contrast with Watford’s environment under the Pozzos.  Consider the fact that other, bigger clubs than Everton will be looking for a new boss themselves over the next year or so.  To repeat, if he’s stupid enough to force the issue perhaps Everton are welcome to him… though I rather hope and suspect that the worst we’ll suffer from this episode is another load of mind-numbingly fuckwitted commentary, of which the BBC’s Steve Wilson was a surprisingly vacuous case in point.

6- A vital, vital win, obviously.  Yes we’ve played OK for much of those three defeats, but they’re still three defeats and we still had three fixtures on the other side of this one that we wouldn’t have wanted to rely on to break a losing run.  Now, the perspective changes and we look forward to those games in a new light.

Yoorns.

*Gomes 5*, Femenía 4, Zeegelaar 4, Kabasele 4, Mariappa 4, Britos 3, Doucouré 5, Cleverley 4, Hughes 5, Richarlíson 5, Gray 4

Subs: Pereyra (for Hughes, 84) 0, Holebas (for Femenía, 86) 0, Carrillo (for Gray, 90+7) 0, Capoue, Prödl, Okaka, Karnezis

Watford 0 Stoke City 1 (28/10/2017) 29/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
28 comments

1- This was always going to be a different sort of challenge.

After a couple of marquee games from which three points and plenty of kudos was a very reasonable return, the first of three matches against sides who have been a bit rubbish and who have suffered through none of the promoted sides being completely terrible thus far and have consequently been getting edgy.

And much as we tried to convince ourselves that this was going to be a case of New Watford putting a struggling side to the sword, the day hadn’t felt right.  Wonky. Our reserved table set for the wrong number of places at the restaurant.  Harry the Hornet heading resignedly into the Red Lion pre-match.  Empty seats in the stadium.  Lots of them, despite what was officially a 20k+ gate.   And a confused pre-match process involving a bagpipe recital and a minute’s silence in recognition of Remembrance Day in which nobody seemed quite sure what was happening.  Wrong.  Wrong.

2- Two further things went wrong from the off, the one compounding the other.  First, as you’ll have noted, we conceded; on the back of an opening 15 minutes in which we’d utterly dominated possession without getting particularly close to the goal, Darren Fletcher’s strike following the first corner of the game felt like a sucker punch.  Didn’t look great on Gomes however composed the finish and deflection or not; “oh for f***’s sake”, said everyone.  For the sake of your sanity as a spectator you don’t want to be giving this Stoke side a head start.  And if they’re going to get a winner you’d almost rather it came late to spare you what was to follow.

The second thing that had gone wrong had actually gone wrong an hour short of a week earlier.  Given the above, given the very real  possibility of the sort of game that actually transpired, Roberto Pereyra’s lock-picking skills were the last weapon you’d choose to be without.  Étienne Capoue’s inclusion as an extra body in midfield was interpreted by just about everyone in the ground as yet another (last?) chance for the Frenchman to demonstrate that increased competition would coax more urgent, reliable brilliance.  Instead he was particularly culpable in a ponderous first half display that was too easy for the visitors to defend against.  The last thing you need against a side minded to defend deep and strongly and to slow the game down is a midfielder whose instinct is to take an extra touch.

3- Stoke executed an away day mugging thoroughly effectively.  We’ve been on the right end of this sort of thing before and there’s little credibility in begrudging it or criticising it as Marco Silva, slightly disappointingly, did after the game.

But that doesn’t mean you have to like them. There was briefly a suggestion that, post Tony Pulis, Stoke would be pursuing a more refined blueprint.  Instead, this more exalted set of names is utterly callous and brutal and with manager Hughes at the forefront there’s a snide arrogance about it.  At least there’s a humility of sorts, a brazen honesty about Pulis.  There are few redeeming features about this menagerie of trolls and mutants.

The performance began early, as after Kurt Zouma had afforded Richarlíson the Brazilian’s traditional welcome to a game Xherdan Shaqiri followed up with an altogether nastier, sulkier assault.  The young winger has stood up to all such intimidation up until now, but had the poorest game of his fledgling Watford career to date.  He can be forgiven an off-day, but we could really do with a proper winger to provide respite from the bench.  Jack Butland, meanwhile, was wasting time as soon as City took the lead while both Mame Biram Diouf and man of the match Ryan Shawcross belied their tough reputations by inventing assaults and reacting to them accordingly.  Joe Allen was the poster boy for Sexy New Stoke when recruited last summer, evidence of a new ethos at whatever-the-stadium-is-called-now.  Instead he’s gone thoroughly native, a horrible little goblin who spent the game mouthing off at officials and opponents alike whilst making cheap, cowardly tackles in the midfield.  Stoke’s fans will be revelling in an away mugging.  Rightly so, there’s a certain profound joy in such a thing.  But I can’t imagine that this side is one that they’ll look back on fondly – Aidy Boothroyd’s 2007/08 team an obvious comparator.

4- None of which excuses what happened at the end of the game.  Troy Deeney won’t have been the only Hornet in the stadium minded to take the little scrote by the throat, but he’s the captain.  A captain with a colourful past to boot, he’s the last person who could afford to be succumbing to that temptation.  Whilst our record of yellows and reds might not reflect it, one of the less highlighted areas of improvement this season is the side’s discipline but this was a weak and disgraceful reaction from the captain.  I don’t share the confidence expressed elsewhere that the referee having seen and adjudged the incident will prohibit further sanction.

Not that anyone comes out of that little episode well, Mark Hughes least of all.  His typically pious post-match interview reflected in mock outrage at Deeney’s failure to return the ball after Stoke had put it out for a throw-in as befits “the spirit of the game”.  This would be the same spirit that his own side had trampled, spat and grunted over with callous disregard for the previous hour or so, not least when Erik Pieters had collapsed with “cramp” in the incident provoking the conflict only to recover quickly when referee Oliver motioned to call on a trainer.   Oliver himself  did a reasonable job of handling a game that was always volatile, but should have clamped down much quicker on City’s timewasting – blame City’s attitude to “the spirit of the game” rather than the official, but the combination of the two – and our captain’s nerve finally snapping – led to him losing control in the final moments.

5- The second half had been an improvement.  Jack Butland may not have been called to make a save, we were never quite laying siege to the visitors’ goal for all of our 70% possession, but the keeper did make some crucial punched clearances, and other goalbound efforts were denied by defensive blocks some of which – Shawcross a key protagonist here  – reflecting outstanding awareness and some merely volume of big blokes in the area.  Kiko Femenía, not for the first time, was a potent threat frequently overlapping on the right where Carrillo developed a good line in slick through-balls.  Andre Gray came on for Capoue and was lively – he was twice denied by flying blocks.  Richarlíson, for the second week running however, was found wanting in front of goal; he made a bad decision in trying to convert Carrillo’s brave header from too wide, and must have shut his eyes in failing to head in Britos’ cross unchallenged.  Ultimately I think we were worth a point, but taking something from such a position requires wit and/or luck, and we didn’t have enough of either although admittedly Stoke twice broke and could have extended their lead but for a fine save from Gomes – missed by the officials – to deny Berahino and a comical miss by Charlie Adam.

6- A defeat, then and arguably – given the context of Britos’ red card against Brighton and the strength of the opposition against City – our first truly disappointing result of the League season.  We’ll learn much about our already coveted head coach in the fallout… more than one managerial tenure – Alex Neil at Norwich springs to mind – has foundered on an inability to cope with failure once results start going awry.  Silva’s public calling out of Tom Cleverley for failing to close down Darren Fletcher – the same Tom Cleverley so often at the heart of marshalling a defensive set-up against a set piece – doesn’t entirely augur well.

On the plus side, losing to Stoke in miserable fashion has become something of a tradition and as such we’re still ahead of the game – no worse off in comparative terms than we were on Saturday morning.  Getting something from Goodison Park, traditionally a similarly unprofitable fixture, would be most welcome.

Yooorns.

Gomes 3, *Femenía 4*, Holebas 3, Kabasele 3, Britos 3, Carrillo 3, Doucouré 3, Cleverley 4, Capoue 2, Richarlíson 2, Deeney 2

Subs: Gray (for Capoue, 58) 3, Hughes (for Carrillo, 80) 0, Janmaat, Mariappa, Zeegelaar, Watson, Karnezis

Chelsea 4 Watford 2 (21/10/2017) 22/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5 comments

1- “It’s a Saturday building up to Christmas, remember” warned Dad, as his agitation at the vague nature of my travel plans – and his ticket’s travel plans – bubbled.

So much wrong with this statement.  Firstly it’s not bloody building up to Christmas as anyone older than, generously, nine ought to be in no doubt about.  Secondly, even if it were building up to Christmas why on earth would you be thinking about in anticipation of a big game?  Voluntarily?

Seeing as he brought it up we’ll dwell on Christmas very briefly before getting on with the plenty of other stuff that there is to discuss.  This comes in the form of a public service announcement for those of you considering shopping for your necessaries on line during the festive period.  John Lewis has a reputation for excellent customer service.  Don’t believe a bloody word of it.  Lies, lies, lies.  For the second time in the space of twelve months we’ve fallen victim to an aggravating, grotesque combination of  practised incompetence and supercilious dismissiveness.  Seriously.  You’ve been warned.

2- If there’s a way in which the Chelsea matchday experience resembles the Watford matchday experience it’s in the Fulham Road beforehand, a seething artery that channels the masses towards the stadium transforming it into something quite unrecognisable to those who see it on a “normal” day, in much the way as Vicarage Road always feels odd if you chance down it during the week.

Today the October spinning dial that promised sunshine and rain and wind and made preparation next to impossible settled on sunshine, fitting for a rare trip to the Bridge that didn’t  come with the knowledge that we were likely to get stuffed.

We’d made a bright start, Pereyra’s gorgeous flick releasing the flying Femenía for the first of many screaming runs down the right.  This reassured those of us convinced that a game against a talented but emotionally brittle Chelsea would surely be won or lost on the first goal.  Score it, and you could see the anxiety in the host’s stands and team ratchet up.  Concede it and you risk getting overwhelmed by a side needing something to rally behind.

3- We were wrong, as it turned out, but not necessarily entirely so.  Chelsea got that goal but didn’t run away with it…  we’ll never know what would have happened had we scored it.  There’s more to the opener than referee Moss’ inexplicable failure to award a goal kick as Eden Hazard shuttled the ball off…  there’s our brief lapse in concentration, ruthlessly exploited by a quick corner, there’s Pedro’s exquisite finish damn his eyes.  Nonetheless, as the Hornets briefly lost their rag in frustration and the referee briefly lost control, flinging cards around with a flamboyant lack of authority I was thinking about John Lewis Customer Service again;  not much to choose between them and a weak homer of a ref in terms of the sense of impotent vexation that they provoke.

“Cojones” has undoubtedly been the word of the week.  Troy’s interview last Saturday was typically entertaining, his manager’s lukewarm reaction completely understandable, the outraged response of (some) Arsenal supporters simultaneously utterly baffling and not.  Whatever social media’s plusses, giving a megaphone to the witless isn’t one of them.  Whatever…  plenty of cojones in evidence for the rest of the half.  Succumbing either quickly or obstinately is the default in these circumstances but instead, having ridden our luck when the charmless Fabregas was put through, we wrested control of the game back from the home side with the composed patience of those annoying parents who know how to deal with tantrumming children calmly.  Bastards.  The half ended with the peerless Doucouré, top of a strong class in keeping cool under pressure himself, slinging a half-cleared ball inside Courtois’ near post.  The Frenchman sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the air-punching, bellowing yellow corner.

4- The opening twenty minutes or so of the second half saw us showcase the most spectacularly incisive football we’ve played this season.  We barrelled at Chelsea whose defence, exposed by an overrun midfield, backpedalled in panic.  Femenía howled down the right and put in an outrageous cross that Richarlíson should have converted.  A minute later the lower-key but still brutally combative Deeney fed the Brazilian and he found Pereyra who had floated into space at the far post and finished brilliantly, fooling Courtois with his eyes and clipping it over the keeper.  The away end took  a little while to calm down.

We remained on the front foot.  Richarlíson met a perfect Britos cross too strongly and sent a free header wide.  Kabasele had another free header, this time beyond the far post but he didn’t put enough on it to trouble the keeper and would have done better to nod it back across goal.  “We might regret these”, thought everyone.

5- “He lost it with the substitutions,” was the popular insight expressed at the final whistle, by experts both in the stadium and elsewhere.  Quite a lot wrong with this statement too, not least the rather accusative tone towards a manager who is so far in credit that his tab doesn’t even merit checking.  Plenty contributed to this…  principally our failure to make the most of our period of utter superiority in the second half; another goal would surely have precluded any resistance.  Add to that the ongoing absences of Kaboul and Prödl – it could be argued that we’re still missing our best three central defenders, either of these two in particular might have been expected to be able to cope more effectively with the robust threat of sub Batshuayi.  Referee Moss’ hand in the first goal – yes, it’s a long time ago by now but a different game might have followed – and his failure to send of Antonio Rüdiger, already on a yellow, when he aimed a petulant kick at his tormentor Richarlíson’s achilles after the ball had gone are also frustrations.  A final factor, the machinations of the other team so often overlooked in post mortems – the changes they made from the bench created a threat were none had existed prior to their equaliser.

But there’s little doubt that our subs didn’t work.  Watson-for-Deeney is the major bone of contention, although Chelsea were level by the time that switch was made, Batshuayi’s run surprising Britos who was caught flat and beaten to a cross that again stemmed from a quickly taken set piece that we hadn’t anticipated.  Before then Pereyra had limped off to be replaced by Carrillo who, as the hosts began to get desperate, was forced backwards into an unnaturally defensive role.  This factor adds credibility to the Watson substitution – by sticking in a proper defensive midfielder and pushing Richarlíson up you free Carrillo to use his speed to keep the visitors on the back foot.  That it didn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea…  but as it was Carrillo failed to get involved and Watson looked horribly rusty, in part reflecting his own lack of game time and in part the absurdly high standard being set in our engine room this season in which anything less than outrageously good will stand out like a sore thumb.

6- That we lost to the League Champions is horribly frustrating;  personally I sulked most of the way home.  But, you know, there you have it.  That we lost, away at the League Champions having been a goal down despite this, despite that, is a disappointing and that in itself is a marker of our progress.  Marco Silva argues that we deserved to win;  I tend to disagree.  To deserve to win you need to match what your opponent throws at you, and we really didn’t in the last few minutes.

But that doesn’t mean that we weren’t, for the most part, brilliant.  That this isn’t a completely wonderful, loveable, inspiring Watford side.  That we shouldn’t be relishing the next challenge, that of getting the disappointment out of our system in time to lock horns with a capsizing Stoke next Saturday.  That’ll take cojones too.

Yooorns.

Gomes 4, Femenía 5, Holebas 4, Mariappa 4, Kabasele 4, Britos 3, *Doucouré 5*, Cleverley 4, Pereyra 5, Richarlíson 4, Deeney 4

Subs: Carrillo (for Pereyra, 65) 2, Watson (for Deeney, 80) 0, Gray (for Mariappa, 90) 0, Janmaat, Wagué, Capoue, Karnezis

Watford 2 Arsenal 1 (14/10/2017) 15/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
12 comments

1-  The 1980s, then.  You’ll have a position, no doubt.  Mine tends to depend on what mood I’m in and who’s asking.  Dad’s rather dismissive attitude towards anything since the mid-seventies tends to rather force me into a defensive stance citing the icons of my childhood but there’s little reasonable argument in support of Thatcher, big hair bands or velour tracksuits.

This evening featured some 80s flashbacks of its own, some welcome and some less so.  In the latter category, the outbreak of fighting in the Rookery as some witless Arsenal incursion was met aggressively. This was far enough away from us not to be an immediate issue, but close enough for the always anxious Daughter 2 to dwell upon it despite all that happened after. Slightly depressing that the incursion of away fans in home ends that happens in all grounds at most games, mates sitting with mates and so on, is still necessarily low key because of idiots like these.

On the upside.  Well.  The 1980s was by and large a spectacular time to support Watford, as those of us fortunate enough (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) to be impressionable during this period could testify.  We took on all comers.  We had guts, and style, and bravado.  We won games like this.

There’s another eighties nostalgia detail of course, but we’ll get to that…

2-  We’ve noted this before, but if you were to list the things you missed about the Second Division, floodlit matches at the Vic would be up there.  And no, this wasn’t strictly an evening game but the sun was on its way home for “Strictly” and beans on toast by kick-off and the marvellous focused intensity of such occasions was thick in the air.  The 1881’s latest magnificent flag shrouded the Rookery as the teams came out and then rattled back down the stand like an opening curtain on the spectacle.

Team news had revealed Andre Gray back in for Troy, Pereyra for the jet-lagged Carrillo and a switch to a back three with Miguel Britos returning to the fold.  As an aside, telling that already we look at such a change from Silva and trust it instinctively.  Mazzarri never earned that confidence.

The first half was absorbing, if not thrilling.  With Doucouré loping around the pitch and dictating our play we enjoyed more of the possession and territory…  but the visitors’ attacks had more menace about them.  This arose in part because the Gunners pressurised us high up the pitch and forced us to either move backwards or to resort to longer passes that didn’t suit Gray, once again willing and industrious but limited in his effectiveness.  Much of our penetration came through Richarlíson, Pereyra twisting to try to divert a cross goalwards, but we weren’t getting very far.  At the other end the three/five-man defence generally kept Arsenal at arm’s length, resisting the visitors’ efforts to stretch the play by switching flanks, but as the half went on they were getting closer than we were.  Elneny clouted narrowly over, Bellerín flicked a shot wide.  Five minutes before the break when we’d have gratefully taken all square at half time, Per Mertesacker crashed in Xhaka’s corner.  Aggravating…  we’d done enough, only to stuff up on a set piece.  Half time arrived to a backdrop of grumbles about about zonal marking.

3- In such circumstances, going behind avoidably shortly before half time to one of the big sides, you expect the match to pan out a certain way.  That it didn’t reflects upon both sides.  Our lot we’ll get to, though tales of guts and spirit and ability to hurt teams should already be a surprise to nobody.

But as for Arsenal…  it’s no mystery, and no great insight, but this side is completely gutless.  As ever, Troy put it best…

Ability, yes, even allowing for rested stars and injured defenders.  But no spirit, and no leaders.  No leaders for a long time, actually.  Not even the utterly likeable “BFG” Mertesacker, who showed class by treating Richarlíson’s cramp late on in the midst of what had built gradually to an onslaught in the second half.  Mertesacker is an experienced, respected player but he’s not a warrior.  Arsenal haven’t had one of them for an age.  And we have them in spades…

4- Not least the man who came off the bench on the hour for a tour de force.  Critically, Arsenal’s pressing game that had so disrupted our attempts to build an attack had dissipated instantly on their taking the lead.  Throughout the second period we had loads of space… but had still been struggling to make the ball stick.  Richarlíson, the one dependable source of penetration, did a sterling job in the wake of concerted attention, but the arrival of Deeney with that look in his eyes changed the game entirely.

Mertesacker’s first league start for eighteen months has been cited as a silver lining for the visitors, but he was completely unable to cope with Deeney despite his six inch advantage, and very quickly looked like a player who was out of practice.  Troy was in full battle mode, relishing every confrontation, setting down a challenge and finding no takers.  He added glue to our attacking play and those around him thrived on it.

Arsenal weren’t out of it.  Özil came off the bench and was soon significant in counter-attacks that could have seen us put to bed by Iwobi, denied by Gomes, or by the German himself who fluffed a good chance on his weaker foot. But we were on the front foot by midway through the half, to the extent that even a 1-0 defeat would likely have been met with an ovation.  We didn’t roll over, we gave it some.

But we didn’t lose 1-0.  Because from Özil’s miss, we broke…

5- Whether you think it was a penalty depends rather on who you support, I suspect.  Certainly, the definitive condemnation of Richarlíson that accompanies even the more even handed of Arsenal reports already up on the web are ludicrous, since TV replays don’t reveal the extent of the contact, the extent to which he was tripped or exaggerated.

What’s beyond doubt is that tickets win raffles, and so forth.  Richarlíson had been running at Bellerín all night – that doesn’t earn him the right to a penalty if no contact was made, but it does increase the chances of his marker getting his timing wrong just once.  The Brazilian’s treatment this evening was less brutal than it has been in other games where, equally, he has gotten up again and kept going but nonetheless, his irrepressible refusal to take or give his marker a breather means stuff like this will happen.

Arsène Wenger would have done well to remember the penalty Alexis Sanchez earned in generous circumstances in this fixture last season before bleating too much about this one, but I don’t begrudge him his moan.  Indeed, he contributed to what could hardly have been a more comprehensive eighties tribute had he brought Kenny Sansom on to sit on his arse at left back whilst David Bardsley was jetted in from the US to sprint past him.  Again.  The other thing about the eighties, of course, is that We Always Beat The Arsenal….  P14 W9 D1 L4, if you’re counting, that including an FA Cup Quarter Final in our first season up in the second tier, and a relegation season.  This is now our third win in four.

6- Only one team was going to win this.  That’s not to say that it was always coming… indeed when Étienne Capoue’s drive thudded off Mertesacker’s chest and onto a post we’d clocked that this probably wasn’t going to happen, and when Carrillo rushed a good opening to fire over we’d resigned ourselves to a very respectable point.

So the winner was a thing of beauty in it’s scruffiness, exactly the sort of goal that Arsenal would never have scored.  There was finesse in there too, the unstoppable Deeney with the presence of mind to pull back from wide… but mostly it was pinball and determination and bloody-mindedness.  What a joy it was that it was Cleverley, so meriting and so needing a goal, who clouted the decisive strike through the debris of Arsenal’s defence in a manner that recalled his captain against Leicester four years earlier.  The roof came off;  I had a rush of blood and almost fainted.  Daughters one and two screamed uncontrollably.

7- The mood post-match was special, reflecting the value in this win above “mere” three points.  Hands were shaken in the concourse, embraces were shared.  Grins and salutes, no need to articulate this.  Bloody come on.

We go to Stamford Bridge now knowing that even a defeat is likely to leave us in the top six a quarter of the way through the season.  No flash in the pan, this.  Enjoy…

Yoorns.

Gomes 4, Femenía 3, Holebas 5, Mariappa 4, Kabasele 4, Britos 3, Doucouré 5, Cleverley 5, Pereyra 4, Richarlíson 4, Gray 3

Subs:  *Deeney (for Gray, 63) 5*, Carrillo (for Mariappa, 63) 3, Capoue (for Pereyra, 81) 0, Janmaat, Wagué, Watson, Karnezis

West Bromwich Albion 2 Watford 2 (30/09/2017) 01/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.
6 comments

1- Losing your voice.  That’s the one.  That’s when you know that it’s been a belter, that it’s been worthwhile.  Lots of components make up an away day on and off the pitch…  result, performance, excitement.  Journey, company, food.  Some of which might be more important to you and some less, but losing your voice, as a marker, trumps everything.  Doesn’t matter that it was wet, doesn’t matter that I scraped the bloody car again.  It occurred to me as I noticed the rawness in my throat on the way home that this hasn’t happened a lot recently – it used to be a regular thing.  Maybe I shouted more when we were crap, but I’ve never been a ranter and raver.  Maybe I’m getting old; maybe kids demand a degree of decorum.

As for them… they’d been less attentive than usual.  Daughter 2 in particular seems to have fallen out of love with standing on her seat, and so huddled sombrely in the shadows for the most part.  Daughter 1 seemed distracted too, though she was paying enough attention to ask how it was possible to enjoy so much possession and still be behind midway through the second half.  When it happened though… when it happened they were rapt and then as utterly caught up in the explosion of noise and disbelief as the rest of us.  The first proper mental I’ve had this season (I missed Swansea, perhaps that was similar).  Prolonged yelling, bodies flying around, trying to do justice to the beauty of the moment.  Gomes, up for the corner, able to join in the celebration for once. Come on.  Come on!!!

2- All of which seemed very unlikely ninety minutes earlier.  After a strong opening quarter of an hour or so, a quarter of an hour that had seen us dominate possession without, admittedly, getting terribly close to opening the scoring, Albion had taken the lead.  There had been portents of what was to come, long balls out of that resolute defence designed to catch us on our heels…  and one did.  Kabasele, who had had a wobbly start to the game, got into a horrible mess with Mariappa; Rondón, who was otherwise quiet, bundled through regardless, resisted Kabasele’s feeble attempt to batter him out of his stride and finished from a narrow angle.  Three minutes later we were still coming to terms with the shift in the balance of power when Albion’s trademark set piece involving bodies flying into the box saw them extend their lead.

It could have gone badly in so many ways from here.  In fact it has done, many many times.  I like coming to the Hawthorns but our record here over the years has been rubbish. We’ve been in this position before and seen Bob Taylor or Lee Hughes propel Albion into unassailable leads from just such situations.  We looked briefly woebegone and beaten and, with Man City still fresh in our minds, we feared this could get ugly.  Heurelho Gomes bawled at some slack marking from another set piece.  Tom Cleverley bellowed André Carrillo into shambling vaguely towards his charge at a corner.  We waited for the game that tends to follow in such situations to unravel, our hope that it would be over quickly.

3- So that it didn’t turn out that way speaks volumes about our character.  Quality too, obviously;  we regained the initiative and had a ridiculous amount of the ball thereafter, ridiculous enough for a half-attentive eleven year old to remark upon it.  But Albion’s resolute wall of bodies, a wall which executed an impossible number of blocks as we cranked it up in the second half, doesn’t tolerate or permit much quality.  No, it was our character that was tested, our determination, belief, focus.  No half-arsedness here (after that five minute slump…) whatever our limitations and whatever the frustration of yet another attack foundering on an Albion forehead.  It was ferociously bloody-minded and a point was the least that it deserved.

So it started gently… Deeney’s inclusion over Gray reflected the physical demands of the game, not least in defending set pieces given the relative lack of height that our centre back options afforded us, but as highlighted by the closing minutes at Swansea the “partnership” between him and Richarlison looks a natural one.  The first real opening came from them; Troy releasing the Brazilian into the box and his square ball presenting Carrillo with an opportunity that deserved better than being headed over.  Two minutes later Doucouré, our playmaker throughout the afternoon, surged into space to benefit from more good link-up between Deeney and Richarlison to narrow the deficit, a fine finish with his weaker foot.  The noise in the Albion stands, which had briefly reprised the Nyom nonsense that was already tedious by half time last season, died completely and didn’t return until the 85th minute.  The balance of power had changed again, and we were applauded in at the interval.

4- It would be wrong to describe the second half as one way traffic, but the Hornets dominated possession once again.  Pereyra was introduced for Capoue, which proved critical;  the Frenchman had a decent enough hour and had seen one drive deflected narrowly wide but he looks heavy and our ability – once again – to last the full ninety was to be decisive.  Pereyra danced onto the pitch, quickly executed his “wrong footing the stadium” thing and was crucial to our ball retention thereafter. If we weren’t knocking the door down with a sledgehammer then we were rapping repeatedly and annoyingly…

Our midfield misses Chalobah, but I’m surprised and pleased by the fact that it still functions well without him – less dependent on him than suspected.  If a Prödl or a Kaboul might have rendered either of Albion’s goals less likely, then our midfield at least still works… Cleverley a dynamo, Doucouré at the heart of everything, tremendous support from the wings.  José Holebas executed an heroic block to deny McClean in injury time…

5- …preceding the defining instant of the game.  One can only assume that Tony Pulis isn’t a Sheldon fan since his post-match comments were pitiful, borne of a mind aggravated beyond the capacity for rational thought.  I like Albion, and I like the fact that Pulis exists (managing someone else, natch).  I admire the unashamedly uncompromising approach, sucking the life out of a game and trampling on its carcass.  Yes, we dominated possession but got relatively little out of it…  whilst Albion broke once and converted a set piece and were two nil up.  No accident.

But you can’t reasonably complain about timekeeping when your side have been wasting time since the hour mark and had quickly been warned about such behaviour by ref Michael Oliver.  Leave aside the fact that the board is a minimum, not a stick to beat the ref with, leave aside the fact that you’ve still got to defend (as Pulis, in fairness, conceded).  You live by the sword, you die by the sword.  And the smug, cowardly belittling of the official’s decision to award the free kick at all just made Pulis look like an idiot.  McClean telegraphed his intent with a Britos-esque approach and if he stopped short of taking Richarlíson out and went for the ball then he nonetheless scissored him with both leading and trailing legs.  If there’s anything more gratifying than a late equaliser it’s a late equaliser in injury time provoked by timewasting at the hands of a petulant little thug of a winger.  Lovely.

6- So if Pulis is the muppet of the hour, Richarlíson is surely the hero.  As is increasingly the case, Albion attempted to bully the young Brazilian out of the game; Craig Dawson, all trailing arms and late tackles, the prime culprit. As ever, the youngster didn’t give a damn.  Since coming off the bench on the opening day, Richarlíson has missed ten minutes of football – despite being frequently targeted, despite being four months out of his teens. He’s quick and clever but tough and brave too.  Good in the air, yes, what a perfect header but we knew that too.  What today demonstrated was his resilience since he didn’t get it right every time, he did look silly once or twice.  This is a kid in a new country who doesn’t speak the language, if he’d retreated into his shell you’d have forgiven him.  Instead, he provoked this.

The remarkable thing, perhaps the most remarkable thing, the thing that perhaps defines our opening to the season as we head into an international break is that underlying the euphoria and the defiance is a tinge of disappointment.  We went to West Brom, a tough place to go where we’ve such a miserable record.  We went two goals down in traditional circumstances.  We came from behind to salvage a point with a glorious injury time header.  And yet…  and yet.  We should have won.  We know we should have won.

Enjoy the break.  Bring on the Arsenal…

Gomes 3, Femenía 4, Holebas 4, Mariappa 3, Kabasele 2, Doucouré 4, Capoue 3, Carrillo 3, Cleverley 4, *Richarlison 4*, Deeney 3

Subs: Pereyra (for Capoue, 62) 4, Gray (for Carrillo, 75) 3, Karnezis, Janmaat, Britos, Hughes, Watson

 

Toddy 25/09/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

We don’t make a habit of sharing writing responsibilities on these pages, as you’ll know.  Special circumstances demand an exception.  We’ll miss you, Toddy.

As Richarlison burst through Alfie Mawson’s wet lettuce of a tackle and delivered the coup de grace on Saturday, you couldn’t help but wonder what Steve Todd would have made of it all.. Toddy set sail for whatever awaits last week and we’re all going to miss him terribly.

Back in the first Premiership (not, not etc) season a thriving regional supporters group community had built up around the Watford team, specifically on the away days. The Norfolk Hornets, with Toddy and the equally much-missed Steve Brister at the helm, were in the vanguard and The Yellow Experience fanzine regularly reported on the various adventures of Toddy and his crew over the following few seasons.

Later, with Look at the Stars in its pomp, Toddy also bought his unique humour and love of sailing to its pages as part of our ‘Since We Last Wrote’ match reporting. With the focus often on anything other than what actually happened on the pitch, Toddy’s whimsical genius was a perfect ingredient for those pages.

As far as words of tribute go, we could have filled Matt and Ig’s blog with glowing reference and stories of one of our best writers and much-loved shipmate. Instead, we present two of his best articles in his memory and hope his many friends enjoy the memories they invoke. If you’re reading and never met or knew him, take our word for it. You’d have loved him, too.

Sleep well, Cap’n,
Your bitchmaster and flooze
TYE, LATS editors/co-editors 1991-2004

 

Watford 0 Manchester City 6 (16/09/2017) 17/09/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
25 comments

1- So.  Fourth in the League.  Early days, yes, but still.  Fourth in the league.  Cool, huh?

It’s got to the point that analysts have to at least acknowledge us.  This lack of such until now bothers me more than it should… I mean, we obviously get more attention than we used to in the second tier where you sort of tacitly accept that nobody (except those directly affected) gives a stuff.  Being a small fish in the Premier League is aggravating since you’ve gotten to the top table and you expect a degree of focus and recognition and then you have to reconcile this with the fact that, still, nobody gives a stuff. Our role is as straight guys for the big clubs.  Incidental necessities, supporting cast.

But being fourth is different.  It might only earn a “they look good, Watford”, or a “I really like the look of their midfield” from someone who’s at least done ten minutes of research, but it’s something.  And people at work, People Who Don’t Really Like Football and must therefore be treated with a degree of caution, will say “hey, I see Watford are doing well”.  And you try to humour them, knowing that there’s no scope for a proper conversation on the subject, by saying something inane and conversation-ending like “yes, and if we beat Manchester City on Saturday we’ll be top, ho ho”.

The title push might need to wait for another season…

2- This had the air of a free punch given our strong start to the season, the edge taken off our bravado slightly by the paucity of centre-back options with Marco Silva, interestingly, picking out that absence of Kaboul as particularly unfortunate.

City started at high speed and with an immediate intensity, clearly hoping to put us to the sword quickly and perhaps influenced by their midweek fixture – best put this to bed early to save their legs.  We withstood this, owing a little to luck when Agüero fired narrowly wide, a little to Raheem Sterling air-kicking spectacularly, but more to our own resilience.  Christian Kabasele executed a fine, precise tackle in the box to rob Sterling, released by de Bruyne (“a Steve Palmer tackle” said Loz, high praise). Daryl Janmaat’s bravery denied Nicolás Otamendi a far post opener at the expense of a painful looking clash of heads. The rain came down ferociously, but we’d weathered the early storm and ventured upfield ourselves, Richarlison getting on the end of a wicked Holebas free kick but directing his header narrowly wide.  This was a game, and we were very much in it.

3- Until we weren’t.  Three goals in eleven minutes and it’s over. It’s tempting to dwell on refereeing mistakes…  the first and third goals offside, the penalty bizarrely denied to Chalobah after a clumsy challenge by Walker that left no room for misinterpretation, the prevalent suspicion that Taylor and his assistant in front of the GT stand rather steeled themselves against the Hornets in indignation at protest against their errors and were far from even-handed in their dealing with marginal calls.  All irrelevant really.

What’s significant about today’s game is the narrow margins between an unremarkable and even competitive outcome and the mauling that the scoreline suggests.  Goal 3 was clearly offside, Goal 1 less obviously so but both are only revealed by replays;  it pains me to say it, but you have to sympathise with Taylor and co, and say “OK, I can see how they missed that”.  So what you take from that is that City’s timing and movement was absolutely precise, that whatever failings we might have contributed to the two goals the fact that the movement was timed perfectly in balancing advantage with what might be gotten away with, that Agüero’s header was absolutely perfect… combined with the fact that the energy and movement was relentless, maybe they weren’t perfect every time but they were close enough to keep us perpetually on edge.  This was never better illustrated than by the fifth goal; you can argue that someone should have put a more aggressive tackle in, maybe taken Agüero down but the obstacles in his way still required a ridiculous shot to curl towards the goal and bounce in off the inside of the post with just about enough oomph to beat the attentions of Kabasele on the line.  Absolutely merciless precision.

4- It would be wrong to suggest that this was all out of our hands.   Daryl Janmaat, in the build up to the second goal, attempted to reprise Brendon Mason’s achievement of shovelling Gabriel Jesus into the hoardings but the young Brazilian has been in the gym over the summer and dispatched his opponent instead.  Then, instead of charging into the space created and mishitting the cross, or seeing his delivery cleared or a header saved as happens nine times out of ten, City capitalised mercilessly exposing Gomes’ only real error of the game in the process.   So… we made mistakes, we contributed to our downfall but City ruthlessly exploited our failings, teased apart the slightest flaws and poured relentlessly through them.

Superlatives are dull, but I struggle to remember a more impressive team performance.  You’re tempted to say “attacking performance” since we weren’t completely shut out, we did have a few chances particularly early in the second half when Carrillo upped a gear.  But if you can’t get the ball and the opposition attack is so formidable defensive limitations don’t matter so much.  Only the Liverpool side of Barnes and Beardsley stands comparison to my mind, and my only first hand experience of that was against Steve Harrison’s beleaguered side – Harrison, like Elton, present yesterday – which hardly acts as a benchmark.  The movement, the precision, the speed and above all the relentless intensity was quite breathtaking.

5- So if we didn’t do a lot wrong, if the opposition were extraordinary and if (some of) the officiating can be forgiven and certainly wasn’t a determining factor – bad decisions, like bad bounces, need to be accommodated – then we should perhaps be grateful for something to vent our spleen at without reservation.

Regular readers will know that I like a good stat as much as the next man and more than most.  The contribution of StatZone, however, does nothing to add to my match-going experience on the best of days and today certainly wasn’t one of them.  A ticker-tape message bar along the back of the electric ad-boards pointed directly at the stands as if it’s occurred to some marketing guru that making the live experience more like television is easier than the more traditional reverse.  Pre-match and at half time this monstrosity declared:

THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THAT WATFORD HAVE FOUND THEMSELVES INSIDE THE TOP FOUR OF THE ENGLISH TOP-FLIGHT

So much wrong with this sentence. Firstly, trivially, factually incorrect as anyone who remembers as far back as 1983 could tell you.  Secondly, the implicit presumption that football before 1992 doesn’t matter… “OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE” would have been similarly irritating but at least it would have been accurate.  The language… “found themselves” implies an accident, something that’s happened to Watford rather than an achievement, temporary or otherwise.  It comes from the same lexicon as “shrewd signing by” and “share your view” popular in clickbait football websites.  Impersonal, indifferent, banal.  “They look good, Watford”.  You’re talking to supporters, for goodness sake, not the lowest common denominator.

Most of all, if a particular website is rubbish I can choose not to view it, if punditry descends too far into pub-bore twaddle I can turn it off.  I resent this imposition on my match day.  A repulsive development.

6- So we got dicked by City.  Plenty of teams will get dicked by City and whilst the margin of defeat negatively effects our goal difference (early days but a 1-0 defeat would have seen us five places better off) this game doesn’t have to be a disaster.

Our reaction is all important, and will be fascinating as well as potentially determining how our season pans out.  Swansea and West Brom away preceded an international break, followed by Arsenal and Chelsea.  Bring it on.

Yooorns.

Gomes 3, Janmaat 3, Holebas 2, Mariappa 2, Kabasele 3, Chalobah 3, Doucouré 2, Cleverley 3, *Carrillo 3*, Richarlison 3, Gray 2

Subs: Pereyra (for Cleverley, 64) 3, Capoue (for Chalobah, 70) 2, Deeney (for Gray, 74) 2, Wagué, Zeegelaar, Success, Karnezis

Southampton 0 Watford 2 (09/08/2017) 10/09/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
9 comments

1- On Friday night the Palace Theatre played host to the latest Tales from the Vicarage event.  The latest of several, the first I’ve been able to get to.  Adam Leventhal is the host and John Barnes is the guest;  it’s a fine evening for a number of reasons.  Barnes is a relaxed and convivial interviewee if a little too rehearsed, as befits someone practised in talking about his career at such events.  These stock stories are occasionally engaging but impersonal;  only when Leventhal leads him onto less routine ground does Barnes become intimate, earnest and genuinely likeable.  When he talks about the influence Graham Taylor had on his career, something presumably less well covered on the Liverpool circuit, the slick laddish wisecracks disappear and he’s plaintively appealing to his interviewer and the audience, desperate to convey the gravity of his sentiment.

The evening features a recital from the voice(s) of Hornet Heaven  Colin Mace, and the recreation of some photos from back in the day, some of whose subjects have been treated more gently by the passing of time than others.  Most of all though, it’s another opportunity to spend time with Like Minded People.  One of the best things about match day itself, of course.  Diverse opinions on most subjects are to be welcomed, even football, especially football.  But sometimes it’s good to be with people who Understand.  The highlight of the evening is Leventhal orchestrating a series of chorusses of “Yooooorns” before the main man even appears.

2- So to matchday.  And bearing in mind what’s gone immediately before it’s tempting to compare and contrast, this team with that.  A thankless task, a fool’s errand.  Scale of achievement versus shift in standard, a top division now drawing talent from a much wider pool.  The best footage of Barnes is timeless, he would have been a star whatever the era but, more generally, how do you compare?  You can’t penalise the current side for playing in a faster league with better players but you can’t penalise the 1982/83 side, say, for playing when they did either.

Actually, if you spend any more time than it took you to read that paragraph thinking about this nonsense you need another hobby.  Learn a language, take up cookery or something.  Whatever.  Such comparisons are moot, this team needs to compete with the Premier League teams of today not the Watford teams of thirty-five years ago.

But there are some absolutes.  Barnes, as above, is one. A performance like this is another.  An absolute that is what it is irrespective of time.  We’ve played well at times since we’ve been promoted.  We’ve won impressively and deservedly against intimidating opponents.  But we’ve not won like this.  It’s not that we merited the win; that’s beyond dispute but not unique.  It was the way we crushed Southampton between our jaws.  The way that, more than merely deserving to win the game we were much, much better than our opponents.  Play this game a hundred times, we win ninety nine times.  Away to Southampton, a side who it could be argued are a reasonable target for our ambition in some ways. The victory is absolute, awesome, magnificent and magnificently straightforward.

3- The game starts as it’s going to continue.  We’re absolutely in charge and it’s that extraordinary midfield that’s crucial, the rock on which everything else is based.  There’s another historical comparator here;  that Boothroyd team that got promoted in 2006 when, even if we didn’t have the best players man-for-man we had a way of playing and individuals who had been expertly picked to make that system work.  So you had a solid defence and a hard working midfield that could soak up pressure, Foster’s distribution, King’s pace and aggression and so on.  Here, it’s the midfield.  It’s Doucouré striding across the pitch like he owns it (because he does), with adulation thundering from the away end.  It’s Chalobah one moment sashaying into space the next mincing an opponent and emerging with possession and a diffident shrug.  More than once he’s taken down off the ball as the move that he engineered escapes, they can’t live with him.  It’s Cleverley the dynamo, the duracell bunny, he’s fetching and probing and ferrying and providing an option.  This is the bedrock that will continue to provide Richarlison and Carrillo and Pereyra the licence to do whatever the damn they please.

If there’s a problem it’s that we’re on top but not actually creating much.  The 22nd minute’s applause in honour of a Saints fan who recently passed away risked being punctuated by a Richarlison goal as he wriggled into space but otherwise we’d not tested Forster.  Southampton, it should be noted, create nothing either but are holding us at arm’s length and with Femenía twice being caught flat footed by overlaps that went nowhere we don’t look invulnerable early on. Having missed Bournemouth the last win I saw was the West Brom victory and this was reminiscent of that in that we were going to need something special.  So we generated something special.  Half a second before which, Daughter 2 demanded my attention;  I’ve long trained myself to respond to such enquiries as patiently as possible irrespective of timing, for karma purposes.  You’re welcome.  For what it’s worth, she wanted to know whether Emma Watson was an adult or not.

4- We cut and thrust for the rest of the half, trying to capitalise on the spectacular development which had provoked a ferocious reprise of that chant, as if any excuse were necessary.  Chalobah drove at Forster, Doucouré got on the end of another fine move and did the Darren Bazeley thing of trying to recreate his fine strike but this time crashing a volley over the bar.

The second half started, predictably, with a bluster of pressure from the home side.  A bluster of pressure high on energy but short on conviction, the greatest injury we suffered was, predictably enough, injuries to personnel as Kaboul’s hamstring clocked off again and Femenía went off simultaneously.  Aidy Mariappa and Daryl “made of biscuits” (© Mike Parkin, FTRE) Janmaat came on to replace half of our defence and we caught our breath for the first time.

Here, for perhaps the only time in the game, we relied on a little fortune.  The timing of this goal was crucial and in that sense we curtailed any impending kitchen-sinking that the home side might have mustered in response to this development.  As it was, Daryl Janmaat galloped to the edge of the box and clouted a drive beyond Forster.  Game Over;  we stomped all over the rest of the game with Mariappa looking comfortable alongside the majestic Kabasele, who has surely nailed down a starting place over the last couple of fixtures.  If there was going to be another goal it would have been ours; André Gray, who had worked tirelessly and thanklessly throughout, scampered onto a through ball and outmuscled one chaser-back before being outdone by the second.  Carrillo screamed down the right making up a quarter of the pitch outside the touchline such was his momentum before cutting inside, leaving Bertrand on his backside and curling a shot wide.  Troy came on to an ovation and looked more mobile and combative in ten minutes than he has all season so far.  If a Southampton midfielder stuck a nervous head above the parapet, Nathaniel Chalobah stamped on it. It was a full back that finally registered a shot for the home side, Gomes fielded comfortably.

5- Returning to John Barnes, then.  It’s been clear for a long time that kids like mine who have gotten into it over the last few years will be cursed in the same way that those of my generation were.  By the time they realise that Watford Doing Well, scoring goals, winning games, isn’t the default state of affairs it’ll be too late.  There will be no going back.  For all of us…  this suddenly looks like a very special team, and whilst maintaining a Champions’ League position might be a little overambitious there can be no dispute that these are the new good old days.  Enjoy it.  This side looks really rather special.

Yoorns.

Gomes 3, Femenía 3, Holebas 4, Kaboul 4, Kabasele 5, *Chalobah 5*, Doucouré 5, Carrillo 4, Cleverley 5, Richarlison 4, Gray 4

Subs: Mariappa (for Kaboul, 61) 4, Janmaat (for Femenía, 62) 4, Deeney (for Gray, 84) 0, Success, Watson, Capoue, Karnezis