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End of Term Report – Part 1 27/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Heurelho Gomes

Heurelho Gomes, baby.

I enjoy the routine of the twice-weekly general football podcasts.  The tendency of the one to cover the same anecdotes and curios as the other can get a bit wearing, but they pass the time.

Aggravating, though, how little attention they pay.  Really.  Shouldn’t be a surprise perhaps but… you know.  We’ve been in the top flight for four years, you’d hope that we’re worth more than a cursory glance.  One of the two managed to preview the Cup Final for a good ten minutes whilst mentioning the team that weren’t City only once.

So Heurelho Gomes still wears the mantle awarded during the tail end of his first team career at Spurs nearly eight years ago, still a slight intake of breath before mentioning his name.  This despite his since being part of a promotion-winning side, a squad that is about to go into its fifth season in the top flight, winning Player of the Season in that first, unlikeliest mid-table campaign. All of this in the shadow of his White Hart Lane career.

Whatever.  Gomes has been tremendous during his time at Vicarage Road, even if not enough people have been paying attention.  What looks likely to prove his final season has seen him step backwards into a backup/cup ties role.  It speaks volumes for him that not only has he done so with good grace, but he has clearly been hugely supportive of the man signed to take his place in what has been a tightly-knit goalkeeping sub-team of three.

Next Season:  It would be a shame if Gomes’ career was concluded with a 6-0 mauling in the Cup Final, and the club clearly hope to persuade him to stay on… even if the number of goalkeepers in The List suggests that we’re not counting on succeeding.

2- Daryl Janmaat

It seems slightly peculiar that not so long ago right back was deemed a problem position.  That we were convinced that Daryl was a wingback, that he wasn’t solid enough to be a proper defender.

Now… you might consider right back as a position where we could realistically upgrade but nonetheless, the real question is how we’ve managed to get away with keeping Daryl and Kiko in tandem for so long. Both probably better going forward, Daryl’s approach is the rhinoceros to Kiko’s fleet sidewinder… but similarly capable options in defence, the days when Daryl wasn’t solid enough all but forgotten.

Nonetheless, it’s been clear as the season has progressed that Daryl is the second in line of the two as it stands. Unreasonable to expect him to be happy at much especially since, like his teammate on the other side of the defence, he rarely looks happy about anything much.

Next Season:  Stories throughout the season have had Daryl first suggesting that he’d want to return to Feyenoord “at some stage”, and then that he’d be heading back this summer.  The cup final, in which he was confined to the sub’s bench, may have been a tipping point.

3- Miguel Britos

The funny thing about Miguel is that he’s always been on the way out.  Sent off on his debut against Preston three and a half years ago, a Uruguayan centre half is certainly a reputation to play down…  then the violent assault on Anthony Knockaert, the absolute skinning he took at Anfield in the stuffing-before-last up there.  Those are probably the things that stand out if you saw them live.

The latter particularly harsh of course.  Plenty of defenders have been skinned at Anfield without going into the game on the back of four months out of the side.  And yet if opinion didn’t turn against Britos he was certainly relegated to the role of backup pretty damn sharpish, despite what had been a solid enough career as a left-sided option to that point.

To the extent that Miguel’s thoroughly competent performances in his outings this season were viewed with some surprise… and indeed, made you wonder whether he’d perhaps been too quickly discarded.  Injuries have contributed, but he has made only three League starts since getting injured in the 3-0 win at Newcastle in November 2017: away to Liverpool, City and United, which is hardly an easy brief.  Otherwise he excelled in three away trips in the cup, each of which yielding a clean sheet and reminded you how brutally but unflashily effective he has been for much of his senior Watford career.

Next Season:  Which would now seem to be over, with Miguel’s contract about to end and him having been quoted as expressing a desire to return to Uruguay for family barbecues.  Which paints a picture of a regular down-to-earth guy;  best of luck to him.  It’s probably the right time, but we’re still the weaker for his departure.

5- Sebastian Prödl

Completing the opening quartet is another who could conceivably be on his way out.  It’s not his age – Seb will turn 32 over the summer.  It’s probably not the knee injury either, much as that seems to have kept him out for most of the season (or not, depending on who you believe) – his senior outings this term the win at Reading, plus 13 aborted minutes at Molineux, this in October his last action of any kind.

The real problem with Seb is that, much as he’s a strong centre-half he’s not much bloody use to you unless he’s a first choice.  Whilst he’s had some very strong spells at Vicarage Road – indeed, a very strong 2016/17 that saw him named Player of the Season – these very strong spells have exclusively been when he’s established in the side.  Almost without exception he’s looked a cumbersome mess coming off the bench, or stepping in after a long spell out.  As such, and pending any changes over the summer, it seems unlikely that he’ll work his way back into contention.

Next Season:  Not difficult to see Seb returning either to Austria or the Bundesliga over the summer.

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Helping Hands 2018/2019 23/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
6 comments

In the wake of Saturday it doesn’t hurt to look back on what has been a very decent season by any reasonable standards.  As in the previous eleven years of this article it’s an entirely selfish pursuit;  I enjoy watching all the goals again and compiling it, you probably know this stuff already if it’s your Sort Of Thing.  Nonetheless…  pausing only briefly to reiterate the generous definitions that I apply to an “assist” (the last pass, obviously, but also the shot that was parried for a follow-up, being taken down for a penalty, both the flick-on to a cross AND the cross itself, and so on) we continue….

The first name to pick out is of course the one at the top of the table, the magificent José Holebas.  Whilst the quality of our set piece deliveries is occasionally grumbled about there’s little doubt that a left back who can provide seven assists, “proper” assists mind… crosses and that…  not to mention three goals, a lot of charging up and down the flank like a loon and a whole load of yellow cards at the age of 34 is a fine, fine thing.

Just behind him Abdoulaye Doucouré is at a healthy 6, up from only 3 last season.  Significant, perhaps, that last season’s 3 came at the very end of the campaign under Javi Gracia, who has tended to field Capoue rather than Doucouré as the deeper sitting of the two central midfielders.

Gerard Deulofeu comes in at 5 having missed the first two and a half months of the season, despite which three of the five came before the turn of the year. Also on five Roberto Pereyra; all but one of his assists (and all of his goals) came in 2018 but while his goals were largely at Vicarage Road, all but one of his assists came away from home.

Further down the list, Étienne Capoue had his best assist tally of his four seasons at Vicarage Road despite holding down a deeper midfield role; his three assists compare to four in his first three seasons here.  Kiko Femenía meanwhile yielded a slightly disappointing two after none last year, a slightly disappointing return for his furious overlapping.

Otherwise, most notable are curios in the appearance list.  It astonishes me that Stefano Okaka made as many as three sub appearances before his return to Italy.  Tom Cleverley had his injury problems, but it’s still a little startling that he made fewer starts than Domingos Quina, similarly that backup left back Adam Masina managed practically as many starts as first teamer Andre Gray.

Will return soon with the End of Term Report.  Enjoy the summer…

 

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Holebas 7 31+1 3 BHA (H), BHA (H), TOT (H), TOT (H), CHE (H), CPA (A), TOT (A)
Doucouré 6 37+3 5 BUR (A), MAU (H), WOL (A), WOL (A), CAR (H), CAR (A)
Deulofeu 5 28+5 12 SOT (A), MAC (H), CAR (H), CAR (A), LEI (H)
Pereyra 5 36+0 6 EVE (A), EVE (A), WHU (A), WHU (A), CPA (H – FAC)
Hughes 5 37+3 3 FUL (A), NEW (A – FAC), EVE (H), CAR (A), FUL (H)
Deeney 4 32+5 11 BUR (A), CAR (A), LEI (H), MAC (A)
Sema 3 12+10 1 CAR (H), BOU (A), WOK (A – FAC)
Masina 3 15+5 0 REA (A – LC), HUD (H), WOK (A – FAC)
Gray 3 16+18 9 FUL (H), FUL (H), WOL (N – FAC)
Capoue 3 37+2 4 CPA (H), HUD (H), CAR (A)
Janmaat 2 20+2 0 CPA (H), SOU (H)
Femenía 2 27+7 1 TOT (A – LC), HUD (H)
Cleverley 1 6+11 1 QPR (A – FAC)
Quina 1 7+6 2 NEW (A – FAC)
Success 1 13+22 4 MAU (A)
Mariappa 1 25+7 0 TOT (A – LC)
Cathcart 1 40+1 3 CP (H – FAC)
Okaka 0 0+3 0
Peñaranda 0 1+1 0
Prödl 0 1+1 0
Navarro 0 3+2 0
Wilmot 0 4+2 0
Britos 0 5+1 0
Chalobah 0 7+6 0
Gomes 0 8 0
Kabasele 0 20+3 0
Foster 0 38 0

Check out the 2017-18, 2016-172015-162014-152013-142012-132011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents by clicking on the links.

The List 2019. 21/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
2 comments

The List.  Your summer record of players linked with the Hornets since the close of the January window, a list that will be kept up to date throughout the summer so bookmark if you Like This Sort Of Thing.  A very low bar of credibility is employed, but a mere “I think Watford should sign…” falls below it.  Previous windows’ lists linked at foot of article.

* Indicates player linked in previous windows

Running Total: 35

IN

Yacine Brahimi (Porto)*
Marcus Thuram (Guingamp)*
Enock Kwateng (Nantes)
Gustavo (Corinthians)
Lincoln (Flamengo)
Martinelli (Ituaro)                                                 – joined Arsenal
Goncalo Cardoso (Boavista)
Robert Skov (Copenhagen)
Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)
Noel Törnqvist (Halmia)
Josh King (Bournemouth)
Robin Olsen (Roma)
Harvey White (QPR)
Vincenzo Grifo (Hoffenheim)
Marko Malenica (Osijek)
Joe Allen (Stoke)
Pawel Bochniewicz (Udinese)
Birger Verstraete (Gent)
Mady Camara (Olympiacos)
Sergi Enrich (Eibar)
Jack Butland (Stoke City)
Pape Gueye (Le Havre)
Joe Lolley (Nottingham Forest)
Gian Marco Ferrari (Sassuolo)
Pedro Rebocho (Guingamp)
Kenny Lala (Strasbourg)
Remi Oudin (Reims)
Victor Osimhen (Wolfsburg)
Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield)
Cristian Zapata (Milan)*
Matt Clarke (Portsmouth)*
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Juanpe Ramírez (Girona)
Dorukhan Toköz (Beşiktaş)
Cristian Pavón (Boca Juniors)

OUT
Roberto Pereyra (Torino*, Milan)
Gerard Deulofeu (Milan*, Dortmund)
Tommie Hoban (Aberdeen)
Daniel Bachmann (Rangers, VfB Stuttgart, Hannover 96)
Jerome Sinclair (Oxford United)
Andre Gray (Rangers)
Dodi Lukebakio (Schalke, RB Leipzig, Lyon, Düsseldorf, Lille)
Alex Jakubiak (Bristol Rovers)
Tom Leighton (Celtic)
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Arsenal*)
Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord)

 

2019 January
2018 Summer January
2017 Summer January
2016 Summer January
2015 Summer

 

Manchester City 6 Watford 0 (18/05/2019) 19/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
39 comments

1- Amongst the early morning deluge of excited messages, my brother’s resonated the most.  9:30 am, “I’m here!  Erm… would anyone like a drink? (Got a bit excited and left Leeds at 4)”.  The rest of us weren’t due to be at the Railway in West Hampstead for another three and a half hours.

By which time it was rammed and unlike on our previous visit a month ago spillage onto surrounding pavements was not permitted, the first sign that Things Might Not Go Well.  It was cramped and uncomfortable, consistent with the prevailing nervous anxiety borne of anticipation of what could happen and fear of what might a few hours later.

But there’s people.  Some in sky blue, most in yellow. Strangers to share a snatched conversation, familiar people, people you’ve not seen for a while, for years, looming out of the past and sharing a word, smiling and pumping fists and then disappearing again.  Wembley Way (strictly, “The Olympic Way”), when we get there, is the same but more so.

The evangelical gentleman who looks like something from the Life of Brian, is still there hanging optimistically over a railing as he was prior to the semi final.  There’s more security here too;  more safety cordons, checks of tickets and bags that hadn’t been a complication last time and are rendered problematic by both the dissipation of our party (with me still in nervous custody of many tickets) and the Cup Final Ice Creams that Daughters 1 and 2 have demanded and which are still occupying hand space as we try to turn a carrier bag full of waterproofs into something not involving a carrier bag. Also, there’s Fuzz…

…who has dressed for the occasion and made relatively slow progress in consequence with multiple requests for selfies and media intrusion.  Next time Fuzz, get an agent.

As we make our way around the right hand side of the stadium, there’s no escaping that this is becoming rather familiar.  In part down to our (still) newly elevated status, in part due to Spurs, and in very large part due to the fact that the semi was played here too…  an exploitative nonsense that has almost become accepted and slipped behind other exploitative nonsense in the grand scheme of things.  On the subject of which, and whilst recognising that it can be painfully, lazily, stupidly easy to blame the woes of the world on a remote and intangible power-wielding entity (heaven knows…), it would be remiss not to acknowledge the disgraceful ticket prices.  Shameful.  It’s the Cup Final… it’s supposed to be a big deal, fine.  Demand is high, fine.  But that the girls’ season tickets cost a comparable amount to their cup final tickets for very decent but far from top priced seats speaks volumes about the organisational body’s sense of priorities (and that of our club, fair play to them).

2-  Abide with Me.  Anthem.  We’re at the front of the top tier, at “right back” in the first half.  As an aside, I’m advised that Z-cars got a couple of airings – during which time I was attending to assorted requirements including £2.50 for a half-litre bottle of water poured into a flimsy plastic pint glass, twice – but hurrah for that (Z-cars, not the exorbitant water).

And then, the football.

We knew it was a tall order.  No, we didn’t need to be better than Manchester City (budgets, payroll, blah blah), just to beat them on the day.  Nonetheless a tall order which, were it to be realised would need the little things to go for us.  So… most obviously, Pereyra’s chance.  We’ve started 4-5-1 and we look concentrated and organised…  yes, City are coming at us like a wave from the off but their attacks are breaking on the rocks of our defence, particularly the excellent Mariappa, and they begin to look a bit stodgy and immobile.  And then suddenly we get a break and Gerry’s off, and City are scrambling and – let’s not lose sight of this in the cloud of what’s to follow – we may not be in the same league as City but we’re still a bloody good side.  This is a devastating counter-attack, supremely executed as Pereyra has found space in the middle and Deulofeu finds him superbly.  And… there’s Ederson, out like a train.  We needed him to be asleep.  Or… we needed Pereyra to somehow flick the ball over the advancing keeper – that he didn’t is no failing, not really… it was a chance denied, not wasted, but we were going to need that to go for us.  We knew it at the time, much more so later as Guardiola would candidly acknowledge.  We score that, it’s a different game.

Then the penalty shout.  No, I don’t think it was a penalty either but it could have been, VAR or no VAR.  Kompany’s turning away from the ball but it’s not quite ball to hand.  It could plausibly have been given.  It wasn’t.  That’s another one we needed to go for us.  Doucs knows and reacts accordingly, you wonder whether this train of thought is going through the players’ heads too.

And then the opening goal.  No, not offside.  Felt it, felt like it might have been, wasn’t.  Yet another example of City’s merciless timing… right on the edge, pushing it to the limit, but onside.  And there’s a little push by Silva on Kiko – who should already have done better in an aerial contest – but nonetheless, a little push.  It’s critical, Kiko’s off balance briefly and doesn’t have time to recover.  But you don’t get those, certainly not today.

3- The first possible criticism is the apparent lack of aggression.  If you’re the underdog, if you’re in this situation then you surely want to give it some welly.  To get stuck in, to win the 50/50s.  Lack of physical competitiveness has rarely been a criticism levelled at this Watford side but… it is here.  As we rock on our heels at a second goal, expertly crafted and cruelly on top of the first it’s only Gerard Deulofeu of all people who’s getting stuck in… and briefly you’d really rather he didn’t as his waspish energy is frustrated, badly directed and precarious.

In balance, however…  that criticism has to come with caveats.  There was a clear game plan for one thing, a good one.  Sit deep, keep your shape, smother.  Jumping into tackles looks good but players with feet this quick will exploit the holes you leave behind when the challenge is dodged by a quick pass or slight of foot.  Hell, look at what happens later in the game when we push on a bit.  So…  yes.  You’d have hoped for more bullying.  More doing something to upset City.  But let’s not pretend that this was a magic bullet, that but for this everything would have been different.  There was a reason for us setting up as we did – good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes, least of all against this lot.  The half ends with a show of defiance from the wonderful Holebas, who is robbed when trying to play an inswinging cross from the right and briefly we’re in trouble again… until he snarls into a challenge to critically reclaim possession having hared a third of the length of the pitch.  We’re rallied by this.  In my pocket however, misplaced during the cordon complications described earlier, the lucky chocolate has all melted.

4- The other possible criticism is that we played it too open in the second period.  That by moving from 4-5-1 to, effectively, 4-3-3 we surrendered the initiative to City, that we made it too easy for them to rip us apart on the counterattack which they promptly did.

Again, I’ve got some sympathy with the decision.  Yes, it was high risk and no, it patently didn’t work.  But for fifteen minutes of the second half we were on top, the more assertive side.  Will Hughes is scurrying everywhere, Gerry is making great sweeping runs from right to left across the face of the defence who scatter like ninepins, Troy is suddenly winning every aerial challenge.  Slightly dazed, someone whispers that City’s defence really isn’t very good, is it?  You know, good at defending?  Which sounds perverse, but… frankly they don’t need to be very good.  You’ve got to get the ball first for one thing, then you’ve got to hold onto it under the manic midfield pressing.  But if you get past that lot… they’re fallible.  Genuinely fallible.  And this is why going on the front foot is the only option.  Against perhaps any other side you’d say “look, 2-0 and we’re not out of it.  Keep it tight, grab a goal, game on”.  Here, though… you rather fancy that it was a choice between losing 3-0 and the outside possibility of tipping the balance with a high risk of things going very wrong.  And we know what happened.  But I’m pretty comfortable with the decision, still…  it’s still 2-0 after an hour and we’ve made City look uncomfortable.

4- And then they score again.  And it’s de Bruyne, out of nothing, on the break.  And it’s cruel, and what follows feels kind of inevitable, so we’ll draw a curtain over it.

Except.  Except.  Except that at 5-0, something remarkable happens.  We’ve been loud, in general, and in defiance of the scoreline.  Louder than a month ago, louder than City, the grim memory of the Palace play off now surely dismissed.  Because at 5-0 the songs start to thunder and the flags start to wave  and suddenly the away end is a torrent of yellow and red as flags get frantically waved.  I destroy two, the second of which floats down to the posh seats below as it detaches from its pole. It’s breathtaking and emotional.  All clubs boast that they have “the best support”… I’ve got a Sheffield Wednesday supporting mate who genuinely believes that the Owls’ nineteen-year absence from the top flight is the result of a conspiracy borne of the establishment’s fear of the insurmountable advantage offered by the Hillsborough crowd.

But this isn’t about “best”.  This isn’t about anyone else.  This is about pride in who and what we are, pride in what the team has achieved relative to precedent and expectation, and – most of all – about the fact that the result of one game doesn’t affect that.  As per the preview piece winning is important, but it’s very far from everything.  It’s not even the most important thing.

Digressing slightly, the same goes for Manchester City.  Better informed people than me have written extensively on the questionable source of City’s largesse.  The morality of it, the cleanliness of it, the within-the-rulesness of it.  And it’s clear that many City supporters have reacted incredibly defensively to this which… is wrong, in itself.  You should at least be able to question things objectively.  But the critical detail is in what it is that you actually support.  If some malevolent psychotic took over Watford in the future… not a Bassini, someone far far worse…  you would be uncomfortable with it, you would withdraw your custom in extremis.  But…  you’d still believe in that thing, that whatever-it-is that you support which remains unsullied by association with idiots or crooks.  The same goes for City, irrespective of what you believe of their ownership.  Their fans might revel in the magnificence of the team, but independent of that they believe in a Thing, their Thing.  Quite right too.  It transpires (see below) that the defiance in the Watford end, which continues unabated throughout the sixth goal, is met with a standing ovation from the Sky Blue end.  Well done everyone, the 1881 not least.

5- It takes bloody ages to get out.  I miss our medals, and the trophy, as daughter 2 has an urgent requirement… karma has long since left the building, but nonetheless she’s pretty desperate.  A fair old slog later we’re getting on a Thameslink train at West Hampstead in need of somewhere for a quiet, brief sulk.

So being greeted by loud cheers from three beered-up fifty-something Luton fans on the adjacent table was something that we could have done without.  In the event it could have gone far worse… one of them even passed on the Cup Final programme that he’d acquired from somewhere to daughter 2, whilst awkwardly warning me to erase the expletives that adorned the yellow-and-black side of the cover.  They exited at Luton Airport Parkway, and we finally got our quiet sulk.

But really…  is there that much to sulk about?  Being Watford’s a fine thing, even if we did get humped in the Cup Final.  We’re stable, secure.  Mid-table in the top flight of all things, going into our fifth consecutive season at the top table.

And “another 35 years”?  That kind of logic only holds any water if you believe this to be a random process.  Like… the roll of a dice, the toss of a coin.  A chance event determined only by probability.  That’s not reality, our relative success, undoubted success compared to our historical peers, isn’t random… it’s based on the decisions and the actions of all sorts of very good, very competent people.  All of these things change the odds, affect the outcome.

We didn’t win this time.  Next time might be different, and it might be soon.

Enjoy the summer.

Yooorns.

Gomes 2, Femenía 3, Holebas 3, Cathcart 3, Mariappa 4, *Hughes 4*, Doucouré 3, Capoue 3, Pereyra 2, Deulofeu 3, Deeney 3
Subs: Success (for Pereyra, 66) 3, Gray (for Deulofeu, 66) 2, Cleverley (for Hughes, 73) 2, Janmaat, Masina, Kabasele, Foster

Something for the Weekend 16/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

1- No, I didn’t do one for bloody West Ham.  Partly because it was Sunday and then Monday and stuff.  Partly because, well, you know.  Because it was a miserable end to the League season, a League season that deserved rather better than for us to slip into the bottom half at the death having spent most of it comfortably in the top.  One point ahead of Crystal Palace, I ask you.

I’d made two crucial errors beforehand, incidentally.  One was to venture the opinion that Chris Kavanagh was one of the best refs in the top flight, based on a handful of games’ exposure so far (I think I’d still stand by that, shoot me).  The other, when an ever more curious Daughter 1 enquired who the worst ref I’d ever seen was was to explain Roger Milford to her without a moment’s self consciousness or apprehension.

Goes without saying, largely because you’ve surely already said it, that the lifting of José’s suspension was the moment the mood turned.  That it suddenly felt as if fate wasn’t loading the bases against us. That’s great, that José can play, the mad bastard. Whatever happens. Then when the Tube strike was cancelled the stars really began to align.  Now we all believe again, wholeheartedly.

2- So, 1984 then.  I remember some stuff.  Granddad queuing up for tickets while we waited in Germany.  Some lads pushing in in front of him, he missed out.  Don’t know whether I remember that, or whether I remember remembering it.  Anyway… Tom Walley called round to apologise on behalf of the club.  Granddad stayed affronted.  Don’t know what happened to that stubborn gene by the way.

We got tickets in the end, I was with my mate Andrew behind one goal.  Eating very salty crisps that had been mashed to smithereens in transit.  On the way, the tube had been yellow, obviously.  Then an Everton fan, a lone Everton fan, got on somewhere and in self-deprecating fashion started an Everton chant to predictable but good-natured response.  No twitter in those days to polarise opinions, no keyboard warriors.  If you had a barney with someone you didn’t send him a pithy or abusive message, you punched him in the face.  Probably.

There was some very odd pre-match entertainment that involved two remote controlled planes, one yellow, one blue, each trying to knock the aerial off the other.  The blue plane won.  And I remember both goals being down in front of us but…  that can’t be right…

And since?  Well.  Mum and Dad would use the day’s starting eleven as a gauge of quite how bad my diabetic hypoglycemia was.  Not sure why.  I could get as far as Paul Atkinson (on for Price, 58 minutes) while my arms shook and my legs gave way.  And the digits “1984” have been in stock use as go-to components of low security passwords and access codes since, well, 1984 I guess.

But not any more, I guess.  The day after tomorrow.  Blimey.

3- The quite magnificent From the Rookery End pondered this week what would happen if we, you know, actually win? What is there left to play for, to aim at, once you’ve realised perhaps the peak of your ambition… Cup winners, Europe?

There’s the midweek trip to Cluj or Helsingborgs or Salzburg of course. There’s that. But beyond that… and here’s the thing, and I’ve banged on about this before so please indulge me… I think the old chestnut, the Radio 5 favourite, “fans just want to watch their team win” is utter nonsense. Fans do want to watch their teams win, of course they do, but more than that…

Fans just want to watch their team. Period.  Has watching Watford suffered from the fact that we’ve not won a major trophy?  Sure, we all want that but… if it was all about the winning we’d have packed this in long ago.  If watching football was all about the football, well…   a lot of it has been crap, frankly.  Less so over the last few years, sure.  But…  folk watch lower division football, non-league football.  There are fewer of them per team, in general, sure.  But they don’t care any less.

So the things that we cherish about Watford will still be there (“including Z-cars, hopefully”, he mutters under his breath).  People, places, smells, sights, sounds.  Feelings, memories. “Watfordness”…  Dad relates how, stranded at university in 1970 he wrote to Ron Rollitt pleading poverty and asking for help in getting to the Semi against Chelsea.  Rollitt sent him a ticket.  “Pay me back when you can, son”. That. That’s what we return to, win or lose.  Hurrah for that.

4- Manchester City, though.  They’re a bit good.  Having said all of the above, my word of course we want to win, of course the very possibility is thrilling.  But, you know, Manchester City.  Retained the league title with a stupid number of points.  An almost balletic team at times, so in sync that their goals are calibrated to be on the very edge of offside, timed to perfection.

Here’s one thing.  There have always been good teams, and there have always been teams that have had more money than other teams.  No, not always this good.  No, not always this much money.  But in general terms it was ever thus.  City are the 1980s Liverpool, the 1990s United.  And, you know.  Wimbledon.  Southampton, grey kits and that.

Here’s another thing.  In life there’s stuff you can do something about.  There’s stuff you can’t do something about.  So…  and here’s the trick….  the things you can’t do anything about, you don’t worry about.  So City are good.  Fine, whatever.  The things you can affect, you affect, and then you stop worrying.  Back to Troy’s maxim in this magnificent club compilation – and yes it really is worth half an hour of your time, even if it’s got Dave in it – that what upset him about Palace 2013 was not the losing, not really.  It was the not turning up.

So let’s turn up.

5- Because, you know.  What if we win?  Yes, we’re underdogs.  But at least we’re that.  Any club in the country would love to be that right now, certainly Wolves who, whatever your attitude after three eventful games will be watching on nervously, telling themselves that this is something they can’t affect, because they can’t affect it, but worrying anyway.

It’s in our hands.  We can affect it. And if we win.  If we win.  Where will you be?  Me?  Near the front of the top tier.  With daughters 1 and 2.  Dad.  My brother Will.  ig, Loz, Paul, the Irish mob.  Bacon, Sarah, John, Lowenna, Fuzz.

Going absolutely mental.  Shouting my head off.  Making new memories.

Bring it on.

 

 

Chelsea 3 Watford 0 (05/05/2019) 06/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
9 comments

1- This is going to sound absurd… but I’m beginning to wonder whether a lifetime’s worth of accumulated superstition has really got very much going for it.

I know, I know.  I’ve been turning the rational arguments over and over inside my head…  “It would have been so much worse if I hadn’t…” and so forth.  And logic dictates that this must true.  Nonetheless…  when a day’s dutiful parentage on Saturday in deliberate avoidance of football scores is rewarded by watching Wolves and bloody West Ham win on Match of the Day in an abandoned, darkened living room at midnight.  When the carefully measured decision to walk from Blackfriars to Stamford Bridge on the south bank of the Thames for the most part (the north bank walk having been unrewarded by our FA Cup defeat four years ago) is met with such a disappointing outcome.  Ditto lucky hornet socks, lucky Pretenders t-shirt.

When lucky half-time lucky chocolate, that most dependable of precautions, is rewarded by an unheralded burst of both energy and goals from our hosts at the onset of the second half…  well.  You have to begin to wonder how much influence one has on the outcome of a football match after all.

I’m sure I’ll regain some perspective by next week.

2- To be fair, and as was reflected by a venerable Chelsea panel in the tube afterwards, we started the game as unlike a side preoccupied with the Cup Final as it’s possible to imagine.  We were lively, assertive and direct, pinning the home side back with some verve and energy.

Troy helps, of course.  Troy always helps.  Pre-match speculation considered the possibility that he’d been kept in a cage for a fortnight, fed on raw meat and forced to ponder the consequences of his reckless if harshly punished forearm swing.  Either he was going to pummel Chelsea’s threadbare defence into the ground or get himself sent off (again).

Actually he did neither, but this was still a dominant 45 minutes for the centre forward.  The first chance, his flick on to Deulofeu who drove wide, was painfully easy against a flabby, dozy Chelsea and he had the beating of Christensen in the air for most of the game and certainly the half.  The footnote, as ever, is that we didn’t capitalise on our early superiority, as you’ll have noticed… a recurring theme against the top sides.  Set aside that spanking at Anfield and the win over Spurs and you have ten games (ten!) that to varying degrees has seen us compete in a close game that we’ve lost anyway.  Certainly Stamford Bridge regulars will have enjoyed our visits in recent years… everybody likes a plucky loser, this the third game on the trot here that we’ve worn that mantle.

Troy’s best attempt was the closest we came to altering that narrative, a short corner routine working the ball back to the lurking Holebas, whose near-post missile found Deeney’s forehead.  It wasn’t just top corner it was past the goalkeeper, until he athletically clawed it onto the post by, unconventionally, reaching up to it with his “furthest” left arm from underneath it.  A fine stop.

3- Meanwhile, Nathaniel Chalobah has finally engineered a start and fittingly it’s at Stamford Bridge whose denizens greet him almost as appreciatively as we do and applaud him off on his substitution an hour or so later (but see “plucky loser” note above).  It’s easy to forget that the Doucouré/Chalobah midfield partnership was the foundation of our fine start under Marco Silva last season (Caps managed only half an hour off the bench before Nate’s knee injury) and here, finally, it was resurrected.

And not quite to the same devastating effect.  Nate is more than adequate on the ball… tidy, efficient, and with an ability to take a touch and launch a quick and wrong-footing pass that only he had spotted that is unparalleled in our squad.  Off the ball however…  Capoue is a daunting benchmark to measure him against, but too often he was found chasing an escaping opponent as the home side gradually came into the match in the last fifteen minutes of the half.  Marco Silva’s early midfield had the ferreting Tom Cleverley at its apex too of course; Nate’s been out a while but the pairing looked less robust than we have of late.

Chelsea had provided threat on the break earlier in the half.  Mapps capped a strong 45 minutes with a sturdy challenge to deny the rotund Argentine, his near-post block even denying a corner.  As the home side asserted more control it was Ruben Loftus-Cheek, an early sub for the injured Kanté, who drove them on but although your heart was in your mouth whenever Hazard picked the ball up we were largely comfortable.  Only Pedro’s late sledgehammer of a shot caused palpitations;  we were buoyant at half-time after good halves from the bubbly Hughes and the assertive Femenía in particular.

4- I tempted fate at the break by tweeting about how much fun we were all having.  Five minutes in and we weren’t having fun at all;  a visibly more energised, vigorous Chelsea side engineered a couple of set pieces and suddenly the game was disappearing over the horizon.  So unwarranted and so frustrating.  Unwarranted… not because you don’t deserve to concede goals when you don’t pick people up at set pieces but more because this miserably indolent Chelsea side and similarly dozy support had done so little to earn it whilst our best efforts went unrewarded.  No, I know that’s not how it works.

Again, there’s an angle which says “so we binned it.  At 2-0 down we shrugged and let our minds drift forward a couple of weeks”.  I didn’t see that. No lack of effort anyway, no lack of commitment on or off the pitch; a couple of minutes of sulking and we were back at it.  Certainly Abdoulaye Doucouré has had better games, games that didn’t involve him being quite so slack with possession.  Certainly Will Hughes was less impactful in the second half than the first; that’s a recurring theme though, one that pre-dates the semi final and that doesn’t generally include a running spat with Marcos Alonso that a lesser referee than the excellent and unfussy Tierney might have penalised.

But no lack of effort.  Just effectiveness.  And frankly nothing we didn’t already know here… our midfield, shorn of its most effective component, still looks excellent, our full backs are tremendous, our attacking play has lots of nice things going for it but a clinical touch isn’t one of them… Deulofeu shoots narrowly wide, Jose Holebas bundles across the area before slugging over with his weaker right foot.  And certainly we could do with strengthening at centre half, where the dependable Craig Cathcart is suddenly less so for the first time this season;  giving Higuain the half-hour’s head start required to get beyond you takes some doing, his finish was exemplary and then, yes, our heads did drop.  When the mercurial Pereyra slung a cross in only for our own man to block it inadvertently on the line and subs Success and Gray contrive to get an offside call out of turning in the rebound, you knew it wasn’t our day.

5- I’m minded to think back to Sven-Göran Eriksson’s World Cup campaigns in 2002 and 2006.  Not that, in the grand scheme of things I cared all that much… I mean, give me the choice between an England World Cup win and the consequent witless nationalistic outpouring and, you know, Watford winning a throw-in in a pre-season friendly and the throw-in is in strong contention.

Nonetheless.  Both campaigns saw England knocked out in the quarter finals and thus having come somewhere between fifth and eighth in the World, and both were presented and reported as failures, at least in the immediate aftermath.  Patently nonsense.  Patently grotesequely oversimplified nonsense, as if there really is nothing but winning and (anything less than winning equals) losing.  Quarter Final defeat was not what had been hoped from a strong squad but it was no worse than par.

The same is true here.  It was already clear before today that we weren’t going to finish seventh, but seventh was merely the peak of our ambitions in the League this season and not making it doesn’t make it a failure.  Even ignoring that May 18th thing, mid-table in the Premier League and all the fun we’ve had on the way isn’t a bad place to be.

Which doesn’t mean it’s enough.  Doesn’t mean we’re bashfully appreciating our seat at the big table, still grateful for the crumbs being thrown our way. But there’s space for recognising progress.  After all, to get too het up about losing seventh place, let alone losing to Chelsea, would suggest that we believed that this was an isolated opportunity.  That our club’s presence in the top half all season is as anomalous and inexplicable as much of those commenting with their fingers up their backsides believe it to be.

That the club isn’t being run by people who will continue to build and nurture it along its current trajectory.

Ha.

Yooorns.

Foster 3, *Femenía 4*, Holebas 3, Cathcart 2, Mariappa 3, Hughes 3, Doucouré 3, Chalobah 3, Pereyra 2, Deulofeu 3, Deeney 4
Subs: Cleverley (for Chalobah, 67) 2, Gray (for Deeney, 83) 0, Success (for Deulofeu, 83) 0, Janmaat, Kabasele, Masina, Gomes

Watford 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 (27/04/2019) 28/04/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
30 comments

1- Probably best to start off by stating what should be obvious.  There is absolutely no justification in being anything but delighted with this season.   With the unflinching trajectory of the club, league position, cup final, stadium, team, head coach, and so on.  None at all.

Nonetheless.  Me writing this report is the equivalent of Charlie Austin being interviewed at the end of the game at St Mary’s earlier in the season, presumably when his press officer had nipped to the loo or something.  I could really do with a day or so to get things into perspective such that I could put some feeling into the words above, say them with my heart as well as my head.  Thing is, if I don’t write it now this one’s going to go the same way as the abandoned Huddersfield report, such is life unfortunately.

(Seeing as we lost, based on previous evidence, none of you buggers are going to be reading this anyway so it doesn’t much matter what I write I guess.  I could wander off into any number of alternative topics and see whether anyone notices.  I’ve got a new patio, how’s that?  And I’m watching Quicksand on Netflix which is great, and reading a book on the History of Germany which is better. No?)

Suffice to say I’m pissed off.  I know it’s not fair or balanced, but I’m in a sulk.  And only partly because of the knowledge that having wondered, at 2-0 down at Wembley, how my co-editor always manages to dodge the miserable ones in allocation of blogging duties.  A legendary finish (mine) and two underwhelming home games later (his), there was something karmic about this one.

2- Not that it was unexpected, in all honesty.  A more limited team than Wolves exposed our lack of a target man on Tuesday night to good effect, today was hardly going to be any different.  Amidst all the pondering about Which Team Is Equipped For Europe (media consensus: Not Watford, obviously), the fact that we have excellent cover throughout most of the side whilst Wolves have fielded the same eleven for much of the season has been missed.

Nonetheless, the player we could least afford to lose for, effectively, four games was Troy.  He’s the one.  Not the best player in the side, perhaps, but the one we are least equipped to cope without.  It was harsh, yes, the red card.  He made it possible too, undoubtedly.  Equally beyond doubt that, like Ben Foster and Craig Cathcart he’s well, well in credit.  “People who do things make mistakes”.  We’ve paid heavily for this one…  at least three points across the four games by any reasonable reckoning.

So, the welcome return of the mad Greek bastard at left back notwithstanding, there was a sense of trepidation before kick off as the vicious wind whipped around the stadium, holding up the flags and threatening to carry Daughter Two away.  We should have had the psychological edge of course… after all, we won the bloody semi final, not to mention that fine victory at Molineux earlier in the season.  Three of our five goals against Wolves before today made it into the twice-repeated reel of Goal of the Season contenders… the fourth would have been my choice, given the option.

But from the moment that a Wolves fan on Vicarage Road turned his back on the ground pre-game, stuck his arms in the air, raised his head to the skies and bellowed “Two-nil, and we f***ed it oop!” the boot was on the other foot.

And that’s before we even get to the lack of Z-cars…

3- The line being drawn between the dismissal of Z-cars as the run-out tune and our subsequent run of one point from three home games is clearly a nonsense.  Nonetheless, and irrespective of whether for you, individually,  Z-cars is a bizarre anachronism whose removal is either overdue or an irrelevance, or something that matters deeply, something that is evocative of matchday and that subconsciously sets your spine tingling, the decision to switch it now, at this stage, was a particularly witless one.

As the teams run out you want to rouse the crowd.  What you don’t want is grown men gently booing at each other, albeit with smiles on their faces, or expletives peppering the applause.  It doesn’t need to piss everyone off to be disruptive.  For those who miss it, it kicks off the game with resentment and negativity.  Not the way to inspire noisy support at a critical time of the season.

Football?  Oh, OK then.

3- It’s a very even, competitive game throughout and played to a very high standard albeit one we’ve gotten used to.  There’s a certain caginess about the first half in particular… certainly no suggestion that we’re going to pile forward and invite Wolves to counter-attack, as is their wont.  Wolves, in fact, have more possession early on but we have perhaps the best chance as Deulofeu scampers through but declines to shoot on his weaker foot and the chance goes.

The swirling wind is making life interesting at both ends;  Andre Gray does a better job of holding the ball up, opting for flick-ons and spins rather than taking on the monstrous Boly in a physical battle, whilst Mariappa marshalls our own dogged and disciplined backline.

Clear chances, shots on goal, are few and far between.  It really isn’t that sort of game at all.  Boistrous and engaging yes.  Thrill a minute, no.  Not until half an hour in was there a serious goalscoring chance, Jiménez coming close to scoring but for an insane goalline clearance from the peerless Capoue, who stomped all over the midfield for much of the game.  Rúben Neves chased referee Simon Hooper back up the pitch in remonstration and should probably have been booked for sheer stupidity.

But eventually Wolves did get the lead, and in common with the other two goals in the game it was essentially a cock-up, Pereyra failing to adequately contest a ball on the edge of the box, Jota capitalising and Jiménez tucking home.  As on Tuesday Andre Gray had the chance to equalise almost immediately and again he didn’t take it, a great first touch seeming to take him clear before he lashed a hurried shot wide when he appeared to have time to take it in on goal.  Half time, grumbling.  The girls are both exhausted and miserable.

4- So the gift at the start of the second half was most welcome.  There’s something to be read into the fact that so many were still in the bowels of the stand and missed it, both daughters included…  one minute Wolves are knocking it airily around the back line, the next Gerard Deulofeu is being presented with a red carpet to goal.  He doesn’t quite capitalise, but he does enough… Andre Gray tucks in the rebound to the Spaniard’s blocked shot.

And for a while it was all a lot of fun. Like when you were at school and a disciplinarian teacher nips off to the staff room to pick up something he’s forgotten and the class runs riot in his absence, here both sides suddenly abandoned the shackles and went for each other.  This should have suited Wolves of course, this is What They Do…. but actually we looked more of a threat on the counter than the visitors did.  For all their defensive organisation they really don’t like being run at, and we did plenty of that;  twice we had shouts for a penalty kick, the first of which provoking particularly animated protests from Will Hughes and Deulofeu after the former went down on the edge of the box.  Difficult to see from our angle.

So it felt as if fate had been kind to us.  Given us a break, and we were making the most of it.  A more open game, yes, and we were far from all over them, of course but… the better side.  In the ascendency.  In spite of grim portents and a limited first half, seventh placed was looming back into view.

5- Good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes.  Heaven knows Javi has proven his mettle with tactical surgery countless times this season.  But on any level this change was odd…   removing the energetic Hughes to bring in an extra centre back.  A conservative move, aimed at making us more solid and matching up Wolves’ formation but…  given that we were on top, an odd choice leaving Gracia open to criticism, particularly as it was followed so closely by the decisive goal.  Perhaps it played no part, perhaps the fact that Jota was afforded so much space to apply a finish after Foster flapped at Neves’ fine deep cross was nothing to do with altered formations but the wheels had visibly spun off in the brief period between the sub and the goal.  We were suddenly losing control of a game that we had previously been more than competing in.

6- A second change followed, changing the formation again.  I’ve since read suggestions that Cathcart limped off – self-evidently we could do without that.  Either way we went back to a flat back four, (or three, since Christian Kabasele spent the brief kitchen-sinky bit as a surrogate centre forward).  It never looked like happening.

As an aside, one has to ponder on the future of both Isaac Success and Nathaniel Chalobah.  The former stuffed up possession immediately after his introduction and vanished thereafter, bereft of confidence;  I would have had him front and centre rather than wide having helped turn the tide from that position after another late introduction on Tuesday simply by virtue of knocking people over.  As for Chalobah… fitness questions or no he’s not only fallen behind both Cleverley and Quina, he’s not being seen as an option when he’s on the bench and we need something, his propensity for a quick clever pass not trusted.  This strikes me as a crying shame.

7- So… from a position where seventh was in our control we are now needing snookers, and dropping into the bottom half at the expense of West Ham a likelier outcome, another crying shame.  Fortunately Javi’s post-match reflections were defiant enough to suggest that we’re not binning off the rest of the League programme just yet.  Hurrah, and so forth.  I’ll be bloody-minded and positive again by the time Stamford Bridge comes around. Promise.

As for Z-cars…  well it does matter to me, as you’ve probably gathered.  I’m in that camp.  Because… whilst it obviously matters far less than, you know, us actually being good at football I almost feel I could cope without the latter to a greater extent?  Because… the ups and downs are kind of how it’s always been and much as I love us being great, love us being as great as we are, I know I can cope with us being a bit shit too because we’ve all been there.  I don’t wish it, far from it, and I know that just like Troy and Ben and Craig the club are well in credit and have done lots more right than wrong…  but Z Cars is part of the pillar that’s a constant.  The pillar that I lean and rely on, as so many of us do.  So it feels more permanent and painful when it’s taken away.

So I’ll close with a picture that sums up another part of that constant pillar.  It would, should have been a cornerstone of that Huddersfield report but, you know, stuff happens.

See you at Chelsea.  Yoooorns.

 

Foster 2, Femenía 3, Holebas 3, Cathcart 3, Mariappa 3, Hughes 3, *Capoue 5*, Doucouré 4, Pereyra 3, Deulofeu 3, Gray 3
Subs: Kabasele (for Hughes, 74) 2, Success (for Cathcart, 82) 0, Janmaat, Sema, Chalobah, Masina, Gomes

Watford 1 Southampton 1 (23/04/2019) 24/04/2019

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
17 comments

0. Look, we might as well be up front about it: this isn’t going to be nearly as much fun as the Arsenal report. If you want to go and read that again instead of sticking around here, I won’t blame you. Might even join you in a while. The problem with Arsenal is that they make everything else seem a bit less worthy of scorn; it becomes that much more difficult to be disdainful about other things and really mean it. (And I’m still writing about them now, you see. And that’s essentially because writing about them makes me happy in a way that, with all due deference, writing about Southampton never will. And writing about this game definitely won’t.)

1. Southampton were a thing a while back, if you recall. It’s tempting – because, hey, I’m trying, even though it’s gone midnight and there’s a really bloody irritating metallic rattle on this train carriage – to come up with some kind of mid-life crisis metaphor for their recent dalliances, for the series of bad-tempered implosions that’ve taken them from being Other Cup finalists to relegation strugglers. Except that a mid-life crisis usually involves wildness and impulse and a quest for lost youth, whereas Southampton rather went about it the other way, selling their collection of sports cars and investing in a series of grey second-hand hatchbacks, including one with rather a lot of miles on the clock and a really annoying whining noise when it goes round corners. Succession planning is so vital these days; the time when lining up a manager’s replacement was considered to be poor form has long gone. We can’t claim to have got it right every time ourselves, of course, but…Mark Hughes. I mean…Mark Hughes. You know? Mark Hughes.

It’s quite nice to see them vaguely enjoying themselves again, if I’m honest. Up to a point, anyway. Kindred spirits are pretty hard to find in the Premier League. It’s like one of those networking events where you scan the room desperately looking for a friendly face; you know that Burnley are going to be there and you don’t want to get stuck listening to them grumbling all evening. You know that someone’s going to mistake you for Bournemouth too. Again. And that Everton are going to steal your nice new coat if you don’t keep an eye on it. You can fill in the rest of the metaphor yourselves, if you wish. There’ll be a prize for the best one. (There won’t.)

It’d be pushing the point to claim any great likeness with Southampton, for our underlying approaches are very different, and our histories too, but you’d be happy enough to chat with them over a mushroom vol-au-vent if you had to. It’s hard to wish them significant ill, which is a rare quality among our competitors. They do their level best to change that situation over the course of this particular evening, but I’m a forgiving sort and I’ll let it go.

2. I spent Monday afternoon in a crowd of eight hundred or so watching Hastings take on Ashford. Third versus fourth, four goals, one red card, an outfield player in goal, a street drumming troupe, a large and rowdy away contingent with a lot of inflatables, and a five-year-old with a grievance to air about the length of the queue for chips. For a while, Ashford attacked a goal with an inflatable, um, lady perched atop its netting. It was fun, in that way Hastings has of suggesting that things might tip over into total anarchy without very much of a nudge. Vicarage Road seems rather ordered and genteel by comparison, especially as there’s barely anyone here with ten minutes to go. It gradually fills up. Everyone needs to get a move on, though, as there’s about to be a….

3. Goal. Southampton arrive having done that annoying thing of being absolute bobbins only three days ago, thereby making us the object of their “reaction”. Even they can’t have dreamt of being gifted the opener within eight seconds, Craig Cathcart too slow to control and clear the ball, Shane Long smothering, racing clear and lifting a nonchalant finish into the top corner.

There isn’t anything else to say about it. There’s nothing to analyse, no context to place it in. We find ourselves in the novel position of being a goal down without having played any football. The game remains a blank canvas. The needle has still to hit the record. The fat lady’s alarm clock hasn’t even gone off. We haven’t even put in planning permission for the stable, let alone built it, let alone put a horse in it, let alone…oh, you get the idea.

There’s the usual grumbling and grousing, of course, but we haven’t yet found out how we’re actually playing, that’s my point. We kick off again, and were it not for the jubilant away section, you might easily believe that you’d imagined the whole thing.

(And no, it isn’t a bloody record. Not a proper one, anyway. Football didn’t start in 1992. And yes, I would still be saying that if we’d scored it.)

4. For ten minutes or so, we react exactly as you’d hope. We get the ball down, seek a rhythm, pretend that it’s still goalless. We have, after all, still got eighty-nine minutes and fifty-two seconds to get ourselves level and beyond. It’s true that we’ll spend about a third of that watching Southampton fannying about over throw-ins and goal kicks, but even so, no reason to panic just yet.

We ought to be level almost immediately, as Will Hughes’ cross finds Andre Gray; his finish is unconvincing, though, and Gunn is able to save. The next step up, should we make it, involves those kind of chances going in on a more regular basis: for all our failings here, we’d have won this with more ruthless finishing. Undeservedly so, of course, but the league table doesn’t care about that. It’s like a money box; it’ll accept other kids’ lunch money without judgement. Gerard Deulofeu curls narrowly wide from the left of the area. We’re doing fine. It’ll come.

5. It doesn’t come. Gradually, steadily, we stop doing fine. It becomes Southampton’s game, one in which they sit deep and invite us to choose between playing through a clogged midfield or lobbing it long to the ghost of Troy Deeney, and then hit us on the break when whichever of those options we pick inevitably and repeatedly fails. They look a very capable side, well-organised and punchy; Ralph Hasenhüttl has them in far better shape than their league position suggests, even if he does look like someone who’d try to get a bit too familiar with your wife on a skiing holiday. (I’ve never been on a skiing holiday, but I know what goes on.)

We disintegrate somewhat. And then we disintegrate some more. Long heads wide, then Long heads over, then Ben Foster makes a full-stretch save to push away a Redmond cross-shot; those two are a menace, quick and direct, and we can’t contain them, especially on the left side of our back four where Masina and Cathcart suddenly look like giraffes on rollerskates. Masina gets the wrong side of Long and when the ball comes across to Redmond, he’s herded wide by Foster and hits the outside of the post. The same bit of woodwork is struck again by Bertrand shortly afterwards after we’re undone on that side once more, and a half that began with a bit of a mishap has really been allowed to get completely out of hand. Abdoulaye Doucouré gets beaten on the wing and simply hacks his man down.

Deulofeu twists, turns and drives narrowly wide, but the sight of Deeney making his way around the touchline towards the dressing room speaks volumes; it isn’t his leadership we lack, in truth, but his sheer physical presence. Or both. It’s probably both. Whatever, Southampton are increasingly comfortable.

6. Javi Gracia acts at half-time, matching the visitors by switching to a back three via the withdrawal of Cathcart. To be more accurate, it’s a back one: Christian Kabasele plus whoever happens to be around to help out. The result is that so many players end up ‘taking one for the team’ that it’s quite hard to keep track of whether there’s anyone left who can do a shift rugby-tackling a Southampton forward. Mike Dean doesn’t struggle to thrust himself into the spotlight, put it that way. It isn’t pretty. It’s just about effective, though, in keeping us in the contest in spite of increasing numbers being committed forward. For all the threat of a break, Foster is only called into action once, beating away a Ward-Prowse free kick.

The obvious lack of a target man remains, and impatience grows at the reluctance to introduce Isaac Success. We’re forced into the long ball much more than we’d like, with predictably indifferent results; Andre Gray is not involved at all for long periods, Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu run into dead-ends in positions too deep to be truly threatening. Southampton are on the defensive, unquestionably. Equally unquestionably, though, they remain comfortable. The difficulty is that no amount of squeezing our eyes tight shut and wishing really hard will turn Isaac Success into an effective line-leader. The substitution ought to be a no-brainer, given the pattern of the game. But it isn’t. It’s a brainer. Unwilling to sacrifice a player who’s actively involved, we wait. And we wait.

7. But sometimes, it isn’t really about what you do. Sometimes, it’s just about being there. When the substitution is finally made, Success wins little, does little. But he’s there, and the shift in gravity is subtle but tangible. We are dragged forward, Southampton are pushed further back. The ball begins to fall to Pereyra and Deulofeu in areas that spark their interest a little more. And Southampton are suddenly a little less comfortable.

And through all of this, we’ve kept our heads. We haven’t played very well. Haven’t played very well at all, lacking both fluency and intensity in comparison with our opponents. (I don’t want to get carried away here, for I’ve seen a lot worse, against a lot worse.) But we’ve stayed in the contest, just about. We’re still at the races, even if we’ve spent much of the time in the queue for the toilets. We’ve avoided turning this into the game in which we’re buried on the break; we’ve avoided turning it into the one in which we’re down to ten men too.

We waste what appears to be a key chance, Pereyra scuffing a feeble shot at the keeper with a couple of minutes left. That looked like it was the moment, gone. But then the ball drops to Andre Gray and he squeezes it into the top corner past Gunn and we have ourselves a very valuable point. Not one that you’d want to look upon with any great pride, but still. With one last effort, we avoid turning this into the game where we concede another in injury time and lose anyway.

8. It’s a funny old night, really. Funny old game, funny old night. The celebration of the imminent Elton John biopic is rather awkward and misjudged, at least in parts. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of half-time nonsense, especially with John Barnes involved and some season tickets up for grabs. It isn’t my cup of tea, but we all find our fun in different ways and we often find other people’s fun a bit cringeworthy.

The pre-match banner, though, makes me recoil. It goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway: what the 1881, with the club’s support, have achieved is nothing short of staggering. The atmosphere at Vicarage Road is transformed, springing from a source of genuine positivity even when things aren’t going to plan; we should take our hats off to everyone involved in making that happen. It also goes without saying that we are in eternal debt to Elton John. And last on the list of disclaimers: it also goes without saying that there are countless reasons to applaud those currently running the club.

But the Rookery is not an advertising hoarding for hire; it isn’t a giant projection screen. Something was lost last night, and it was the sense of something being built from the ground up, of a community expressing itself. We’re here because we’re Watford fans; that’s what binds us together, it’s what divides us sometimes too. Nothing else.

It isn’t like Elton needs our help with something that he’s cobbled together himself and posted up on Bandcamp. Paramount Studios are not a DIY punk collective. Let’s not kid ourselves: this is a corporate promotion campaign.

So, no. Perhaps it all comes from good intentions, but…no.

And we’ll have Z-Cars back too, please.

*Foster 4*, Masina 2, Cathcart 2, Kabasele 3, Janmaat 3, Doucouré 2, Hughes 3, Capoue 3, Pereyra 2, Deulofeu 3, Gray 2
Subs: Femenia (for Cathcart, 45) 3, Success (for Hughes, 77) 3, Gomes, Britos, Mariappa, Sema, Chalobah

Watford 0 Arsenal 1 (15/04/2019) 16/04/2019

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
15 comments

1. I spent most of my student years experimenting with being a bit of a twat, as you do. Small-time stuff, no pigs’ heads. A great deal of drinking, ridiculous clothes, long hair, bad poetry, questionable personal hygiene, all very much part of the curriculum. That really toxic combination of brittle arrogance and piercing insecurity which tends to define those years.

I built much of my new life around pompous and outlandish opinions on music, only some of which I’ve since abandoned. At one point following a particularly vital evening, I remember declaring The End Of Music and entering into a kind of monastic silence, if monastic silences involved not listening to your Fall tapes for a week or so. I’m pretty certain that the cause of The End Of Music was a Heresy gig at the Fulham Greyhound, so perhaps not, with hindsight, my generation’s equivalent of the Beatles at Shea Stadium. (That said, my nineteen-year-old self absolutely insists that I point out, preferably at length, how great Heresy were in their prime. And he’s right, they really were. But we shouldn’t indulge him here: he needs to get a hair cut, a bath and a girlfriend.)

2. While it’s true that nobody has gone so far as to compare it to Heresy at the Greyhound in nineteen-eighty-whatever, our trip to Wembley last weekend was nonetheless momentous. It certainly felt like The End Of Football, even if the whole point was actually more football, another date on the end of the fixture list. A league fixture, even against Arsenal, even with the prospect of European football, seems curiously carefree after all that. Everyone’s smiling. Who could’ve imagined that watching a football match while actually breathing could seem such a pleasure.

Much is often made of teams having nothing to play for as the season winds up. A bit too much, I think. For every team that dials down the intensity – and we’ve been no strangers to the beach ourselves, obviously – there’s another that benefits from a release of pressure. There’s a sense in which victory over Wolves has made us untouchable, and yet little sense that we’ll be content to rest on our laurels from now until the final. (I’m going to type that again, just because I can: From Now Until The Final.) Places at stake, of course, but more than that: this is a team which has discovered how far hard work, with a scattering of pixie dust, can actually take you.

The majority of Graham Taylor’s most successful players, of either era, experienced the pinnacles of their careers at Watford. We all did it together, but they bought into it, at least partly, because it was a passport out of the lower divisions. That isn’t the case this time around. The real triumph of this season has been to reconnect the modern reality of the Premier League with a basic idea of Watford Football Club, of what it is in our heads and hearts, of what it once was in Graham Taylor’s imagination. It’s true that times have changed, and we’re not going to bump into Etienne Capoue in Our Price. But it feels as if this is a group of players which understands – or has been made to understand, whatever – why this football club actually matters. (A small part of why it matters is Z-Cars, incidentally. Hands off.)

3. Arsenal feel like the perfect opponents for this moment. They have, after all, won the FA Cup so often (and everything else so rarely) that they’ve grown sick of it, gorged and listless. We’ve often lived in their shadow, but that doesn’t feel like it’s the case any more; what would they understand of our joy? They sit and grumble in a puddle of their own effluence, as bored by their own irrelevant power as Boris Johnson stranded on a desert island. They’re the neighbours with the fancy cars, the expensive jewellery, the barely disguised sneers, and the bitter, piercing rows as soon as the front door closes, muffled but audible through the bespoke double-glazing. We’re separated by four places, seventeen points…and one f***ing huge sense of entitlement.

Money does not buy you happiness. It’s a great time to play Arsenal.

4. Our visitors appear not to have bothered preparing at all for what awaits them. Apart from a team selection that rests a few tired and injured legs, it isn’t as if we’ve got anything much up our sleeves; Troy Deeney is many things, but a master of subterfuge ain’t one of them. Arsenal ought to know what’s coming. If they do, it doesn’t show.

They win the toss and opt to switch ends, then spend the opening ten minutes systematically losing every single battle from the moment when Andre Gray chases down a backpass. Troy Deeney wins every header, Will Hughes and Etienne Capoue thrash around the midfield, Abdoulaye Doucouré crests the waves they create, the ball barely crosses the halfway line. The only resistance appears to be a rather desperate insistence that any contact requires the referee’s intervention, effectively an admission that nobody much fancies any of the physical stuff. Torreira enrages Deeney by taking a tumble when cornered, of which more shortly. Nobody fancies it at all.

Arsenal are there for the taking. They’re made of butter. They’re as limp as their lettuce-coloured away kit. (Yes, I know. I was pleased with that.)

I mean, it isn’t even as if we’ve got José Holebas on the pitch. Guys, you really should meet José. You’ll love him. Maybe next season, yeah?

5. The scoreline speaks for itself, of course. It’s all that anyone will remember in years to come. We’ve only ourselves to blame, quite clearly, as Ben Foster dallies over a clearance and is caught in possession by Aubameyang for the only goal. You still rather rated our chances at that point, but Troy Deeney’s dismissal for leaving a little retributory something on Torreira a minute later changed that. No need to give the referee any kind of decision to make. No need at all. I mean, I love Troy, we all love Troy, but he’s a doughnut sometimes. And suddenly – well, not that suddenly, given how long it takes Troy to depart – we’re a goal and a man down, and it’s all over.

6. Except it isn’t. It ought to be, but it isn’t. For a while, everyone takes stock: we regroup while Arsenal pass the ball around at such a pedestrian pace that you wonder if they might be trying to bore us into submission. You know how this ends, with a valiant but doomed three-nil defeat, and a lingering taste of what might’ve been.

And then as they conclude one of their interminable pass-and-move exercises by carefully stroking a sideways ball straight to Etienne Capoue who hares away on a break, we realise that even if we are a goal and a man down, one crucial thing hasn’t changed: Arsenal are still absolutely terrible. We have nothing to fear. Craig Cathcart blasts a drive that’s blocked by Leno at his near post; Capoue’s arcing free kick is turned around by a last-ditch out-stretched hand. There’s a penalty appeal. You wouldn’t be foolish enough to claim that we’re in the ascendancy, for there are long spells when we have to sit in and wait. Foster pushes a shot from Iwobi over the bar. But we’re on our feet, we’re raising our voices, and it isn’t over. We’re too hungry, too urgent, and Arsenal too meek, for it to be over.

7. A serious point, as an aside. If we continue to allow the game to move inexorably away from accepting contact as part of the contest – and VAR will accelerate that process very rapidly indeed – we will find that teams like Arsenal are all that’s left. The gulf that already exists will widen, and we will all have to stand around and watch the show ponies perform their dressage routines.

8. The second half is, in its own way, completely extraordinary. We’re prevented from touching the ball for about five minutes, presumably in the hope that we might learn to behave if our toys are taken away. All of this comes with a dismissive arrogance that might be impressive if it were allied with the merest hint of a work ethic. It still feels as if there’ll be a decisive moment at some stage, something to end it as a contest. But Arsenal don’t do decisive moments, and prove the point by lazily wasting the few chances that they do create, Mkhitaryan getting further and further away with a series of wild attempts. Balls whistle through the six yard box, Foster makes a fine stop to deny Mkhitaryan from close range.

9. I should, of course, be giving us more credit in all of this. We’re magnificent, particularly defensively. And defensively means everyone, really. Craig Cathcart has one of those games in which the ball appears magnetically drawn to his boot, clearing threats time and again; Christian Kabasele alongside is quieter but equally unyielding. Daryl Janmaat runs himself into the ground, frequently gasping for breath before rousing himself and the crowd again. Adam Masina takes a huge step up, powerful and lean and pacy. Will Hughes and Etienne Capoue are still thrashing around the midfield, Abdoulaye Doucouré still surfing their waves, Kiko Femenia tucking in and putting in a shift.

We change it, and Javi Gracia is again as bold and as positive as his team have become. Isaac Success on for Femenia, and the whole game instantly moves ten or fifteen yards away from Ben Foster’s goal. And Masina, not closed down because Arsenal can’t be arsed, sends in a screamer which clips the top of the bar. And it’s on, again. Ridiculous that we’re still in this, but it’s on. I must confess that the hilarity of it all rather gets the better of me as the first of Arsenal’s substitutes shuffles slowly off, eking out every tedious second. One of the world’s richest clubs, a goal and a man up, wasting time to hang onto their lead. They stop short of taking it to the corner flag at the end, but only just. Only just.

We can’t find the goal that our efforts deserve. The goal that the game deserves, that Arsenal deserve. Andre Gray twice fluffs his lines, control which isn’t crisp enough to allow him to pick a finish. Will Hughes heads over. Free kicks are wasted, perhaps the only real criticism. Aubemayang scuffs wide when through under challenge from, inevitably, Craig Cathcart. We lose. We win every single fifty-fifty challenge across the whole ninety minutes, we’re first to every loose ball, we’re quicker and stronger and more determined in every match-up, we make our opponents shrink and cower and whine, but we lose.

10. Me, I loved it. Bravo. A celebration of everything that we’ve become, and a long look at everything we never need to be. We were splendid last night. Absolutely splendid. We played with immense heart, with togetherness, with passion, with courage. We played like it mattered, like there was pride at stake, in ourselves and in our club. We had leaders in every area of the pitch, even after our captain had departed. We were everything, or near enough, that Arsenal were not.

We played without our brains for a minute, that’s all. We lacked a little bit of quality and composure too. That’s enough. The regret is that we didn’t humble our supposedly illustrious opponents. God knows we’ll rarely have a better opportunity. But you know what? I’d rather lose like this than win like that.

Arsenal go fourth. I challenge you to say that with a straight face.

As for us, look how far we’ve come. And look how far we might still go.

Foster 2, Masina 4, *Cathcart 5*, Kabasele 4, Janmaat 5, Hughes 5, Capoue 5, Doucoure 4, Femenia 4, Gray 3, Deeney 2 Subs: Success (for Femenia, 59) 3, Sema (for Masina, 86) 0, Gomes, Britos, Mariappa, Chalobah, Navarro

Watford 3 Wolves 2 (AET) (07/04/2019) 08/04/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
29 comments

1- “I’ll tell you what”, says ig.  “It doesn’t half help that it’s not bloody Palace.  I’m enjoying it more already….”

The spectre of two miserable defeats here against Palace over the last six years have been hanging over every aspect of the group’s preparations.  An executive decision has been made to relocate to the Upper Tier for one thing.  There was a brief debate about the Railway public house but pragmatism won out on that one.  The problem clearly wasn’t the pub, it wasn’t West Hampstead which is far too convenient an assembly point to be recklessly discarded (although ig draws a line at what had been the lucky chocolate emporium of choice, a decision that delays his arrival).

There’s been a bit of twaddle on social media about our failure to sell our allocation.  There are reasons, obviously, too basic and banal to spell out, unworthy of what was to become a quite magnificent occasion to sully this report.  But when we get to Wembley Park… it’s daunting, frankly.  Difficult as it is to differentiate the colours, we are being comprehensively out-noised and seemed outnumbered by lots to one.  We’d discussed that if Wolves were happy to be here, we were past that stage.  We had to win it.  But Wolves don’t sound merely happy just to be here.

Still, to return to the beginning.  It wasn’t Palace.  Further down Wembley Way there’s an optimistic gentleman addressing a largely indifferent crowd behind a placard proclaiming “Jesus is Lord”.  We briefly consider nipping over to ask him about cheesemakers but we don’t, this is not a time for frivolity. We’re feeling positive.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not bricking it.

2- In the stadium, in our seats, having paid a fortune for unpleasant hot dogs (to be avoided next time – Ha!) Wolves are no less intimidating.  Their end fills more quickly, and their anthems make a daunting racket.  Our guys are singing behind the goal, from the top tier close to the divide above the halfway line we can see them but we can’t hear them.  ALL the Wolves fans are singing.  It’s oppressive, and it has an impact.  It feels almost insurmountable.

As an aside, and this seems as good a time as any to say it, this IS a completely different thing to the Palace games.  Winning’s going to help, obviously.  But this Wolves lot are supporting their team, noisily, boisterously.  It’s about them winning, not the other lot losing.  It’s almost as if pride in what you are doesn’t automatically need to involve hating those who are something else.  Who’d have thought?

Our first small victory comes with the visual display. Wolves’ tableau is impressive, but static.  A statement.  But it doesn’t compare to the frenzied energy of the waving of 33000 plastic flags, like insects swarming over the away end.  You can hear our lot now.  We’re fighting back.  The game hasn’t even started, obviously.  But we’re in it.

3- I wouldn’t have picked Gomes over Ben Foster.  I wouldn’t have started with Andre Gray either;  Wolves are famously strong down their spine but get-attable behind their attacking wing-backs.  That’s Gerry’s thing, making mischief in difficult places, surely?  As the sides line up, with the benefit of our extraordinary altitude, it appears that we’re playing a diamond with Pereyra at the apex and Capoue sweeping up behind.  But as we’ve discussed, it’s long since past the stage where I can even pretend to second-guess Javi, much less be worthy of questioning his decisions.

It’s felt like a gorgeously well-balanced game in the build up.  Two teams credibly the “best of the rest”, both with the wind behind them, both in fine form.  Perhaps 30 year high points, at least, for both?  It might have been, should have been a classic.  And whilst it’s hardly a cautious start, it’s certainly well balanced.  A cliché, but rarely has a period of play felt more like sparring, two sides probing and prodding and sizing each other up. Wolves attack like snakes, Jiménez and Jota rippling into spaces dangerously, but we begin to boss the midfield.  The diamond doesn’t quite work, we’re never quite as effective as we’re used to being, Doucouré is uncharacteristically low key.  But… then perhaps it’s what’s needed for this game and whatever, Hughes is scurrying and winning the ball and Pereyra is popping out of rabbit holes.  We’re not making a load of chances…  but we’re doing enough to suggest that there’s scope, that we can hurt them.

And then they score, and everything changes.  It’s a cruel, callous goal, a goal worthy of ig’s account of Wembley from three years ago.  A miserably avoidable affair, something that’s scarcely dependent on the balance of play all about concentration and silly silly detail.  My word, can you imagine if that had been it?

It still requires a fine delivery, an aggressive run, an opportunist nod from Doherty (the Irish Mob in the row behind unappreciative of their countryman’s contribution) but it’s careless, sloppy.  The spectre of Games Against Crystal Palace looms again.  We’re not out of it…  Andre Gray has two decent chances either side  but neither of them go in.  On review you have to give him credit for being there, neither is a terrible miss in the circumstances but nonetheless, chances they are and an open question Gray’s start had been and if you were of a more fragile frame of mind than our bloody lot you’d wonder whether things were stacked against us.

4- And then Wolves score again and there’s no longer any question that things are stacked against us.  This is a fine, fine finish, churlish to criticise our role in it since whatever we coulda mighta shoulda done it requires precision and elegance and ruthlessness and gets it as Jiménez chests down and strikes a brutal volley underneath Gomes.  Wolves are deafeningly jubilant and we’re sinking into our seats.  Daughter One to my left looks at me anxiously, wordlessly… concerned for my own well being as much as for the goal I think.

It’s stating the obvious, lazy hyperbole to say “at this point the game is over”.  Surely you were either watching or you’ve seen the highlights, highlights that don’t, that can’t hope to convey the infinite drama of the afternoon any more than, to reprise a particularly fine ig line (oh come on, it’s been twenty years…) you can capture a hurricane in a matchbox.

The significant thing, the most impressive thing perhaps of all the impressive things is the most obvious.  On the pitch, we’re not playing as if it’s over.  If heads go down it’s instantaneous, only lasting as long as the game takes to restart.  The extraordinary Jose Holebas is at the vanguard…. is it really only fifteen months since we were split on him?  We’re used to Troy dragging the team along with him, but Jose hasn’t given up on anything at this point, demonstrably.  It should be no surprise of course, we’ve watched him, we know that he picks up a gazillion bookings not because he’s particularly dirty or violent but because he can’t always, ever, quite harness his insane will to win within legal boundaries.  Here that will to win is an uncontaminated force for good, from our point of view.  We’re not only relentless, we’re actually more focused than we were at one down.  That’s got to sow a seed if you’re in a white shirt. But we still needed a piece of magic, and it came off the bench four minutes later.

5- Bollocks to five thunks, by the way.

6- It’s an outrageous goal.  We’d earned it, I think.  Earned it by not giving up the ghost, earned it by asking questions and pushing and probing and digging in.  But it’s still ridiculous.  In terms of impudence you’d compare it to the Okocha free kick from many years ago.  How did he even…. think that, let alone execute it?  In terms of scale and significance and context of course it’s beyond compare.  From a standing position and faced with Wolves’ redoubtable back line there’s no way through until, suddenly, impossibly there is.  And we’re roaring again.

There’s no kitchen sink.  There’s method and there’s patience.  It’s so, so tempting to judge decisions purely on outcomes…  nonetheless.  We hold our nerve, we don’t panic.  And so very nearly it’s not enough since, frankly, at no point did I believe it was on.  At no point did I seriously entertain hopes, let alone expectations of a comeback.  Not until Troy makes a run across Dendoncker two minutes into injury time and the referee blows his whistle.

That’s the pivotal moment, obviously.  Except it’s not a moment, it’s two minutes.  Two minutes waiting for VAR to make it’s mind up.  For the first time, and despite the clunky miscommunication of two earlier VAR calls to a baffled upper tier, I’m thinking that despite everything VAR might not be a bad idea.  Would you want to level a game like this on a bad decision, much less a dive?  There’s plenty of time to ponder this and many other things whilst we’re fixed on the screen, fingers in scalp, hair pulled taut.  And then the decision is confirmed and there’s no longer any debate about the outcome of the game.  In the space of that two minutes it’s gone from “we’re definitely gonna lose” to “we’re definitely gonna win”.

7- Never in doubt.  No, it’s not the best placed penalty you’ve ever seen but unless John Ruddy’s right behind it it’s going in anyway such is the violence of the strike.  There’s no news here but bloody hell Troy Deeney.  Balls of absolute steel.  It appeals to his sense of theatre too, obviously, and the scream of catharsis on the side of the ground tinted in red lasts for some considerable time.

Never in doubt.  Though… I claim some small credit.  At some point, my head says at the start of extra time but… you know, details… Daughter 2 demands water.  Such bafflingly ill-timed requests have become less frequent as the girls have gotten older but mindful of the belief in karma of two or three years ago I dutifully bundle down into the concourse as the game restarts to find all of the kiosks closed.  I return with clear conscience.

Wolves were done, toast, quite obviously.  Good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes…. but their decision to replace many of their attacking weapons in favour of resilience was now costing them, and more so the famously small, tight squad that has been such a feature of their season but which now was really really exposed.  They were dead on their feet for one thing, to so much a greater extent than our boys.  And that the confidence-shorn Cavaleiro and the numbingly one-dimensional Traoré was the best they could offer off the bench for another.  How wonderful that it was both Gray and Deulofeu. How wonderful, how outrageous that not so very long from a situation where we’d deliberate between X and Y whilst knowing that the answer is neither, suddenly the answer is either. How wonderful that it was such a fine, fine, thing.  A merciless, decisive blow, and though Cavaleiro stumbled past Gomes in the second period of injury time the outcome was – have I mentioned this? – never in doubt.

8- A number of asides, a number of details.  Étienne Capoue… it’s… an easier job to look good at, sitting at the back of a midfield.  Remember Al Bangura?  Nonetheless.  Bloody hell.  A monstrous performance.  A monstrous performance that could very easily have seen him missing the final had the referee been Roger blood Milford instead of Michael Oliver who has somehow managed to remain inconspicuous in this behemoth of a football game and, as Dave is keen to point out, opts against grandstanding with a red card after Capoue’s tired tackle in the middle of the pitch.  Kudos to the official.

Another?  The Wolves side empties, obviously.  That was very nearly us.  In our heads, it was us.  We’ve done that miserable trudge back to the tube in, well, not quite these circumstances, but you know what I mean.  And of course a lot of them have long gone by the time we stumble stupidly down Wembley Way, dazed and happy and stunned.  But only one Wolves fan, one lad on the steps up to the tube, lets his disappointment get the better of him and briefly mouths off in the face of considerable, if not pointed or deliberate, provocation.  We’ve been there. Fair play.  Fair play.

Another?  The realisation that whatever happens in mid-May, 1984 no longer carries that unique significance.  No longer appropriate to use those digits as a go-to four character code for irrelevant, trivial stuff.  We’ve matched that achievement at the very least, and we can still better it.

9 – But best of all?  No, not best of all, let’s be honest.  But still marvellous, still wonderful…

Troy, on the pitch at the end of the game, interviewed.  And already on the Arsenal game.  Head in the right place.  Game on.

Don’t expect the league season to peter out, not a bit of it, not this lot.  The reality is that uniquely amongst the four or five contestants for seventh, we know that achieving that target will guarantee European football next season, our first since 1983.  It’ll take those of us off the pitch a lot longer than Troy to regain our balance, focus, perspective.  By the time we briefly regroup back at the Railway we’re energetically discussing how we’ve got to remember everything we’ve done, everything we’ve said,  to recreate it in six weeks time but twenty four hours on I’m still dazed.

Troy isn’t.  Troy’s got his head in the right space.

Never in doubt.

Enjoy it boys and girls.

Yoooorns.

Gomes 3, Femenía 4, Holebas 4, Cathcart 3, Mariappa 3, Capoue 4, Hughes 3, Doucouré 3, Pereyra 3, Deeney 4, Gray 3
Subs:  *Deulofeu (for Hughes, 66) 5*, Masina (for Holebas, 98) 3, Janmaat (for Femenía, 108) 0, Sema (for Deulofeu, 112) 0, Quina, Kabasele, Foster