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Watford 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (26/12/2009) 27/12/2009

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from the Boxing Day encounter with Forest

1- First off, one should perhaps (in the absence of Peterboro thunks) acknowledge that it’s rather good to actually have a club to trundle out to watch at silly’o’clock on Boxing Day. However genuine or otherwise the threat to the club’s future presented by Russo’s disgusting posturing in the wake of the AGM, it felt real enough. We’re here, watching football. That will do for starters; the future comes later.

2- Nottingham Forest. This incarnation of the “Tricky Trees” is hewn entirely in their manager’s image… peevish, miserable and charmless. Chief protagonists were pantomime dame Lee Camp, and the remarkable Chris Gunter. A note, Chris… if you’re going to feign injury to get an opponent booked, best bet is to time your yelp of pain as the tackle arrives rather than a minute or so before it. You’ve a better chance of success if the opponent doesn’t take the ball cleanly, too, but see also (3). And then Billy Davies himself, celebrating a nil-nil away from home as if he’d secured promotion, despite watching his left back get away with a save on the line that his keeper would have been proud of (if he’d got anywhere near Lansbury’s shot) seconds earlier. Class? Never heard of it.

3- Andy D’Urso. Almost a parody of himself… a quite extraordinary combination of pedantry and utter inability to keep up with play. Rous Stand onlookers were, I am advised, able to hear Gunter’s comedy yelp, divert attention to D’Urso to confirm that, no, he wasn’t paying attention and then look back at the ball to see Helguson’s tackle win it cleanly. A referee ought to be able to keep up with that I think. At times he was almost a tribute act, too cornily like D’Urso to be credible… his incompetence was largely incidental until the final few minutes…

4- An open game, one of those that it was difficult to reconcile with a nil-nil scoreline. Equally difficult to understand is Forest’s ongoing unbeaten away record… a decent side with plenty of attacking options, but neither infallible enough to steamroller all comers nor defensive enough to stifle games. For our own performance… one has to worry about the sudden tentativeness in front of goal. Four blanks in six games now, and whilst the build up is still good – by the end of the second half we were well worth three points, as Davies’ reaction demonstrates – we no longer have the conviction or the end product enough of the time. The magnificent Cleverley (see 5) is a reliable source of something, but Graham’s workrate and touch rather than his sharpness in front of goal are what’s keeping him in the side. That and lack of alternatives, natch.

5- With four loans (originally) due to end at the end of the year, it makes sense to review at this point. Cleverley is already secured for the rest of the season of course, and here again he was terrific; our lack of confidence is evidenced by his being the sole outlet however, reliable as he is. And opponents are wise to him, witness the excellent McKenna’s disciplined call to arms whenever Cleverley wandered infield. Cathcart, it seems, has already gone back; whether his loan would have been extended in the absence of injury now a moot point, but at best it seems fair to suggest that he hadn’t been wholly convincing. As with many of our centrebacks, one imagines that he’d look better alongside a more dominant figure, a Williamson; brought in to add competition, he at least covered Demerit’s absence better than we might otherwise have done. Helguson… well if this was to be his last outing at Vicarage Road in yellow (which seems likely with a halfway intelligent veteran of Championship management now in at QPR) it went sadly unmarked and unrecognised. All his performance lacked was a trademark lunatic far post header. Finally Lansbury, whose performance today epitomised the frustration. Clearly he has ability, on his good days he has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cleverley. But some days he just doesn’t look that bothered, and this was one of those. The most intriguing of the decisions regarding loanees, then; Cleverley and Cathcart decisions made and clear, H we’d like to keep but one suspsects won’t be able to, Lansbury… without him we’re short of an attacking central midfielder. But you’d prefer someone you could rely on to turn up…

Sorry, bit of a long thunk there. Have a good New Year, and see you for the shit-or-bust at Stamford Bridge…


Watford 0 Derby County 1 (12/12/2009) 13/12/2009

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. Hang on, haven’t we already played these? For reasons best known to themselves, Derby decided to turn up in fancy dress: “Sorry, Nige, I’m right aht of Brazil 1970 and England 1966,” said the man in the costume shop. “Forest’s European Cup winning team, y’say? Well, I could order it for ya. Tell ya what I ‘ave got: Coventry City 1989. It’s on special offer.”

With a line-up featuring Robbie Savage, Lee Hendrie and Paul Dickov – a Sports Personality of the Year shortlist in an alternate, much more tetchy universe, possibly one in which Craig Bellamy is prime minister – and a formation built from concrete and asbestos, it’s actually quite hard to believe that we didn’t lose to Coventry yesterday. Derby are dreary, ugly industry in an old Coventry kit. But we’d do well to remember our ambitions weren’t exactly sky-high in August either.

2. As churlish as it always seems to whine about the referee after a defeat, an already cold, dull afternoon wasn’t exactly improved by Mr K Stroud. One of those officials who sets daft precedents: a couple of innocuous fouls early on requiring him to blow his whistle for every bit of physical contact thereafter; an early booking for Jon Harley when a lecture would’ve sufficed, leading to a rash of yellow cards for nothings and somethings alike. The inevitable result is that the rest of the ninety minutes turns into an administrative chore, like spending two hours in the spectators’ gallery of a magistrate’s court in a rural village.

3. So, anyway, let’s not put it off any longer: Derby completely out-witted us. As tempting as it always is to blame our own failings – of which there were some, but probably no more than on several occasions when we’ve emerged with beaming smiles – the match was mainly about the little bit of turf in front of their back four. There, Robbie Savage was nailed to a post like a scarecrow, barely moving more than twenty yards during the entire game; he did exactly the same job, and to the same effect, as John Eustace on his debut against Wolves a couple of years ago.

Aware that most of our attacking interchanges – the sly balls into Danny Graham, the bursts from Tom Cleverley, the cross-field switching of Don Cowie – take place in that area, Derby simply occupied that crucial space from first to last and effectively eliminated the threat of all three in the process. Add some tight pressing in other areas – particularly out wide, where, with Cleverley placed elsewhere, we lack anyone who’ll take on and beat an opponent – and you’ve got a perfect recipe for containment. We were trying to play expansive football in a broom cupboard. A rite of passage for a young side, in many ways; challenges they won’t have faced before.

4. And for a young manager too. Because in a game that always looked like to be settled by a set piece, there was no obvious change to be made: the most keenly-felt absence was that of Henri Lansbury, someone to provide the option of an extra body in midfield, an occasional unexpected charge forward, and a bit more height at corners and free kicks. Needing to bypass a midfield that we couldn’t play through, we found ourselves in a contest that played to very few of our strengths; even then, even as the defeat seemed utterly inevitable, a couple of the hopeful lobs towards the penalty area nearly fell for us late on. A game of small margins.

5. Let’s not be downhearted, then. A season ticket to Vicarage Road has thus far offered quite fantastic entertainment, even allowing for intermittent reminders that we’re not the finished product. And that there will never be a finished product, given that we’ve borrowed several cups of sugar from the neighbours. This, on the other hand, was cold and brutal, a dry Ryvita after we’ve got used to buttered crumpets with raspberry jam. It was a defeat born of our opponents’ pragmatism, their clinical and cynical determination to prevent us from doing what we do best; that’s to their credit, much as it was also to our immense frustration.

But there’s a healthy pragmatism in our dressing room too, it seems to me. Without any pompous pronouncements about how football should be played, we’ve attacked with dazzling, inspiring, thrilling verve much of the time; it’s hard to recall a Watford side capable of quite so much excitement without invoking Graham Taylor’s name. The previous manager’s dogmatism has fallen away: the point is that we’re playing like this because there are enough teams in the division who won’t get tight enough, who won’t have Robbie Savage patrolling that bit of space, who won’t concentrate all of their energy on denying us any room in the final third. It’s our best bet, with what we have available. It’s got us to tenth at Christmas-ish, which is not far short of a miracle. We just have to persevere, nothing else for it.

Watford 3 Queens Park Rangers 1 (07/12/2009) 08/12/2009

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from the evening the earth stopped turning.

1- There’s only one place to start. Time stands still. The rain falls upwards. Lloyd’s goal was just a marvellous, beautiful moment; like much of the Rookery, I had imagined Ellington turning around and celebrating. Identifying Lloydy’s frantic, helpless ecstasy elevated celebrations to a whole new level. How to do the event justice? Well we had a good go… the atmosphere had been flat as our bluntness, shorn of H and Lansbury, saw us struggle to make much of our superior possession. After the moment? Pure joy. Not (much) triumphalism, just a thoroughly happy, bouncing crowd, as if we’d all just shared some kind of epiphany. And the mood was shared on the pitch, as our game took on a joyous bounce. The only slight disappointment was that Messenger was driving, and had hence foregone the option of going to the bar before half time…

2- QPR look a state, particularly in front of goal… but this was still a gutsy, unlikely win. Any number of previous vintages of Watford team would have crumbled in the face of Patrick Agyemang’s goal (and it’s peculiarly solemn celebration); the Lloydy goal defined the match, perhaps we wouldn’t have won the game without such a momentous turn of events (our movement and composure went to pot for five or ten minutes before the equaliser). But whatever the circumstances we came from behind two days after defeat in Newcastle against a side with an extraordinarily star-studded bench. Big grins in Hertfordshire.

3- Liam Henderson. For the first time, we get it. Some great touches and contributions from the young striker who, as my brother observed, has shoulders that begin around his ears. His lack of pace is likely to limit how he can be employed, but there’s something there to work with OK.

4- Fitz Hall. So very nearly three red cards in his last four visits (which also saw the play-off scrap with Boothroyd). Damion Stewart could also have gone as Rangers lost their composure.

5- Some tremendous performances all over the pitch. Great to see Demerit’s decisiveness back in the side, even if he looks a strong candidate to depart in January. Lee Hodson is just wonderful. Don Cowie improves with every game. Lloydinho’s performance was magnificent even if one (ha ha) discounts the goal. And Tom Cleverley, in a central role that might have challenged him, looked tidy, quick, clever, tenacious. What a player this lad is going to be.