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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.


1. The Great Big O - 13/12/2009

Good stuff, ig. I left the match wondering how anyone was going to find five thunks in the turgid tedium I’d just witnessed.

Particularly useful analysis at thunk three of how we play – the key area of the park where we’re often so good. Hadn’t identified that, myself. Hope our upcoming opponents don’t, either.

Before the match, I’d noticed that Derby hadn’t won away and we’d won our last four home matches. The way I see the world, that made the match an away banker. So I’m forgetting and moving on. Recent home and away form makes our forthcoming trip to the Posh a much more intriguing game.

2. SteveG - 13/12/2009

Yesterday was a bad day at the office, but it’s good to see a balanced and measured response (even on the WO website) – this is definitely a glass half full at the moment.

My only thought would be that with Cathcart, Jenkins and Lansbury out, and Helguson, DeMerit and Harley in, this was arguably the most experienced starting XI we’ve fielded for some time – so it wasn’t just about inexperienced kids being out-thought by a few canny old pros out to play a niggly, spoiling game and then nick something.

Agree fully with the final thoughts – we appear to be well on our way to safety, and if we can secure that by early in the New Year, that will be a miracle given where we started back in August.

Ian Grant - 13/12/2009

@ SteveG: Fair point about the increase in experience, but several of the key players who make our attacking tick – Cleverley, Cowie and Graham in particular – remain pretty much as inexperienced as they were last week. And they were definitely out-thought by some canny old pros, allowing Derby to nick a very scrappy game.

3. rous man - 13/12/2009

The referee for the Derby game was as bad as the one the other night against QPR was good. Derby are the worst team I have seen at Vic this season. We had to many players who did not perfom to how they can on the same day. still it happens to the best Man U for instance. One question could Loach have not come for the cross from the free kick they scored from ?

Matt Rowson - 14/12/2009

Don’t agree that Derby were “bad”. Destructive, dour, frustrating, aggravating, but thoroughly effective and defensively pretty excellent. Booo.

4. derry pigweed - 13/12/2009

Hard to find 5 thunks and maybe we had this one coming but on the whole it has been a great season with football being played in a way that I haven’t seen in thirty years of supporting the horns.
Thunk 2 : Robbie Savage reffed the game, from the 2nd minute he was Keith the midget Stroud’s face and he made all the decisions for the ref

5. Hornetboy84 - 14/12/2009

I knew it was heading for disaster when I commented to my dad after 70 mins that I was spending all my time watching Savage and that he was basically controlling the whole game (as everything landed at his feet/head/knee) and that I was starting to have a respect for the way he was playing.

One of those days … and we still should have had at least a point.

Heider, Cowie, Young Tom and even Hodson had an off-day …..

We needed Lansbury to provide something different and also allow Cleverley to give us width…

My only criticism was that after 30mins of dross Malky could and should have moved Harley into the centre and put Cleverley wide.

6. Kris - 14/12/2009

We will have games like this with a young squad and manager. I expect that from us. But I also expect us to learn from the experience. As long and lessons learned do not have to be taught twice for us to get it.

I do feel slightly uneasy when people start talking about us being almost safe. There are 12 points to Sheff Weds in the relegation zone, but even if we manage to stay clear of administration, we may have a completely different lineup from January 1st and no one can know what will happen then. It’s not like 12 points are a HUGE margin, and if we sell a few of our assetts (which I hope we do to stay afloat) our lineup may be vastly inferior to what we have now.

Maybe that just my pessimistic approach to football shining through but I still see us as candidates for relegation.

7. Karen Sherlock - 14/12/2009

Ig, what can I say ? Your kind donation of 3 away points is gratefully accepted. Fate has a way of doing these things to a team (Derby were the generous souls who ended Ipswich’s record-breaking “beaten” run). We’ll take “winning ugly” for now if it keeps us out of the bottom three.

As for our assembly of Britain’s most-hated, we used to boo irrepressibe Mr Savage louder than the opposition fans. You probably saw how he’s won us over though. Same with the industrious Dickov and even the cameo appearances by Hendrie have produced two goals in two games.

I’m not sure even we could stomach Bellamy though….

Ian Grant - 14/12/2009

As Savage received his usual light booing, we were discussing how best to put him off his game…because there’s clearly no point in giving him abuse, that being mere grist to his mill. We decided that the way to get under his skin would be to offer a polite ripple of applause every time he touched the ball…and, crucially, to give merciless, relentless stick to one of your other players, preferably someone completely unknown. Next time, perhaps.

He was the best player on the pitch, anyway. Which was annoying.

8. Sequel - 14/12/2009

IG, it’s a good job the shops are stocked up with nuts at this time of year, because you and Matt have used a bucket full of shells summing up our performances this season. Another fine effort.

9. Old Git - 14/12/2009

That’s more like it. This is what being a died-in-the-wool Watford supporter is all about. None of that joyous and ecstatic jubilation nonsense we had to go through after the QPR game.

I feel better now. I know where I am with things. For a few days I felt all dizzy.

10. Andrew J - 14/12/2009

I’m not best qualified to comment, as a former season ticket holder for whom Saturday’s was my first live game in 5 years. Suffice to say that I had heard good things about this Watford team and left the Rookery on Saturday thoroughly disappointed. Not so much by the match but by the lack of effort. That said, the ‘Orns will probably not play any worse this season than against Derby, and there are some bright young things in this Watford team who need to get experience under their belts before any success comes our way. If we can learn spacial awareness and the importance of chasing after the loose ball, that will be a start. The glass is still half full.

11. Flippo Galli - 14/12/2009

Here, here. Thanks for the weekly (ish) dose of thunks Ian and Matt. I’m sure that I speak for everyone who comes on here when I say that the effort is much appreicated.

Can’t add much value to what has been written about this game already, apart from a brief mention about the atmosphere (or rather lack of). It’s always hard going without the drum, but there was just nothing on Saturday, bar a few (justified) anti-ref chants. I suppose that the Rookery needs to spark off what is happenng on the pitch, which, for the entire 90 mins, was nothing short of turgid from both teams and the ref in particular.

12. SteveT - 14/12/2009


I was going to post something similar, everyone was poor from the start, both teams, the ref and the two sets of fans. And I’ll throw the sticky looking pitch into that equation as well.

The one thing I would have liked to have seen was Malky to bring on Bryan with 10-15 minutes to go, rather than put another body (Henderson or Ellington) into the middle. Bryan would have provided something a bit different as no-one had tried dribbling the ball and would have presented a challenge to the tired legs of the Derby defenders. Of course, had he come on, I suspect Derby would have stopped him getting the ball.

13. Harefield Hornet - 14/12/2009

I agree Derby got their just reward for a perfect example of the “containment and nick a goal” method, but revenge was also in the air on Saturday – I seem to recall Al Bangura breaking Savage’s leg a couple of years back?

14. simmo - 14/12/2009

Can’t disagree with much that has been said already but Steve T makes a great point. We lacked width which no-one other than Bryan could have provided from the 18 picked.

I thought Derby were totally professional and deserved the points. We can complain about they way they played the game but lets face it they only did to us what we have been dishing out in the past few seasons. The ref made some strange decisions but he was consistent which is all we can ask for and when we had the opportunity to create anything we failed to do so. Lets hope it was just one of those bad days at the office which we always seem to have at around this time of year.

However, do you not agree that the game may have been different if Graham had scored from distance early in the match?

15. NRC - 14/12/2009

My thought leaving the ground was ‘bad day at the office’ also – but it seems it’s suddenly become a cliche …. Re. relegation – surely there’s three worse teams than us in this division, if only we can avoid the dreaded 10 point deduction which I fear more than not amassing enough points on the pitch.

Repeat to self Andrew J’s mantra ten times before bed – half full, half full, half full …

16. Esp - 14/12/2009

To echo Steve T and Simmo’s sentiments I saw Bryan in a pre-season match (can’t off hand remember if it was Wealdstone or Borehamwood……could have been both) and was very impressed and was convinced he would feature this season.

I can see why Malky needs to keep Ellington in the shop window but it does frustrate me having such a potentially useful player as Bryan on the bench and consistently not playing him

If Malky and Dychey are NOT confident in having him make at least a 10 minute cameo appearance in a match such as Saturday where MOST of the starting 11 (bar DeMerit) were underperforming then what’s the point in putting him on the bench at all??

Shades of Eriksson’s wanton misuse of Walcott from a few years back imho….

Ian Grant - 15/12/2009

I’m not convinced about the wisdom of bringing on Bryan in that situation, to be quite honest. The game wasn’t lost: we were one-nil down, with enough possession to fling a few high balls into the box for the remaining minutes. In those circumstances, I think there’s a reasonable case for accepting the nature of the contest and putting more bulky bodies in the box to see what happens. And what happened was that John Eustace very nearly scored an equaliser.

And what’s this “half full” nonsense I keep reading? We’re in mid-table with nearly half of the season gone. As Kris says, we can’t afford to be complacent…but we can surely afford to applaud what we’ve seen so far. In a season where survival is the only objective, mid-table at this point, achieved in considerable style too, represents a full pint with a packet of crisps on the side, nothing less. Cheers!

17. simmo - 15/12/2009

IG – I think the point is we will never know how good Bryan is until he is thrown in during difficult situations. No-one would complain if it doesn’t work at 1-0 down but the crosses into the box on Saturday were below normal standards and introducing Ellington added little or nothing to our creativity.

Heidar has been terrific in front of goal when the quality into him has been good enough. Getting Bryan to attack defenders just gave an alternative to what hadn’t worked up to that point.

18. Flippo Galli - 16/12/2009

Well, having been in tune to the farcical events of the last 24 hours, I think the bag of crisps has turned out to be mouldy and the pint is sickening Heineken.

How polarised this year has been: brilliant football (yes, even under R*dgers), terrible off it. Let’s hope the Derby game wasn’t the end of the former.

19. daft_evader - 16/12/2009

As far as Bryan is concerned I would have been tempted to throw him on, but suspect he might have received a similar experience to that that Lewis Young enjoyed against Bristol City a year ago. With us trailing and play getting progresivly more direct he would have been bullied out of the way every time the ball came near him.

The solution to how best to cope with Savage left in the summer – not that I advocate violence….

20. lukefairweather - 16/12/2009

Five thunks following the AGM last night…

Oh #uck
Oh #uck
Oh #uck
Oh #uck
Oh #uck

Not so much a glass half empty, now its more a case of “did you spill my pint?”


21. Harefield Hornet - 16/12/2009

Despite all the repeated explanations as to “where the money went” I’m still deeply suspicious about the millions that were raised when we got promoted and the further millions from subsequent transfers. Somebody somewhere knows how/why we ended up in this shite but I doubt any of us will ever learn the real truth. 3 points this Saturday has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning.

22. Gerry - 16/12/2009

Nice to see Ig back behind the keyboard – that was an Ig post from start to finish, with some fine wordsmithery and similes. Love the alternative Sports Personality of The Year… :o)

These results happen. A team in hot form playing a team with no wins and only 3 draws all season? A naive punter would say ‘home banker’, us more seasoned pros would see ‘coupon buster’ written all over it. As Terry Pratchett has it in Guards! Guards!, “one in a million chances come up nine times out of ten”. Not that this would have been a real banker, but few would have bet on a Derby win.

Never mind, a couple of wins over the Xmas period and the already-receding spectre of the drop zone will be well and truly out of sight, leaving time for a play-off campaign or mid-table obscurity, even the latter being good value considering the club’s financial plight. Talking of which, what’s this I read on Ceefax about the Russos resigning?

Nice to see that Clodagh’s working his Chelsea magic down at Reading. No doubt he promised the Reading board that he’d take the club out of division 2, a promise he’s well on track to fulfilling. Schadenfreude, ich?

23. Old Git - 16/12/2009

As if things weren’t lunatic enough, I see that it has been agreed that Milton Keynes will be part of the 2018 World Cup bid.
That’s right. Milton Keynes. I can’t see FIFA wanting to go anywhere else now, can you?
And….should I be buying ready-prepared salads anymore, or should I be growing my own?
Please advise.

Ian Grant - 16/12/2009

Dear Colin,

It’s a good question. In these uncertain times, we believe that the best approach is to ask family members to help you to cover all bases:

1. Stay at home, eat salad and vote Labour.
2. Stay at home, vote Conservative and eat burgers.
3. Go on holiday with Simpson Travel at the time of the election, without bothering to arrange a proxy vote, preferably leaving some salad to go past its “use by” date in the fridge.
4. Get Monopoly out of the cupboard, cross out “Old Kent Road” and write “Vicarage Road” instead, then stack all of the houses and hotels onto it in a great big pile.
5. Hide under the bed until the nasty men have stopped shouting.

This should ensure that at least one family member will be considered to have stood squarely alongside whatever new regime might emerge.

Hope that clarifies matters sufficiently.



rous man - 16/12/2009

Seems to cover every angle !!!

24. Sequel - 17/12/2009

Amidst all the carnage, my daughter gave birth last (in Watford General) to a bouncing (?) future Hornets fan. They’ve named him George. Apparently, he was screaming his head off within seconds of popping out. News travels fast…..

25. Jeremy Clarkson - 17/12/2009

JC here

Hopefully “Homer” and “Salad men” read this…stop the b***dy squabbling and think about everybody you are hurting by taking your ball home and throwing your toys out of the pram

…I’m .glad i like turnips….honesty and respect go a long way..take a leaf from GT’s book.

26. Harefield Hornet - 17/12/2009

The following is an extract from Lord Ashcroft’s Biography on Wikipedia:

“Ashcroft disposed of large amounts of the Tyco stock which he had acquired as a result of the sale of ADT, explaining that he needed the capital to diversify into other things, and that he never retained a substantial stake in any enterprise which he did not control”

Question is – why has he waited this long and what are his motives? The Russo’s are like flies about to be swatted compared to this bloke.

27. simmo - 17/12/2009

Just heard the news that Ashcroft’s offer to buy the club has been accepted by the board. Assuming that the Russo’s will wait for payment and we do not go into adminsitration does anyone else feel like me……..Beware of Tories bearing gifts!

28. ben - 18/12/2009

“5. Hide under the bed until the nasty men have stopped shouting”

Is that the same as

5. Stay at home, bite your nails and vote Liberal Democrat.


straightnochaser - 22/12/2009

About as useful anyway!

29. markymark - 23/12/2009

If Lee becomes our number 1 keeper our defence will surely be the shortest back four ever which is not good in the physical championship! Lee – 5’11” ;Hodson – 5’8″ , Mariappa – 5’11”,Demerit -5’11”,Doyley 5’10”.That is a joke and its not exactly entertainly worrying about every single corner,long throw,free kick conceded in every game!!

30. markymark - 23/12/2009

Of course I meant not exactly “entertaining” .More like “my heart in my mouth” every time we concede a corner!

31. Weymouth 'Orn - 25/12/2009

“Sources” tell me that this is very likely to go pear-shaped in a few weeks time.
I hope to God that they are wrong.

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