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Watford 0 Swansea City 1 (09/03/2010) 10/03/2010

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. Yes, yes. All of that, if it makes you feel better. The kind of game that causes message-boards and phone-ins to explode in indignant condemnation, simply because it’s the kind of game that looks worse and worse as the clock ticks towards ninety minutes; the only memory is of misplaced passing and aimless hoofery and general desperation, whatever might’ve preceded it at more pivotal moments of the game. It’s like judging the Ramones on the endless fall-outs, departures, comebacks and misjudged solo ventures during the eighties and nineties rather than the really important stuff. (A bit, anyway. Don’t linger on that for too long.)

2. And that’s a shame: before Swansea shut us down completely in the latter stages of the second half, this was very far from hopeless. The reality was that a great deal of blood, sweat and tears went into the creation of any chances, whereas our opponents appeared able to glide effortlessly over the halfway line whenever they could be bothered and absent-mindedly missed a whole bunch of absolute sitters (apart from one, sadly) in the early minutes. Nevertheless, the response to going behind was terrific, a clear sign for those of an optimistic leaning that we’re not just going to slump into abject self-pity.

We remain frustratingly short of ruthlessness in front of goal…but we could justifiably claim to have been unfortunate by half-time, a genuine team effort having pushed Swansea right back onto their goalline. We will be fine if we can summon up more of that. Although it’d be nice to do it without the windswept open spaces in the defence….

3. It’d be such a disappointment if a bright, positive season were to end with a frantic scrap for survival. We’ve managed to build a team from bits and pieces…and it’s a team with deficiencies that grow more obvious as pressure is applied. But it’s also a team that’s delivered a whole load of really rather splendid football, played with wonderful spirit: that I seem to have spent a large part of my time at Vicarage Road this term worrying about whether we’ll score a third to secure the points speaks volumes.

The mood seems to have soured significantly in the last couple of weeks, perhaps understandably…but narrow-ish defeats to Newcastle and Swansea do not mean that our home form has gone the way of our results on the road. The next two fixtures are critical, obviously. To my mind, we keep faith with a settled side rather than wasting energy on pointless re-shuffling; we keep our heads, above all.

4. And we try to avoid a situation where our right-back is hounded from the pitch by a tetchy crowd for the heinous crime of shinning a couple of passes into the East Stand, despite the fact that he’s the only player prepared to pick up the ball and run at pace at the massed defences, an approach that yields what appears to be a very reasonable penalty claim at a stage when everyone else has completely run out of ideas. That’s just daft.

5. Finally, the pitch. Lordy. Earlier in the season, constructing a side to play neat, incisive pass-and-move football seemed like a pleasantly pragmatic, innovative approach; now, when every attempt at a first time pass results in injured spectators or an opposition counter, it seems just a little unwise. There is, of course, nothing that can be done about it now. Perhaps a little patience, though, when passes go astray and first touches come multiplied by the half dozen; perhaps a little understanding too when we’re tempted to belt the ball through the smooth, undivoted air rather than try to coax it through the ragged wasteland. That’s our opponents’ twelfth man, that is…



1. Tim Turner - 10/03/2010

Well said, Matt. I had to listen to the bloke behind me chuntering on to his mate for almost the entire match, along the lines of “We’re going down, Tone, you mark my words”. He’s clearly forgotten the many fine performances he’s witnessed this season.

We’ve been stitched up by the weather and the fixture list, no doubt about it: the former stopped us building on our confidence when we were playing well and winning, and the latter has handed us two of the top four teams at home in succession, just when we needed some easy points to calm things down.

Re Mariappa: are you sure he was ‘hounded from the pitch’? I assumed it was an injury – I find it hard to believe Malky would substitute a man who’d previously played every minute of every league game, with just a few minutes to go, to appease the crowd. And it’s not as if he’s got any narky fans yelling in his ear these days, either, what with the Main Stand being empty.

2. Johnny Boy - 10/03/2010

Good shout about the pitch ig, it really is starting to impede our performance – when does the rugby season finish?
Felt that the substitutions could have been made earlier but like the double substitutions which Malky appears to employ, maybe 20 to 30 minutes next time as John Harley does fade during 90 minutes. Nice to see Lee Hodson back but who would you leave out?

Back from Hammerau - 10/03/2010

Sarries have only one home game left at Vicarage Road on 28th March (plus another at Wembley) unless they are to reverse their current dip in form and have a home play-off, which would be after the football season finishes.

3. Ian - 10/03/2010

Thanks Ian, that has cheered me up. You are right, of course.

4. Weymouth 'Orn - 10/03/2010

Mariappa had a poor game by his own standards.I feel that he hasn’t played anything like his best since he moved out from the centre.I’d like to find out exactly why he was subbed – although it was clear that Hodson provided a bit more energy when he came on.
We need Cleverly to hit the gound running when he comes back on Saturday. Lansbury is not the same player without him to draw on – it was his initial misplaced pass to Lloyd that began the move for their goal.And another booking for Helguson – he must be due a suspension shortly.
I’m not quite as optimistic as some of the posters here and would reckon we need a MINIMUM of four points in the next two games.The other scrappers down the bottom seem capable of picking up the odd point or three.

5. Tops - 10/03/2010

I’m a big fan of Mackay in general: he’s an honest, committed and bright young manager who seems to understand the club. He also seems to be a good combination of principled and pragmatic, whereas Rodgers was Mr Principled and Aidy was Mr Pragmatic.

HOWEVER, he lost it last night. I don’t know whether the pressure got to him, or he has a real stubborn streak that has emerged now that it’s all gone Pete Tong, but it was embarrassing to witness the manager of my team being so comprehensively outmanaged. As the game developed, he had no answers! We changed NOTHING from minute one to minute seventy-eight, despite the state of the game. And I don’t just mean substitutions or even changes in formation – from where I was sitting right at the back of the Rookery, there didn’t even look to have been any subtle changes. For example: their left back was having a torrid time in the first half. Sousa sorted this by tweaking their defensive shape at half time; Mackay did nothing in response so in the second half Cowie was quiet and Mariappa had no option but to shin it out again and again.

Mackay needs to buck his ideas up or ship out. (And I say that as someone who is very anti-sacking managers; I wouldn’t have sacked Lewington or Boothroyd when they were axed).

6. Ian Grant - 10/03/2010

@Tim: Might’ve been an injury, I guess, but that wasn’t really my impression. It seemed to me that the crowd were getting on his back after some very visible mistakes and that he was taken off more to spare him further punishment than anything else.

Tim Turner - 10/03/2010

My doubts are based mainly on the fact that, from where Malky stands, he’s surely too far away from the Rookery to hear any individual jeers or heckles (though it’s true that the ground was very quiet last night). And it just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing he’d do.

Sorry for calling you Matt earlier, btw.

7. JohnF - 10/03/2010

Agree with much of what you say Ian but I can’t see Malky substituting a player because the crowd were getting restive. Having said that Mariappa has looked increasing uncertain over the past few weeks. He looked more comfortable going forward which makes me think it is discomfort about his defensive duties that is unsettling him.

I have three concerns, one that the substitutions do not get enough time to make a difference, two that we fell back on the Boothroyd ploy of when it isn’t working do it harder and throw a centre-half up frontas well, three we insisted on throwing high balls up the middle when we had two wingers who were then also pulled into the middle to make it even more congested. The front two look very short on confidence and I still don’t understand why Hoskins didn’t start.

Confidence is very important and not getting a win on Saturday would be a real concern. However, they will need a deal more guile to open up what may well be a packed defence. A lot of responsibility on young Cleverley’s shoulders.

8. Lesley-Anne - 10/03/2010

What is so frustrating is that the first couple of games Martin Taylor played, he and the rest of the defence looked solid, and Mariappa seemed to revel in the freedom of being a full back, getting forward and causing some problems for our opponents. If you think back 4 weeks to the Bristol City game, when we were also without Cleverley, how different things were then and it is worrying what has happened to change things so much for the worse.

It appears that the fact that we seem to have no luck, both in the run of the ball generally and also the decisions of the officials, is getting to the players and and the frustration is beginning to tell. We can only hope that the return of Cleverley acts as a boost to the team because if we play like we did in the 2nd half last night, Peterboro will be celebrating another win. Thanks to Ig for reminding us that the first half was actually quite good as unfortunately things got so bad that I forgot that anything good happened at all!!!! I especially like point/thunk 2, about our effort and their apparent lack of it; I said as much at half time!!!!

9. GraemeB - 10/03/2010

Tops, are you sure you’ve got Principled and Pragmatic the right way round?

10. DM - 10/03/2010

I said it in the Newcastle comments and I’ll say it again – performances like that abomination of a second half have been very much in the minority at the Vic this season. With Cleverley to come back in and give us that missing extra dimension, there are still plenty of games and plenty of chances to get the points we need. This season was always about survival – we will get there if everyone keeps their heads…

11. NickB - 10/03/2010

Whilst I’d have taken a point happily at HT, actually felt quite cheerful as had seen a fine half of attacking football and lots of effort and no little skill from our lot.

Second half was just a mess. Disappointing to see Swansea’s part in the entertainment hobbled by the Benitez-like caution of the manager (I’m glad I don’t support a side whose games have amassed a miserly 55 goals for and against all season). We ran out of ideas completely midway through the half and the back end was very uncomfortable watching.

Two other thunks – I HATE us kicking towards the Rookery first half and, as a long time serious fan of Heidar, secondly it pains me to say I didn’t think he looked like he could be arsed last night

12. Mozzallero - 10/03/2010

You’re right IG. The first half was half decent, with Cowie especially effective. However, I like many others, have issues with Malky’s unwillingness to try something else. Marriappa didn’t have a good game. In a shaky back four, he was the shakiest, and that run withstanding (obstruction ID Freekick) I’d have taken him off after an hour, along with DoubleH who is looking less than potent right now. I’m another who wonders what Hoskins has to do to get a game. Truely disappointing last night, but that’s been a rarity this season at home. Win the next two and this will be confined to the same draw as the Chelsea game.
Our pitch is rubbish, and it angers me when the rugby lines are as visable as they were at the Vic end.

13. Simon - 10/03/2010

All very frustrating etc… etc… but I couldn’t help but have a grudging admiration for Swansea’s second half defensive display, particularly given we cut through them in the first half on a number of occasions.

I did find it a little concerning, though, that we didn’t seem able to change tack in the second half, either on the pitch or from the bench. In particular, although I don’t necessarily think that Will Hoskins is “the answer”, he does at least offer something different from the bench when it seemed fairly apparent that Graham and Helguson (who I don’t think play very much as a partnership so much as two similar individuals – see how often one of them latches on to the other’s flick) weren’t making a lot of headway and we were struggling to change the angles of attack as a result of Swansea’s very disciplined banks of 4.

Still, as Ian has alluded to, the equation remains much the same as it did before Tuesday and the side we have should be capable of putting together the 4 wins and a draw it probably requires. CLeverly should hopefully help to provide that little bit of spark and invention that was missing in the second half.

14. Esp - 11/03/2010

The way we played in the second half was entirely down to Malky being “out-managed” to nick a phrase from a previous poster.

Sousa has been in charge of a side with one of the most number of clean sheets in this league and he does this by reading the game and being adaptable; when he saw how we were playing (and dominating) after their goal went in he changed to a 451 formation in the second half and he completely snuffed Cowie out by putting two men on him

The really frustrating thing about Tuesday night for me (apart from the fact I only brought one pair of socks and it was bloody freezing) was that our performances under floodlights this season have brought us 14 goals in the previous 5 midweek games this season under lights. That is HALF of all the goals we have scored at home.

The Graham/Helguson partnership clearly isn’t working and that would be what I would fix if I were Malky.

One player before Tuesday had scored FIVE goals in his previous 3 Watford matches (first team and ressies) in a productive fortnight spell……..so what does Malky do with a player so obviously oozing with confidence? Parks him on the bench and refuses to put him on, that’s what.

What would Mr Taylor have said if he wasn’t on BBC5 Live duty?

15. Pete B - 11/03/2010

It all feels remarkably like the end of the Lewington era to me. I like Malkiy but he seemed to be a rabbit in headlights on the radio afterwards with the conclusion that we should have won. I thought Swansea were terrific and under no circumstances could I see them getting anything other than three points. I can take narrow defeats, I can take a manager who can’ change things on the night cos he feels he has no subs that make any difference. It is very hard to take a manager who calmly insists that we were the better team etc etc when clearly we weren’t.

I thought Mariappa was woeful in the 20 minutes before he went off and even the positive folk near me were muttering and the crowd in general were certainly on his back. I wouldn’t say he was the only one prepared to run at people – Doyley did too.

PS I have a nagging suspicion that we might be better with Jenkins but can’t work out where to play him…. maybe Eustace needs to give way to see – Ross is a much better passer of the ball.

16. Sequel - 11/03/2010

In his post-match interview, Malky said that, because Swansea changed to 5 in midfield for the second half, we were no longer able to get the ball out wide or play through the middle, which was why we resorted, increasingly, to playing it long.
We know what to expect from Peterborough, then….
The other thing that’s stuffing us at the moment is the fact that, due to the cold weather, the grass isn’t growing, as it should be by now, so the pitch can’t “heal” itself. Get rid of the egg-chasers, I say.

17. The Great Big O - 11/03/2010

Glad to read a defence of Mariappa’s performance. I would add that Mariappa was instrumental in Cowie’s first-half success. Cowie can’t beat men – he needs space, or to be played in behind a defence. In the first half, Mariappa helped him on both of those fronts.

When Swansea changed their shape in the second half, to neutralise Cowie, Mariappa ended up with a lot of the ball but had few ‘green lights’ (as Wenger would put it) as passing options. Why didn’t Cowie pull inside and back? Why didn’t Lansbury or Eustace come deep to receive? It was his team-mates’ failings that exposed Mariappa and made him the butt of our frustration. Hodson fared no better, looking defensively vulnerable a couple of times. Mariappa was never a liability defensively.

Spotting this problem and adapting to it ought to be the look-out of Malky/Dychey, but the players themselves ought to have the nous too. I don’t believe they’re under orders to play ‘down the channels’: the quality of our inventive passing in earlier games disproves that.

So. There should be collective responsibility for failing to rise to Swansea’s well-drilled challenge. And the idiots behind me mouthing off at Mariappa and Danny Graham should think about their own responsibility when the team is struggling.

18. SteveT - 12/03/2010

My biggest concerns from Tuesday are:

1 – our luck is that of a relegation team – the number of of times the ball wouldn’t fall to our player in their penalty box was hugely frustrating. The only answer to that is for the players to keep going at it.

2 – linked with 1 above, if the players let themselves get despondent that the luck isn’t with them, then they will stop being positive.

3 – For all his endeavour, Mariappa was becoming a liability for the team. He knew things weren’t going right for him and in trying harder to correct them he was becoming less of a team player. Shortly before he was subsituted he’d had a small spat with Loach and think that’s what made up Malky’s mind. Hodson’s playing style is much tighter than Mariappa and looked very solid when he came on. Given Swansea were playing one up front by that point, it may have been an idea to take off Demerit or Taylor, play Mariappa has a central defender and ask him to carry the ball

19. SteveG - 12/03/2010

I did think Mariappa looked vulnerable defensively (or perhaps more accurately the team looked vulnerable down the flank), but there’s no doubt that the Mariappa/ Cowie/ Graham attacking axis down the right was very potent in the first half. Going in 2-1 or 3-2 up at half time would have been a fair reflection.

Conversely Doyley has obvious issues with distribution, but there was very little threat from Swansea down that flank – I disagree that he is playing badly defensively.

But you’ve all missed the most obvious point – the last four matches I’ve been able to attend were Derby, Forest, Newcastle and Swansea. I couldn’t make QPR, Bristol City or Sheff Utd.

I’m not there tomorrow either – we’ll be fine.

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