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Watford 2 Swansea City 3 (29/09/2010) 29/09/2010

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. As so often with Brendan Rodgers, the reality was greyer than the eye-catching press release. If Vicarage Road was ever able to summon up a tabloid-friendly “hate mob”, then someone’s evidently mislaid the pitchforks and flaming torches in the years since; the lurid pre-match hype conjured up some exciting images – heads on spikes for goalposts, that kind of thing – but it’s remarkably hard to get genuinely angry about a dull, stumpy man in a raincoat. He’s not got a career in pantomime to fall back on, put it that way.

Besides, does anyone really wish that Rodgers hadn’t upped and left? Under Malky Mackay, we’ve played some splendidly attractive attacking football built upon a wonderful team spirit, seen young players brought through the ranks, signed well from the lower leagues and elsewhere…and we’ve done it all without the inescapable waft of smugness that comes with teams who claim to play “the right way”. At football’s party, Brendan Rodgers is the bloke who corners you in the kitchen for an hour while everyone else is having a night to remember (“And then Jose said…”) and we’ve no reason to regret the moment he got his coat.

2. Having said that, he stitched us up good and proper here. Of all the clubs in all the leagues – except Reading, possibly – we should’ve seen this coming, yet we seemed curiously unprepared for opponents able and willing to pass the ball for days on end without getting bored. All right if you’re playing them in a March downpour on a wrecked pitch, but the fixture list wasn’t that kind, the conditions were perfect, and we needed to stake more of a claim.

Despite plenty of moaning and groaning, we got some of it right: rather than chasing around frantically, you need to pick a moment to press and then do it together. But as a strategy, that becomes far less effective if there are enormous open spaces on the rare occasions that the ball goes forward rather than sideways: Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair tore us to shreds whenever their colleagues bothered to involve them (which was about every five minutes or so), and Swansea should’ve helped themselves to more.

3. There is a positive, though: as at this stage last season, we react to setbacks remarkably bullishly. For the vast majority of this match, we were completely outwitted, unable to figure out the answer to the puzzle, and it was impossible to see a result other than a comprehensive away win. Vicarage Road was so silent that John Eustace’s pained cry as he tumbled theatrically in the penalty area echoed eerily around the stands; we didn’t just look desperate, we sounded it too.

And yet our heads didn’t drop. We responded to the first goal by pinning Swansea back into the final third…not much clue how to prize them open after that, but an impressive display of determination nevertheless. We responded to the second in the same way, and Danny Graham’s close range drive was denied by De Vries’ out-stretched foot on the verge of half-time; easy to see that as a pivotal moment, but easy to forget that Millwall had their moments at two-nil down too. When we finally figured out how to oust our opponents from their comfort zone, we went at it with fantastic gusto. Winning runs have come to much more timid, feeble ends than this.

4. But you can’t help feeling that we spent far too long playing Swansea at their own game, at their preferred tempo. Rolling the ball out to Adrian Mariappa and then passing it sideways, for example, is exactly what they want you to do. Likewise, trying to thread neat passes into the forwards. In a contest that was crying out for a more direct, robust approach, it took sixty-six minutes to introduce Troy Deeney while Marvin Sordell learnt that playing with your back to goal isn’t as easy as Danny Graham often makes it look. And then we scored with a whack up-field, a timely flick and a rare sight of open grass to run into.

5. And only then were Swansea made to look like another Championship team with a ropey away record. In truth, we rather overdid it, raining punts towards their eighteen yard line like shells ahead of an advance…but Martin Taylor’s second set up a dramatic climax that seemed somehow inevitable. When the linesman’s flag ruled out the last-kick equaliser, you felt cheated out of the final, vital page of the story, as if someone had recorded the snooker over the end of The Sixth Sense. Bah.


1. JJJack - 29/09/2010

Very entertaining read. Much as I saw it. Good luck for the rest of the season!

2. rousman - 29/09/2010

Scott sinclair was different class. the stats on first half posesion must have been very high for the away side. I said at half time we should have brought Troy Deeney on & gone more direct (Buckley was not having the best of games) he did very well when he did come on & gave there back four & hard time. We should maybe have got a draw, but we were only the better side for about the last 20 minutes,so maybe not.

3. Sirhornet - 29/09/2010

Let’s be honest as soon as I realised that the Swans hadn’t won away from home I knew we were doomed. We are a team where at least 8 of the outfield 10 have to play at or near the best of their ability for us to beat teams. For 75 mins last night that didn’t happen. At least few championship sides have players with the raw pace of Simpson and Dyer.

Hopefully over the season the good and the bad will balance out. We wern’t world beaters after ‘Boro and we’re not a disaster area now.

4. Tim Turner - 30/09/2010

Watching Will Buckley on Tuesday, I had the strange sensation that he’s somehow not fully part of the team.

Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great player. His speed, ability to change pace and ball control are all hugely impressive, and he’s still only 21. And I’m not saying he shirks his duties as part of the team.

But I have a sense that he spends much of the game on the fringe of things. Then he gets the ball and does his thing – and then he loses it (or, occasionally, produces a spectacular pass or cross) and vanishes again. You know how American football teams bring on specialist kickers? It feels a bit like we’ve got a specialist greyhound, or something.

Does this ring any bells with anyone, or am I just going senile?

Matt Rowson - 30/09/2010

Soccerbase and the OS record completely different DOBs for young Will. Soccerbase says dob 12/08/88 so he’s 22. OS says 21/11/89, so he’s 20.

Either way, he’s not “only 21”.

Am I being pedantic?

I agree with the thrust of your point. He’s not worked out how to use his ability effectively yet. But that’s what you get with young players, particularly wingers.

davesol - 01/10/2010

More importantly, what does Football Manager say?

5. Old Git - 30/09/2010

At least twenty minutes of this match seemed to be played with two or three balls on the pitch at the same time. And yet later on, when we were urgently pressing for an equaliser and Scott Loach wanted to take a quick goal kick, they’d lost the lot and had to send out to St. Albans City via a motorcycle courier to see if they had a spare a ball to lend us. Why??

6. Dave Jackson - 30/09/2010

It was interesting hearing a neutral view the other night. I brought along a Man City supporting friend who made some observations. He thought it strange that Sordell stayed on so long when not making any headway. He was also puzzled that Buckley was taken off when he (although not having a great game,) certainly looked the most capable of going past defenders to create things.
When I mentioned that Cowie was top of the assists he took some convincing and wondered if he had his mind on something more pressing.

On the plus side, he was impressed by the urgency and passion of the last 20 minutes and thought Deeney looked a good prospect.

Finally, I agree with Old Git (as usual) about the lack of available balls towards the end…maybe the ref had got fed up of so many on the pitch and put his foot down.

7. Matt Rowson - 30/09/2010

I agree with most of your thinks ig, but didn’t think Dyer was a particular threat. We seemed to have a clear strategy there… kick him up the backside several times in the first half, after which I thought he was pretty quiet.

Sinclair was excellent of course. Joe Allen (24) the other standout for me.

8. Hornetboy84 - 30/09/2010

Will Buckley. Will be Great. Seems to pick the wrong option sometimes but he gives us explosion and something different.

As with leeds – Marvin didnt seem interested enuf. I agree with the neutral – should have been off at half-time. C’mon Malkey sometimes make a braver earlier move.

BUT – am I alone in watching the TV highlights and going; “hang on a minute – if that was off-side it was so marginal the linesman must have played a blinder. Looked quite level to me. Why cant we get a lineman who looks at the bigger picture…. a 3-3 pull back creates spectacular energy and happiness for the majority… he should have more feel for the game and just bloody let it stand.

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