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Watford 1 Reading 1 (20/11/2010) 21/11/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
13 comments

Five thunks from another home draw

1- And a draw between, on the face of it, two sides with rather a lot in common… both living with the financial fallout of brief spells in the top flight (and associated contract decisions), both under the guidance of likeable, honest managers in their first senior role, and both with sides that boast bits that are good and bits that aren’t quite so good in similar measure. The outcome, almost inevitably, a draw, although as the away side Reading will probably be rather the happier.

2- There was much about Watford’s performance that was concerning but nothing terribly surprising, and nothing for which a clear solution presents itself. We knew that we were going into the season with a young side that was going to be dependent on senior players; we’ve already seen, in Cowie’s absence, the impact that removing one of those cogs can have on the whole shape of the side. More of the same today; Jordon Mutch and Stephen McGinn both had reasonable games in the middle of the park but the whole side missed the steadying influence, the aggression, the option, the foot-on-the-ball of John Eustace in the centre. Ross Jenkins might have reminded us of what he best offers, an option not really suited to pairing with the skipper for whom he’d have been the most obvious replacement but for his ankle injury.

Eustace’s absence contributed to the pattern of a game that sometimes appeared to be being played on a tilting table with the play flowing quickly and irresistibly from side to side and end to end as if it was rolling on a slope with limited control over its own destiny.

3- And for all that there are all sorts of mitigating circumstances, for all that there’s an awful lot to like about the side, whatever its limitations, and for all that the management is doing a decent job with the hand they’ve been dealt, you can’t but fear for us at this stage. This was ostensibly a mid-table fixture, but mid-table seems to encompass most of the division both in terms of current points tally and the make-up of the sides. Preston are struggling, but there don’t appear to be any basket cases (Pompey and Hull disappointing on that score) and it might be that all three relegation places go to sides who just happen to be in the wrong place when the music stops.

Our limitations were concisely summarised by Marvin Sordell, back in the side in a bold approach to addressing the Eustace problem by explicitly not solving it but giving us something completely different instead. His impact has been notably less since his injury, and whether his low confidence is cause or effect amounts to the same thing. More than once he was on the end of a deft Watford move but snatched at a chance when he had more time or better options. That’s fine, he’s a kid and kids make bad decisions sometimes – had he happened to catch one right, as he can do, we might have grabbed a goal and he would have been flying again. Thing is, he didn’t, and we’ve got lots of kids who are going to be making more bad decisions if this run of disappointing results continues much longer. We could really have done with a winner from somewhere today.

4- Perversely, in a game which neither defence came into with a pristine reputation and in which each back door was swinging in the breeze throughout, it was the two number fives that stood out. Martin Taylor for the Hornets looks increasingly like the player we thought we’d signed in January, demonstrating the value of games and a proper pre-season. Majestic today, he covered for an unusually tentative display from stand-in skipper Mariappa alongside him. For Reading, skipper Matt Mills was the head on the end of many of the crosses, the foot that blocked so many through balls. Danny Graham has rarely looked as subdued, but this was down in part to his marker’s attentiveness. In an unexpected twist, Troy Deeney looked comfortably the most threatening of our forwards, and put in a very decent shift – his goal exactly the sort of uncompromising header that a centre-forward of his physique ought to be scoring. Good work, that man.

5- I try not to read other reviews of the game or watch highlights before doing these thunks so as not to colour my interpretation… but sometimes it’s difficult to resist the temptation to make sure that you haven’t gotten it all wrong. So it was here, and as such I’ve already gone through the stage that many Hornets must have shared of pointlessly shouting abuse at the commentator on BBC’s highlights programme who briefly acknowledged Shane Long’s handball in the build up to Reading’s opener before asserting that Loach’s clumsy second-half clearance was the talking-point of the game. He followed this up by claiming that two years post-Atwell, Reading had again been denied by a controversial decision. Well researched.

The Loach incident was a lucky break, it looked like a penalty and for the sake of our own sanity we could all probably do with storing this one up and bearing it in mind next time it feels like everything’s going against us. Whether “these things even themselves out” or not, these things tend to stick in the memory more easily when we’re the wronged party. As for Long’s handball… well it looked like a handball on the replay, too, albeit one can forgive the officials for missing it. That Long repeated the same trick for about an hour until finally being booked for it suggests that the furious protest from the Rookery was well-founded. I’m aware that strikers will quite naturally hone an ability to go down at contact and so forth, it’s part of the job. But apparently making a trademark out of flicking your hand out really is a bit desperate.

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Crystal Palace 3 Watford 2 (09/11/2010) 10/11/2010

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
20 comments

1. To write about a trip to Croydon without using the words ‘grey’ and ‘dismal’ is like describing Everest without using ‘big’ or ‘high’; there are people here, you suspect, who regard the sun as desert-dwellers think of snow. There have been notable and memorable exceptions to the rule, but the rule nevertheless holds: if you go to Selhurst expecting an experience similar to being slapped around the face with a dank, smelly, slightly ketchup-stained dishcloth, Selhurst will not let you down.

Cue blokes with an actual, proper eagle, flying from penalty area to penalty area as the teams emerge; let’s hope that doesn’t catch on at Millwall. Cue advert on the big screen for a Crystal Palace dartboard, a joke that requires no further typing. And cue highlights.

2. It’s fair to say that we’ll rarely be beaten by three better strikes: one beautifully judged and perfectly executed curler into the top corner, one clinical finish from eighteen yards, one ferocious drive worthy of Johnno in his prime. It’s also fair to say that our goals were very far from shabby, nimble combinations of passing and movement that exemplified the very best of Malky Mackay’s Watford. And yet in spite of that, and in vintage Selhurst style, this was a thoroughly frustrating and rather dispiriting game of football, a mirage of victory that somehow evaporated when we got close enough to touch it. We woke up to find that bloody dishcloth smacking us round the chops again.

3. Sometimes, as with the recent defeat to Swansea, you have to be honest enough to admit that the opposition were smarter and brighter, that they came up with solutions to the problems you hoped to present. There’s no harm in that, no requirement to change things only because you’ve been beaten. And sometimes, as here, you spend the days until the next game pounding your head against the table in despair, knowing that you let the result slip through your fingers.

After a first half that was almost as one-sided as our last trip to south London, and against a team all nerves and edges, we found ourselves behind; when we finally and suddenly overturned the scoreline after the break, we instantly blew it with hesitant, incoherent defending. At one-nil up, Selhurst was silent with tension; after that insane ten minutes, it echoed with renewed belief. There were simply too many incidents – missed chances, great blocks or saves, convincing penalty claims, opportunities to close down or clear – that didn’t fall in our favour. Or that we didn’t claim for ourselves.

4. I love Danny Graham. Football isn’t littered with players who combine such touch and awareness with an apparently self-motivated, merciless workrate and genuine physical presence. But I worry about him too. That workrate is so punishing that he seems permanently on the verge of breaking down; I wonder how many ninety minutes’ worth of that kind of charging around anyone’s body can take, no matter how fit and strong. There are only so many times your remote controlled car can crash full pelt into the skirting boards before the wheels fall off.

Troy Deeney continues to offer much cause for encouragement punctuated by occasional cause for grumbling, but there’s no question that a Watford forward line without Danny Graham – whose contribution to other players’ performances is so extraordinary – would be an infinitely less threatening proposition. Could he play in some kind of protective casing, perhaps? A full-body version of Petr Cech’s headguard?

5. We just have to be a bit brave at this particular moment. The temptation of poor results is always to change things, to look for The Answer in new formations and new faces; different ideas become confused with good ideas. The knack of management is to sift through all of that, keeping a bit of perspective, sobriety and sanity in the process. It’s about identifying and tackling the problems within your chosen methods rather than changing the methods themselves; it’s about what you need to keep as much as – if not more than – what you need to change.

There’s still plenty that’s right about this team, about these methods. Even if it was undermined, there was plenty that was thoroughly right about this performance. (An honourable mention in passing for young Matt Whichelow, who showed up well once we’d moved him out to the right, and for the much-maligned Stephen McGinn, who contributed a good deal that was bright and positive to outweigh a failing for their second goal.) We have to keep our heads. The good news, based on last season’s evidence, is that the manager doesn’t panic easily. We shouldn’t either.

Watford 1 Nottingham Forest 1 (06/11/2010) 07/11/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
16 comments

Five thunks from a home draw with Forest

1- From the moment that one regular BHaPPY correspondent suggested that he’d be happy with a draw, the outcome here seemed somewhat inevitable. McGugan’s screamer had a touch of finality about it, relatively early in the exchanges as it was; it did feel as if that would be it, and so it transpired. The second half wasn’t without chances and was never dull, but became increasingly congested and scrappy. It does rather seem as if we always draw 1-1 with Forest, although it appears that this hasn’t happened at all since 2003. Must confess that, much as a draw “stops the rot” after a couple of defeats, I kinda felt that we needed to win this. Any disappointment must be tempered by comparison of the squads in question, as betrayed by the respective benches… 160-odd league starts on our bench, 900-odd on Forest’s (not countng Moussi and Majewski’s pre-UK appearances). This whole season needs to be viewed in context which includes, as Malky’s programme notes highlighted, the fact that we’ve been the younger side on the pitch in every game thus far.

2- Full marks for the back four. Mariappa and Martin Taylor look absolutely sorted as a central pairing, complementing each other well with Mariappa increasingly the leader at the back. Andrew Taylor was bang back in form today after being exposed in a difficult afternoon at Derby, and Lloyd did his thing as ever. Forest were decent in possession but foundered on a solid defensive display. We’ve not looked as secure for a while.

3- The decision to start with Troy Deeney was only a surprise, if at all, for as long as it took for Jordon Mutch to give us the lead on three minutes. Whilst Camp looks thoroughly competent, the defence in front of him was a shambles every time a high ball came into the box. That we didn’t capitalise was down in part to simply not getting quality in often enough, down in part to luck, and down in part to some rather tolerant refereeing that saw Deeney wrestled away from the ball more than once and the safe option of penalising the striker adopted at both ends. Deeney’s card was marked by a number around us from the kick off, but for me he did a decent job of holding the ball up, linking the play and receiving the ball with his back to goal. Clearly an asset.

4-We knew that we’d suffer through the absence of any of a number of key players, but our midfield is crying out for the return of the industry and delivery of Don Cowie, whose injury has knocked the whole thing out of kilter. Michael Bryan’s ineffectiveness again was a part of this, but McGinn put a good shift in without ever looking totally comfortable out wide, and Mutch’s contribution was limited. One plus was a lively cameo from Matt Whichelow, who we might expect to see on the bench increasingly frequently, but one wonders what the score is with Will Buckley; in the circumstances, already missing a senior wide player, the failure to employ Buckley is strange… if Mackay doesn’t want to play him, and these are his judgments to make, then one wonders why he’s taking up a place on the bench.

5- Billy Davies. Eurgh.