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

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

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.



1. marcus - 10/11/2010

What a great post, Ian. I will express similar thoughts, less coherently, on WML when I have a chance.

(yes, this must have a chance in the most sycophantic comment of the year, I know)

2. John Samways - 10/11/2010

Another ‘sycophantic’ comment from one who was listening to 3CR in the west country. As I finished it I simply thought – ‘Malky et al MUST read this.’

I think we realise the potential ability of the squad and have been encouraged. We are now about to learn about their character – I am trusting we shall be equally encouraged.

Keep up the great postings – not least for those who cannot be there. Many thanks.

marcus - 10/11/2010

How does 3CR reach the west country? Hornets Player or some form of personal relay??

NRC - 11/11/2010


marcus - 12/11/2010

pretty sure they don’t internet stream the Watford commentaries.

NRC - 12/11/2010

Very big ears?

marcus - 12/11/2010

so I have been told, but there is no need to get personal!

3. DM - 10/11/2010

5 – bang on. There’s not much wrong that a return to fitness for Cowie and form for Loach won’t cure.

4. Dave Jackson - 10/11/2010

A very kind and well argued defence in the light of our recent worrying run of 1 point from 12.
In para 5 you imply that there’s nothing to change about Malky’s method. Does this include his negative tactic of cramming people into midfield rather than having an outlet in a wide position?
This pattern has cropped up and failed so many times. You mention how Wichelow performed better out wide. I’d throw in Bryan against Scunthorpe too when we started so narrowly and created virtually nothing as a result. I think the same happened shape wise against Coventry too. We are not Arsenal, we don’t have the players to consistently work the ball through the middle and create enough chances.
Why wait until we are losing to put someone out wide? I’d rather see us attack with all guns blazing from the start. Also, with our current defence, surely attack IS our best form of defence?

Ian Grant - 10/11/2010

In answer to your question, Dave…yes, I think it does include that. We do tend to play a narrow midfield, but I’d seriously question the idea that it’s ‘failed so many times’, especially when it comes to away games. On the contrary, I think it serves us quite well generally: we look like a tight, hard-working side with clearly defined roles for young players, although I concede that there are times when we struggle for a creative outlet in home games.

As for last night, Whichelow was playing centrally when we started, presumably in an attempt to get him into the space behind the strikers. It didn’t work, so we changed it; it wasn’t an attacking response to going behind, merely a reaction to the flow of the game. He was much more effective in that wide position, albeit that the end product was variable…but he was hardly nailed to the touchline and played what I would consider to be a typical wide role in our team. If anything, the change returned us to our usual formation.

5. rousman - 10/11/2010

My first trip to selhurst park, what nasty horrible place, how did we lose that game, I think it may have been a tale of two keeper’s swop them round & we would have won. I like Scott but he is not having the best of times at the moment. the most gutted I have been this season.

6. derry pigweed - 10/11/2010

Loach or Speroni ?

7. NickB - 11/11/2010

Didn’t go, have some thoughts, but am so in awe of this summary that I don’t feel like posting.

Matt is a fine writer, but I reitrate my plea of several years ago on BSaD for Ian to take his place among the really top football writers. Henry Winter? Pshaw.

Now that’s sycophancy.

Ian Grant - 11/11/2010

Steady now. Think of me as an ageing super-sub; I’ve still got it, but my knees are falling apart and I can’t do a full ninety minutes any more… šŸ˜‰

8. Harefield Hornet - 11/11/2010

This current team reminds me very much of my four year old daughter. No matter how many times you encourage her and praise the good behaviour, the bad behaviour often rears it’s head and thwarts progress. Anyone with small children will understand what I’m driving at. Until we have the funds to purchase high-quality experienced consistant players (which will probably be never) it’s something we just have to live with.

Ian Grant - 11/11/2010

Nice analogy, although its logical conclusion would be that you’re looking to replace your four year old daughter with someone older and wiser as soon as the opportunity arises. Which is possibly not something to broadcast….

Besides, there are plenty of upsides to the current approach: there might be mistakes, but those mistakes are honestly made. The idea of Watford as a club that nurtures young talent, whether that talent originates from its own academy or from careful trawling of the lower leagues, is something that makes me very content.

Harefield Hornet - 12/11/2010

God forbid….! At least hopefully once she is older and wiser she will probably stick around longer than the current crop of young talent at Watford and might even join me in the Rous.

I too am very proud of the development of players at this club. This is a great tradition that stretches back a long way…My all time favourite was/is my brother-in-law – a kid called Brian Owen from Harefield who made his debut in the same game as Pat Jennings!

9. NickB - 12/11/2010

“a kid called Brian Owen from Harefield who made his debut in the same game as Pat Jennings!”

He was a nice bloke and a very decent footballer; I must have got his autograph on at least 50 programmes as a c. 10 year old (me, not him…)
Cue reminiscences about THAT goal

10. Colin Wiggins - 17/11/2010

What goal’s that then?

(only kidding!)

11. Season Preview Part 2 | BHaPPY (not BSaD) - 04/08/2015

[…] 2-3 […]

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