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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

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.


1. Sequel - 21/11/2010

Great thunks again Matt, as usual. On a day where my emotions were also rolling around as if on a “tilting table”, having at first feared a dire nil-nil, and then a defeat, the rousing second half effort could have snatched it for us.
A word about Scott Loach. A couple of great saves still didn’t prevent some know-alls sitting near us to moan about his deficiencies. Well, consider this: if he was the player we’d all built him up to be, he’d be turning out at Old Trafford or White Hart Lane by now. Be grateful.

2. SteveG - 21/11/2010

An interesting starting XI – and one which suggests that sometimes Malky is more inventive that he is given credit for. However given the strength of Reading’s central defenders, it did seem perverse to be pumping high balls in – we got virtually nothing from this all afternoon. Sometimes you do just need to clear your lines of course and hoof it forward, but again this afternoon I thought we looked very much sharper when playing the ball to feet – and we did do much more of this in the second half.
This was my first match since Swansea, and like you, Matt, I’ve been a supporter of Mariappa at centre back. But I know opinion has been divided, and he looked horribly out of form yesterday. I’ve been impressed with Bennett when I’ve seen him play – is it time for a change here?
And there’s no point in making substitutions for the sake of it, and I could see why Malky didn’t, but given that Sordell was having such a torrid time being outmuscled and out-thought, pushing the impressive Deeney further forward and bringing on a wide player might have been worth a punt … and I still have a sneaking feeling that trying Hodson at right midfield in front of Doyley might be worth a try at some stage….look what a move into midfield did for Bale!

Matt Rowson - 21/11/2010

re Mariappa… I think he’s been pretty terrific up until yesterday, and wouldn’t drop him on the back of one bad performance. Demerit’s form never seemed to profit from him having the captaincy, maybe Mariappa just had too much to think about. Either way, with so few senior, dependable players we can’t go dropping them lightly – although I like the look of Bennett also.

Sordell gives us something different – he’s off form at the moment, but he still opened things up with his pace; a forward line of Graham and Deeney is an easier thing to know how to deal with.

Agree about Hodson though, worth a punt in midfield absolutely.

marcus - 22/11/2010

Mally tried Hodson in midfield pre-season and to my eyes it was a resounding failure. I reckon Mariappa (or Martin Taylor) would be a better “punt” in midfield which would also allow Dale Bennett into the first team. On balance I am with Matt – stick with Mariappa & Taylor for now and keep Bennett & Hodson in reserve – they will surely have their chance given injuries and the possible recall by Mowbray of Andrew Taylor.

3. Sirhornet - 21/11/2010

Two middling teams, in mid-table from medium sized towns served up a draw. Quelle suprise!

Must say the Mariappa-Loach comedy act is beginning to worry me – one goal conceded, one saved by A Taylor (please, Mowbray can we keep him) and one awful miss by Karacan all down to very poor communication bewteen these two.

4. Stephen Hoffman - 22/11/2010

Matt much as I am a fan of Mariappa in the past four games and in the two away games in particular Marriapa was poor.

Also one has to ask what has happened to Buckley? It seems strange to keep a player completely out of the picture considering our small squad.

5. NickB - 22/11/2010

It was a game which seemed to encourage you to catch up with gossip with friends/ relatives and seemed to drift by in a parallel dimension.

Second half performances seem entirely predictable: I never feel that a goal’s coming and have to avoid the temptation to sneak off early. Both teams seemed to have settled for a draw rather early in proceedings.

Thought both Taylors did very well, together with Deeney, bit worried how Graham goes whole matches, I’d guess 4 of the last 6, without getting a meaningful goal effort away, for all his other plus points.

Unlike some, thought the ref had a decent game.

In hindsight, watching the Arsenal Spurs game beforehand gave this one far too much to live up to, a bit like a quails eggs starter followed by a Pot Noodle.

6. Tim Turner - 22/11/2010

A few things no one else has mentioned:

1) It was incredible how the confidence flooded through the team in the wake of Deeney’s goal, as if someone had flicked a switch. Up to that point, we’d been as flat as I’ve seen us all season.

2) It’s worth highlighting Lloydinho’s immense performance in the second half, when he repeatedly found himself alone in the penalty box when searching crosses came over. Unless I’m misremembering, he accurately headed every single one out for a throw-in rather than a corner, which can’t be easy.

3) Talking of corners, how good were Jordan Mutch’s? It’s long been a source of grumbling around my area of the Rookery that our corners are hopeless, but I think we’ve found the solution (at least until January…).

Incidentally, having only missed three home games all season, I have yet to witness a Watford victory, and it’s not going to happen until December at the earliest now. In 40 years of supporting the club, I think that may be a first.

7. rousman - 22/11/2010

One of the plus point’s from the game was the performance of Scott Loach who looked a lot more positve, from my seat in the Rous I did not think for one moment it was a penalty he cleaned the player out after making full contact with the ball good goalkeeping. Scott has taken a lot of stick from some of the fan’s of late maybe with some reason but on Saturday he was one of our best player’s along with the two Taylor’s (your comment’s on Tiny are bang on) Deeney had by far his best game so far, Mcginn did his best to fill JE shoe’s & to be fair did an ok job. The worry is when the music stop’s !!

8. The Great Big O - 22/11/2010

It’s surely also worthy of note that our goal drought at the Rookery end continues.

Not only that, but – from my seat high in the Rookery – I’m rarely finding myself on my feet when we’re attacking the near goal. There are few sustained attacks, few corners. Sometimes, perhaps conditioned by anti-climax, people aren’t even bothering to stand now – and the excitement of an unplanned Mexican Wave, accompanied by the crackerjack popping of seats, just doesn’t happen.

It’s so long since we scored at the Rookery, there must be something psychological or just plain habitual developing.

9. sporteconomist - 23/11/2010

I am still in the US so missed the game but was thankful the day before when I heard that Eustace would be missing. He had dominated the last encounter in May.

My reaction to the scoreline was a bored shrug and that seems to be the main feeling here. It just sounds like it was a profoundly uninteresting encounter. You are spot on Matt to highlight the financial fall out – it’s just about very slowly rebuilding for both clubs now.

10. Adam J - 24/11/2010

I am an avid reader of both BHaPPY and the Guardian’s sports blog. On the latter, I have noticed over the past couple of years the introducion of more and more ‘Five things we learnt from [insert sporting event ranging from the weekends Premier League football, the England rugby international, the county championship season, etc…] and now even using it for future events (5 things we can expect…)

Part of me thinks that this is a blatent steal and that those pesky writers have just stolen the ‘Five Thunks’ model. But part of me thinks, actually they’re just saying 5 things becasue 5 is a nice number.

Who know ey.

In other news, I didn’t attend the game. Bad times.

11. Lanterne Rouge - 03/12/2010

Paragraph 3 is a particularly exquisite piece of writing I must say!

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