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Watford 4 Cardiff City 1 (28/12/2010) 29/12/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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Five thunks from a foggy, dazed Vicarage Road.

1- Our most recent game – which feels like months ago, not merely 18 days – saw us beat the league leaders. Utterly. Definitively. Superlatives flowed as effortlessly as, um, wine, in describing a performance that humbled a previously unbeaten side.

This one, if anything, was better. Better, because we overcame not only a formidable opponent, but also the blow of seeing our first penalty since I don’t know when saved, before going behind. Cardiff had kicked off in the sleepy mood often displayed by both sides in Boxing Day games, despite the fact that they had had Saturday’s win over Coventry to get that out of their system. We began like the puppy you got for Christmas; excitable, bouncy, not quite able to focus our energy productively but very much up for it after a long time without a game and very much on top. And then, the penalty chance having been squandered, Cardiff eased themselves upfield, stretched, yawned, and picked us effortlessly apart to fashion a one-goal lead.

It felt like it might be a long afternoon at that point, however briefly. So to overcome this against another very experienced side, to not only engineer a comprehensive victory but to squash the game so thoroughly in the second half… words fail me, frankly. This is the side that couldn’t hold a lead at the start of the season, right? And yet here we are with twenty minutes, twenty minutes to go, passing the ball around at 3-1 up to cheers from the crowd as a forlorn Cardiff chased like idiots. Having said that superlatives came easily after QPR, it’s difficult to find the words to do justice to this performance. I wanted to write a proper match report, but without the benefit of notes that would be like trying to pick up the Atlantic Ocean in your cupped hands. Breathtaking stuff.

2 – It seems unfair to pick out an individual performance, since there wasn’t a single one in the starting eleven that was less than outstanding. At the back Scott Loach, helpless for the goal, was decisive and confident with what little he had to deal with. If our defending still looks more deliberate than our attacking, less instinctive understanding than a script learned parrot fashion, then Taylor (M) and Mariappa still dominated their charges comprehensively. Bothroyd, who destroyed us here last season, and Bellamy would have been a more formidable forward line, but Chopra and Keogh isn’t shabby by Div 2 standards.

Doyley and Taylor (A) bombed backwards and forwards down each touchline, Lloyd’s crowning moment a wonderfully dismissive dispossession of Chris Burke in the first half. In midfield, John Eustace was… John Eustace. Jordon Mutch looks ever increasingly a Premiership midfielder, and Don Cowie only stopped moving to line up the corner that Eustace headed in for 3-1. Danny Graham was almost unplayable, workrate coupled with intelligence, the selflessness of the team player with the ruthlessness of a goalscorer. Marvin Sordell, his first goal for a while, did a tremendous job in a slightly different role… more a target man today than hanging on his marker’s shoulder.

But the stand-out, most remarkable, most noteworthy performance was that of Will Buckley. “Swash”, like Watford, will always benefit from being given space (see Thunk 4). But there’s taking advantage, and there’s taking advantage. The comedy highlight of the season so far was the utterly vanquished Lee Naylor’s substitution after only half an hour, half an hour that saw him concede a penalty, pick up a yellow card, and enjoy repeated views of the back of Will Buckley’s heels, often from pitch level. Buckley’s twelve months at the club have been erratic, but this was by some distance his most convincing performance… he’ll always run at people, but here there was purpose, direction, and for all his raggedy scruffiness, no small discipline. And Cardiff couldn’t handle it, as two penalties and the genius behind our tremendous equaliser testify. The extra decibels of enthusiasm as Buckley was withdrawn were well merited.

3- The fog, of course, was the greatest concern. Long before the end we genuinely weren’t able to see just how many of the legions of Bluebirds ferried over from Wales in a fleet of coaches that blocked Vicarage Road had sneaked out… Miles, sitting behind us, had called a 5-1 lead and abandonment due to the fog at half time, and was jumping around in nervous, grinning apprehension long before the end. It was never quite bad enough for Mark Haywood to call off proceedings though, and ultimately contributed to the drama unfolding in front of us.

4- Much as it’s tempting to bathe in the reflected glory of the last two performances – and frankly, when else are you going to enjoy supporting your team if not after the demolition of the league’s best two sides – we can expect our card to be well marked by these two eye-catching performances. It’s no coincidence that these spectacular wins came against sides who set out to out-play us and gave us space to exploit accordingly. We could do with working on breaking down sides that stick men behind the ball and keep it tight, as one suspects that anyone with any sense will be giving that a go before too long.

5- With the year coming to an end, the transfer market’s rumblings will be more nervously studied than usual. Andrew Taylor and Jordon Mutch are on loans that expire imminently, unless we are successful in extending them. Scott Loach continues to attract comment linking him with Premiership clubs, whilst Don Cowie’s aggravatingly precarious contract position saw him linked with a January move to Blackpool last week. And as my co-editor pointed out during the game, it’s inconceivable that we won’t be fielding offers for Danny Graham. In the latter regard above all, Ashley Young’s career path will be of particular interest. 15% of anything above £9.6m might only amount to about half a million if the mooted £13m move to Old Trafford comes off, but that £500k might be crucial in rendering all but the most generous offers for our leading striker resistable…

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1. Esp - 29/12/2010

I can’t remember the last time I bothered to purchase a Watford season highlights DVD as, if truth be told, in recent seasons there were probably a total of 30 minutes worth of proper highlights – however THIS SEASON – Wow!!! QPR and Millwall away plus yesterday would throw up 100 minutes worth easily. Can I place my order now please Mr Mackay?

2. The Great Big O - 29/12/2010

Very nicely captured, Matt. That was a wonderful afternoon.

I really can’t remember a Watford side with such quality on the ball. The touch, movement, skill, speed of thought, and passing were of the highest standard. All allied to energy, spirit, desire and belief.

It was such a pleasure to watch that, as the fog threatened, I briefly thought I wouldn’t mind an abandonment: I’d watched 45 minutes of football to treasure and would get the chance to watch another match for free. Then we scored three goals and I changed my mind. A performance like that – done justice by a large margin of victory – deserves to go down in the record books.

It was both thrilling and heart-warming. It felt like one of those famous atmospheric ‘Watford nights’ in that we came from behind to thump a supposedly superior side – even though the quality of football was unrecognisable as from WD18.

Marvellous.

3. Luke Fairweather - 29/12/2010

Overheard last evening on 3CR…”Watford desperately need new owners because the current board lacks abmition”… Good grief, you can only marvel at some people’s inability to pay attention and make reasoned judgements. Dunno who you are mate but I am glad you are not in the board room.
Full credit to everyone today. After last years humiliation I had feared the worst when we went behind, but what happened next was something else. One gift I will not be returning!
Happy Crimble Everyone.

Luke

4. Marcus - 29/12/2010

Best I have seen us play.

We had a v good shout for a penalty late H1 when Sordell bundled off ball.

MTaylor and Mariappa now a solid pairing.

We look so much better balanced since ATaylor’s arrival.

Too right re Jordon Mutch – different from Cleverley and perhaps not quite as talented but a year younger and less experienced.

Of course, as has already been proven this season we never win 4 in a row but, hey, records are made to be broken so roll on New Year’s Day!

5. NickB - 29/12/2010

Driving from Hemel to Bovingdon at 3.05, I switched on Radio 5 to listen to the scores from some other games. After a couple of minutes, the sheer volume of matches began to make me feel a bit uneasy. Quick call to son to check it really was a 7.45 kick off…
Cue mad dash to Watford in time for the second half…
What unfolded felt like the players had conspired to produce a personal podcast just for us; a strange, surreal but utterly life affirming experience.
What a team this is.

6. NRC - 29/12/2010

Excellent as ever Matt in summarising how it felt to be there. I enjoyed a fresh vantage point high up in the Vic Road end on the basis that at least I would see some goals, but didn’t count on a missed penalty! Also meant sharing the concern about the fog which seemed to be rolling in from the allotments – only knew the second pen had gone in by the cheers from the Rookery.

Credit to Buckley yes, but an excellent team performance and some fantastic passing. Finally, why do people still get on Loach’s back? Can’t help but think he’s a work in progress and playing (well) at the right level for now, a move for him to bench-warm hardly in his interests.

7. rousman - 29/12/2010

Sorry Matt agree with everything but the performance against QPR was the better 1 we were away at the league leaders unbeaten. 2 QPR are a lot better team than Cardiff & on the night we were better than them in every department. At half time I was talking to some of our fans who were saying how bad QPR had been (you do not go 20 games unbeaten in any league if you are a bad team)it was just the fact that we were that good & did not let them play. Although yesterdays performance was of a very high standard the one at Loftus Road was better. Cardiff play offs QPR automatic.

Matt Rowson - 29/12/2010

You were at both, so I doff my cap to your judgment… I just thought that more obstacles were thrown in our way yesterday. A missed penalty, a well-crafted goal to go behind after we’d been dominating and a long time to protect a lead are all things we’d struggled with in the past. Worse problems to have than to choose between such performances though, eh?

rousman - 29/12/2010

Good point Matt !!

8. Hornetboy84 - 29/12/2010

It really is a testament to malky how he is has built such a strong core team from youth, shrewd loans and clever lower league purchase. It has to be the way that we buy cheap and develop then sell Ala Williamson and I fear grahAm. I fear we need this investment fast or I can see us being left with a legacy of safety but a depArting manager as he sees his work being dismantled by financial necessity. The irony if we have to sell Graham to pay Ellington wages is too much to contemplate. So let’s enjoy while we can and focus on 52 points and hope 2011 brings us some good news. Even keeping Mutch and walker who are both quality would be a positive sign
HB84

9. Kris - 29/12/2010

What a double for Malky and the lads. But let me echo chunk 5 and the worries that all this success breeds for someone like me. We’re a small poor club overachieving currently. Here I don’t mean our league position (though that is much higher than I believed it would be) I am referring to the way we play and the way certain individuals play. We’re attracting attention to our team – attention which could lead to us losing several key members of our squad. Unless the alleged take-over is completed before the end of the window I could see us forced to sell a number of key players.

Graham – 14 goals before the new year is bound to attract suitors.
Eustace – such a pivotal player for us and possibly the most important.
Cowie – with little to no time left on his contract he’ll go for much less than he is worth to us.
Loach – obviously attracting attention but not my main concern. Lots of good keepers warming benches in the Prem.
Buckley – his recent performances will make scouts take notice.
Malky – to play good football and be successful on a shoestring budget while bringing youngster after youngster through is bound to stir interest.

I guess my point is that January will be nervous times for us hornets. I just hope that we can find the finances to keep the side together.

10. John Samways - 29/12/2010

Excellent summary as ever, Matt. Over six decades I cannot recall a Watford side taking a greater delight in playing WITH and playing FOR each other. There was not a moment in yesterday’s performance in which players were not working hard off the ball to get into space for colleagues.

When you add into the mix a management team, Board of Directors and office officials who also take delight in working for and with each other, it makes for a heady mix!

A fine team effort by one and all – a joy and privilege to be a part of it as a supporter.

11. Roger Smith (aka Rookerynook) - 29/12/2010

Spot on – and your puppy analogy quite brilliant.

Like you, I was concerned about the fog. When we scored the fourth I was pleading with them to cut the celebrations short and get the game over.

As you say, woe betide any team that comes at us. However, I now believe that we are creative enough to break down any team – as we shall need to be in the Premiership. The difference is that we’re passing into space, not to players who are already marked. The expression in the book “Enjoy the Game” that I got for Christmas is passing for the man, not to the man.

If I had one criticism, it would be that, with the stunning exception of Cowie’s corner on to Eustace’s head, our crossing from space in wide positions is more hopeful than purposeful.

I’m more optimistic regarding the possible sale of Ashley Young. If reports are to be believed, there are several clubs in for him and Man Utd would get a bargain at £13M. I don’t think Houllier will let him go at that price.

12. StevieT - 29/12/2010

I can’t remember coming away form a home game with so much joy since we beat Southampton and Portsmouth comprehensively in the Carling Cup about 6 years ago.

Yesterday was an astonishing performance where no player took a step backwards (witness Doyley’s shepherding of Chopra back towards his own goal).

One question I have – why wasn’t a free kick given when Doyley (I think) flattened Chopra (I think)? There was I wondering what colour the card was going to be and the ref proceeded to give a drop ball. Given the fog, I guess only someone sitting at the front of the Rous will be able to say with any certainty.

13. Ian - 29/12/2010

Much as been made, probably quite rightly, of our academy of late but what struck me as I watched Buckley tear down the wing yesterday was how good our signings have been recently. Managers are often unfairly criticised for some dodgy buys but it’s a very inexact science (for every Ian Bolton, there’s a Dai Thomas). For a while it looked liked Malky’s signing of Buckley and McGinn was going to be mediocre at best. Look at Buckley and McGinn now, plus Graham, Cowie, Williamson a couple of seasons ago, Taylor, and you’ve got a pretty good success rate. Whoever it is been behind our incoming transfers over the past couple of years – whether that’s Malky, our head of scouting or perhaps Graham Taylor’s influence – somebody obviously knows what they’re doing.

Yesterday, I began to fear the worst not when Cardiff scored but when they substituted Naylor. A booking and a conceded penalty to his name made this an astute decision by Jones – and highlighted perfectly our comparative weakness in depth. It’s something we couldn’t do.

On another note, putting aside opinions about personalities, I think the fact that there are three former Watford managers plus our current one managing teams all in the Championship’s top 10 shows us we’ve been pretty lucky with the quality of managers over the past few years. Perhaps we didn’t quite realise it at the time.

Yesterday was the most complete performance against a good team I’ve seen for ages. Almost reminds you of the season we went up, doesn’t it.

thehornet35 - 29/12/2010

If your refering to when we went up with Boothroyd, I think we play a much better brand of football now to then, what Boothroyd did worked wonders for us (and in no small part of course to the quality of our forward players, King, Henderson, Young, Spring etc). But now we are a more flexible, more aware team than we were with Aidy. We seem to have finally got the belief to hold onto the ball when we are winning, rather than just ‘hoofing’ it 60 yards up the pitch. I remember so many times being 1 or even 2 goals to the good and being VERY nervous in the last 10 minutes. Now, Im not so nervous anymore.

14. drewoneone - 29/12/2010

Had a nightmare journey on M25 from Sussex (4 hours!) and considered giving up and going back to listen to the commentary on Hornet Player. Decided to plough on and got in the ground at 3.25 as Danny equalised. “You haven’t missed much” and “good journey?” were my “mates” comments as I took my seat.

I take full responsibility for this result as things just got progressively better upon my arrival! (tee hee)

One of the most joyous Christmas (or any time of year for that matter) performances I have witnessed in many years. Matt and the other comments have pretty well summed up this thrashing of one of the expected promotion candidates so not much to add.

Best chant from the Rookery at the Cardiff fans as we went 4-1 up in thickening fog – “we can’t see you sneaking out….”

Here’s hoping we can get through the window without seeing the squad reduced – come on you investors, and Come On You Horns!

15. JohnF - 29/12/2010

Fantastic performance but we have to accept that there will still be blips in the season as players are injured or suspended and there are variations in form. Yesterday the average age of the bench was just under 20. We as fans have to be patient which I see on this website but not everywhere. Our biggest problem as a club is the low level of support we have so we don’t get the level of income we need to be truly competitive in the mad football world we inhabit. As far as I know we do not have to sell a player in the window but a chunk of Ashley Young’s transfer fee would help. Getting Ellington and Sadler off the books would also help. As far as investment is concerned, I am not expecting much as in this world investment is something of a misnomer since investment implies a return on capital. How? Keep the faith and we can enjoy our triumphs and not depair at our failures.

16. Roger Smith (aka Rookerynook) - 29/12/2010

Ian: “Yesterday, I began to fear the worst not when Cardiff scored but when they substituted Naylor. A booking and a conceded penalty to his name made this an astute decision by Jones – and highlighted perfectly our comparative weakness in depth. It’s something we couldn’t do”.

Maybe not yesterday, but generally our bench is stronger than many give it credit for. At full back, Doyley can play on either flank, and Hodson is normally available. In the centre, Bennett proved himself more than capable, and for an extended run, when JDM got injured. Up front, Deeney is forcing himself into the mix.

Keep the faith!

17. SteveG - 29/12/2010

What a great afternoon – and I was there this time!

Kris – it’s a pity that we can’t just enjoy these occasions without new anxieties creeping in, but I accept that every silver lining does have a cloud wrapped around it. However, we have been here before, when the departure of King/Smith/Williamson/Priskin/Shittu* (*delete according to taste or substitute a player of your own choice) was going to be the end of the world, and we’ve recovered (sometimes more easily than others) to produce some exceptional team performances – so while I would hate to see Danny Graham go, who’s to say that Troy Deeney won’t turn into a world beater? (OK – lots of you, perhaps, but you get the point).

John F – spot on. Enjoy the moment, and this should make sure that any residual thoughts of relegation will shortly be banished – this is priority 2. Priority 1 is to stay solvent – and there’s no point getting worked up now about mistakes made with Ellington and Sadler in the past. This will be sorted by the summer – anything earlier is a bonus. New investment will clearly help, but let’s not get too excited about silly levels of investment. It won’t happen. We’ve done very well with sensible investment and a manager who is clearly placing a premium on the team being more important than the individual. If we can get a deal that puts us back on an even keel finacially and gives a chance of clearing te debts by the time we’ve got the silly contracts out of the way this will be good. Investment to sort the ground out would be even better but don’t hold your breath.

We’re playing attractive football with an excellent team spirit and have a very good chance of a top 10 finish – I think I’d settle for that.

18. Matt Lovett - 29/12/2010

No comments on here about Mr Hayward the referee. He’s surely the best we’ve had at the Vic for quite some time (and not just for the penalties!). Looking at the stats there were just 14 fouls (7 by each team), 2 bookings that were fully justified from my viewpoint, a match that flowed throughout, and not a single chant from either end about his parentage, personal habits etc etc (the stats didn’t mention this of course, but I didn’t hear a single grumble about him in the Rookery). A great performance from the Boys, but credit to the ref for an excellent performance.

19. MartinG - 30/12/2010

That was all very enjoyable. Great to see the ball on the deck and some old fashioned wing play. The Wales Online report of the game is worth a look, particularly the bit about Buckley tormenting Naylor.


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