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Watford 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 1 (29/01/2011) 29/01/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
15 comments

Five thunks from the point from which we concentrate on the league (again)…

1- Yes, we were poor. But we also let things fall rather tidily into Brighton’s lap. If you’re going to test Bruce Willis’ versatility as an actor, you don’t cast him as a battle-scarred hard man who likes to bend the rules. Similarly, by gifting Albion a soft early goal we rather invited them to play to what appeared to be their strengths… keeping possession, slowing the game down, sitting back and hitting us on the break. All of which they did very effectively, indisputably meriting a victory that they should probably have made safe rather earlier… it’s just…. there wasn’t much of a challenge there, was there? Our midfield clearly the central problem on this occasion, a department of the team that had looked irresistible earlier in the season; Stephen McGinn and Piero Mingoia surely the lightest central midfield partnership we’ve ever fielded, and whilst both can be neat and tidy, neither is designed to wrest possession from an opponent who needs do no more than keep it. Any one of the unfit Eustace, the injured (since this morning) Jenkins or the cup-tied Drinkwater would have given us at least some welly in the centre of the park. As it was, Brighton had no need to veer from their preferred course. No challenging, stretching scenes in other words, no calls on an unseen sensitive side… which is a shame, since our slightly more animated second half outing suggested that their back line wasn’t infallible. Brighton’s credibility as a Championship side will need to be assessed on another day – they did the job here, but weren’t asked nearly enough questions.

2- Bloody hell it was cold. ig had two hats on. And a beard. Dave and crew disappeared to the bar around the half hour mark and only reluctantly returned five into the second on the agreement that a second Albion goal would permit departure to the warmth of the pub, heads held high. At half time, the entire Rookery seemed to decamp inside the stand in search of warmth, the lack of body heat outside in the stand possibly contributing to it seemingly dropping another couple of degrees. Our performance on the pitch seemed similarly stilted by the cold, although as we briefly threatened a head of steam in the second half the Rookery responded with an enthusiasm that our largely unconvincing forays didn’t really justify… any excuse to jump up and down would be seized upon.

3- One tries to avoid bleating on about referees, especially after a defeat, not least after a defeat to a lower division club. Whilst again emphasising that Albion deserved their win, and possibly by a larger margin, one can’t help but feel that what little momentum we did threaten to generate was suffocated as much by Eddie Ilderton as by our opponents. Albion had done their homework on our set pieces, leaving two or three men on Martin Taylor on each occasion, but quite how the referee decides that Taylor’s the guilty party after each collision was beyond me. Will Buckley was cynically hacked on the edge of the box as we carved out one of few clear chances… an advantage rightly played, Graham shot narrowly wide but there was no excuse for not at least speaking to the perpetrator afterwards, whose actions merited a yellow card. This was a game that was always going to challenge the official, as Brighton set out to frustrate and our young side… got frustrated. But Ilderton’s failure to handle this challenge was summed up when Doyley, hardly the most flammable personality in the Watford side, got himself booked when Ilderton once again overlooked a clattering dished out by an opponent in blue.

4- Rene Gilmartin, it must be said, isn’t staking much of a claim for Scott Loach’s starting position. His howler on sixteen minutes had been preceded by a couple of nervous punches, and his handling henceforth was hardly flawless. Young keepers make mistakes, I guess, and coming in after not playing at all must be hard. Most will be far from being convinced on evidence thus far, however.

5- A promising cameo from young Andi Weimann who looked as keen as scharfes Senf, winning an impressive flick-on for his first touch and then scampering around non-stop as if someone had their finger permanently on the “sprint” button. It will be interesting to see whether there’s any further movement before end of play on Monday; Weimann and Drinkwater, the later reportedly an all-action combative midfielder, seem to address already strong positions. A left back would certainly be handy, and if Tony Mowbray’s playing silly buggers then one wonders how successful we’ll be at moving down Malky’s advertised list of back-ups at such short notice.

Watford 3 Derby County 0 (15/01/2011) 16/01/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
34 comments

Five thunks from yet another victory…

1- In the pub beforehand, the fear was that this would be the one. Derby… OK, on a poor run, but won the same fixture a year ago with similar key men when also on a poor run, and in a fashion which might be expected to be fruitful should they try it again. They did try it again, kinda, although this was a far sloppier, shoddier Derby than that which won here last season (see Thunk 4), and yet we managed to fashion another flavour of three goal victory. A slight variant on last week, in fact; it took us a while to get the breakthrough, but then the goals flowed like water through a hole in a dam. Our visitors contributed to two of them, but the second was a brutally beautiful, clinical exploitation of an opposition that was reeling. There are so many goals in this side at the moment it’s not true, and 22 in 7 games – 7 games in which the incomparable Graham has netted at least once – is just silly. The second half was almost as impressive as the goal rush… pantomime dame Robbie Savage on 606, whilst conceding our superiority, asked our caller how many shots a supposedly magnificent Watford had had in the second half. He missed the point. Derby were chasing the game, had most of the ball, and precisely no shots on target. Our game, from the moment we took the lead.

2- Is it wrong to eulogise Martin Taylor twice within a fortnight? Sod it, I’m going to do it anyway. At times today he looked like a tolerant Dad playing with a bunch of kids in the park… trying not to humiliate or hurt anybody, but clearly, physically, on every level effortlessly superior to what was going on around him, and just too competitive not to make it count. The bollocks.

3- Referee Gavin Ward might have to toughen up slightly if he wants to make the Prem list. His role in the day’s events was incidental, but a footnote to the afternoon was him becoming possibly the first referee ever to be swayed by the cacophony of noise (ahem) that is Vicarage Road. At the end of the first half, Kris Commons received a cross field ball inside the area, and brought it down brilliantly with his chest/shoulder. “Handball”, yelled the Rookery… not the yell of conviction borne of a clear misdemeanour, but a sort of ripple effect prompted by one or two shouts and several others thinking “yeah, worth a try” and joining in. And Mr.Ward acquiesed, to Commons’ fury. the winger’s half that far had suggested that a superb first touch tended to be let down by no pace whatsoever and little end product – a suggestion perhaps shared by Clough, who withdrew his charge at half time. In any event, he wasn’t going anywhere, so not a major turning point, but one for the history books nonetheless.

4- For all his surliness, it’s hard to dislike Nigel Clough or the approach to rebuilding the Rams that he has undertaken. Nonetheless, this looks a precarious position for the Derby manager… his side looked thoroughly miserable. Three bookings for dissent (a tally that looked a little lenient from our viewpoint), appalling body language… this isn’t a ship that’s about to be steadied. The first half told the full story of the two sides’ recent history… for whilst Derby should have exploited the openings provided by instances of poor communication at the back (but weren’t positive or lively enough), we mercilessly punished mistakes at the other end. Above all, Derby’s selection bore plenty of evidence of the fiddling borne of a lack of ideas… Robbie Savage, not the most mobile any more, alongside Miles Addison, just back from a year out, in central midfield? Quite an optimistic ask, that. With a more than passable midfield engine, Paul Green, at right back whilst a right-back spends a half at centre-back? I suspect the clock may be ticking for Mr Clough.

5- You know this, but I’m going to say it anyway. There have been better Watford sides than this in the past, and teams that have achieved more (although there’s time…). But this little spell bears comparison with the most illogically enjoyable of our past (and there have been plenty of those). We’ve not battled and scrapped for these results, although the work rate is there. We’re comprehensively too good for people, week after week. It would be prudent to reserve final judgment perhaps until we see the squad at the end of January. But at the moment, being ten points from safety looks, extraordinarily, irrelevant. And this with a first team with an average age of under 24, and a subs bench with an average age of 20. Truly, glorious fun at the moment, and not to be taken for granted.

Watford 4 Hartlepool United 1 (08/01/2011) 09/01/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
9 comments

Five thunks from a Cup victory at a damp Vicarage Road…

1- Much more to tell here than is suggested by the scoreline, which might imply a routine victory. Hartlepool came to put players behind the ball and break… hardly a revolutionary tactic for a lower division side away in a cup tie, but often an effective one and has has already been suggested on this blog an approach that is likely to be more profitable against this Watford side than playing an open game. For an hour they made a very decent fist of it, looking the more likely side as our forward line looked a little lightweight, the quality of the pitch contributing to our inability to pass our way in. United deserved their lead at the break, and whilst reverting to 4-4-2 from 4-5-1, with Deeney providing more muscle in the centre, gave us more impetus after the break, we hadn’t looked much like scoring until we did. At which point Hartlepool’s heads dropped as comprehensively as Pompey’s had on going behind a week earlier, and their young keeper’s limitations were exposed.

2- A turning point? Clearly Rene Gilmartin’s fine reaction save to spare us from going two down on the hour. We hadn’t looked much like coming back from one-down, two would have been game over. Gilmartin’s involvement was fairly limited… a couple of bold but excitable punches plus the goal, which had been well finished and gave him little chance. In the context of which, a very fine stop from cold limbs.

3- Our opening goal owed something to chance also. The diminutive Piero Mingoia, of whom a central midfield role seemed like a big ask, had nonetheless shown a decent range of passing and had been taking set pieces. The shot, however, seemed like an afterthought after a heavy touch inadvertently took him around his marker. A fine, bold finish nonetheless, opening the floodgates.

4- It’s a while since we had as many goals in the side, let alone in a scratch side limited by injury; Danny Graham’s terrifying fourth was done scant justice by ITV’s highlights, which omitted Stephen McGinn’s phenomenal through ball, a fine prelude to the precise aggression of Graham’s finish. Not that I’m hoping for offers, but if someone doesn’t come in with money for him then every club with more money than us is employing morons in their scouting department.

5- There have been a few of these now, but they’re still worth recording. Another almost Lloydy goal… and this one would have earned him his second consecutive goal of the season. Wriggling through two markers on the left flank, he belted in a shot from an ambitious angle that Kean nonetheless had to be agile to save. Several quick reminders, however, of how much we miss a left foot on the left flank… Lloydy will do his thing, but having to cut inside automatically and often critically slows our attack.

Watford FC’s Marie Curie Match 05/01/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

As can’t have escaped your notice, but just in case, this Saturday’s FA Cup Third Round tie with Hartlepool United has been designated by the club as their ‘Marie Curie Match’. The club is donating its profit from ticket sales to the cancer charity, the Football League’s partner charity for the season, and to ensure that there is money to donate the players have agreed to waive their appearance fees should the club not proceed to the Fourth Round.

We’re not short of nice things to say about our club at the moment, but here’s something else to feel warm and fluffy about to be going on with. Supporting a football club like Watford is all about being part of a community, and WFC aren’t slow to recognise this at the moment. You can contribute to this effort – which hopes to raise a five figure donation overall – by either buying a match ticket and/or by donating directly at the club’s Justgiving page.

That is all.

Scunthorpe United 1 Watford 2 (03/01/2011) 03/01/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
15 comments

Five thunks written on DM’s iPad in the back of a happy car heading back from Lincolnshire…

1- A change in tempo from the reckless abandon of recent home performances, on a bizarre afternoon worthy of a David Lynch film. A penalty that all but cleared the stand, a supporter evicted in a wheelchair, three floodlight failures that provoked chants for Clint Easton and Scott Fitzgerald and a lopsided, disjointed game that displayed no hint of developing a pattern even before unscheduled interruptions. One half expected the lights to come on to reveal that all the faces around you had changed… all we were missing was a psychotic dwarf (insert Derek Payne related joke here)

2- Manchester United look like winning the top flight thing without playing well… It’s an old cliche, but if you can win a game away from home playing as badly as this you’re doing something right. Tired and leggy, we didn’t create a lot or look like scoring until we suddenly did… and even then, we were scarcely worth a point. Take that every day of the week in these circumstances.

3- And the circumstances are that the FA cup weekend has just fallen rather handily for us, with Graham, Cowie and the (albeit retuning to Boro) Taylor all taken off with knocks. Replacements Deeney, Bennett and Whichelow (whose finish was definitively one of A Man Who Knows How To Finish) all did well, but to say we are stretched would be an understatement.

4- Martin Taylor bestrode the game like a colossus, effortlessly superior to every challenge presented to him. Monstrous stuff

5- A mention for Ross Jenkins, who having been found to be incompatible with John Eustace last season here took on the considerable task of replacing him. After a first half in which he survived despite committing a dreadful, two footed challenge on Scunny’s full-back and generally seemed to be trying too hard, he settled down and played a role in a more authoritative Watford performance after the interval.

Watford 3 Portsmouth 0 (01/01/2011) 02/01/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
18 comments

Before we get to 2011, a couple of things from the months just passed…

1. Those relatively mundane and slightly ropey draws against Reading and Barnsley gave only limited indications that we were about to turn the corner…but they look like very good business indeed now, a stable base for what’s been an astounding little run of results. For all that “take each game as it comes” stuff, and for all that many of us were brought up watching a team that rarely settled for a draw, you sometimes need to steady the ship before setting sail for the horizon.

2. Looking much further back, it seems to me that we’re reaping the abundant rewards of a very determined (and if I may say so, somewhat Scottish) conservatism shown in the latter half of last season. Quite simply, we held our nerve: we knew our best team, we knew that team’s basic approach, and we stuck with it even as the relegation zone loomed. Hell, we stuck with it when even I might’ve started to change things around a little bit in search of An Answer…and I’m usually about a month behind everyone else on that front. It paid off in the short term, survival achieved, but there was much more than that: it felt at the time as if certain players grew in stature, took on responsibility, matured in the face of that bit of adversity.

And now, it feels like the second year. Even watching from the stands, without insight into the dressing room and training ground, you can see a strong, firmly interlinked structure: the coaching staff, the captain, the senior players, the younger players who’ve cemented places in the first team, the loanees, the kids coming through. Not too much distance between any of them; each part aware of its own responsibilities and rightly demanding of the others. We know nothing, relatively speaking…but we could sketch a family tree of where everyone stands and I bet we wouldn’t be far wrong. It’s a rare thing, that. It requires genuine, shared trust.

3. So, while the last two results brought wilder celebrations and raised more eyebrows, this resounding victory somehow felt more satisfying. Quietly, proudly satisfying. Faced with a depleted Portsmouth side, complete with Kanu in enormous flappy shorts wandering around the midfield and only four substitutes (come on, stick the bloke with the bell and bugle on the bench!), we could easily have allowed complacency to creep in, could very easily have become frustrated as the final ball didn’t quite fall.

Instead, we got a thoroughly mature, capable performance. For the sake of accuracy and not getting too carried away, we must mention the two chances missed by David Nugent at either end of either half…and things might’ve been different if the first of those, following some rather hesitant defending, had ended up in the top corner rather than the Rookery. But much more typical was what occupied the rest of the ninety minutes: a game that we didn’t chase so much as gently coax, safe in the knowledge that it was ours as long as we didn’t scare it off.

4. With Martin Taylor suddenly showing himself to be a footballer of no mean ability, we retain possession sufficiently well that we can afford to be patient. It was an absorbing first half, ebbing and flowing without really threatening goals…and it looked as if Will Buckley’s wayward half-volley at the end of a sweeping move would be its high point. Instead, Andrew Taylor provided the culmination of all that hard work, a roaring volley that seemed still to be gathering pace as it hit the net. We’d waited for the crucial first goal, confident that it’d arrive…and then we waited again for the moments to pick them off in the second half. Easy to judge beaten opponents at the final whistle, but in truth we made them look forlorn and frustrated. Team effort, job done.

5. It’s hard to recall the last goal celebration that didn’t involve all of the outfield players. It’s hard to recall the last goal that wasn’t worth celebrating like that. Happy New Year, all. Sod off, Burnley.