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

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

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.


1. Sim.R - 02/01/2011

‘Proudly satisfying’ is a very good way of describing it. Like many of the top sides in any division, once we scored the opener, the result never really looked in doubt and once again we could’ve scored 5 or 6 by the end of it.

My brother and I were agreeing after the game that this is perhaps the most exciting Watford side we’ve seen since the two play-off winning sides. And even then, we attack with far more class than we did in either of those two seasons. The link up play between the Graham, Sordell, Mutch, Cowie and Buckley is at times breathtaking in it’s speed and purpose. Long may it continue.

Mariappa and Martin Taylor also deserve a mention for an extremely assured performance and a welcome clean sheet.

Also, quick shout out to a guy sat a few rows behind me in the Rookery. He delighted in shouting “Forward!” after every sideways pass we completed and described our glorious possession football towards the end as “Pathetic” and “Letting them back in the game”. With his insight, the sky’s the limit!

2. Red - 02/01/2011

Regarding point 5, watch Scott next time we score-he celebrates like mad and if I were to go on the pitch, it would only to stop him being lonely.

marcus - 04/01/2011

Too true re Scott – he went mad when we scored up at Scunny yesterday.

3. Nathan Lowndes: Football Genius - 02/01/2011

I also liked the way the subs came in and fitted in very nicely; Jenkins kept things ticking over and although they didn’t have much time Whichelow and Massey look like they can provide a threat. The one worry is of course that Cowie, Graham, Loach, Sordell, Mutch and Taylor (A) could end up at a different club come Febuary 1.

4. SteveG - 02/01/2011

I know it can’t go on like this for ever – but it is wonderful while it lasts! This team suddenly seems to have grown up – confident on the ball, and with a great spirit throughout the side. Even at 1-0, it felt as though we could hold on comfortably if need be, and it’s still very recently where you’d just have felt that one wouldn’t possibly be enough because we were bound to concede. Yesterday it felt different – clearly they might have scored, but it didn’t feel inevitable in the way that it has in the past.
Martin Taylor – absolutely superb. Calm, confident and exuding confidence that spreads throughout the team. Sordell and Graham proving to be a very effective partnership and looking increasingly dangerous when holding up, turning and slotting the ball through for the other. Sordell kept cool yesterday for the goal when he almost had too much time – another sign of increasing maturity in the team. Still some question marks over the end product with Buckley, but the speed and increasing confidence of the runs has immense value in itself in unsettling the opponents. If he can learn to shoot and cross accurately he’ll be a hell of a player (but we’ll not keep him beyond the next transfer window!)

Like all of us, I’d like Burnley to sod off as well – but let’s not be too sanctimonious or hypocritical … if they dangle lots of parachute money in front of Malky he’d be daft not to consider it. But I still think he’d be mad to take it – I’m not sure exactly what they are expecting up at Turf Moor, but the expectations seem ludicrously high to me, and whoever takes the job looks almost certain to fail.

5. SwindonDave - 02/01/2011

Re 3, I thought in many ways it reminded me of the performance against Middlesborough in the way we clinically despatched an inferior team without reaching the heights. Not something we’ve been good at in recent years but this squad has the belief and ability to do it.

6. Stephen Hoffman - 02/01/2011

Not to put a dampener on anything, as it was another good performance, just wondering if anyone knows how serious John Eustace’s injury was?

7. daft_evader - 02/01/2011

Is there a reason Pompey don’t have their kids on the bench?

Coterill said things were so bad that they had to give Tom Kilbey a debut ‘by default’, yet he is older than the likes of Sordell…

8. Wrighty - 02/01/2011

re point 2. The whole Eustace rejecting Leeds to stay with us is starting to look understandable. To be one of the senior players, and even more so being the captain, of something new and tangible is obviously important to him and thankfully so.

Ian Grant - 03/01/2011

Yes, I agree that Eustace is absolutely critical in all of this. Both he and the manager seem to have set a clear tone: strong but inclusive leadership. That’s hard to do; it requires real confidence in yourself and those around you.

9. NickB - 02/01/2011

Fingernails intact for a second successive game, nice to feel so relaxed with time ticking away.
We’ve looked like we’ve had goals in us all season, but it’s great to see the defence looking so solid now: a group of players who often seemed to play well individually but not function well as a unit has been transformed in the last few games, as though a penny has suddenly dropped and they’ve all started to read each other’s games. Great stuff.
Also nice to see the welcome return of the defence splitting pass leading to a one on one with the keeper, Mutch’s pass for Graham’s goal was sublime, reminded me of Craig Ramage at his best.

10. DW - 03/01/2011

Saying our team is so much more than the sum of it’s parts (which it is) does hide the fact that there are some real gems in our side. My own personal favorite is Cowie who once again did not stop working against Portsmouth.

I can’t begrudge any of this current squad the chance of significantly increasing their terms & conditions at another club but there is a chance if they all stay together that something magical could happen this season. I say chance because finishing mid table should not be seen as an anticlimax.

11. Jeremy Clarkson - 03/01/2011

JC here

…and when did the Football League allow linesmen to wear pony tails, what a girly he looked and the decisons made just as atrocious.

1. A throw in clearly kicked out by a Pompey player given the wrong way
2. Swash Buckling take down on edge of area right in front and no flag raised
3. SWash Buckling taken down on edge of area and the subsequent free kick would have been taken in the Lower Rous if the hoardings were not in the way,i.e. no balls to overide the ref,
and the worst of all
4, Super Danny given offside when he started in the opponents half in an offside position but actually made contact with the ball in his own half. Law 11, the ball must go out of own half before offside can be awarded.

I just hope this lino has a new year resolution and goes on a diet to get rid of those man boobs

(Matt, great review, and the worst miss was by Halford from a set corner piece, it summed up his day!, and Loaches save in second half needs a mention, happy new year)

Ian Grant - 03/01/2011

Re: #2. That was a classic case of reaping what you sow, I think. Let’s be blunt about it: Will Buckley falls over quite a lot. If you fall over quite a lot, you shouldn’t be surprised if officials can’t separate genuine fouls from opportunistic tumbles. You’re certainly not going to get the benefit of the doubt. Stay on your feet, sunshine.

Jeremy Clarkson - 03/01/2011

apologies Mr G for mistaking you for Mr R, never the less here is some help for those felines who need to understand the offside rule.

The offside rule explained for girls:

You’re in a shoe shop, second in the queue for the till. Behind the shop assistant on the till is a pair of shoes which you have seen and which you must have.

The ‘opposing’ female shopper in front of you has seen them also and is eyeing them with desire.

Both of you have forgotten your purses.

It would be totally rude to push in front of the first woman if you had no money to pay for the shoes.

The shop assistant remains at the till waiting.

Your friend is trying on another pair of shoes at the back of the shop and sees your dilemma.

She prepares to throw her purse to you.

If she does so, you can catch the purse, then walk round the other shopper and buy the shoes.

At a pinch she could throw the purse ahead of the other shopper and, *whilst it is in flight* you could nip around the other shopper,
catch the purse and buy the shoes.

Always remembering that until the purse had *actually been thrown* it would be plain wrong to be forward of the other shopper, or in fact ahead of the sign at half way saying please queue here

12. Back from Hammerau - 03/01/2011

It was anxious waiting for the first goal (and what a goal!) that our play deserved, but once it came, there was an inevitability about the result that was reinforced every time the subsequent goals knocked even more of the stuffing out of Portsmouth.
They certainly didn’t look like a side containing several players with international experience and there’s something seriously wrong if they can’t rustle up the full set of substitutes.
I’m gradually transforming from just treating every win as being another 3 points closer to safety to thinking about a realistic top-six finish.
And our current form can’t do any harm making the club a more attractive investment or in giving any player or manager being tempted by another club reason to stick around.

13. Back from Hammerau - 03/01/2011

P.S. The inscription on Danny Graham’s t-shirt spoke volumes about the spirit at the club.

14. Kendean - 03/01/2011

Saw the match on TV. Went with lucky omens from previous posts. Started with my own traditional beer, just moved onto the Chianti when Taylor scored. Fortunately the wife shared the bottle but had a bottle of Pinot Grigio just in case and a massive hangover yesterday

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