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Watford 3 Sheffield United 0 (12/03/2011) 13/03/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from a bizarre afternoon at Vicarage Road…

1- Interpretation of the result will be distorted by the perspective introduced by two red cards in the first half (see below), but it shouldn’t be. It’s perfectly possible to make heavy weather of a numerical advantage, and on this occasion we did anything but, belying the number of kids on show (which was considerable, even if this was as experienced a line-up as we’ve been able to field of late). I’ve not seen the possession figures for the second half, but they’re likely to be dramatic; we kept the ball with admirable diligence and regularly had two or three men stretched to the opposite flank to enable the play to be switched at will. The scoreline could have been more emphatic, but job done frankly.

Nor should it be forgotten that there we were comfortably on top before the dramatic developments towards the end of the first half. The opening goal had owed something to fortune; Simonsen made a terrific save to keep his own defender’s header out, only to see the ball drop onto Danny Graham’s head. The United keeper was the one genuinely unfortunate member of the visiting side, since another fine save to a Thompson header in the second half would be unsympathetically punished by Martin Taylor. Ross Jenkins grabbed his first goal at the Vic with the goal of the game late on, a fine strong run and guided header.

But the real story of the first goal, and indeed the opening twenty minutes, was in the vulnerability of United’s centre-backs in the absence of injured Chris Morgan. We had clearly targeted this area, since every time we won possession in the first half we’d send the ball straight down their throats with lone striker Graham chasing gamely. These balls were often too rushed to be particularly precise, the emphasis clearly on exposing the defenders’ lack of alertness with a quick turnaround, but they still caused havoc. Lowry and Collins tottered around like two drunks left on the dancefloor at the end of the night after the music had stopped, occasionally colliding and seeming forever on the verge of falling over. No surprise that one of the two played such a key role in the opening goal.

Micky Adams suggested post-game that “we’ll never know whether Watford are any good or not”, a comment with some truth in it. Certainly any Ipswich scouts will have learned a limited amount. But whose fault was that, frankly? You can only beat the garbage tipped in front of you. Speaking of which…

2- No ignoring the key talking points any longer; the first half dismissals of the two ex-Orns in the United ranks. I haven’t seen Doris’ first booking again; from the far end of the pitch it looked harsh, but he’d just lost a physical coming together with Taylor, had appealed for a foul (not given), and thrown himself in his own distinctive style into the next aerial encounter in a bit of a strop.

At any rate, he can surely have no complaints. Having seen the incident again, I can believe that the exercise started out as a misjudged lunge at the ball. It proceeded via feet some way off the ground to a young full back prone on the pitch for five minutes before being stretchered off in an oxygen mask. Already on a yellow, he’s frankly fortunate that a straight red didn’t incur a longer ban. All of United’s threat departed with him; there can’t have been many visiting players sent off in such circumstances who have been applauded off by the home support. One suspects that the applause wouldn’t have been quite as generous after a replay of the challenge.

Lee Williamson was just bloody stupid. The referee had set himself an impossibly low bar with a harsh booking of Ross Jenkins after handbags with Williamson in the first five minutes; given this, and given the inflamed nature of procedings, to fly straight into a challenge leading with your forearm and poleaxe your opponent is just idiotic. He might have gotten away with a yellow, it’s true, but I can also see the argument that dangerous play is dangerous play and the fact that Doyley got up again relatively quickly was something that Williamson’s challenge hadn’t guaranteed. At any rate, a footballer completely devoid of intelligence is a danger to himself and others. Williamson made a very tall order impossible for the visiting side.

As a footnote, part of Watford’s achievement was in doing so little to give the referee the chance to even the score subsequently. Buckley got a “Van Persie booking”, that was it. Admittedly it’s easier to stay on the right side of the referee with 80% possession; nonetheless, very disciplined stuff from our boys.

3- I emailed a United-supporting friend before the game enquiring how a side who should surely be mid-table fodder at worst found themselves in such a position. His reply was grey and dispirited, a position entirely justified by the god-awful shambles that was the United side. We’ve already discussed the defence; actually the one commendable aspect of the United effort came after the dismissals, when they actually did a reasonable job of restricting Watford’s possession to the edge of the penalty area even if it did resemble a coconut shy.

But the midfield. Good god. When Lee Williamson, surely an all-rounder at best, represents all of your creativity you’re in trouble. Nick Montgomery, Mickey Doyle, Stephen Quinn and Williamson surely constitutes as close to midfield of cloned workhorses as the division has ever seen.

In the second half, with Watford about to mount yet another assault on United’s goal, Micky Adams sulkily kicked a stray ball onto the pitch to disrupt proceedings. That’s the behaviour of a (stupid) teenage substitute, not a manager. The Sheffield derby looks like returning to the calendar next season, then.

4- A(nother) word for Lee Hodson, victim of Henderson’s assault, who may have become the second young Hornet in a fortnight to have departed long term with injury. It speaks volumes that, just weeks after Hodson was amongst those attracting stick during our iffy run, he was retained at left-back whilst Lloyd Doyley initially returned on the right. And nobody was terribly surprised. His recent performances have displayed an application and depth of character that should stand him in good stead. The quicker he’s back, the better off we’ll be.

5- Our biggest stroke of luck yesterday, whatever blinkered perspective Adams might possess, was that we got the goal before the dismissals. It’s much, much easier to take advantage of a numerical superiority when you’ve already got the lead. As it was, as professional as we were in doing what had to be done, as utterly pathetic as United’s attempts to make a game of it were, there were still moans and groans in the Rookery as attacks hit the eight men that the visitors had behind the ball. I refuse to believe that quite so many Hornets had never watched a game of football before.

Fixture lists and holidays conspire to mean that I won’t be at another game before Leeds United in a month’s time. ig will hopefully thunk in the meantime; with this victory taking us over that 52 point target for safety that stopped feeling like an issue a week ago, anything from here on in is a bonus. Top half anonymity would be a great result, a pitch at the play-offs not out of the question but a long shot. Either way, a fantastic achievement for all concerned already.


1. JohnF - 13/03/2011

Good thunks Matt. Bizarre is the word but I guess that we knew that Henderson and Williamson would at least try to do something stupid and they duly obliged. One thing that was clear was that Doyley offers little in attack. The youngsters did really well and I thought Jenkins put in a good shift along with Cowie who was everywhere. We might well have had more even before the sendings off with a little more conviction in front of goal. I hope that this was an opportunity for John Eustace to play himself back into form approaching that which he showed before his injury.

A satisfactory season so far for the pre-season favourites for relegation.

2. rousman - 13/03/2011

Forget Hendo’s first yellow I agree with Malky the Hodson challenge was a straight red. The Williamson one well maybe another Ref another day he may have got away with a yellow. To be honest I would have been a lot happier with 10 v 11 (we would have still won)

3. Luke Fairweather - 13/03/2011

Micky Adams, what a moaner. “never know how good WFC are..?” Dead man walking, methinks. Listen to his radio clip on the BBC.

53 points. Outstanding, given the odds at the start. Great job all round. A very good weekend indeed.

Matt Rowson - 13/03/2011

we had the same points at the same stage in 99… 🙂

4. marcus - 13/03/2011

from behind the goal at the Vic Rd End, it looked like a 50-50 ball running free 2 feet from the goal line and so the striker had to go for it (and was just second to the speedier Hodson); it did look a lot worse on the telly.

Thompson’s confidence grows by the second. He saw some space in the box, charged into it, demanded a cross onto his head (or in front of him so as to be able to head it) and excetuted it extremely well.

2nd game running I was impressed by Jenkins – took HIS header perfectly – never written that before.

JohnF - 14/03/2011

It was right in front of us at the Vic Rd End of the Rouse and he launched himself from a couple of metres away with both feet and made contact after the ball had gone. He was not in control of the “challenge” and it should have been a straight red.

5. Adrian P - 13/03/2011

Good thunks – small correction – the first goal came from a good save off the defender’s shin as he shanked it goalwards after some good first time play from the Golden Boys.

Darius isn’t that bright as was proven yesterday; I sat next to him at an end-of-season dinner and boy was it tough. Its not very often the Upper Rous sing “thats why you’re going down” but we did on Saturday.

Nice to be looking up at this end of the season, who knows where we’ll be but great job Malky.

6. Tim Turner - 13/03/2011

Re thunk 5, I think the ‘moaning and groaning’ was mainly caused by our woeful shooting every time the players decided they were bored with passing the ball around the edge of the penalty area. Time and again, the ball was teed up perfectly for a Watford player, only for them to blast it 10 feet wide or 20 feet over the bar. John Eustace in particular managed two of the most lamentable efforts I’ve ever seen at the Vic.

It’s easy to say that it didn’t matter, but there were plenty of people around me who weren’t confident of our ability to close out the match at 2-0, let alone 1-0. A couple of decent strikes early in the second half, or just a few more crosses pinged into the box (the source of all our goals, after all) would have made everything much simpler, and calmed people down.

btw, in the car on the way home I heard a replay of the 3CR commentary on the 3rd goal – “And that’s a glorious header by Ross Jenkins” – and was suddenly transported back to my teens. It’s not often BBC local radio manages that.

Matt Rowson - 14/03/2011

No, the moaning and groaning was caused by idiots whose brain isn’t capable of processing information beyond “win good, lose bad”. Sheffield packed their penalty area; there’s only so much you can do in those circumstances. We did it, did it patiently and won comfortably. Where’s the problem?

It’s no coincidence, as was pointed out to me in the second half, that the same voices that were excitedly squealing “shoot” whenever anyone got the ball on the edge of the area, irrespective of whether we had a clean sight on goal, where the same voices that shouted “Noooooo” when the shot went wide or cannoned back moments later. What these voices actually meant was not “shoot” but “score”, or preferably just “win”, which returns me to my original point.

Eustace’s efforts were dramatically poor, admittedly, but contributed to the entertainment value rather than detracting from it for me.

Matt Lovett - 15/03/2011

Too right Matt – Eustace’s shooting was highly entertaining – absolutely hilarious even, especially the one he literally put into row Z of the Rookery!

7. David, Aylesbury - 13/03/2011


I too was sat at the Vic Rd End, and although I would agree with you there wasn’t any deliberate malice in Hendo’s challenge it probably did warrant a red card all on its own. You cannot go in studs up (as he did because he was stretching), get there after the ball has gone and expect anything other than an early bath.
I think his lack of match sharpness and possibly an over-eagerness against his former club probably contributed too.

I haven’t seen any definite news on the seriousness of Hodson’s injury but sincerely hope it isn’t as bad as first feared. The last two or three games has seen him get back near the form he showed last season.

Pity our shooting was so wayward in the second half, and thought we could maybe have subbed Doyley as he seemed to be the spare player most of the time – and either Sordell or Whichelow would have been a better attacking option.
But that’s a minor quibble after a satisfying result in what is becoming a very enjoyable season.

Matt Rowson - 14/03/2011

You’re right about Doyley being the spare man, but there was more to lose than to gain there. Schadenfreude was the only reason to chase lots of goals, it’s not as if our goal difference needs much massaging and an extra attacker wasn’t really going to give us much of an edge in a packed penalty area. I can see the argument for keeping on a defender whose diligence and covering might have prevented disaster in the unlikely event that United remembered where our goal was on the break.

Tim Turner - 14/03/2011

Also, it was in some ways the perfect first game back after injury for Lloydinho. Once he’d survived Williamson’s assault, he had little serious defending to do, and all those runs into acres of space down the left flank will have helped to get him back to match fitness. Given what happened last time he came back from this injury, it was a relief that he had such a stress-free afternoon.

8. Bob - 14/03/2011

matt, you being a statto, has watfords score sheet ever shown graham taylor ross jenkins before?

Matt Rowson - 14/03/2011

Not on a scoresheet. We’ve had Graham and Taylor together before this season, but this was only Jenkins second goal (the other in a 3-2 defeat at Birmingham I think?) and GT of course never got on the scoresheet.

I was asked on Saturday when Ross Jenkins last scored with a header at Vicarage Road. December 1982 would be my guess…. Jenkins Sr scored against Ipwich and West Ham. Wasn’t at either game tho, so no recollection of whether either were with his head.

David Hemel - 14/03/2011

Yes, Ross Jenkins Snr’s last two goals for the Hornets were at home to Ipswich (Rookery End) and West Ham (Vic Road End) in December 1982 and both were headers. Watford won both games 2-1.

Matt Rowson - 14/03/2011

Thanks David

9. Johnny Boy - 14/03/2011

I get the impression that a couple of contributors are trying to appease Darius actions. Hang on – after his first booking, out of sight of the refree and close to the lower rous touchline, he deliberately tried to stamp on Marriappa’s foot during a challenge. The guy was on a mission and poor Hodson was in the way. Also, I understand that was Williamsons second straight red this season so the guy obviuosly has a problem. If you want to ‘appease’ their actions put it down to the fact that they both left a ‘smaller’ team to further their careers and now play for a team deeply in the’doo – doos’ while the team they left chases honours, playing a style of football they could only dream of – no wonder they were hacked off. (I might have got a bit carried away on that last bit but what the heck – we’ve got 52 points.)

Luke Fairweather - 14/03/2011

53 Johnny Boy…53. Every little helps 🙂

Greywhistler - 14/03/2011

“Williamson’s second straight red this season”

I see in this morning’s Guardian that Sheff. Utd. have collected 10 red cards already this season. So 10 – 1 win for Watford?

10. NRC - 14/03/2011

Matt, you’re right of course about the packed defence. Watching from the Vic Rd end for a change Graham’s frustration was almost palpable, this was a chance to put the race to be the division’s leading scorer beyond doubt – perhaps it’ll turn out in the long run just as well for us that he seemed to be told to play less centrally and didn’t.

Henderson – straight red I’m afraid, and Williamson, judging from the TV the same – nasty!

What fun this season has been.

marcus - 15/03/2011

Did anyone else spot the amusing incident just before half time when the 9 men had a corner.

Graham stayed up – on the half way line – and Malky angrily gesticulated to him to get back and defend the corner in line with our policy of getting 11 men behind the ball. DG seemed to indicate (I am no lip reader): “What the F… – they only have 9 men and we have numerical superiority anyway)”.

This must have been discussed at half time.

In the one 2nd half Sheffield corner I remember, DG also stayed up.

Matt Rowson - 15/03/2011

I didn’t notice that incident, but we discussed this issue during the game. In this instance I had no problem with us bringing everyone back; the set piece was the only way they were going to score, we didn’t need to risk leaving players up.

But more critically, with nine men the more players Sheffield lobbed forward the better for us. We should have been (and were) perfectly able to defend a corner in such circumstances, would have had the legs on them on breaking and the more they throw up the more running they were all going to need to do. So at least in this game, in these circumstances, Malky was spot on.

11. Harefield Hornet - 15/03/2011

Just looked at the possession stats on the BBC website and they quote 55% – 45% in watford’s favour! – this can’t be right surely?

Incidently – what a marvellous header from Jenkins -taken like a striker, I didn’t know the boy had it in him but fantastic to see anyway.

Matt Rowson - 15/03/2011

Yes, saw that reported somewhere. Pure fiction.

Jenkins – yes indeed, Tim Cahill eat your heart out.

Johnny Boy - 15/03/2011

We pray — is it just me or does Ross look a bit taller and chunkier since he first got in the team

SwindonDave - 16/03/2011

Discussed this during the game as they took so long over Goal Kicks (of which there were many thanks to our shooting), Throw ins etc I predicted if this counted as their possession the stats would be quite close.
Maybe retrieving the ball from Row Z counted as well?

12. Matt Lovett - 15/03/2011

Did anybody else see the incident during the ‘shooting practice’ before the game where a particularly well struck but badly misdirected ‘practice shot’ from one of the Watford boys thumped straight into the face of a young lady sitting in the Rookery? It was quite nasty and the young lady was taken off by a couple of stewards to have her bloodied nose patched up. I hope it doesn’t result in ClaimsDirect getting involved…

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