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Watford 2 Norwich City 2 (12/04/2011) 13/04/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1a. For anyone worried that the season might fizzle out, a properly tasty game of football. Any mention of officials in the first thunk is inevitably followed by a tirade…but this is the exception, for Mr A Taylor’s contribution, while sometimes inconsistent and occasionally slightly bewildering, should be heartily applauded by all card-carrying members of the Campaign for Real Tackling.

On Saturday, the tone was set by play being stopped for a minor shirt-tug within the first couple of minutes; here, the referee didn’t give any fouls (offsides and a solitary hand-ball excluded) for about half an hour, leaving a physical-but-fair contest to evolve without intervention. An absolutely outstanding first half was capped by a superb advantage as Danny Graham battled to break free on his way to setting up Don Cowie for a gloriously sweeping second goal, the linesman’s frantic flag-waving ignored in favour of letting the move continue. He deserved as much of an ovation as the teams at the break.

If the second half was more difficult to handle, and praise less unreserved as a consequence, the fact remains that a thrilling, vibrant game owed much of its energy to a willingness to wave play on where others would calm things down. One passage summed it up: John Eustace crashing into an opponent in the shadow of the Rous and winning the ball simply by knocking them out of the way, Tierney taking that as a cue to fly into a couple of really aggressive (you know, Paul Robinson aggressive) challenges on Andreas Weimann…and, yup, that’ll be a throw-in. Immediately followed by a booking for Lloyd Doyley for taking the same cue, but doing so with a hack on Holt right in front of the Norwich bench; location location location, Lloyd.

1b. Faced with a game so feisty, so refreshingly old-fashioned in its attitude to physical contact, you realise just how sterile modern football threatens to become. If it continues to allow television coverage to dictate the agenda – endless, multi-angled replays of incidents to reach the mindless conclusion that “there’s definitely contact”, thus making contact a de facto offence and forgiving any player who feels the need to highlight that offence by throwing themselves theatrically to the ground – then it’s in danger of reaching a complete dead-end, somewhere up its own backside.

As a spectacle, it risks becoming something that’s technically skilled but emotionally vacuous, stripped of the visceral thrill of boot against boot, shin-pad against shin-pad, bone against bone. If there is a hell, it involves being forced to watch Arsenal pass the ball in flicky-flicky-pissy-passy quadrangles for all eternity, while anyone who tries to tackle them is sent off for violent conduct. If there is a hell, it’s a world ruled by Robert sodding Pires. Give us back our blood and thunder, for heaven’s sake.

1c. Um, yeah, anyway….

2. You’d struggle to find a more effective summary of the last two seasons’ positives than the first half. Granted, we conceded another daft early goal; granted, Holt then missed an absolute sitter, cancelled out by an even more extraordinary miss by Graham after the interval. But when heads could’ve dropped, we hurled ourselves back into the game with fresh appetite and remarkable vigour, forcing Norwich onto the back foot with an inventive formation that, in itself, showed how far we’ve evolved from the deliberately conservative selections of last term.

Sure, the equaliser owed much to luck – Graham’s pass to Deeney rebounding back into his own path, then a fairly feeble finish somehow beating the keeper – but we deserved that much, and almost immediately built on it with that fabulous second, a goal as excellent as any we’ve scored this season. We’re a terrifically vibrant team sometimes, full of players who’ll take the initiative. That was typified by Don Cowie on this occasion: presented with the task of creating for the front three from deeper, he was always on the ball, always looking for that darting pass to break things open, always bright and alert. It’s what we’re all about.

3. If we gradually faded after the interval, and Norwich came at us even more strongly, that only made for a different but no less enthralling contest. We showed some steel, and some real collective pride, in preventing them from taking all three points despite having most of the momentum for long periods. Even though a point won’t make much difference in the long run, you were biting your nails as we held on into injury time; when you put as much into a game as here, you want some reward for your endeavours. You want to put an end to that losing streak. We deserved that much. Hugely deserved it.

4. Let’s be clear: the myth that we’re required to play Danny Drinkwater in order to please Manchester United doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny at all, given that he’s started only three games and made five appearances as a substitute. Hardly ever-present, then. He continues to underwhelm, he said politely. You know you’ve not won people over when Anthony MacNamee (five step-overs for every touch, nothing changes) gets a louder ovation for coming on as a substitute for your opponents…

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Comments»

1. Marcus - 13/04/2011

Hodson had a cracker (as did Doyley). It was an exhilerating to game to watch. One of the players mentioned as much on their twitter feed, while rene gilmartin commented very enthusiastically about the team and performance (which I thought was encouraging given he is stuck to the bench currently).

Interesting comment from Malky on 3CR prior to the match about the tendency for players to “go through the motions” as the season draws to a close: “Not in my team, they don’t” he said.

2. jmmagick - 13/04/2011

Maybe it’s a sign of how our entire team dynamic has changed relatively recently, but since when was McNamee such a breath of fresh air?
I remember him being ok, and incredibly frustrating, but I seem to have forgotten his entire style of play, his being good as he was is almost something the Department of Record has written out of existence.
Or maybe he isn’t consistently that good, and our team(s) these days just run on a different steam…

3. JohnF - 13/04/2011

Ian, I totally agree with your mini-rant as thunk 1. Disappointing that senior players don’t seem to be awake at the start of the game but by the end quite a few of our lads seemed to be running on empty. It has been a long hard season with us using the smallest number of players in the division.

4. SwindonDave - 13/04/2011

Ian – good comment on the referee we made it 37 minutes for the first free kick for a foul and the game flowed. However we only committed 3 fouls in the whole game and had 3 players booked so maybe he was a bit fussier about the chat than necessary to balance things out.
Overall though a cracking game that made up for some of the poorer stuff we have delivered in recent home games.

5. smarkymark - 13/04/2011

McNamee is no different / better than when he was at the Vic.In my opinion, he only made the bench and came on because it was against his former club (ditto Lansbury) in the hope he would be more of an impact than normal.He struggled to be a regular 1st teamer in div One at both Swindon and Norwich and will always be only be an impact player.Sad but true.

6. jeremy clarkson - 13/04/2011

JC here

about the only “foul” mr taylor gave all night was the one that wasnt by Deeney leading to the Naaarch equaliser when the NAaaaaaarch left back ran into him…humphhhhhh…..it even had Mrs Clarkson off her seat with a nervous prediction that Mr Taylor had the result down as a score draw!

7. flippo galli - 13/04/2011

Agree with all of the above, but sadly can’t see such a refreshing attitude to the flowing game of football with ‘grind for every point’ managers like Allardyce (thankfully currently unemployed), who prefer to play a style of percentage (rugby-esque) football; buying and deliberately giving away niggly fouls all over the pitch. Anyway, when are we going to start scoring some goals at the Rookery end?

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