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Watford 0 Derby County 1 (13/08/2011) 14/08/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1a. For all the excitement of the season’s first home game, and with it a bunch of new kids to pick on or befriend, it takes about ten minutes for a certain weary familiarity to set in. Derby hang around the division like one of those odd jobs – the wonky cupboard door in the kitchen, the bit of painting in the spare room, the wisteria in need of a trim – that would only take half an hour but that you never quite get around to sorting out. In the latter case, the wisteria growing up the front of our house has got so carried away by the summer’s heady blend of sunshine and rain that anyone standing on our front steps for longer than a minute or two is liable to become so entwined that they may never escape. And that’s your introductory metaphor.

1b. (And, yes, I’m fully aware that they probably feel much the same about us.)

2. Let’s peel away the layers…on the surface, a disappointing defeat to opponents who, for much of the ninety minutes, appeared too vulnerable in key areas to last the distance without conceding. Derby spent much of the contest merely dodging away from the ropes…apart from Jamie Ward, who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time playing the ginola somewhere on the lush green (for now) turf. They weren’t up to much…and then they scored a fine goal…and then they weren’t up to much again.

When you lose a game like that some time in January or February, probably on a wet Tuesday night, then you can usually shrug it off as an annoyance, an occupational hazard; you’ll do the same to someone else soon enough and chuckle knowingly. Early on, however, the desire to piece together a picture of the season means that you tend to read into it rather more than it deserves…

3. Underneath the surface, then, was a game that the result doesn’t even begin to reflect. A game in which the victors managed only one meaningful effort on goal, having been penned in for long periods by a rather laboured but nevertheless generally effective Watford performance. In which the Jenkins-Eustace midfield was both the strength (a robust, bossy underlining of our superiority) and the weakness (lack of ingenuity meaning that the superiority counted for too little). In which, if you run through the key incidents in your mind, there were at least half a dozen moments where nothing much except good fortune, perhaps aided by defensive heroism, prevented the ball ending up in the Derby net.

So, we didn’t do a lot wrong. Indeed, you can pick out some hopefully significant positives: whenever we did manage to spread play out wide, particularly to Mark Yeates on the right, you could feel the Derby defence start to wobble. The most notable difference is the extra threat from Craig Forsyth, unfortunate not to crown a couple of positive first half runs; goals will result from getting crosses into the box, of that there is no doubt. Even during a less dominant second half, there were chances – for John Eustace, for newly-arrived Gavin Massey with a free header – that we’d hope, perhaps expect, to stick away. This really wasn’t one of those one-nil defeats, best forgotten right away.

4. Another layer down, though, you can find cause for concern…even though drawing too many conclusions from a couple of games would be deeply unwise. Because there really wasn’t enough guile to go with the physical dominance; it was an attacking performance that screamed out for the angles created by a Cowie or a McGinn (or a Graham, but we’ll get to that), the bright sparks who can shape the space for others to play in. The Derby defence teetered when we spread play into wide areas, but we did so only occasionally; for the rest, we were looking for a moment of inspiration from a less than inspired but thoroughly industrious core, searching for diamonds amid the engine room coal.

That might be enough sometimes. It should’ve been enough yesterday, in all honesty. But we’re short of that extra dimension, of the bit that the opponents’ manager hasn’t thought of and the opponents’ plan can’t prevent. We’re short of what Stephen McGinn gave us in his all-too-brief spell of playing behind the strikers last season, of what Prince Buaben gives us in, so far, our imagination…even of what Marvin Sordell might give us if we can channel him into a defined role with a compatible partner. Or of what we need to be looking for from another new face.

5. Which brings us, not for the first time and perhaps not for the last either, to the inestimable Danny Graham. For it was he that we missed most of all: his restless movement, his second-sight awareness, his willingness to make unfashionable runs, his empathetic touch when playing in colleagues. Inevitable, of course…we weren’t ever not going to miss all of that, nor could we ever hope to replace it even if we’d spent every last penny received from Swansea. Chris Iwelumo has a thankless task…and a squad number that he probably should’ve passed on.

Given all of that, it’s desperately hard not to single Iwelumo out…and a little unfair until he’s fully match-fit. But there were two first half moments which made you want to drive to south Wales and bundle Danny Graham into the boot of your car. One, where Sordell retrieved possession in the centre circle and tricked his way past an opponent…and Graham is instantly on his bike (and possibly flagged offside) where Iwelumo is still standing with his back to goal. Two, where Jenkins makes a positive move from the right, plays it into the big fella and charges into the box for the return ball…which is clumsily over-hit in a way that our last number ten never clumsily over-hit anything. Or so it seems now, looking back.

For all its solid midtable-ness, last season was a high watermark that’ll be hard to reach again. It’s a lot to live up to. Yesterday’s exertions didn’t make the task look any easier. Perhaps Tuesday’s opponents – something other than last season and last season’s stars to define ourselves against – will be exactly what we need….

6. Happy birthdays, Pat and Joe.



1. Hornetboy84 - 14/08/2011

I can’t really comment onthe performances so far as I am following via BBC updates on the web until back from California for brum. But for me we were always going to rely on the ingenuity and quality from the loan market as with Mutch and cleverly etc… So the early games are about sneaking some points with hard work and a bit of luck and by the sounds of it 4 points to date would have been a fair return. Just in case luck evens out I’m going on line to place a bet on a win vs the hammers via big chris’s backside on tues. Keep the faith. Cmon you orns.
By the way one downside to being 8 hours behind when you lose is that it’s only 9 am and you are in a bad mood and ruin the whole day for the family rather than just the evening ! Hb84

Rob - 14/08/2011

I really wish there was a go-to stream for those of us that want to watch the horns in the US here.

Nick - 15/08/2011

I know its not the same but Jon marks provides a great service via watford player that kept my dad up to date whilst he lived in the states.

2. rousman 2 - 14/08/2011

I sit in the Upper Rous about level with the 18 yard box at the Vicarage road end & the although we had a lot of possession & territorial advantage in the first half the first save other than routine that Fielding had to make was right on half time. This said we worked their back four & goalkeeper a lot more in the second half & should never have lost the game. Of the new player’s Dickinson was very good (do you not think Lioyd look more at home back on the right ?) Yeates look’s a good signing but will pick up a lot of yellow cards, Forsyth look’s a good prospect, as for Iwelumo best to wait until he is 100% fit to decide. I think we may need to use the Loan system a Landsbury or a Mutch type of midfielder would be good also with out stating the obvious a striker.

3. Stephen Hoffman - 14/08/2011

The main problem I saw was that for all the nice football we were playing, we had no cutting edge whatsoever. We just didn’t look like we were going to score, despite the chances. Iwelumo also looked worryingly leaden footed.

4. duds - 14/08/2011

no mention of the ragamuffin ball boys?

Ian Grant - 15/08/2011

Um, no. Have I missed something…?

Tim Turner - 15/08/2011

I think duds is referring to the fact that the ballboys weren’t in club gear; they were wearing what were presumably their own sportswear, in a variety of colours and styles.

It did look a bit untidy, when we’re used to seeing them looking smart – or at least, as smart as a teenager in a tracksuit can look.

Maybe they’re sulking because of the banning of the multi-ball system…

5. Tim Turner - 14/08/2011

Re thunk 5: I got the distinct impression yesterday that Marvin Sordell is determined that HE is going to be the new Danny Graham. It was an all-action performance that deserved a goal. And, as with Danny at times last season, there were several occasions when he created openings that you’d ideally want him to be in a position to exploit (if you see what I mean).

It’s early days, obviously, but if Marvin can keep up yesterday’s level of skill and commitment, it’ll make the manager’s job a bit easier. Now all he has to do is to find the new Marvin Sordell…

Ian Grant - 15/08/2011

I’m not convinced that he’ll ever be as selfless or aware as Graham, but he was certainly trying to make things happen…and maybe a bit of time on the training ground will mean that others get onto his wavelength rather more. Personally, I’d prefer to see him on the last defender’s shoulder rather than dropping deep to create, since we have so little pace elsewhere…

6. Bob - 15/08/2011

Marvin had to drop deep as there was little creativity coming from either centre-mid on saturday. Iwulemo was way off his game annd quite frankly the difference between us and three points in the first half.

That said, I look forward to iwulmeo ‘coming good’ and will trade the 3 points on saturday for tonking west ham tomorrow. please lord, let it be so.

I like yeates and am smitten with dickenson already. gave everything, not shy of a tackle and can kick with his left foot. balances the team no end. everyone will say it but the comparisons to robbo are spooky.

Didn’t think we deserved the loss and left feling strangely optimistic.Weren’t derby awful though?

7. Harefield Hornet - 15/08/2011

It’s not rocket science to see how our dominance didn’t produce
any goals – we were far too narrow. On this showing Yates and Forsyth don’t appear to be capable of getting down the flanks and puting the ball into the box from open play. If we’ve got to settle for an Iwelumo instead of a Graham we might as well at least try and play to his strengths. Perhaps when he gets a few more games under his belt he might sharpen up but I’m not holding my breath. Having said all of that we’ll probably play worse and win this season.

Ian Grant - 15/08/2011

Not sure that I entirely agree with that: I thought Yeates’ return was pretty decent, based upon limited involvement. We need to get him on the ball, that’s the thing.

Harefield Hornet - 15/08/2011

Not knocking either of them – I think they’ve both had a decent start to their Watford careers. They just don’t strike me as line-huggers who will ping endless crosses into the box. Both kept cutting inside and the midfield became too narrow. Perhaps that was due to the distribution as you alluded to above.

8. Marcus - 15/08/2011

Liked the way Forsyth drifted into good positions and worked hard – lacks only pace but was way, way better (and faster) than pre-season. Mariappa seemed to have a good game clearing stuff at the back. Yeates’ delivery is better than Cowie’s – amazing with our height we made so little of winning headers (but as mentioned the only good point from the Derby prespective bar the excellently taken goal was the robust defence).

What was Loach on those first 10 minutes with two muffed clearances??

Sordell has v noticeably bulked up and his attitude/work rate was good.

We really missed McGinn I thought. Shame Walker isn’t making the bench.

Those ball boys – what happened to smart tracksuits??

Tomorrow evening – should be a battle.

9. Johnny Boy - 15/08/2011

In his brief appearance Troy got his head to more balls than Iwelumo – enough said

10. Back from Hammerau - 15/08/2011

Saw the game against Wealdstone and wasn’t impressed by the delivery into the box at corners and that impression was only reinforced by what I saw on Saturday.

11. Simmos - 15/08/2011

I agree with much that has already been said but worryingly I felt that there were too many long angled balls from deep up to Iwelomu where we didn’t pick up the seconds. This was return to the Henderson style knock down to another striker but without the knock down part.Have we returned to a style we played two or three seasons ago or is it just that we miss Danny’s movement so much that we haven’t got another game plan.

We were far too narrow which was shown in the second half when Eustace looked both left and right and when he could find neither wide player was left to drop a hopeless pass into the middle of the box.

On the positive side I thought the majority of the new players did well but Sordell was by far the most creative player. I am looking forward to seeing more of Massey as the tempo of the game increased with his introduction and we actually possessed a goal threat.

On that performance you fear for our safety. We were in control without winning and it is the sort of thing that happens to relegated teams. Hopefully only early days and we can strengthen with loans sooner rather than later.

12. MartinG - 15/08/2011

Early days. I was worried we’d regress to a lump it forward style but we played some pretty slick stuff. Thought Sordell looked class. Great first touch. Iwulemo was the opposite. Couldn’t trap a bag of cement and very immobile. Yeates, Forsyth, Dickinson all looked pretty good. A couple of good loan players and we’ll be fine.

13. JohnF - 16/08/2011

I think my concern isn’t to bring in more players from outside but to use our exciting and rapidly developing talented youngsters. I hope they are not going to be largely excluded this season.
Thought Doyley and Sordell were the pick of our players and both showed a bit of imagination and creativity. Can we wait for Iwelumo to get match fit. Standing around is not going to achieve fitness and he might at least trya bit harder to jump and he and Sordell will need to be closer. Start with Deeney?

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