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Watford 3 Peterborough United 2 (29/10/2011) 29/10/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Well thank heavens for that.

1- There are three key reasons for the dramatic transformation in both our effectiveness and our watchableness; these will get the first three thunks.  The first was the early goal.  Only at Reading up to now had we got an early goal in a League game, and we hadn’t scored in front of an increasingly irritated and impatient home crowd before the 78th minute before this one.  Here,  particularly with elements of the crowd riled and ready to turn this game felt as if it could be a breaking point.  Mark Yeates’ drilled strike, capitalising on a defensive error but coming on the tail of a neat passing move as we started the game on the front foot, settled nerves, got the crowd square behind the team.  And see (2)… we could easily have shipped first had the table sloped the other way.

2- Peterborough United.  Good grief.  Posh games average almost four goals across the League season so far (the Carling Cup rate was slightly higher) and it’s not hard to see how; the first half pattern was that of a basketball match.  All power to them – it’s always more fun for all concerned to watch a team that’s comprehensively more interested in scoring goals than preventing them.  You’d end every game a nervous wreck though, surely.  Drained.  And perhaps… incomplete.  Where’s the character-building nil-nil in the rain?   Seriously… precisely the sort of opposition we needed, particularly at home.  Brighton on Tuesday will be a different sort of challenge altogether.

3- The big one.  And no surprise to anyone who’s chanced onto these pages within the last couple of months.  It’s perverse that one effectively has to conclude that we’re grateful that John Eustace got injured.  The captain, the leader, and – and we maybe should have acknowledged this before – someone whose form has held reasonably well as chaos has reigned around him.  But it didn’t look like Dyche was about to abandon the sterile and completely mismatched Eustace/Hogg central midfield partnership voluntarily.  Two players too similar, offering us nothing going forward, no movement behind the forwards, no attacking the box.  So now, finally, in comes Prince Buaben and what a difference he made.  Individually his performance was strong… tidy, neat, cohesive, deft, positive. As significant, however, was having someone, anyone breaking from midfield.  It made an immediate difference;  we looked aggressive and potent.  For perhaps the first time this season.  We played our football at least twenty yards further up the pitch.  Buaben won Sordell’s penalty, and the free kick which led to his second.  Would Hogg or Eustace have been that far up the pitch?  Fascinating to see what happens to the midfield when Eustace returns…

4- Nyron Nosworthy.  A baffling signing, frankly. We need another defender why, exactly, with youngsters already being denied access to the team?  David Mirfin had been added to the squad from Scunthorpe… he’s come in for Taylor and looked ropey, but the word for me would be “unfit”.  A player like Gavin Mahon perhaps, one who needs to be playing regularly to stay match fit.  Not the best choice as defensive cover, then.  But given that he was signed to do that job, why bring in someone else, someone else who might not unreasonably be described as a bit of a plodder, to cover the cover?  With rumours of an injury to Doyley prominent, the fear was that Mariappa would be moved out to right back with Nosworthy filling in alongside Mirfin.  As it turned out, Hodson came in at right back… and his positive performance was a terrific tonic.  If he got caught defensively once or twice…  well that’s what young players do, they make mistakes.  And they aren’t going to get better without playing and making mistakes, they don’t automatically inherit competence and reliability at the age of 26.  Hodson’s performance was like sticking your head under a cold tap on a hot, sticky day.  After a load of gardening.  Marvellous.  And Nosworthy?  Magnificent.  A no-crap, vocal, booterer of a defender.  Occasionally his clearances didn’t quite go where you’d choose them to go but he was always there to make them go somewhere, and always decisively.

5- Most of all… something to cling to, something to believe in.  It wasn’t perfect, obviously, and it wouldn’t have taken much for us to lose the game, but it was aggressive and positive and something.  Several of us before the game were discussing how we didn’t remember either such unanimous condemnation of a Watford team (not since Bassett, anyway…), and didn’t remember wanting to go to a game quite so little.  This game felt pivotal, and the team pulled through, played for their manager when they had to, gave us a reason to turn up on Tuesday.  There are still problems, quite obviously… Carl Dickinson looked iffy at left back again, we’re still making odd signings, a hundred other things that we’ve been bitching about haven’t gone away.  But for the first time this season, we’re all grinning this evening.

Bonus thunk

6- ig, not unreasonably, left a thunk unspent in the glum aftermath of the Forest disaster.  One saved for a rainy day.  I’m going to spend it now, a little self-indulgently.  Today was vastly important for Sean Dyche and for Watford, but also for me personally.  This was Rahelle my five-year old daughter’s competitive debut;  a low-risk pre-season friendly fifteen months ago was an experiment abandoned at half-time but this felt more make-or-break.  The die was cast some time ago, she knew she was coming to a game at half term.  No backing out, much as concerns grew as the game approached that this could all go horribly badly and put her off for life.  I have never, ever been as grateful for a crackling game and a positive, vibrant performance.  Captivated from the off she was singing, clapping, jumping up, sitting back down, asking questions, commentating.  She giggled uncontrollably through the first goal celebration and when Sordell lined up his penalty she was standing on the barrier in front of our seats screaming “Go on Marv-iiiiiiiiiiiin”.  Briefly celebrating Peterborough’s second goal was the one minor hitch… but by the end of the game she was demanding to be brought every week and explaining that she’d need a Watford hat and scarf when it got cold. I’m sure we’ve all got an extra bounce in our steps this evening – but I’m delighted and relieved to an extent that would, in the normal way, be disproportionate in response to a home win over Posh, even in this context. Thanks Lads.


72 Unite 28/10/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Thoughts about things.

Protest group ‘The 72 Unite’ has come together to fight the recent EPPP proposal for restructuring youth academies, something that could have extremely serious long-term consequences for Watford and countless other clubs dependent on bringing through young talent.

The group is organising a boycott of the first five minutes of Football League matches tomorrow, which has been backed by the Rookery’s Yellow Order who are meeting outside the Red Lion from half past two. A supporters’ group with a wider political agenda at Watford? Blimey, there’ll be singing next. Good on ’em, I reckon.

I have no time to put forward a detailed argument about it all…but suffice to say that this is much, much more important than why Dale Bennett’s gone on loan to Brentford or whether Matty Whichelow will make it onto the bench against Peterborough. This is the issue confronting football clubs outside the Premiership right now, a potential watershed moment for us all…but equally, an opportunity to unite in setting out a different, more positive agenda for the future.

I don’t want to watch a club that’s just a nursery for Premiership youngsters. You…?

More info: http://the72unite.co.uk/

Leicester City 2 Watford 0 (19/10/2011) 20/10/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from the Monster Munch at the  KP stadium.

1-  Midweek away games are great.  Even when we’re dreadful.  Particularly then, perhaps. There’s something about a match under floodlights that seems to heighten the potential for something unlikely.  “Special things happen under floodlights”, as one of my companions for the evening probably sort of put it.  Away from home, in particular, there’s an implied shared spirit amongst those present.  A greater degree of determination to salvage something from the evening, even if it’s just gallows humour – more is generally being invested in the exercise than is the case for a home game.  Expectations are lower.  The mood benefits as a result (albeit there’s no direct comparator – a 2-0 home defeat to Leicester wouldn’t mean the same anyway).  Immediately startling, however, that only 375 made it up.  This isn’t Carlisle away on a Tuesday night, is it?  That figure screams about all sorts of things.  “Why the f*** are you still here?” asked our neighbours at 1-0.  We didn’t know.

2- We lost the game, you’ll have noticed.  Not the same sort of beast as the soul-sapping events of Saturday, albeit with the same conclusion.  The line-up reflected three changes, only one enforced by Martin Taylor’s shoulder injury, the others a shuffling of the pack moving out Sordell and Forsyth who both needed a break.  Using the squad.  No argument there.  But any improvement was very far from obvious in a first half completely dominated by the home side.  Sven has eulogised about the 45 minutes in which the Foxes effectively won the game – and without question they were comprehensively the better side, more confident, more mobile, more potent.  From a Watford point of view though… there was a horrible predictability about it.  Not acceptance, necessarily… but from the off it felt like a damage limitation exercise.  Seeing the decks being cleared by aimless punts forwards can be frustrating when you’re manning the barricades at the end of a game, it’s harder still to accept twenty minutes in.  The first came from a neat but all-too-easy break down the left… Nugent touched the ball past a flat-footed Mariappa and finished clinically.  I didn’t see the second, I was off getting a pie order in, which also says a lot.  I’m not one of those who makes a habit of disappearing to the bar for fifteen minutes either side of half time, but it was that kind of half.   Leicester’s lead was effortless and predictable, as if they hadn’t had to do very much.  It felt like a Premier League game.

3- One has to feel rather sorry for Chris Iwelumo.  Whatever his limitations, the cards have hardly fallen his way since his arrival – the injury interrupting an encouraging pre-season, inadvisedly and unsuccessfully trying to play through it, and then trying to make an impact off the bench in a struggling side.  Whatever he is, an impact player isn’t it… he’s a fundamental cog or nothing at all.  This evening, finally given a start, he was deprived of the only proper winger on view, the hitherto subdued Kightly, by a hamstring injury after twenty minutes… thereafter with Joe Garner and Troy Deeney occupying wide positions in a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 he was never going to be given a steady supply of crosses.  He looked hopelessly unsuited to the role, clumsy and awkward… culminating, as we began to click into gear in the second half, in a horrible miss.  Sordell sent a ball in from the right, Deeney applied a deft touch an Big Chris was through.  But only for a second… he took the ball early and shanked it wide.  Sordell’s head was in his hands, a reaction to our first incisive move of the evening that was mirrored throughout the away end.

4- The tentative second half improvement was down to a number of factors. Chief amongst them, of course, was that Leicester were two up and in control of the game, and evidently judged that their superiority was such that they’d be able to up their game again if necessary.  The approach paid off, the second half was much more pedestrian from the home side… but a risky strategy, even against our misfiring attack.  Perhaps abetted by our new formation we started moving the ball around a bit.  Don’t be under any illusions, this wasn’t a rabble-rousing comeback, and such was never suggested.  But it wouldn’t have taken much for the atmosphere to change, for Leicester’s confidence in their superiority and ability to kick on again to be tested.  One neat move saw Hogg arrive at the edge of the penalty area to meet a lay-off from Eustace and slam a drive towards the top corner that Schmeichel did well to repel.  An eye-catching shot, but that we manoeuvred someone into space on the edge of the area was encouraging.  Balls across the area unsettling the home defence, Sordell attacking the near post to meet a left wing cross and deflect the ball goalwards – albeit maybe not as close to its target as appeared from our vantage point.  It wasn’t great, in the normal way (the normal way?  in what used to be the normal way, maybe) it wouldn’t have been worth commenting on.  But we’ll grab at whatever straws are going at the moment.

5- The highlights of the evening was the impact of Prince Buaben.  Almost lost in the wave of new signings struggling to quite make an impact, his lack of involvement up to now suggested that he was in danger of disappearing down the path trodden previously by the likes of Sietes, Travner and Adam Griffiths.  Punts that were so clearly not going to pay off that they never got any meaningful action.  Not so on this evidence… lively, standing out a mile simply down to his movement and enthusiasm (Garner, whose hard work has endeared him at home, was visibly subdued). Buaben was neat, tidy, making things happen, not just laying the ball off but teasing and probing, occupying the space between Iwelumo and our deep sitting midfielders.  And delivering several vicious set pieces, balls across the box that seemed to surprise all concerned to such an extent that we didn’t think to attack them until too late.  Again… not enough to meaningfully change the destination of this game.  And not The Answer, not yet.  But a green shoot, for those looking for one.

Watford 0 Crystal Palace 2 (16/10/2011) 15/10/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Pausing only briefly to apologise to those who took the time to comment on the Millwall post and whose posts went unacknowledged and, until now, unpublished (gmail decided to start sending comment notifications to my Spam file after 5 years of accepting far less pertinent comment…)…  thunks….

1- We like to think we resist the temptation to exaggerate here at BHaPPY.  So in response to the predictably excitable pronouncement of “a new low” from over my left shoulder one should perhaps concede that Forest was worse.  Worse in its stultifying ineptitude, worse in the pathetic calibre of the opposition who were giftwrapped the result.  Palace at least did what they had to do (not much, we’ll get to that), and earned the win.

But this was still grotesque.   Hogg’s increased willingness to push on, a key factor in the victory over Millwall, was completely absent from this afternoon’s showing, with Eustace and Hogg again sitting behind the ball.  So this isn’t just about individual performances… both had useful touches.  But with NOTHING coming into the gap between the opposition midfield and defence the strikers are playing perpetually with their backs to goal;  the ball goes wide, then back to midfield, then wide, then we lose it.  Palace did exactly what every opponent with half a brain will do until something changes quite radically… sat back and let us smack our very blunt heads against them. And then broke on us.

With a big, solid side and defensive players in midfield positions Palace were well equipped to do just that.  They offered little going forward and might well not have gotten the winner but rarely looked like conceding either; the excitable Zaha picked out an absolute pearler, Palace immediately settled back into their banks of four and the game was over.

2- Of the many concerns, most fundamental is the lack of an apparent plan.  We’re in mid-October, and I’m still no clearer about how Sean envisages chances being created by this midfield than I was when it was first fielded against Birmingham.  Reservations about the Hogg/Eustace combo were expressed then… with the rider that this was one game based on little training ground time, an understanding would take time.    Getting of for two months on, it’s not clear what we’re expecting to happen.  Hogg occasionally pushes forward, normally to positive effect, but generally we’ve got a back six.  It’s not that things are being tried but not working.  It’s not that the team plays badly but you get the idea.  It’s that the individual vim of our attacking players is being sapped by the ineffectiveness of our attacking shape.  Nowhere is this more evident than in Marvin Sordell;  streaky last season, it nonetheless feels like no coincidence that his bullish start to the campaign, the focal point who we relied on to dig out a goal and who seemed desperate to step up in the absence of his erstwhile partner now looks like a passenger.  This doesn’t reflect well on him… but it’s hard not to sympathise with someone working with such scraps.

3- Hope comes in the shape of Joe Garner.  On the odd occasion when we got the ball in to his feet as he dropped deep… suddenly we looked potent, dangerous.  This was most evident in the first half; Michael Kightly looked hugely positive early on before fading… he wandered inside and slipped a beautiful pass into Garner whose shot beat Speroni but crashed off the post.  It has to be said that we didn’t always play to Garner’s strengths;  one wonders if, having heard Joel Garner (sic) announced as the teams were read out, we half expected to see a ten foot West Indian pace bowler up front and aimed our balls accordingly.  No, I don’t know anything about bloody cricket, ig told me.

It has to be said, however, that Garner doesn’t appear to adhere to Corinthian values.  Quickly gauging Mark Halsey’s fussiness, he’s adept at bouncing off the slightest bodily contact, will give a little shove to gain himself space, use his hand if he thinks he can get away with it.  Frankly, we have weightier things to worry about at the moment than this… but I’d like to like my team, even as they’re struggling a bit…

4- Did you ever play arcade football games, back in the day, where there’d be a bug, or glitch, such that certain stock moves could be guaranteed to deliver a goal?  And how, much as you tried to resist the temptation to fall back on this get-out-of-jail free you just couldn’t help yourself?  So… it’s churlish to criticise over-reliance on one stock tactic, we’ve all been there.  Except that it’s not as if the long cross-field ball to Forsyth is actually getting us anywhere very often.  Perversely, he’s at his most effective with the ball at his feet – a little ungainly, but tidy, there’s something there.  Not something that’s justified him playing every minute this season until the 67th minute mind.

5- Most of all, it’s just boring.  As was observed pre-match… a fairly forgiving Watford crowd, or at least elements of it, will seize upon any hint of encouragement, is just desperate for it.  It’s not there.  The atmosphere was dead – in the home end – from the first minute, the inevitable sarcasm from the away end almost not worth the effort.  Yes, of course it’s quiet.  We f***ing know.  It’s desperate.  I’ve got a pass-out to go to Leicester on Wednesday;  the only justification I can conjure is that with zero expectations I can’t possibly be disappointed.  A more pressing personal decision is whether to bring my 5-year-old daughter to the Peterborough game, her first proper match.  She has a ticket, but I can’t imagine that the nonsense we’re being asked to watch at the moment is going to sell the experience to her.  Depressing stuff.