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Watford 2 Bristol City 2 (29/11/2011) 30/11/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. I’ve recently finished reading Jonathan Wilson’s engrossing and thoroughly educational “Inverting the Pyramid”. It’s a rare book, in that it enlightens the game of football itself rather than merely (although it’s never really merely, obviously, as the minute’s silence for Gary Speed poignantly reminded us) the people involved in it. Its history of football’s tactical evolution from formless roots through countless refinements of formation and approach sheds fresh light on all manner of famous teams, matches and fundamental changes in balances of power. Whether it’s light that you want to shed on the average Championship match is another matter…sometimes these things are best left without illumination, much as the local sewers don’t smell any better if you know how they were built….

Taken as part of that ever-shifting tactical evolution, Watford v Bristol City was…well, some distance removed from the Barcelona model, shall we say. It’s like Swan Lake performed by brickies, all of that Spanish elegance and movement…and our interpretation is to pass it sideways for a bit as if we might at any moment conjure up something sublime from our collective imagination, then realise that no bugger’s bothering to make a run beyond the halfway line, knock it back to Nyron and get him to chuck it in the mixer by bouncing it off the moon.

Of course, Barcelona are already yesterday’s news. Eye-catching and memorable, certainly, but the reaction has already begun: we’ll be spending quite a lot of time next summer watching Spain laboriously trying to thread a way through some kind of gluey variation on an 8-1-1 formation. On which basis, we’re not so far behind after all, for this remains a Watford side with caution at its core, with protection of the area in front of the defence as its regimental badge of pride. I’d rather watch Peterborough, frankly.

2. And all of that hard graft? All of those training ground hours, days, weeks spent on defending as a unit, with the excellent Jonathan Hogg ahead of the back four and the wide midfielders tucked into the space in front of the full-backs? All of the rigour and cohesion and structure that Dyche has tried to bring to the party? (Are those things you bring to a party? No matter…) Hard not to wonder whether it’s all been worthwhile when you concede two goals as gormless as these, throwing away three very handy points in the process.

Oh, I know the second was a nonsense on any number of levels…but if you ask me, the first was even worse, a much more basic and just as avoidable failure of concentration at a stage in the game where all we needed to do was remain switched on until half-time. Dreadful. Given the lacklustre, patchy nature of our performance, it’s hard to put much of a case for an emphatic victory…but an emphatic victory was within our butter-fingered grasp nevertheless.

3. It came to be so because we rather gave up on the idea of getting ball-plus-people anywhere near their goal, having spent twenty stupefying minutes building moves from equal parts clumsiness and inaccuracy, Chris Iwelumo and Craig Beattie lumbering after passes – loose term – that Marvin Sordell might’ve struggled to fetch. The lack of pace up front was never clearer than when the ball occasionally landed at the feet of the compact, aggressive Michael Kightly, suddenly roaring at defenders with genuine threat and intent; it was as if time suddenly sped up in those moments, as if everything happened quicker, seconds compressed, distances bridged. And then back to someone else, illusion rudely shattered by a clanking, shuddering return to reality.

So after a while, we decided to try something different. Rather than trying to play our way through the final thirty yards of the pitch, we stopped at the threshold and just wanged the bloody thing at the goal as hard as we could. And it went in. Twice (kind of). See, who needs tactics?

4. Extraordinarily, given that we’ve signed so many players I can’t remember them all, the squad appears to have as many gaps as when we started. Different gaps, I grant you. But how on earth can it be that the second choice forward line is comprised of two players who, like chalk and chalk, complement each other only in the sense that they provide the same service twice over? How can you look down the list of options – Troy Deeney, honest and likeable and a bit more mobile and no more likely to hit the back of the net; Joe Garner, the obvious choice for someone to play off a big fella and yet falling down the pecking order by the week – and see nothing that doesn’t make you pine for Marvin Sordell (and Danny Graham)?

And while we’ve managed to create competition for places in some areas – Jonathan Hogg is rightly keeping John Eustace out of the side (and thank heavens we’ve got away from playing them together in a midfield four) – there’s none whatsoever elsewhere. Either Prince Buaben plays – and struggles, on last night’s evidence – or there’s no-one behind the strikers. Despite heavy reinforcement of the squad, thereby pushing the youngsters back into second-string football, we seem incredibly restricted; what we’re left with are unimaginative interpretations of a very odd, unconvincing assortment of players.

5. But let’s end on a vaguely upbeat note. Because for all of that, we no longer look like the forlorn relegation fodder of the early season. There is something coming together; it might not be pretty and it isn’t terribly exciting, but there’s been some character and resourcefulness and, occasionally, some skill in the recent improvement…and we deserve some credit for not allowing a resurgent City to take control of the game after that disastrous equaliser.

And indeed, we might’ve won it at the end…which is precisely the kind of delirious coming together that it feels like we need, something to start the story of this team, something that you would’ve missed if you hadn’t been there. Something to remind us that it’s about more than just survival. But survival would be a start.

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Comments»

1. Marcus - 30/11/2011

Geddit – but a bit harsh IMO – in that Bristol City weren’t useless and we did create (one way or another) quite a few chances; the match was entertaining in the main – it wasn’t one of those wholly hopeless depressing performances we witnessed some games back.

The interview with Beattie suggested there is good team spirit.

You missed out the bright spot – the other amazing thing Loach did, which was to come for a corner, through a bunch of players, jump, catch the ball and retain it in his mits on falling to the ground. Never seen him do that before.

2. Alice - 30/11/2011

Ooooo harsh Ig. I quite enjoyed our performance (apart from the goals against obviously!).
🙂

Matt Rowson - 30/11/2011

Them there happy pills again, Alice.

Bob - 30/11/2011

I must have the same prescription…. I thought the game was almost entertaining and that we played ok agaisnt a neat city side. That may sound like damning us with faint praise, but I am one of those that watch in hope not expectation.

Considering the awful nature of their two gifted goals, i left the ground reasonably chirpy last night.

Plus side is that the wings look far better balanced than they have in a while, and aidy and nyron were fine (THAT back pass aside), and until i made the comment that he hadn’t put a foot wrong, i thougt hogg played a blinder. be interesting to see how he links up with mcginn when/if he returns.

3. NickB - 30/11/2011

Some of Kightly’s sublime close control was alone worth the admission; Big Chris’s woeful exhibition of lumbering around aimlessly was merely worth giving it back again.

4. JohnF - 30/11/2011

I can see your point Ian and I broadly agree. City looked neat but ran out of steam on our back four most of the time. It was only a ball slung over to the far post that caused the problem, which is one that anyone who has done their homework would know is a chronic failure with Watford. However, Kightly apart, it was rather laboured. Buaben is not going to be able to deliver fantastic performances every time but it would be nice to be able to relieve him occasionally. At least SD brought back Hogg who looks much better in that role than Eustace at the moment and hopefully will not bring Doyley straight back in when he is fit. That is what real competition for places is about.

Your point about the front two is well taken but we need to adapt to their strengths and I suspect that Beattie is at his best picking up half chances in the area. Oh that Deeney could finish.

But in terms of pace, what pace?

5. John Samways - 30/11/2011

‘Like watching a performance of Swan Lake performed by brikkies’ Matt, it is worth having supported Watford for 60 years to bump into a quote like that. Of course, it’s grossly untrue (in my dreams).

Ian Grant - 30/11/2011

Very kind, John. Given Matt’s current media ubiquity, you’re forgiven for assuming that he wrote last night’s waffle. It was actually me, though; Matt was busy recording Question of Sport or something…

DM - 01/12/2011

This is my favourite ever post on here..

Matt Rowson - 02/12/2011

Only because it mentioned waffles, DM. Easily pleased. How many goals did you miss on Tuesday night, exactly?

6. Nick - 30/11/2011

Goals aside I thought it was horrendous.

Yes we created chances against what looks like a very fragile back 4 but wasnt it just so boring, laborious and soul destroying to see players get the ball under control only to put an aimless boot through it.

Iwelumo is atrocious, if Sordell is unfit for Saturday I hope Dyche goes for a Beattie/Garner partnership up front. I know he’s not quick, I know his touch is awful but what really bugs me is that he never even looks like getting on the end of a ball into the box.

Mike Scofield - 30/11/2011

It must be the pre-match food in the legends lounge disguising the Ecstacy, but I thought it was all ok.

A City side who have done-over the top two teams very recently & who were predicted by large numbers of Watford supporting internet message boarders, to be ready to thump us back to the bottom three on their way to the play-offs under their new super-manager, were efficiently kept in their place ( on the half way line ) by our industry & organisation.

No its not Barcelona, but having been bought-up on Ken Furphys mid 1960’s journeymen Championship winning team, I thought it was all ok & City deserved very little for their sideways passing exhibition.

NickB - 30/11/2011

I liked Furphy’s side. But I was quite young and impessionable at the time….

Nick - 30/11/2011

Industry and organisation when you haven’t got the ball is great and will keep teams at bay however when we have the ball we should at least try to do something with it. I’m not expecting brazil, arsenal or even southampton but I lost count of the number of times a watford player put the ball straight back into the air instead of taking a touch.

If those balls aren’t aimless then big chris should be winning more of them. We lack movement and desire to make something happen.

Mike Scofield - 30/11/2011

Hmmm, the thing is, it wasnt ‘aimless’. It was completely ‘aimed’ at the head/ chest of the big man or Beattie. We are not the Arsenal invincibles, but we are pragmatists. Fair enough.

7. Johnny Boy - 30/11/2011

Couple of other mentions – Kightly (normally quite selfish)lay back for ‘early Robbo tribute act'(Your best yet ig) Dickinson to score.Also, IMHO Lee Hodson is putting in the most telling crosses and really looking the part.

8. MartinG - 30/11/2011

Iwulemo and Beattie – if there is a slower combination in the Football League I’ll be amazed. You have to say two great goals from us but Ig’s report is, as usual, bang on.

9. Dave Jackson - 01/12/2011

Agree about the front two on Tuesday night. Our new man puts me in mind of that old Who album…Meaty, Beattie, Big and Bouncy.
Hopefully we’ll only see one of them start at Portman Road, (especially at those prices!)

10. hornetboy84 - 04/12/2011

Ian – I think your view of the performance and concern for the direction of the was tarnished (as was mine) by the front 2 pairing which frankly just can’t work. Why he cant look to play Bauben or even Kightly in that role if as it seems he has no faith in Garner is beyond me. But really this is the opportunity to introduce Witchelow or a youngster. Having watched the extended highlights we still had the right spirit and did a lot of things right that a more pacey front line would have devoured.

I’m fortunate to be writing this in the hindsight of Ipswich – which starts to bring into play the january transfer window – and I guess we will see the real Bassani motivation. Will we hold onto Sordell and Marriappa? How will we cope without Norsworthy or Kightly as is likely given their performances and the state of their two clubs. Points in the next few weeks will be precious as I suspect we will have to reshape a new team through January !

11. Roger68 - 05/12/2011

Why do you say their first goal was “gormless”? If we had scored it we would have been hailing a good goal. A deep cross from an alert wide player, and Elliot dived strongly and bravely over Dickinson to head in–oh that Iwelumo would /could do that. Now their second goal was gormless–that is what gormless actually means.

Ian Grant - 06/12/2011

But we didn’t score it…! Instead, we fell asleep as they took a quick throw and flipped in a cross before we’d woken up; a good cross, I grant you, but an unchallenged one. And then we were also dozing in the middle, where nobody – particularly Dickinson and Mariappa – appeared aware that Elliott was arriving, hence the lack of an effective challenge. Sorry, but that’s a poor, poor goal from our point of view…and especially so given the timing, as it was a point in the game when we should’ve been switched on to see things out to half-time.

12. Roger68 - 06/12/2011

Quick thinking and bravery by them caught us out, not gormlessness by us —credit where it is due, and blame too. OK- a “poor” goal to concede at that time, but not a “poor, poor” goal. They worked it, we did not gift it–unlike goal number two.


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