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Watford 1 Cardiff City 1 (26/12/2011) 27/12/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from a Turkey-sandwich meeting with a couple of old friends…

1- Each of whom received a mixed reaction from the home support.  The hostile welcome was the noisier, inevitably, but distracting only a purple-faced, merrily outraged minority for the most part.  For me, there’s no argument as far as Mackay goes.  At least one very significant season’s worth as a player, and two as a manager where his team delivered way above what anyone had a right to expect.  So, sure, a pisser that he chose to leave.  Gutting.  But to blame him?  No.  More money, more security, greater possibilities?  Anyone who expected (or thought they had a right to expect) any other outcome was kidding themselves.  The same can be said for Cowie really;  the choker there, the extra twist, was that it was sprung on us, we didn’t know it was coming, and so the fact that he followed Mackay to Cardiff was hugely suggestive.  Actually, if we screwed his contract that’s our fault, nobody else’s, and it’s my inclination to trust Mackay’s assertion that Cowie’s contract situation would have seen him leave even if Mackay had stayed.  Another to whom I don’t really get the bitterness, then.  His effort as a player was unrelenting, he gave us two and a half seasons of industry and quality, and movement under freedom of contract really is something that we should have our heads around by now.

The only niggling thing for me is that it hacks me off that despite our scouting structure nominally existing as a distinct entity from the team management, Cardiff have really done rather well out of that too… we know about Andrew Taylor, of course, and that Craig Conway was a summer target was telegraphed long before the end of the last campaign.  Mackay has acknowledged in interviews that Slovak Filip Kiss was watched by Watford over a prolonged period.  He won’t have been the only one.  Again, with a hard face, Mackay has done nothing wrong and one can’t expect him to empty his mind of everything he knows on leaving, it doesn’t work like that.  One does feel a little short changed though.  Nonetheless, the applause that Mackay’s post-match acknowledgement received before the excitably eager boos drowned it out was far more fitting an appraisal of both individuals’ Watford careers.

2- And for most of the first half, there was an awful lot that was familiar about the visiting side.  It’s never a good idea to successively read two novels by the same author I find;  however impressive the first I begin to get irritated by an author’s habits and style when they begin to emerge in the second.  And lo… here was a visiting team paying expansive football across the full width of the pitch, rendered get-attable at the back by their refusal to sit back but leaving us chasing shadows for the most part.  And Don Cowie at the centre of everything, scurrying this way and that, on the end of crosses as well as providing them and coming close more than once, most memorably a diving header to a right-wing cross that brought a fine save from Loach. The riposte to the fist-chewingly tedious chorus of boos that greeted the Scot’s every touch seemed inevitable.  It didn’t come, but to say that we were rather fortunate to be on level terms at the break would be something of an understatement.  Not that we didn’t have chances too… but we should probably make a mental note of Peter Whittingham’s low drive that rebounded off the inside of the post and into Loach’s arms, and of Aron Gunnarsson’s whistling shot coming in straight down Loach’s throat when an inch either side would have been crucial, before bemoaning our luck in future.

3- That we kept our head above water early on owed much to an extraordinary performance from Jonathan Hogg.  Under Aidy Boothroyd, Al Bangura was employed in a very specific role away from home… a goal up, Henderson off, Bangura on as a cork up the arse of the midfield, sitting behind the four and stamping on anything that made it through.  Bangura excelled in this very specific role, but it’s not being overly harsh to point out that it’s rather easier to look good when you don’t have any specific marking responsibility beyond a general watching brief in front of the back line.  Thing is, Hogg does the same job despite having a man to mark.  And still finds time to put his foot on the ball, calm us down, get us moving forward.  The tighter a spot, the more reliable his control and decision making.  That the benching of our team captain and one of our best and most popular players is attracting precisely zero comment or questioning speaks volumes.  Driven on by Hogg but supported by particularly strong performances from both the increasingly confident Hodson and the increasingly competent Dickinson, we dragged ourselves off the ropes and were more than punching our weight by the time Sordell made a fool out of his marker down the left, pulled back from the touchline to Buaben who drove under the keeper just as the chance threatened to disappear.  Neither player had their best outing in yellow, but the goal was a thing of beauty and was celebrated accordingly.

4- It was suggested later that we might have brought on one of the two defensive midfielders inexplicably sharing places on the bench to clog up the midfield a bit, shut the door behind us so to speak.  In reality there had been next to no threat since half time;  if we’re comparing this Cardiff side to last season’s Watford, the most glaring omission is a Danny Graham to stick the ball in the net and we weren’t under any kind of pressure. Nor should a long but unremarkable throw have presented a problem, but it was no great surprise that Cardiff, guided by plenty of local knowledge after all, had been sticking tall players in front of our indecisive custodian.  Nor that they brought on the colossal Rudy Gestede to add to their aerial threat.  And it paid off, a depressing addition to the tally of points lost to stupid goalkeeping errors.  No consolation that a draw was more than fair on balance;  this was there for the taking from a winning position.  One narrow defeat in ten is a good stat, but too often we’re still not rewarding strong performances with wins.

5- Something of an aside… but during what was ultimately a thoroughly enjoyable and open game I found myself missing the departed “multiball” system.  There are weightier issues in the world to spend one’s time chewing over, to be sure… but it’s a shame that the unavoidable scope for abusing the system couldn’t be overcome.  There was no suggestion of either side wanting to slow this one down, and the ability to keep the action coming at pace was limited by intervals for the ball to be chased around the derelict East Stand by lumbering stewards.  Cheap Christmas laughs are no substitute for breathless excitement.


Watford 1 Leeds United 1 (10/12/2011) 11/12/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from an afternoon of mixed emotions at Vicarage Road…

1- Let’s put the final exchanges of the game to one side for a minute.  They constitute an incontrovertibly key detail, of course, and we’ll get to them but they shouldn’t be at the front of our minds when looking back on today, not once the seething frustration has died down.  For this was a monstrous Watford performance;  not always pretty, and self-evidently not perfect, but vigorous, confident, bullish and single-minded.  Quite comfortably the best display of those witnessed by your BHaPPY correspondents this season, irrespective of the result.

Having bitched endlessly on these pages about Sean Dyche’s decision to ditch the attacking, youthful ethos of last season, it’s only fair to acknowledge that last season’s side wouldn’t have coped anything like as well with the physical challenge that the visitors provided;  they didn’t in fact, in the corresponding fixture early in the last campaign when Leeds took the lead early and bullied us out of the rest of the game.  That didn’t happen here; we started on the front foot and were the better side throughout.  That we bossed it physically will in particular be no small satisfaction;  Jonathan Hogg was phenomenal in midfield, catapulting himself into challenges, emerging with the ball at his feet and almost thriving on the lack of space in midfield, receiving the ball in tight positions, moving it on, moving it forwards.  Each of the defenders played well… Mariappa’s arrogantly dismissive Bobby Moore tackle on Becchio meant that half the home crowd was already on its feet for Kightly’s fine goal, Nosworthy’s vital header prevented a rare Leeds chance, Hodson was irrepressible, perhaps his best performance for the ‘orns, and Dickinson, after an iffy 20 minutes, comprehensively won his duel with Snodgrass, who drifted into irrelevance…

2- …but the key change in this performance was up front.  I’ve defended Chris Iwelumo on these pages, I don’t think his contribution is as black-and-white as has been painted.  There’s no denying the startling impact that Troy Deeney had on our forward play, however.  Defensively we were again solid enough – if we were to give away late chances we nonetheless limited Leeds for the most part;  with Deeney’s mobility and focused aggression we suddenly had a forward line to speak of too.  He’s gently and indirectly appealed to be played in his preferred position in recent interviews; it’s difficult to see any other forward pairing bar Deeney and Sordell for the foreseeable future on this evidence.  I don’t think it’s fanciful to draw comparison with Deeney’s erstwhile Walsall teammate Tommy Mooney, who learned to focus his power and enthusiasm to mature as a player over the seasons after his arrival

3- Having said all of which, you could sense the equaliser coming.  Not through Leeds’ creativity, which was all but non-existent;  their pressure as the game closed was all urgency and no guile. But we’d missed chances, good chances… Sordell’s penalty on being felled by Kisnorbo, pushed onto the post by McCarthy;  the same player had wasted a fine opening after being put through, betraying his inexperience with a bad decision and pressured finish, over the bar, when the supporting Deeney was in space.   Kisnorbo making amends for his error with the penalty with an astonishing clearance under pressure as we pushed for that crucial, conclusive goal.  Leeds’ chances were all of our creation;  Becchio twice being given the ball in a dangerous area, threatening to ruin all our good work.  Both chances spurned, the second prompting my co-editor to hope that no more gifts would be forthcoming.  Sadly there was one last parcel at the foot of the stocking… Nosworthy might have gotten away with his challenge on another day, it was a harsh award from an increasingly erratic official.  Stupid, needless challenge though, and got the visitors out of jail as their fans were keen to point out.

4- For a side with such an impressive recent record, particularly away from home, Leeds looked surprisingly mundane;  admittedly they’d lost two senior members of their midfield, Michael Brown relegated to the bench and Howson out altogether after injuries last weekend.  Nonetheless, they looked blunt and clumsy, and once again you’re asking yourself whether they were just having an off day, or whether the fact that so many sides have played badly against us is more than mere coincidence.

5- If you’re braving Bloomfield Road next weekend, all power to you.  BHaPPY will not be represented;  as such have a splendid Christmas and we’ll see you with Turkey sandwiches (or your own choice of seasonal equivalent) at midday on Boxing Day…

Competition – Results 08/12/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Thanks to all those who entered our Saville Rogue quiz.  And apologies for early teething problems;  fortunately Stuart Sale spared my blushes with an early correct answer. So… the full roster of those awarded the 32 – including several who appeared in squad lists without making it onto the pitch – is as follows:

1999/00  Mark Williams (22+2,1)

2000/01 Stephen Brooker (0+0, 0), Tom Neill (0+0, 0)

2001/02  Jerel Ifil (0+0, 0)

2002/03  Elliott Godfrey (0+1, 0)

2003/04  Stephen Kelly (13+0, 0)

2004/05  Johnnie Jackson (14+1, 0), Danny Cullip (4+0, 0)

2005/06  Les Ferdinand (0+0, 0)

2006/07  Sheku Kamara (0+1, 0), Cedric Avinel (1+0, 0)

2007/08  Theo Robinson (0+0. 0)

2008/09  Lewis Young (1+3, 0)

2009/10  Billy Gibson (0+0, 0)

2010/11  Danny Drinkwater (3+9, 0)

2011/12  Jonathan Hogg

Competition: Win a Savile Rogue cashmere football scarf in Watford colours 02/12/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Nonsense.

Savile Rogue have very kindly offered BHaPPY readers the chance to win one of the world’s finest cashmere football scarves in Watford colours.

Savile Rogue scarves (it says here…) give a nod to football terraces of yesteryear, shunning in-your-face logos and cheap nylon in favour of a traditional bar design and the comfort, quality and warmth of top grade wool.

A bit nifty, in other words. To get your hands on a Watford scarf, here’s the question….

In the thirteen years in which we’ve had squad numbers, sixteen players have been awarded the 32 shirt (note not all of them actually wore it in action…).

How many of them can you name?

The largest number of correct guesses by the evening of Thursday December 8th wins the scarf.  Only the last sixteen names you nominate will be considered;  in the event of a tie, the fastest response wins.

Note that Saville Rogue are only dispatch the prize to a UK address.

Enter by replying to this message.  Entries will not be published until the closing date.

That is all.