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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.


1. SteveG - 28/12/2011

Thanks, Matt, for adding substance and detail to the paradoxical gut feeling that we were lucky to be still in a game in which we were nevertheless disappointed not to be taking all three points.

The big question a few months ago was whether Dyche would learn, adapt and develop, or whether he would stubbornly stick with plan A – that question now seems to have been decisively answered. It is no disrepect to such excellent servants of the club as Messrs Eustace and Doyley to say that the selections over the last few games have been spot on … and re thunk 2, their injuries were a bizarre form of ‘luck’ that nevertheless allowed Dyche to stumble upon a more effective line up.

While the routine slagging off of Loach that occurs on some other sites is unlikely to make him play any better, this is increasingly looking like a problem that won’t go away. It’s not so much the errors themselves, but the palpable lack of confidence that this gives to the defence in general, Mariappa in particular and the almost audible holding of breath that occurs in the stands whenever there is a cross or a back pass that is coming Loach’s way. Nosworthy seems to have adopted the pragmatic approach of ignoring him.

It would be a surprise if there were not some polite enquiries behing the scenes about the availability of goalkeepers on loan in the January transfer window.

2. Vaughan Smith - 28/12/2011

Another unbelievable error by Loach and we’re yet another 2 points down. Hopefully a ‘keeper is SD’s priority for January. Loach makes some great saves, but the catastrophic errors are now becoming a regular feature, and are costing the team serious points. It’s a real pity, but his position is rapidly becoming untenable.

David Smith - 28/12/2011

So much appreciate these reports. It is refreshing – especially for a Hornet like me exiled in Scotland – to read such well-written, well-informed and balanced accounts of Watford games. This site offers true Watford fans an honest and high quality reflection on the state of play, avoiding the ridiculous stream of bile on the Watford Observer site, on the one hand, and the insider, ideologically driven presentation of the club’s own propoganda, on the other. Thanks a million.

Matt Rowson - 28/12/2011

To be fair to the OS, I think they’re a lot more objective in their accounts than many official sites (and a number of nominally impartial ones)… but obviously there’s a limit as to how far they can (or should) go. Not entirely appropriate for the OS to be questioning team selections or performances explicitly, for example.

Many thanks for the kind words tho.

3. Roger Smith - 28/12/2011

5 thunks, and all spot on. Hogg was my m-o-m by a country mile. Interesting that, whereas Malky used all three subs, Dyche didn’t use one. With Deeney tiring after working his socks off as usual, a fresh, tall Iwelumo might have given their defenders something else to think about.

Matt Rowson - 28/12/2011

Thanks Roger. Possibly re Iwelumo, although the lack of options, particularly attacking options, on the bench was also a factor. To have another clout at a well worn drum, quite why we had Jenkins, a second defensive midfielder who I have a lot of time for, rather than Whichelow or Murray, say, defies logic. If Sean thinks the kids have been rushed through that’s his call, but not a valid reason for not sticking one of them on the bench when we’re otherwise short of options.

Roger Smith - 28/12/2011

You’re right. What ought to be happening in the reserves is the forging of a bond between Iwelumo and one or more others, so that both Deeney and Sordell could be replaced by fresh legs. Chris is also a useful outlet for a tiring defence.

And thanks for bemoaning the loss of multiball. When I heard the announcement at the start of the season, I foresaw Row Z being very busy again. That said, the long arm of the law did well in front of the scoreboard, whilst his colleague made a clean catch behind the Vic goal.

4. Andy C - 28/12/2011

Totally agree with Roger’s comment on the quality of the reporting. I despair of certain other sites where comments are encouraged. More often than not the comments descend into an endless stream of insults and other stuff irrelevant to the subject matter i.e. our favourite football team. Just keep doing what you do Matt and IG.

5. Mike Scofield - 28/12/2011

Interesting comment from my wifes two German nephews who came along to the game & left as converted English game devotees ; when I bemoaned the fact that Loach had made at least one other silly mistake this season, they chorused that it was just like all English goalkeepers !

So that’s how they see us ‘over there’ 🙂

Roger Smith - 29/12/2011

Maybe the Union between England and Scotland is stronger than we thought!

6. JohnF - 29/12/2011

Great report Matt. An absorbing game with, I thought, Cowie running the show in the first half and Hogg in the second. Hogg seems to be growing in stature game by game. I do hope that the transfer window does not leave us too scarred.

Three home wins turned into draws by individual errors is a bit worrying but we can only hope. We are so much further forward than at the beginning of the season so progress is being made. The covers are in place so heavy rain and egg chasers may be less of a concern this season.

7. Roger68 - 29/12/2011

What is that old saying–“Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action…” But in this case the enemy is ourselves. It is unbelievable that once again a winning position–albeit this time not entirely deserved– should be thrown away. We have been on a good run since the Peterborough game, but should have more points to show from it . The team is bound to be restructured after January, as loanees return and maybe some players sold. The fixture list also looks quite formidable through Jan/Feb. It will be quite a challenge even to maintain our current position in these circumstances.

Matt Rowson - 29/12/2011

can only agree that that’s the concern.

8. hornetboy84 - 30/12/2011

£5m Sordell to Blackburn … ? too much to turn down … ?

SteveG - 31/12/2011

£5m would be very good business indeed. Enough to secure a new goalkeeper, pay off some debts and fund some ground improvements. Not sure that I believe this. Agent talk?

Also in the Fantasy Football field, did you know that there is a forthcoming feature film about the ‘rags to riches’ story of one Jay DeMerit? Publicity material shows a January release date and not, as I first wondered, April 1st. Difficult to see this being a box-office record breaker, but stranger things have happened…

Funny game, football.

Matt Rowson - 31/12/2011

been well publicised, and already screened in London during the “kicking and screaming” festival. I believe a number of regular BHaPPY readers got to see it…

9. Jeremy Clarkeson - 30/12/2011

JC here.
keep up the good work and have great new year.

Re Loach, Tony Coton would have had the ball, Mariappa, Cardiff man and anything else that got in his way..time to beef and man up, Chamberlin has his work cut out

10. Roger68 - 30/12/2011

How many years has Chamberlain been coaching Loach? Maybe Chamberlain has taken Loach as far as he can, and it is time for Loach to move on for his own benefit, if his game is to develop further.He does seem to keep making the same sort of errors, and you cannot say now it is due to inexperience . A change of coaching input might be needed to move him on to the next level–but I cannot see a Premiership team taking him on.

Jeremy Clarkeson - 31/12/2011

JC here
100% agree with you
When i first saw the young Pat Jennings, david james, tont Coton and even Alec himself you knew they were more than capable, they had precence (sic)…I am afraid our dear Scott gives presents

11. nick - 30/12/2011

People keep talking about buying a new keeper, whats wrong with Rene and Bond. By all accounts Bond is a superb keeper whilst Rene has been doing well in his loan speall at Yeovil.

I suspect Loach will go in January. I will also be getted to see him leave

12. Wrighty - 31/12/2011

my main concern is the upcoming Africa Cup Of Nations, if Prince goes we could well be back to square one unless there’s something I’m missing

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