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Watford 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (27/01/2012) 28/01/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from a cup night at Vicarage Road…

1- In the past week there has been much discussion over the varying attitudes to the tie.  The concerns varied from the widening chasm between the top of the top flight and everything else to our own limited firepower and prospects in the context of our own division;  ultimately, a number of folk had reservations about spending an evening watching us get royally stuffed.  It’s much easier to be smart after the event of course (which is why it’s surely the best time to make a judgement?)…  but in the days when Cup upsets were part of our regular diet, well, we didn’t expect to win then either.  Nobody anticipated a 7-1 second leg win over Southampton in 1980 to overturn a 4-0 deficit.  Nobody expected us to spank the European Champions in glorious style in the next round either.  Ditto Manchester United in 1978, Leeds in 1992, Pompey in 2004, Liverpool in 1970, Wolves, United again, West Ham, and so on, and so on.  That’s why they’re called “cup upsets”.  So I shared the apprehension about our ability to hurt Spurs, or to contain them (if you can’t contain Reading, with the greatest respect, the “best midfield in the country” (sic), even minus Gareth Bale, is going to be a problem).  But you have to show up.  You have to hope.  And good grief, you have to support.  That’s the emotional investment, surely, the personal risk of disappointment that justifies celebration when we win.  Contrary to expectation, I felt tingles down my back as I came down the M1 in the afternoon, butterflies mixed with Guinness in the pub.

2- We didn’t win, you’ll notice.  Not one of those special nights to add to all the others then, not quite.  But bloody hell we gave it a good go.  And enormous credit must go to the manager; bold enough, confident enough, to make wholesale changes to combat the opposition.  Several of which changes that folk have been screaming for for some time… no matter.  It could have happened earlier, but all the more credit to Dyche for not digging his heels in;  for not continuing so to do at any rate.  The changes to the first team were about pace as much as performance;  we needed to be able to break at speed, we needed the energy to keep up with Walker, Bale (OK, he wasn’t there), Lennon, Rose, to chase down that midfield in the absence of Jonathan Hogg, an absence that we feared would be far more critical than it probably proved.  So in came Doyley for Dickinson, Garner (effectively) for Yeates, and at long last, most bravely of all, Sean Murray for Craig Forsyth, with Matt Whichelow making a very welcome return to the bench following his midweek hat-trick for the reserves.  Murray and Doyley, unqualified successes…  Lloyd piling Kyle Walker into the advertising hoarding a highlight of the first half, Dickinson for all his commitment has been successfully targeted this season by inferior opposition. Murray wonderfully clever, impish, confident in possession, and so very very nearly on the scoresheet twice.  Not perfect, not at all… but a youngster gets extra rope, gets the fans on side, and demonstrates a commitment to youth development that should surely be at the centre of our strategy.  Garner… less effective, albeit his best performance in yellow;  the Hoskins comparison won’t go away, he’s not quite there.  Great movement, but then doesn’t want to shoot.  Scraps for possession, then throws himself lamely over a challenge.  Still the right pick though;  our vastly, dramatically increased mobility was vital to the (relative) success of the performance, and we were far more loveable for it.  More, please.

3- Having skimmed today’s reports, much has been made of Spurs’ lame showing.  Inevitable, but does scant justice to a quite superb defensive performance by the Hornets.  Not one poor performance in this respect.  We chased, we harried… if Spurs looked more fluid in possession they were far less effective, had far less penetration (which isn’t something you could have countenanced reflecting before the game).  Some quite titanic performances here… Hodson another to have perhaps his best performance for the Hornets.  John Eustace a fire-breathing monster in the middle of the park, Mariappa marking Adebayor into utter irrelevance (no shortage of clubs willing to meet £4million after that showing, I’d guess).  Our opposition was a team going for the title, remember, minus only as many first picks as ourselves.  And we limited them to a couple of shots…

4- …one of which was decisive.  It’s tempting to blame Loach (again), who will certainly be disappointed to have let the shot under his body even if it did take an awkward bounce in front of him.  But actually, Loach did what he could to redeem himself later in the game;  more significant in Spurs’ strike was that Van der Vaart took advantage of a rare yard of space as the first half closed to strike firmly and accurately on target.  He shouldn’t have scored with the shot, he needed a bit of luck, but tickets, raffles and so on.   He did what we did insufficiently often, got a firm shot on target.  Because actually, and as implied above, we were anything but short of chances… Murray did everything right when the imperious Dawson made a rare error, losing concentration on the edge of the box in front of the Rookery and we were in.  Murray, released, did everything right, curled the shot around Cudicini, reeled away in celebration.  For half a second the roof was primed to come off the Rookery but then, implausibly, the shot came back off the upright, Deeney unable to set himself quickly enough and shooting criminally wide.  The splendidly positive Buaben wasn’t scared to shoot but lacked accuracy;  Sordell, so painfully evidently a Premiership striker, dragged the dogged Kaboul all over the pitch.  Yeates was unlucky, Nosworthy unlucky, Eustace came close.  No mystery where our problems lie, but we can also genuinely blame our luck on this occasion.

5- …and that’s the point, ultimately.  As Van der Vaart’s goal went in, my co-editor and I reflected back on two top flight seasons where we were game and eager and chased and fought and were undone by a bit of quality.  And you felt unlucky, except it kept happening.  Well actually this was different;  we were well worth something from this, and Spurs were extremely lucky as their manager was candid enough to admit.  And so this wasn’t one of those special nights, but it could prove pivotal in our season nonetheless.  Because personally, and I doubt I’m alone, I come away from the game with huge pride and belief… renewed belief in both the squad and the manager, pride in all of it from Lee Hodson’s bullishness to Sean Murray’s impudence to Deeney’s aggression to Eustace’s irrepressible leadership, to the supporters in the stands who barracked Redknapp with humour and without making the mistake of letting the sideshow dominate proceedings and otherwise got furiously, noisily, positively behind their team.  I desperately wish I was going to Millwall on Tuesday.  And that’s another thing I never thought I’d say.  You.  Orns.


Watford 1 Reading 2 (14/01/2012) 15/01/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. When – and if – people talk of how television has revolutionised football, this is probably not what they have in mind. When – and if – it ever comes to a blessed end, the Sky era will chiefly be remembered for wall-to-wall blaring hype, monumental amounts of crassly-spent cash, endless slow motion replays of ball-to-hand incidents accompanied by the phrase “I’ve seen them given”, Andy bloody Gray, and the systematic obliteration of all football before 1993. It won’t be remembered for Watford v Reading on a Saturday teatime in January, episode twenty-five of a low-budget daytime soap opera watched by a dwindling audience. I’ve no idea who was doing the punditry for this one, but full credit to them if they managed to avoid letting out a lengthy sigh at some point.

So here we are, here they are, here we all are. Unless you were at home…in which case, up yours. For Sky, it’s a box-ticking exercise: stick us on now, then concentrate on the points of interest at the business end of the season. There’s no back-story here for a channel-hopping punter to buy into; the empty seats around the ground testify to the lack of theatre in another visit from Reading, like an aunt popping round for lukewarm tea and a nice chat, not exactly Frost-Nixon. There was a point when I found Reading remarkably, if inexplicably, irksome…but then they starting employing Nigel Gibbs and even that faded away.


2. So, life without Michael Kightly. Ah. Mmm. Thing is, it’s easy to concentrate on what a player of that potency actually does…and Kightly’s light flickered and flashed rather than relentlessly dazzled. But more important, at this level at least, is what they might do, for a player who requires a higher level of policing changes the shape of the game, spins it around the pull of his gravity.

You simply can’t commit someone as far forward as Reading pushed Kebe to attack Dickinson if you have a Kightly waiting on the same wing. You can’t shove your midfield into John Eustace’s face, chopping off any controlled supply to those further forward, if you’re overly concerned about what lurks behind. But a front five of Forsyth, Buaben, Yeates, Deeney and Sordell…? Aside from the last of those, you’d be pretty confident of coping with one-on-one situations against that lot, I think, and based on last night’s evidence, your confidence wouldn’t be misplaced. Once again, we look pedestrian and workmanlike, earnest and willing and little more.

3. Which is how life in the Championship works, of course, in an era when clubs are ever more dependent on the loan system and ever more desperate for income to fund debts. You build a side in August, coax it into some kind of shape by November…and then, in January, you have to try to hold it all together through loan departures and transfer speculation, like carrying a house of cards on a tea tray across the M1. We’ve done remarkably well to bring Nyron Nosworthy into the fold on a permanent basis, but the loss of Kightly and the potential loss of Sordell once more threaten to turn us into bottom six fare. That should probably be part of Thunk #2, but I’m stretching things out.

4. “Le Fondre leaves it late” and similar headlines would tend to suggest that Reading snatched victory at the death…but, in truth, they were much the better side for pretty much the entire match. That was partly due to the tactical edge previously mentioned, pushing their midfield into our half to leave everything behind isolated and irrelevant, and partly due to a snappy, aggressive attitude to the game which we singularly failed to match.

Even in comparing the two incidents worthy of post-match discussion, you can see the difference: replays suggested that Robson-Kanu could’ve been dismissed for an ugly assault on Mark Yeates, whereas the two bookings that Craig Forsyth would’ve received from a less lenient referee were both for frustrated, tired, over-stretching hacks. That was us in a nutshell: frustrated, tired, over-stretching, and the hapless Forsyth more than anyone.

On the touchline, we seemed content to let all of this play out, perhaps hoping for a similar break to the one that gave us the lead. Not a lucky break – Troy Deeney’s driven cross was testing in a way that little else we produced was – but a break in the pattern of the game, a brief sense that the ball might stick up there and things might happen when it did. But we surely should’ve changed it long before we did: the midfield battle had been lost from the first minute and bringing Ross Jenkins on to give Eustace some assistance was the move to make long, long before the eighty-first minute. We may not have many options, but we could use those we have more decisively.

5. Since it’d be a shame not to include a positive, a passing word about Lee Hodson. If there’s a source of encouragement for poor Craig Forsyth, it’s here…for Hodson, so far adrift at sea for parts of last season, has come through it all as an assertive, punchy little full-back. Not yet perfect, no, but he’s on the right path to an excellent career…and there’s a tenacity to his play which is reminiscent of both Gibbs and Doyley, and those aren’t bad names to be put alongside. Both Leeds and Reading have attempted to exploit his lack of inches, but he’s defended those situations – against Kebe here, notably doing enough to prevent a clear header at the far post – with strength and determination and character.

We’re not short of those qualities. But we are desperately short of a creative spark. Maybe we should arrange for Luka Modric to get lost in the East Stand and locked in a broom cupboard when Spurs come to town….

“Rise and Shine”…. 10/01/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

As ‘orns fans will surely be aware by now, Jay Demerit’s biopic “Rise and Shine” hits the big screen next week.  Telling the improbable story of Jay’s unusual trajectory through the world of football, frequently in a yellow shirt of course, there will surely be plenty for the Watford fan to enjoy.

As you will know, the film is a triumph merely in getting this far;  the $223,000 budget for the film was entirely “crowd-funded” (i.e. without the backing of a studio), making it reportedly the largest such independent exercise in movie history.  As if another excuse to go watch it were needed.

RISE & SHINE – THE JAY DEMERIT STORY from D&E Entertainment on Vimeo.

The guys at From the Rookery End have reviewed the movie; you can read their thoughts here, along with an interview with co-director/producer Nick Lewis.

The film is being screened by Odeon cinemas both next Tuesday evening (17th), and in matinee on Sunday 29th January.  You can find out more about the film, including locating your nearest screening, here.

New Watford IFC website 09/01/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Thoughts about things.

The Watford IFC supporters’ team for which both Matt and I have starred…well, played…well, turned out for in the past has a new website at www.watfordifc.com, where you can read about the players, find out about forthcoming fixtures and register your availability.

Incidentally, I’d like to deny rumours of a Scholes-style comeback. Dream on.

Watford 4 Bradford City 2 (07/01/2012) 08/01/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from FA Cup Third Round day…

1- This is how games against lower division opposition are supposed to pan out, of course, but we’ve made it look considerably harder than this in the past.  From the opening minutes when Marvin Sordell made space for a cross far too easily and Troy Deeney headed in unmarked at the far post, this was never in doubt.  This was due, in part, to the fact that Bradford were dreadful; you expect a lower division side to hassle, to close down space;  instead, as against Doncaster, we had acres of room;  three of our goals were all but unchallenged, John Eustace even had time to line up a Steven Gerrard pass in the second half. City’s aggression took the form of slightly sulky and somewhat incidental low-level thuggery as the game ran away from them after the break; we stood up to much more focused, better organised thuggery recently against City’s near-neighbours Leeds, this was never going to be an issue. As last week, however, it’s worth noting the progress from a team that struggled so badly earlier in the season to a team capable of sticking four past anyone… even if a couple of instances of slack defending rendered the scoreline closer than it needed to be. This wasn’t a victory based on a few moments of quality, in short.  We were much better than Bradford.

2- Sobering to look at the state that the Bantams have got themselves into.   Circumstances differ of course, but it wouldn’t have taken a lot for us to end up where City are, and without the opportunity offered by a huge catchment area to fall back upon.  More than anyone else, Ray Lewington takes credit for the fact that we staved off relegation when the going was really tough, his achievement less lauded than that of some of his contemporaries but no less significant.  That our only dalliance with the lower divisions in the last thirty-odd years was brief is deceptive.  There’s no carousel back to the top divisions, ask Bradford.  This could have been us.

3- Having cited the reduced number of substitute berths available for League fixtures as a factor in the limited chances being offered to the youngsters blooded over the last couple of years, it was more than a little disappointing that Sean Dyche made scant use of the opportunity to give some run outs, or to add names to the bench.  Adam Thompson made a welcome first appearance of the season, if only as a non-playing substitute – an interesting choice given that David Mirfin is presumably the man in possession if we really have lost Nosworthy and Taylor is still not available.  Tom James perhaps a surprise call, making a brief but neat cameo on the left side of midfield.  Perplexing though that Dyche seems so determined to field neither Whichelow nor Murray, even in a cup tie against a lower division side with seven subs and no wide attacking options on the bench.  Worth noting also that the double sub featuring both of our attacking subs, the leaden Iwelumo and the eager but impotent Garner, was utterly unproductive.

4- Having said which, the four brought into the side all did well enough, three of them featuring in the stand-out highlight of the game.  Jonathan Bond stood up well to the limited opportunities that City created to intimidate him;  he came for everything, perhaps injudiciously once or twice, but with the score at 3-1 he decisively clouted a cross out of a crowded penalty area above some competing heads, setting a counter-attack in motion.  John Eustace, whose head bandage naturally did nothing to detract from  his on-field persona, charged upfield with three opponents closing in and, at the ideal moment, slid a pass left to the galloping Craig Forsyth.  The Scot, back in the side after two months without so much as a spot on the bench, was already a goal to the good after knocking in a loose ball after Yeates’ slice;  nonetheless, the home stands held their breath and prayed that Forsyth’s fragile confidence wouldn’t take another hit.  No bother… a glorious first-time finish to a fabulous counter attack.  Forsyth is no Kightly, but here – a gentle route back, admittedly – we saw all the most positive elements of his fledgling game.  Complete – if occasionally a little random – aerial supremacy, a tidy competence on the floor and attacking the box well; plenty to be encouraged by, even if you’d rather that there was more obvious competition for wide positions.

5- A slightly anxious footnote to a very comfortable victory is that our superiority didn’t quite translate into chances on goal.  Never in danger, as mentioned above, and yet…  the visitors’ goal was never quite under siege, we didn’t spurn too many chancs.  Given that this midfield saw a return to the side fielded earlier in the season – Eustace and Hogg in the centre, Yeates and Forsyth wide – this  was maybe predictable and might be a concern going forwards.  Nice to be saying this after a second consecutive four-goal haul, naturally…

Watford 4 Doncaster Rovers 1 (31/12/2011) 01/01/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Four thunks from the last game of the year.

1- First and foremost, this is a marker of no small progress.  Interviewed in the wake of our draw at the Keepmoat Stadium a month ago, Rovers’ Senegalese defender Habib Beye rather perplexingly cited Watford as evidence that Donny weren’t one of the worst three sides in the division.  Perplexing given that Rovers hadn’t merited more than a point in a fixture which at home to, according to Beye, one of the division’s weakest sides should have been a banker for his side.

For the first six weeks of the season, in fairness, relegation had looked a very real possibility.  We had looked limited and disjointed, resorting to optimistically blaming our luck horribly early in proceedings.  We’re not out of the woods, of course;  only a fool, and a fool who’d never watched a turbulent season at this level would suggest that (and see below…), but there was only one side out there today that qualified as relegation fodder and the ultimate comfort of our victory would have been unthinkable under any circumstances earlier in the season.

Even circumstances which involved us being afforded acres of space in midfield, as we had been in Doncaster during our earlier meeting and even before the second half dismissal of Rovers’ Herold Goulon.  The first twenty minutes or so resembled a coconut shy, with Rovers barely getting over the halfway line, giving the ball away cheaply, not closing us down.  Sordell and Kightly both tested the keeper;  Nyron Nosworthy got on the end of a deep cross to loop a header off the far side of the goal frame.  If we lacked the intensity of some recent performances we were still well on top.  Yet as our flame flickered somewhat Rovers started to get forward, late in the half… and just as you were wondering whether the tide was going to turn, Marvin Sordell picked up the ball in midfield and finding that Rovers had none charged onwards before belting the ball eagerly past Woods.  Terrific, aggressive forward play from Sordell; laughable defending from the visitors, it was a goal from the playground.

2- My daughter noted at half time (whilst repeatedly emphasising that she WANTED Watford to win) that she thought it more likely that the outcome would be (“what’s it called when they get the same, Daddy?”) a draw.  And as if Donny had had their attention drawn to the fact that they needed to score a goal, they came at us at the start of the second period looking like a football team for the only period in the match.  Sharp duly equalised, expertly, and though the game soon settled and we began to find space in midfield again, the nagging memory of points dropped at home in recent games when three had been on offer would have been in the players’ minds, surely, as much as ours.

Not that a tenuous, contrived excuse is needed… but it’s tempting to think back to THAT Tranmere game. Again. And how Tranmere really could have won the game if they’d just let it lie.  Let the game die, our season with it.  This game can’t possibly be as pivotal, but in the same way… this indisciplined, antagonistic Doncaster side was never going to play it cool.  Herold Goulon had already run away with the “comedy opponent of the year award”, for resembling the Eiffel Tower in terms of scale and mobility.  He had avoided a red card at the Keepmoat by virtue of Lee Hodson’s nimbleness in avoiding his stroppy lunge;  here, he gained a completely unnecessary second booking for a crude hack on the escaping Kightly.  Doncaster had barely been denying us space in midfield as it was; without Goulon, a midfielder with his own postcode, there was more space and time than we knew what to do with.  A flicked header from Sordell; a marvellous, mathematically precise drive with John Eustace’s first touch and a glorious sign-off from Kightly were the consequence.  A hugely important three points, however they came.

3- The other “but”…? The question as to quite how many of today’s starting eleven will still be here at the end of January.  That Kightly would go was always a given;  Nosworthy too, it seems, is signing off if the choreographed farewell on the final whistle is anything to go by.  Worth pausing to acknowledge two extraordinarily successful loans, even by the recent-ish standards set by the likes of Cleverley, Foster, Mutch and Adam Johnson.  Kightly flickered prior to his mid-loan injury, but has exploded since into the fabulous and occasionally unplayable weapon that got Wolves promoted and is surely destined, finally, to play a role for them in the top flight.  Nosworthy, contrary to many expectations (mine included), has rendered the loss of Martin Taylor unnoticeable.  Authoritative, reliable, with the Keith Dublinesque sense of bravado that didn’t ought to work in a centre back but somehow did.  Martin O’Neill, according to the week’s papers, was due to be at the game today to check on his charge; it turned out he went to Stoke-Wigan instead.  So he didn’t catch Marvin Sordell’s performance… his strongest of the season, even if he didn’t quite end our fifteen year wait for a hat-trick from a yellow shirt at home.  Probably irrelevant – there will be offers for a natural goalscorer (thanks Dave) in the transfer window from Sunderland or elsewhere, and it may be that braces against Doncaster represent both his first and last goals in yellow at Vicarage Road. And Aidy Mariappa, magnificent again, would arguably be the biggest loss of the four; he would be far harder to replace than Taylor has been.  So far so good… but our end of season tumble last season began in the January with the loss of Mutch (and was kicked into motion by McGinn’s injury).  It’s a seller’s market in January;  we found filling one gap hard enough last season.  A nervous month ahead.

4- To briefly echo last month’s note on Doncaster, it’s hugely gratifying that the masterplan hasn’t come together for Willie McKay’s troupe of mercenaries.  Having abandoned the path that earned them such respect in reaching this  level, Rovers won’t be mourned on their way back down. The utterly unlikeable Dean Saunders, the cynical approach to botching a team together that completely fails to respect the need of a supporter to associate with those they are watching, the menagerie of desperadoes that have been dragged in off the street (including El Hadji Diouf, still a potent weapon but a seasonal pantomime villain booed with as much gusto as the less convincing “Flesh Creep” had been on Friday).  None of these are ways to win friends and influence people.  One can only hope that the scheme continues to die on it’s arse, and that there’s a club left for Rovers fans to support when a sense of normality returns. Football could do without this becoming a blueprint.

5- The final thunk shared between the half-time attractions;  firstly, the original Ross Jenkins, looking just like a returning star ought to look with his grey hair tied back in a pony tail.  Not a shuffling old man, colouring our memories of his past deeds;  Jenkins was a rock star, grinning all over his face, loving the moment, barely able to tear himself away from the Rookery’s adulation.  Marvellous.  And then, of course, the American Marching Band, adding a slightly surreal edge to proceedings with occasional other-worldly rat-a-tat-tats and salutes.  The half-time repertoire included a cover version of the Cantina-band’s catchy number from “Star Wars”, but this was outdone in strangeness by an incongruous fanfare as the action rattled on late in the second half, heralding a parting of the waves in Doncaster’s back four as Kightly galloped through and, with options screaming on either side, thumped the ball past the keeper before celebrating in front of the band, who played on.  There will, one suspects, be duller afternoons than this at Vicarage Road some time in 2012.