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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.


1. Toddy - 01/01/2012

To be honest Mathew: the Ross Jenkins moment, and the marching bands introduction to the Kightly goal, followed by his (bookable) celebration, put tears in this old mans eyes as he stood to applaud. Magical…


2. Nick - 01/01/2012

A very well deserved and important 3 points today. I have a funny feeling Nyron will be bask at the club come the end of january however mariappa and loach won’t be.

I thought hodson was superb again today whilst buaben will have better games.

Matt Rowson - 01/01/2012

Agree re Hodson. Didn’t think Bobbins was too bad tbh.

3. Tom - 01/01/2012

The most pleasing thing for me was that we managed to break the 10 men down quickly. At the beginning of the season I would not have been so confident of us doing so but at this stage in the season we are more confident and dangerous in front of goal and it certainly paid off.

Couldn’t agree more re. the McKay mercenary machine! Deplorable.

4. JohnF - 01/01/2012

Happy New Year to you and yours Matt, to IG and all readers and contributors. Let us hope that it is still happy at the end of April. However, there will be much to wonder about and applaud before, hopefully, a rapturous farewell for the summer.
This was a great way to finish 2011 but we must face it that if Donny had played to the full of their various individual talents it could well have been rather different. El Hadj Diouf’s cross for the goal was nothing short of brilliant and with Sharp waiting to get on the end of such service a goal was highly likely if not inevitable. The sending off was a pivotal moment. Loach largely managed to concentrate and seemed to be playing up to what I hope were encouraging cheers from the Vic end whenever he rushed out to gather the ball in the second half. I keep willing the ever likeable and hard working Deeney to score a decent goal to boost his confidence. Marvin has flashes of top class but hopefully will be seen by potential suitors as a work in progress and better where he is for a while. Kightley will be missed and from his celebration he will miss us. He has quality but is still not up to his best but who knows? Nosworthy, I hope will be with us at least to the end of the season.
I for one will wait with interest to see what happens with a developing young manager and an owner who sees Championship survival as paramount. Those 6 dropped home points would have seen us on the very edge of the play-offs so…..

5. Roger Smith - 01/01/2012

For the record, it was Eustace’s third touch: two well-directed headers to set up the attack and a thumping drive with his first kick of the game to finish it.

You can’t mention the marching band without applauding Harry’s style in getting them to rouse the Rookery after his own efforts had failed. He joined in with the majorettes (I think he was hoping to share their post-match bath) and had a go first on the cymbals and then the trumpet. Great fun!

Thanks for another thunkful report, Matt, and here’s wishing you, all the fans, and of course the Club all the very best for 2012. COYH!

6. Simon - 01/01/2012

Very well summed up Matt. I agree, it would be hard to find a more enjoyable afternoon, from a good team performance against an unpleasant, disjointed team that summed up a lot of things bad about modern day football. Added to by the band with it’s own “loanee” in Harry providing plenty of entertainment. I was unaware of the comments by Habib Beye…if I were him I would concentrate on trying to prove himself as a capable defender…from the turn by Sordell which left him on his a*se which led to the first goal (and which for some reason he complained to the referee at being hard done by), to his inability to head the ball (50p head I think they call it).

I thought I should also give an honorable mention to Illunga’s bizarre first half throw in…after much pointing and organising of his team mates, he then proceeded to throw it directly to Deeney’s feet.

7. Iain - 01/01/2012

Agreed, thought Hodson was superb yesterday, the curled pass with the outside of the right boot into the path of Yeates in particular springs to mind…

Lesley-Anne - 01/01/2012

Completely agree, we were raving about that pass! Hodson just keeps getting better and better. It was great work from him that led to the first goal as well. Unbelievably though, the normally reliable Football League Paper’s player ratings for the match gives him 6 out of 10 and comments “Guilty, like much of the Watford side, of some poor first half delivery”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If that is their comment after that performance then they were clearly not at the game!!!

8. hornetboy84 - 01/01/2012

1. Doncaster were truly shocking in the first half. after 5 mins it was clear they were not up for it at all and I would despair if my team were ever made up of such a bunch of mercenaries. Chimbonda just got his new deal so was it really a surprise to see him escape the action so early?

2. Majorettes. Yes. more please – but we really have to get the rookery singing sections sorted out. What happened to the yellow order? Everyone who might get it going is spread out and the atmosphere can be close to non-existant. Wont always have the panto villans such as Diouff to inspire some energy.

3. Regardless of him clearly leaving and returning to Wolves, his obvious desire to give us something back says a lot about both him and WFC’s ability to really gel with loannees etc. Hopefully the word keep spreading and we can get that type of player. Maybe Jack Wilshire needs some games under his belt or Ashley Young?

4. The final Kightly moment inspired for me was simply the way he held his shirt up in front of the ref’s face to show him his name for the booking. Which makes it even more farcical that the ref has no discretion to understand pure joy. (And Deeney surely should have been booked as he practically took his shirt off to hide when he missed that header !!)

5.This latest period always had to be about giving us some momentum and space to cope with the inevitable January merry go-round.
My bet is :
a) Kightly gone with gratitude (Obvious) – but now we will all be Wolves fans
b) Nyron – to remain on loan with risk of short term departure
c) Sordell – sold if £5m+ but he really should extend his contract and stay 1 more year at least as its in his interests ..
d) Mariappa – will stay and move in the summer (if Sordell goes we wont need the money) He is too loyal to jump now.
e) Loach – will be sold if we get a £1m+ offer and a good replacement .. Dyche has probably lost patience – but for me that’s a mistake. for all his faults I think he is still a good keeper and outstanding prospect.
f) Ross Jenkins to leave. Do we need Him, Eustace and Hogg? What we need is a Bauben alternative – who is playing well in my opinion and gives us energy and guile – but he will have off-days.

As for who comes in – I have no idea as they are likely to be unheard of but I think we can trust our system. Seems to have worked so far.

Matt Rowson - 01/01/2012

re transfers

I wouldn’t lose Jenkins if he wants to stay. He’s still young and Eustace won’t go on for ever, he’s a top player.

Not sure where the line about Mariappa’s loyalty comes from. Not knocking him, but if he’s offered Prem money he’ll go by choice. Ditto Sordell. Nosworthy depends on O’Neill’s pov (and also Mariappa, but not sure NN and MT would work together). Loach, disagree. Think he needs a move, and our defence doesn’t trust him.

As for our system working… hit and miss recently for me. Forget the era of Cowie, Williamson etc… the guys who recruited them have gone and the system seems to have been ditched (“tweaked”). Recent signings have been more hit and miss. Will go through this at the end of the season but without classifying individuals as successes and failures surely only Hogg has been an unqualified success up to now?

NRC - 01/01/2012

Sordell worth more than Graham went for? Um …

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2012

probably. Graham obviously the more complete player, but he’s what…26? At his peak. Sordell is 20 and has pace, which Graham can’t learn…

Wrighty - 03/01/2012

Kightly fan, yes. Wolves fan, never.

hornetboy84 - 04/01/2012

Ooops didnt mean to be that contentious.
Probably agree with all the points really – Sordell yes, worth more than Graham — Conor Wickham went for £9m remember…. Jenkins – I like as a player so good if doesnt go. Marriapa loyalty – I just mean he wouldnt agitate for a move if we didnt need to sell him till the summer. Being a wolves fan – yes you are right… no chance – but I do find myself reluctantly wishing Swansea well cos of Graham!
Loach – not sure. He was outstanding (for me) vs Pompey in what was a poor performance, not a sending off as he was fouled by player backing into him …
… but I fear that Portsmouth result and performance may be the flavour of what is to come post-Kightly…. Yates, Deeney, Sordell were not with it and Big chris was an abomination when he came on (and I have tried to defend him – but this was shocking) ,,, Kightly was slightly off too – and without his energy and ability to create space for others as they double team him – we could be back to clueless Watford

9. straightnochaser - 01/01/2012

Re thunk 5, I thought the marching band’s instrumental rendition of Cee Lo Green’s more contentiously monikered song was an appropriate salute to Diouf even if it didn’t coincide with his departure from the field…

10. Kris - 02/01/2012

Matt and Ian – thanks for another year of insight into what makes Watford and the fans tick from your perspectives.

Being a foreigner with little access to viewing Watford, almost all of my info on the state of play comes from this and another site. I think the most worrying thing this season for me was when I read your thunks and other posts during September and October.

I always find your views very well-balanced so to read comments about the team, the football and the club which held so little optimism was discouraging to say the least. I wonder if your view on the current team from the disillusioned detachment of recent months?

Are we back to being a “Watford” side again or is the jury still out? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is the future bright and yellow?

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2012

Ummm… briefly, I’m still very disappointed with the path that Dyche chose in the summer; taking that as given, there’s certainly cause for some optimism in the progress that’s been made since September and October. Is that non-committal enough?

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