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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….



1. HowgoodwasGNW - 15/01/2012

How many times this season have we taken the lead in games and then failed to go on to win? This cannot be merely coincidence so what is the reason for this? And more importantly how is Dyche going to address this?

Ian Grant - 15/01/2012

Without bothering to check, my guess would be that it’s happened about as many times as any other season where we’ve rattled around the lower mid-table area…and there have been enough of those that you could probably do a comparison if you’re sufficiently concerned. As for this match, we took the lead against the run of play, so it’s hardly as if there was some kind of dramatic reversal of fortunes…

Paul Baxter - 15/01/2012

According to the commentary, before this match we were the 4th worst team at holding on to leads in the division having dropped 13 points. By the time the game got to 80 minutes at 1-1 we were pretty much doomed as Reading have the best record of scoring in the last 10 minutes and (although not mentioned on the TV) we must have one of the worst records of letting in important goals during this time.

Ian Grant - 15/01/2012

I’d still be looking at the reasons why Reading were the better side for nearly the entire ninety minutes, though. Because it’s not as if we threw away the lead; we were rather fortunate to have it in the first place…

HowgoodwasGNW - 15/01/2012

That sounds like a challenge! Whilst I haven’t done a comparison with other seasons I have had a look through the results this season. Although I appreciate stats don’t tell the whole picture they can still be telling. Of the 26 league games played this season we have:

– scored first in 12 and won 5 (dropping 16 points from a winning position)
– conceded first in 11 and lost 8 (gaining 8 points from a losing position)

Clearly logic dictates that a team in 18th place is going to be losing more points than it wins but this inability to see games through from a winning position still seems to be a particular achilles’ heel at the moment.

2. Dave Jackson - 15/01/2012

IG is right, the worrying thing was the chronic lack of creativity. We are desperate for someone (preferably two, but let’s not be greedy) who can run at the opposition and occasionally get behind them.
Even if we’re stuck with the present bunch, perhaps some concentrated extra crossing practice would be a good idea.

Frustration completed by seeing Buckley’s excellent goal for Brighton. Do people still think we’re better off with Yeats?

3. Roger68 - 15/01/2012

It is very frustrating that we do not make better use of dead-ball and set-piece situations. In the game against Bradford we had at least a dozen corners and numerous free-kicks in forward positions. Not one led to directly to a shot on goal. What proportion of corners/free-kicks should lead to a threat on goal? Ten percent? Fifteen percent? For us it is hardly measurable. Yeates takes most of the corners and free kicks; is he really the best we have? Remember when Ashley Young stepped up to take a free kick ? There was a 50% chance he would score or at least work the goalie. The difference between “workmanlike” and “creative” I guess.

Ian Grant - 15/01/2012

I suspect that your memory flatters the young Ashley…but nevertheless, your overall point holds, in that our set pieces are significantly less inventive and effective than over the last couple of seasons. For a side lacking creativity in open play, that’s hugely frustrating.

Tim Turner - 16/01/2012

Our incompetence at set-pieces was nicely summed up by the corner we threw away. The fact that (a) John Eustace was clumsy enough to touch the ball after he’d put it on the quadrant, and (b) the Reading players were quick-witted enough to spot the opportunity to get the ball, epitomised the difference between the sides.

4. Marcus Shapiro - 15/01/2012

Reading were impressive compared to most opposition we have encountered (not as good as West Ham but better than the others who have come to Vicarage Road).

Buaben is increasingly impressive and deserves a positive mention.

I suppose we missed Hoog who has been my MOM more than once this season (as well as Kightly).

My guess is that with Buaben & McGinn supporting Hogg in Midfield (with Eustace and Jenkins in reserve) we could have midfield creativity but no outlet absent Sordell and a winger either side with pace. If Tommy Smith came back, or Wichelow was played and was as good as (or better than) last season, we might be able to put in a few crosses from the bye-line and who knows Deeney, Garner even Iwo could score a few.

Frankly, we could easily be right in the thick of a relation battle (rather than hovering uncomfortably on the fringes) soon so one has to live in hope!

5. Nigel - 16/01/2012

Living in Oz i rely on Ig and Matt to state it as it is and after watching that shocking performance on TV it’s nice to know how honest they still are with their reporting.
I’ve spent many a depressing 90 minutes watching Watford play out turgid games, but i think that this one really does top them all. No passing, let alone passing on the floor to feet, no imagination, no creativity, Sordell looked like what he is, a very young man attempting to spearhead an attack with no service.
I think what’s even more depressing is that over the last couple of years on tv I’ve seen stellar performances, the games against QPR and Sheff Wed stand out (to quote Gary Birtles as a TV pundit, “that’s how football should be played”) I then watched the Swansea v Arsenal game this morning and marveled at the Swans and how they passed and moved. We used to be a bit like that and now we hoof aimless balls forward, generally straight out of play…
Reading weren’t great but there was a bit of invention, and certainly they attempted to pass it on the floor and deserved to win as Ig said.
And in answer to your first thunk i think it was Don Goodman that was co-commentating.
Before the game i was going to purchase a months supply of Setanta so i could watch the Spurs game, however i now think what’s the point, Spurs could put out a reserve team and still win comfortably. Modric won’t need to be locked in a broom cupboard as he’ll be rested for the game along with the other first XI.
Despondent, yep you bet…
…Come on Ig, fill me with optimism…

6. Simon - 16/01/2012

Although Mark Yeates was certainly very poor on Saturday and has been at best hit and miss this season (his ability to hit the first man with a cross is a source of constant frustration), the Buckley transfer has to be looked at in the context of a club that needs to sell players for decent sums of money in order to survive and rebuild.

Will Buckley cost Brighton over £1m, has thus far managed 432 minutes of league football (just under five full games if taken as a single lump) and has played the full 90 just twice in 4 league starts. He has four goals and no assists.

Mark Yeates, for all his frustrations, cost £200k, has made 24 league starts (plus 2 as sub), scored 3 goals and has 8 assists (according to the football league).

In the context of our club and the money offered for Buckley the deal makes sense.

All of that said, we did, of course, look devoid of any real attacking flair on Saturday. For me, Hogg was sorely missed as he creates time and space in the midfield and the side does needs a wide player that is more direct (as alluded to in the thunks), not least because it is very easy to defend in front of a side that doesn’t have the pace/directness to beat a man.

7. Nick - 16/01/2012

Leaving to one side the lack of creativiy in this Watford side (I’m sure enough will be said about this by other people) I am becoming increasingly frustrated by Dickinsons glaring weaknesses at left back.

Yes he fist pumps, yes he sometimes puts ina meaty challenge (all things the fans love) but time after time on Saturday he hit the first man when in a good crossing position (the first goal Saturday came from a break after one such cross – his third on the trot), more worrying still is that he is truly static when the ball comes into the Watford area. I have lost count of the times a player has run round him to get on the end of cross. He was marking (loosely) Le Fondre on Saturday when he scored and was fortunate not to give away a penalty in the first half for a shove in the back.

We were crying out for a left footed left back. Dickinson on the form he’s shown this season, well I’d rather have Doyley/Thompson.

To finish on in an upbeat manner. Hodson is showing what a very good young right back he is.

Scott - 16/01/2012

Iteresting in what people see at games.

To me whilst I don’t disagree with a lot of your points, I think it’s harsh to blame Dicko for Readings first goal. To me the blame (if we want to blame anyone) lies with young Hodson.

He has improved this season, but his decision making still occasionally lets him down. A couple of minutes before half time, with the team a goal up against the run of play he chose to bomb foward. He was then woefully out of position when Reading broke leaving Nosworthy the unenviable taks of closing down the wide man with the ball at the same time as having to mark the centre forward in the middle. Of course he ended up doing neither and Reading scored a simple goal. A goal we well may have avoided conceding had Hodson not chosen to attack when it was probably more sensible to hold station and see out the time until the break.

You could blame Dickenson for not putting in a world class centre, but in the circumstances I’d say that would be picking on him somewhat.

Nashinho - 17/01/2012

I think much of the criticism of Dickinson (not crossing well) and Hodson (out of position) actually stems from the ineptitude of those in front of them or the formation they have been asked to adopt.
Yeates and Forsyth were making absolutely no headway and were very rarely available on the flanks. Therefore Dicko and hodson were almost obliged to create a 2-6-2 formation which they probably weren’t employed to do.

8. Dave Jackson - 17/01/2012

“WORLD CLASS”? I’d settle for Championship class.

9. charly - 20/01/2012

Nobody has mentioned how woeful Forsyth was.
Against Wealdstone ( I know ) he looked fine at left back and at least he has the height and heading ability.How about trying him out at left back ?

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