Watford 0 Southampton 3 (25/02/2012) 25/02/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Five thunks from a grotesque afternoon at Vicarage Road.
1- It should have been such a splendid afternoon. Glorious sunshine on matchday, for the first time this year. Yes, I know we play football in the winter, predominantly, in the wet and the cold. And yet there’s something about a sunny day and football, together, that puts a kick in the step of a Saturday morning. And Rahelle’s coming again, my five year old daughter, teaching her little sister to sing “ye-llow red and black ar-my” at the breakfast table.
Maybe she had a premonition, I don’t know. At five-to-one, we’re about to leave and suddenly she has a tummy ache and “I shouldn’t really come to football if I’m poorly should I Daddy, maybe I should stay at home”. So she does. And of course it’s sunny but the sunshine is deceptive, in the shade of the Rookery it’s not pretending to be anything other than February.
And there’s a drip. Which is also a cold, February drip, oblivious to the fact that it isn’t raining and hasn’t done, that there isn’t a cloud in the sky. And someone’s turned up the volume control on Mr Bassini’s new tannoy system again. This probably suits him, as it means that he can’t hear the bloke chewing his ear off at the front of the Rookery, probably complaining about another drip. It also means that “Chariots of Fire” is not the ethereal, subliminal soundtrack to the warming up that it should be. It’s suddenly in your face, a bangin’ tune. Today is going to be bloody awful.
2- Today is bloody awful. The more so for miserable indifference to the sense of anticipation that the arrivals of Kuszczak and Trotta, two big fillips for areas of the team that neeeded fillips. Yes, OK, we may have been dicked by Crystal-effing-Palace last week but we’re at home, and new striker and new goalkeeper, and it’s all going to be fine.
Kuszczak’s every move is being cheered. Simple things for the moment, nothing challenging. Scott Loach’s eyes presumably rolling in his head as he kicks his heels on the bench. And then a deep cross comes over from the right and it really, really shouldn’t be a problem and it certainly shouldn’t be something that the keeper should be thinking about coming for. Except he does and then he doesn’t and Rickie Lambert has got his head to it and the ball’s in the net and several thousand home fans mouth “oh shit”, a delayed reaction not to the goal but to the implications of the episode. Actually for the rest of the debacle Kuszczak doesn’t do an awful lot wrong; indeed he looks commanding for the most part, pulls off a stunning stop in the build up to the penalty award and isn’t asked to do a lot otherwise. But he isn’t asked to do a lot because Southampton are already ahead and, frankly, we aren’t going to score a goal.
Trotta, meanwhile, is tidy; he drops deep looking for the ball, trying to get involved, but plays in the wrong areas of the pitch and is lost in the frantic pace of the game, a rabbit in headlights. There will be other games, this was anything but an easy one to come into, but Martin Jol reportedly selected Watford as Trotta’s loan destination, faced with seemingly with a choice of half the Championship, on the basis of the games he would be involved in. Which means predominantly, one assumes, this one and West Ham. He’ll hope to give Ray Lewington more positives to report at Upton Park in ten days’ time than he did today.
3- You know it’s been a bad day when Big Chris comes on and peps things up. A reflection on the state of the game as much as anything… the insane pressure which Southampton have been putting on the ball, the rabid, high speed charging down of possession, has forced the error which lead to the second, and has perhaps for the first time this season left both Eustace and Hogg chasing shadows. Yeates and Dickinson look horribly exposed, lumpy and leaden, and it’s not as if Lloyd sticks all of his passes on a sixpence on the best of days. By the time Chris arrives it’s already happened, he’s late at a party when everyone else is sleeping it off.
It will be interesting to note how the Saints cope next season, on this evidence. There’s plenty of quality, but in terms of style, direct and frantic and merciless, they’re as close to Allardyce-vintage Bolton as anything else and nobody does that inyourfaceness in the top flight at the moment, not even Stoke.
4- The highlight of the afternoon comes with the introduction of David Connolly from Southampton’s bench for whichever dying swan was the third to limp off forlornly for the visiting side, something which happens remarkably frequently given that the side is made up almost exclusively of huge brutes that wouldn’t flinch at being hit by a truck. As so many footballing traditions are consigned to history, the relentless persecution of this horrible little gobshite goes on unabated nearly sixteen years after Mick McCarthy told him that he no longer had anything to prove at Watford’s level. In the context of this encounter, desperate for anything to be cheerful about, Connolly’s arrival was greeted with more joy and gusto than it has been at Vicarage Road since, arguably, the spring of 1996.
Meanwhile, a small but determined group of youngsters behind the goal are determined to remind a haggard looking Kelvin Davis of his Luton heritage for much of the second half . Dave wonders whether any of them are old enough to remember Davis playing for Luton. Ian wonders whether any of them are old enough to remember Luton.
5- The silver lining, seriously now, is Troy Deeney’s performance. In defiance of the pathetic nonsense going on around him Deeney kept going, kept fighting and looked like, whisper it, a proper centre forward, exposing cracks in the Saints backline even if it never quite came together for him. We’ve missed him badly in his absence; he still doesn’t look like a goal machine, but he’s definitively a striker again, our best striker. He batttles and scraps and profits and buffets and holds up and links and keeps doing it. Other days will bring more rewards than this one ever looked likely to.
Crystal Palace 4 Watford 0 (18/02/2012) 19/02/2012Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. You can shut up about Tuesday, for a start. As it happens, I rather like Valentine’s Day: I’m well aware that I could buy my better half cards and flowers on every other day of the year, but everyone needs a gentle nudge from time to time. Of all the things the modern world offers to be righteously indignant about, Valentine’s Day is nowhere near the top of the list. Not until someone makes our “lifetime guarantee” kitchen bin open properly, at any rate.
So, yeah…Tuesday. A floodlit win-against-the-odds thriller, with debut goal from young starlet, blistering stick-that-in-yer-pipe winner, and out-of-control refereeing? Who ordered that? If you’re going to play on Valentine’s Day, you could at least have the common sodding decency to deliver a cold, coagulated turd of a match. Something to thoroughly punish all who put romance aside to watch some muddy, sweaty blokes in shorts huffing and puffing, to make them shuffle back through the front door begging forgiveness and weeping tears of shame. Something truly unspeakable, a hushed-up atrocity. Something like…oh, this….
2. Unless something happened behind the pillar that obscured the centre circle – maybe we kicked off really impressively, five times – this was a performance entirely without redeeming features. Nothing there at all. We stumbled bleary-eyed from our Tuesday night delirium into as much daylight as Croydon can muster, and played against capable, organised opponents as if still shaking the dreams from our befuddled brains.
The beauty of Selhurst is that you’ve always seen worse – this is, by my reckoning, at least the third time I’ve sat on these wooden seats and seen us lose by a four-goal-plus margin – but this registered high on the scale, not quite up there with this but uncomfortably close to this. For a team so recently acclaimed for its fighting spirit, we looked a disinterested, discouraged shower; we received precisely the sharp slap in the face that we were asking for.
3. That we were out-witted by our opponents is easy enough to forgive. It happens. That we were out-witted by our opponents, using exactly the same tactics that’d out-witted us with equal comfort back in October is much harder to take. We should shudder as we recall the cries of “olé” that began to greet our early spells of possession, Eustace and Hogg allowed time on the ball to shuffle it sideways to no purpose whatsoever. As at Vicarage Road, Palace sat two holding midfielders in front of their defence and invited us to pick a way through; as at Vicarage Road, we stumbled haplessly into the trap, allowing the tempo to drop to pedestrian, unable to react to the pace of the breaks that emerged from our cumbersome attacks.
Missing the energetic bustle of Deeney, it was only when we pushed John Eustace twenty yards further forward that the game changed…and by that time, the damage was done, picked off on the counter-attack after over-playing in search of an opening, and the heads were already dropping. A slow, lumbering dinosaur of a team, tripped up so easily and left to lie face down in the Selhurst rain, lost and confused.
4. Of course, even the finest tactical manoeuvres – sneaking an extra player onto the pitch when the ref’s not looking, that kind of thing – count for nowt if you can’t defend a set piece properly. Palace won five corners and perhaps as many free kicks in wide positions; they scored from three of them, meeting with a quite laughable lack of resistance in the process. We had more of those situations and…um, well…nothing doing.
The overwhelming trend is to blame Scott Loach for these things, there being no available scapegoats in the back four at present. And while you do often yearn for a keeper who’d come to the penalty spot and claim with confidence, rising imperiously above all like the Statue of Liberty in a green (well, purple) shirt, we should surely be able to defend on the basis that he won’t be doing that. No excuse for attention so slack that three set pieces goals are scored with barely a challenge. Absolutely no excuse for wasting a vaguely positive start to the second half – Gavin Massey looking nimble and keen, at least – with a goal as pitiful as the third, scuffed free kick, scuffed across goal, scuffed into the net.
5. And so we came to those quintessential Selhurst moments…sitting slumped forwards and staring fixedly out into the sweeping rain, wondering whether it’ll let up before we all have to trudge to the station. It did; small mercies. Watching Loach launch the umpteenth goal kick towards the left wing onto the head of Craig Forsyth, only to remember that he’d been substituted a few seconds before. Watching a Palace defender flick a header narrowly wide of his own goal and realising that we’d get no closer than that ourselves if the game lasted until Christmas. Watching Eustace catch a sight of goal, catch a flicker of hope…and slice a drive towards the corner flag, then turn away.
Watford 3 Leicester City 2 (14/02/2012) 15/02/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
Five thunks. Ha. Like that was ever going to suffice. No apologies for stuffing them full on this occasion. 24 carat lunacy at Vicarage Road…
1-Valentine’s Day is rubbish. Period. Depending on one’s circumstances it can be utterly depressing, or provoke actions borne of nervous obligation, or at best something that could quite easily and almost certainly more cheaply have occurred on any other day of the year. Worst of all, judging from the swathes of space around the stands, including that normally occupied by otherwise reliable attendees, it caused a whole load of people to miss this screaming, wailing banshee of a football match.
Home ties with Leicester are becoming unmissable (remember this one? Or this one?), and this stood comparison with any of them. Indeed, if the quality of the football wasn’t always the highest, the level of excitement and drama was unparalleled. It was Prison Break as a football match, rejecting credibility in favour of a script that rolled ludicrously from one side to the other affording any number of dramatic cameos and contributions and leaving all those in attendance, surely, buzzing on adrenaline and reliving the highlights in their heads long after the match had finished. This, as I wrote after the corresponding fixture last year, was what you bloody go to football for.
The first half rattled backwards and forwards. Both sides looked happier going forward than defending, and in both cases the quality of the attacking play – rather than merely slack play at the back – was the key. For the Hornets, the increasingly assertive Kacaniklic and the impossibly assured Murray buzzed around on either flank. Murray in particular provided an extraordinary amount of control, both in active play and from dead ball situations. Extraordinary in a seasoned pro, let alone an 18 year-old second year scholar. When Garner won a free kick there was genuine expectation, already, after half a dozen games. That’s what Youtube does to you. And there was devil in the ball that Murray flicked to the near post, Leicester utterly deceived by the move, Mariappa finished decisively in front of the Rookery. We looked confident, we looked in charge. Then Leicester scored, turning the table back the other way… Nugent’s finish appeared to be from very wide and narrow on the left, Loach’s concentration yet again called into question. Suddenly Leicester are well on top, and there’s no stopping Nugent’s second, a thumping drive… having noted how important it was for us to be ahead, how so much better we are at defending rather than chasing a lead, we felt hollow for the only time in the evening.
For ten minutes it was all about holding on. Leicester swarmed at us, we resorted to the easy, lazy outball towards Chris Iwelumo, strong and willing but not mobile enough to chase hurried passes. Until suddenly we get the ball down, and Alex Kacaniklic goes down on the edge of the box after being fouled by Mills, who is booked for his protests. We get a break, Murray’s curling shot deflects off the edge of the wall, wrong-footing Schmeichel entirely. Murray’s first senior goal, far from the last one suspects. The half ends level but with the Hornets in the ascendancy, flicking and darting again, and Murray pulling the strings. We all need a rest.
2- The players come out for the second half and it’s a different game entirely. Again. No sign of the diminutive Murray, instead Craig Forsyth lines up wide in midfield. Often the subject of grumbles and impatience from the stands, now Forsyth has to cope with the added burden of not being Sean Murray. It’s a pivotal development, since Murray’s departure leaves us struggling to hang on to the ball in Leicester’s half. The visitors gradually impose themselves and turn the screw as the half progresses. Here our robust gang of four in the middle come into their own – Mariappa, Nosworthy, Eustace and Hogg. Some have had better games than they did last night, but that’s one hell of a unit to play through or around. All over the pitch it becomes about determination as much as quality; we’re on the back foot but we’re getting feet in and chasing and closing and not giving up. It’s not one-way traffic, we’re breaking and sometimes threatening when we do so but the boot is on Leicester’s foot, we’re hanging on. As the crosses fly in and Loach remains rooted to his line, captain Eustace has words. This is frantic stuff.
Through all of this, Forsyth has struggled. Game as ever, he nonetheless looks wide-eyed and hapless as the maelstrom rages around him, standing off to allow Beckford room to turn in the box, struggling to cover his man as Leicester spread the play relentlessly. He plugs away, he keeps working… but he’s struggling to make an impact. Until. Until we break, and John Eustace , who has had a curling, cheeky lob tipped over by a stretching Schmeichel, almost beaten despite being barely off his line, feeds Forsyth on the left. He’s galloping onto the ball in much the same position as he struck against Bradford. The result is the same.
I remember prior to the Cup Quarter Final at Home Park in 2007 telling a Plymouth friend that his side would do well not to allow Hameur Bouazza space with the ball facing the goal. So it proved, and similarly here… once might have been fortunate, but that’s twice in just over a month that Craig Forsyth has pulled out a finish like that: surgically precise, with enough force to flatten an elephant. Craig pulls level with Troy as the leading scorer in the squad. Meanwhile, naturally, the roof has come off at Vicarage Road.
3- There’s still time for a bizarre turn from the officials. A crazy denouement, as if the script writers feel the need to outdo themselves with a big finish. Again, it’s in front of the Rookery; Jermaine Beckford receives the ball and goes down easily in the box. Clearly in the box. And the referee, hesitating, points vaguely in a nonspecific direction. It might be towards the penalty spot, it might not. Has he made up his mind? He has, it’s a free kick. Peculiar on two levels – one, it’s questionable whether a foul took place or whether Beckford, eager to hit the deck throughout, had gone down easily again. Two, it was well inside the box. But the referee, who had increasingly lost control of the game in the final half hour, had barely started. The next thing we see is a red card being waved in Lloyd Doyley’s direction. Baffling on several levels – a foul, if such it was, was hardly depriving Beckford of a clear goalscoring opportunity with other defenders in attendance. Baffling also since Lloyd was nowhere near the incident. Incensed, the normally mild-mannered full back takes some time to leave the pitch, and appears to be ready to turn around and take issue again as he reaches the touchline before being persuaded otherwise. Sean Dyche opts to make a change immediately – perhaps inadvisedly, that old thing about not making a change as you defend a set piece? Whatever. Alex Kacaniklic takes an age to get off the pitch, genuinely exhausted rather than running down time; with the board having already gone up, referee Webb (not that one) is never far from his stopwatch. But instead of cajoling the winger off to speed things up, the referee allows the kick to be taken as Dickinson enters the fray, half the pitch away from the set piece he wants to defend. Adding insult to injury as Webb loads the bases in favour of the visitors, we are defending the set piece with nine men. And it’s frantic, the shot hits the wall as it comes in but the danger isn’t cleared and the ball pings around unti Neil Danns shanks it into the stand, leaving his teammates glaring at him. The pressure is released. The game is up, and everyone knows it.
4- Stepping back from the chaos briefly, it’s worth reflecting upon our forward line. Both acquitted themselves rather better than they have been; Chris Iwelumo is not the deftest of strikers and provides next to no goal threat. At times it’s like playing with a wardrobe up front as the ball bounces haplessly off him. And yet… he’s battling, and occupying defenders, and knocking people over, and drawing fouls that, if less cleverly perpetrated in front of a more competent official would have earned Sean Murray yet more target practice in the first half. More than that, he’s encouraging and talking and clapping, giving Craig Forsyth in particular plenty of vocal support before THAT strike. Joe Garner, meanwhile, once again delivers his best performance in a yellow shirt to date… gone is the tendency to hit the deck, he’s doing the running of two men (which is handy, since Chris isn’t moving anywhere very quickly), looking for an outlet, harrying defenders. He only occasionally looks like scoring either… but this least likely of forward lines plays its role in a famous victory, ultimately.
And yet it’s clearly not enough. Much is made of the relative proximity of the play off zone vs the relegation places, but we only have three strikers, none of whom have been prolific. All it took was one injury and suddenly, with Massey and Whichelow both on loan, we have no strikers on the bench. Surely an extra body is a priority.
5- Sean Dyche has already made this point in his post match reflections, so this will be brief, but to review this match without highlighting the guts, the character of the side, particularly in the second half, would be inappropriate. Because it was, in case I haven’t been clear on this point, an utterly extraordinary performance delivering verve and wit in the first half, and plenty of balls in the second. Quite clearly fighting for each other, and that’s wonderfully inspiring. Leicester, in contrast, appear less than the sum of their parts even if they can consider themselves unfortunate not to have taken at least a point. There’s quality there, but it’s in isolated pockets. No number of impressive names in the side, on the bench, in the stand, make up for a lack of team spirit. We had that in bucketloads this evening. Utterly fabulous.
Watford 2 Barnsley 1 (04/02/2011) 05/02/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
Five thunks from a rather chilly Vicarage Road…
1- It’s fair to say that our two games with the Tykes this season won’t stick long in the memory. This one looked like what it was for the most part; a game between two mid-to-lower division sides who’d just sold their main strikers, two blunt instruments. Made cruder by the numbing cold, if this wasn’t a game completely without attacking merit then the two sides’ best periods – Watford in the first half, Barnsley in futile pursuit of a point at the end of the second – were nonetheless characterised by a dearth of ideas when it came to the final quarter. For ourselves, it’s stating the obvious to suggest that a forward line selected from Deeney, Garner and Iwelumo isn’t going to scare many defences; Deeney worked as hard as ever and showed signs of leading the line, battling, laying off, without ever looking particularly like scoring. Joe Garner’s performance level continues to edge upwards; one second half dinked cross to find John Eustace arriving at the far post displayed a hitherto unsuggested degree of awareness. Nonetheless, he too rarely provided a goal threat and continued his vexing tendency to seemingly regard the winning of a free kick as an end in itself. Suffice to say that we might expect to add to our attacking options with a loan striker before we travel to the City Ground, whatever Sean suggests about looking for loans in any position.
2- Which shouldn’t detract from appreciating the aspects of the side that are working well. Certainly it’s a good ten years or so since we had a back four that looked as solid and confident as the four fielded today. Lee Hodson in particular continues to stand up to whatever opponents throw at him; Barnsley were the latest to target the right back by sticking a big striker on him and drop hanging balls onto his head. Hodson scrapped, battled and stood up to Craig Davies just as he has with previous opponents who’ve tried the same thing recently; by the second half Davies had swapped sides and was matching up against Doyley, with predictably risible results. We shouldn’t perhaps be surprised that after ten years of proving his value, not least to six different managers, Lloyd Doyley has displaced the “proper” left back that we have been missing for so long; that Doyley and Hodson could both have done better with Barnsley’s late goal shouldn’t distort assessment of two otherwise excellent performances. Nosworthy and Mariappa continue to look imperious, the former’s form unaffected by his movement to a permanent contract just as the astonishing Mariappa has been by the distracting events of the past week.
3- If the midfield is less obviously sorted than the defence, we’re nonetheless looking far more convincing in this department than previously. The Hogg/Eustace combo now looks like a valid proposition, thanks to two key changes since the pair’s earlier outings as a duo. Eustace, not Hogg, is the partner charged with making the forward runs and does so with gusto, two fine goals capping another fabulous performance from the skipper who, with an effort curled narrowly wide in the first half and a wasted heading opportunity in the second came as close as anyone has to scoring the first home hat-trick at the Vic since 1997. His second, in particular, owed something to luck and something to Barnsley’s defence shillying and shallying but far more to Eustace barging in and attacking the box. We’ve needed that. The other key change since the early season is that we have genuine threat out wide. Sean Murray’s impish genius belies his eighteen years; he’s far from the finished package, he gets caught out of position but that’s part and parcel of blooding young players, only a problem if he keeps doing it. He’s also comfortably the most creative influence on a team of much more experienced professionals and notably lasted ninety minutes despite his manager (apparently) pondering whether he’d have the legs for three games in eight days. On the other flank, Kacaniklic flickered in and out but in fairness, this was a game for big ugly things not skinny, slippery things. Nonetheless, he showed more than enough to give us an outlet. Yeates and Forsyth, like Dickinson, suddenly look very much out of possession.
4- Billy Connolly once famously asserted that there’s no such thing as bad weather, merely the wrong type of clothes. But by any standards this was bloody cold – even the standards of those wearing two (two!) pairs of gloves. Vicarage Road has rightly failed to earn a reputation as an intimidating cauldron, and was never likely to challenge this lack of reputation today. The only noise – excepting the interlude when Harry the Hornet foolishly left Liam in charge of his drum – was the eerie hum of teeth chattering around Vicarage Road, drowning out the new and much-touted PA for which one hopes Mr Bassini kept a receipt.
5- Star of the half-time role-call one Ray Lewington on his first visit back to the Vic since his unseemly departure almost seven (count them) years ago. Entirely appropriate that he received a warm welcome, and even a chant from those shivering in the Rookery who weren’t incapable of going a couple of hours without an alcohol break. Football is all about opinions of course; but for conjecture and debate there’d be no place for a blog like this. So… with any issue there can be multiple, valid points of view. Many will remember Lewington warmly, recalling how he steadied an impossibly turbulent ship, kept us in the division on a budget of smarties when he had no right to do so, got us to two cup semi finals and handled himself with a candour that made him utterly likeable and rootable for. Another, equally valid point of view is that he was negative and unimaginative, unambitiously wedded to an old guard that was past its sell by date and that the club was right to get shot when it did. The latter, valid point of view is held exclusively by morons.
Millwall 0 Watford 2 (31/01/2012) 01/02/2012Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. A football match at the end of Super Mega-Apocalypse Phwooooaaaar Transfer Deadline Tuesday (or whatever Sky are calling it) seems like a bit of an irrelevant afterthought. Increasingly, football is the surrounding circus, the sport is in the wheelings and dealings and gossip and rumours and crises and errors and pressure and accusations and appeals and denials and statements and mind-games and counter-claims and punishments and transfer swoops and no-comments and contract talks, ad infinitum. The games themselves are just the catalyst for all of that deafening, deadening clatter, never worse than at the end of a transfer window. If you ask me, it’s all a bit silly.
So, here we are. There’s John Eustace. There’s Troy Deeney. There’s Adrian Mariap…hang on. Like the ending of a soppy film, lovers parting at the airport as he flies off to, um, Wigan…and they don’t want to leave each other, but he must go…and they embrace at the departure gates…and he turns and walks through to the other side and then on towards the rest of his life…and she sobs openly but nobly understands…and the plane takes off as she watches in tears…and then turns to go…and there he is with arms outstretched. Sniff. Cough. Anyway.
2. Which does Marvin Sordell a massive disservice, obviously. But of the two, you’d keep Mariappa purely – and romantically – on the basis that he’s currently an utter joy to watch, a defender as elegant and stylish as any we’ve ever had, sweeping around cumbersome opponents as if gliding on invisible strings. We should savour every moment; he’s too good for Wigan and he’s too good for us.
And Marvin? Well, Marvin is explosively and unpredictably brilliant, qualities that we will unquestionably miss as the season moves on…but qualities that can frustrate as much as exhilarate. To my mind, the fee – not as much as Connor Wickham or Andy Carroll, in case you hadn’t heard – reflects the fact that it’s impossible to predict with any certainty which way his career will go from here. He has vast potential, of course, but that potential still needs years of hard work; we’ve surely been resigned to the idea that we wouldn’t be the ones to find out whether it’ll be fulfilled. We’ll get over it.
3. Cue convincing away win with both strikers on the scoresheet.
I’ll be honest: I find Joe Garner as irritating as Su Pollard on helium. A heady mix of incessant tumbling, muddled decision-making and ropey finishing makes him very hard indeed to get along with; I bet he doesn’t put the toilet seat down either. Nevertheless…nevertheless…it is undeniable that what we got last night from Deeney and Garner was something recognisable as a forward pairing rather than merely two strikers up front. There were roles being played, runs being made, chances being created and occasionally taken. It had something.
4. And that bit of extra punch in the final third is all we really lack. If it were a matter of winning a midfield battle, we wouldn’t have any worries at all: Messrs Eustace and Hogg, a perfect combination when you don’t have a home crowd to excite, sat imperiously in front of the back four to bark at anyone who dared test them. Tellingly, there were no Millwall goal attempts from the position from which Troy Deeney scored the opener, found intelligently by Kacaniklic in a couple of yards of space twenty yards out; we closed all of that right down, gave it no room to breathe. Go on, try the flanks instead; try and get past Lloyd…
In that sense, the hard work has paid off: we look like a tight unit in this context…and we fit right into a division in which there’s no shame in being a bit better without the ball than with it. Loanee Kacaniklic looks tidy, if a tad frail; the much-touted Murray looks capable of doing an earnest, head-down job while he learns how to make a more emphatic impact. With the option of re-balancing things through the more attack-minded Buaben, it’s a robust, confident little side. Stick Danny Graham at the top of it all and you’d be talking about the playoffs; we’ll settle for much less than that.
5. So there’s no denying that Millwall had their chances here: an extraordinary reflex save from Loach to prevent a first half equaliser, Trotter’s header off the woodwork, Henderson’s feeble penalty miss after a rare moment of defensive hesitation. But, equally, there’s no denying that we had the game by the scruff of its neck from the first couple of minutes onwards; we bossed it with and, mainly, without possession against a surprisingly meek, compliant Millwall side.
We’ve played more exciting football in our time, and this was far removed from the landslide of last season. But it’s hard to beat the satisfaction of a workmanlike, purposeful away win, of watching jobs thoroughly well done. An unfussy, uncomplicated three points to stave off the winter cold.