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Watford 2 Barnsley 1 (04/02/2011) 05/02/2012

Posted 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.


1. Roger Smith - 05/02/2012

Thanks, Matt for your usual sound thunks, but surely Dyche got the tactics wrong at the end? Although, as you say, the Barnsley revival at the end ultimately proved futile, I bet I wasn’t the only fan nervously checking my watch. Once we went 4-5-1, with Deeney out on his feet, the forward threat virtually disappeared. Barnsley didn’t deserve a draw, but we nearly handed them one.

At 2-0 up, Dyche should have given Yeats a run out and relieved Murray – his third senior game in a week. And surely a fresh Iwelumo in attack would have posed more of a threat than a centre forward in defence who had run himself into the ground?

As well as sharing the load, using the squad gives the players who come off the bench the chance to show the manager how wrong he was not to give them a start.

Matt Rowson - 05/02/2012

It all went wrong, clearly, but I can see what Dyche was thinking. Buaben should have given us an extra body in midfield, and briefly we looked like passing Barnsley out of the last fifteen minutes (until idiots started booing at us playing keep-ball at 2-up, we played the ball forward and lost it). It didn’t work, clearly, Garner was isolated and chasing hopeful balls. But credit Barnsley too, they didn’t roll over; tactical error or not, it wouldn’t have mattered if Barnsley hadn’t kept their heads up.

Agree about subs needing to prove their place, but wonder if the Murray thing was a double bluff, or challenge to Murray. Seems contradictory to publicly wonder whether to start him at all, and then to give him ninety.

2. Frank T - 05/02/2012

Good report as always but out of interest I have personally heard both Young and Eagles who played under Lewington express the opinion you describe as being ‘held exclusively by morons’. Personally my opinion is somewhere in the middle on that one; Ray is a great guy who did some great things for us but I still remember his last few games clearly and the ideas had run out.

Matt Rowson - 05/02/2012

Thanks Frank a a couple of things. Firstly, heresay. Secondly, players with vested interests won’t necessarily appreciate not being played every week, neither suffered in the long run. Thirdly, facetiously, wouldn’t rule out the possibility that at least Eagles is a moron. Fourthly, the last few games were dreadful but opinion is painted into history as fact by the board’s decision at the time. Lewington had had literally nothing to spend, his paid signings (Webber, Devlin, Chambers, Mayo) were all “donations” one way or another. You can’t keep doing that indefinitely, we were always going to wobble and I’m still not convinced that we’d have gone down. Instead, Boothroyd comes in with vastly more monies to spend. Not his fault, and he did well enough by it. But don’t tell me that Lewington’s ideas “running out” reflects harshly on him. Others would have run out of ideas much earlier.

SteveG - 05/02/2012

I think it’s perfectly possible to hold the view that Ray was a great manager and a decent bloke who did an excellent job under very difficult circumstances, while still recognising that, at the end, he may have run out of ideas about what to do next.

Of course we will never know, and we may well have avoided relegation without a change at the top. It’s also possible that after a few decent nights sleep Ray would have come back re-energised.

But right at the end the poor bloke just seemed exhausted and lacking in any kind of sense of how he might set about improving the siutation we were in. And it’s perhaps that sense that he had given his all and was totally drained which may have prompted the decision to try something fresh.

But none of that should detract from all that went before, which should indeed induce many warm feelings.

3. Simmos - 05/02/2012

I trust that I am not the only one to notice that we are slowly but surely returning to the side we enjoyed watching last season. I think Sean Dyche has bought and loaned about 15 players from the start of his tenure. At the beginning of the season I agreed with you that the team was not very likeable because they really weren’t “Watford players”. Whether it is because of injury or lack of form we seem to be turning back into our Watford team and playing the sort of football we used last season.

In regard to the team we played yesterday I would suggest that if Sordell had stayed, Garner would not have made the team (perhaps we can see the return of Wichelow some time soon) and if Taylor had remained fit we wouldn’t have bought Nosworthy. How long will it be before McGinn is back in the side?

The only worthwhile signings have been the imperious Hogg and the cultured Nosworthy while Kightly did help us out of a hole for a few months. I reserve judgement on Kacaliknic for the moment.

Well done Sean on seeing the error of your earlier ways and that you have returned to playing OUR team.

Matt Rowson - 05/02/2012

difficult to avoid that Dicko, Yeates and Iwelumo were all on the bench and look to be staying there for the timebeing.

A key difference between this season and last remains the focus on stopping the other team first, scoring goals second, crudely. Which isn’t really a problem since our best (senior) players are clearly a centre back and two (traditionally) defensive midfielders. But I see where you’re coming from.

4. Mike S - 05/02/2012

Reading thunk 5 was, for the most part, a bit like watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time… “Where’s he going with this? How will this end well?” Then, with your last sentence, the Jedi Returned. Enjoyed reading that. Ray is an absolute legend, and I would love to know what he could have done with a bit of money. But perhaps that would have spoiled it…

5. nick - 05/02/2012

Ray did a great job for the club whilst in charge and despite the difficult times that lesser men would have fallen at he gave us some great memories. Would he have been the right man to take us forward, I guess we’ll never know.

I thought Garner did well against both Millwall and Barnsley. It was his movement that won us the free kick that Eustace scored from and he was the one causing a nuisance of himself before Eustace ran through to score his second. He seems nice and tidy on the ball but he needs to be a bit more selfish and take a shot when possible. There was a moment in the first half when sent through that he should have got a shot away.

6. JohnM - 05/02/2012

Just a few quick comments, Garner has always given me the impression that there is more to come than we have seen. I suspect (and hope) that given a good run of games and a close season we will see a decent player emerge.
Boothroyd, we should remember, brought in a shipload of players when he became manager (Like Dyche) Many of whom dissappeared without trace, and only a very few ‘stuck’. The major difference was that Boothroyd was able to splash real funds for the likes of King, Henderson, etc.
I have always believed Lewington performed an excellent job at Watford, but at the end had become stale. I suspect that given the money granted to Boothroyd he would have had fresh impetus. I feel Lewington had a raw deal—but I have to admit that that first Boothroyd season was great fun—.

7. Craig Burley - 06/02/2012

“The latter, valid point of view is held exclusively by morons.”

And how. Cheers Matt

8. Frank T - 06/02/2012

Matt, I guess that’s the point where we vary; like I say I have great admiration for Ray and what he did for us but I remember walking out of his last few games and I was and am convinced we would have gone down. I think as SteveG implies there is a middle ground; the views on Ray’s period sometimes get hopelessly and extremely polarised into the pro and anti camps and life is seldom so simple. As for the ‘heresay’ I can only say what I heard; others can choose if they believe it. Personally I think Ray’s role in recent years coaching is right for him and I am happy that he seems very happy in that………hopefully if the rumours are correct that may mean he passes at least one more promising loan player to Sean in the next week or two.

9. bringe555 - 06/02/2012

Can’t disagree on the thunks re. Lewington, he did well on shirt buttons.
However (and I’m not usually one for slagging players), he was far too influenced by and far too reluctant to replace Messrs Ardley and Cox when to everyone else it was so obvious that they were well past their sell-by date. Ardleys famous set pieces became increasingly errant and to watch him even attempt to run was just, well just embarrassing. Meanwhile Cox would be out of breath even before kick off He was always keen to get up there for corners but also not so capable of getting back where he was needed. If Terry Burton ever deserved a medal it would be for dragging the pair of them off to the Cardiff knackers yard.

Ultimately their reluctance to take a back seat is what cost Ray his job ,,, he should have seen it and acted even if it meant blooding youngsters … he didn’t.

Matt Rowson - 06/02/2012

very harsh. Even if Cox and Ardley were past their best you can’t blame them for “not taking a back seat” if selected. Would take a great deal of detachment, candour and self-sacrifice to admit that, you can’t blame anyone for not doing so.

And as you point out, Lewington was working on peanuts. Blood youngsters? Maybe. Aidy Boothroyd would certainly tell you that it was he that saw Ashley Young’s genius and allowed him to realise it. But Ardley had been dropping crosses onto H’s head, and Young still had legs like matchsticks at the time.

But more to the point… our cup run had demonstrated quite how effective we could be. That’s not a few games in isolation, we beat two strong championship sides who would be promoted with us the next year, then two top flight sides, then lost narrowly to Liverpool in each of two legs. Only in that last little run had we looked in trouble… so don’t rewrite history. You can pick out things that maybe Ray COULD have done. But what he DID do was produce a far more credible side that he had a right to, and that includes that last season. The decision to sack him, not back him, sets that period in stone as “failure”, when it needn’t have turned out that way – that’s what I meant further up the thread.

10. JohnM - 06/02/2012

Agree! Sacking Lewington devalued his period in charge, when, in the general financial circumstances, Watford had no right to stay up. I agree that his last few matches in charge were depressing, and I think he may have finally run out of ideas and run up against the financial wall. Perhaps he knew that Ardley & Cox were at the end of their time—and he knew H.H.would go, and he thought he would see no money and no possibilty of quality replacements. There comes a time to many of us when all we can do is throw our hands up and say ‘what the hell do I do now?’

11. Ian - 06/02/2012

It may be over-egging it a bit but sometimes I wonder whether that decision you mention, Matt, to “sack Lewington, not back him” has proved pivotal to our fortunes ever since. I remember hearing Graham Simpson on the radio, shortly after he’d hired Boothroyd and just before we’d achieved safety, talking about how he knew he’d gambled but that he felt that you didn’t achieve anything in life without taking a few risks. I found myself thinking back to that over the next couple of exciting years under Boothroyd.

In the short term, of course – one or two seasons – that gamble paid off, but perhaps in the long run its been our undoing. Risking everything on getting and staying in the Premier League, with the subsequent boardroom upheavals and dicing with administration was needless. That one decision cost Simpson his position, his legacy and very nearly our club. We’re still very much paying for it now.

Of course, there were countless “pivotal” moments since the decision to sack Lewington when some of the above could have been prevented but I do just wonder whether, given his time again, he’d think twice.

12. moosebadge - 06/02/2012

Lewington did an amazing job under the worst circumstances we have had for a long time (wage defferal). The nexus of his team were very good Doyley, Demerit, Chambers, Young, Mahon, all played very well the next season in winning promotion, we got lucky that Boothroyd had worked with King at Leeds the year before and adding him to a side that had reached two cup semi finals in 4 years with no right to do so created promotion. its like if we could find agem like King or Graham now this current side could challenge the play offs.

JohnM - 06/02/2012

Yes, a Graham or King could boost the club, but,for forwards, a partnership of two quality players is what we need to look for (Henderson/King, Graham/Sordell, Blisset/Jenkins, et al.). That brings certain playoffs! Together with a quality wide player to deliver.
Another Ben Foster wouldn’t be a bad thing, either. Boothroyd was never again able to match the quality of his best signings, all made in that first season. Foster, Henderson, King, Carlisle—(and that ex-luton midfielder from Leeds whose name has completely gone!). He was never able to adequately replace them.

13. JohnF - 06/02/2012

This was not a brilliant game but in crappy conditions it was a decent 3 points. It must be horrible playing against Garner and, particularly, Deeney if you are a defender because they never leave you alone. Even the Barnsley keeper was coming in for their attention and that results in hurried clearances. That they were both knackered and there was nothing startling (in a good way) on the bench is a concern. Dickinson, Yeates and Iwelumo are three of the slowest I have seen at Watford. However, a rejuvinated Wichelow could be a significant option and possibly a loan signing. Will Garner be sent off against Forest I wonder?

In relation to Ray Lewington, who is a smashing guy, his tenure began to lose its sparkle when Terry Burton left and he didn’t seem to have anyone to turn to. Remember Boothroyd didn’t have any money when he first arrived but just made some changes with the youngsters coming in.. In terms of what happened later that was because Graham Simpson seemed to be in thrall to Boothroyd who’s self belief (arrogance) was quite remarkable. By then Graham Simpson had cut himself off from those who might provide constructive criticism. One thing is clear, with our finances a trip into division 1 was/is really not an option.

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2012

Garner – reckon it’s 50/50 on him getting sent off or scoring the winner. Good call.

Boothroyd – if you mean “immediately”, as in when he took over at the end of March outside the transfer and loan windows then sure he didn’t spend a lot – how could he. But that summer he spent £850k on transfer fees, plus another £500k on King in the January. That’s vastly more than Lewington spent during his entire tenure. Much of it proved well spent, but Lewington didn’t have that chance. In addition Stewart, Carlisle, Mackay, Spring and King were signed from much bigger clubs and would have been on decent money. Henderson too, albeit he came from Gillingham.

JohnF - 08/02/2012

Matt, absolutely but my point is that if Ray had been willing to make some changes then I think he would also have turned it round. Not having Terry Burton was a real disadvantage for him so another reason to despise Cardiff who even then were in so much debt they borrowed money from the PFA to pay players. Whether he would have been given money for the following season as Boothroyd was, we will never know nor will we know how well he would have spent it. A lovely man as I said and possibly happier being one of the best number 2’s around.

Matt Rowson - 08/02/2012

Of course we know John. Ray didn’t change things through lack of scope to do so; had the board been prepared to back him they would have done so.

14. bringe555 - 07/02/2012

As I remember it – Stewart was then a Foxes winger demoted to the reserves, Mackay was by then a free-agent and both Spring and particularly King, were very much out of favour at Leeds and Forest respectively. For Henderson was it money or just the chance to play at a higher level? I think the latter.

I heard somewhere (and that could be Simpson himself) that Ardley and Cox had far too much say on team and training matters, unfortunately Ray was not able to stand up to them and perhaps the reason why he seems happy to be assistant at Fulham. What I am 100% certain of is that Boothroyd’s positiveness was key to our survival that season although we have certainly paid for it in spades since.

15. bringe555 - 07/02/2012

Oh and Carlisle had lost all trust at Leeds. Make of that what you will.

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2012

Mackay wasn’t a free agent, he was under contract to West Ham. Stewart, King, Carlisle may all have been out of favour but they were all at bigger clubs on bigger contracts. That’s not conjecture, it’s fact. Whatever Henderson’s motivation (and I don’t doubt you’re right) he cost us the thick end of half a million and would have commanded a high salary by our standards. Thus, the outlay was far greater both in terms of salaries and transfer fees than Lewington had been permitted.

16. Derek - 07/02/2012

The thing that always sticks in my mind about the end of Ray Lewington’s time was after his last game against Preston. Driving home afterwards I heard him on 3CR and he sounded completely dejected. My thoughts on hearing him were that we were certain to be relegated. I wasn’t suprised when I heard that he had been sacked.
I think he did a fantastic job for most of his time, but at the end it appeared that he knew that there were no more rabbits that he could pull out of his hat.

With regard to last Saturday, it was pretty grim, but I’m sure it looked much more gloomy from where the Barnsley fans were sitting. I’m sure we can all recall any number of similar matches where we’ve lost.

Any takers for a similar victory at Forest on Saturday. A bit of pay-back for their win at the Vic.

17. JohnM - 07/02/2012

Just a piece of completely useless trivia. Long ago, when I dabbled with the football pools,the best tip I ever found for spotting draws or suprise away wins was looking for teams than won their away match in the first league meeting of the clubs. In the return fixture it was amazing how regularly the home side failed to win. Won quite a few pounds on that tip. I see a result at Forest—-.

18. andrew head - 07/02/2012

The back four – Last year 3 of them played are were collectively blamed by many as the cause of the teams failure to push on and claim a play off place. In particular Doyley was criticised, and Mackay castigated for not getting a left back in on a permanent basis. So are the back 4 better today, because Nolsworthy is a better asset than Taylor or are they better coached. Personally i think Taylor is one of our best players on the ball. Should he get another contract?

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2012

a few things. blamed yes, but quite unreasonably. we were playing very open football with a young team, it’s facile to blame the defence alone for conceding too many in that context. Yes, Doyley was criticised and has been for years and is still there, which says something about the judgement of those doing the criticising.

In addition, Hodson in particular has pushed on and looks far more bullish than he did a year ago, as if getting through his wobbly patch was all the convincing he needed.

Taylor – a big asset, and who’d have thought that we’d miss him so little at the back. We miss his height, we’re not a tall team really, he’s certainly deceptively comfortable in possession. New contract – will depend whether he wants one as much as anything I’d guess, or whether he fancies he’ll get a better deal elsewhere. Better get his sh*t together and start playing again if so.

andrewh3@hotmail.co.uk - 09/02/2012

I agree, Hodson is far more solid, and experience and confidence is a great asset on from last year. I think Doyley is an excellent defender, and 350+ games in the top two professional leagues suggests that is also the judgement of others too. I guess on Taylor the situation with Mariappa will also be taken into account and an assessment of current fringe players, Thompson, Bennett. I think Mirfin will go in the summer.

Matt Rowson - 09/02/2012

I suspect you’re right about Mirfin. He looked a very good defender at Scunny last season, but seemed unfit when we used him before Christmas. As I’ve suggested before, perhaps he’s one of these guys who needs to be playing to be properly fit, in which case he needs to be at a club where he’ll be a first choice.

19. hornetboy84 - 10/02/2012

will see tomorrow but we certainly need a loan striker option fast. For me Weimann would do as he appears to be going nowhere at Villa. It was so telling that Ilewumo remained on the bench in a last 10 when it was crying out for a player up front to hold the ball up and take off pressure – the fact that Dyche did not trust he could bring him on questions why he is here at all..

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