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Watford 0 Southampton 3 (25/02/2012) 25/02/2012

Posted 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.


1. Paul R-F - 25/02/2012

Allardyce-vintage Bolton? Are you sure that you were watching the same game as the rest of us? Perhaps they weren’t as fluent as they can be, partly because we didn’t allow them to be, but they were a million miles away from Allardyce-vintage West Ham, even less like the infamous Bolton team from a few years ago. Other than Hooiveld, Fonte and Lambert they are a fairly small team in stature.

Matt Rowson - 25/02/2012

“The rest of us”? Are you speaking on behalf of the rest of the support then?

Fox is 6 foot too; we only had Nos outfield at 6 foot. But you’re right, looking at it they’re not as big a team as it seemed. But in terms of the pressure on the ball… chasing every opponent down in every area of the pitch… and the directness, long lofted passes into space with a view to forcing errors rather than creating chances per se, yes it was vintage Bolton. Or weren’t you paying attention?

2. Vaughn Smith - 26/02/2012

Pretty much spot on with all thunks. This Southampton team is unlike any I’ve ever seen before – comparisons with Allardyce’s Bolton are bang on. If they do go up, they’ll get absolutely murdered on a regular basis if that’s how Adkins approaches things.

On a totally unrelated note it was very disturbing to see Harry’s efforts to whip up a bit of fervour failing miserably. I almost had a tear in my eye as he shuffled off shaking his head forlornly mid way through the first half.

Matt Rowson - 26/02/2012

I don’t know. You’d think that top flight players would cope rather better with being closed down so furiously but I’m not sure they’ll be any more practised at coping with it; as you said, this style is pretty unusual in the top flight now.

Harry… normally I’d agree with you, but I thought his first half efforts were badly mistimed. After Kuszczak’s error we all needed a bit of quiet reflection…

3. Richard Green - 26/02/2012

Oh Dear. You haven’t seen how we play on a weekly basis. Last week we ran rings round Derby, no hint of Alladyce-syle play, Pass move and pass again, it was magnificent. Sometimes though, you mix it up a bit and play a bit more direct. If it works and get results on the road, so be it. We are a football team and if (and I stress ‘if’) we get promotion, with a little money spent (and we have a reasonable amount to spend), I think we’ll do ok. Good luck to Watford next year.

Matt Rowson - 26/02/2012

I wasn’t knocking the style… if that was a recipe for dealing with Watford in particular then fair play, it obviously worked royally. There are clearly good players in the side, whatever the style of play. But yesterday, which is all I’ve got to go on, you were extremely direct.

4. MartinG - 26/02/2012

I was surprised at how direct Southampton
were. On the face of it they’ll get shredded next year if they get promoted, but we were so bad it’s difficult to tell if they had a number of gears to spare.
With so many players a league above their level at least (Dickinson, Yeates, Iwulemo at minimum) the rest all have to be playing well. But Hogg had the worst game I’ve seen him have, Nos was shaky, Lloyd’s distribution even worse than normal, Kacaniklic completely ineffective. Garner terrible when he came on.
I thought Trotta showed some nice touches though. Deeney tries his heart out but he’s never looked a goal machine.

How can a team that gave Spurs a right go, and beat Leicester in a thriller, produce garbage like yesterday?

Matt Rowson - 26/02/2012

Hogg is having a bit of a wobble, for sure. Of all of our team, I’d have backed him to be most able to cope with being denied space.

Trotta… nice touches yes, you can see there’s a player there. Not sure he’ll have played in a game quite like yesterday’s though.

5. The Great Big O - 26/02/2012

Good work, Matt, to find five well-put thunks. I’d stopped my own post-match analysis at two words: ugly rubbish.

6. Simpleasthat - 26/02/2012

As a Saints fan who didn’t go to this match I thoroughly enjoyed your amusing report Matt, but have to say many of your remarks about Southampton’s style of play are comments of pure fiction. Saints obviously played to an “away from home” game plan which worked. Their normal game is not like Bolton’s, Sam’s West Ham or even Stoke’s. They play an expansive game and normally pass it out from the back. In order to pick up points away from home in the Championship you sometimes have to change your normal style of play. i agree with you that this style will not work in the Premiership. I can understand your frustration though, at being well and truly beaten at home. Good luck for the rest of the season.

Matt Rowson - 26/02/2012

See above replies.

7. Red - 26/02/2012

Forget about us scoring-we have conceded nine goals in three matches. Any one else worried?

8. NRC - 26/02/2012

“for the rest of the debacle Kuszczak doesn’t do an awful lot wrong” – even my wife, on a rare visit to the Vic, described the second goal as ‘a bit of a girlie shot’ and I must admit my reaction was that Kuszczak should have got it, but maybe we were still getting over the shock you so correctly describe after the first goal that maybe this guy wasn’t the answer to our dreams. If it had been Loach between the sticks yesterday (clumsy goal(s), a brilliant save), there would be a clamour for a loanee – someone from the Prem ideally, possibly even Man Utd.

Agree about Deeney though – great endeavour and with more time together could be a good partnership with Trotta.

Matt Rowson - 26/02/2012

I thought the second was a hell of a strike; Lambert shouldn’t have had as much time as he had, and the pressure Saints were applying had forced us to give away possession… but no fault attached to Kuszczak there for me.

NRC - 26/02/2012

Funny thing perspective, looked a soft goal from where we were, albeit most of the pitch away, low down and sideways on!

Still hopeful a good signing though.

straightnochaser - 26/02/2012

My view was from high in the Vicarage Road end, right behind the trajectory of Lambert’s shot. I think he did well to re-arrange his feet to make room for the strike. I assume the ‘girlie’ reference is to his preference for (perfect) placement over power but in my view there was nothing Kuszczak could’ve done about it without telescopic arms & Sepp Maier gloves…

NickB - 26/02/2012

Agreed, absolute blinder, power and immaculate placement of a ball coming onto his right foot from the left; made a very difficult skill look easy. I might be going soft, but I enjoyed that and Nugent’s amazing strike the other night, sadly, we haven’t anyone capable of similar.

And that’s how to dispatch a penalty, even if it wasn’t one.

9. Simon - 26/02/2012

Having seen Southampton a couple of times this year (albeit on the TV), they’ve clearly got rather more about them than they necessarily had to show against us – they nicked a couple of early goals away from home in a fairly shapeless game and from there on in, all they had to do was sit back, close down and wait for the mistakes to come. If I were them, I’d be pretty chuffed about winning a game 3-0 away from home with minimal effort when the pressure at the top has started to build.

Of more concern was our performance which didn’t have an awful lot by way of redeeming features and was a nod towards the lumpy one-pacedness of earlier in the season. The thing we really seemed to lack for much of the game (which granted was in part down to Southampton’s relentless closing down) was an outlet pass. Too often we looked off the pace in terms of our movement and, when Hogg is a little off form (I’m still not convinced that having John Eustace alongside him doesn’t close down the spaces he wants to operate in) we lack players who are able to take the ball in under pressure and change the angle of play to create space for others. That just leads to hurried balls down the channel in a side with insufficient pace to make that an effective ploy.

This is where, despite my previous favourable comparison of Mark Yeates’ stats with those of Will Buckley, I think Yeates really lets us down as he doesn’t seem able to create sufficient space for himself and lacks effectiveness when he doesn’t have the space.

In short it all just seemed a bit flat and lacking in sharpness of movement.

Oh, and as an aside, I also thought Deeny was probably our best performer, simply due to his workrate in the channels and trying to bring others into the play.

10. Mark - 26/02/2012

Wasn’t at the game yesterday, but I was slightly surprised to see Kuszczak start, given that he’s not really played for a few years now.

Matt Rowson - 26/02/2012

fair comment – although he wouldn’t really have signed to sit on our bench, would he?

11. hornetburger - 26/02/2012

One of the reasons why we are conceding goals at the moment is due to Nosworthy not being the player he was when he was on loan. Yesterday, like the previous week, he was often hesitant, slow to , and on, the ball and prone to make mistakes. I thought he was impressive when he first joined us and wondered why he was so available to us. I think we know now. A rest for one or two games might be a sensible remedy.

PRAWN - 26/02/2012

I hope the future proves the analogy to be poor, but the name of “Wayne Brown” comes to mind re-a defender who impressed as a loanee, only to be found out once signed. Let’s cross fingers that Nos has just been having the inevitable couple of poor games that every player is allowed from time to time.

Matt Rowson - 26/02/2012

you’re not the first to nervously draw that comparison, prawn. Another one that springs to mind whenever Nos attempts a Cruyff turn on the edge of his own box is Keith Dublin…

12. Nick - 26/02/2012

utter garbage against palace and utter garbage yesterday. We seem to have slunk back into the early season side that was turgid, slow and limited going forward.

Why with three keepers on the books have we gone for a bloke who hasnt played for a long time. gilmartin did well whilst at yeovil, why not give him a chance to show what he can do until the end of the season or are we saying he’s just not good enough.

I went to the soton away game and thought they were easily three best team I’ve seen this season.

Matt Rowson - 26/02/2012

As a general point, I’m not sure why it’s unacceptable to castigate Loach after a series of costly errors but perfectly reasonable to dismiss Kuszczak after one.

He plays for Manchester United, is an international and a top keeper. He’s come to us to further his international ambitions, else we’d never have him.

Loach has been poor. Gilmartin has been poor. Bond isn’t ready. Rusty or not, Kuszczak decision really doesn’t take a lot of thinking about. No controversy for me.

Nick - 26/02/2012

Agree regarding bond not being ready and I think his loan deal will do him the world of good.

The criticism of loach has been massively over the top although I agree he has been poor.

I don’t agree that gilmartin has been poor, he made one mistake against brighton last year but apart from that he has done well and I think unlucky to lose his place after thee soton away game.

lets improve or own squad where a viable opinion exists and get someone in with the ability to put his foot on the ball and make something happen

13. ben - 26/02/2012

One thing Kuszczak needs to learn is we don’t have the quality in Dickinson and Doyley to throw the ball out to them to start an attack. I’m no fan of the long punt upfield every time, but sadly we don’t have a real choice at present.

rousman 2 - 26/02/2012

Agree 100% his first throw out to Doyley had the reaction of a rabbit caught in car headlights

Ian Grant - 26/02/2012

Well, I *am* a fan of the long punt upfield. For me, yesterday’s highlight – not exactly an extensive shortlist, granted – was a clearance from Nosworthy so full-blooded that the sound of boot-on-ball echoed around the entire ground. If you’re not splitting hairs, it counted as pretty much our only on-target goal attempt during the entire ninety minutes.


14. JohnF - 26/02/2012

I was disappointed that the heads seemed to drop with the first soft goal but there were signs of defensive wobbles against Leicester. Southampton with their diving and constant rolling around on the ground at the slightest touch, notably when they had lost the ball, are not a lovable side. It is interesting just how defensive Soton supporters are on this site. Strikes me that indicates an inferiority complex. Next Saturday will be the acid test but hopefully our injured players will be back.

15. rousman 2 - 26/02/2012

The irony is had Loach been playing they would not have scored the first goal. They had done there homework they out Watord Watford

16. Steve Grant - 26/02/2012

By the sound of Adkins’ post-match interview, the direct tactics were planned because of the state of the pitch – not exactly conducive to the on-the-deck passing game we’ve mostly been employing this season. See highlights of any other game we’ve played this season for evidence.

I didn’t think we played that well, to be honest, but once we got the lead I never felt we were likely to toss it away, barring a defensive howler, which we’ve mostly avoided this season.

17. James - 27/02/2012

Can’t disagree with your thunks, but I’m surprised Lee didn’t get a mention.
He must be the most irritating player I’ve seen at the Vic in years.
There are, sadly, many players who go down the moment an opponent comes within three yards of them, but I’ve never seen one before who goes down screaming.
Literally, screaming at the top of his voice. Every time. Even the Saint players seemed to be sick of it by the end.

Matt Rowson - 27/02/2012

yes, an oversight. although I’d have been happy enough if the tedious little idiot hadn’t entered my consciousness again.

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