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Leeds United 0 Watford 2 (31/03/2012) 31/03/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
37 comments

Five Thunks from the final match of an extraordinary March.

1- The day had started in nearby Saltaire.  Strong coffee had been consumed, in an attempt to chase off the night before, from a mug decorated with a Leeds Cityscape.  This was deliberate.  We were having Leeds for breakfast.  See?  Geddit?

Bravado in part. The sort of thing you can indulge in when before Easter and contrary to all expectation you find yourselves comfortably in mid-table without an awful lot hanging on the result.  Good job really, since Elland Road hasn’t traditionally been a successful venue.  We last won here on our first League visit, on the way to the play-offs in 1988/89… since then the general way of things has been that if we play well we get a point, if we play badly we get stuffed.  Actually in 2006 we played well and lost anyway.

Despite which, by 4.45 with Big Chris (of whom more later) finally finishing the contest, we looked to our right and saw the Elland Road stands emptying (see above).  Leeds had been utterly vanquished;  not dominated throughout, we didn’t murder them.  But we beat them, thoroughly, convincingly, deservedly.  The exodus brought back memories of the closing minutes of a previous trip to Yorkshire to face a Colin team and was equally symbolic.  Despite the prospect of five minutes of injury time, the game was over.

The play-offs loom into view.  Still six points off, they remain a very long shot… we would need to extend what is already an impressive run of form over six games, five of which against teams above us in the table.  If we make it, we’ll have bloody earned it.  And at the moment, there’s a furious focus that’s evocative of the manager’s finest moments on the playing staff. You wouldn’t quite write it off…

2- Because above everything, this win was about discipline.

At the outset there was a hearty ovation for Robbo (a muted one for Webber, a muttering for Bromby).  And before we knew it we were ahead… Leeds’ defence had already fallen open once before Deeney’s industry opened a gap for Iwelumo to finish tidily.  Yes, really.

Briefly, another Bristol City was on the cards… a game where our opposition’s ineptitude was such that all we had to do was keep our cool and keep our shape.  It was never quite that easy after the opening five minutes;  for all of Colin’s smokescreen comments post-match, we had to work very hard for this in the end.  The discipline came in retention of our shape, it’s true, but we take that for granted now.  It came in not reacting to Warnock twice threatening to combust in apoplexy on the sidelines.  Most of all, it came in not being provoked into a nasty scrap that would have lit a fire underneath the home crowd.  You remember That Tranmere Game? When Tranmere had a lead but couldn’t bring themselves to play it cool?  This Watford performance is what they should have done, and history would have taken a very different course if they had.

So… Robbo went through Jonathan Hogg, we briefly bayed for a red card until we identified the perpetrator.  Becchio came off demonstrably worse in an early clash with the imperious Martin Taylor, spent five or ten minutes testing how much the referee was going to let him get away with and then disappeared into Taylor’s pocket for the afternoon, the big centre-back refusing to react to one or two stray elbows.  Michael Brown was completely shackled by Hogg; always destined to play for Leeds at some point, Brown is a nasty little shitbag and “used his experience” to test our composure.  He failed.  Adam Clayton, already on a yellow, kicked out at John Eustace and somehow escaped a red card;  Paul Connolly, finally, saw red for a second bad-tempered yellow late on.  Through all of this, our composure didn’t waver one iota.  Admirable stuff.

And the final demonstration of this composure came late, that Iwelumo goal.  Leeds’ defence, wobbly throughout, panicked as we received the ball in the area.  We played the ball around, finding passes on the edge of the box but no clear sight of goal.  “Shoot!” we implore.  “Put your laces through it” bellows someone.  We play it back, we keep possession.  In the stands we console ourselves with the knowledge that a goal up in the dying minutes, that’s all we need to do.  Leeds push out… and then suddenly Sean Murray has nipped in down the right flank and Leeds know they’ve been watching the wrong hand, a conjurer’s trick.  Deeney’s shot is blocked, but there’s only one place this is ending up, and only one team going to win this game.

3- Earlier in the half, two pivotal moments.  Tomasz Kuszczak, given the bird throughout by the home fans for his Old Trafford affiliation, produced two astonishing stops to deny first a fierce low header from Alex Bruce then the follow-up drive from Snodgrass.  The mark of a fine keeper; little got as far as Kuszczak for all that Leeds had spells of pressure, but he pulled out two stunning stops to keep us in the game, much of the rest of which he spent energetically exhorting the away support to greater efforts.

Then Tom Lees, Leeds’ last man, slipped inexplicably giving Deeney a clear run on goal.  Anything that can be achieved through sheer hard work you can count on Troy to deliver.  Occasionally, as at Ipswich, he’s capable of brilliance.  Give him time to think though and… things are a little less convincing.  With the freedom of half the pitch and too much time to consider the situation few in the away end would have been expecting a clinical finish;  Deeney’s first shot was saved, the follow up drifted across the face of goal.

Two incidents.  Deeney’s miss could have been pivotal, Leeds rallied in the aftermath  but Deeney’s head didn’t drop and within seconds he was onto another through ball, barging out a chance he had no right to.  But Leeds… the belief wasn’t there, and whilst there were further attempts at goal after Kuszczak’s double save their heads had dropped.

4- For all that Leeds gave us a tougher game than Bristol, they were nonetheless a disappointing shambles.  In Becchio and Brown, as suggested above, they have players who conform to a tradition associated both with their club and current manager.  And yet… as the home fans exhorted their team to “get in-to them” in the second half, as my brother pointed out, you wondered… with what, exactly?  Their tough guys, their hard men, were already under wraps.  Snodgrass, comfortably the stand out play and switching flanks frequently, a theoretical threat kept at arms length by an aggressive performance from Doyley and, after a wobbly start, a stout showing from former Leeds loan Carl Dickinson.  Most of all, defensively Leeds were all over the place and could have been more severely punished.  Both full backs picking up yellows put them under pressure, and Colin had already telegraphed Tom Lees’ vulnerability by switching him to full-back at Millwall to protect him from Darius Henderson.  Forced back into the centre by O’Dea’s suspension he utterly failed to contain Deeney.  But partner Alex Bruce had the tougher task…

5- Because Chris Iwelumo’s contribution stretched well beyond the two key details.  A disciplined performance from the whole side today, that’s the bottom line.  Rewarded with a victory was celebrated with real relish on the way into the tunnel in front of us, not least by the manager.  Good individual performances throughout the side.

But Big Chris was in a league of his own.  We spent the first half of the season wondering how a striker who had scored so many goals at this level, and caused us problems on countless previous occasions, could look so ineffective.  “His legs have gone,” was the popular explanation, but we’ve said that about John Eustace before and been dramatically, decisively wrong then too.  Iwelumo’s form over the last month has been excellent and here he was utterly unplayable, every inch the centre-forward we thought we’d signed in the summer.  Marking Chris must be a bit like marking a steamroller;  you might keep up with him, but forget about stopping him moving in whichever direction he wants to move.  Ally this with a new-found nimbleness apparently borne of the fitness that comes with regular match time and suddenly, unexpectedly, it’s not overstating the situation to suggest that Watford has a new hero.  Big Chris won every header from the first moment to the last, completely dominating however many markers ventured in his direction. An absolute monster against little boys.  The most significant contribution to a very fine afternoon indeed.

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Watford 2 Ipswich Town 1 (24/03/2012) 25/03/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
16 comments

1. By my reckoning, we’re second in the league. Not that league, obviously…but if you crudely divide the division into those with, at minimum, playoff aspirations and those, like us, with “Aliquid Sed Relegatio”* as an unofficial club motto, only Derby (arguably) sit above us. An awkward, cumbersome season has resolved itself very satisfactorily indeed.

I’ve been absent for a while, for various reasons, good and bad. When I last saw us, we were stumbling haplessly…no question that we’d be pulled back into the relegation fight, but absolutely nothing within comprehensive defeats to Palace and Southampton to suggest that we’d finish the campaign on a high note either. We haven’t lost since then, of course. I’ve missed the good bit; I’ve missed every single one of Sean Murray’s goals, the reputed revival in Chris Iwelumo’s form, the positive impact of Tomasz Kuszczak.

We walk to the ground in warm spring sunshine amid the kind of careless end-of-season haze which seemed so distant barely a few weeks ago and so utterly implausible before Christmas. Along the row, Daz is wearing shorts and flip-flops; you half-expect to be hit on the head by a beachball at any moment. It’s not even April yet, for heaven’s sake. We’d do well to remember that we’ve achieved all of this primarily through being not terrible; that gets you an awfully long way at this level. It’s all we have to do.

2. A lot of fun, except for most of it. We began with an open, broad swagger and briefly laid siege to the visitors’ goal, McCarthy saving brilliantly when Deeney seemed certain to open the scoring. Then Ipswich asserted themselves, effectively containing the threat of Murray and Kacaniklic, totally isolating Deeney and Garner, and taking complete control of proceedings.

It took a defensive calamity to gift them the lead – no communication between Kuszczak and Dickinson, both equally culpable – but they might’ve had several more, Murphy glancing a header inches wide from a corner and Chopra somehow missing an open goal from barely three yards. We were a disorganised mess at the back (which is uncharacteristic) and a non-event further forward (which isn’t). Apart from an incident involving Harry the Hornet and a xylophone – it’d take too long – the half drifted sleepily towards the break.

3. But where there was once a grim, rigid inevitability to it all, born of a chronic lack of effective creative options and frustrating caution in using those we had, we’re no longer so easily discouraged. The substitutions turned this game around: it’s hard to recall Prince Buaben having a vital touch of the ball, but his assertive presence further up the field gradually dragged the whole contest forward a crucial twenty yards.

And then, after ten post-interval minutes in which nothing much happened, there was Chris Iwelumo for the lightweight Garner…and there was suddenly someone to do the stuff which Deeney’s wasted on. One towering flick-on…leading arm, shining bald head, defender flailing…that’s the image you had in your mind’s eye when his name appeared back in July. That’s what we’ve waited to see.

4. The extra spring in your step on the way home, though, came from the knowledge that you’d seen something special, something very reminiscent of memories which you hold very dear. Because the game was won by Troy Deeney, by a refusal to let exhausted legs and aching lungs prevent one more chase after a lost cause, by a failure to accept that you’re not going to score from there.

In truth, Deeney was barely involved for much of these ninety minutes. Sometimes, playing up front is like playing in goal: you’ve got to remain alive to all possibilities, you’ve got to concentrate even harder when the play’s elsewhere. Danny Graham always knew that…switched on, alert and aware, ever ready for the break that everyone else would take just a split second longer to react to. Like a sea anemone, Deeney stuck doggedly to a rock while the tide went out…and then came to life, all stinging tentacles, when it eventually came back in.

You can demand no more of a centre forward than that, I think. I love the first goal…football is rarely so simple, but he plainly just wants it more than Delaney, all over the back of the defender in pursuit of an inaccurate pass, provoking the chaos in which Murray calmly levels.

5. The comparison with Mooney has been more hopeful than anything else…until now. When people talk about changing the shape of games, they’re usually referring to elegantly Messianic sculpting and squeezing. Tommy Mooney changed the shape of games by smacking them repeatedly with a very large shovel, sheer arrogant force of will overcoming everyday nonsense like gravity and time. You remember those goals because they were everything that football should be, everything that football needs to be, everything that normal life isn’t. Because they were goals that grabbed the world by the throat and damn well demanded to be remembered, even as they were scored.

So, Troy Deeney’s already been flat out on the turf a couple of times, Britt Assombalonga’s warming up on the sidelines. But then the backpass falls marginally short, and he’s hurling that exhausted body in ahead of the keeper…and as defenders gather all around, he’s turning in a slow circle in search of an option…and you assume that he’s spotted someone to square the ball to…and you realise that he’s gone for goal, absurdly…and there’s a defender on the line…and he can’t reach it…and the best goals are the ones that hang in the balance until the net ripples, everyone holding their breath and then letting it explode out of them…

DEENEY. DEENEY. DEENEY. DEENEY. DEENEY.

* “Anything But Relegation”, if Google Translate is to be believed.

Bristol City 0 Watford 2 (20/03/2012) 21/03/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
22 comments

Five thunks from a glum Ashton Gate…

1- We had expected it to be much tougher than this, it’s fair to say.  Given City’s precarious position, reliance on their home form, absence through injury of our two stand-out players, the fact that this, for them, would have been a fixture that they’d firmly have put three points next to in working out how they would cobble together enough to survive.  So little wonder that, having given us one goal and contributed considerably to another City went rather flat on and off the pitch.

The first goal followed directly from perhaps our closest call of the evening, Pitman’s driven free kick being parried by Kuszczak, the rebound not falling kindly for the red shirts following up (and quicker to react than our defenders, if truth be told).  That was a lucky break, but the last point in the evening in which luck played a part.  The opener was pure farce; Carl Dickinson’s long rather aimless diagonal ball looked like a gimme for David James, but he appeared to misjudge it, got underneath it and punched it back over his head; it bounced gently into the empty net.  The second was less comical but more representative of City’s astonishingly neglectful defending throughout; Deeney’s header fell to Murray who drove through the defence to stab the ball at James.  The keeper blocked well, but nobody reacted;  Murray’s brave lunge was enough, the ball rolled apologetically over the line again, but for all of the midfielder’s bullishness the ball should never have been there for him to attack a second time.

This was increasingly the story of the evening.  City’s attacks had some bite, Stead and the stroppy Pitman combining well if inconsequentially.  But whenever we delivered the ball into their box we there was pandemonium; if it came with a little quality, such as Murray’s vicious free kick from the left later in the first half, a clear goalscoring chance was the result – Nosworthy, on that occasion, heading back across the box rather than directly at goal.  If the ball was aimless or optimistic, City’s defence contrived to fall over each other anyway.  The only disappointment from an evening which ultimately asked nothing more of us than professionalism and concentration – which we delivered comprehensively – was that we didn’t enjoy a wider margin of victory.

2- City, in case I’ve not emphasised this enough yet, are in a lot of trouble.  The back five that started the game had huge experience… James, 41, 905 senior club appearances, 53 England Caps.  Carey, 35, 600+ appearances.  McAllister,33, 400+ appearances, a Scotland cap.  McManus, 29, 250+ appearances, 26 Scotland caps.  Fontaine, 26, 250+ appearances.  At least four regular captains amongst that lot.  Maybe short on pace, maybe expect them to drop back rather deep.  But you expect them to be organised, to do the basic things, get their shit together at set pieces and mark up.  Instead, this was as comically cack-handed  a defensive display as I’ve seen at this level for a long time.  At Boro on Saturday Fontaine will be suspended, McManus presumably ineligible, other options injured… but it’s hard to envisage how the defending could be any worse.

Alarming too, for City, that rather than addressing or acknowledging his team’s problems, manager McInnes – who suddenly doesn’t look quite the young exciting manager that everyone apparently wanted a year ago – chose to bemoan refereeing decisions.  Inexplicably, since there was nothing to criticise in any of it, effectively very few difficult decisions for the officials to make.  Fontaine’s sending off as City’s sulky lack of spirit developed from hitting lazy cowardly balls devoid of responsibility and initiative into outright petulance towards the end, was one that he might have gotten away with on a good day but it was a lunge and he can have no complaints really.  If McInnes genuinely thinks that his side merited anything from last night – effectively saying that they matched us (if you ignore the bits when they were dreadful) – then City have a real problem.

As we’ve discovered before, you don’t need to be good to stay up in this division, you just need to be less rubbish than three other sides.  It would appear that one fairly bad team is going to stay up but based on Saturday’s game and Pompey’s extraordinary result against Birmingham, both Cov and Portsmouth are in better shape than the Robins.

3- Of particular interest was the first outing of the Taylor-Nosworthy partnership necessitated by Mariappa’s injury – incidentally, the first game he’s missed through injury that I can remember.  It’s fair to say they’ll have tougher evenings, for all that City were rather more convincing in formulating attacks than they were in repelling them.  Nonetheless, and despite his long absence, Taylor looked as effortlessly composed as he did in his pomp last season.  The one concern – and it’s an obvious one, is the loss of Mariappa’s acceleration resulting in a tendency to drop rather deep.  During City’s spells of pressure either side of half time it was also evident that we were taking our time to come out, often leaving Troy Deeney horribly isolated… Mariappa’s urging and cajoling, drawing the line out, was missed there.

But the stand-out performance of the night was that of Sean Murray.  Rather drowned in Saturday’s scrap with Coventry, here he was on the front foot again and a constant problem for City;  his quality is not in doubt, but more worthy of comment here was that it was allied with guts, power, persistence.  We’ve said it before on these pages, but his physical strength belies his frame… on one particular occasion in the second half he held off a marker twice his size whose attempts to muscle the midfielder off the ball ultimately saw him on the grass in a pathetic heap.  In the closing minutes, both Murray and Kacaniklic, who grew into the game, were tracking back, biting into opposing wingers, covering, keeping shape.  Tremendous stuff, Murray is self evidently one to enjoy for as long as we are permitted to.  Honorable mention also to Jonathan Hogg, who faced with a less combative side-kick than John Eustace put in his most compelling performance for some weeks.

4- My second outing as summariser to Jon Marks’ commentary on BBC 3CR, and again the media high-life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Or rather, isn’t all I’d painted it in my mind’s eye.  The welcome at Ashton Gate is friendly enough, there’s a wide range of pies available for the attendant hacks, but the press box is simply bizarre, combining the letterbox view from the away end at Loftus Road, the leg-room from Elland Road or Upton Park and glass panes that muffle the match atmosphere, limited as it is on this occasion.  The permanent obstacles in our line of vision include a fire exit sign, an overhanging TV gantry and access ladders, as well as the obligatory pillars and, more forgivably, the odd remonstrating local.  A ball above head hight on the far touchline disappears from view, it’s guesswork as to where exactly it will come down and frequently only one of us will have an unobscured view of an incident.  Challenging…

5- Having reached 51 points, safety even by the most cautious of assessments, it’s worth pausing to recognise that achievement.  And it is extraordinary.  We had no right to expect to be safe in mid-March, much less challenging to overhaul last season’s 61 points.  It still feels slightly unbelievable as if, as was commented pre-game, we’ve somehow pinched some points from somewhere else that are in danger of suddenly being reclaimed.  We’ve rarely murdered sides, rarely (although tonight is an exception) been the clearly superior outfit in a head-to-head encounter.  Since the end of January and the sale of Sordell we’ve not had a reliable supply of goals in the side (although young Murray might beg to differ).  And yet we’re 14th, 20 points clear of the drop zone.  We’d have taken that pre-season, we’d have bitten your hand off in September.  A huge achievement for all concerned.  You orns.

Watford 0 Coventry City 0 (17/03/2012) 18/03/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
25 comments

Five thunks from an inconsequential afternoon at Vicarage Road.

1- Rahelle’s first game since Reading, and like the team she started with a burst of positive energy, bouncing up and down, chanting and shouting.  She also broke rank and demanded her lucky chocolate before half time, something which ig would never have countenanced had he been there instead of in Cornwall, outside even of mobile contact.  Her impatience may or may not have influenced the passage of a frustrating afternoon and a nil-nil draw that was both fist-chewingly aggravating  and never quite set in stone.  Not one of those nil nils where a goal was never going to come…  although in the first half, after that confident opening flurry with saw Kacaniklic getting his head down and pelting at a scattering City defence, Murray heading over in space and Assombalonga doing a better job with another header, the visitors were the stronger side.  Perhaps they got their tactics right – pushing up a high line and chasing us down from a long way up the pitch we never settled, much less enjoyed controlled possession in their half with which to challenge that wobbly looking defence.  Perhaps the mantle of favourites didn’t sit comfortably on our shoulders. Either way, we saw the match wander off away from its scripted path and seemed unable to regain control;   an abrasive, physical City were the likelier scorers in the first half, having one goal chalked off after Cameron committed a foul to win space in which to head home a corner and forcing Kuszczak into a smart save just before the break.

2- Cov have managed to avoid an away win so far this season; with a small, inexperienced squad it always seemed likely that their sapping pressing game would see them tire as the game went on.  Certainly the second half saw us begin to impose ourselves. Chris Iwelumo’s introduction on the hour was the catalyst; he looked mobile, energetic, eager, even nimble… all characteristics that we had largely written off in the big striker whilst trying to work out how he’d managed to score so many goals at this level for other teams.  Even his hugely impressive outing at West Ham ten days ago saw him doing the big aggressive strong-man thing effectively… this was something else altogether, and his arrival was quickly followed by a fierce drive from Deeney; Murphy did well to push it onto the post but it was a clarion call, the game had changed.  We never looked like overpowering City, never had them on the rack… but we were at least on top, with City attacking on the break. That’s not to say that it was comfortable… Adrian Mariappa’s diligence was called upon as he cleared off the line after McDonald had made the most of Nosworthy’s cack-handed defending and beaten Kuszczak and an extraordinarily lazy refereeing performance was a source of unpredictable decisions.  Nonetheless, we were at least on the front foot for the most part.

3- The fiftieth graduation from our Academy in 12 years is something to be hugely proud of, rightly celebrated over the tannoy.  Assombalonga looked the part, keen, strong, rangy… but also raw, and not helped by the limited service he received from a hurried midfield.  Sean Dyche has again defended his policy with young players this week, asserting both that there’s a risk in bringing players on too quickly and that each case needs to be dealt with on an individual basis.  There’s conviction and no little rationale there… but the consequences seem considerably more haphazard than his careful words suggest.  Massey, in particular, will be forgiven for wondering whether he’s coming or going.  Overall, a case by case basis has been hugely conservative;  at least seven of our youngsters will almost certainly end the season having played fewer games in yellow this year than last, with Assombalonga only the second debut (after Bond).  Whilst that’s consistent with Dyche’s warnings about bringing players on too quickly it’s not consistent with demonstrating that youngsters will get chances at Watford and therefore attracting kids to/persuading them to sign after Harefield.  You’d also wonder whether his case-by-case treatment has been to the benefit of all the kids involved. Dyche has done a decent job in challenging circumstances this season, but I’d still rather he used more of the youngsters, even if intermittently and occasionally at the risk of games like this where several of the younger players floundered in the morass.

4- For all that Cov caused us problems they looked a limited side – fragile at the back, unimaginative up front and without the facility to strengthen in this last week of loan transfers they are a relegation team.  They might still get out of it anyway – there are a number of relegation sides jostling for position down there with Pompey’s situation giving Cov and Donny in particular reason to believe.  Whether they get out of it or not, this season should surely not overly damage the reputation of Andy Thorn who has worked wonders in the circumstances to put out a team that hasn’t sunk out of sight.  Hardly starting from a high base, Cov lost Westwood, King, Gunnarsson and Turner over the summer followed by Jutkiewicz in January without being able to bring in replacements of anything like the same quality.  To still be in the game is an achievement.

5- Goes without saying, but that doesn’t mean you don’t say it.  None of the above constitute matters of life and death.  Football is entertainment, sport, sure… but it’s escapism and catharsis too.  People watch football, particularly in the stadium, to escape from the stresses and anxieties of every day life for a bit.  Sometimes.  I know I do.  So when the real world interrupts as rudely and horrifically as it did at White Hart Lane yesterday it’s all the more shocking, much as there are folk outside the spotlight of publicity suffering such tragedies with altogether less publicity.  At the risk of sounding mawkish you kinda want to root for all of them.  Hang in there, Fabrice.

West Ham United 1 Watford 1 (07/03/2012) 08/03/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
20 comments

Five Thunks from the Boleyn Ground.

1- Away matches are brilliant.  Evening kick-offs are brilliant.  Nothing-to-lose, dammit games are brilliant.  So an evening kick off at the  Boleyn Ground, preceded by several hours of build-up… verbal, nutritional (Nathan’s Pie and Mash shop a thing of rare beauty) and liquid is something to savour.  Yet more so given that astonishingly sensible stewarding permits actual standing for the entire ninety minutes.  That’ll never catch on.  And of course that the Boleyn Ground is a claustrophobic, suffocatingly intense venue.  Industrial-scale bubble machines of a size that would cause my daughters to combust with excitement are stationed at the side of the pitch, propelling countless swarms of the things into the night sky.  I must have seen that here before, but I can’t believe it’s anything like as effective when the floodlights aren’t catching them.  Not sure it would work quite as well with Hornets, one to mull over though. I’m sure there are financial reasons for leaving Upton Park, reasons that might even benefit the football club, but you’d have to be bloody mental to want to abandon this place.  If the atmosphere is slightly subdued before the game, from kick off onwards it positively crackles.

2- There are resigned sighs when the teamsheet reveals itself, I suspect we weren’t alone in that. Joe Garner hasn’t always endeared himself and has rarely looked like, you know, scoring a goal, but running around a lot disguises ineffectiveness and Big Chris doesn’t even give you that, bless him.  Dickinson’s introduction to rest the irrepressible Hodson is not a popular move, a good wave of the fist only gets you so far Carl.  And Nos is poorly, provoking an unheralded first start in aeons for still-young-but-not-quite-so-young-any-more Dale Bennett. Blind enthusiasm typical of such occasions still dominates but  an objective assessor might be apprehensive.

We were tremendous.  It rather helped – perversely, remembering the Hammers’ comprehensive demolition job on an earlier Tuesday night in August – that this really is our sort of game, asking us to do lots of the things that we’re rather good at – keeping our shape, challenging, hassling, closing down the midfield – and less of the things that we’re not very good at.  Shooting springs to mind.  Whatever.  The first half sways hither and thither in intensity, West Ham’s spells of pressure intermittent and not always convincing.  There’s no denying that we’re earning our corn, though;  a lunatic midfield performance from Eustace and Hogg is the highlight, ferociously stamping on any space that appears as if they were playing that fairground game with mallets that requires smacking whichever gopher pops its head up.  West Ham’s midfield didn’t like that at all, and the home side were rapidly pressured into playing long balls forward from the back.  Nonetheless, the chances came… an extraordinary sliding challenge in the area from Bennett to deny Faubert and one quite inhuman save from Kuszczak to claw Noble’s curling effort out of the top corner only the two most memorable instances of a defiant defensive display.

And as for the bits that we’re not very good at… much as Sam Allardyce has laughably bemoaned his lack of a clinical striker despite hoovering up forwards as if in anticipation of a global shortage, we had as much cause in the first half to bemoan our finishing.  Our periods of pressure were fewer and briefer, but our chances no less presentable and invariably lacking only a decisive finishing touch.  That said, as strikers who don’t score goals go, the performances of Deeney and Iwelumo were faultless.  Both put in a colossal amount of effort, textbook “defending from the front” stuff.  The most compelling performance I’ve seen in yellow from Big Chris – like several others  unappreciated by the Vicarage Road crowd, he gets a song aired by the more creative and supportive away following this evening.

3- Dale Bennett’s injury, it transpires, amounts to no more than concussion which is a blessed relief.  The immediacy of Kuszczak’s urgent demands for attention suggested a more alarming conclusion.  Bennett’s performance to that point had been simply magnificent in a solid defensive display and here too, actually, he played his part if inadvertently – the home side had started the second half like a train, and the nine-minute interruption took the wind out of their sails.  The break also saw Captain Eustace, the other victim of the clash of heads, depart briefly to reappear with his head bandaged.  He couldn’t have looked more combative brandishing a cutlass.  Martin Taylor entered the fray after a long absence and played his part in clobbering away most of what West Ham threw at us.  Cracks began to show… Dickinson was badly exposed more than once, Lloyd Doyley coped rather less comfortably with substitute Ricardo Vaz Te than he had with Matthew Taylor.  But the lasting memory from this game will be of bloody-minded defiance.

4- Except it won’t, will it.  Perhaps it should be.  Perhaps an apparent deflection takes the edge off?  No. It doesn’t.  It would be wrong to suggest that our goal was completely out of the blue… we’d had chances in the first half, even if we’d been unconvincing in our attempts to convert them, and in an open game had broken well in the second.  But we had been under pressure.  And yet Murray was growing into the game; for such a slight figure, as against Spurs, he seems perfectly prepared to mix it with those twice his bodyweight.  The Hollywood moment was preceded minutes earlier by a wonderful spin into space that had the two markers closing on him suddenly facing each other with their charge having apparently dropped through a trapdoor and taken the ball with him.  And then he’s on the right, in front of the away block, and looks up and there’s a wonderful certainty about how the next couple of seconds are going to go.  Never any doubt.  He made an angle for himself and let fly.  Time slowed down, the ball travelled some way and was hit with venom and yet… everything’s in slow motion.  I’m reminded, writing now, of Gary Porter’s dramatic winner at Norwich in 1996.  Then as now, you almost heard the contact of leather, and then silence as you watched the trajectory.  Robert Green dives but he’s not going to reach it.  That’s clear, that was clear from before Murray pulled the trigger, deflection or no deflection.  It bounces almost silently off the inside of the far post and into the net.

Always better when it’s in off the post.

Then, everything goes a bit multicoloured for a few minutes.

The players’ celebration is a splendid thing as well.  Ferocious, cathartic, the Watford team in the corner in front of the away support.  You can feel the harshness in your throat, you know this is going to hurt tomorrow.  Doesn’t matter, not at all.  “That boy Sean Murray, he’s one of our own…” we bellow, and mean it.

5- It doesn’t matter that we didn’t hold on.  It doesn’t matter that there was seemingly a foul in the build up to Vaz Te’s equaliser.  Well, it does.  It matters because otherwise DM would have been right, which is clearly ridiculous, and because a win would have been a mighty thing to be cherished against a side surely destined for promotion even if they’re going to do it in unglamorous fashion.  We leave the stadium with a spring in our step.  The spring in our step becomes a spring in only very occasional steps in the extraordinary queue for the tube, but the wait doesn’t take the edge off.  Most of all the sentiment, the whole evening, ridicules the pompous nonsense spouted by Alan Green, a man as far divorced from an understanding of football support as I am from particle physics.  “Football supporters demand success”, he’d argue.  “That’s where the pressure comes from.  They demand to win things”.  Bollocks, Alan.  The few who call your radio show do, they’re hardly representative.  God, I hope they’re not representative.  What matters is having a team to support.  Having a team to watch.  Even to cherish sometimes, on nights like this. Ask a Pompey fan.  And imagine having no more such evenings.  Doesn’t bear thinking about.  You.  Orns.

LDX: Gameshow Extravaganza 04/03/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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If you’ve come looking for insight into yesterday’s fun and games, ig and I must apologise for Other Stuff taking us both out of operation simultaneously – a report of sorts follows below.

But if you’re bathing in the dizzy afterglow of an improbable comeback, why not buy your tickets for Lloyd’s first testimonial event in a couple of weeks’ time?  The Gameshow Extravaganza will be a family event and takes place two weeks today, the day after the Coventry game, in the Arena nightclub in Watford Town Centre.

TV presenter and Watford fan Andy Collins will host the event, which will feature TV gameshows on a central stage in which will feature Lloyd and his teammates – and names will be drawn from a hat to identify lucky contestants from those attending on the day.

There will be plenty of other stuff going on off-stage including fun for kids with both Wii competitions and inflatables including a Gladiator-style pugil-stick battle on podiums.

Doors open at 2.30pm;  tickets are £10 for adults, £5 for under-16s.  You can buy them here.

Watford 3 Burnley 2 (03/03/2012) 04/03/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
26 comments

3 Mar 2012 15:01

DM – Part timer

MR – Updates please, mouthy

DM – 0-0

DM – Oooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhh…..   0-0

3 Mar 2012 15:18

DM – Throw in!

DM – turgid. like a conversation with Andy Townsend.

3 Mar 2012 15:30

DM – Beer.  5 mins early.  Stagnant.  And I didn’t mean the beer.

DM – Bar. Crowded. Decent pint.

DM – 0-1. Bad mistake Mariappa..

3 Mar 2012 15:46

MR – Thx for updates, esp arbitrary detail. Keep it up.

DM – Foul

DM – Half time. Putrid.

3 Mar 2012 16:13

MR – Am in Bradford visiting Will. Quite sunny but we passed Valley Parade… you can bet that’s still f***ing freezing.

DM – 0-2

MR- F***

DM – 1-2. Nyron headed in Murrray corner.

DM – Seriously, we are abysmal

DM – Better since goal

3 Mar 2012 16:33

DM – 2-2! Alex thingy, out of nothing!

MR – To quote Frances, some of our results have been more impressive on paper…

DM – 3-2! Troy! I can’t explain this.

MR – Will and I doing the Troydeeneyasajawa thing…

DM – Relentless madness. I f***ing love it.

3 Mar 2012 16:46

MR – Hang on boys

DM – Yep

DM – Great save Kuszczak, even Lee Grant clapped

DM – Bennett on at right mid! Pray…

MR – Jesus

DM – 5 mins !!  F***ing hell ref

Conversation ends