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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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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.

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Comments»

1. Geoff McPherson - 21/03/2012

Fantastic job on the commentary, was listen at work in Denver, Colorado

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2012

Thanks Geoff

2. Ralph - 21/03/2012

Absolutely bloody marvellous!

Who’d have thought last August/September/October that we’d be already safe (bar an administration catastrophe) with eight games still to go?

Sean Dyche I salute you sir, and the coaches and the players likewise!

You ‘orns indeed.

3. Lewis - 21/03/2012

again…top work on the commentary…hope you enjoyed the pie 🙂

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2012

It was a fine, fine thing, which was the only reason I (over)indulged. Marks was just jealous (I HAD offered to grab him one tho)

4. Elliott - 21/03/2012

Great thunks as always Matt.
Any thoughts on Buaben? Haven’t seen his name mentioned anywhere, so I guess he wasn’t too involved in the major events, but always nice to hear how someone coming into the team fares.

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2012

Tidy. Not assertive enough, pulled away from one or two challenges. Needs to impose himself a bit more on games for me, but he did OK.

5. Martin Pollard - 21/03/2012

I did laugh at Half time, as to whether Jon was more peeved you’d gone to get a pie, or whether it was just because you didn’t get him one too.

6. Elliott - 21/03/2012

Thanks 🙂

7. Sirhornet - 21/03/2012

Is it my impression or is Kusczazk making saves that Loach wouldn’t have and hence keeping us in games where earlier on this season the ball would have beaten SL? Seems an unspoken undercurrent in commentary.

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2012

He’s making some very good stops, sure. Difficult to imagine that Scott would make all of them, the view of others I’ve spoken to is very much what you suggest. He’s making fewer bad errors for me, too – and I’m not trying to have a pop at Loach, Kuszczak is a full international and plays for Man United, Loach is still young.

Nipper333 - 21/03/2012

Agree sl is young, but this recent rich vein of form has coincided with the arrival of Kuszczak. Not wanting to belittle the players and management but we really are punching above our weight, which is a massive credit to all concerned!

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2012

And Murray.

8. Nicholas Chainey - 21/03/2012

I got the impression Big Chris did a decent job (again) after coming on and being assertive against Coventry. Which is nice to hear, even if it is several months too late.

9. David Gray - 21/03/2012

Great points – I too would have put Murray as the best performer of the night, closely followed by Nyron, Taylor and Hogg. As I was going with my City supporting friend,I was subjected to sitting in City’s Williams stand which, apart from making the East Stand look like a palace, meant that I saw the frustration of the City fans. From their point of view there is a hugely worrying lack of quality and spark in their side, but I do think part of the reason for this was Watford’s doggedness: Hogg in particular was mopping up anything that came anywhere near him. I’ve seen plenty of games at the Vic where we’ve been 2-0 up and I’ve been on the edge of my seat worrying that we’d throw it away (which, on one or two occasions, we did) but last night we just looked… comfortable. It’s really a rather unsettling feeling.

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2012

Yes, we also felt disconcerted by the comfort of it all. Agree re Hogg and Taylor. Thought Nyron had good moments and… less good moments.

drbillyo - 22/03/2012

I had an uneasy feeling all night which I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but you’re right – it was the feeling of comfortably winning. A strange feeling indeed for a Watford fan.

10. JimBob - 22/03/2012

Sneakily we seem to have acquired a squad with depth, young talent and experience. Well done to Dyche and the scouts on that one. In contarst to the start of the season it’s comforting to see a bench loaded with options – now just to use them to best effect.

11. Jeremy Clarkeson - 22/03/2012

JC here
Great thunks and even from your view it would have better than the away end, pillars, posts, and backless seats!

isnt it wonderful to have two young wingers who arent scared to take on their full backs…and more than often beat them as well..reminders of Cally and JB..I cannot see Yeates or anybody else getting a look in at the moment…more youngsters please

12. hornetboy84 - 24/03/2012

So …. how many Watford keepers can you name who have scored a goal for the Horns … Steve Sherwood, David James…. anyone else?

Matt Rowson - 24/03/2012

Billy Biggar is the other one. Scored and saved a penalty in the same game against Cov, early 1900s.

hornetboy84 - 25/03/2012

Brilliant …!!!

And you were rather good on the radio the other night!

writing this after Ipswich game – but this season in truth – is rather mad …. it feels like we have our Watford back!


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