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Watford 1 Hull City 1 (14/04/2012) 15/04/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from the official start of the end of the season…

1- In the build-up to this one, Sean Dyche had been making all the right noises.  Dodging the suggestion that the season was over he was bullish about our intent in the final games – finishing positively, getting as high up the table as possible, doing the “right thing” with respect to other clubs.  Quite right too, of course, what would you expect him to say in any case but no doubt he meant it.  No such declaration of intent from the stands though.  No pretence either.  Vicarage Road hardly has a reputation as seething cauldron of noise at the best of times (although the best of times is typically midweek under lights which is… different);  today, as my co-editor and I arrived at twenty to three the stands were still empty, a two o’clock smattering that the Red Lion could surely claim limited responsibility for.  The game progressed to an almost entirely end-of-season feel – all that was missing was a bit of warmth for that full deckchair effect.  The Yellow Order gave it a bit of a go up to our right, but our group enjoyed a five minute Grand National-inspired diversion trying to remember the horses from the near-20 year old The Day Today spoof bulletin (“Onion Terror”… “Two headed sex beast”….).  My co-editor was asked a question about the game in the second half and confessed that he hadn’t been paying attention, thinking about what colour to paint his kitchen.  On the pitch, as the ball was miscontrolled in midfield, someone tutted.

2- On the way out of the stadium, my co-editor suggested that you could make a case for us having deserved to win the game.  If, he qualified, you ignored the “set pieces thing”.

Unfortunately, the set pieces thing cost us a goal early on – James Chester attacking Andy Dawson’s delivery and, criminally, being allowed to convert at the near post – and could have seen us several down by the interval.  A reflection of two factors that combined to make our lives increasingly uncomfortable as the half progressed:  Dawson and Robert Koren provided precise, consistent, threatening deliveries from either flank (Mark Yeates – that’s what a set piece expert looks like…) and our defence played as if they had been introduced to each other five minutes before the game and had their mouths taped together throughout.  Such was the lack of communication and organisation that we were reliant on individual brilliance to dig us out of situations.  Principally this came from Kuszczak – who produced two top drawer saves – and Nosworthy, whose thunderous, immaculate penalty area challenge on Garcia left the Hull winger nonplussed on his backside and whose backheel-at-speed when heading towards his own goal under pressure again evoked Keith Dublin’s special brand of cavalier defending.  Deeney’s close-range finish to Eustace’s shot gave us a rather flattering parity at the interval.

3- Having played 4-5-1 at Cardiff, Sean Dyche had explained his aspiration to a tactical flexibility that would leave us comfortable switching between a number of formations.  Now is undoubtedly the time to try new things of course, but despite that it it has now seen us take points from consecutive games against teams above us in the table there was little sign of 4-5-1 proving terribly effective. Nor is it obviously a formation that one would expect to suit our current personnel since once non-negotiable requirement – players who to drive on from midfield and wide in support of the tireless Deeney – are rather absent.  Buaben was deft and tidy but as the most obviously attacking member of the central three was way too far behind the striker;  out wide, Murray was peripheral and Garner a parody of himself, almost all of his involvement concluding with him sitting on his backside.  Deeney was thus isolated for the most part which was a shame… Hull’s defence creaked badly when we started to put pressure on it…

4- Which started to happen, perversely, when we were down to ten men, albeit not as a direct result of that development.  Mariappa had come on for the under par Taylor at half time, a change that the lack of communication in our defence had perhaps demanded, but was rightly dismissed for two clumsy challenges; Phil Dowd was in full “look at me, I’m in charge and very important” mode but there was no arguing with either decision.  Both tackles, so uncharacteristic of this now polished defender, smacked of rustiness, but Mariappa wasn’t the only one off form – John Eustace, for instance, appeared to have his boots on the wrong feet, such was the frequency and often peculiar trajectory of his misplaced passes.

With no further defensive options on the bench, the reshuffle saw Lloyd Doyley move to the centre with Buaben filling in at right back.  A decent job of it he did too; if we weren’t already overburdened with right backs – Lee Hodson’s ongoing omission remains a complete mystery – he might have proved an interesting option.  Critically however, Dyche took the bold move of countering Hull’s renewed if rather aimless vigour by bringing on Iwelumo for Garner and switching to 4-3-2.  As has been the case a number of times recently, Iwelumo’s presence altered the balance of the game entirely.  Still outnumbered and sitting quite deep, we nonetheless made City’s defence look very uncomfortable indeed for the last ten minutes or so with Big Chris the unsettler-in-chief.  This culminated in us concluding the game well on the front foot; Dawson’s diving block into the path of Iwelumo’s drive from the right after good interplay with Deeney will have left him seeing stars.  Deeney’s drive forced a decent save from Mannone, and City were forced to clear off the line after another bobbling effort from Deeney.  More tactical experimentation may be on the cards for Tuesday, but if winning the game is a priority it would be a huge surprise if Big Chris didn’t start.

5- Diverting our attention elsewhere briefly, it’s good to be able to say farewell to one of this season’s hobbyhorses with the confirmation of Doncaster’s relegation.  Rovers were a popular second-favourite side in the division, until they abandoned bringing through youngsters and polishing lower league diamonds in favour of a cynical strategy of acting as a shop window for out of favour players under the control of agent Willie McKay, who also represents manager Dean Saunders.  A visit to the Keepmoat earlier in the season and circumstances resulting in hanging around the press box for a while after the game did nothing to persuade of the merits of the strategy or protagonists involved. Had this approach succeeded it would have undoubtedly been used as a blueprint for others, with the consequence of teams of mercenaries effectively playing for the opportunity to leave for richer pastures.  Remember Lee Nogan suddenly putting some effort in when he was chasing a move?  Imagine a team full of that.  Bye bye Doncaster.  Hope you get a proper team to support again some time soon.



1. Mr G. Real - 15/04/2012

Taylor wasnt under par, he was looking out of one eye due to a clash that needed 2 seperate visits to the medics during the first half.

Matt Rowson - 15/04/2012

Pedantically, he was still under par. There were merely mitigating circumstances…

Mr G. Real - 15/04/2012

Ha, yeah right, I thought for a one eyed player he did well!

2. JohnF - 15/04/2012

Good stuff Matt. Enjoyed your thunks more than the game. Agreed about taking the opportunity to experiment but I was confused about the fact that when it clearly wasn’t working Sean did not make the changes he needed to to tinker with the formation and personel; an opportunity missed methinks. It is clear that Murray is wasted on the left and Garner is not a winger. We also have to remember that this is an entertainment business and bar the last 10 mins this was not entertaining. I do hope we take the Middlesborough game seriously.

Matt Rowson - 15/04/2012

I guess the argument would be that you don’t breed that flexibility by abandoning the experiment as soon as it gets difficult. Agree about Murray and Garner, but that’s a distinct issue… Murray’s the only reliable quality we have in wide positions and he’s 18.

re your last point, I don’t think the team were not taking it seriously (even if the atmosphere in the stands was apathetic); it’s just that we tried a formation that didn’t feel likely to be successful.

3. Vaughn Smith - 15/04/2012

Mariappa looked desperately off the pace and was clearly nowhere near match fit. Both bookings were so bang to rights (and obviously clumsy rather than malicious) that I can’t recall a sending off that has provoked so little reaction among the player, his team mates, the opposition team and the crowd (both sets of supporters) alike.
Re Mr Dowd – I thought he did a very good job, and, while I’m not a great fan of his, I think the criticism of his sense of his own self importance is a little harsh.

Matt Rowson - 15/04/2012

I agree that he didn’t have a bad game, and concede that my opinion is coloured by Dowd’s history rather than by yesterday afternoon.

4. Roger Smith - 15/04/2012

As you say, we only started to play when Iwelumo came on. Which begs the question: why didn’t he come on earlier? He spent most of the afternoon jogging up and down the touchline, and when our defence really needed an outlet after Mariappa’s dismissal, he put his tracksuit top back on.

And once again we had unused subs, when we have another game on Tuesday. Murray will be shattered, as he was towards the end at Cardiff. Surely, it would have made sense to give Assombalonga another run out?

5. yellow in my veins - 15/04/2012

As always some excellent Thunks that pretty much sum up my indifferent feel to yesterdays subdued game. . I know it is the end of season with seemingly nothing to play for but how can players of Johnny Eustaces quality play so inconsistently. He is a big favourite of mine but his passing yesterday was poor to say the least. Still not sure about him playing with Hoggy. I dont think Prince is the answer. I think we still need to scout a decent playmaker who can sit behind front two and stroke the ball about.Thoughts ?

Matt Rowson - 15/04/2012

I would dispute that Eustace is inconsistent; for me, he and Mariappa have been remarkable by virtue of their consistency (until yesterday!) and if they’re not the top two in the Player of the Season vote by a country mile, something is odd somewhere.

Eustace and Hogg… it’s ONLY going to work if we’ve got quality out wide. Eustace needs to be on his game too, since the onus is on him to break forward. Jury’s still out for me on Buaben, but McGinn surely fits the bill you describe if we retains his form after his injury.

6. graham - 15/04/2012

Agree with all of that, Matt. Buaben does seem a little lightweight, albeit cultured, and I fear that since we may not experience Wichelow as being “the answer” anytime soon, McGinn may have to engage with inappropriately high expectations when he does make a return.
But where is Hodson ? Is it something he said ?

SteveG - 15/04/2012

While I would be disappointed if I were Lee Hodson, I don’t think this is wholly irrational. Hodson was definitely the right choice when we were playing Yeates, as he was bringing us the attacking threat and the crosses that clearly weren’t coming from elsewhere. But the consensus on the BHappy site (if not elsewhere) is that Lloyd still shades it as a defender (and I’d agree with that), so with Murray on the right, the case for Lloydinho at RB is much stronger.

Of course there is a case to be made for restoring Hodson and switching Doyley to the left, but with the departure of Kacaniclic that would leave us even more lopsided and unbalanced and the return of the no-natural-left-footer problem.

I wasn’t there yesterday, but I can see why Dyche is trying a few things out – we have a squad with duplication in some areas and gaps in others – our best 11 players can’t sensibly be assembled into a coherent team.

7. Jim hopkins - 15/04/2012

Trying to be optomistic about the future of Watford FC, you cannot hold a glimmer of hope in a Premiership environment with the present club set-up. All too often we bring the talents of a youngster into the mainstream of 1st team football – only for other opportunistic clubs to take them under their wing. When we start to hold on to players of class, then the gates at Vicarage Road will start to swell.
Until then im afraid that Watford FC will remain a mediocre Championship mainstay.
I hasten to add i am a lifelong hornets fan and always will be.

8. andym - 16/04/2012

Zenib Badawi’s Twenty Hotels

9. NickB - 16/04/2012

The National was the only thing worth watching on Saturday, just a shame the volume in the Rookery bar wasn’t a bit louder.

The standard of football for the last six home games has been absolutely dire, barring the two unforecastable mad half hours against Burnley and Ipswich. I know that we have done well to be where we are and don’t wish to be churlish, but the away followers are the only ones getting any entertainment at the moment.

Having reemerged from the Aintee mayhem, I realised that Marriappa had gone, but failed to spot we were playing with ten men. I left wondering why the crowd gave them such an ovation at the end!

Matt Rowson - 16/04/2012

The home form point is a very good one. We seem to be much more comfortable when the job is to contain and destroy – playing away, if you like. This year, in fact, you could argue that the only really strong home performances were Spurs and Leicester, both of which opponents came at us.

10. Stuart - 16/04/2012

No mention of your pre-match crisps being pounded by a way-ward Troy Deeney shot in the warm-up?!

Matt Rowson - 16/04/2012

Ha. I had forgotten that. And I never knew it was Troy. One of my more elegant moments.

11. Ade from Poole - 16/04/2012

The bloke who sits to my right in the Upper Rous kept saying that it was a “two touch pitch”, and I started to see what he meant. The only guy really trying to get away an early pass was John Eustace and his really poor accuracy was clearly because he always needed an extra touch that he didn’t take.

12. Tim Turner - 16/04/2012

This wasn’t really Dyche’s finest hour, was it? According to the WO, Mariappa had only completed a full training session for the first time on Thursday, and the manager had professed himself unsure as to whether the player would be fit enough to appear before the end of the season.

So, even allowing for a degree of kidology, it was a surprise to find Aidy on the bench. Unless he was capable of playing a full 90 minutes, why bother? There aren’t many situations where it’s appropriate to put on a centre-back for a 10-minute runaround at the end, so surely it would have been better to use Dale Bennett as the defensive sub.

Sure enough, Aidy proved by his uncharacteristically mistimed tackles that he wasn’t as fit as he should have been, and we were down to 10 men.

Meanwhile, Chris Iwelumo had been waiting to get on for a few minutes before Aidy was sent off. (The consensus around me was that he’d be brought on at half-time for the ineffective – to put it kindly – Garner.) Delaying his introduction until 10 minutes from the end seemed particularly perverse. I’d rather have seen Garner come off as soon as we went down to 10 men, with Iwelumo up front to hold the ball up and Deeney playing as an advanced midfielder to run onto his knockdowns.

Scott - 17/04/2012

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it. The WO are not coaches they are just journo’s trying to stir a story. If AM was not fit to play he wouldn’t have been on the bench. His performance though showed that he was physically fit, but he wasn’t match fit. You only get match fit by getting game time and I imagine the plan was to give him 20 mins at the end and see if there was any reaction to his previous injury. Unfortunately that plan was thwarted by the injury to Taylor.

I agree that his two challenges were both worthy of a card, but they were also clearly not malicious but mistimed. In the circumstances of the game it could be argued that an experienced referee such as Mr Dowd could have given a calm down warning to AM instead of instantly producing the second yellow, sadly common sense refereeing seems to have been outlawed.

In regards to the subs, the sending off did alter the impending substitution and formation change. As a manager Sean did the right thing in postponing the substitution and resetting the formation to cope with losing AM. A further change at this point could have made matters worse, at a time when we needed to settle the ship and see just what Hull could throw at us. When it became apparent that Hull were not capable of hurting us with 10 men Sean made the the change and it nearly won us the game. Making that change earlier may have worked, but it could have proved to be a mistake as well and that’s something we’ll never know. My opinion for what its worth is overall, SD probably made the right calls and that’s with the benefit of hindsight.

Harefield Hornet - 18/04/2012

I’ve been very impressed with Dyche’s use and management of substitutes this season. I think he’s streets ahead of Mackay in that department.

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