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Watford 2 Middlesbrough 1 (28/04/2012) 29/04/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. Who invited February along? Without sunburn and beer gardens and shirt sleeves and shades, the last day of the season strikes a very odd note, like an unseasonal heatwave at Christmas. A day of relentless drizzle, ominous cloud and cold to catch out any wardrobe optimists leaves you wondering who we’ve got on Tuesday night rather than bidding everyone a good summer; it doesn’t quite feel like closure, somehow.

And it certainly adds to the sense that we’ve stumbled through one of those cracks in space and time that underpin every Doctor Who plot, from the bit in January where we looked every inch relegation fodder to a final table in which we sit two points behind Brighton and Leicester. No, seriously. Back in late October, the Peterborough game kicked off in an atmosphere so sour and vengeful and charged with intent that you couldn’t rule out a lynch-mob by the end…and yet here we are, warmly applauding them all as they set off on their holidays. All we needed was the sunshine. There’s a woman on the train reading a guidebook about Hawaii. Bit of that wouldn’t have gone amiss.

2. The story of the afternoon, of course, is the story of Middlesbrough’s seventh place finish. They gave it absolutely everything they had for sixty-odd minutes, with Cardiff losing at Selhurst (and it’s good to see that misinformation is alive and well even in the smartphone age, an unfounded second wave of celebration starting in the fancy dress section in the bottom corner and spreading quickly through the rest of the away end).

The first half was a hectic and competitive affair in conditions suited to such things. It ended goalless thanks mainly to the efforts of the returning Scott Loach, who pulled off three very decent saves and one absolutely outstanding one, deflecting Emnes’ bottom-corner-bound shot around the post with his fingertips. The absence of Player of the Season Adrian Mariappa is especially keenly felt in these circumstances, for we lack a certain nimbleness afoot when faced with an attack of Boro’s relative quality. And, obviously, we lack a comparable attacking threat ourselves, much as we try to make up for it in hard work and mileage covered. We were grateful to be level at the break and utterly under siege immediately after it.

3. But then it all went quiet rather quickly. Cardiff scored and then scored again; a double substitution at the very moment when a Boro goal seemed completely inevitable raised eyebrows and lost them vital momentum. What had previously been a furious hunger turned into a rather unseemly, undisciplined desperation…and suddenly, they were over-committed and shapeless and wide open whenever we gained possession. Suddenly, they were there for the taking.

Which we did in some style, a standing ovation for an epic Sean Murray cross-field onto Troy Deeney’s chest as we started to enjoy ourselves. Nine months on, Chris Iwelumo’s first goal at Vicarage Road was a thing of joy, deftly flicking the ball across the line after some characteristic Troy Deeney hustle. The visitors thumped in an equaliser without celebration, but we wouldn’t be denied: another Deeney surge, Craig Forsyth’s careful pull-back, Deeney’s very deliberate side-foot past Steele. The Boro keeper lay face down in the penalty area mud as the celebrations headed for the corner flag. Never a day when you want to be relying on others’ results, this. In particular, never a day when you want to be relying on Crystal Palace.

4. As you always do on the final day, you look around the pitch for signs of what next season might bring, for the points that need addressing, for the players who need tying down lest they fly away. One last look before a summer of idle discussion and speculation…and we’ll mostly leave all of that for the footie-less weeks.

But one thing struck me here, overwhelmingly. That you could lose any of these players and, much as it might be an extremely painful blow in some cases and much as you wouldn’t want to undervalue their contributions to the whole, you’d still have that recognisable whole, the basic entity that you’ve stood and applauded.

Any of these players, bar one: John Eustace. I wonder what these last three years would’ve brought without him. I wonder what we’d be.

5. Anyone who wants to turn their nose up at a lap of honour for finishing eleventh is welcome to do so. For anyone with an ounce of understanding of the context in which that finish takes place, it’s entirely appropriate: whatever doubts we might have about the details, because it does still look very much like a sow’s ear on occasions, it’s a quite extraordinary achievement. At some point, we’ll inevitably find out what struggle really feels like and we’ll realise how much of a pinnacle these last three seasons represent, in their own way.

Befitting a manager who used to be down the tunnel and into the changing rooms within thirty seconds of the final whistle, job done and already moving on, the end-of-season bow was a much less prolonged, much more brisk affair than in previous seasons. Work to do, challenges to face, throat lozenges to buy. Well done, all. See you in August.

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Comments»

1. Matt - 29/04/2012

Good article and one which makes some valid points – especially about John Eustace, he has been absolutely brilliant for us and is everything you want a captain to be. Hopefully, he’ll be someone who can be integrated into the backroom staff eventually.

Certainly, the manner in which we have finished the season has been really good to see and fair play to Dyche for having developed a squad where there is real competition for places. Certainly McKay didn’t manage to do that (hence the implosion last season as players didn’t a rest) and Dyche has learnt from a number of McKay’s mistakes and with that the club has moved forwards.

It will be an interesting close season as we just need to add another wide player or 2 (or perhaps Matty Whichelow may come again) and an experienced goalkeeper (although Loach was outstanding today) and we’ll have a chance on improving on 64 points (although we’ll once again be favourites to be relegated come Aug 18th!)

2. Simmo - 29/04/2012

Brilliant summary as always IG. Nothing needs to be added except to wish you, Matt and all the contributors to the site a great summer. See you next season.

Ian Grant - 29/04/2012

Thanks, Simmo. And the same to you.

3. Roger Smith - 29/04/2012

Great report, as ever: not just the match facts, but the ebb and flow in which it was played.

Their supporters were magnificent, and the loudest cheer of the day was when Palace scored. Their team responded and gave it everything they had. Which is greatly to Watford’s credit, as we stood firm against the onslaught, especially our last line of defence. Welcome back, Loach.

Some fans took umbrage that Mr Bassini took part in the celebrations, but given that he saved us from administration or worse, in my book we should be applauding him just as much as Sean Dyche and the players. So far, he has delivered on everything in his power.

All the signs are that we now have a very happy ship, and for that everyone’s deserves enormous credit. Can’t wait for next season!

Ian Grant - 29/04/2012

Regardless of your opinion of Bassini – and I’d question your interpretation – he at least had the grace to trundle round quietly. The memory of the Russos parading around as if they were the most important people in the place lives long.

4. BigAl - 29/04/2012

Great read that, summed up yesterday perfectly. Big Chris’s first goal at the vic and Deeneys 88min winner was just a brilliant way to close the season and yes, that was some cross field pass by Muzza! Yet again Johnny E has been the heartbeat of the team and I hope we can keep and add to the squad next term on a nice new pitch! Have a good close season.

5. lendal - 29/04/2012

Business like at the end – sums up Dyche and this team he’s building. In ‘the mix’ next term me thinks 🙂

6. Frank T - 29/04/2012

So true about ‘Sir’ John Eustace, for me a fundamental linchpin who has been one of the biggest reasons the ship has not become completely unglued the last two or three years. My player of the season this year and last, although I could not of course begrudge Aidy M his win.

Above all this Summer we need to add more on the wide; we have been a different team with Kightly and then Murray (looking increasingly like he could maybe be the best we have produced in a generation) and I am sure Dyche is alive to that. Let’s hope for a nice stable Summer with minimal disruption off the field and as much improvement to the squad as we can manage. The Championship will be if anything even more demanding next year.

A suprisingly but pleasingly steady season; well done to Sean and his team.

7. Tybalt - 29/04/2012

A wonderful, wonderful season for the club. Right at this moment, I feel better about Watford than I have for the best part of two seasons. It’s a great place to be.

8. Sequel - 29/04/2012

Thanks, IG and Matt, for another season of reporting which has been unsurpassed anywhere, in my opinion (and I read The Mail, you know!). Well done.

9. JohnM - 29/04/2012

Thank you to everyone, for both reporting and comments, on this site, for keeping me informed and making me feel ‘in touch’ (through heart attack, and recuperation in New Zealand).
In October I was resigned to witnessing a desperate resignation struggle—who would have considered placing a pound punt on the highest points total for three seasons at that point! Congratulations to all players and staff for their ‘against the odds’ achievement. Finally, I hold my hands up to Bassini—against my expectations (and through one or two P.R. disasters), he has made a positive and progressive contribution.
As mentioned previously, in the circumstances, it has been a wonderful, entertaining season. Congratulations. All the best to everyone.

JohnM - 30/04/2012

Oops? Did I say resignation? Must be freudian. Relegation, obviously

10. ingram - 29/04/2012

Great reporting. Thank you so much.

11. Harefield Hornet - 30/04/2012

Murray has obviously been putting in mature performances off the pitch as well as revealed during the lap of honour!

Happy Holidays to all!

12. Andy C - 30/04/2012

Marvellous reporting again IG – in fact you and Matt have done us proud all season. So refreshing to read entertaining, thoughtful and balanced writing that that is so rare in the footy blogosphere.

Got home after the game on Saturday and dug out my FourFourTwo Season Preview magazine. The pundits in that esteemed volume predicted 23rd for the Hornets, so 11th place seems even more satisfying.

13. Simoninoz - 02/05/2012

Thanks to you both for another season of observation, passion and wit; especially valuable for we exiles who don’t ever get to a game and lie awake at 4am on a Sunday morning waiting for the football results.

14. Dave - 02/05/2012

This site is, as BSaD was before, one of the mian way I keep in touch with what is going on back home. Thank you for everything IG, matt and anyone else involved.
Hear from you again in August. (Hoping to be at the Doyley testimonial.)

15. Paul Caruso - 02/05/2012

Can I formally request the 2015 125th-year anniversary tome to be scribed by these two fine wordsmiths Mr Grant and Rowson.

Ian Grant - 02/05/2012

Yes, you can. Can you write it for us too…?

Steve Resco - 03/05/2012

Jeez – I didn’t realise you were THAT old!!!

16. Back from Hammerau - 02/05/2012

And thank you from me too for another season’s observations

17. David Gray - 04/05/2012

Excellent report as always – as an exile in Birmingham with a job on Saturday mornings, I don’t get the chance to go to many matches, so your thunks are a great way of staying in touch with the Yellow Army! The few matches I have been to though have looked mainly very promising.

I had doubts about Dyche at first, and still feel a little uneasy about his reluctance to blood the youngsters, but I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt on that for now. We should be fighting tooth and nail to keep Murray for another year at least – he looks far better than Ashley Young did at the same age.

Just one more thing: I am obsessed with statistics and did a bit of digging. If you split the season into 3 by identifying the Nosworthy signing and Murray breaking into the first team as the two big turning points, the season looks like this:

Part 1
Played: 13 Points: 10 Points per game (and projected position based on this): 0.77 (24)

Part 2
Played: 14 Points: 20 PPG: 1.43 (11)

Part 3
Played: 19 Points: 34 PPG: 1.79 (4)

There are a lot of reasons behind this, but I certainly think it’s a very good sign that we sustained play off form for 20 games or so towards the end of the year. Just keep that quiet if you bump into Marvin Sordell.

COYH


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