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Watford 0 Ipswich Town 1 (21/08/2012) 22/08/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. All is unfamiliar. Sunshine and joyous victory in Croydon; torrential rain for the first home game, followed by last-minute defeat to our favourite opponents. The names of the new loan signings currently resemble a set of characters from an obscure role-playing game: “Vydra – The Scorpion” (X-Factor: 4.9); “Abdi – The Thinker” (Patience: 0.7%); “Pudil – The Unknown” (?: ?); “Anya – The Midget” (Turning Circle: 0.1); “Geijo – The Ghost” (Invisibility: 95%); “Beleck – The Giant” (Fear Factor: x3). It’s all a bit weird. There’s a moment when Manuel Almunia cack-handedly fumbles a cross onto the penalty spot and everyone almost breathes a sigh of relief at seeing something so thoroughly in its place.

1a. (Speaking of which, where does the animosity towards Scott Loach come from? These days, the Rookery rarely reacts to anything with such intensity of feeling: vitriol and affection in roughly equal measure and with more than a suggestion of an imminent punch-up between the factions. Why? Genuinely, why? An amnesty from abuse and contradiction for anyone capable of explaining it in plain English in the comments…)

2. Not much sign of familiarity on the newly-laid pitch either. For now, we’re the opposition any self-respecting Championship bovver unit would choose: a team intent on playing a proper, grown-up, like-we’ve-seen-on-the-telly passing game, yet several country miles from realising it in any coherent form. We’re the team Sean Dyche’s Watford would’ve loved to get its snarling teeth into, the buck-toothed wimp with a bit of lunch money in the school playground. We should start thinking up excuses to get out of playing Leeds right now.

These things take time. I’m no great advocate of a passing game…but if that’s the route you really want to take, you have to keep playing through it, you have to keep making positive mistakes, you have to take defeats like this on the chin and move on. You must have some courage, some conviction. It takes months, maybe even seasons. In the meantime, you have an awkward and somewhat tetchy mix: new kids with the technical skills but none of the streetwise stuff, always requiring that fraction more time than is offered; seasoned veterans understanding that, in this league, the ball is a liability as much as an asset.

Thus, we spent the vast majority of these ninety minutes being steered into dark alleys and ruthlessly mugged by a well-equipped Ipswich side. Almen Abdi, in particular, has the air of a visiting royal abandoned by his aides and left to fend for himself in an East End street market. For half an hour, we could barely get over the halfway line without losing possession, the result a seemingly endless series of pacy, direct counter-attacks from the likes of Carlos Edwards and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. With everything so suffocatingly tight, there must’ve been acres of space elsewhere on the pitch…but we carried little threat of getting in behind Ipswich or of stretching them in wide areas…and we couldn’t get our heads up for long enough to have a look anyway. Really, we were very fortunate indeed to be level at the break.

3. That we carried a greater threat after the arrival of Chris Iwelumo is indisputable. We might well have stolen a win, in fact. But if that’s not where we’re headed in terms of development, it’s slightly irrelevant: it’ll always be easier to play the percentages than to stick with the passing principle, so we learn nothing new and get no closer to our stated ideal. (Three points is always nice, mind…)

I’d be more encouraged by the five-minute spell at the end of that almost irredeemable first half, when, despite all that’d gone before, we finally held onto the ball, started to get it moving at a bright tempo, and exerted some pressure on the Ipswich defence. No chances, but a clear sense of collective purpose…and an immediate response from the stands, starved of attacking football until that point. All is not lost, as long as we remember what we’re trying to do and insistently return to it at every opportunity, even if it went wrong last time. Even if it goes wrong again.

4. If I have an underlying concern, it’s with the defence. A defence that was living a rather charmed life towards the end of last season, exposed by pace and spared by outstanding goalkeeping on a number of occasions. There’s little not to like about Messrs Taylor and Nosworthy, but the absence of Adrian Mariappa’s extra yard is keenly felt…especially when the midfield is lightened by the absence of John Eustace. We haven’t really addressed all of that, have we?

Passing football requires a firm foundation. Looking back at Adrian Boothroyd’s post-Premiership season – yeah, sorry – there was a clear intent towards playing a shorter passing game, for all that history will record yer man as a one-trick donkey with a bit of a wind problem. We frequently started matches with a frenetic and potentially successful interpretation of what we’d picked up in the top flight…and then equally frequently conceded a stupid goal and let it all fall apart. We didn’t ever buy ourselves any time. We went back to being a long ball team – and a lesser one at that – not because we weren’t any good at being more constructive, but because our constructions were built on sand and we didn’t bother to buy any concrete until it was far too late.

Me, I’d like to see some clean sheets.

5. But more than anything, I’d like to believe that we were all prepared to give this six months, a year, whatever. There’s been understandable cynicism about the use of the word “project” in connection with the summer takeover…but that is what it feels like, for better or worse.

Thanks to a variety of factors – the widening gap to the Premiership, increasing parachute payments for the relegated clubs, EPPP, endless recession, and so on – our slice of the football pyramid is under threat like never before. We have to set out what our future will be, a viable and distinct agenda for ourselves rather than the vain hope that we might just survive in a world dominated by a handful of clubs with stratospheric budgets. It feels like we’re doing something in response. Something different, innovative, potentially brilliant, potentially disastrous. But, crucially, something. It’s far too soon for conclusions.

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Comments»

1. Vaughan Smith - 22/08/2012

A very poor match from which we got exactly what we deserved. No lack of effort or commitment from the players, but listening to Radio 5 on the way home had me incandescent after they went ‘live to Vicarage Road’ to interview the Watford manager…who proceeded to laugh his way through comments such as ‘the Championship is full of high quality’, ‘Ipswich were outstanding’, ‘they fully deserved their win’. No problem with the delusion that the Championship ‘is full of quality’, no problem with high praise or congratulation for the oppo, but to appear to take all this in total jest made my blood boil. He should either have been in mourning or come out shouting the odds about how unfair it all was as virtually every other manager in the history of football would. Reminds me of something I remember reading on BSaD about a total cock called Gary Chivers. I now know how you felt that day Mr Rowson sir.

2. Simmo - 22/08/2012

I have to agree with much that you said and no conclusions should be drawn from one performance. However I left feeling that this was 10 paces back after we had made giant strides forward in Dyche’s last few months at the club.

3. Tim Turner - 22/08/2012

You’re right, of course – it is too soon for conclusions, and I’m desperately trying to resist coming to any. But for me, the really dispiriting feeling last night was a sense that this is the beginning of the end of the Watford I know and love.

That’s partly down to the football – and who knows, maybe they will make the passing game work – but mainly down to the people playing it. Of course, we’re used to a bit of confusion as a phalanx of summer signings make their home debuts at the same time. Last year we had Dickinson, Yeates, Forsyth, Iwelumo and the rest. But part of the fun was trying to work out/guess which ones would go on to become Watford legends, and which would vanish as quickly as they’d appeared.

That doesn’t feel like it’s going to work with Pudil, Adbi, Vydra and the rest, because if I’ve understood the new business model correctly, we know they’re not going to stick around long enough to become legends. At best, they might be one-season wonders of the Mo Johnston/David James variety, shining briefly before going on to bigger and better things. So why invest any emotional energy on them? And if the jungle telegraph is correct, there are more of them on the way.

Already last night, it felt odd to be watching a Watford team without Mariappa, Loach, Eustace and Doyley (even if the latter was the only one to have actually been dropped). The latest rumoured arrivals could supplant Hodson and Taylor/Nosworthy, and presumably Geijo will take over from Joe Garner as soon as he’s fit (not that I’m complaining about that). I fear I’m going to find it hard to get passionate about the team when it’s composed almost entirely of short-termers.

I think I worked most of this out over the summer, but it was only when I was actually sitting in the Rookery watching the game that I felt it. It’s not a feeling I like.

4. Mark - 22/08/2012

Agree with pretty much all of the above. Thought that, without Taylor, we’d have been several down at the break, making the messageboard rumours about him going to Cardiff quite terrifying.

I thought that watching Murray last night reminded me a bit of John-Joe O’Toole after his initial honeymoon period had run out and he’d put on a couple of pounds. As with O’Toole, you find yourself remembering why you were so excited about watching Murray in the first place, but becoming a bit more aware of his limitations, slightly lowering my (admittedly naive) expectations of the lad. Still think Murray’s got more strings to his bow than O’Toole ever did and will go on to be a better player, though.

And RE Loach – I think of it as him being like the kid in school who always earnestly puts his hand up but repeatedly gets things wrong, so everyone starts picking on him. I think that makes sense?

5. Iain J - 22/08/2012

I do agree that the process of building a team based on a completely different philosophy will take months, possibly seasons to reach fruition.

However, there should still be an evolutionary element to the ‘project’ (sorry). This was highlighted beautifully by the absence of Eustace last night. You make the point about Iwelumo’s positive influence on last night’s performance but that it brought us no closer to our stated ideal. I’m not so sure, I think that solid spine helps the flair players do their thing; it provides the foundation to play. Without a fulcrum to the attack or a gritty anchor to the midfield the others looked slightly lost and without direction.

Until Geijo is fit, I think iwelumo will help us become a slicker passing outfit than Garner can, equally I hope Eustace was absent purely for fitness reasons alone; he is still one of the most important players in this team.

6. Rookster - 22/08/2012

Being a Watford fan now living in Ipswich I knew the recent success, and head held high at work time was going to have to end one day.
I was only able to listen to the game on the hornets player and was a bit dissapointed by what sounded like a well deserved and controlled performance from Ipswich. Early days though and the proven track record of success from our new owners doesn’t leave me to worried.
Just wondered if anyone knows why the rookery sounds so quiet now. I’ve only been away a few seasons starting a family and night games used to always be great under the lights, is this not the case anymore?

Ian Grant - 22/08/2012

It’s become quieter and quieter over the years. Evening games seem to make little difference, sadly.

7. straightnochaser - 22/08/2012

The only explanation I can fathom for “1a” is the irrational requirement for a scapegoat when, regardless of circumstances or context, ‘things go wrong’. Isn’t Loach just one in a long line that includes Jordan Stewart, Gavin Mahon, Damien Francis & very nearly Lee Hodson 18 months ago? And in my late Dad’s time Shipwright & Welbourne if memory serves. Mark Yeates looms large as the next most likely victim. A virtual punchbag for that visceral hatred fans sometimes feel for their own players when they are perceived to fail that consequently blinds the abuser to the positives provided by the same individual. Perhaps it has intensified as players’ wages have left those of their watching public for dead.
As for the defence I agree that Nos showed the signs of being the liability many initially feared without Mapps’ pace to come to the rescue but wasn’t the way Ipswich poured routinely through our midfield like money through my bank account part of that problem too? Massimo Luongo in only his 3rd start bossed Hogg and Yeates in midfield proved on this occasion to be more Roscoe P. than John Coltrane. That boy Sean Murray had a bit of an off night aswell. But these are mere details set against the wider context of the ‘project’. Zola’s preferred style is the kind that of football that looks sexy when executed well but appears stultifyingly impotent at times during the learning curve. Early period Rodgers looked a bit like this didn’t it? Yet little more than 6 months later we were in a state of high agitation at his elopement.
I’m taking solace in the occasional green shoots we are currently fitfully displaying.

Ian Grant - 22/08/2012

Yes, the comparison with Brendan Rodgers’ early work is certainly valid. I have to say I feel less strongly now than I did then: those games, in which we seemed to be involved in a ball retention exercise with no goal-bound intent at all, were absolutely excruciating. That exercise was quickly abandoned in favour of something more pragmatic, for fear of open revolt in the stands. BR did fantastically well at Swansea…but it’s a bit easier when you inherit a squad and a club used to that style of play….

8. Rookery Jim, Singapore - 22/08/2012

Since I stumbled upon BSaD on a cold. Winter’s mid-week night while at uni back in 1997 I have looked forward to and enjoyed the informed, articulate commentary you guys have provided. Your former platform and the current incarnation have entertained me through the (what can only be described as) massive changes that have taken place during those intervening 15 years.

Reading this report, I don’t know who has changed more, you guys, Watford or me, but I felt totally disconnected from the club and hard to see anything positive in your opinion – in fact, it was pretty somber. Maybe that’s a good reflection of where things are at, I don’t know as I don’t have the luxury of watching Watford these days.

All the best, Jim

Ian Grant - 22/08/2012

Thanks, Jim. Sombre? Hmmm, not sure. It just feels like an inevitable and necessary period of transition to me; the time to feel sombre will be when – if – that transition is complete and there’s still that disconnection.

9. petebradshaw - 22/08/2012

I like no. 1. A lot. It’s because they are all bisyllabic. or is that disyllabic?

10. JohnF - 22/08/2012

I think you got it right Ian and a very good thunks they are but we did a bit better last Saturday with Eustace in. Yeates actually looks better this season but is not so hot defensively. We would have lost Mariappa anyway and under the previous regime probably anybody else for whom they could get a fee as the club was teetering on the brink. In the bright new world of the Premier League and EPPP in which multi-millions rule we still have a club to watch which Pompey fans are still unsure about. Maybe the loans in the short-term is what we need but remember Connor Smith got his debut on Saturday, our 51st academy graduate. It will take time and I’m not expecting too much this season. I was frustrated last night, just trying not to get too wound up about it. We knew Ipswich would be different, remember Cardiff the season before last? We will see when fitness and knowledge of the division kicks in. How many new players did we get last season and what was the start like? Deep breaths, the time for panic isn’t now.

11. Jules - 22/08/2012

Having read these excellent reports for many years I thought I should put my twopennysworth in for once. I came away strangely encouraged. Plan A first half the theoretical future, not working yet, should be no suprise; plan B, which the manger had the guts to go to, effective immediately; we should have had three in ten minutes at my (Vic) end, with great contributions from most of the new boys. The level of effort was impossible to fault and the despair when we got caught on the break clearly evident. We seem at the least to have found a genuine set piece threat for the first time in many years (remebering the Neil Cox into the wall and the Danny Shittu occupy the entire goalmouth ploys). I hope GZ can meld A & B, with a move more towards A following inevitable(?) promotion. Just A will see us down. Regrettably the disconnect between fans and players is just the Premiership philosophy spreading lower. Don’t like it, but I am
not going to start going to Wycombe out of spite.

Richard S - 22/08/2012

Great report as usual, thanks ig. Thunk 5 resonates especially for me; i jumped ship after Bassini took over. And although I’m in no immediate rush to buy another season ticket, this at least feels like we have a coherent plan, despite sharing some of the reservations expressed about style and loanees.

12. The Great Big O - 22/08/2012

I went to the Palace and Ipswich games. Loved one, hated the other. I know I ought to have an opinion, but this early in I simply don’t know what to think. I’m still re-learning how to be a Watford fan in the new environment.

Thank goodness for ig’s thunks – and others’ comments – of such quality. A stimulating amd useful aid to my learning.

What I’ll end up thinking and feeling – lordy, I’ve no idea.

13. Mark - 22/08/2012

Ipswich came with a game plan to close us down and play with a quick tempo which clearly worked well for them,

Ofcourse its only 2/3 games into the season but the 2 home games prove teams won’t just stand around watching us playing the ball around the back…

Zola admitted himself we need a bit more…probably doesn’t help most of the squad left from last season aren’t that comfortable in possession.

Trouble do we really want to be become a team full of loan players who even if they prove to be a great success will not be ours next season…

14. Roger Smith - 22/08/2012

The fundamental problem was that we had three wingers in the team, but none on the pitch. They all seemed to want to play in behind our non-existent centre froward. At least when Iwelumo came on we had a target man, and the chances started to flow. Even if he doesn’t actually do anything, his very presence creates openings for those around him.

It wasn’t so much that Ipswich closed us down, rather that they read our obvious passes, and we aren’t (yet) good enough to pull off the unexpected. So we must concentrate on running into space and onto the ball, rather than passing to someone static who is then caught in possession. I believe that was the GT philosophy.

15. Marcus Shapiro - 23/08/2012

Don’t think Murray is an out-and-out winger, Vydra may (or may not) be and Yeates I am sure was played in a more central role (as was far more effective there than when he tries to play as a winger). Of the full backs/wing backs, Pudil made it to line a couple of times and looked comfortable getting forward that way and pulling the ball back – Hodson less so as he pushes forward quickly and then equally quickly looks to put in a diagonal ball to the box (could be effective to Big Chris but unlikely to Garner).

Fully agree the build up from the back was mainly obvious passes – Ipswich unsurprisingly read them as well as Wycombe had done. To be somewhat fair to the defenders trying to play out, the midfield and forward players were pretty static with the honourable exceptions of Vydra and Garner.

16. Lesley-Anne - 23/08/2012

It is definitely frustrating! It is hard to feel part of the club when the players are all so unfamiliar and as has been said, this is likely to be repeated each season. It was great to see Connor Smith get his debut against Palace but for how long is he going to get a place on the bench? Craig Forsyth had done all right in the games he featured in yet as soon as Anya is fit, Forsyth is not even on the bench. How long before others follow suit? I do not understand the signing of Mario Cassetti. What does that mean for Doyley, Hodson and Thompson? Hard not to see similarities with the Vialli era..

Also worried that the talent of Sean Murray is being stifled by all this. Sean Dyche commented at one of the At Your Place events last season that they didn’t give Murray instructions, just told him to go out and play. You can bet he’s not being allowed to do that now and has definitely been disappointing, showing only glimpses of the talent we know he has. We all know he’s something special, my fear is he’ll be something special somewhere else if we’re not careful.

I know it’s going to take time but struggling to be positive at the moment.

17. stu partridge - 23/08/2012

another intelligent, balanced and ultimately positive report. a breath of fresh air in a world of lazy,stupid journalism

18. Mark - 23/08/2012

Also how much do all these loan players really care about doing well for the club knowing they’ll be back in Italy or Spain in a few months time?

Ian Grant - 24/08/2012

Surely that’s true of any loan player, isn’t it? Look back over the last ten years: you’ll see loan players who’ve apparently regarded themselves as above it all (and often been promptly shipped out as a consequence); you’ll find others who’ve seen it as an opportunity that they need to be utterly committed to. Unsurprisingly, that attitude has frequently been reflected in their subsequent career path.

I appreciate that the circumstances are a little different, in that they’ll be playing in England for a few months and then, presumably, moving away again. So, not quite the same scrutiny, perhaps. But the overall principle still holds, I think: if you’re a player with the right attitude, with the determination required to make a career in the game, you’ll give it everything you’ve got.

19. Hornblogger - 23/08/2012

I heard the 5Live thing too. I wondered if it was a spoof, like when they managed to interview the wrong Tommy Boyd the morning before a Scottish game several years ago and he said how they’d all had a few beers the previous night. Is Zola’s English really that bad? He sounded like a much cheerier Capello. I like our managers being honest but going on national radio and laughing through an interview when we’ve lost isn’t the way to go. Neither is ignoring the fans at the end of the game. His comments in the programme were at least encouraging, although I’d hazard a guess that his first West Ham programme notes were very similar.
I reckon this is going to play out like Sven at Leicester last season. Half way through the Pozzo’s are going to realise they need a proper Championship manager like, um, Sean Dyche.

20. Old Git - 24/08/2012

Um…yes. I know we should give it time but the signing of Cassetti is perplexing and I agree with Lesley-Anne’s comments, above. We finished the Ipswich game with five loan players on the pitch and now we sign another. WFC is about people like Lloyd Doyley, which is why 9,000 of us turned up for his testimonial. I support Watford, not Man City or Chelsea, and I would not want to follow a club that has the ambition of buying success and status at the expense of its identity.
I fully accept what ig says about loan players giving their all, but with half the side knowing they will probably be off in twelve months, it is hard to see where that indefinable and invaluable quality we call ‘team spirit’ can come from.
And if I can add a word about Scott Loach…a small and vocal part of the crowd really persecuted him last season. Who can blame him for his response after the game? Good luck to him.
I wonder who the ‘supporters’ will turn on next.

21. Lesley-Anne - 24/08/2012

I totally agree with Hornblogger’s comments about Zola, especially ignoring the fans. I do think we’ve been spoilt particularly recently with managers who have made a point of being the last to leave the pitch and applauding the fans before they go. I’ve noticed that not all managers do this; Arsene Wenger always seems to head straight down the tunnel after the final whistle so perhaps Zola needs to be told we expect different at Watford!

Apologies for calling Cassetti Mario instead of Marco! Still learning all the names!

And I also agree that the treatment of Scott Loach by a minority of fans has been appalling and goes totally against what Watford FC stands for. No wonder he celebrated their goal the way he did. Interesting to see that the private Twitter account he had to resort to is not necessary now he has left Watford. That is a sad reflection on our club.

22. Mark - 24/08/2012

Signed 3 more it seems..hope they all get on and can gel as a team otherwise I fear for us and Zola as a manager.

23. JP - 24/08/2012

We have heard, not least from our two splendid “bloggers”, that staying as we were was not an option. Without the Pozzo takeover we faced the same fate as Pompey. I think we have to accept that and be cautiously grateful. But at just what stage does going under become more dignified than a complete loss of identity? I don’t suggest that we are near that yet, but I fear a future where we become a souless Premier League club paying more and more inflated salaries to big names who don’t care who they play for. I’d far rather support a Barnet or Bury than us become like an Everton. That’s the glass half empty scenario.
Half full and we could see some stars of the future in front of us in the coming years. Also I’m not totally convinced that all of these loans will go after a year. True the likes of Vydra are here to get experience and fitness before going onto bigger things but some of them are “tier two” players that have helped the other “family clubs” (sorry hate the term but not sure what else to call them) get promoted. Geijo being a prime example of someone who is probably not good enough for the top flight. He’s been sent here as a player that can help us get promoted and it doesn’t seem unreasonable for him to be with us until we achieve that aim. Like many, I suspect, I shall happily sit on the fence for a little longer!
Meanwhile I shall look forward to reading your Brum thunks on Sunday. Keep up the good work guys.

24. JohnM - 24/08/2012

News is signings are now up to 13. This is now becoming ludicrous. Given that, inevitably, a few loan signings will not work out, the team will still be in a situation where, I suspect, no more than two or three of last seasons team will be regular choices. For some supporters this will lead to a feeling of dissassociation with the team they have supported until now. And none of the new signings are ‘contracted’ for more than a year.
Yes, I realise that, probably, given that most of these signings are Udinese fringe players and, possibly, surplus, some may come to be signed permanently. I hope so, as it does not seem a very good way to carry a football club into the future.
Any statisticians out there? Has there ever been a close season with so many signings since the days of frock coats and tall hats?

25. Esp - 26/08/2012

Regarding JohnM’s comment above – how long will it before any of BHaPPY’s many subcribers will be turning up for another testimonial match at The Vic like Lloyd’s a few days ago?


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