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Watford 1 Middlesbrough 2 (06/10/2012) 07/10/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from an aggravating afternoon at Vicarage Road.

1- It’s fair to say that a quarter of an hour or so in few will have been anticipating this kind of scoreline. We were aided in no small part by the very early opening, resultant from a weak backpass from the Centre Back Formerly Known as Bikey… Vydra latched onto it, Steele blocked his shot but the ball broke for Troy Deeney to loft the ball into an empty net.

With Rahelle (now aged 6 and lisping through the gap recently vacated by her milk incisors) making her competitive season debut I was distracted, not for the last time, and pieced half of that from others’ descriptions. Attention grasped (Rahelle’s too, mercifully) we were able to enjoy the Hornets flying at their leaden, hapless visitors. Cassetti and Pudil were giving us lots of width patrolling the touchlines and we were finding them and using them leaving the Boro startled and on their heels, in danger of being out of the game before it had even got going. The closest we came was when Vydra skimmed the crossbar having been found by an extraordinary long ball from the ever-more-astonishing Chalobah. (Seventeen. SEVENTEEN.)

We were almost toying with the visitors, and paid for not capitalising on this spell but this wasn’t the first time this season that we’ve looked all but irresistible. If we can extend these spells for longer then teams really are going to struggle to live with us.

2- Boro clung on, and gradually eased themselves into the game. The first frustration of the afternoon (albeit dwarfed by what came after…) was that they didn’t really have to do much more than tentatively venture over the halfway line to cause us problems. A “lets-give-this-a-go” lofted ball to the far post found Jutkiewicz powering through Neuton’s theoretical challenge but sending his header wide. George Friend’s raid down the left exposed us, forcing Almunia into a smart save. From the corner, Emnes seized on a knock down and that was that. Our screaming, howling opening twenty minutes and Middlesbrough’s tentative, deliberate attacks had amounted to the same thing.

A recurring theme is how terribly soft our underbelly looks when we retreat from hurtling at the opposition. The combination of this and a tendency not to capitalise on periods of dominance isn’t a happy marriage. There’s a risk in imbuing absentees with superhuman powers of course… nonetheless, John Eustace’s presence in the central three (whose incumbents yesterday had an average age of 22) wouldn’t have hurt.

3- So the second half was shaping up reasonably well. We’d played well enough in the first twenty minutes to look forward to it positively, even if Boro had built their way back into the game and steadied the scores. And then the red card happened.

There’s really very little value in describing the detail, as you’ll have seen it, or not seen it, or heard accounts of it. I couldn’t see the challenge well at the time and still haven’t seen a replay but the lunacy of the decision was betrayed by Boro skipper Nick Bailey’s reaction. Moved to right back to cover Justin Hoyte’s injury, his had been the challenge on Vydra that lead to the incident. As the referee blew up and indicated a free kick, Bailey was protesting his innocence and had his head in his hands as the referee reached for his pocket. Not that a red for Bailey would have been at all sensible, but his take on Vydra’s “stamp”, reportedly a hurdle to avoid a prone opponent, clearly wasn’t the same as the official’s. Bafflement all round, and with apparent consensus from all sides (bar the critical one) there’s little more to say (except to doff one’s cap to the tannoy team, who dug Madness’s “Embarrassment” out to accompany the ref’s exit on 90 minutes).

Obviously this blew the script for the second half completely. It’s lazy to say that we were “cheated”; misleading too, since the destined outcome was hardly clear in any case. But all concerned were cheated out of what looked like an enthralling second period. What transpired was a lot more predictable… the visitors now with the lion’s share of possession, poking and probing and trying to find their way through. Briefly, a perfect re-run of Tuesday night seemed on the cards; denied once again of Troy Deeney’s smaller, trickier partner by a red card on half time, we held our breath as Almen Abdi once again lined up a free kick… but Jason Steele was just about equal to his vicious, curling shot. We countered, sometimes dangerously, and then just as Boro were getting a little desperate in their attempts to score the odious Scott McDonald, of all people, produced a bit of quality to decide the game.

4- The other notable incident of the second half was the long-awaited introduction of Alex Geijo for his Watford debut. The surprise was that this came at all, in the circumstances, just as we were wondering whether the Vydra development had scotched his intended unveiling. Instead, he was introduced for Troy Deeney remarkably early in the lone striking role that must have been pretty unforgiving for a striker short on match fitness and who, like Marco Cassetti, played precious little football last season either.

An odd call, then. Two ninety minutes within five days, half of which as a lone striker in a ten man side would surely have proven beyond Troy Deeney, but he was far from a spent force when withdrawn for a player who looked far less well suited to that role. Clearly desperate to do well and mortified each time he conclusively failed to do so, Geijo’s contributions suggested a decent touch but the circumstances and his fitness betrayed little else. Visibly ring rusty, he backed out of a challenge soon after his introduction and was on a downward spiral thereafter, done no favours by his manager.

5- A disappointing defeat then, but if we’re not yet completely convincing on a number of levels we’re certainly a lot further forward than we were going into the last international break following the Derby debacle. Despite this defeat, and despite still looking vulnerable as described, we’ve gotten six points in three games playing 3-5-2, two of which away and two of which without a player for 45 minutes. Cassetti’s legs and Neuton’s flimsiness are still issues, but both are better accommodated by the formation… and its worth noting that without exception all of the new signings, these two included, have either maintained a high level or steadily improved as games have progressed. Above all, the fact that we have a large number of (presumably) senior players, including Geijo, still to make a proper contribution is a reason to be positive. The size of our squad is ludicrous, but presents us with clear advantages in the short to medium term. Eustace, Bia, Batocchio, Geijo, Ekstrand and Fanchone have barely featured; in any other season, missing that many senior players would have seen us up against it.

Still positive. See you at Peterborough.



1. Dave Jackson - 07/10/2012

Geijo and Yeates for Deeney and Abdi…baffling and worrying.

Matt Rowson - 08/10/2012

Baffling, yes in Geijo’s case. Worrying is an overstatement. Yeates for Abdi I can see… we needed to get runners from midfield up and around Geijo, Hogg and Chalobah tend to sit deeper but Abdi, for all his ability, doesn’t make those runs. Yeates doesn’t always make terribly good decisions when he gets there… but there was SOME sense in that move for me.

graham walker - 08/10/2012

Yeates for Abdi – yes, agree with what you say. Also, for all his skills, Abdi does not win the ball and at that stage we had to be more effective at getting it back off of them. Geijo – was on a hiding to nothing. Could see the sense in relieving Deeney but this went badly wrong. As much as anything, Geijo now has the crowd against him and it will take a few stunning performances to win them back – already. Chalobah shows us class and precocity, but Cleverley set the bar for young on-loan future-stars and he has a way to go to reach them heights.

2. Roger Smith - 07/10/2012

A fair, ie balanced report. Having seen the video of Vydra’s dismissal, it’s clear the ref got it horribly wrong. Bailey threw himself under Vydra’s feet, and Vydra stumbled over him. Referees are human, and it would be silly not to expect the occasional mistake, but with 8 sendings off in 11 games, Mr Rushton seems to be a serial offender. Either that, or he cannot control a game. Either way he should be demoted.

Chalobar had a very odd game. His anticipation and tackling were indeed top drawer, but except for the wondrous pass to Vydra that you mention, his distribution was all over the place, either wayward or begging to be intercepted. But at least that’s amenable to some intensive coaching.

I’m more understanding of Geijo’s introduction than you are. I thought Deeney was showing the effects of playing alone up front for the second time in 4 days. Conversely, now that he’s physically fit, the only way to get Geijo match fit is by throwing him in at the deep end. In the circumstances, I thought he led the line pretty well, although at times his mind was clearly ahead of his body.

And I won’t see you at Peterborough as the game’s at the Vic!

Matt Rowson - 08/10/2012

Geijo… yes, I guess so, although with two weeks until Peterborough you wonder how much good that will have done him. I hadn’t noticed the effects of tiredness in Deeney, although as you imply that would have been perfectly understandable. For me, you let him run himself flat (he has 2 weeks to recover…) and THEN bring Geijo on.

3. Nick - 07/10/2012

We seem to have an incredible amount of morons in the crowd recently, if they’re not singing about deeney stamping on someone they’re calling geijo rubbish after 10 minutes.

Neuton whilst perhaps improving (the current debate between my mates an I) has got to show that he is solid defensively. His attempt during emnes goal was embarrassing, as it was at charlton, as it was against Bristol city.

4. ingram - 07/10/2012

Yes. Still positive.

5. Harefield Hornet - 08/10/2012

I know you rightly stated there’s little point now in discussing Vydra’s ludicrous dismisal but as someone who was only sitting a few yards away I can categorcally state it’s one of the poorest refereeing decisions I’ve ever seen. This was Rob Styles (at his worst) revisited. As for the result, our early dominance should have seen us out of sight after 20 minutes – irrespective of anything that followed.

6. Mark - 08/10/2012

Wasn’t really the game to bring Geijo on…he would hardly expect to be introduced as a loan striker in a side playing with 10 men against a fairly decent experienced side like Middlesborough.

The red card probably cost us as Vydra was looking lively but we relly needed to take our chances as again our defence looked soft.

7. Adrian - 08/10/2012

Very frustrating afternoon. Letting the ball bounce in your own 6 yard box again is not conducive to keeping a clean sheet. If we’re going to adopt the Keeganesque “we’re going to score more than you” we must capitalise on those times in the game when we are on top and only being 1 up at 20 minutes clearly wasn’t enough.

Still very optimistic. Idiot referee.

8. Paul Caruso - 09/10/2012

I was into hardcore hip-hop as a teenager, thinking I was black in an unforgiving ghetto, this was as a pasty white young chap with a side parting in deepest, resolutely white Yorkshire suburbia. Apart from photos of Luther and Barnesy and Sunday teatime episodes of the Cosby Show, I hadn’t seen a black man. The attraction was clearly the mystery of the unknown,pure novelty value, how I like to retrospectively justify. This was however a phase and like all these periods they are fleeting and your mother and father nod and humour you saying to each other comfortingly and knowingly, ‘its just a phase’. Can’t help thinking one day it will all make sense once Dychey is back and Pagey his number two, having taken Wimbledon up the leagues.

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