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Watford 0 Millwall 0 (06/11/2012) 07/11/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. I confess, I’ve found all of this a little difficult. In truth, I have a natural resistance to change that’s perfectly willing to defy sense if needs be: no matter how absurd it might seem, there’s part of me that’d prefer the comfortable, flawed, everyday familiarity of Carl Dickinson to the altogether more continental, polished and exotic Daniel Pudil. There’s part of me that hasn’t really got the hang of Manuel Almunia, no matter how fine and handsome and musketeery he might be; part of me that’s desperately eager to damn Fernando Forestieri for being a cheating little fraudster rather than gasp at his magic tricks. There’s part of me that simply doesn’t believe in Neuton, that tries to picture him and then gets lost in the same impenetrable brow-furrowing fog occupied by things like quantum physics, Jupiter’s moons and Sarah Palin. And if we really get to the heart of the matter, there’s an awful lot of me that just wanted Ray Lewington to be the manager forever and hasn’t entirely let go of the idea, even now.

That being so, I have thus far spent the season exploring the vital difference between the win that you celebrate by applauding happily as if genuinely pleased on someone else’s behalf, perhaps a nice friend who’s baked a cake and won a rosette, and the win that you feel in your gut, forcing its way out into the world as a roar of pure, instinctive, thoughtless celebration. This isn’t anything new: the grand upheavals of the Vialli and Boothroyd eras left me similarly adrift for a while too (something which I credit almost entirely to that natural conservatism rather than some sixth sense for an imminent catastrophe, so you can stop glancing nervously towards the lifeboats…).

What’s been required is some normality, some grounding for it all. The words “sustainable Championship club”, spoken by Scott Duxbury at last week’s fans’ forum, were sweet music to these ears. The hard graft and discipline evident in Saturday’s stirring win over Leicester started to meke me feel as if this was a team of substance rather than purist fantasy. And here we are, Christmas come early: a goalless draw so dour and cold and grey that it could only belong to this division, the unmistakeable product of a British winter and all the more wonderful for it. Getting five thunks out of this is going to require a heroic effort. I feel right at home, at last.

2. Credit due to Kenny Jackett’s Millwall, I think. There’s nothing at all wrong with a gameplan that works, as theirs emphatically did; there’s no reason on earth to vacate the spaces we’d like to fill with displays of our pretty one-touch passing. (That didn’t stop Peterborough from doing it, granted, but they’re mad.)

They were very well organised indeed, suitably obstinate, occasionally a bit cynical, and justifiably intent on preventing our creative players from enjoying any unchallenged possession in the interesting bits of the pitch. Behind an industrious midfield, Danny Shittu stubbornly refused to come up with a match-changing catastrophe of the kind at which he excelled when we employed him (although, thankfully, he also failed to dump a set piece header in the top corner, something at which he also excelled). It was thoroughly workmanlike, and I don’t mean that in anything other than a good way.

There will be raised eyebrows at beating a potent Leicester side at the weekend, then failing to dispose of Millwall…but these were two entirely different propositions. Indeed, this one was more challenging in its own way, an example of what we might face more often if we do gather ourselves into a promotion-chasing force over the next year or so. If I’m suggesting that the visitors were overly negative, that’d be unfair: they had as many (or as few) opportunities to win the game as we did. Barely a moment when they let their guard down, though. A really tough evening.

3. For all that, and the facetiousness of thunk #1 aside, we can take more than one or two positives away with us. The defence, most obviously…only the third clean sheet of the season and one that we needed to fight hard for, standing up to the physical threat of Darius Henderson and Chris Wood without Fitz Hall in our corner.

We weren’t ever entirely comfortable, but Tommy Hoban continues to invite overblown superlatives (from which I’ll just about manage to refrain, aware that those superlatives have been lavished on others who’ve fallen away after that initial surge) and Joel Ekstrand appeared to enjoy himself more as it went on and Lloyd Doyley was just made for that position. Not comfortable, but, like our opponents, we didn’t let our guard down. A nil-nil born of hard defensive graft rather than absence of attacking ambition.

And if you scratch below the surface, you can find encouragement elsewhere too. For all that we were repeatedly thwarted, there was a persistence and a determination about us that I found rather heartening. Easy to get sucked into doing what difficult opponents want you to do, to lose your train of thought in the battle…but our best chance of the second half, Forestieri smuggled into the six yard box via an exchange with Deeney and dragging his shot across the face of goal, was born of precisely the patient creativity we’ve been trying to nurture. You only need to make that breakthrough once and everyone goes home happy. We could get much too carried away with babies and bathwater, when, in fact, we’re a young side that’s still learning, a young side that will have learnt a lot from this. We can give ourselves time.

4. If there was a duff note, one perceptively seen and amplified by Millwall’s setup, it was in the wide areas. Pushed out onto the flanks by the stuffiness of the midfield, we had ample opportunities to deliver quality balls into the box…and we failed repeatedly. Pudil and Cassetti were the worst culprits, but they could justifiably point to the fact that there were rarely more than a couple of yellow shirts awaiting their delivery, often just a labouring Deeney on his own. Our opponents had it right: push them wide and they can’t hurt us.

Faced with a need for more effective width, we brought on the diminutive Iketchi Anya, whose approach to wing wizardry rather resembles the courtship dance of a small tropical bird and is equally in danger of extinction. Player least likely to be signed by Neil Warnock, no question. Alexandre Geijo was no more successful, failing to react after Abdi’s chip had struck the bar; he has yet to drop a hint of goalscoring exploits to come. Yet these are young players and there’s something quite pleasing about the inevitable misfits and misfires, something reassuringly Watford-ish about the flat batteries, frayed edges and occasional sharp splinters in this collection of stuff from Udinese’s broom cupboard. It’s growing on me.

5. Um, that’s all. In the absence of anything more to say, a belated recommendation for the first volume of Tales from the Vicarage, Lionel Birnie’s compilation of writing about Watford from a variety of familiar and less-familiar names on a variety of familiar and less-familiar themes. Everyone will have their favourite bit, but it’s a stimulating and sometimes stirring collection throughout. You should treat yourself.


1. Chris - 07/11/2012

Thought it was just me that still wished for Ray Lewington to be our manager. Can’t let go…….anyway, my Lionel Birnie tshirts are going from strength to strength – yeah we didn’t win, but a clean sheet against a Millwall side on a good run of form shouldn’t be sniffed at! And I profusely apologise for forgetting to wear it occasionally when we’ve lost!

2. petebradshaw - 07/11/2012

Excellent as usual ig – I especially like the Anya simile of the tropical bird. he reminds me of this: http://is.gd/anya21

Just one thing though re thunk 4… Geijo is hardly young…

Ian Grant - 07/11/2012

They’re all far too young, aren’t they? Sigh. But yes, fair point, Pete.

3. James - 07/11/2012

Thanks Ian, your description of Anya had me in tears. Brilliant.

4. thehornet35 - 07/11/2012

Only seen the new breed once this year, and that was at Cardiff, and the player who impressed me most that night was Geijo, good in the air, strong on the ball and with good vision, and fancies a pop when he gets a good chance…not quite sure why he hasn’t reproduced that in any other game yet.

5. stu partridge - 07/11/2012

not sure if i agree with the viewpoint that geijo is yet to show his goalscoring potential. at cardiff he looked sharp in his dual role as link up and creator. he also came very close to scoring.

Ian Grant - 08/11/2012

Fair enough. He hasn’t shown it to me…but I wasn’t at Cardiff, so perhaps that’s my fault rather than his…

6. Paul Caruso - 08/11/2012

Ah, the sentiments I was grasping for, this man’s words should be bound in leather!

hornetboy84 - 10/11/2012

Agreed. Which is why i printed out the report to read in the changing room before a game and then used it to stuff my wet footy boot – afterwards! Alas my performance was Geijo-esque and I dont mean the Cardiff version.

Nice to be feeling optimistic and realistic this season. No over-hype or despair. But 3 wins on the trot may change that.

7. nick - 08/11/2012

I thought Millwall looked liked a decent team, well drilled and physical but I think we made it too easy for them by slowing the ball down too much and taking one touch too many.

Vydra looked sharp again when he came on, Geijo didnt and Chalobah probably needs a game or two out of the team, hes starting to look like a very good 17 year old rather than a very player.

Ian Grant - 08/11/2012

Re: Chalobah. I can see the argument, but I’d leave him in there. For me, it’s about learning to play in a position where you might come under a lot of pressure. I didn’t agree with the damning assessments of his performance against Leicester: I thought he was absolutely fine for an hour, then they got right in his face for the remainder and he suddenly found things very difficult indeed. He can only improve for those kind of experiences; it’s what that position is all about.

8. Roger Smith - 08/11/2012

Like you I feared for our defence without One Size, but they countered Millwall’s one and only attacking ploy superbly.

Anya and Forestieri may be small, but they can tackle like tigers, and have the speed to transform defence into attack. Pudil is fine, but Cassetti is too static, and just hangs on to the ball while the opposing defence gets into position. So I’d like to see A or F each do a stint on the wing, with Vydra starting inside.

Geijo needs a decent run out to get into the game. The only time we’ve really seen him at home, we were down to 10 men. With his extra height against Shittu, this would have been the ideal game to give him a start, and use Deeney as an impact sub if need be.

Where I must disagree, though, is with your description of the match as “a goalless draw so dour and cold and grey…” Both sides were going for a win, and were doing their utmost to make their game plan work. I went away disappointed, but very satisfied with the entertainment value.

greywhistler - 09/11/2012

“Both sides were going for a win, and were doing their utmost to make their game plan work. I went away disappointed, but very satisfied with the entertainment value.”
I’m glad you posted that, Roger .

I went with a friend who hadn’t seen the Hornets for over a year – and he (like me) felt it was an absorbing match. I guess it’s a case of which style of match you enjoy most – a helter-skelter wiff-waff of reckless attacks and desperate defending or a game of tactics & strategy with intelligent play seeking to outwit opponents.

hornetboy84 - 10/11/2012

I felt it was more tic tac toe …

Ralph Jackson - 10/11/2012

I too found this an absorbing contest against a team that had been on a strong run. Not a grey 0-0 to me at all.

9. voteforthehoff - 10/11/2012

It was not an absorbing match it was about as interesting as watching paint dry, defences on top with little chances. It was pleasing to see our defence look much more solid. Personally today I think where we were weak apart from Abdi was midfield and with them controlling the midfield are impetus went.

Ralph Jackson - 18/11/2012

Perhaps we were all just in a good mood for some reason that night.

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