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Watford 3 Charlton Athletic 4 (01/01/2013) 01/01/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Five thunks from an icy wake-up call at Vicarage Road.

1- It’s been a shitty Christmas, frankly. A call from our destination on Christmas Eve confirmed two down with Norovirus already… we were left with a choice between going (and committing ourselves to a week of misery) or not going (and committing ourself to a week of misery, less colourful but noisier).  We chose the former.  My bullet finally arrived on Thursday night, and wiped out the planned trip to Brighton on Saturday. In the meantime, daughter number one went down.  You’ve no idea how much I’d been working towards today…

…which contributed, probably, to going into this one with supreme confidence.  Feeling alive for the first time in a week, daughter number one on the mend, and football thank goodness, on the back of an awesome away win at Brighton, against a side without a win for ages and leaking goals.

Thing is, I’m allowed to be overconfident.  I’m a supporter and as such I have two options: glum pessimism and rampant overconfidence (only a small minority, including my co-editor, manage a degree of objectivity).  Overconfidence is less forgiveable, I think, from the team and management.

To this end I was quite encouraged by the team selection;  five changes (one of which enforced) appeared to head off the danger of coasting in on the back of Brighton;  those coming in needed to stake a claim for next Saturday, surely no danger of cockiness amongst their number.

The stand-out selection however was the introduction of Murray, (in from the cold to the bloody freezing) for Hogg, far from a like-for-like switch which left the midfield short of an obvious ball-winner.  Much as Hogg has been the least conspicuous of the first team regulars, his occasional absences have been as impactful as anyone’s…. at Blackpool, by all accounts, and here again today.  Without his energy and defensive discipline the midfield lost its shape and effectiveness, affording our visitors much more of the ball.  Murray, it has to be said, had a bit of a stinker, a couple of tidy touches notwithstanding he looked like a player making his first start for three months, but it’s the non-selection of Hogg that was more critical than the inclusion of Murray, particularly in the continued absence of Eustace.  As my co-editor, excluded by train timetables and kick-off times, commented afterwards you’d feel a lot happier with the whole thing if you knew for certain that Eustace’s bloody-minded example-setting leadership was still part of the plan.  God we could have used him today.

So… that aspect of the team selection felt cocky.  And, after Pudil’s opener (and boy had that goal been coming) we coasted.  Never in danger, no obvious threat… but we looked like we thought we’d won it.

2- That was rather a long, indisciplined thunk wasn’t it?  Indiscipline must be the day’s watchword, there was very little that was disciplined about the day’s defending.  Hogg’s absence was a big factor, sure, and we know that this is a formation that will always give the other side a chance, that therefore places a big responsibility on the three centre-backs.  A responsibility that the various combinations of Hoban/Hall/Ekstrand/Doyley have been taking on manfully since the end of September by and large, but we saw today what happens when the level drops.

We missed Hall, obviously.  And it’s easy to point the finger at Neuton, largely because whilst he slides forward with the ball looking every bit the stereotypical Brazilian defender who’s a creative midfielder at heart, he plays the same way when not in position and verges on being a liability… lucky to stay on the pitch as one crude hack earning a yellow early in the second half was followed by a number of iffy challenges borne of being back on his heels.  Hoban, too, has had better, less anxious games… as Wilson agitated Almunia, who seemed bothered by a tight hamstring, Hoban nervously sliced the Addicks’ equaliser into his own net for their first equaliser.  Something to sort out, then… good job we’re not playing anyone with any attacking threat at the weekend. Comes to something when Nos feels like a safe option.

One of the visitors’ effective strategies, whether designed for us or a regular trick, was to follow any goal for or against by piling straight at us and refusing to let the game settle.  As we reeled in confusion and disbelief at the rug being pulled from under us, they capitalised on the shambles at the back again very quickly and we were suddenly behind at the break.

3- The other clear strategy, bluntly, was to put the boot in, an approach employed less successfully by Forest in our last home fixture.  Such was the crudeness of many of the challenges that you really do suspect that this was for our benefit rather than the Addicks’ default approach.  Players practised in midfield aggression would have been rather… more precise about it.

There’s no denying the approach’s effectiveness.  A brutal assault on Ekstrand in the first half seemed to unsettle the whole defence, and this was far from the only late challenge offered by Charlton’s midfield.  They were permitted to pursue this approach by an indulgent performance from referee Trevor Kettle… whilst we’ve suffered (and benefited) from some bad individual decisions this season, I don’t recall many bad refereeing performances, not in the completely losing control sense  that we saw today – briefly the match was on the verge of imploding as the tackles flew in during the second half.  Both sides got away with things, but Charlton’s approach was much the more aggressive… as already noted, Captain Eustace would have been less of a pushover, more of a voice, a big factor in countering it.

It’s lazy to point the finger.  Actually Charlton’s brutal approach combined with lax refereeing probably was the difference between us getting a point or points and not.  But as already noted, the role we played in our own downfall was higher up the billing.

4- And in the interests of balance, let’s finish with a couple of positive points.  The first being that, contrary to some of the grumbling overheard on the way out, revising the forward pairing despite Saturday’s magnificence was far from the problem. Forestieri and Geijo made limited inroads in the first half (other than Fernando picking up his third booking in – to that point – an hour against the Addicks this season with an aggravating handball) but their linking up as we got a grip in the second half was a joy.  Geijo does the Marlon King thing of sucking in any ball fired at him at whatever angle, whatever speed, and controlling it instantly.  Forestieri playing off him was veering towards his irrepressible best after the break (albeit his finishing continues to let him down, a gorgeous piece of interplay thwarted when the Argentine, through on goal, played his shot straight at the keeper).  Fernando won a penalty, Abdi dispatched with customary aplomb;  Hamer knew where he was going to put it, Fuller tried some gamesmanship by appearing to spot a dropped set of car keys on the turf and trotting distractedly across Abdi’s path pointing at them as he lined up, neither proved relevant.  And then Geijo and Forestieri linked up again for perhaps our sexiest goal of the season so far, Forestieri’s stunning pass setting Geijo up for a clipped finish.  Geijo was mobbed, Forestieri took personal acclaim grinning in front of the Rookery, and I was composing thunks about how well we had overcome yet another set of challenges.  We know what happened next (see 1, 2 and 3 above), but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that four terrific forwards is definitely a Good Thing.

5- The other Good Thing of course was the afternoon’s entertainment.  I’ve lost my voice for the first time, I think, since Leicester last season.  And despite everything, despite all of our failings and despite other circumstances conspiring against us we were really very unlucky not to take anything from the game.  Chris Powell trotted out statistics needlessly in his post-match interview – his side’s 10 efforts to our 5 apparently, needless since surely his side’s victory needs no justification – but in any case his stats don’t come close to telling the story.  Two goals were disallowed as we chased yet another game-changing goal – both offside, both correctly, but neither really very far from being pivotal – misjudgements that spoiled valid goals rather than goals that were only scored because players were gaining an unlawful advantage.  And… as Zola accurately reflected, we need to learn from this as we’ve learned from so much already.  Personally, given how quickly we’ve improved throughout, I’m confident that we will.  In any event, overconfidence is unlikely to be an issue next Saturday.



1. Jon Goode - 01/01/2013

Great report!

2. James - 01/01/2013

Regarding Charlton’s brutality and the referee’s tolerance of it: personally I feel we got exactly what we deserved. We’re used to Forestieri’s play-acting, but when Geijo, Ekstrand, and especially Nutan also joined in, going down clutching various body parts whenever an opponent looked at them, then I don’t blame the ref for losing his patience and refusing to give any Watford player the benefit of the doubt.

Overall I thought the ref had a decent game. I can’t recall him getting any major decisions wrong. Things got out of hand on a few occasions, but he was even-handed and consistent in dealing with those situations.

Matt Rowson - 01/01/2013

Ekstrand was taken out. I don’t recall him going down on any other occasion, so I think you’re over-egging the pudding there a bit. The rest? Forestieri has made a rod for his own back. It’s a little harsh since he certainly is quick and gets himself between defender and ball through speed of movement but as you say, he’s made his own problems. But I don’t share your view overall. I didn’t perceive a general simulation problem from us today, I saw Charlton going in hard and us not being afforded any protection.

As for the ref… no, I don’t think his decision making favoured Charlton in any other sense than he was very lenient. Charlton were playing the more aggressive football and benefited accordingly, but we certainly got away with things too.

3. Roger Smith - 02/01/2013

Do you think that Murray was played to put him in the shop window? His best position is wide, with a full back behind him, but there’s no such role in the Watford line-up.

As soon as I saw the team sheet, I thought we were light in midfield, and that proved to be the case. But we compounded our weakness by trying to mix it rather than use the space available.

I was happy with FF and Geijo up front, but would have given Nosworthy a run out. Now it looks as if he may have to be thrown in at the deep end on Saturday. We talk about strength in depth, but if we have only five central defenders (or six with Doyley) and play three of them, there’s not that much cover.

GZ picked a team that he judged good enough to win and, to be fair, it could have gone either way. Let’s hope that we’re up for it on Saturday.

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2013

Having just given Murray a five year deal, I’d be surprised if they’re looking to move him on already. As we’ve said before, nothing that the Pozzos have done smacks of short-termism, moving Murray on in the circumstances simply because he doesn’t fit the current formation would be out of character. No, in short, although I agree that we struggle to accommodate him currently.

Dorset Hornet - 02/01/2013

There were some Leicester City people behind me in the Upper Rous.

4. JohnF - 02/01/2013

The primary problem, as you indicated, was in mid-field with the lack of a ball winner. The role was basically given to Chalobah who isn’t yet strong enough to take that role while Murray is a winger or a forward. The front two also provided insufficient movement in the first half and at times looked as though they had only just met. Forestieri is not a striker but as such will insist on trying to be, thus removing opportunities from those more able in that department. He needs to release the ball more quickly. As far as James’ comments, I agree that we have some players who are antagonising officials. It is not only Forestieri but also Neuton. In the second half he indulged in a deal of petulance. When the referee has to call over the captain for a clear warning that any more flinging himself to the ground pretending to have been assaulted will lead to consequences and would the captain do something about it we become very unlovable. I agree that Charlton were not punished adequately for late challenges but the big problems were of our own making. Home performances are important for increasing and maintaining crowds, part of the business plan, and that was not a good home performance. It was not helped by the team selection, although I think that Hogg has been unwell. I agree that it shows how important it is to get Eustace back in contention.

5. Dorset Hornet - 02/01/2013

Great summary. One thing you didn’t comment on was the lack of atmosphere at The Vic. It was almost a full house and after the heroics at Brighton the place was weirdly quiet. I could here GfZ breathing at one point.

Great to see Jay back, he could have put in a shift to shore up the back for us.

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2013

Thx. We discussed the same point re Demerit, but concluded against… for all his heart, defensive discipline was never really his thing…

6. KentHornet - 02/01/2013

This was my 3rd home loss out of 4 – maybe i should stay away? At least our great Charlton supporting friends had had to drop out of our long planned joint visit! The morning after the lunchtime before I am philosophical – with a young manager and a young team you are bound to have days like this and it was a highly entertaining match which we could easily have got something from. I also was worried when i heard the team – why Murray who has hardly featured for months and not say Yeates or Battocchio? it felt like we were taking Charlton a little lightly and as it proved we were lightweight in places. At the back Hoban has been fantastic this season, but his unlucky own goal visibly deflated the back three. A Nosworthy or Hall type would have been useful yesterday- all 3 are young skillful defenders but as with Eustace in midfield sometimes you need a few gnarled veterans in the mix. Never mind, thanks Matt for a great report and onwards and upwards!

NickB - 02/01/2013

Battocchio definitely, I’d like to see more of him, he’s definitely got something. Can’t have Yeates at any price – his appearance turned an already lightweight midfield into something approaching a souffle.

Roger Smith - 02/01/2013

Your comment re the back three being deflated is another argument against making the goalkeeper captain: it’s hard to be supportive when you’re angry about having your clean sheet spoiled by an OG.

7. Mark - 02/01/2013

Neuton needs to spend some time learning how to defend rather than play-acting..

That sort of activity is hardly going to help us in the future.

However not sure if Charlton can complain too much about FF’s handball as one of theirs (Jackson) did the same.

The performance yesterday proved we really do still need the likes of Hall and Hogg to be fit.

We improved in attack 2nd half but all the goals we let in were so easily avoidable.

The Charlton fans seem to be a sour lot though..spent more time complaining about us than celebrating their own teams’ success!

8. Anon - 02/01/2013

I thought the ref called Almunia over to translate (Brazilian’s understand Spanish) rather than with his captain hat on…

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2013

Brazilians understand Spanish. Do they…?

Anon - 02/01/2013

Typically yes. Brazil has Spanish speaking nations around it so it’s akin to the English learning French at school, they learn to read/write Spanish. I’d be surprised if he can’t speak some English by now so perhaps it was captain duty after all…

9. Dave Jackson - 02/01/2013

I think you’re being a bit harsh on Murray. A couple of mis-placed passes and a bit rusty through lack of games, but a stinker?
Cassetti’s lack of pace played a part in two of the goals, plus we also missed Deeney’s excellent defending at set pieces.
Also a good point about FF not being a natural goalscorer, better to play him in midfield behind two of the three strikers.
Still seems wrong to leave out strikers that are on fire.

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2013

I’m a big fan of Murray and you can make all sorts of cases for the defence… so long without involvement, thrown into a midfield without a ballwinner etc etc. But the game bypassed him for the most part, I don’t think stinker is too strong.

10. dan - 02/01/2013

Great thunks.

I thought there were no game changing mistakes from the ref, so on that basis it is no-ones problem but our own if we can’t match charlton physically. Happy new year to them i say. It was niggly tackles going in from both teams which the ref had to keep blowing up for. I’d love to see the stat for the actual time the ball was in play, I’ll bet it was only approaching 50%!

JohnF, I can’t agree that forestieri needs to release the ball more quickly. Much of my joy this year has come from watching him WITH the ball, and long may that continue. perhaps he needs to learn WHEN to release it! I thought him and geijo linked up well in the 2nd half.

We scored three at home – the geijo/forestieri link up for the third being absolute class and the the disallowed offside watford goal being a treat too.

I thought the reason we lost, was a lack of bite throught the midle of the park, not just at the back No leadership at the back – we needed hall/nos/lloyd to do the simple stuff and lead the line. no hogg to snap at heels and break things up, and no troy chasing down defenders and forcing them into mistakes.

Geijo, that’s hindsight, we are still 6th and so far the footballs been absoultely great to watch .

11. JollyRobin - 02/01/2013

As a Charlton fan I feel that Watford have had somewhat of an image problem when it comes to diving this season (a housemate of mine at Uni is a Watford fan so this is coming from him rather than me). It would be fair to say we may have utilised this slightly to our advantage. It was the most physical performance I’ve seen from us all season but I’d say the number of times Watford players should have been booked for simulation far outweighed those moments where Charlton players should have been booked for late tackles.

As for feeling aggrieved re (I think it was) Forestieri’s hand ball as my understanding of the rules is if you use your hand to give you a goal-scoring opportunity it should be a straight red (and boy I would have liked to of seen him sent off, he is definitely a hand full and could see him threatening a few Premier League defences in the future). That said I’m yet to see Jackson’s supposed hand-ball before our goal was disallowed but if he did the same thing then I think a red card would also have been a fair punishment.

Also what was with the dance music before Kick Off, don’t you know some of us had a hangover.

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2013

🙂 You see a different game in the home and away stands, for sure.

I think the Forestieri and Jackson incidents were bizarrely comparable; never seen a red card for that but you might be right.

Roger Smith - 02/01/2013

I’ve seen it for deliberate handball where it prevents a goalscoring opportunity, eg by stopping the ball reaching a forward running through, but like you never for a “Hand of God” offence.

12. AndyD73 - 02/01/2013

JohnF, sadly there’s not much historical correlation between our crowd size and the quality of football on offer (as opposed to league position). Since our last PL relegation, numbers were highest during Boothroyd’s dreadful last season and have declined steadily since, despite varying levels of entertainment. I suspect only promotion, heavy stadium investment or aggressive pricing will greatly alter average attendances.
Given the often sparkling football this season, the lack of chanting is odd. Perhaps it’s not just on the pitch were we lack leadership?…it’s ages since I even heard a “Give me a ‘W’..”, let alone something more rousing like the ‘Marlon…King of Vicarage Road’ song.
Maybe unreserved seating sections with even cheaper prices for under23s, could be considered.

JohnF - 03/01/2013

Fair comment Andy. It would be interesting to see the correlation with home wins and number of wins andif so whether this follows results closely or with a delay.

James - 03/01/2013

There isn’t generally much consensus at the time on what constitutes quality football. It’s only in retrospect that a prevailing opinion becomes clear. Boothroyd’s last full season is generally held to be a low point, and during the latter stages of that season it was generally agreed to be terrible, but during the first half of that season, when we were playing the same way, but winning; opinions were much more divided.

Brendan Rogers played what a TV pundit would describe as ‘quality football’, but it wasn’t particularly exciting, or successful, and so wasn’t especially popular.

At the beginning of this season we, understandably, lurched between chaotic and insipid, as a group of technically accomplished individuals struggled to form a coherent team. How many of us watching those early games expected the side to gel and start performing as well as they have so quickly? I certainly didn’t.

Also, of course, people who aren’t at the games aren’t witnessing the quality of the football at all, be it good, bad or indifferent. Highlights of the goals don’t really reveal much about the way the team are playing.

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2013

I agree with your general point, but being pedantic… Rodgers’ team started slowly but couldn’t have been much more successful in the end. He pulled a solid mid-table position out of a relegation fight (albeit largely on the back of the Cowie and Williamson signings) and the Burnley win where everything broke on Mike Williamson’s head was hugely exciting, as was the Swansea win soon afterwards.

13. Mark - 03/01/2013

Trouble is whilst the hard-core are gettng behind the Pozzo project and generally we’ve played well (no other set of tsupporters has moaned about us diving etc!) are there fair weather guys not wishing to pay high prices for a “bunch of overseas loan players”

Shame but I suspect a few feel like that.

AndyD73 - 03/01/2013

I think you’re right Mark.
Peripheral fans that get their WFC information from the national media will likely still feel detached from the club.
Although the owners/directors have stated the importance of us retaining our identity and autonomy, and of youth development, they will need to prove this over time.
First step, get our core ‘loanees’ signed-on permanently and if they are still on our books into next season, hopefully we’ll see a surge in season ticket sales and atmosphere!

14. Ralph Jackson - 04/01/2013

What we desperately need,for bigger crowds and better atmosphere,is of course a new East Stand! And if only the Rous would sing up like the Rookery…

I thought Zola must have been resting a few players when I discovered the line-up. It was all hugely entertaining but if we defend like that in Manchester City will probably get 10. Agreed we sorely missed Hall at the back and also Hogg who has been playing his best football recently and impressed me at Brighton.

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