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Watford 2 Bolton Wanderers 1 (02/02/2013) 03/02/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. Right on cue, right when we needed it, the clearest indication yet of how far the project might take us, how high it might be aimed. And I use the word “project” deliberately, for the sense of a work-in-progress involving multiple, and potentially changeable, parts is very clear; it extends further than “team” or “squad”…or even “club”. It is new and unknown and weird and, yes, rather exciting. And there’s still a lot to get used to.

Some of it feels plain wrong, especially to a generation brought up with Graham Taylor’s amplified version of 4-4-2. For me, the idea that a midfield trio of Christian Battocchio, Nathaniel Chalobah and Almen Abdi might be capable of winning football matches at this level rather than being bossed around by bigger, stronger, harder opponents, stealing their lunch money and making them buy fags from the corner shop, runs counter to every instinct and all experience; it couldn’t be further from Les Taylor and Kenny Jackett if it were comprised of Martians in tutus. And yet here it is, a win conjured up by being smarter and quicker and lighter than often dominant opponents, out-thinking them rather than out-fighting. A win achieved without a ball-winner and, often, without the ball.

Similarly, I see us flicking passes around and taking chances with possession in precarious places…and I want to grab people by the ears and shout at them to NOT DO THAT. I pine for an Andy Hessenthaler to put a stop to it all. And I want to offer grave wisdom about how you can’t do that in the Premiership because the ball will be nestling in the top corner before you’ve blinked. And yet…am I right? Are the occasional, and very visible, cock-ups merely an affordable price to pay for the attacking fluidity which has got us up to fourth in the table and threatens to take us much, much further? Is this, perhaps, just a means to an end, a percentage game disguised as cavalier conceit?

2. So, for much of the first half, we look like a team that’s believed all of the counter-attacking hype, as if we need take no responsibility for setting a tempo or marking out territory; leave the other lot to do all of the hard labour, then pick ’em off when they fall asleep around the fire. We reek of that cavalier conceit, all ill-conceived cross-field passes and daft attempts to take people on when there’s no earthly need. Frankly, we’re a bit irritating, a smart-arse student incapable of answering a straight question with an answer that isn’t at once flippant, ironic, arrogant…and, annoyingly, correct.

We invite Bolton to have a go, which they duly do. And they’re a very tidy and confident outfit, driving at us from a solid midfield base with enough up front – hello, Marvin – to produce some nervous moments. They win and convert a soft penalty. We start to get a bit ruffled for the first time, shaking off our indolence and finding some urgency…and they’re done for. The remainder is an irresistible illustration of our recent class upgrade, for we attack infrequently and yet with such lethal quality that little stands between us and a bit of a rout.

We appear second best in lots of respects. Perhaps we are second best…although I struggle to know, now that my instinct and experience seem so out-dated. Regardless, we are so much better in the final third that the win is undeniable and ultimately rather emphatic. There was a palpable gulf in class here, between our work-in-progress and theirs. Extraordinary, when you think about it, when you consider how likely that might’ve seemed back in August.

3. The idea that this particular line-up is The One will last only until it’s challenged from without, by opponents, or within, by the extraordinary strength-in-depth that we possess. It’s not very long at all since Matej Vydra was a habitual substitute and Ferdando Forestieri an automatic starter, and that wasn’t because the manager had got it wrong. The breathtaking potential is within the resources available to Gianfranco Zola, now and moving forward.

That said, Vydra is extraordinary. A couple of months ago, he’d tend to disappear if the game didn’t suit his party pieces; he had to make an impact beyond the sudden sprints into spaces behind an offside trap. As with lots of things, that assumption now seems old, weary and redundant: he’s become such a lethal threat when facing goal anywhere that the whole game is stretched and distorted by his presence. Watching our equaliser – spin, gone, wallop – you can only conclude that our opposition now treads on impossibly thin ice, a defensive line and an offside trap and a goalkeeper and nothing else between them and oblivion. It’s like playing Buckaroo at gunpoint. Only a stupendous flying block from Tim Ream prevented another two-goal haul. He is frightening, unstoppable like nothing else we’ve seen at the Vic…well, ever, I venture.

Spin. Gone. Wallop.

4. The second was a joy too, somehow smuggled through enemy lines and over the border by a combination of Vydra and Abdi, moving silently under cover of night and sleeping in hedgerows by day. We have scored fine goals in years past…most recently, the goal-of-the-season competitions from Malky Mackay’s two campaigns contained some thrillingly concise, crisp football. But nothing like this. Every part of me wants to caution against allowing aesthetics to become the be-all and end-all. I desperately want to shrug and remind you all that it’s about moments…and those moments sometimes involve the ball deflecting off a defender’s arse…and that can be just as fantastic as any sculpted masterpiece.

But it is beautiful stuff, undeniably. Beautiful and successful.

5. Daniel Pudil is Kenny from South Park. “Oh my God! They killed Pudil! You bastards!”

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Comments»

1. Robert A. Young - 03/02/2013

Great piece Ian. For our winner, I counted four defenders around Vydra probably thinking “ha! Not this time my Czech friend”. Tap, space, Abdi, go get the ball Bogdan…

hornetboy84 - 03/02/2013

No. No. … Surely it was 5…

2. Moralee Reprehensible - 03/02/2013

A decent performance, but beaten by two moments of high-class quality. That used to happen to us, not by us.

Also a hugely enjoyable tit-for-tat late substitution. ” I see your Kevin Davies, and I raise you a Nyron Nosworthy…”

3. Drewoneone - 03/02/2013

Beautifully summed up as usual IG. Your eloquent comments on Vydra are spot on. I have seen some legendary goalscorers in a Watford shirt in my time, but no-one quite as instinctive, with as much pace and as nailed on a certainty to score when one on one with the ‘keeper.

Apart from his goal and assist yesterday the one stand out moment for me was when he won the ball in the Watford half and then set off on a run towards the right hand side of Bolton’s goal, evading at least two attempts to hack him down and winning a corner. The sheer determination, craft and graft that went into that moment won him a standing ovation from a big slice of the Upper Rous which is one hell of an achievement for anyone.

straightnochaser - 03/02/2013

Absolutely agree Drewoneone, re. Vydra’s late charge while under pressure. Also there was an earlier second half instance when Ekstrand made a rash & unsuccessful challenge on halfway and Vydra tracked back to cover for his out of position defensive colleague, jockeying the opponent & ultimately conceding a foul near the touchline.

It is the majestic combination of pace, deadly finishing accuracy, visionary interplay & sheer hard working commitment to the team ethic that makes him such a joy to have in our team.

For however long that might be…

4. bringe555 - 03/02/2013

“like playing Buckaroo at gunpoint” …. do I like that? 😀

Bolton fans, even our 3CR radio commentators (I live in Liverpool) thought Vydra miskicked a flick for the first …. I’ve just seen the highlights and no, no mistake, he really does have such an incredible first touch.
We must enjoy it while we can because Matej is simply far too good for us.

Ian Grant - 03/02/2013

Hadn’t seen it again prior to writing the piece, but have done so since…and I tend to go with the Bolton fans on that one. Looks as if he’s attempting to flick it across to Deeney. But it doesn’t make much difference: the point is that the turn and burst away from the defender are so lightning quick that it’s all over before he’s had a chance to think about recovering. Tend to think that the end result would’ve been much the same if the flick had found Deeney: return pass, Vydra’s away, wallop….

hornetboy84 - 03/02/2013

Not sure. I think he meant it as he dragged it round with the underside of his foot. I saw maradona do something similar for Argentina .

5. djdsouza - 03/02/2013

Can you not use the term project please! Is more a masterplan 😉

6. NickB - 03/02/2013

That, like much of our recent play, is a thing of beauty.

7. Roger Smith - 03/02/2013

Steady on there! The two goals were things of beauty to behold, but there was so much room for improvement, all over the park.

The most disappointing aspect was the failure of Cassetti and Pudil to make best use of the acres of space they were given (though credit for finding the space, and finding them in it). Imagine what Stuart Scullion or Ashley Young would have achieved given the same freedom: every ball a pin-point cross onto someone’s head.

As you say, there were also poor choices of pass: a defender with time to clear upfield, who could least aim for a Watford player, instead passes back to Almunia who, with a Bolton forward bearing down, has to hack it into touch or just anywhere. Not that his long clearances were much better when he did have the time.

Just as you were being fulsome, so maybe I’m being hypercritical. For the most part, it’s good to watch, even if we did lose out 4:3 on possession. And the most exciting thing is that our failings can be and are being put right. Onwards and upwards to the promised land!

NickB - 03/02/2013

It was a device to compliment the writing, Rog; sure there are flaws, but at times recently it’s been sublime

8. Norwayhornet - 03/02/2013

Brilliant and so accurate thoughts.

9. wotfud - 03/02/2013

I always enjoy reading this blog and I don’t take issue with any of it but I am slightly concerned by two issues, and I’d value other people’s opinions on these two points concerning our ‘strength in depth’: Firstly, I think we lack a viable replacement for Vydra. Forestieri and Deeney are both fine forwards but they are not finishers of Vydra’s class. They both have other strengths which contribute to team performance and are valuable, but successful teams need clinical finishers and we’ve only got one with the potency to get us promoted. I am also fearful that our much vaunted strength in depth has led Zola to believe that the understanding built up between players who play regularly together is less important than it (judging by Charlton, Bristol City and arguably the first 20 minutes on Saturday) is. And that he will persist in this opinion.

Ian Grant - 03/02/2013

On the first point…I think I’m happy counting lucky stars on having one finisher of Vydra’s class. Whether that’s enough (along with everything else, of course) to get us promoted remains to be seen – it’s not the be-all and end-all, surely – but merely having access to players of such immense potential on a semi-permanent basis is a massive step onwards for a club like ours.

On the second…are you not over-valuing the games in that a little bit? Surely the point of hours on the training ground is to build up that understanding, to allow for the possibility of injuries, suspensions and, yes, managerial selections…

Roger Smith - 03/02/2013

Re Vydra, I agree with Ian: you really cannot expect to have another on the bench! I’d also be happier with more experienced cover for Almunia.

However, the position that really worries me is centre back: normally four would be fine, but not if we play three with the fourth on the bench. With Bennett gone, we are looking very light in that position.,

JohnM - 03/02/2013

Players like Vydra are special and irreplacable. Go back to Holton, Charlie Livesey, Scullion, Barnes, Mo Johnson, McClelland. You don’t think of replacements, you enjoy and appreciate them whilst you have them. There is nothing else you can do,you can’t replace them. Vydra is special. Enjoy.
I agree that Zola appears to have become overattached to squad rotation—six changes against Bristol was probably three changes too many. Two or three changes would probably have not disrupted the momentum too much.

10. Craig B - 03/02/2013

“Similarly, I see us flicking passes around and taking chances with possession in precarious places…and I want to grab people by the ears and shout at them to NOT DO THAT. I pine for an Andy Hessenthaler to put a stop to it all. And I want to offer grave wisdom about how you can’t do that in the Premiership because the ball will be nestling in the top corner before you’ve blinked. And yet…am I right?”

You are right. To a point. There are maybe ten sides in the Premier League who can punish teams in this way – loss of possession with us flowing forward, then bing-bang-bong-wallop-one-nil. It’s enough to give pause about what might happen next year.

On the other hand, Real Madrid, who can do that far more easily and with less trouble than any side in the Prem, just got beat 1-0 by our stablemates. They won’t always be able to do it. And there are a number of sides in the Prem who frankly would need to be dogged, and worried about losing possession to *us*.

I still don’t think we will go up this year. But all I ever wanted was to stay up. And I think that battle has been won, and all credit to the manager and the management.

11. Holton - 03/02/2013

Having watched my (and our) Watford from a cinder terrace with Holton, Uphill and Bunce etc. through Furphy and the exciting Taylor/John years, this is the first time that I can recall that we are THE team. The one with poise, variation, depth of squad, skill, long short, you score two, we’ll score three a la Taylor! Sadly I can’t get to so many games now, but the one report I always look forward to is this one! I can get the match facts from the WO, what this gives me is the ebb and flow the “feel” of the match. So, well done IG and long may it continue!

12. Lozza - 03/02/2013

Almen Abdi was immense in lifting our game yesterday, he was picking the ball up deeper than usual and was grabbing the rest of the team and dragging them along behind us. He’s real quality.

Vydra’s finishing is fantastic, it’s great how often the ball flies in at the near post! But he definitely tried to flick it to Deeney, after he scored he was laughing with Deeney and mocked his own attempted flick!

13. Roger Green - 03/02/2013

Stockport Hornet

Just feel I have to comment on Ian’s review of Vydra’part in our season. I have been a Watford supporter for over 50 years and seen the likes of Holton, Uphill, Luther , John B , mo Johnston and many others. But I have never seen any player so clinical and talented as Matej Vydra. It really is a privilege to watch and enjoy him and if by some chance we do actually get to the Premiership it will be largely down to MV. If eventually he moves on to another club and will undoubtedly do well then thanks for the memories MV you are in my opinion a superstar.

NickB - 05/02/2013

Well said; just to be pedantic, I’d say that Mo Johmston was as clinical (incredibly so, in fact), but less talented (and certainly short of Vydra’s application and dedication).

14. petebradshaw - 03/02/2013

Watching the highlights – what a sublime pass from Cassetti for the first goal too…

15. stu partridge - 03/02/2013

am thoroughly enjoying Batocchio’s blatant disregard for the worst our anglo saxon winters have thrown up for a while. watching him wearing a short sleeve top every time he plays is almost as joyous as watching his football.
Bolton and Huddersfield were both cold enough to seep through 3 layers of xmas presents and several more layers of medicinal winter ale to chill the pit of my stomach and here is Batocchio running round with the effervescence of a schoolboy in the playground let out early on the last day of summer term…
…and can i say how impressed ive been with his creativity and work rate, most definately one to watch for the rest of this and hopefully next season…and credit to GFZ for having the intelligence to ease him into the championship in the way he did

16. AndyD73 - 04/02/2013

With Vydra bursting onto the scene, the steady development of Deeney’s game has gone less noticed. In terms of technical skill and all-round team play, I would say they are at a similar level right now. The obvious difference, however, encapsulated in their respective 1-on-1s, Deeney you thought might score, Vydra you knew would score.
How MV reacts to his first run of misses and poor form might indicate whether he will Champions League quality or ‘just’ Premier League.

The game itself was fascinating and full of quality from both sides. Having been dominated and going behind, our composure and teamwork thereafter, bodes well. Like Stu, am impressed with Battocchio, who could become a key player if he can maintain this level.

Agree with Roger’s comment on Cassetti (and to a lesser extent Pudil). When Hodson broke into the team a couple of seasons ago I recall his crossing was excellent. Hopefully this stint at Brentford will improve him defensively.
What about trying to re-energise Murray by converting him to a right wing back?

Ian Grant - 04/02/2013

Re: Murray. Wasn’t that what we were trying to do at Bristol, with rather disappointing and much-criticised results?

17. benl - 04/02/2013

Overall another telling performance, but I’m afraid I have a niggle. Is it just me or shouldn’t we being more effective from set pieces, and corners? Too often, especially with the latter we don’t make the opposition’s defence work hard enough

AndyD73 - 04/02/2013

Yes, it’s hard to fathom, given our level of skill and invention in open play. I’d like to see more short corner routines and someone whipping free kicks aimed to curl just inside the far post but inviting a diverting touch.

18. Back from Hammerau - 04/02/2013

Am I the only person who isn’t familiar enough with the programme to ‘get’ the South Park reference?

Ian Grant - 04/02/2013

Yes, I’m afraid it’s just you. Everyone else gets it and thinks it’s hilarious. They’re unable to say so via comments because their sides have split.

Ian Grant - 04/02/2013

Sorry, facetiousness aside…it’s a reference to the long-(but-no-longer-)standing tradition of Kenny being killed in every SP episode to a collective cry of “Oh my God! They killed Kenny! You bastards!” There are probably those who believe that Daniel Pudil genuinely is the victim of a brutal physical assault in pretty much every game he plays; there are those, like me, who tend towards the theory that it’s reprehensible play-acting to try and get opponents booked. Regardless, there will be a point when he’s lying face-down in the mud without moving; it happened about three times on Saturday. “Oh my God! Etc!”

Back from Hammerau - 04/02/2013

Thanks for the clarification.

hornetboy84 - 04/02/2013

Oh no. You killed the joke. Not sure south park works without seeing it. Brilliant reference. he was mugged continually but daren’t leave the pitch in case he loses his place. He tweeted an image of his leg. Just surprised it wasn’t severed ! It at least gave the opportunity to prepare 3 subs for one swap. …. Errr sorry fernando put your top on … We need Murray ….. Did I say Murray …. Sorry lad … C’mon John !

19. straightnochaser - 04/02/2013

Regarding Murray, did anyone else notice the temper tantrum (shirt thrown to the ground) when his impending substitute appearance was aborted in favour of Eustace’s arrival?

20. dan - 04/02/2013

saturday was another test passed. bolton were good but we were better in the 2nd half. next big challenge is to see what the team does against palace with so may lost to international games.

roger smith – couldn’t understand us losing taylor at the start of the season but having nyron, hall, ekstrand, neuton, lloyd and hoban in their current form is surely sufficient? 6 players vying for 3 positions seems like ample cover without a weak link amongst them.

Roger Smith - 04/02/2013

That must have been GZ’s judgement when he let Bennett go.

21. StevieT - 04/02/2013

“a smart-arse student incapable of answering a straight question with an answer that isn’t at once flippant, ironic, arrogant…and, annoyingly, correct.”

I’m scanning back through my school years to work out who you meant with that ….. (I know it wasn’t me).

Great read IG – thank you.

22. Mark S - 05/02/2013

@Dan : disagree with your comments on our 6 centre backs.In my opinion Neuton is a weak link.For all his silky skills he does not have the dominance or power.Also,I would not fancy having Doyley,Hall and Nosowrthy all together.We need either Ekstrand or Hoban with 2 of those as they are more comfortable on the ball.


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