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Watford 2 Derby County 1 (23/02/2013) 24/02/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. We seem to be serious. We don’t seem to be flinching. For the first time in my adult life, I’m watching a Watford side on the surge towards automatic promotion to the top flight at the decisive end of the season…and it’s quite difficult to make much of a case for realism, pragmatism or caution, there being very little of any of those in the DNA of this remarkable creature.

It’s been said plenty, but as we hit second place after a couple of near misses, you can suddenly feel it: the playoffs would be a massive disappointment now. Yeah, I know…August…hand bitten off…all of that. But for a team that exudes a playful, arrogant superiority which sometimes verges on the infuriating, there’s a need for something decisive and unarguable and tangible to silence sceptics like me; there needs to be more than style and ambition, like the tricksy winger who beats his opponent seven times but then justifies it all by dropping a perfect cross onto the centre forward’s head. Every team needs its own defining moment, its St Andrews, its Selhurst Park. Every team needs to set its own standards. This lot are setting the bar awfully high.

2. But each passing week seems to fill in more of the gap between theory and reality. In particular, we’re acquiring an obstinacy to back up our cosmopolitan flair: when things aren’t going for us, as they very much weren’t in the latter stages of this game, we are no longer anything like a soft touch. Once upon a time, care-free and a little careless, we’d attempt to open up the game so much that defending seemed a bit of an after-thought…and, if I’m honest, I found that rather annoying. Do the washing-up. These days, we seem much more grown-up, much more responsible and substantial. We look like a side with balance, capable of weathering a storm rather than merely whipping one up to see what happens.

Lloyd Doyley was simply born to play in that role on the right of a three, Nyron Nosworthy retains the happy habit of belting the ball into outer space when the need arises, Joel Ekstrand has evidently decided that he wants to be like them more than he wants to be like Neuton, which is the right choice. It is not an impassable barrier, but we are at least making opponents earn their goals…and the ‘goals against’ column since the Charlton debacle reads like that of a hard-working, grittily competitive outfit. Quietly, while everyone’s watching that Vydra bloke and arguing with Ian Holloway, we’re building some of Sean Dyche’s Watford back into the foundations.

3. So you might want to question why we were hanging on for dear life for the final twenty minutes, against a Derby side which appeared the very image of dour Championship functionality. The very same image, in fact, that we constructed under Dyche last season, a team that nobody apart from committed fans would bother to pay to watch…and no shame in that, as long as it gets the job done. Somehow, with a lot of uncharacteristic frittering of several-on-not-many counter-attacking opportunities and a bit of assistance from a referee whose pointing and shouting seemed only occasionally to come into sync with the game itself as if he’d filmed his performance earlier and then been superimposed, we got ourselves into a bit of a pickle.

When the answer from Gianfranco Zola is to reduce our striking options in favour of reinforcements elsewhere – Jonathan Hogg, in this case – you know that all is not well. That attempt at securing the result was only partially successful, leaving Vydra all on his own to the point where, eventually presented with the chance to put the game beyond doubt, he fluffed his first touch as if genuinely startled to find the white round thing at his feet. But we fought for it: we were fortunate on occasions, and you’re always waiting for someone to pick out the top corner from thirty yards or something, but the bottom line is that Jonathan Bond (on for Manuel Almunia, applauded like a gallant war hero for pulling a bit of a muscle) had only one moment of potential glory and that was trying to save a soft penalty. We didn’t let them through.

4. For the rest of it…well, we would’ve kicked ourselves. We have kicked ourselves, often, in the past. This is different, apparently. By the opening goal, we’d managed to waste three sitters: Ekstrand the least culpable for getting excited and clearing the bar from six yards, simply because he’s not accustomed to such things. But Alex Geijo shoveled clumsily wide of an open goal after Vydra had caused enough blind panic to take two defenders and the goalkeeper out of the game in pursuit of a through-ball; Iketchi Anya scuffed into the side netting in similar circumstances later on, and you started to wonder whether this was a script entitled “One of Those Days”, ending with tripping over a kerbstone and dropping your chips in a puddle.

5. Nope. Vydra’s opener will be entirely familiar to anyone who’s played a football game on a friend’s computer-console-Atari-box (all the jargon, me). The one that they’ve played for hours, days, weeks, months, until the various moves have become more natural than eating. The one where they waltz gleefully through your ‘defence’ with neat one-twos and shots that ping in off the post while you try to remember which button you need to press to hack them down, the only move you’ve even slightly worked out and one that’s resulted in you playing with seven men due to some disciplinary issues. Later in the half, Derby resort to precisely the same tactic, leaving everyone to ponder at what point Vydra+ball+space doesn’t equate to a clear goalscoring opportunity…


1. Esp - 24/02/2013

Bacon roll, cup of tea, BHaPPY match report to read. Marvelous. My view on the kerbstone incident would be to blame the weather; bloody hell W18 was Arctic-like yesterday

Ian Grant - 24/02/2013

Just to be clear, the kerbstone incident didn’t actually happen. That was sort of the point: it was in a well-thumbed script that, for once, we didn’t follow…

2. Keith Hannigan - 24/02/2013

But have we really answered the question “why were we struggling” at the end? When Derby went to three semi-forwards in the second half, I thought “we’re going to murder them in the midfield, possess the hell out of the ball and eventually spring someone on a lovely 2013 Watford Counter-attacking Goal ™.” As you (or Matt) wrote a few months back, you really don’t want to be chasing a deficit against this team. But it didn’t come. Instead, Derby dominated possession, our midfield kept giving the ball away despite what seemed to be an advantage in numbers and the blessed second goal was as unlike our current form as you can imagine. So, why? Are Challobah and Battocchio wearing down? Did we miss Deeney as a muscular outlet (I was pleased when he came on for Vydra at the end)? Did Derby do something different than the other squads who have been chasing goals against us? Or do you just put it down to a bad day of finishing and officiating? That later seems unsatisfying somehow.

Of course, all this does not stop me from staring at the table like it’s a love letter received on a sunny day off. My God, right now, we are favorites for promotion. In my wildest dreams . . .

Dom - 24/02/2013

We lost a lot of ball in the centre of the pitch, by having two/three very small midfielders. Derby came and pressed. We passed when shooting was a better option, we shot when a pass would have been better. But we won. Playing ok. Playing with a cold (literally) young replacement keeper. Playing with spirit and resolve. In other words we did what winners do. No need for a concern. Far from it.

3. Roger Smith - 24/02/2013

3-6-1 merely invited trouble. If we wanted to put more presence in midfield, Cassetti should have moved into centre midfield with Forsyth at wing back. Then why, when we have the deadliest duo in the league, do we take one off to put the other on? Deeney should have replaced Geijo on the hour. That’s not gung-ho attack but a sensible balance.

4. Esp - 24/02/2013

I will have to become a student at the Ian Hollowsy School of Metaphor in South London to avoid any future embarrassment Mr G

5. Simon - 24/02/2013

Love the Vydra goal scoring analogy as I said to my friend that these decisions should take into account the strikers ability to finish the chance presented. Of course that would mean most of our games being abandoned after 65 minutes after the 4th opposition player gets sent off fouling Vydra 5 yards inside their own half.

6. popsider - 24/02/2013

“a Derby side which appeared the very image of dour Championship functionality” – what an arrogant turn of phrase that ruins a quite poetic and eloquent article. Yes, Watford are an excellent team who have played some scintillating stuff this season (and I’ve seen a fair bit of it being a Ram living in Watford) but they were second best in the second half. Derby knocked the ball around well, dominated possession in central midfield and could arguably have nicked a draw. If you had to replace a striker with a defensive midfielder in order to get a result at home against a “dour” side, god help you if you get promoted.

NickB - 25/02/2013

Fair comment, I’d say.

Ian Grant - 25/02/2013

It wasn’t really meant as an insult, hence the comparison to Sean Dyche’s very functional but (relatively) successful Watford team of last season. It’s not a beauty contest, and much of my commentary on this season has (drearily) focused on our need to be more functional amid the flicks and tricks.

James - 25/02/2013

Seems reasonable to me.

Clough described the game as one between ‘two passing sides’, and that’s partly true: Derby did play the ball around quite a bit, particularly after Sammon was taken off, but, if I had to sum up that Derby side in a word it would not be ‘passing’. It would be ‘physical’. In all senses of the word too, not just tackling hard and fouling, but stronger on the ball and higher fitness than Watford as well.

There’s nothing wrong with being physical either. It’s definitely the right way to play against this Watford side, and it almost earned a point.

popsider - 25/02/2013

Fair comments. I think we’re a very fit, hard running side and we clearly set out to press Watford all over the pitch to try and limit your total football. I do think we put in a few rogue challenges, both bookings were deserved and Keogh’s sliding tackle on one player nearly cut him in half. None of that adds up to the nasty; hacking performances I’ve seen from Forest and then Charlton at the Vic this season.
Oh and our passing game would have been superlative if Will Hughes had been on the pitch..

7. Andrew J - 25/02/2013

This is our Rudyard Kipling moment. Keeping our heads while all about us are losing theirs. We are not panicking if we don’t get it all our own way, and we are grinding out results when we have to. If we can repeat the results of the last twelve games over the final twelve, we will take some stopping. Take it one game at a time, and we will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.

Roger Smith - 25/02/2013

“This is our Rudyard Kipling moment”. An insightful thunk, and one that GZ is trying to instil in the players. Heads down, win each game as it comes, and next season it’s a whole new ball game.

8. Ralph Jackson - 25/02/2013

The last 2 times we did better than 62 points from our first 34 games? 1982 and 1998, our last two automatic promotions. Telling statistic or lies damn lies and statistics?

46 points from 21 games since the start of November; certainly didn’t see that coming!

9. Simoninoz - 25/02/2013

Q. Do you like Kipling?
A. I don’t know; I’ve never kippled.

Old Git - 26/02/2013

But did Ray Lugg and Keith Eddy? Could Mart Poom…ever?
Would Perry Digweed? Is Alan Smart and was Nicky Wright?
Was Rodney Green? – and as for Trevor…Howe?

Nashinho - 27/02/2013

Did Tommmy Mooney? Was Robert a Page? was Stewart a Scullion? Was Devon White? or Richard Flash?
Did Les Taylor Kenny’s Jackett?

Luke Fairweather - 27/02/2013

I like Kipling’s exceedingly good cakes (sorry)

NickB - 02/03/2013

Did Les Taylor Kenny’s Jackett: sublime. I can’t be the only one wondering how on earth I hadn’t thought of that before

10. Simoninoz - 28/02/2013

Was Tom a Walley? Perish the thought!

Ian Grant - 28/02/2013

(You can all stop now – Ed.)

Old Git - 28/02/2013

But we’ve only just started…does Ian Grant the right of reply?

Sequel - 01/03/2013

Does Matt Row,son?

11. hornetboy84 - 03/03/2013

To be fair his bakewell tarts go down well at half time

12. Simon W - 04/03/2013

Did Tony Guide Mintis? No, me neither….

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