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Watford 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (05/03/2013) 06/03/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. We all needed this, I think. Individually, in all kinds of different ways, and collectively too. Ninety minutes of nonsensical technicolour bedlam…and every successful season ought to have its fair share of nonsensical technicolour bedlam. (I’d typed ‘promotion season’ in the preceding sentence, then I thought better of it. But tempting fate seems a bit irrelevant in the current circumstances: it feels as if we’ve spent most of the season tempting fate, then dancing away from it while chuckling to ourselves…)

Anyway, somewhere amid the slightly hysterical reaction to the Wolves result was the unmistakable sense of having something to lose, a feeling that this was suddenly an opportunity too good to waste with careless finishing, lapses in concentration, and wafty nether regions. A bit of a wake-up call, if you like. A bit of a millstone round our necks, if you don’t like. Suddenly, up to second and down to business and all that, we ought to be taking it rather more seriously and responsibly…which is exactly what I’ve been banging on about for the last few months, attempting to chuck a well-aimed board rubber at the cocky kids at the back of the class, because sometimes we ought to be listening to the lesson rather than sniggering and passing notes. I’m talking about you, Mr Chalobah. YES, YOU, MR CHALOBAH.

But it doesn’t feel quite right, does it? As with many things about this season, it’s all upside down: the received wisdom might be that this is the time for knuckling down, tightening up and so forth, but I find it hard to think (it is half past midnight, so please make allowances) of a single way in which received wisdom has been proved correct by the events of this extraordinary season. Much as we might’ve fluctuated between inspiring and infuriating, often within the same match, we’ve got to second by being ourselves, first and foremost. Back in August, after the summer upheaval, we didn’t even know what “being ourselves” meant any more, but we’ve established a remarkably strong identity since then, we’ve pulled together a tight, progressive and rather splendid little football club around this brilliant, patchwork squad.

In short, we’ve got to second by playing with freedom. By following our attacking instincts even when coaching manuals, common sense and British fair play say we ought to back down. By honouring a commitment to passing football even when it gets us into trouble (NOT THERE, FERNANDO). Especially when it gets us into trouble (NOT THERE, FERNANDO). By scoring goals and making mistakes and having fun and not losing too much sleep when it doesn’t work out. This is the least constrained Watford side any of us have ever seen…and there’s no sense in fetching the harness and whip now. If we’re going to do this, it won’t be by heaping pressure on ourselves or by bowing to convention. Let’s face it: the best possible outcome of the season is one hell of a peak; the worst possible outcome ain’t much of a trough….

2. That was all one thunk, apparently. If that was one, then this is one too. Post-modernism! Yeah!

3. So, the second half was joyous and redemptive…and it was celebrated in a way that Vicarage Road hasn’t celebrated for a long old time. Players and fans alike, we seemed to find something we’d lost. We need to cling onto it; if we do, we’ll be absolutely fine, come what may.

It was an extraordinary forty-five minutes, really. Extraordinary and implausible, because any normal Watford side would’ve allowed itself to be overwhelmed by the significance of it all, to lose sight of the simple things and to start doing complicated things badly, to play into the hands of resolute opponents at every turn. We’ve seen it all before: you’ve sat and watched the disintegration often enough that I barely need to describe it. You can hear the howls of frustration as someone misplaces a pass all too clearly. Sort it out.

Instead, we seemed to stop over-thinking it all. Even as we were supposedly closing the game out – the very phrase seems absurd – there were moments when we’d be caught with our entire midfield excitedly gamboling around in the opposition half, chasing dreams rather than merely a third goal. There was one absurd passage in which Fernando Forestieri over-elaborated in a perilous position near the halfway line (NOT THERE, FERNANDO) and lost possession to set off a Wednesday break…and then, as if to demonstrate how thoroughly he rejected the lesson, did exactly the same thing all over again on the edge of our penalty area within a minute. And then got booked for doing the same thing again and fouling his escaping opponent, rugby-tackling him to the ground like a have-a-go hero apprehending a handbag thief.

And you know what? I’m finally coming to love all of that, to see it for what it is. Because that carefree exuberance, much as it’s the stuff of palpitations and frustrations, isn’t something to grow out of. That carefree exuberance is, I suggest, what won us this game when we were doing a pretty good job of losing it; it’s what allowed us to shake off the first half when lesser teams would’ve been dragged under by it. It’s only part of what makes this team special…but it’s a vital part, and we’re a shadow of our true selves without it.

4. To prove the point, our attempts at a much more familiar game floundered in the first half. You could see the sense in it: hit the front men early to catch Wednesday before they’d had a chance to set themselves. Less precision, more surprise. But the reality was very different, usually resulting in a misplaced pass losing possession before we’d had a chance to set ourselves. This Watford side is pretty much incapable of going forty-five minutes without conjuring up something of substance, and Matej Vydra scuffed the best chance of the game wide, but we spent most of the time playing to none of our strengths while covering none of our weaknesses.

Let’s acknowledge that we were extremely fortunate to get away with it. Our second half performance might’ve been many things, but it would’ve needed to be an awful lot more if we’d gone in two or three goals down…and we would’ve had little argument if that’d been the case. Even beyond a goal that seemed to belong on a pinball table, that moment when you get your flippers in a tangle and the ball dribbles pathetically away from your reach before you can react, we were an awful mess at the back: no command from the (young) keeper, despite a string of fine saves; no command from the back three either, badly missing the due diligence of Lloyd Doyley. Wednesday looked competent, strong and focused; we were all over the place. We got lucky.

5. It’s not merely the absence of particular players: Nathaniel Chalobah, Lloyd Doyley, Fernando Forestieri, Manuel Almunia. It’s the absence of the balance struck by this side at its best. And that’s a balance between hard graft and that carefree exuberance, for you’d miss Troy Deeney every bit as much as we missed Chalobah. It’s a balance between necessary caution and those attacking instincts. Between over-playing and under-playing. Between patience and impatience. Between extravagance and ruthlessness. Between how good we could be and how bad we can be.

At its best, this side is very different from the well-honed unit that’s been the Championship’s holy grail for many a long year. It isn’t a “unit” at all. It has all kinds of distinct personalities, none of them compromised. The team brings out the best in its parts as much as vice versa. It’s a bizarre menagerie, but it seems to work…and it’s an awful lot of fun to watch. We just need to be ourselves, that’s all.


1. NRC - 06/03/2013

Thanks Ian, great thunks. Thought the back of the programme, which used the well-worn (sic) ‘rollercoaster ride’ analogy to set up the Blackpool game was apposite.

A shout out for Anya, in both this and the Wolves game I was left thinking ‘why doesn’t the opposition sort him out’, before understanding that perhaps they couldn’t.

Great stuff, really looking forward to the run in.

Ian Grant - 06/03/2013

Yes, you’re quite right to highlight Anya: hard to credit it based on his early Watford performances, but he’s really turning into an asset. One of those games where there’s just too much to fit into a report…

petebradshaw - 06/03/2013

“A report”? Don’t tell Matt…
PS You could have used thunk 2 to talk about Anya…

Seriously though thanks again for capturing the uncapturable…

I do think out tactic of trying to pass through for Vydra/Deeney to run on isn’t working now. Maybe defenders are holding off a yard or two to deny the space for the pass.

2. Harefield Hornet - 06/03/2013

Infuriating stuff in the first half and ultimately relief. There were even a few boos from certain quarters at half time but they were born more out of frustration than malice or ignorance. The little fella had a chance to make a name for himself when he came on and he didn’t disappoint. Vydra seemed strangely subdued although there was little or no service to him in the first half to speak of . Hogg gave a good impression of having joined Sheffield Wednesday on loan .More glorious mayhem to follow on Saturday no doubt! I love this team.

3. Stuart Campbell - 06/03/2013

Extraordinary evening, even by this season’s extraordinary standards. Wednesday must be wondering where on earth this fast-passing, effervescent, wonderful smile-on-its-face team came from in the second half when they had been so on top in the first. Of course, Chalobah and Fernando take a lot of credit, but I agree about Anya, too.
I had yearned for Lloyd’s presence at half time to bring balance, solidity and calmness (the mature Lloyd really is a key part of this wonderful team) to a jittery defence. But this would have meant an over-early exit for Anya who gave us one of the few bright performances in the first half (Does anyone else see a resemblance in this highly entertaining, little roadrunner figure to Wilf Rostron of yore? Sorry, this comment presupposes that there are other bhappy fans as ancient as me!). I would have been wrong about the change, of course. Which is why I’m a fan and not a coach or manager.
The big point about last night is that our Manager got it so right at half time. He is maturing along with the team. And, at their best, they play a brand of football like he did. If we’re in the premier league next year we’ll need Gianfranco as much as any of the exciting new players we’ve accumulated.
Hands off, Chelsea.

4. dan - 06/03/2013

I love the idea of Doyley being WFC’s expert in due dilligence. briliant.

I hope FF never grows up. His childlike pleasure and passion while playing is a joy to behold.

5. Prawn - 06/03/2013

Hi IG, “This is the least constrained Watford side any of us have ever seen.”, you say?

Well, some of us do still remember 1959-60, however. A season in which our centre forward netted 48 times, and his inside forward 36; in which we scored 92, and conceded 67; in which we lost 1-8 to Palace, and then in the next six days won 4-2 against Notts. Co., and then that same Palace team, (followed up soon afterwards by a 7-2 drubbing of Hartlepool, with “Hartle” in our team!) If that wasn’t “unconstrained”, I don’t know what was?

You would have loved it. AND we finished fourth that season, and were promoted. Could be a precursor for what happens this season? As always, many thanks to you and Matt for making life worth living for those of us exiled thousands of miles from the Vic.

Ian Grant - 06/03/2013

Brilliant, Chris (and lovely to hear from you). I stand corrected!

6. hornetboy84 - 06/03/2013

4 1/2 thunks ! I feel cheated. This game was deserving of 10. You could have at least poked fun at the way Sheff weds time wasting was played back to them and the irony of Dave moans about the ref. if he had been the Manu ref it might have been a five aside game .

Fair play to Sheff weds though . It should have been 5-1 at half time. Let’s hope their next 2 games are played just as well vs, Leicester and Cardiff.

Ian Grant - 07/03/2013

That’s what you lot are for! If I’d written as much about the game as it deserved, you’d still be waiting…

7. J Clarkson - 06/03/2013

In summary…creamed my pants in the second half after having left a brown stain from the first

Wonderful stuff

NickB - 07/03/2013

Much too much info JC

8. straightnochaser - 06/03/2013

“We know we have quality in our feet but we also have quality in our hearts.” GFZ Another “little miracle” 🙂

9. oldhorn - 06/03/2013

I am loving this season and with the freezing of season ticket prices, I’ll be signing up for next year regardless of what happens.

Hmmm. I suppose I woud have done that anyway, but hey..

However, there are a couple of “issues” to be dealt with. Firstly, I do think that despite his error (which he shouldn’t have been exposed to in the first place), Jonathon Bond is making a decent fist of shouting for a starting place.

Early days of course, but if you get an opportunity, you take it. I’m not arguing for a guaranteed start, but I would like to think that Manwell (sic) is looking over his shoulder.

And B (sic) please please please, can we never have coco the clown in charge of another game at The Vic. He almost…….not quite, but almost……made Atwell look good.

Ian Grant - 07/03/2013

Mmmm, not quite sure about Bond. He made some fine saves, unquestionably, but we were in a right old state defensively for much of the game. Almunia might make the occasional error, but there’s never any question who’s in charge; if Bond can add that authority to his game, he’ll be a great keeper…but that’s quite a large “if”. Still, for me, that’s part of what I want to see (and am seeing) at Watford: young players being tested and hopefully developing….

10. Dave Hart - 06/03/2013

Whilst everyone in the Rous end seemed to be going mad about Forestieri after the first goal, did anyone else notice that Cassetti actually told him where to stand seconds before the corner was taken, and then ran to the other post to flick on the ball to Forestieri to score? Brilliant play from the Italian. It’s a shame that no-one seemed to notice it to give him the credit for it.

Ian Grant - 07/03/2013

That was noticed by people around us, but I must admit that I’d forgotten it (along with about half a dozen other things!). Thanks for the reminder.

11. Andrew J - 07/03/2013

Carefree Exuberance (thunk 3). I’d love it if we could carry that off in the Premiership. I know football is meant to be a matter of life and death and all that, but dammit… sometimes, just sometimes it would be nice to be able to enjoy the game and not have to worry. As was the case at about 9.41 on Tuesday night.

12. Tim C - 07/03/2013

Thanks for the best summary of this season and this squad I’ve seen. As the man at the funfair says “The ride is starting, hold on tight. Scream if you want to go faster!”

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