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Watford 0 Cardiff City 0 (06/04/2013) 07/04/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. Before kickoff, there’s more than a whiff of the glory days, back when Matt had all his teeth and I had all my hearing. He’s been to the dentist in the morning and every word comes with a wince; I’ve been to two colossal Swans gigs in the space of a week; neither of us, if we’re being entirely honest, are the physical specimens we once were.

Anyway, the long overdue warmth of spring sunshine, the away half-end rowdily full, the rest of the ground buzzing with anticipation (for now, but sadly not forever, falling just the right side of turning into expectation). It’s a wonderful spectacle, all of that hard work in the winter bearing fruit. There’s a lot at stake, but that can be (should be) thrilling rather than daunting…and we perhaps gain in youthful joie de vivre what we lose in having been there and bought t-shirts. Following on from Tuesday night, and despite three points for Hull during the afternoon, this felt like an opportunity to make a decisive move, to lay a firm claim to that second spot. It felt like a game you needed to see.

2. And you probably did see it, whether in person or via the gogglebox, which means that you no more need to read about it than I need to write about it. Because, in truth, there ain’t an awful lot to say: some goalless draws are so tedious that they become perversely inspiring, and it can be quite fun to attempt to capture the full ghastliness of some frozen, barren midweek encounter with, say, Barnsley in which nothing at all happens and nobody at all cares and you wonder whether anyone will notice if you use that line from “Waiting for Godot” again.

But much as this encounter began, continued and ended in stalemate, it was nevertheless only a single winning goal, a single moment of brilliance or good fortune for either side, away from being a significant part of this season’s story. It was as if everyone held their breath at kickoff…and held it…and held it…and nothing happened. Nothing. No storm, no flood. The weather forecast was wrong. And we all went home, put it to one side almost instantly, and started thinking about next weekend instead. It’s already old news.

3. It’s a point which very evidently suited Cardiff, whose ambition knew bounds. In stark contrast to Sean Dyche’s Burnley, with only a single ex-Watford name alongside the manager’s, Malky Mackay seems to have assembled some kind of touring tribute act and must spend his evenings scouring eBay for a second-hand Henri Lansbury or a nearly-new Danny Graham to add to his collection. It’s actually quite a challenge to follow the correct sequence of booing, applauding and ignoring as the Cardiff team is read out; you’re almost in need of sheet music to follow….

Sod it, though…I’ve always liked Mackay a great deal. He built two seasons’ worth of teams with genuine style and energy and spirit, at a time when the club’s future was very uncertain indeed and when, frankly, we would’ve accepted survival by any means. There was the single-minded determination of a top class manager in those campaigns, a willingness to keep on the chosen path even when it seemed like time to consult the map. That stubborn streak was very apparent in a Cardiff performance which stressed discipline over flair and gave us no space whatsoever in the areas where we’re most effective. Not the performance of a side worried about putting on a show or thinking about how it might adapt to life in the top flight; a job done, nothing more and nothing less. It was dour but impressive.

4. The ninety minutes are neatly summed up by the fact that it’s fairly easy to recall moments when we nearly created chances but didn’t quite. The chances themselves are far fewer and therefore even easier to remember: two for Troy Deeney, slicing somewhat carelessly over the bar late in the first half and then denied by Marshall’s only noteworthy save after the interval, and none of consequence for anyone else in a yellow shirt. For Cardiff, in blue, Almunia blocked Mason’s low shot on the one occasion when our defensive concentration failed. (Cue a load of comments about the ones I’ve forgotten.)

A little frustrating, perhaps. The slow-slow-quick-quick-slow passing game was successfully disrupted by our opponents, and it seemed as if a hard, slightly bumpy surface wasn’t doing us any favours either, perhaps requiring a moment’s thought when we’ve previously gone on instinct alone. But we were a bit cautious and hesitant too, and, for me, we fell back on looking for a distant Deeney too much. Cardiff were pretty comfortable with our left-side of Doyley and Briggs, perhaps the one area where there was space to exploit: for all Daniel Pudil’s faults, we miss a left-sided player who’s content to bomb up and down the touchline rather than do a safe sixty-five in the middle lane.

We might regret the nearly moments – an out-of-sorts Vydra clumsily over-hitting a through-ball, Anya failing to find exactly the right cross – and we might point to a sense that we had more of those moments than Cardiff, but it’s hard to escape the overall nil-nil-ness of the occasion.

5. In which case, the main positive to take away is that one of those nils belongs to Cardiff, and another one belonged to Hull on Tuesday night. Two clean sheets against the top two perhaps – hopefully – reflects a new determination to get what we deserve from games when things are tight…and, spear-headed by the superb Ekstrand, this was a defensive performance we could be genuinely proud of.

These are tight, taut games. Small margins. No room for the sloppy, low-slung cockiness that we’ve sometimes been guilty of showing; less room for throwing caution to the wind too. Not a great game, sure, but a very good game not to have lost. And Peterborough next, which is just the thing when you’re a bit fed up of opponents who’ve spent all week on the training ground and in the video suite working out how to stop you from playing…

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Comments»

1. RGW - 07/04/2013

I thought that Briggs had more of a “65 in the outside lane” day, with everyone willing him to get a move on or get out of the way. There were just too many times when he preferred to slow things down when what we needed was a quick cross. And his lackadaisical defending and lack of urgency to get back left the gap for Cardiff’s best chance (Kim’s deflected shot). [That’s +1 to the Cardiff-chances-that-ig-forgot column.]

Cardiff’s dedication to the cause was more than simple discipline. There was a clear willingness to take a yellow card in order to disrupt our counterattacks before they got going. Not a side of their play I found particularly laudable.

2. Esp - 07/04/2013

The report was certainly more entertaining than the match and I won’t hear the name Malky Mackay ever again without thinking of e-bay and a “nearly new” Danny Graham.

I suppose a highly tense 0-0 draw was to be expected and if there’s one manager who would have done his homework properly it would be MM – a Hull defeat earlier may just have given the team just that added impetus.

“Low-slung cockiness” had me snorting my mid morning espresso out of both nostrils; a nice turn of phrase worthy of Glanville at his best.

3. Mark S - 07/04/2013

With both Cardiff & Hull able to grind out results at will, regrettably it looks like we will finish in the play offs with Palace,Forest and either Brighton,Leicester or Bolton.The only positives I can think of are : Palace have not scored in the last 4 matches;”Dour jock” Davies’ honeymoon period at Forest appears to be over in that they are not winning EVERY game now; Brighton have a serious lack of goal power at present due to injuries;Leicester’s form has been woeful but scarily they looked much better yesterday.
My main concerns are : The team who finishes 3rd nearly always loses in the playoffs.Secondly, we are down to the bare bones at centre back ( imagine an injury to Ekstrand,Doyley or Cassetti!?).
Thirdly, Vydra is well off the pace and does not look like scoring which puts too much pressure on Deeney.

Ian Grant - 07/04/2013

Don’t share your pessimism, Mark: Cardiff are beyond us, but Hull’s recent results don’t exactly back up your assertion that they can grind out results “at will”. Three points behind with a better goal difference really isn’t a terrible position to be in, and there’s no need at all to write ourselves off with five games remaining. All to play for.

stu partridge - 07/04/2013

I might even go one step further and say that Cardiff are not beyond us either. They have an incredibly difficult run in and a history of bottling it.
Of course it is likely they will go up ( probably as champions) but bigger leads have been thrown away before and will be again.

stu partridge - 07/04/2013

some revealing stats to warm our hearts ( i know, a bit sad, but heart warming nonetheless)

our 2 remaining home games are against the 2 of the worst away teams in the league ( leeds and blackburn)

2/3 of our remaining away games are against the 2 worst home teams in the league ( millwall and peterborough)

that leaves leicester who in the form table ( over last 10 games ) are 3rd from bottom. the only win they have managed in 13 games is over blackburn , who are the bottom form team in the league.

if we perform to at least 75% of our ability in every game and have no runs of bad luck with pens and sendings off , then 15 points from our last 5 games is very do able.

SteveG - 07/04/2013

Or, to put it another way, despite the loss of Nosworthy, Hall and Hoban to injury we can still field a back three that has just kept a clean sheet against the two top sides in the table.

Obviously we could do without any further injuries – but let’s not forget that there was a significant chunk of opinion that reckoned a year or so ago that Adam Thompson merited a place in our first XI. If the need arose I don’t think he’d let us down.

4. Tybalt - 07/04/2013

“I’ve always liked Mackay a great deal. He built two seasons’ worth of teams with genuine style and energy and spirit, at a time when the club’s future was very uncertain indeed and when, frankly, we would’ve accepted survival by any means”

Hear bloody hear! I will always have a soft spot for Malky and I think he’s headed for quite great things down the road. He was absolutely central to this club’s survival, indeed to its rise.

And your fifth thunk is right on the money. We got a 0-1 away and a 0-0 at home against better club than we will face in the playoffs, if we do so. As of this moment I’ve never been more positive about us going up.

graham walker - 07/04/2013

Yes, thanks for thunk 3. I always liked Malky a great deal too. Have to certainly sympathise with Stephen Hoffman’s take on this though – but, sadly, the competitive nature of football and the general pathetic nature of accountability means that, more than ever, you do whatever you can get away with in the cause of your team. That includes bullying the officials and the opposition bench.Not condoning it here, but whilst my heart agrees with Stephen Hoffman, my head recognises that there is more than a passing resemblance to that Ferguson geezer in Malky’s behaviour – and Tybalt is certainly on the money in terms of Malky’s future.
The Ferguson resemblance ain’t coincidence. Of course, what Ferguson doesn’t have is a sense of humour and I did enjoy the ‘pantomime’ interlude of ‘in-the-box, not in-the-box’ .

Stephen Hoffman - 09/04/2013

Well he is very good friends with Alex Ferguson… so that would explain a lot!

5. Stephen Hoffman - 07/04/2013

Whilst I was a fan of Malky and thought he was a good manager, I found his behaviour yesterday the equivalent of a badly behaved child and due to this he has gone majorly down in my estimation. For a start, he appears to think the technical area doesn’t apply to him. Never before have I seen a manager walk out of his area, so many times. It was almost like he thought he owned Vicarage Road. This wasn’t helped by a spineless fourth official, who should have sent him to the stands. It wasn’t just that though, which really annoyed me. I knew Malky was a whinger at Watford- and it was one of his less endearing attributes, but it’s gone to epic proportions now. He constantly looked like he was about to blow up at the ref in the first half – a first half when most decisions went against Watford. He shouted and bawled like an attention seeking child in quite a disgraceful way. In short he showed no respect to the officials, in contrast to the gracious Zola. It even got to the stage when after one particular moan at the ref near the end of the first half, Zola’s assistants looked like he was about to come to blows with Malky- who had deigned to Walk into the Watford dugout. I am sorry Ian but after that performance by Malky I have lost a lot of respect for him. Yes he’s a good manager- but in the way he acts towards officials he reminds me of Colin Wanker.

Roger Smith - 07/04/2013

Maybe, like Lewis Hamilton, he just went into the wrong pit! The Rookery response of “Sit down. Shut up” featured in the Sunday Telegraph report both sets of supporters were described as “raucous” – that must be a first for Watford. It didn’t stop Harry from pointing to a crowd mike and throwing his drum down in disgust, though.

stu partridge - 07/04/2013

Have to agree with this.

Ive always like Malky too as he had us playing some nice football at times but after yesterday ive reviewed my opinion of his abilities as a manager.

He s had by far the biggest budget in the championship and the team he has built looks very pedestrian to me . They wont last 5 minutes in the prem kicking the ball 50ft in the air every time they get possession. He plainly has little or no scouting network to recruit the quality footballer needed for prem survival .

Cardiff are only top because they hit the ground running and accumulated a lot of points very early on. As the season has progressed they have reveled themselves to be a well organised, well drilled team but with little flair or creativity. In cricketing terms they are known as a ‘flat track bully’. In fact they remind me of aidy boothroyds watford team after relegation from the prem. Whereas we got found out by xmas and only scraped into playoffs, Cardiff managed to get to spring before there form dropped right off.

Ian Grant - 08/04/2013

I’d disagree with your assessment of Cardiff: I thought they came to do a job and did that job pretty effectively, even if we could claim to have had slightly the better of the chances. Far too easy to get distracted by next season when this season isn’t yet done; we ought to know that from bitter experience ourselves. They may indeed fail, but predictions of Premiership fortunes based on Championship performances are wrong more often than not.

NickB - 07/04/2013

Couldn’t agree more, Stephen.
What exactly are 4th officials for?

6. hornetboy84 - 07/04/2013

Amazing how the commentators have now written us off after not conceding a goal in 2 games against the top 2 ! Our soft underbelly sorted we just need the odd bounce or a Middlesbrough type wall and keeper to get ahead of hull. We drew cos the Cardiff keeper made a first class stop and hull won with comedy defending my old 3 rivers fc Sunday team used to excel in but normally after leaving parties hammered at 6 am and driving 3 hours to the morning game.
I’d back us to beat hulls points tally by 2-3 points over the next 4 games!
Having said that .. Bolton in play offs would be tricky! I still think they were best team to play us this season ! Lee exceptional !
HB84

7. Dave Hart - 07/04/2013

Vydra looks well and truly spent, and Abdi doesn’t look too far behind. Clearly, both have played too many games, although I wonder if the latter has been carrying an injury since the Palace game. Hogg’s introduction for a poor performing Pinocchio made a big difference, enable us to wrestle some control of the midfield from Cardiff.

I would rest Vydra for the rest of the league games, hoping he would be less fatigued by play-off time, if it goes that way. He is certainly no use to us on the pitch at the moment.

8. Wimborne hornet - 07/04/2013

Thanks, good report, however not sure about the use of the word “gogglebox”; sounds like my Nan!

The great and the good in the Directors’ box can’t have enjoyed the fare, Graham Taylor, Roy Hodgson, Chris Coleman, Nyron Nosworthy on crutches, Pozzo junior and others. Taylor got a real warm reception and great to see him back.

Have to say I think Briggs is off the pace, perhaps he didn’t get the space he needed but didn’t do it for me. Malky really wound me up, looked like he was trying to intimidate GfZ.

My final point; isn’t it amazing how teams reflect their manager? We’re all flair and touches, Cardiff were all brute force and really didn’t care about anything else. No chance of a “sexy football” chant there!

Ian Grant - 08/04/2013

On the final point…well, sort of. They didn’t come to play sexy football, they came to do a job. We saw ample evidence of Mackay’s ability to produce attractive, positive football during his two years with us.

stu partridge - 08/04/2013

I have to say, after having seen Cardiff on a number of occasions this season, that they are not a flair team by any means. Solid, well drilled and clinical will get you out of the championship but unless you re as good at it as Stoke it will get you relegated from the Premier League.
Leroy Rosenior said as much on the FLS on saturday night, to paraphrase….’ Cardiff have been trying to play football in the past few weeks and became unstuck and so have resorted back to what they do best’

9. BH - 08/04/2013

Top writing as usual Iain.

On top of your reflections, I thought that both Hogg and Almuina were each worthy of a positive mention. Battochio hardly found one of his own teammates all game. Hogg came on and both kept the ball much better and took the fight to Cardiff in the midfield. For me, this helped sway the game our way and by the end, we looked much more the likely to score.

I also thought Almunia had a significant game. During our pre-match beer, we worried about his gaff-prone nature and how this was a game set up for such a howler. As it was, he bossed his 6-yard area impressively given the number of bodies and high balls coming in. (He was more than ably assisted by Ekstrand in this.)

Cardiff came to stop us playing. They succeeded through great effort and pressure in the first half. In the second, they were much more cynical.

Thinking about it, Cardiff & Hull were the most proficient at what are depressingly described as ‘professional’ performances at the Vic this season. Both stopped us playing better than anyone else but neither showed any great imagination. For such an exciting league, the top two do not really show the Championship in its best light.

Looking ahead, I suspect we need to win at least four and can maybe afford to draw one. It is hard think Hull will drop more than five points over the next five games. But as an earlier poster suggests, we will be by some way the strongest team in the play-offs if that is where we end up.

10. Old Git - 08/04/2013

It is interesting that Malky is really annoying some of us. That’s the mark of a good manager, surely.
Don’t we all remember him as a player, very happy to overstep the mark when it was needed? None of us were very bothered then. Just imagine how angry and self-righteous we would have been if Leeds had scored the opening goal in the Millennium Stadium play-off final, aided and abbetted by a flagrantly illegal piece of play from their centre half. Malky was canny enough to realise that, in the heat of the moment no official would spot what he was up to and he was right. And the fact that it was against Leeds, with all of their dubious history, made it even more poetic.
I think that one moment defined how he would be as a manager. And that moment was one of the half dozen most memorable in my five decades of watching the ‘Orns. Good luck to him, I say!

stadiumr

Esp - 08/04/2013

Agree with your assessment of MM Old Git.

Malky is as extrovert, passionate and exuberant as a manager as he was as a player and I don’t get as upset about managers stepping outside the technical areas as others above seem to be. Games are full of minor rule breaks (moving ball at goal kicks, free kicks taken from the wrong place, foul throws etc) and my blood pressure would be much higher if I became exercised over every single infringement.

Returning to Malky – he wasn’t at the Vic to be warmly received by the home supporters and very few opposing team managers will ever win a popularity contest although I felt Dychey the previous week was a model of grace, charm and integrity.

Stephen Hoffman - 09/04/2013

No not really.. there are many managers who annoy me who are absolute rubbish at their jobs. One such example was Chris Waddle.

11. Kris - 08/04/2013

We have come away from meeting the top two teams one point closer to automatic promotion, when we could as easily have been out of the running all together.

We can definitely make second place, but if we don’t I only worry if Bolton makes it into the PO’s. They have a good side and some momentum. I fancy us against whoever else is in contention.

No should we end up not getting promoted I hope people will remember this season as a massive success anyway. To get that many new players in at the start of the season and still manage to forged a team and team spirit like we have while playing stylish football and being in contention to win promotion this far into the season is amassive achievement.

Only detractor is we haven’t seen many youngsters (of our own) break into the team. Hoban until he got injured is the only one. Should we not get promoted the silverlining for me will be the hope that Hodson, Thompson, Murray, Assombalonga etc. will play a bigger part of the season.

12. Robert Hill - 08/04/2013

Let’s get this into perspective. We went into the Hull game 4 points behind them with 2 very tough games against the top 2. We ended up after the games 3 points behind and lets not forget they will need to get 1 more point than we do after 46 games. You can look at the fixture list all you want but it will never give you the right answers. More important is that we get a little bit of sharpness back in the team and get the Vydra’s and the Abdi’s playing again. If I have a criticism the two games against Charlton and Bristol City we lost through tinkering with the team. Those points could be very costly.

stu partridge - 08/04/2013

the same tinkering that happened before beating leeds 6 -1 ?

Robert Hill - 08/04/2013

No not the same. The momentum was only just starting at that time. The Charlton and Bristol games were in the middle of a patch where all the team were firing. A team will always have a spell where the results dip as in the case of the 3 games with the 3 B’s. But those 2 games were really pivotal and am sure that had he played the right team there would have been 6 points added to the total. I am specifically talking about Vydra and Deeney as a partnership who were absolutely flying at that time. for me those 2 results could be pivotal but who knows what will happen in the last 5 games. There are no easy rides in this Division.

stu partridge - 09/04/2013

Robert , I would tend to agree with you on keeping a winning team playing, but im not sure the Charlton and Bristol games are a point in question.

Against Charlton, FF and Geijo ripped their defence apart on numerous occasions and we scored 3 goals, easily enough to win at home. The reason we lost was because of poor defending, the defence being relatively unchanged. Whilst the only change in midfield was Murray in for Hogg. Yes Murray had a bad game, but only recently was our best attacking player, not the craziest of changes.

The Bristol game was always going to be difficult with them pressing and sitting deep. The weather was atrocious and an Almunia error meant that Bristol could see the game out by sitting even deeper. As we ve seen clearly since then, Vydra is not good in this sort of game situation, so FF would have been the best option anyway.

Its easy to criticise the manager when we lose after changes have been made but what about when we lose after playing our ‘best team’..or win after making changes. In fact our recent run of poor form has been predominantly with our ‘best team’

13. mikepeter - 08/04/2013

Mark S: “My main concerns are: The team who finishes 3rd nearly always loses in the playoffs.”

Wrong – the opposite in fact. From what I recall, the stats say the third place team in the play-offs win around 50% of the time. Certainly since we went up from third in 2006, only Burnley in 2009 and Blackpool in 2010 have gone up from lower down the table.

Mr Anderson - 10/04/2013

You’re absolutely right, in the last 10 years, the play off winners have finished in the below positions;

3rd – 5
4th – 0
5th – 2
6th – 3

This appears to show that there’s an even split between the ‘best’ team, and the ‘form’ team winning the Playoffs. Interesting to see that there haven’t been any winners from 4th place in the last 10 years. Not looking good for Palace then 😉


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