jump to navigation

Helping Hands 2012/2013 30/05/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
15 comments

Wembley Shmembley.  Who needs to be scuffing their shoes disconsolately in the dirt when there’s serious stats to be had…

I’ll skip the preamble about not-reading-too-much-into and far-from-the-whole-picture and quite-what-constitutes-an-assist, although that all still holds – you can access that via links to previous summer’s versions of this article which follow below.

No great surprise to see “The Professor” at the top of the table… the Hornets’ Player of the Season was, until very late on, the leading provider of assists in the division according to one media source.  Thirteen assists in addition to his twelve goals is a pretty comprehensive haul by any standards – only Don Cowie’s 14 two years ago outstrips it in recent years.  Perhaps as remarkable is that by the start of December Abdi and Troy Deeney – admittedly after an enforced early absence – only had a couple of assists between them, whilst last year’s top provider Mark Yeates teed up all eight of his assists by that point.  He only started three games in 2013.

Elsewhere, and for different reasons, the double-figure hauls of both Fernando Forestieri and Marco Cassetti are worth a mention.  Nobody doubts Forestieri’s ability, but earlier in the season folk were questioning the end product… no basis for that in these figures, even if they are slightly cushioned by the “hat-trick” against Blackburn Rovers – Nando probably has the best assists-to-time-on-pitch ratio, although I’m buggered if I’m going to sit down and work that out.  Meanwhile, one suspects that it’ll be a long while before a defender troubles the top end of this table again.  Cassetti may have been exposed against a tricksy winger but he has been majestic with the ball at his feet, never more memorably than in languidly setting up Matej Vydra’s opener against Leicester.

At the other end of the table, Nathaniel Chalobah’s relatively modest contribution is a bit of a surprise, even from his deeper midfield position – and his one assist an innocuous lay-off to Ikechi Anya at St.Andrews.  Lloyd Doyley, meanwhile, has gotten over his two-assist aberration of two years ago with his second successive zero.  And as long as he’s depriving opposition chances as effectively as he did at Wembley, few will be complaining.

 

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Abdi 13 40+3 12 HuT (A), HuC (H), NoF (H), NoF (H), BHA (A) , NoF (A), IpT (A), DeC (H), DeC (H), ShW (H) , HuC (A), PeU (A) , LeC (A)
Forestieri 10 20+12 8 HuT (A), ChA (A) , LeC (H), WoW (H), Bar (H) , ChA (H), ChA (H), BlR (H), BlR (H), BlR (H)
Deeney 10 36+7 20 ShW (A), Bar (H), BHA (A), Mb (A), HuT (H), NoF (A), IpT (A), ShW (H), Bpl (H), LeC (H-PO)
Cassetti 10 40+2 0 BrC (H), CaC (A) , LeU (A), Bar (H) , HuT (H) , HuT (H) , BoW (H), CrP (H), ShW (H), LeC (H – PO)
Yeates 8 19+11 4 BiC (H), BoW (A), HuT (A) , LeU (A), WoW (H), Bpl (A), ShW (A), ShW (A)
Vydra 7 32+15 22 WyW (A), CrP (A), BiC (H), Bpl (A), HuT (H), NoF (A), BoW (H)
Anya 6 22+7 4 DeC (A), LeU (A) , BiC (A), BiC (A), Bur (H), LeU (H)
Pudil 4 38+2 1 BrC (H), PeU (H), LeC (H) , ShW (A)
Murray 2 8+8 1 CrP (A), LeU (A)
Geijo 2 8+12 2 LeU (A), ChA (H)
Battocchio 2 16+9 2 BiC (A), Bur (H)
Hogg 2 35+8 0 BHA (A), LeC (H – PO)
Dickinson 1 4+2 0 CrP (H)
Hall 1 19+3 1 Bur (H)
Ekstrand 1 33+3 1 LeC (A)
Chalobah 1 38+4 5 BiC (A)
Bonham 0 0+1 0
Buaben 0 0+1 0
Fanchone 0 1 0
Jenkins 0 1 0
Mujangi Bia 0 1+4 0
Thompson 0 1+4 0
Beleck 0 1+5 0
Forsyth 0 2+2 0
Hodson 0 2+2 0
Smith 0 2+5 0
Garner 0 3 0
Eustace 0 4+3 0
Iwelumo 0 4+4 1
Taylor 0 5 1
Briggs 0 6+3 1
Neuton 0 7+2 0
Bond 0 9+1 0
Hoban 0 19 2
Nosworthy 0 20+1 0
Doyley 0 33+6 1
Almunia 0 43 0

Check out the 2011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents for details of what “qualifies” as an assist by my reckoning.

The annual “School Report” feature follows shortly…

Watford 0 Crystal Palace 1 (27/05/2013) 28/05/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
44 comments

1. It’s really not the old Wembley, is it? True, the old Wembley smelt of sour tramp when you got up close and it felt as though it might just fall down if everyone jumped at once…but not even the stale piss of a dozen generations could hide the essential romance of the place, the sense of that-happened-over-there history. This…well, it has the moneyed sheen and efficiency of an airport departure lounge. Any idiosyncrasies have been firmly ironed out by committee, any dark corners where you might be able to scratch your name for those who follow have been illuminated by an artful downlight. All trace of this game will have been wiped clean by the time you read this.

Up in the not-cheap seats, it’s an impressive amphitheatre. Those in the top tier are so distant as to be mere specks of yellow, thousands upon thousands of animated pixels; from the lower tier, if possibly not from way up there, the pitch has none of the remoteness of the old stadium. But it’s still a great big bowl, a dysfunctional and unnatural shape for a football ground: the noise rolls around until it’s nigh-on incomprehensible; the pre-match build-up is a cheap, thrilling din of thumping trance and bellowed urgency, leaving you with the feeling that you’ve just eaten too many sweets. When the game finally kicks off, everyone just seems a bit exhausted, a bit post-coital.

2. Much comment had been made on the fact that Palace fans would be in the shade, while most Watford supporters would be basking in the sunshine all afternoon. This was indeed a very lovely thing, until it wasn’t. As a metaphor for our day, I can think of nothing more apt: the occasion appeared laid out for us right down to that small, significant detail, but three hours of squinting into blazing sunlight just left you with watery eyes and a woozy headache.

Similarly, hopes that the Wembley pitch would suit our patient, possession-focused style of play seemed to evaporate: we were the ones who found that the empty spaces sucked the life out of our legs and the energy from our attacking intentions. We just drowned in it all, Daniel Pudil going under first and others following. All of that room suddenly looked like so much rope to hang ourselves with: Palace efficiently picked us off before we got to the quick-quick part that’s supposed to follow the slow-slow, and a tight, cagey first forty-five with barely a shot to record gave way to a second in which we were frequently over-run in midfield and under dire threat at the back.

In truth, that the result was so marginal owes everything to Manuel Almunia and to the defence, particularly to the majestic Lloyd Doyley whose ability to quietly but firmly prize away the ball like a leaky marker pen from a toddler will never, ever tire. In many ways, Doyley’s story is a microcosm of the season: there were supposedly wise people who numbered his days in this brave new world; we’re a better side, and a much happier club, for taking the revolution only so far and no further. Doyley remains as indispensable as ever; he’s arguably in the form, and definitely in the position, of his career.

3. Elsewhere, though, we desperately missed our key players, the ones who can win games: Chalobah, Abdi, Deeney, Vydra, none of them really made a mark. Having replaced Vydra with Alex Geijo, who put in perhaps the best shift of his time here but to no real consequence, we delayed the introduction of Forestieri by virtue of requiring a formation change to accommodate him…and that’s a frustration, for he was the one headline act who did deliver, bright and eager and damn near tricking his way to a sensational equaliser late on.

That we came closest via the most crudely Route One move of the entire season – Almunia’s punt, Deeney’s glanced header from the penalty spot – is perhaps testimony to how badly the rest of our game fell below par. Bar occasional flashes, we were a pale imitation of the buoyant, flamboyant team which finished third and really, really ought…no, Christ, let’s not think about that. We stood around at the final whistle as if lost in a bad dream, expecting to wake and find that we hadn’t kicked off yet. Nobody knew quite what to do. We shuffled out, trudged home.

4. But we must, of course, celebrate the season. If Laurence Bassini’s antics were supposed to rub salt into the wounds, they achieved precisely the opposite: a perfectly-timed reminder of where we were twelve months ago and where we are now. It’s not merely that the club is financially stable and secure, although heaven knows that we shouldn’t take that for granted, not for a single second; it’s that there’s something to buy into, something that’s worth supporting. Something that’s still Watford, owned by people prepared to embrace it and – this is the real joy – to share it generously.

So, yes, we should raise a toast to the achievements of this year: the remarkable football and the remarkable footballers; the immensely charming manager who somehow created something coherent and frequently brilliant when someone else’s over-enthusiastic Tesco shop was delivered on his doorstep; the process of coming to understand, appreciate and trust the character of the owners and their people; the memorable moments, even the ones we missed because we’d stupidly booked a holiday in May. All of that, and more. It’s been a great year.

But we should also celebrate yesterday too, in its own way, for we took defeat with grace and humility and as much generosity as we could muster. Those are rare qualities in football. I actually like my football club.

5. But I fear a little for next season, if I can be honest. I fear for it whenever I see or hear someone proclaiming our destiny as champions; I’ve heard that before and I’ve never seen it end happily. More than anything, I fear a season of sitting in a Vicarage Road in which the only sounds are of irritation, frustration and anger, the sounds of unfulfilled and unreasonable expectation. I’ve seen essentially decent teams and good players pulled apart by that pressure. I fear that many won’t be satisfied with another season of progress and potential, when that’s precisely where the bar ought to be (re-)set. I fear that many think it’ll be easier, not harder.

And here’s the thing: we can drown those people out, if we want to. We can’t shut them up, but we can make them irrelevant. The missing piece of the jigsaw, the bit that the owners can’t provide, is an atmosphere which echoes how we feel: encouragement, excitement, enthusiasm. Enjoyment. All aboard the Zolacoaster? Well, yeah, so let’s make it sound like we’re having some fun. It’s time to do our bit. Your ideas, by all means.

6. End of Chapter One.

Tomorrow. 26/05/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
16 comments

who do I want to win, Brighton or Palace?  Palace it is, then.  Sasa Curcic.  Andy Johnson.  Alan Smith.  Phil Barber.  Clinton O’Morrison. will we get tickets?  when will they come?  who am I sitting with?  what can I take in?  confetti?  flags?  food?  drink?  nervous, nervous, nervous. what to wear?  will it rain? where do we meet?  what if we win?  what if we lose?  what if it goes to penalties?  Holloway. Rrrrrrghhhh!  Shut it, Holloway. watch that clip again then.  And that one, the one of the pundit.  And the ones from the crowd.  That can’t all be for nothing, can it?  come on guys, come on guys, come on guys, let’s win!.  Cloyd Doyley. playing chess.  cutting up crepe paper.  can’t concentrate at work.  no time to not concentrate at work.  Isn’t it Monday yet? Come on, come on, come on!

Stop.

First, you gotta enjoy the ride.  Whatever happens tomorrow this is a great day and a great thing.  Whatever happens tomorrow, days like this don’t come along terribly often;  if we might be better able to cope with promotion this time, maybe, there’s no escaping that seven years ago, seven years before that too, this was the highpoint.  Don’t waste it. You don’t get the time back…

Next, there are no guarantees.  One-off game, anything can happen, eleven versus eleven.  But luck helps.  And who could argue that this season of all seasons, in the context of what went before, we haven’t fallen on our feet.  Much as there is much about our club that we love and have long loved and will continue to love, none of these things contributed to the Pozzos picking us.  We were low hanging fruit.  We got lucky.  So as far as luck goes, we’re a lucky side this season.

Big match mentality.  Not “freezing” on the day.  Nobody who saw the second leg will have any concerns on that score… it’s still the most striking thing about the day, not the dramatic finish, not Vydra’s extraordinary goal, but the calm, confident focus.  We weren’t affected by the occasion, never allowed doubt to creep in, not for one second.

Then there’s ability.  And if there’s an overriding theme to this season it’s how quickly and consistently this team has grown, improved, developed.  Yes, we wobbled briefly, but everyone did… Palace’s wobble was greater.  But we’ve continued to grow, to develop.  We’re a better side than when Palace drew at the Vic in February, let alone when we won at Selhurst on the opening day, in another world.  And we’re much better than Crystal Palace.  That guarantees nothing.  But it’s not a bad start. If they score a hundred goals, we’ll score a thousand.

Bring it on.

Watford 3 Leicester City 1 (12/05/2013) 12/05/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
51 comments

1- If you’ve come for a calm, balanced perspective on things you’ve come to the wrong place.  Surely nobody with a vested interest is capable of anything approaching objectivity this evening, in the context of the quite extraordinary last eight days…  your best qualified candidate for this is in Cornwall, of all places, so you’re stuck with me.  And just a few hours ago I was shuffling up a dazed Occupation Road with a bouncing six year old proclaiming that we were “definitely going to win the final.  For certain.  If they score a hundred goals, we’ll score a thousand….”.  That result, for one, is no longer in doubt, but don’t expect cold analysis here. We’re far too far gone for that.

The most impressive thing, the most impressive of all the impressive things, is that the team didn’t fall for that.  The emotional thing.  I mean they did, obviously they celebrated, we’ve all seen the pictures, we all saw the bedlam at the end of the game.  But during the game, and particularly after David Nugent’s obligatory goal, an equaliser as effortlessly straightforward as our opener had been extraordinary, we didn’t waver.  To be fair the Rookery, on another unusually boisterous afternoon, only simmered down relatively briefly… but all of us were surely thinking “this isn’t meant to be. So close last weekend, so much better than Leicester and yet… and yet…”.

None of that on the pitch.  Not one inch, not one wobble.  We’re used to the extravagant flamboyance of this Watford team, of this remarkable, improbable group of players, but focus, conviction, discipline like this in combination with that flamboyance is truly terrifying.  If the heads dropped momentarily they were up again as soon as we kicked off, and we concentrated on moving City around, keeping possession, knowing that the chances would come. By the start of the second half, Christian Battocchio was delicately stepping around two challenges in the area patiently weighing up his angles, like a golfer on a putting green. His shot was pushed wide, brilliantly, by Schmeichel but there was no doubt which side were bossing the game in every respect.

2- For which so much credit has to go to the manager.  Thinking back to the start of the afternoon, about six months ago, eyebrows were raised at the inclusion of Vydra.  It’s to the crowd’s credit that disquiet at the young Czech’s form hasn’t stretched any further than chanting Fernando Forestieri’s name whenever he warms up… admittedly there are bigger asks than keeping faith with a 20-goal-Championship player of the season, but nonetheless it’s all to the good that his name has been chanted with every nervous failure to score since February. I don’t think anyone expected anything other than Deeney/Forestieri up front today, nonetheless… Vydra’s role is on the counter away from home, here is a big physical opponent who are surely guaranteed to sit back and smother space, a job for Fernando’s lock-picking skills.

Not a bit of it.  And if it took one false start, a razor-sharp break that concluded with a shot firmly across the face of goal, then Vydra’s opener was a thing of beauty and wonder worthy of ending any lean streak.  It’s in danger of being buried in the avalanche that was to come, but it shouldn’t be for it was exquisite, from Cassetti’s casually brilliant chipped pass to the Marco Van Basten finish.  Bang. Pick that out.

Those defending Vydra’s continued inclusion had been arguing that such a talent needed to be played back into form, that he was going to flame on with a vengeance at some point.  It was still an incredibly brave decision to pick him, brave and devastatingly effective.

Equally bold was the second half replacement of Lloyd Doyley with Forestieri, albeit we were at 1-1 at that stage and needing a goal.  No dawdling, no indecision, a necessary gamble made with enough time left to give it a chance of working.  As it turned out we levelled the tie within a minute, a brutally delicate one-two between Vydra and Deeney that exposed the extent to which Leicester’s generally competent defending was being eroded by constant movement.  This didn’t render the substitution a mistake though – good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes – and worth noting that Forestieri put the graft in in his left-sided attacking role, both attacking and defending.  This was definitively not characteristic of his play earlier in the season.

3- Let’s be clear, in case this point isn’t crystal enough already.  Leicester City’s support has done them credit in every game this season;  they made for an intimidating, boisterous but never negative atmosphere in each game, always focusing more on supporting their own team than goading our lot.  As a club, there’s lots to like… the facilities are good, the staff were courteous and friendly.

But the team is unspectacular.  City are a typical fair-to-middling Championship side… some excellent individuals, including the monstrous Morgan and blameless Schmeichel, but lacking options, lacking imagination and probably less than the sum of its parts. We have been the better side in each of the four encounters this season and here, as in each of the two most recent games, we reduced City’s play to rubble in the second half.  That there was a different ending to the game on Thursday here was nothing to do with “luck” (and as far as that goes, we’re still owed it in spades given last weekend’s events).  No, we were simply much the better side, and thoroughly deserved the victory.

4- So.  What to talk about next. Oh yes…

It wasn’t a penalty for starters, the slippery Knockaert delivering on the unlikable impression he’d cast by tumbling at the merest hint of Marco Cassetti’s challenge.  But it has to be said that this didn’t register at the time, we had our heads in our hands in the Rookery.  I would certainly have been grateful for a quiet, dark room to lie down in and not to have watched any more.

It seems extraordinary that the player with the most Premiership experience in the squad qualifies as an “unsung hero”, but then “extraordinary” is a word that’s already been used several times in this article simply because no others will do.  Manuel Almunia has made mistakes this season.  There, you can count them on your thumbs.  But this double save guarantees his overdue cult status.  And if the overriding emotion in reviewing the chaotic end to the game is “how the bloody hell did that happen?” or “wow” or a variation on the theme, then the sheer quality of the breakaway shouldn’t be overlooked.

In the first half, Leicester to their credit bombed at us in the wake of our “equaliser” and we were rocking straight away, no chance to settle into the new reality, on the ropes.  We had around thirty seconds to drive at City’s psychologically vulnerable spot in the same way in the wake of the penalty save and needed only twenty of them.  If Cassetti’s clearance necessarily prioritised absoluteness over accuracy, then the incredible Ikechi Anya’s chest down and turn spoke volumes for both his ability and his fitness.  Good god, this was in the ninety seventh minute of a game in which he’d played at wing back for the third time in a week, and been the focal point of our attack for much of it as we sought to put as much pressure on the hapless Schlupp at left back as possible.  And yet he’s off…

…and then it’s Nando, marauding with space on the right.  “Great tricks but variable end product, luxury player”.  Ha.  WHAT a cross at full pace, in the dying seconds.  What if that had gone into the Rookery?  Into Schmeichel’s arms?

Jonathan Hogg, back stick.  For goodness’ sake don’t shoot, good lad…  and Deeney.  Obviously Deeney.  An absolute colossus again, and the biggest single difference between our attacking cohesiveness now vs the first leg.

And you know the rest.  The pitch invasion could have gone badly wrong, but it’s still up there with the greatest goal celebrations any of us will ever enjoy.  Off the top of my head, only Wembley and Lloydy come close.

5- The aftermath was just tremendous.  As ecstatic as last week’s lap of honour was subdued.  Zola, punching the air… no performance this, no playing to the gallery, this was raw.  Nyron Nosworthy, limping along on crutches at the back of the party with his video phone trained awkwardly on the Rookery.  Irrepressible Fernando at the centre of everything.  As others have said, no real heart or feel for this club, these foreign types.

nando

 

Overconfidence?  A danger that we might think the job’s already done, rather than half-done?

I don’t think so.  Rachie, my six year old daughter, was right.  This side has demonstrated that not only do we have the players, we’ve got the discipline, we’ve got the spirit, we’ve got the tactics, we’ve got the team.

We’re going to Wembley.  And it doesn’t matter if the other lot score a hundred goals.  If they do, we’ll score a thousand.

Bring it on.

 

Leicester City 1 Watford 0 (09/05/2013) 10/05/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
12 comments

1- Less than a fortnight after the last time, we’re back at the KP stadium and it’s an odd experience.  In so many ways, and despite our refusal to get all obsessive about replicating the components of the previous encounter in the name of fortune it’s like stepping back into a story that hadn’t stopped, walking back into a room where the same album had been playing on loop for a fortnight. From the way the wind howls around the ground to the impressive and imposing noise to the frantic edginess of the occasion.  If there’s a change in mood it’s a subtle one in the away end… we’re no longer the nothing-to-lose, let’s give this a go chancers;  we had a go, we almost made it despite extraordinary obstacles, but not quite.  We are battle hardened and slightly circumspect as a result… it’s intangible, but it’s real enough. If the welcome presence of Luther Blissett in the away end provides a fillip, there’s a something that veers between determination and fear which wasn’t here two weeks ago.

2- The home side fly at us from the off.  This isn’t entirely unexpected but is no more enjoyable for it.  It’s an attacking looking line-up that City have out there with two out-and-out strikers, an attacking player in Schlupp at left back, two wingers and the attack-minded King in the centre of midfield;  we have both Manuel and Jonathan Bond in the 18, mercifully, with Vydra and Geijo the anticipated pairing up front (as oddly telegraphed by training pictures on social media earlier in the week).  We weathered the storm, just about, but it was a far from comfortable thing even if, as two weeks ago, Leicester’s pressure yielded a lot of huffing and puffing without many attempts on target, albeit we were grateful that Almunia was behind De Laet’s header.  A theme of the evening first reared its head here…  that of “getting a bit previous”, since for all Leicester’s dominance and the bravado of the support, they hadn’t actually scored a goal. The first indication that we might be able to catch a breath came on around 15 minutes when my two-minutely checking of the clock panned out to three minutes.  Shortly afterwards we broke for the first time following some slack Leicester defending and Anya, one of those who has improved throughout the season and now looks like a defender and can head the ball, burst through.  As two weeks ago, our less frequent attacks felt much more potent, and only a double save from Schmeichel  to deny first Anya and then Abdi preserved parity.  It felt like a chapter-ending exchange, and the home side held back on the kitchen-sink chucking thereafter, albeit they still made chances.

3- And as the evening progressed, we looked increasingly comfortable and confident.  Alex Geijo had started particularly slowly but grew into the game, linking up well and displaying some clever touches that left a grin on the face even if he rarely looked like, you  know, scoring himself.  Jonathan Hogg put in a superhuman 60 minutes or so, closing things down, backheeling for overlaps, involved in everything.  At the back, the Leicester threat was subdued and eventually clubbed to death altogether;  it reminded me of a teenage obsession with Planetoid on the BBC Micro when even at high levels with pixelated aliens firing white hyphens at me from all angles I could phase in and manoeuvre my way out of the tightest corners.  Such was the mastery of our defending… Leicester asked questions, we provided answers and none more eagerly or adroitly than the impeccable Doyley who might even have gone to ground on one occasion (yes, really) but racked up an impressive tally of blocks, clearances, dispossessions and general gettingintheways. By the middle of the second half Leicester’s attacking threat was limited to long punts forward from Schmeichel which we coped with relatively easily and then came again.

And here the theme of the evening rears its head again, since I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought we had it won at this point.  Leicester’s threat was non-existent and if they were still doing a much better job of subduing our midfield than they had two weeks ago we were cutting through and making chances, none better than when Vydra was put through by an extraordinary, arrogant ball from the outside of Cassetti’s right boot and criminally, inexplicably, betrayed his frayed confidence with a tame finish.  For all our strutting and superiority, we hadn’t scored either.

4- And then of course Leicester did.  A free kick borne of the home side finally getting it down again, a ball into the box and Nugent got The Goal He Always Scores Against Us, a header into the top corner that provoked a quite ridiculous noise.  Fitz Hall was brought on for Lloyd shortly after, but the horse had already bolted… this substitution could have been made earlier but in fairness the defence had coped well enough without Hall’s aerial dominance up until that point.  It was a punch in the guts and gives City a narrow lead going into Sunday, one that hadn’t looked likely in the second half.  But then two weeks ago we thought that our win set us up to go up in second and killed Leicester’s chances, so it doesn’t pay to get carried away…

5- …a point completely missed by City’s support, whose understandably jubilant celebration, buoyed as it was by the goal being as unheralded as Chalobah’s strike two weeks ago and by City’s unexpected presence in the play-offs at all, spilled over into a “we’re going to Wembley, you’re not” celebration that lasted long and noisily after the final whistle and was the very definition of tempting fate.  Only half time, as Nigel Pearson was quick to point out afterwards, and despite our traditionally greater effectiveness away from home this season the return of Deeney (and, one assumes, Forestieri) to the starting line up makes us a lot more potent against a side whose limitations have been cast in stark relief over the past fortnight, irrespective of results.

Bring it on.

Now then. 08/05/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
24 comments

Henry Grover. Charlie Peacock. John Goodall. Billy Biggar. Charlie White. Fred Gregory. Eddie Edmonds. Skilly Williams. Frank Hoddinott. Harry Kent. Fred Pagnam. Neil McBain. Arthur Woodward. Tommy Barnett. Taffy Davies. Billy Lane. Pat Molloy. Jimmy Bowie. Frank Mitchell. Dave Bewley.  Maurice Cook. George Catleugh. Ron Rollitt. Cliff Holton. Dennis Uphill. Les Simmons. Duncan Welbourne. Ken Furphy. Stewart Scullion. Keith Eddy. Terry Garbett. Tom Walley. Barry Endean. Andy Rankin. Ross Jenkins. Alan Garner. Roger Joslyn. Luther Blissett. Steve Sherwood. Graham Taylor. Ian Bolton. Steve Sims. Nigel Callaghan. Kenny Jackett. Wilf Rostron. Les Taylor. John Barnes. Nigel Gibbs. Gary Porter. Tony Coton. John McClelland. Glyn Hodges. Paul Wilkinson. Keith Dublin. Andy Hessenthaler. Richard Johnson. Paul Furlong. Colin Foster. Tommy Mooney. Craig Ramage. Kevin Miller. Robert Page. Steve Palmer. Alec Chamberlain. Gifton Noel-Williams. Paul Robinson. Micah Hyde. Peter Kennedy. Ronnie Rosenthal. Tommy Smith. Allan Smart. Nicky Wright. Neil Cox. Heidar Helguson. Marcus Gayle. Gavin Mahon. Ray Lewington. Sean Dyche. Ashley Young. Jay DeMerit. Clarke Carlisle. Ben Foster. Darius Henderson. Marlon King. Malky Mackay. Adrian Mariappa. Tom Cleverley. Danny Graham. Martin Taylor.

The Watford Observer.  Oliver Phillips.  Anthony Matthews.  Frank Smith. Terry Challis.  Trefor Jones. Vicarage Road. The Estcourt Tavern. The Nascot Arms. The West Herts. The Wellington. Druids. The Red (and Yellow) Lion. The Horns. From the Rookery End.  Blind, Stupid and Desperate. Look at the Stars. Clap Your Hands, Stamp your Feet.  Gladys Protheroe. Ann Swanson. BBC 3CR. Jon Marks. Fry Days. Martins. Critellis. Harry’s 50/50. WIFC. Watford Junction. The Rookery. The Football Cafe. Alan Cozzi. The High Street. The Rous Stand. Market Street. The Parade. Watford General. Occupation Road. Pie City. The Main Stand. The Harlequin. Elton John. The Scoreboard. Mike Vince. The Vic Road End. The Observer Clock. Z-Cars. Benskins. Iveco. Solvite. Eagle Express.  Herald & Post. RCI. Blaupunkt. CTX. Phones4U. Toshiba. Total. Beko. Burrda. The Happy Egg Co. Football Manager. Wembley 84. Kaiserslautern 83. Liverpool 70. Anfield 99. Old Trafford 79. Leeds 92. Wembley 99. St Andrews 99. Cardiff 06. Fulham 98. We’re out of your league.  Where’s your banner gone? Red Shorts. Black Shorts. Yellow everything.

Marco Cassetti.  Almen Abdi.  Jonathan Hogg.  Matěj Vydra.  Fernando Forestieri.  Manuel Almunia. Lloyd Doyley.  Joel Ekstrand.  Christian Battocchio. Jonathan Bond. Fitz Hall. Sean Murray. Ikechi Anya.  Troy Deeney.  Matthew Briggs. Jack Bonham. Adam Thompson. Steve Beleck. John Eustace.  Connor Smith.  Daniel Pudil. Lee Hodson. Tommie Hoban. Nathaniel Chalobah. Britt Assombalonga. Nyron Nosworthy. Mark Yeates.  Prince Buaben. Craig Forsyth. Neuton. Geoffrey Mujangi Bia.  Alex Geijo. Carl Dickinson. Ross Jenkins. Piero Mingoia. Gianfranco Zola.  Dodo Sormani. Giancarlo Corradini. Marco Cesarini. David Hughes.  Will Jones. Filippo Giraldi. Luke Warrington.  David Stephens. Ben Dixon. Ade Mafe. GianLuca Nani. Scott Duxbury. Giampaolo Pozzo. Raffaele Riva. David Fransen. Stuart Timperley. Rob Smith. Alan McTavish. Glyn Evans. Katie Wareham. Richard Walker. Michelle Ives. Gino Pozzo. Giorgio Gasparini. Kevin Powell. Jack Baxter. Mike Spanou. Montoniri Watanabe. Josh Andall. Richard Line. Craig Charles. Linda Finill. Chris McGuane. Barry Quin. Lesley Watts. Will Davies. Mark Jones. Mark Timmington. Dave Godley. Dominic Hayne. Peter Sharp. Robert Sharps. Elizabeth Sabri. Adam Carter. Derek Moon. Jackie Sheppard. Stephen Crabtree. Graham Lynch. Nicola Rees. Joe Bennett. Tom O’Connor. Roger Down. Paul Tait. Jack Tubbitt. Alex Ashby. Mark Jamieson. Liam McGarry. Steve Scott. Paul Clarke. Clive Hibbert. Ben Swift. Joanne Simonds. Cleveland Brandy. Gillian Winfield. Martine Capitelli. Jane Phillips. Karen Daly. Gayle Clarke. Neil Hart. Steve Williams. Helen Taunt. Chris Andrews. Robert Clarke. John Salomon. Paul King. Dave Byrne. Danielle Rutter. Matthew Harrington. Andrea Viglieno. Jack Denham. Gareth Jones. Greg Willerton. Huma Yousaf. Ann Watt. Anne-Marie Burn. Danika O’Riordan. Tracy Hamilton. Sam Perrinn. Ryan McGillivary. Jack Barber. Alex Kaufman. Natasha Hiscock. Harry the Hornet. The Bloke who sits behind you.  His mates.  Their mates. Your mates. Their mates. You.  Me.

Us.

Come. On. You. Horns.

Watford 1 Leeds United 2 (04/05/2013) 05/05/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
44 comments

1a. Oh God. Oh God. OhhhhhhhhHHHHHHH. AaaaarrrrgggHHHHHHHH. Bloody hell. Bloody f***ing hell. Bloody f***ing sodding hell.

1b. And so on.

1c. And some more.

1d. Look, we’re all grown-ups here, right? We like to think of you, dear reader, as someone who’s a bit brighter than the phone-in knee-jerkers who can only see things in the purest black and white, no shades in between. So we can take it as read, can’t we, that we’ve had a great season and have no cause for complaint? We can all agree that there’s nothing to moan about, especially not in the context of the last five years? And we all know that whoever the hell keeps offering playoff places around like sweeties to children would’ve had their hand bitten off. Yes, yes, yes.

1e. But you should be allowed a moment or two – a day or two – before perspective dulls the pain. This ought to hurt. When you turn away and distract yourself with other things, it ought to be staring you straight in the face whenever you look back. It ought to make you want to punch the wall and throw things and find some really destructive gardening to do. If I take solace in anything – and I’m struggling – then it’s in the reaction of Jonathan Hogg, whose post-match lap of honour was so reluctant and desultory that it barely took him beyond the centre circle and never, not for a moment, involved looking at anything other than his own feet. Lap of honour? Bollocks to that.

1f. It ought to hurt. It ought to hurt because we failed, how ever much you might try to dress it up. And because we have a second chance.

2. Pre-match, it felt like one of those special days. One of those surreal days, when strange and wonderful and memorable things happen. There’s a group of Leeds fans dressed as nuns at the end of Vicarage Road, wishing us success on the basis of hating ‘Ull. We pass Derek Payne, who’s carrying a large bag of socks down the road, away from the ground. (Is the punditry thing just a cover, I wonder, for a slow, methodical asset-stripping exercise?) A thunderstorm disturbs the spring calm. Richard Johnson, as near to my favourite Watford player ever as makes no difference, is on the pitch for the first time in a decade or more; applause for him, applause for Ron Rollitt, noise and colour everywhere.

This is Vicarage Road as it never is: passionate, optimistic, celebratory. Loud. There’s a flood of joyous tears building up behind a facade of quiet anticipation and gnawing eagerness. It’s a great day to be a Watford fan.

3. The rest is hard to make sense of, even now. And yet, in many ways, it’s quite simple. We were wracked by misfortune from the start: if Manuel Almunia’s warm-up injury seemed like a bad omen, then Jonathan Bond’s collision with Iketchi Anya went beyond mere portent, genuinely horrific even without the season-finale context. (For what it’s worth, there wasn’t a player out there, on either side, who wouldn’t have given the defender a nudge in that position, just to see whether anything happened. Standard practice, no particular malice. A booking, no more, was quite right.) We were left with our substitute-substitute keeper, a pool of blood on the pitch and enough injury time to wonder whether we ought to be consuming half-time lucky chocolate during our interval or Hull’s.

We were surprisingly bright and lively before all of that, Hogg denied an obvious penalty by an unsighted referee. That would’ve settled the nerves, and put some pressure on Hull. You wanted us to play with some freedom, not be too burdened by the occasion and too distracted by other matters…and we did all of that, until our flow was broken by the injury and our concentration interrupted by a goal that never was for Cardiff. Even then, we were back in it quickly: Almen Abdi’s superb equaliser setting off celebrations that, no matter how exuberant, felt like an aperitif for what might follow. And then Cardiff went ahead during our interval…

4a. And then Hull pulled it back and went ahead. And this, for me, is where the real regret lies, where we ought to be kicking ourselves hard enough to raise egg-shaped bruises. Because surely, surely, we spent the week stressing the need to take care of our own business before we worried about whatever Hull were doing. I’ve had one phrase rattling around in my head for days: just win the game. There’d be nothing worse than having other results go our way and failing to have done our own bit. And lo, there isn’t anything bloody worse.

4b. Really, we pissed away the most crucial half hour (so far) of the entire campaign. The atmosphere went flat, the team visibly deflated, the frustration grew until Troy Deeney (the first person you’d want in a last-ditch quest for a winner, the first person you’d want on the teamsheet at Leicester) was dismissed for an absurd, idiotic lunge that was only necessary in the sense that, presumably, his head would’ve exploded otherwise.

What we were doing? Collectively, we admitted defeat. We played a third of the match in dismal silence, no tempo and no urgency; it was as if the final score had come in from the Hull-Cardiff game, leaving us with nothing to play for. Whatever else happens, just win the game.

5. And that would’ve been enough. We were starting to rally as the half dragged on, Paddy Kenny denying us with one superb stop to a deflected shot that appeared to have wrong-footed him. But we’d wasted so much time: when news of Cardiff’s improbable equaliser came through, we had fifteen minutes to find the goal that’d send us up. We had fifteen minutes, potentially some of the most memorable and heart-stopping moments of our football-supporting lives.

We collapsed under the weight. Jack Bonham’s desperate fumble took most of the attention, but in truth, we were over-committed in a way that only a Zola team chasing a winner in the last five minutes can be. A great stampede towards water without thought of safety. It’s the kind of goal that you concede when you’ve gone for broke. Sometimes you just get broke.

I question whether we needed to be in that position. I wonder how different things might’ve been if we’d played for the whole second half rather than just a bit of it. I wonder…and I’ll never know. Bugger.

6. At some point afterwards, on the outside of a couple of much-needed beers, the smiles start to return. The conversation gradually turns away from regret and despair, the banter starts to free itself from the gallows. And Pat from Dublin, whose boundless, irrepressible optimism has been on life support for the last couple of hours, turns with bright eyes and says decisively:

“But there’s no way we’ll lose the away leg, is there? Right?”

And the earth starts spinning again…

Saturday 01/05/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
31 comments

Common Man: I’m breathing … Are you breathing too? …It’s nice, isn’t it? It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends – just don’t make trouble – or if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that’s expected. Well, I don’t need to tell you that. Good night. If we should bump into one another, recognise me.

“A Man for All Seasons”, Robert Bolt

Don’t cause trouble.  Don’t take risks.  Don’t stick your head above the parapet.

Quite apart from anything else, it’s safer.  Ask the Common Man, he’ll tell you. Mid-table, that’s what you want.  “The sort of trouble that’s expected”.  A decent cup run.  The occasional result against one of the more fancied sides, the odd bloodied nose.  Everyone likes that…. we like it, “football” likes it, whatever that is.  The plucky underdog.

This?  This is different.  This is the possibility of automatic promotion from a team made up of loans, mercenaries, someone else’s players.  Conspicuous, and condemned.  “Yes, ‘Franco’s put a great team together, love the way they play, but…. and I know they’ve not broken any rules, fair play to them, they found a loophole and exploited it.  But it’s not really in the spirit of the rules is it?  I mean, what happens when all the loans go back?”.

That’s hardly going to get any better if we do go up, if more journalists desperate for a story but with neither the time nor the attention span to evaluate the situation take notice. Who needs it?

Not as if it’s in our hands anyway.  Hull may be on a stinking run, a right stinking run. Three games against the current bottom three, no goals, one point.  One win in four at home, and that courtesy of a deflected free kick and a goalkeeping howler.  And yes, of course, they’re playing Cardiff… league leaders, best defence in the division and so forth.  And, yes, there are one or two on the Cardiff books with links to Watford… 731 appearances in yellow, 159 goals, 3 Watford Player of the Season awards between them, yes, yes, what of it?  Hull will go up if they win, it’s theirs to f*** up ultimately, no getting away from that.  And they’ll know it.  They’ll know.  The knowledge of how completely they’ll have screwed this up if they go into the play-offs has to be a motivator.

Nor can our game be taken for granted, far from it.  Sure, Leeds might not have won away in the League since December 1st and only once since September but they’re a tough side and a big club, don’t be fooled.  They’ll have a big support with them and despite being mid-table, won’t be on the beach at all.  Nor should we read too much into the suspensions being served by El-Hadji Diouf and Rodolph Austin.  A club like Leeds will inevitably have players of equal calibre ready to step in.  An irrelevance.

And OK, we may have a bit of side.  Fernando, looking, playing, sounding more like his manager every day.  Troy, a leader, unplayable.  Anya, Pudil, all energy,tricks and power.  Almen Abdi, the professor, most assists in the division.  Chalobah, the conductor, the metronome.  Jonathan Hogg, breaking it up, keeping it moving, keeping it honest.  Marco Cassetti… seen this shit before, composed an opera about it, give me a man to mark.  Ekstrand, solid and elegant and one day he’s going to break the net.  Lloyd.  Just…  Lloyd.  And Manuel… experience, reliability, a voice.  A captain.  Yes, OK, we’re decent.  So we should be, we’re going for second.  No reason to take anything for granted.

Laughably, people have been quoting this vaguely superstitious, coincidental claptrap.  The thing about us having been promoted every seven years since the inception of the Premier League in 1992.  The thing about every promotion we’ve enjoyed to the top flight concluding against a team in white.  What a load of cobblers.  As if any of this has any bearing on Saturday’s game.

It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends.  Just don’t cause any trouble.  Don’t stick your head above the parapet.  Don’t go expecting anything, it’s not in our hands, there’s less emotional risk in just letting it wash over you.

Ha.

Come Saturday, be proud.  Be yellow. Be loud.

Bring it on.