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Watford 1 Nottingham Forest 1 (25/08/2013) 25/08/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- In my head, we always draw one-all with Forest.  It’s kind of an unwritten rule.  Not strictly true in reality of course; nonetheless a glimpse at the record books reveals ten such outcomes in the last 30 league encounters spanning almost 30 years. It feels as if I’ve seen at least that many.

Not unreasonable then that we should be looking for new and creative ways to draw one-all with Forest whilst keeping the punters interested, and this was surely as engrossing a one-all draw as any that went before it.  Faced with the challenge of making something old hat seem interesting and exciting again, you have a couple of choices of course.  One of those is a sort of “best of”, bringing back the stars of all previous 1-1 draws between the sides… thing is, the only remarkable thing about 1-1 draws is their mundanity, and whilst Big Brother might get away with wheeling out past victors for yet another series, trotting out the most mundane contributors to the most mundane outcome was never really on the cards here. (“At left back for Forest today, Gregor Robertson! Give him a big hand Forest fans!  And in midfield for the Hornets, welcome back Paolo….”  VERNAZZA!).  Incidentally whilst Richard Short is guilty of many crimes – such as not knowing how to pronounce our own players’ names, but don’t let’s digress too far – the “shout the surnames” thing is not one of them.  Like cheap tickets and denim jackets with AC/DC badges stitched to them this trend comes from the Bundesliga and is therefore sehr cool.

Another option in terms of making something mundane seem exciting is to create the illusion of novelty by adding bells and whistles, like David Blaine making Harry Houdini’s escape stunts seem superficially all the more remarkable by repeating them whilst humming Depeche Mode’s back-catalogue through a kazoo, for example.  This was the path we followed – not with kazoos, sadly, but with Marco Cassetti twice offering Forest cheap possession with careless hospital passes across the face of our box.  “The same lessons as Reading” might be a recurring theme…  the slow start here was, in fairness to Cassetti, evidenced in particular by the failure of Iriney to take a couple of steps away from his marker and offer any kind of easy pass for the Italian.  Nonetheless, faced with the lack of a simple pass there are better alternatives than presenting possession to the opposition, much less opposition as obdurate, well-organised and equipped to defend a one-goal lead as Forest.  Marco was a joy last year, but has been caught a number of times this season already;  with Belkalem entering consideration and Ekstrand and Hoban both to return to full fitness, his position might be under pressure sooner rather than later.

2- Having started slowly and yielded that soft goal,  it should be acknowledged that we made a better fist of the first half than we had done at the Madejski a week ago. A different sort of game, of course, and an opponent that was always going to be much better at defending a one goal lead, and away from home… consequently they offered far less of a goalscoring threat than Reading had.  Nonetheless, we got into the game and got some passing going, and if we hadn’t really looked desperately like pulling that goal back we reached half time with some brownie points.

It was always going to take something special to penetrate that rearguard, and that something came from the boot of Lewis McGugan who curled a perfect, unstoppable, impossible free kick around the Forest wall, bending into the top corner having been heading wide of the target.  Marvellous.  Forest fans will no doubt be citing the old adage about ex-players scoring against you; significantly, Henri Lansbury didn’t score for Forest but then he’d only been on loan at the Vic – perhaps that’s why he only hit the post having been the beneficiary of Marco Cassetti’s second Depeche Mode moment.  “Former loanees always hit the post against you” – worth investigating.  Forest fans might not be the most reliable guide as to The Way Things Are in any case… “you used to play for a big club”, they sang at Lewis McGugan, evidently not realising that he only ever featured in a trial game for Chelsea – he never actually played for them competitively.

3- And whilst we’re discussing Forest, no great surprise to see them every inch a reflection of their abrasive, obnoxious and utterly charmless manager.  Worth remembering that Forest were a right narky bunch last season, so this isn’t all Billy Davies’ work, but my word…  niggly fouls, leaving-ins of the boot and treading of fine lines taken to an art form, aided and abetted by a perverse refereeing perfomance from Oliver Langford who was absolutely determined to keep his cards in his pocket for as long as possible.  There’s an argument for saying that if he’d booked Chris Cohen for taking an in-flight Ikechi Anya out in the first thirty seconds as he probably should have done, Forest might not ended up with as many as five bookings.  Not much of an argument though, however superficially logical – this was too systematic, too much part of Forest’s game plan, and a chronic under-representation of the number of cautions their play could have earned from another official.

As an aside, it’s interesting how many clubs are currently operating against their historical “type”…  you could probably count Watford playing sexy tippy-tappy football in that list, certainly Billy Davies’ inherent dishonesty doesn’t feel like a natural fit at Forest much as this is his second stint.  West Ham fans being subjected to Allardyce is of course hilarious, but might lose its charm if we actually had to  play them.

4- As at Reading, we were considerably more effective in the second half.  To what extent the manager takes credit and to what extent Forest legs tired from quite frantic closing down in the opening period is open to debate.  Perhaps, as my brother argued, the visitors were so comfortable with a Plan A that was serving them demonstrably well both earlier in the game and in the opening weeks of the season that they hadn’t bothered learning a Plan B… certainly the defensive solidness that characterised their opening forty-five minutes was gone.  Fabbrini twisted and turned and defied attempts to steal possession;  Murray, on for the tiring McGugan, looked every inch as comfortably-fitting a cog as you’d hope – albeit he missed perhaps our clearest chance, firing straight at Darlow after Deeney’s dummy had bought him a chance; Pudil, perhaps a surprise selection but thoroughly effective in the absence of any wingers to worry about, roared down the left.  Deeney, again… subdued.  Cumbersome, even.  As at Reading, a bit of a concern – transfer window or otherwise.

Which isn’t to suggest that Forest were under the cosh.  Indeed, theirs were the better chances and Almunia’s claim to the Man of the Match award as strong as anyone’s – his performance crowned by what TV replays revealed to be a stunning save to deny Ishmael Miller, pushing the big striker’s shot on the break onto the inside of the post.  From the far end of the stadium, that was in all the way.

5- But again… as at Reading…  our attacking play has an irresistible feel to it already, and this will only improve as the forwards in particular get used to playing together.  Yes, the defence needs to sort itself out but this was better… silly passes are easier to sort than general chaos, and there wasn’t much evidence of that, albeit Forest had no need to commit forward for much of the game.  As Zola has stated….  and in the context of having given a goal start to a very confident and solid side, in the context of that quite bizarre lack of protection from the officials… not a bad point at all.

As 1-1 draws with Forest go.


1. Simon - 25/08/2013

As usual, against the significant drivel spouted on many a forum, a balanced and accurate account of the game. Forest will look to hitting the post twice, we’ll look to the fact we presented them with those opportunities. I do fear a long and uncomfortable season if we get too many refs allowing such tactics as Forest employed today without punishment.

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2013

i don’t think many others will be as adept at treading that line, tbh.

2. Roger Smith - 25/08/2013

The reason we were better in the second half is that we started to play with some urgency. Knocking it about at the back, allowing the opposing defence to get itself organised and in place, wasn’t a very sensible tactic against a side that had yet to concede.

The most disappointing aspect, though, was the number of times we got round the back, well inside the penalty area, and couldn’t pick up anyone to stick the ball in the net.

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2013

True, although that owes a lot to Forest keeping their heads too.

Agree with your first point.

3. ChrisW - 25/08/2013

Definitely thought there were some changes stressed at half-time. Agnella realised that if he contested aerial balls, he’d probably win them and thus have less defending to do.
As always a little gung-ho and agree Deeney seems an unhappy bunny, which doesn’t help. Good to see Abdi getting on the ball, and Anya continuing his progress. More energy from Pudil than Faraoni, even if quality possibly down.

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2013

Agree re Abdi and Anya. Pudil gives us better balance… Ikechi is fabulous, but a left-footer on the left hand side helps if you’re trying to break a team down. But harsh to criticise Faraoni for lack of energy. I’ve not seen that.

4. Hunsbury Hornet4 - 25/08/2013

The allusion to Chelsea in your earlier comment did not go unnoticed, and is great journalism. As for that manager of theirs – only 2 people spring to mind who seem more obnoxious, unfriendly, and soul destroying. One I’m married to, and the other, under false pretences, is now managing in the Prem.

Since63 - 28/08/2013

Does this mean another Northampton Hornet?

5. Harry - 25/08/2013

Forest fan – Not 100% agreeing with the aggressive intent. We were very fired up but not to an extent which could be deemed dirty and the referee did very well to keep his cards in his pocket. You cannot deny that your team were trying to get our players booked, and most of the tackles were soft, but were blown out of proportion by some clown-like fragility.

Watford pass the ball very well though, and (given that both sides are still a work in progress) we should both be pushing in the upper reaches of the division.

I was quite surprised to see you stay down last year after giving us a good pasting on both occasions, but hopefully we can both go up this year.

Matt Rowson - 26/08/2013

Thanks for the friendly tone Harry, but I think you’re kidding yourself.

As I intimated in the piece, I grew up when Cloughie was at the helm and liking Forest was a default position for many, a popular second club. Billy Davies doesn’t have the same impact, and nor does his team.

James - 27/08/2013

I think in the first half, that’s pretty much how it was. Forest were physical, and we were play-acting and got ourselves in the ref’s bad books.

The second half was just 100% cynical though. Every time a Watford player had a chance to break forward he was fouled. It was totally deliberate. The Forest players even rotated the chopper role as they got booked. It wasn’t a case of Watford players looking for the foul because it was mostly around the half-way line, where free kicks are no help at all.

Since63 - 28/08/2013

If you are seriously trying to suggest that Cohen’s 2 totally cynical & dirty fouls on Anya in the first 20 minutes did not warrant bookings, then you are deluding yourself. The ref’s lack of action apart from a “word” after the 2nd one (a major hack from behind if you recall) completely set the tone & let Forest know just how ridiculously far they could push things.

Harry - 29/08/2013

I think, particularly in such important games, it is important for referees to keep their cards in their pockets. There was never any malicious intent. A lot was made of challenges that regularly happen against other opposition without anyone rolling around on the floor waving cards at the referee, and subsequently are not deemed cautionable. You got the benefit of the doubt last year with Ayala and we got it this time. There were a few tactical fouls but they were fouls that any defender should make, and they were booked.

Billy is a manager that is very easy to hate. I hated him until he came to forest, and he gets players working very hard. We have missed him for a long time, and we have welcomed him back with open arms.

6. Play-Off Pete - 26/08/2013

Good stuff so far but where are the passes into space for Deeney? Where are the 1-2’s that played to Deeney’s strengths? Where are the running at defenders, causing havoc, chances and the odd pen? You start to miss the interplay between Vydra and Deeney last year …

Andy73 - 26/08/2013

Yes, it was an strange tactic that…especially evident in the last 15/20 mins when we had good central attacking positions in their final third and opted for the ‘safe’ pass out wide.
With the Fessi/Abdi/Fabb trio up against tired, stretched defenders we should have been looking to work situations to slip Deeney in rather than play the default out-ball to (often) Pudil.

James - 27/08/2013

I think you have to give the Forest defence some credit for that. They stayed compact at all times, knowing that we offered much less threat from crosses than we do through the middle.

7. Leggatts 'orn - 26/08/2013

I suspect a glance at the refs last assessment report and you will read “handed out too many yellow cards too early” so he over compensated. An alternative view was Billy Davies got in his ear. I do rather share the view that we have not see the same Marco Cassetti so far this season, I do not recall him being a slow starter last year, in fact the opposite, I think he was one of the early success stories,

Matt Rowson - 26/08/2013

Disagree on that actually… thought he looked rusty in his first few games at wing back last season, took him a while to get into gear.

But I’m sure you’re right about the ref… certainly for whatever reason he was determined to let the game flow. Thing is, some things shouldn’t be a matter of judgement. The Cohen/Anya one is an example, as is Jamie Mackie not being booked for putting the ball in the net after the whistle has gone. That’s a petty thing to be booked for, but not the ref’s fault… he should be applying the rules, and wasn’t in that instance.

Marcus Shapiro - 26/08/2013

Matt is quite right in that last season Cassetti started extremely poorly being match unfit and having the pace of a clapped out ford prefect. His fitness improved to that of a decent 35 year old and his “experience” and quality more than made up for any remaining deficiency in pace.

Although he is upto a year older, I rather expected a contunuation of good form given last season’s play and a full pre-season for the Beard. Was alarmed throughout the Barimingham away performance and while yesterday’s wasn’t as bad, the mistake was a killer and an appalling one, also repeated. When and if Belkalem, Hoban, Nosworthy, Ekstrand return to fitness and form, I assume Beard will be a quality squad player/sub rather than playing the full 90 minutes of hurly-burley

Ewan Hughes Army - 28/08/2013

Cassetti started poorly last year, but it was was when played in a back four that he looked off the pace and his place in the side seemed questionable. I thought he came in to his own when we switched to a three – and his crossing was a big part of our improved fortunes.

Marcus Shapiro - 29/08/2013

Agree, Ewen, re Cassetti’s qualities as a wing half. I think he and Anya are our best, offering quite different threats and able to switch wings. When we have three fit, good centre backs, I’d start those two as wing backs with Faoroni or Pudil on the bench.

8. Johno - 26/08/2013

Forest will always be a bigger club than Chelski

Matt Rowson - 26/08/2013

Marvellous. Well done, sir. Been grinning at this one all day. “Bigness” as an end in itself. Splendid.

9. Esp - 27/08/2013

I have nothing to add to the balanced partisan report Matt but as I read this blog on a deckchair in a sunbathed Kent garden this afternoon I drifted off on a flight of fancy with a vision of David Blaine humming Depeche Mode’s back catalogue on a kazoo in my balding pate

It struck me we have not had a CHALLENGE from you since the smuggled fruit and vegetable chirade during the not…not

Therefore I challenge you to smuggle “Master & Servant”; “Never Let Me Down Again”; “Just Can’t Get Enough”; and “Everything Counts” into future match reports. Are you up for it sir?

10. Wimborne Hornet - 27/08/2013

There seemed so much space for NF’s forwards to work in it looked scary at times. I always feel there are never enough mentions of Depeche Mode in football reports. Your challenge is to get a DM song title in all future reports. See you.

11. Andy73 - 27/08/2013

Another crowd participation idea we should pinch from the Bundesliga is the ‘score shout-out’, just before the restart after a lead-taking/extending Watford goal i.e. tanoy-man calls the team names, we call the numbers…the away team score done in an exaggerated deep tone for disdainful effect towards our opponents.

I’d also welcome quality beer and sausage in the ground, served quickly and efficiently… but i realise that’s probably a wish too far!

Matt Rowson - 27/08/2013

Oh yes Andy. Wurst und brötchen mit scharfes and a German lager… I’m right with you. Fat chance, as you say.

12. Old Git - 27/08/2013

I’m not dead, I’m a different Old Git. We are, by definition, self-perpetuating. As one fades away, his place in the Pantheon of Old Gittery will inevitably be taken by someone else.

If anyone else is as baffled by the references to something called ‘Depeche Mode’ as I am, then it could be you.

NRC - 27/08/2013

Turned to my wife during the ‘Farewell Old Git’ applause and said – when I die, don’t even think about doing the same thing for me …

13. Sequel - 27/08/2013

As a child of the 50’s, I think I can also be considered an “Old Git”. I do, however, know of Depeche Mode, although they and countless other perveyors of bland, synthesiser music left me cold. Thankfully, guitars came back into fashion in the 90’s and restored my faith in popular music. For a while.

NickB - 30/08/2013

Read a comment by Ade Edmondson in a recent newspaper: ‘I was lucky to grow up in the 80s when there was so much great music about’. Knob.
Meanwhile, back at the footy, anyone who can fell ‘Incey’ with a well aimed local pie tomorrow will have my undying gratitude.

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