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Watford 2 AFC Bournemouth 0 (28/09/2013) 29/08/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. On close inspection, it turns out that the feeling I haven’t quite been able to pin down throughout the day is one of anticipation. That’s not right on all kinds of levels: whatever the division, the early rounds of the League Cup have always been a reliable touchstone, as everyday as puddles and socks and farts and equally unlikely to inspire anticipation. And yet, here we are. Anticipation. That’ll teach me.

Thing is, it’s not merely that recent games have been terrifically entertaining. They’ve been that, but they’ve had a chess-like fascination too: the need to stop us from playing in key areas is now a given, the ability to do so is very much up for discussion. The result is an engrossing cut and thrust, contests in which attempts at controlling us have met with varying degrees of success, our attempts at slipping free likewise. Contests which have ended without really feeling as if they’ve been settled.

And so the prospect of a second game against the same opponents in such a short space of time is unusually appealing, somewhat intriguing. Bournemouth took a kicking in the latter stages of the league game, but their approach was pretty successful until then, and they might well have squeaked out a lead to defend with more decisive finishing. No need to dig out Plan B just yet. As for us, even with a second-string line-up, there’s enough here to expect some artistry and adventure….

2. We don’t get much artistry and adventure, in truth. We don’t really get that cut-and-thrust contest either, in any comprehensible sense. Instead, we discover that we accidentally recorded whatever was on the other side: the end of a documentary about hippos and some adverts for shoes and holidays and washing powder and a bit of a new sit-com with that bloke with the beard from that panel show and then ten minutes of the test-card. It’s not simply that the scoreline doesn’t accurately reflect the game. Rather, it doesn’t seem to belong to it at all. Someone stuck a label saying “TWO-NIL WATFORD WIN” on it, but they’ll spot the mistake when we take it to the counter to pay.

There were momentary flashes, of course. You don’t put Fernando Forestieri on a pitch without momentary flashes, and his acrobatic cross-field pass to launch a first half attack was worth the effort alone. Early on, this was a tidy, patient game between two tidy, patient teams, but there was never any question which side was the more potent. We began to throw a few live rounds into the training exercise; we scored an elegantly worked, if comically finished, goal; we waited for the fun to start.

2b. Why do players only “put through” their own net, by the way? Why don’t they put through the opposition net too? Why’s that, then? There you go, I can do quizzes too.

3. To make a mistake once is forgivable. Twice, blah blah blah. We took the lead against Bournemouth in the league too, then squandered it by bunking off to the pub when there was hard work still to be done. Much the same here, really. That we weren’t level or worse by half-time had precious little to do with us, beyond one fine Jonathan Bond save to divert a low free kick onto the inside of the post. It had rather more to do with the visitors’ lack of conviction in front of goal, the one thing which stands between them and being a very decent outfit indeed.

It’d be easy to fall into the trap of putting the result down to a certain amount of quality at vital moments. As if to sell that con, we scored the most exquisite counter-attacking second: Acuna’s ripe peach of a through-ball, Battocchio’s dainty chip back-spinning its way in off the underside of the bar, game over. But we produced little else of note, our midfield disappearing into cloudy nothingness with two in-and-in strikers, playing in holes but not in a good way. We didn’t do much to soothe worries about losing Troy Deeney, to be frank; all perfectly pleasant, but not a lot of goals here, not a lot that actually threatened the penalty area. I’d be interested to know how many times we were caught offside; my guess is not more than a couple, which perhaps reflects where our forward line wasn’t playing.

4. Meanwhile our goal led a charmed life at the other end, Bond again outstanding and again grateful for the absence of a confident striker as a succession of chances came and went. We know all about Joel Ekstrand, but his positioning between Reece Brown and Essaid Belkalem led to some awkward moments, none more than when MacDonald was allowed to wander onto an uncharacteristically direct through-ball and was prevented from equalising only by Bond’s athleticism. As clean sheets go, this one had rather a lot of suspicious-looking stains on it.

When people say “we’ll play worse than that and win”, they mean this one.  Walking away from the ground amid the contented chatter of victorious fans, you couldn’t help but chuckle at the fickleness of it all: we were a post’s width away from this being a bit of a fiasco, from that contented chatter becoming angry inquest. On another day, on Bournemouth’s day, our two moments of quality wouldn’t have been enough. I hope they have that day, I have to say. They must be sick of the bloody sight of us.

5. As unsatisfying as it was, the evening demonstrates the value of the cup, and the gradual transformation of this particular tournament from an inconsequential distraction to something useful and interesting in its own right. With a squad large enough to produce a reserve team of real substance, and with a number of players either settling in or pressing a case for a step-up, this isn’t a waste of anyone’s time. These players need football; we’ll be calling on them at some point between now and May, and we’ll hope for something more substantial than this.

Beyond that, a bit of a cup run would do us no harm at all. And it’d be jolly good fun.

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Comments»

1. Nick - 29/08/2013

I’m not sure how Bournemouth are taking so many plaudits early on this season, sure they knock the ball around well but they’re shy of a striker to play with Grabban and terrible at the back both of which suggest that once their promotion bubble wears off I think they’ll struggle.

On a separate note I thought Smith and Murray were the stand out players last night.

Ian Grant - 29/08/2013

Fair comment. It’s hard not to like a team that’s attempting to solve those problems patiently and constructively, though, rather than by the more pragmatic, prosaic means we’re familiar with at this level. I don’t doubt that they’ll struggle, particularly due to the lack of goals, but I genuinely hope they stick with it and survive.

2. Kris - 29/08/2013

“As clean sheets go, this one had rather a lot of suspicious-looking stains on it.”

Outstanding. Nothing short of poetry!

3. Leggatts 'orn - 29/08/2013

Whilst the defenders gave the impression they had only met in the pub an hour before the game and the calls from a punter behind me to “get it bl**dy defended” had some merits, there were some positive signs all round the pitch. I do rather subscribe to IG’s view that this cup, given the size of our squad and the need to blood some newbies is a rather good thing. I quite fancy us against Norwich, wonder if we will see the first team (whatever that maybe) out for that game. An intriguing season indeed.

SteveG - 29/08/2013

Definitely a night on which you wanted to remind those members of the “Let’s get at Lloyd Doyley” society (admittedly few on this site) about what a good solid defender he is.

I agree that Murray put in a decent shift and that Smith had a very promising game – in the action a lot, fetching, carrying, hassling and suggesting that he should, at the very least, get some game time from the bench in the next few months.

A very good result but we were, frankly, lucky. But a really successful season is often defined by luck as well as skill, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Ian Grant - 29/08/2013

True…although I can think of a couple of very prominent seasons which’ve been defined by luck running out, so I wouldn’t want to rely on that too much…

SteveG - 29/08/2013

I’m far too rational to suggest that we rely on it but, as you say, sometimes it runs agains you (injury to Bond against Leeds) and other times (the play off semi against Palace in the Boothroyd era when we could have been out of it at half time) we reap the benefits of poor finishing and/or our goal leading a charmed life.

The line between success and disappointment can sometimes be remarkably fine.

Ian Grant - 29/08/2013

Absolutely. I was particularly thinking of the two post-Premiership seasons when we got off to flying starts. In both cases, the performances weren’t anything like as good as the results suggested; when our luck ran out, our failings were exposed. I’m not for a moment suggesting direct parallels with now – we’re a much better, and much more confident, side – but it does rather undermine the theory about good sides winning when not playing well. Sometimes bad sides can do that too…

James - 29/08/2013

‘Lucky’ sides tend to be more clinical than their opposition though, and also able to put in a good enough performance without stretching themselves.
In both our games against Bournemouth it seemed as though they were giving 110%, whereas we were coasting at 80%, and so they tired before we did. In the end, we won both because we finished most of our chances, and they squandered theirs.

4. Andy73 - 29/08/2013

Sure we lacked some cutting-edge in the final third and rode our luck defensively, but I thought we performed pretty well overall and the game was entertaining.
I suppose it’s a matter of expectations… for an early-round League Cup game mine were lowish, especially when you see ten changes to the starting team.

We went in the Lower Rous for a change and it was noticeable – throughout the first half especially – how hard we pressed Bournemouth into errors. This is an area the ‘A’ team need to improve on as possession regained while opponents are attacking opens more opportunities than moves that start from our backline.
On this evidence, I would say Battocchio offers as at least as much as Iriney in this respect, but offers better possession-retention and creativity.

Smith and Murray enhanced their claims for more 1st team game-time. Bond too played well and I assume was being instructed to mostly punt long – an incongruous sight from a Watford goalie these days!

5. Nick Wilson - 29/08/2013

They signed Tokelo Rantie from Malmo yesterday, presumably to address the striker issue.£ 2.2m rising to 2.5. I think they have the potential to be a mid-table team this year. Seen a lot worse

6. Nick - 29/08/2013

It appeared to me at times like Belkelen should have been the guy in the middle of the three with the much more mobile Ekstrand and Brown playing either side of him. I thought he was a bit exposed by Faraonis defensive weaknesses and his lack of fitness.

Lesley-Anne - 29/08/2013

Agreed Nick, we were very surprised that Belkalem wasn’t playing in the middle. If you’ve got a player of his build surely the place for him is in the middle!

This game seemed to highlight how much we need Deeney. Forestieri, Fabbrini and Acuna all seem to need a Deeney-type player to play alongside. But at least we have made it to the 3rd round for the first time in a few years. I suspect it’ll be our first team that play against Norwich though.

7. thanet horn - 29/08/2013

Yes agree with comments, We were somewhat lucky, Saved by Bonds excellent goalkeeping, They hit the post and missed at least one gilt edged chance,, Like the look of Brown in the first half , Although he made some dodgy clearances before being subbed. Belkelen was strong but agree he needs to get fitter, That will come, then we can judge him more fairly Acuna skilfull and dangerous at times and a lovely pass to set up Battochio for a sublime finish, the second goal in two games to be an early contender for goal of the season, but we really missed Deeney and his strength, ability to hold the ball up,and finish, This shows we have ability but are not yet finished article, Agree Smith and Murray played well,

8. Disgruntled of Luton - 30/08/2013

Dear Sirs

I recently took delivery of “The Beast #5”. I was promised by you that this would be “the best in the world”. This has not proved to be the case and, in accordance with the requirements of “Modern Football (TM)” I am now exercising my right to be impatient and to moan bitterly about this. Please can you confrim by return that this will not affect my statutory rights to continue to use “Doyley #12” which has served me well for over ten years.

Yours disgruntledly

etc

9. Season Preview Part 1 | BHaPPY (not BSaD) - 03/08/2015

[…] 2-0 […]


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