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Watford 1 Charlton Athletic 1 (14/09/2013) 15/09/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- We commented on the way to the ground that, in the wake of the peculiar Blackpool defeat we could probably have done without the international break.  It’s almost a cliché now of course, a stock line offered up by every player or manager of a beaten club prior to the two week hiatus… but with good reason.  We played some great stuff against Blackpool by all accounts, didn’t make it count and left it possible for the second half to play out the way it did. Given the outcome, a quick turnaround and a struggling opponent on whom to take out the frustration would have been welcome.

Odd then, notwithstanding the injury to Abdi that forced some kind of decision, that Gianfranco opted to change formation at this stage.  Admittedly it’s not really clicked yet, and it’s to the manager’s credit that he’s willing to try things, to experiment with options rather than clinging doggedly to his preferred approach.  Heaven knows his open-mindedness with formations paid rich dividends last season as we switched to 3-5-2.  Here, however, with Forestieri and Fabbrini, two similar players in many ways, played just off Deeney in a sort of 3-4-2-1 formation.  Our opening felt… overly deliberate. Careful.  As if the change in formation gave us another format to feel our way into… when what we actually needed was a bit of bloody mindedness, a waved fist on the back of the Blackpool setback.

2- And the last thing that this Watford team needs right now is any slowing down.  Charlton were unremarkable but diligent and hardworking…  and industry alone is getting opponents rather too far down the line at the moment.  The loss of Vydra’s pace has been significant and the benching of Anya after his star turn for Scotland in midweek hardly helped in that respect… but it’s more than that.  The passing is not nearly fast or sharp enough, and without that pacy outlet on the break either we’re playing all of our football in front of two banks of four, patiently passing around at keeping possession, but giving ourselves an awful lot to do whilst looking susceptible on the break. All far too easy to play against.

Chief culprit here was Fabbrini, whose grace, control and awareness can be absolutely unplayable against a backpedalling opponent but whose aggravating insistence on taking a touch, stepping sideways across a challenge and most of all just holding onto the ball for too long was the very heart of the problem.  Zola has had a similar conundrum in the Forestieri of early last season of course, but there’s another challenge here for the manager.  Certainly Javier Acuña, a different type of striker admittedly but one prepared to work rather harder for his team, is pressing for inclusion from the start after a cameo here that refreshed our play with, frankly, a bit of welly.

3- The second half got off to a shocking start of course… someone lost his man and Belkalem threw himself across like a missile, cleaning out the attacker. Much of Belkalem’s encouraging League debut was similarly wholehearted… but Cassetti is a cause for concern again.  Digressing slightly, Cassetti is undoubtedly the best footballer in the backline of a side in which being comfortable in possession is a prerequisite… but there’s a big part of me who fancies that we might be a bit better off with one or two more functional cogs.  A striker who just puts the ball in the net, a midfielder who just kicks people, a defender who just defends…

We responded to the penalty well enough;  quicker and slicker certainly but also more willing to hit Deeney with long diagonal balls and play off him, and approach which paid dividends rapidly as the Addicks backline struggled to handle him.  Anya’s introduction gave us an extra dimension and his flaying of Pritchard was the game’s highlight, culminating in a clipped pass to Deeney that the big striker, for all that this was his best outing for a while, should have done better with.  We ended the game on top, frustrated at the referee’s decision to blow up as we had controlled possession in the Addicks’ penalty area but having taken so long about so much of our attacking play for much of the game we were hardly in a position to complain.

4- And for all the whinging up to this point, there remain plenty of reasons to be cheerful.  It’s not a brand new thing, but it’s splendid to hear the subs bench announced and to think “wow, I wish he was playing”.  To each name.  Encouraging also that, as ig and I grumbled about the limited number of obvious leaders in the side, Gabriele Angella seized the initiative by surging forward down an inviting right flank – Belkalem had done the same earlier, but more by following his nose than by making a statement which kinda said “this shit ends now”, as in the Italian’s case.  Noticeable too, that as the Watford players bundled after Daniel Pudil to celebrate his goal it was Angella who forewent the exercise to retrieve the ball from the back of the net.  Angella’s early displays suggested that we had somehow acquired a blend of the best bits of Rio Ferdinand (calm and confident in possession) and John Terry (brutal in the air) without any of the obnoxious irritating bits that you want to punch.  Yesterday was another strong showing from the Italian.

Most of all, of course, the improvement in the second half which again evidenced both the management’s willingness and ability to change the course of a game and our players’ ability to respond to it.  There are good things here which shouldn’t be taken for granted.

5- Having said which… we kinda need a win.  The League Cup has disguised the fact that we’ve not registered three points in the league for over a month, and after two good wins and two kind of OK draws, the last two results don’t suggest an upward trajectory.  To be expected at this time of the season, playing with this set-up… a new swathe of players coming in (every?) summer will inevitably need time to settle in.  But Tuesday night suddenly feels rather more significant than Tuesday night at home to Doncaster felt when the fixture list first came out.



1. putajumperon - 15/09/2013

“a midfielder who just kicks people” – top of the shopping list

Tim Turner - 15/09/2013

I thought that was what Iriney was supposed to be?

2. Nick Winwright - 15/09/2013

Unless Acuna is this person we just need a finisher. Deeney has many strengths but finishing isnt one. Fabrini and fessi also.

Tim Turner - 15/09/2013

A bit harsh on Troy, who scored 20 goals last season. Presumably you think he should have scored 40…

I agree about Fabrini and Fessi, though. They both look like they want to score a goal of the season contender every time. I’d like to see Acuna given a start on Tuesday alongside Deeney.

3. Mark - 15/09/2013

I thought McGugan’s all-round play was a lot better than it has been – he seemed to be playing the Abdi role of moving the ball around and trying to kick start attacks. Gave the ball away a lot less than he has done too.

We looked a lot better as a team when the wing backs really pushed forwards (Pudil in particular) as it created a lot more space and got things moving more quickly than they were happening through the middle.

In principle I really like the front 3 of Fabbrini, Deeney and Forestieri. Also think that Fernando has a bit more pace than people give him credit for – if he resists the temptation to always cut inside he could do a bit of a better job of taking people on.

Watching how Charlton spent the second half hoofing the ball back to us and conceding possession time and time again took me back to the Boothroyd (or even Dyche) era(s), and brought home a bit how much more enjoyable it is to watch us now, despite the team’s clear shortcomings.

4. petebradshaw - 15/09/2013

We have a defender who just defends. Several in fact. All of whom I’d put before Essaid and Marco in the pecking order.

5. Roger Smith - 15/09/2013

At this level, we must expect every defence to be well organised if given time to settle, so we mustn’t give them that time. We look so much better when we play with a sense of urgency, which we did after the equalizer.

That said, I don’t think we were as bad as some are making out, and if only our final pass and finishing were more clinical, we could and should have gone home happy.

6. hornetboy84 - 15/09/2013

fully agree Matt.
We need to move the ball quicker – especially from Iriney who slows the whole movement down and Fabbrini who is dropping deeper and deeper.
I think Zola still hasnt learned the lessons. Anya may have been tired but bag these 3 points THEN rest him for Donny. We need some injection of pace without Vydra.

However – we are hard to beat. We need to be more clinical early on – as if we go ahead i’m not sure teams can live with us… but we need to do this more to prove it.

Nothing to worry about too much-it just shows how much our expectation has increased.

Im more frustated than anything- especially that the football we are playing is not the quality yet of last year.

But we also need protection. A ref has to see the number of late challenges. We seem to be trying to stay on our feet but not getting any reward for it. The last few seconds were telling from this ref. A disgracefully cowardice sham of a performance. I really hope the assessors are able to hang him by his ankles and explain a few rules to him.

7. thanet horn - 15/09/2013

Didnt see game. but from what ive seen so far we need a finisher. Hogg was a terrific defensive mid and we miss his energy, Iriney perhaps not bedded in yet but i think , w we need cover in this position , defence maybe a matter of time we have Nosworthy and Hoban injured, maybe a short term loan cover? maybe they dropped a clangerr letting Britt go could provide pace, size and strength,Ikpeaza to Be blooded?

8. Andrew J - 16/09/2013

I watched Saturday’s game from the Lower-Lower Rous (worm’s eye view), and the pace of the game seemed slower than I’ve become used to under Zola. That said, it was a shame not to take the three points, but there were plenty of pluses out there. Angella is shaping up to be a legend after only a handful of games for us.

9. Iain J - 16/09/2013

Matt, I think you hit the nail on the head with Fabbrini. He may have superb ball skills but he constantly slows the play down by the number of touches he takes, on two or three occasions on Saturday he could have turned and ran into space (without even touching the ball), yet he checked and turned inside to a congested midfield. I’m undecided on whether he needs to be allowed time to adjust, afterall he clearly has the talent, or whether we would be better off with Acuna up alongside Deeney and we play a more traditional strike partnership.

I’m surprised about other comments about Iriney, I thought he had a good game and repeatedly won the ball and played the ball easily.

The first half was poor, second half much improved and despite a performance not being where it should have been either Deeney or Mcgugan, or possibly, both should have taken the chance to win the game and take the 3 points.

I’m confident that Zola will correct the forward play and we’ll start picking up three points soon enough but also worry that the gap between ourselves and the top two is growing quickly.

SteveG - 16/09/2013

My first league game of the season, and having read the rave reviews , I was looking forward to seeing Fabbrini in action – unfair to judge on one game, of course, but difficult to see what all the fuss has been about on this outing. Angella, however, did look a really class act.

I agree with Iain, though, that whatever the shortcomings, we really should have taken all three points here as we had the clear chances to do so.

There are few teams in this league who will match us for skill, but we do seem to be very vulnerable to being ‘out-niggled’ by teams who work hard and have a bit of a physical presence in midfield.

10. Boxmoor Jules - 16/09/2013

Whichever forward formation is used, they have to do it together. I saw three individuals first half, shooting when a colleague was better placed. Vydra got very many of his tally because Troy was laying it off, often on the halfway line. Having said that, there were still two or three attacks that would have graced the Prem. We need the “Team” to come through now, like last year around this time. I think it will happen, but Watford don’t do easy!

11. Marc - 16/09/2013

I predict that after a few more disappointing results (and by disappointing, I mean draws or sneaky wins) we will really come into our own and start to play to our potential. Dominating teams, winning by 3 or 4 goals and sitting pretty on top of the league, or very near the top.

Remember this time last year and in fact remember this time the season before that? Any team is going to take a few games to start working effectively together and that is all that Zola needs.

Matt Rowson - 16/09/2013

Hope you’re right Marc, and I made the same point about giving the team time in Thunk 5. But I can’t share the feeling that it’s on the edge of clicking, much as there’s plenty of good things on the pitch. I’ve confidence in Zola, but we aint there yet.

12. Andy73 - 16/09/2013

I was delighted to see the Fessi/Fabbrini pairing from the start, imagining they would play close together and facilitate lots of quick-passing 1-2s and triangles in the final third.
What transpired was less esthetic – the front three just didn’t play as a unit or work hard enough for it to be effective. I guess we will now only see this triumvirate in the last half-hour of games when we need a goal or two…

McGugan was lively but made far too many showy ‘Quarterback’ passes out to Pudil and Faraoni. Even if the ball reached them, as they are not able to beat their fullback on the outside, we came back inside giving Charlton time to regroup.
These two defensive-minded wing-backs won’t offer us much offensively unless we can get balls to them inside the fullbacks. Which means more attacks coming quickly down the centre before going wide to the over-lapping runner (or through to Deeney).

Agreed, Cassetti remains a convern and add to him (for now at least), Belkalem. Can you imagine Lloyd attempting such a moronic tackle as the one that gave away the pen?

Imperative that we score first tomorrow or we could be in for more frustration.
Having said that, I’m still a believer that we’ll eventually come (very) good.

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