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Watford 1 Wigan Athletic 0 (28/08/2013) 29/09/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. So, anyway, speaking of rude awakenings*…the doorbell went at just before eight o’clock on Saturday morning, and I tumbled out of bed and tumbled down the stairs and fumbled for the front door keys and answered without my glasses on, in my pyjamas and probably with my hair standing on end. I’d expected to be greeted by the postman, thrusting a parcel into my hand and demanding a signature and requiring no more of me in my semi-conscious, barely functioning state.

I wasn’t really expecting a roofer and a barrel-load of scaffolders. It’s difficult at the best of times to maintain an air of authority and dignity when you’re wearing pyjamas; it isn’t really what they’re intended for, and human history would be notably different if it’d been customary to wear them while conducting important affairs of state. When you’re wearing pyjamas and shaking hands with the blurred outline of six-feet of raw scaffolding musclepower, you’re not a man but a mouse.

On the plus side, I don’t usually wear pyjamas. I could’ve been wearing a fluffy dressing gown.

* That’s my introduction. It’s an introduction to a different game and a different report, if I’m being honest, but you can’t turn these things away. Or you can, but only if you want to explain to a bunch of scaffolders that their metaphorical relevance is tenuous, and that’s a long, difficult conversation.

2. And besides, there’s definitely a director’s cut of this game with a different ending somewhere, and that version would fit rather better with our introductory theme. This was nearly – nearly – a rather sobering experience. It was nearly the kind of encounter we’ve been expecting and fearing, in which our attempts at free expression, growing our hair long and running through the long grass and listening to the trees, are subject to a cold hard dose of national service, commanded by a bloke with a loudhailer who looks and sounds an awful lot like Owen Coyle.

In seasons past, even last season, maybe even last month, I suspect that we’d have been picked off here, that we’d have blinked before an extremely disciplined, controlled Wigan side. We came pretty close as it was: the margins are desperately small. There was a delicious moment of uncertainty halfway through the second half when even Gianfranco Zola, usually so bold and so positive when a game is in the balance, appeared unable to choose between the temptation to push forward for a winner and the fear of falling for the temptation of pushing forward for a winner. You could see his dilemma: you almost wanted to pause the video and hold a group discussion, before pressing play and finding out whether we’d done the right thing.

3. Me, I’d have taken the point. You too, quite possibly. Maybe even Gianfranco. That makes it a great win.

Great, above all, because it was so utterly reliant on keeping a clean sheet, something over which Zola’s Watford side has (too) rarely lost sleep until now. But the focus of this incredibly tight, compressed game quickly turned inwards towards the midfield, making every moment in attack and defence vital and potentially pivotal. No room for the slightest error. One lapse and you’ve lost the game without really feeling that you’ve given it your all. A tactical battle rather than a physical one, a contest of nerve.

We aren’t used to winning those, but we’ll need to win plenty of them this season. Few of them, however, will be quite this difficult to chew: Wigan were so composed in defence and the nether regions of midfield, so adept at spoiling our fun, that whole periods went by with barely a whiff of a chance and key players were reduced to contributing only stammering bit-parts. Troy Deeney was a figure in a tactical diagram more than an active participant; Fernando Forestieri was brilliant only in places where his brilliance counted for nothing. Only when we managed to pick out forward runs from the likes of Daniel Pudil, scuffing a vital chance at the keeper early on, and Sean Murray, bright but gradually fading, did we look even slightly dangerous.

As ever, each misplaced pass was greeted with a frustrated shriek from the stands, but genuinely unforced errors were vastly outnumbered by those caused by relentless pressure in midfield and the desire to bypass an almost impenetrable defence. Once again, we had cause to rue the absence of a lack of explosive pace up front, for Wigan’s defensive line was frequently so high it threatened to encroach on our own half. You could’ve fitted three such games onto one pitch.

4. And so we won this, really, not in attack but in defence. We won it by not conceding, by buying ourselves enough time for our quality to count. We won it by concentrating, by doing all of the dirty work; it was a victory for competence, diligence, other stout and sensible things ending in -ence. It was an outstanding ninety minutes for the back three, and especially for Gabrielle Angella and Joel Ekstrand, slamming the door shut every time it threatened to come ajar. That we might have other players capable of challenging for their places, rather than merely other players in reserve, is an extraordinary reflection of the investment being made in us. Able contributions from many others too.

But as I say, the margins are small and allow no complacency. An incorrect offside flag ruling out an early goal, as Wigan get behind Iketchi Anya and square for a close-range finish. (You don’t want to see that version of the game. No fun at all, that one.) A solid double-save from Manuel Almunia in the second half as the visitors begin to take some control, the sparky McManaman tormenting Faraoni and his preposterous haircut. And the one real lapse, Iriney and Doyley playing silly buggers in the penalty area, Lloyd’s wild, if slightly curtailed, swing felling Powell for a penalty that’d be given nine times out of ten, except when you’re saved by an inattentive referee. The official’s performance fell apart completely after that moment, perhaps aware that a jovial manner and “Just For Men” hair wouldn’t count for anything when he was cornered by Owen Coyle in the tunnel. Between this and the penalty winner against Doncaster, we’ve surely seen enough to silence the conspiracy theorists and their tedious, blinkered complaints about decisions not going our way.

5.  I love the way we play ‘n’ all. I admire the precision to which we aspire. But if there’s a key element to the winning goal, it’s the little bit of chance introduced by the deflection on Faraoni’s cross, the moment when the ball can go anywhere. A bit of good old-fashioned sticking it in the mixer, if you like; a bit of clouting it clumsily at the first defender, if you’re being less generous. Whatever, that’s the unexpected, and we’d lacked the unexpected. That’s the moment when the entire Wigan defence is caught off-balance for the very first time, when there are suddenly some yellow shirts in space on the edge of the box…and we know what the result of that invariably is.

We were impressively patient and cautious here. We had our luck, no doubt, and that deflection was the last piece of it. But we refused to let Wigan tempt us into indiscretions, refused to be drawn out. We weren’t ourselves, in many ways.

When Zola speaks of maturity, he’s quite right. A difficult game to win. A very easy game to lose.

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Comments»

1. Lincoln Hornet - 29/09/2013

This has nothing to do with either us or the Wigan win but did anyone see the post match interview with Dychey after another Burnley victory yesterday.
In the current climate of players falling around and managers berating refs decisions etc. I have nothing but admiration for him.
We all know what a good job he did for us during his time with Watford, both on and off the field and he could be forgiven for feeling kicked in the teeth when he made way for Zola and joined Burnley but he has just got on with it.
He always speaks very rationally win lose or draw and yesterday was no exception. He is a credit to himself and football and sadly there aren’t many of those around at the moment. Who would have had Burnley where they are currently in the league table following Austins departure. Top man and well done. Just wish he would get rid of that hideous beard!! U ‘ORNS

2. Roger Smith - 29/09/2013

“No room for the slightest error. One lapse and you’ve lost the game”.

Except that there were far too many errors, and not all of them forced. Fortunately, their finishing let us off the hook. But there were also flashes of Premiership quality in their play, and it is hugely to our credit that we coped pretty well.

I thought it was a gamble to leave Ireney on after he’d been booked. The ref was very hot on trips, and one more foul on a forward running through, and he’d have been off.

Dare we rest Deeney on Tuesday? He looks as if he needs it.

3. Smudger jnr - 29/09/2013

So I’ve just watched the highlights, and it looks perfectly possible that McLean was just off when played through down the line. Can’t see the defensive line other than the two nearest the ball tho. The lino’s flag pointing up indicates the offside was a player on the far side of the pitch.

And I just don’t think either pen should have been given, so agree with the decisions. But then again, I would.

Those talking points aside, it was a game for Iriney, and he responded with a great performance (my MOM).

Also think Murray and mcgugan are two similar. Should play only one of those as a ‘marauder’ with one playmaker (abdi, batto or even mceachran) and one DM/deep sitter.

4. Keith Hannigan - 29/09/2013

The thing I love most about the BHappy reports is the way they provide narrative and explain why the match developed the way it did. Those of us who can’t see the match in person are too often left reading less-the-useless summaries that say things like “both sides were flat” or “the game lacked direction.” What the hell does that mean? I suppose there are times when highly compensated, highly trained and highly competitive young men get out on a pitch and say “screw it, we’re just not going to try very hard today” but I suspect those kinds of debacles are few and far between. Rather, games unfold as they do for a reason(s) and what you guys do better than anyone else is provide a narrative explanation of those reasons. Michael Cox accomplishes similar things with his charts and visuals but you do it in lovely prose and, more important, you do it for our team. Thanks.

Roger Smith - 29/09/2013

Hear, hear!

greywhistler - 30/09/2013

That sums up nicely why I eagerly await Ian or Matt’s blog on games. We all see games differently – which is inevitable given how much is going on on the filed of play. It’s those “off the ball” or subtle shifts in tactics, momentum or whatever that BHaPPY reports articulate so well….
… and, in case that sounds pretentious, it’s above all the sense of fun and wit they bring to reports which few newspaper journalists can manage.

Roger Boon - 30/09/2013

Amen, Amen. You should be writing for the Times or the Independent. Spot on too, though I thought it was a 50-50 penalty. Such a pity we weren’t able to persuade Nick Powell to join us on loan.

5. hornetboy84 - 29/09/2013

I truly believe that Wigan alongside QPR are the teams to beat this season. You could see signs yesterday that Wigan are nearly clicking and yes I did turn to my friends and ask with 20 to go .. “take the draw?”.
I think we will need to be patient as a lot of games this year are going to be like that. As you say is a great win .. Cardiff / Hull style and we have added defensively and Zola has added brave subs to last year which is good.
Wigan were worthy of a point if not all 3 although having now seen the “doyley definite pen for Wigan incident” from the ref angle – it does look like no contact and Powell just touched the ball and dived … In which case te ref should have booked him.

I am concerned though that are results are masking some big issues. Not sure where the goals are going to come from if Deeney is not firing and games are tight. Take away the 11 goals from 2 of the games and we have only scored 9 in the other 7.
Lets hope west brom keep winning whilst Vydra is not playing and we may get him back in Jan!
ABDI is massive to get back to give us some fluidity in midfield – but I am a massive Battochio fan and frankly think he can adapt into any of the CM roles and should be ahead of Murray and MCGugan even if they are playing well in spasms. No mention in the report of the ridiculous booking of Batto after his goal? Surely cuddling 1 man (presumably his brother/friend) in a deserted dilapidated stand hardly constitutes entering the crowd!

You Horns !

6. Peter - 29/09/2013

Good article as ever, agree with comments about our solidity however I do get frustrated at people moaning about Deeney who, even when we supposedly play two up front is left totally isolated because Fessi scuttles off into midfield. We then seemed to play in triangles with pudil, mcgugan and Fessi on one side and anya, Murray and Fessi on the other but at no point did these isolated pockets of creativity dare to join up with Deeney or switch play quickly (as chalobah enabled us to do last season) thus exploiting space and shifting the opposition defence around, instead we invariably play to the back and build up slowly allowing them to regroup (which Wigan and others before them have done very well). All his leaves Deeney occupying three defenders and often the only forward in the box. I though he put in a thankless shift yesterday – every time he win a header Fessi was miles behind the play and therefore we gave up possession. I love Fessi – he is a joy to watch, but Zola needs to coach him that if the ball is with Angella in space and he is shaping to play it long then look to play off Deeney and then play in the area that hurts the opposition.

7. NickB - 29/09/2013

Laughed out loud at the thought of Coyle as a National Service RSM barking out orders, no doubt still annoyingly dressed in shorts (although probably not pyjamas).
I am one of last season’s hard boiled conspiracy theorists. Allowing for your own example of a dodgy pen vs Peterborough, you don’t need to be one eyed to contend the we got bugger all from refs in virtually the remaining 45 games, including one, exactly which escapes me, reffed by the very same Mr Madley, where we were denied at least two nailed on pens.
I certainly don’t feel guilty about the last couple of assisted victories after that lot. Apologies for being tedious 🙂

wfcbhoy - 30/09/2013

With help from Soccerbase, this was Blackpool at home in March – Matt’s report on here certainly reinforces your view. Maybe the ref was trying to make up for that performance, in some small way – I don’t know if it’s much compensation, when you think what an extra point or three would have meant last season, but fooball’s full of ‘what ifs’, so given we could have ended up with one or even no points yesterday we’ll only know how important the three from Saturday will be after 46 games.

8. Lloyd Arkill - 29/09/2013

“A jovial manner and “Just For Men” hair wouldn’t count for anything when he was cornered by Owen Coyle in the tunnel”

Superb!

9. Tim Turner - 29/09/2013

Like many, I thought Lloyd’s challenge on Powell was a nailed-on penalty, but I did feel a bit sorry for him. I don’t know if he’d done something to irritate his teammates, but throughout the game they repeatedly fired the ball at his midriff or knees. He’s not the most skillful in the team when it comes to controlling the ball at the best of times, but yesterday he had a particularly hard time of it.

On the plus side, it’s worth mentioning the sublime moment fairly late in the game when Battochio picked up the ball in the middle of his own half and looked as if he was going to run slap bang into two Wigan players – yet someone slipped between them and took the ball with him. One of the most audacious pieces of skill I’ve seen for a long time.

10. nick - 29/09/2013

I also thought Iriney was excellent, the pressure he puts on the opposition often goes unnoticed and he definitely won his midfield battle with Watson today.

Its great to be able to bring on the likes of fabrini, faraoni and battochio when things aren’t quite clicking for you.

hornetboy84 - 30/09/2013

I have been “unconvinced” by IRINEY Thus far but concede he started to show his qualities. It was great how Watson’s own performance just continued to deteriorate and he really was in basketball 5 fouls and out territory !

11. Boxmoor Jules - 30/09/2013

I agree with everyone!! Coudn’t tell about pen or offside goal (which was a good move by Wigan, maybe their best, and rewarded with nothing). However every one of our players appears to be contributing and improving (I’m in the Deeney is vital, goals or no goals camp). A wonderful chess game, on the edge of your seat. The quality coming off our bench is starting to add points to potential.

12. Mark S - 04/10/2013

With our supposedly creative team how many good chances did we fashion v Wigan at home and then Blackburn away ?
Tomorrow has another 0-1 defeat written all over it with Vaughan the scorer.I may even bet on it in the morning.


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