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Watford 0 Leicester City 3 (02/11/2013) 03/11/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1a. I wasn’t at that game. I wasn’t there in body…and, in truth, I wasn’t even there in spirit, not fully. It’s quite hard to tune into the frequency of a playoff semi-final, its deafening fever-pitch, when you’re in a tranquil cove at the tip of the Cornish Lizard, waves lapping gently on the shoreline a few yards away. It doesn’t come easily to mind, especially when your only link is a dry, neutral Radio Five commentary. It’s beyond your imagination, another world altogether.

So my memories of that goal are different from yours. They’re of leaping up and down in our cottage, an old lifeboat winch house perched a few yards above the sea, trying not to punch the low ceiling in the process. They’re of hugging Andrea, who’d worked out the bit involving Leicester getting a penalty but was some way behind working out what’d gone on after that point and didn’t yet have a partner capable of explaining it rationally. They’re of seeking out YouTube footage later in the day on a broadband connection made of tin cans and string, watching Troy Deeney jump into the crowd at a rate of a frame every thirty seconds. They’re a curious combination, a double exposure of Vicarage Road in tumult and Church Cove in blissful Sunday afternoon slumber.

I wasn’t at that game, but I don’t regret it, not really. That’s my favourite place in the world; it was the best holiday I’ve ever had. It makes my heart sing just to think of it. The memory is still special. Different, but special.

1b. But it’s time to let go of all of that, isn’t it? It’s time to forget about last season, all of it, good and bad. No point in picking over regrets; equally, nothing to be gained in pining after the days of ruthless counter-attacking and jack-in-the-box surprises. Whether it’s triumphalism over Leicester – who we appear to be playing again, so it evidently didn’t turn out to be that much of a turning point in our respective histories – or frustration at the Wembley anticlimax, it’s no use to us now. It’s all just baggage.

And most of all, it’s time to forget that we promised ourselves the Championship to make up for that disappointment. It wasn’t ours to promise.

2. You could see this coming from several miles – and months – away. Frankly, I’d braced myself for a season’s worth of this back in August. Has there ever been a campaign in the club’s history when the current level of expectation has ended in something other than a train wreck? Certainly not in the Premier League era, when expectation has generally been accompanied by foolhardy over-spending, weighing up the cost of not getting promoted as if it were tangible on the balance sheet, and followed by a grand washing-of-hands by the supporters who demanded it. “Yeah, but we didn’t mean Nathan Ellington.”

We’re not courting ruin this time, at least. We are, however, turning inward on ourselves as before, picking our scapegoats and sharpening the knives. We are preparing for the worst. This could be a very long, very harsh winter.

3. No motivation necessary for a Leicester side which hasn’t needed to change much; not much of a team-talk in the away dressing-room, you wouldn’t imagine, just a belly-full of replays of that goal. We set up the cup-tie atmosphere, but to no-one’s benefit but theirs: we began, as too often, as if we might be afforded time to settle into the game, to find its rhythm and to tinker under the bonnet until the engine purred to our satisfaction. Much of the comment on the Brighton game concentrated its fire on a frustrating second half, but, really, it was the first which should’ve caused more concern: we lack the authority born of conviction and confidence, and slip easily into a kind of vapid sponginess. Brighton weren’t quite good enough to make the most of it; Leicester emphatically were.

What money can buy you at this level is a bunch of six-foot musclemen who’ll guarantee that you won’t get no trouble from no-one, boss. A bit more money, and you might get some who can play a bit into the bargain. It’s a tried-and-tested formula, used to title-winning effect by the likes of Newcastle and Cardiff in recent years. Our formula, on the other hand, is revealing some flaws, most notably that the kind of year-on-year progression which might push us over the line between playoff hopefuls and promotion favourites is hampered by high turnover of players.

We’ve kept many of the loans, it’s true. But partly through key departures and partly through injuries, the spine of the side is notably weaker: no Chalobah, no Abdi, no Vydra, half a Deeney. Would we have been half an hour from promotion last season without them? Doubtful. The replacements have yet to form themselves into anything half as threatening or as potent, and lack the balls to bluff it in the meantime; Leicester looked appropriately unflustered almost throughout. One glance at our bench – a collection of players to politely introduce to a game rather than kick it up the backside – spoke volumes. It’s all a bit too nice.

4. As it happened, one of those politely introduced players did make a substantial impact, for Diego Fabbrini finally gave our opponents a problem to solve. True, he remains a player in need of a haircut and a proper job, and he wanders around with a gait that suggests he’s wearing rollerskates for the first time, but he performed his party tricks in areas previously untouched by our attacking play. Leicester had scored a ruthless, brushed-aside second to put the game beyond reach by then, of course, so please don’t imagine that I’m over-stating our case. We both have near-empty glasses; I’m just trying to top them up a little bit.

After nigh-on an hour of midfield passing with no consistent options in the final third, the Fabbrini substitution gave us that outlet. It gave Josh McEachran – of whom more shortly – the pass he’d been looking for and never finding. And, as at Brighton, it dragged us another ten or so yards up the pitch, into the areas where we can suddenly pick out a pass that splits defenders and make runs in behind. And, again as at Brighton, we’re too bloody sharp in the final third for that kind of pressure not to create chances: three splendid ones here, wasted by Forestieri, Anya and Deeney. The game was gone by then, I know. But the season isn’t. There are ways forward, still.

So, yeah, McEachran. I like him. I like him a lot. He’s not another Chalobah, I grant you, and we continue to miss the wonder kid’s knack of casually swaying around an opponent to unheard cries of “NOT THERE!” before wanging a pass into a space no-one else had seen. We miss that element of inspiration-stroke-chaos. But McEachran lays himself wide open to criticism, particularly based on televised games where the camera follows the ball, by persistently looking for possession when others are hiding from it, by waiting for options if he has to, and by picking a safe pass if nothing else presents itself. If nothing else presents itself – and it didn’t, often – then that’s other people’s bloody fault.

You can build a passing team around a player like that. Give him the options and he’ll find them; he demonstrated that by picking out eye-of-the-needle through-balls to Anya on half a dozen occasions in the second half. He’ll prompt and prod and find the weaknesses, if you can get him beyond the centre circle and get some movement going up ahead. He’ll force the likes of Anya, McGugan and Forestieri into the game rather than leaving them on the margins, and those are the players who’ll win us games.

Or you can bellow “GET ‘IM OFF!” when he misplaces an occasional pass, replace him with someone who’ll hide along with the others, and be the worse for it.

(Yeah, I know, I know. But I love a losing battle….)

5. Anyway, let’s not end on a positive note. The afternoon doesn’t deserve that. We were second best everywhere, well beaten by a much, much stronger and more competitive side. We approached the contest seemingly without any belief that we could win it, and the prophecy was, of course, self-fulfilling.

Wobbly and exposed in defence, caught between over- and under-committing on the flanks, tentative and shy in midfield, frequently non-existent in attack, we were precisely the kind of fragile, edgy, fragmented outfit that we gleefully picked off for much of last season, especially away from home, where the expectant crowd can be used as a weapon against nervous opponents. That Watford would’ve have relished a game against this one, and would’ve made it squirm even more than Leicester did. We’ve grown old, become what we rebelled against. It’s not quite dad dancing, not yet, but it doesn’t burn with any fire or live with any youthful abandon any more.

The freedom has gone. It’s like trying to meditate while someone bellows “RELAX, YOU FACKING IDIOT!” at you through a megaphone. It’s all rather difficult, and the likes of Leicester aren’t going to show any pity. Maybe a long-distance away game, one that’s not on bloody telly, is what we need. We need something. We need it quickly, before it all starts to unravel, before we invite in a crisis all of our own making.

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Comments»

1. Arightfilbert - 03/11/2013

Which Cove on the Lizard were You staying at?

Ian Grant - 05/11/2013

Church Cove: http://www.cornwall-beaches.co.uk/helston-lizard-falmouth/church-cove.htm. We’ve been there lots and lots of times, and have just booked for next year too. Not in May, though.

2. NickB - 03/11/2013

The less said the better, as far as the game is concerned.

As for the fool with the microphone, words fail me.

3. oldhorn - 03/11/2013

First paragraph, thunk 5 for me sums up the afternoon……sorry……lunch time entertainment perfectly. I wonder what whould would have happened if we had a captain/leader (John Eustace anybody?) out in the middle of the park instead of between the sticks. Oh and by the way. Please. No more Cassetti if you don’t mind Mr Zola.

Harefield Hornet - 04/11/2013

why ? I thought our play out from the back improved no-end after he came on. I know his legs are going a bit but at least he can:

A) Pass the ball accurately to other team memebers,

B) Actually speak to other members and tell them what to bloody do or what position they should be in.

C) Give us valuable experience and nous.

Vaughn Smith - 04/11/2013

Fully agree with that. For me he was our best player of the afternoon, and the only one who got a few crosses in that didn’t end up being cleared at the near post.

oldhorn - 04/11/2013

Fully understand what you’re saying, but it’s his lack of pace that’s costings us goals. Look at Leicester’s third goal. He had given Dyer a yard and Dyer went past him as if he was a statue, then Cass realised he was never going to catch up and gave up the chase. His failure to even get off the ground to try to cut out the cross led to Norwich’s third goal. The number of opportunities he has had this season to give a pass and push on for the return that he’s not been able to do due to his lack of pace…..

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt he has been a fine player and I get the experience bit, but ultimately at the moment we are leaking far too many goals and in my opnion (and I fully accept yours) that’s one gap that can easily be plugged.

4. Roger Smith - 03/11/2013

“We approached the contest seemingly without any belief that we could win it”.

On the contrary, my impression was that we approached the contest believing that we had a divine right to win it. Only when we went 2-0 down did we start to show the sort of urgency that we should have shown from the off.

From then on it was a contest, and one we might have drawn if not won had we converted our chances (and had Leicester not continued to miss most of theirs).

Following the U-21 victory away at Plymouth, someone commented along the lines of “In football, you only get out what you’re prepared to put in”. Perhaps they could explain that to the Senior team.

5. Smudger jnr - 03/11/2013

True, all so true. Time to try something different, start afresh, WITH the personnel we have, and that includes the management! Did nobody else notice our switch to 4-3-3? Zola can also see the problems and you can’t blame him for anything to do with recruitment. 4-3-3 suited fabbrini and forrestieri. Troy became less isolated. Also think McGugan, Murray and forgotten man battochio could do well as option for the forward right and left.

Slightly more controversially, I’d like to see if cassetti could be one of two deep midfielders alongside maybe both of Iriney and mceachran in the mid three.

6. steveherbe - 03/11/2013

Good read, but I will correct one thing. We – Leicester havent bought 6 foot musclemen. Both our fullbacks are products of our academy, the polish centre back came on a free, and wes morgan was a cheap deal from our friends in nottingham. The days of city spending their way to the premiership are thankfully long gone.

7. Michael James - 03/11/2013

Spot on as usual
But i have to say you have gone down in my estimation by missing the play off semi final for a weekend in cornwall!!
Unbelievable!!
Shocking admission!

Ian Grant - 05/11/2013

It wasn’t my best bit of diary-planning ever, I grant you. In my defence, I’d point out that our ten days’ holiday was booked about nine months in advance; it reflects the fact that I couldn’t see us finishing beyond mid-table when the season started, but I was hardly alone in that…

8. hornetboy84 - 03/11/2013

I think. Orat least I hope, that the one consolation was that we were not just beaten but truly hammered. It will force Zola to be justified in being ruthless and some ego’s will have to be managed. Half a Deeney is possibly generous- I thought we were effectively playing with a “false number nine “. It may be Time for 4-3-3 as plan A (zolas preferred formation) or if not I think it’s time to settle on a fabrini Forestieri starting line up And give it a number of games. It may allow Deeney as an impact sub to work his way back to form over 6 games or so.
On a glass half full point of view we are playing poorly and 1 point off the play offs. C’mon on !

9. jonathan hubbard - 04/11/2013

As an ex pat Leicester supporter I picked up your blog on a news aggregator. Just wanted to compliment you on such a well written piece. Rare indeed.

10. Nick - 04/11/2013

What I wouldnt give for a John Eustace in the centre of midfield at the moment. Someone to stick his big size 10 straight up the backside of the game and shunt it 30 yards towards the oppositions goal.

We really miss his leadership at the moment to pull everyone together.

11. thehornet35 - 04/11/2013

I must admit that I am somewhat mystified by the criticism aimed at McEachran, I thought he had an alright game on Saturday, was the only one looking for the ball and found a team mate with most of his passes, Chalobah he is not, but I think everyone needs to let go of that one, last season was special, but it’s not a case of “little old Watford aren’t they plucky” anymore, and we need to get forget our ‘right’ (which a lot of fans seem to think we have) and earn it, else we will turn into the forest’s and Leeds’ of the world and never get anywhere.

12. Harefield Hornet - 04/11/2013

Not only was showing the replays of Deeneys goal stupid it was also bloody disrespectful to the Leicester fans who had bothered to travel down rather than watch the game at home or in the pub. Of course that’s not saying they wouldn’t have done the same if the circumstances had been reversed, but it gave me a very uneasy feeling before the start, which turned out to be well founded.

13. Lloyd Arkill - 04/11/2013

I agree that showing ‘The Goal’ on the big screen beforehand demonstrated a distinct lack of class. I still enjoyed seeing it again though.

14. Rob Payne - 04/11/2013

I totally agree about the replays of last season before the game, not very classy, and also very short sighted. On McEachran, I think he is clearly a good footballer, good touch, good vision, I just don’t think he is what we need at the moment. He doesn’t seem very dynamic, and for every nice little pass to Anya, there were 2 balls back to Lloyd and Eckstrand that put them in trouble. Also, we can get overrun in midfield, I think Ireny is a natural holding midfielder, and while also not always very dynamic, he does at least snap to the 2nd balls. The amount of 2nd balls that McEachran just watched was very disappointing. I echo everybody’s wish for a John Eustace type in the middle of the park to grab a game by the scruff of the neck. I think the time for 3 -5-2 has come to an end without any pace upfront to be a real threat in behind, it’s not working. Also defensively, anybody that saw MOTD on Saturday night will have seen Danny Murphy talk about Liverpool’s issues with having 3 at the back. It seems to me all the points he made applied to us on Saturday as well, central midfielders running from deeper not being picked up by anybody.

Harefield Hornet - 04/11/2013

Yes, that struck me as being very relevant to us.Hopefully the 0-3 reverse at home will bring about a re-think and a slight change of direction. It’s not the lost cause that some of the hysterical rants on other blogs would have you believe – just a combo of not having exactly the right players to play the system at the moment and Almen’s continued absence highlights this. Zola admitted we were unbalanced in his interview after the game. 3-1 to us at Boro!

15. JohnF - 04/11/2013

This will be an interesting test of the manager because several of the players look to be suffering from lack of confidence, Deeney in particular. That needs a less technical and more man management approach. Getting the formation and personel right also helps. The central midfield played OK but were rather short of options going forward because there was a lack of movement. One issue is lack of quick thinking that was illustrated in the first half when Forestieri delayed his pass to the incoming Murray allowing a defender to step forward and close Murray down. Leicester were certainly on the front foot and were closing very quickly. They were very fit and kept up a high tempo whereas the high tempo that Zola demands from us was largely missing. We will see. All is not lost yet but I agree very much that the big turnover on playing staff does not help. Hopefully the club will be able to make this clear for next season. We did lose three very important players in Vydra, Chalobah and Hogg but this was rather out of the control of the club. It certainly was never going to be easy replacing them.

16. SteveG - 04/11/2013

Re thunk 3… another glance at the bench suggests that we could have started the game with all seven of those players on the pitch and had a team that was not significantly different in strength from the one that actually went out there.

Zola has been criticised for the rotation policy, but on this occasion it was virtually the same team as at Brighton, and that didn’t help. We do have strength in depth, but there really is no clear cut and obvious first XI.

Interesting thing, memory – I’ve just had a look at the stats from last year – at this stage Leicester were second, we were 16th, Vydra had only made two starts in the previous 6 games, Deeney had scored 2 goals and Mark Yeates had the 5th highest number of appearances (behind Almunia, Pudil, Hogg and Abdi). The dominant performances of the winter were yet to come and it was far from obvious at that stage that we would find the blend that was to prove so effective. The Abdi/ Chalobah/ Deeney/ Vydra spine that we all remember with such fondness had started only one game as a unit by the start of November.

Maybe the best is yet to come this year as well … let’s hope so!

17. RGW - 05/11/2013

Surprised no-one has commented on the mystifying subbing of Pudil for Faraoni, At that time we were repeatedly tearing Leicester to pieces, either F&F picking their way through the middle or Anya being free on the right. All that stopped the instant Anya was switched to the left.

On the go-slow thing, for me it is repeatedly McGugan who puts the brakes on play out of defence. When the ball comes to him he stops and looks for a pass, and it there isn’t one then he just sits there. He needs to be running with the ball to draw defenders towards him to make space for others on the break. By staying still and looking for the pass it’s too easy for defenders to cover back.

18. Season Preview Part 2 | BHaPPY (not BSaD) - 04/08/2015

[…] ENCOUNTERS: A miserable capitulation to a rampant Foxes side in November 2013, and a much more credible draw in Leicester four months […]


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