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Watford 0 Bolton Wanderers 1 (23/11/2013) 24/11/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  Unusual to be starting with the “big picture” stuff, normally the domain of thunk 5.  Relevant here though., because however dispiriting our recent form has been…  things could be worse.  No, really.  I mean, you know that, right?   You remember Bassini?   Not being able to afford Keith Scott or a Stevenage-era Barry Hayles in Division One?  The financial abyss post-Vialli?  This?  Whatever’s wrong is small potatoes in comparison.  And even if one accepts that there are major problems with the team – we’ll get to that – we have owners with a demonstrably sound plan, and a degree of security.  And some very talented players, albeit we’re not seeing the best of them at the moment.

Indeed, it’s difficult to conceive of any Watford squad of the past that could have accommodated this sort of injury list as well as we did today.  Yes yes, I know, and we’ll get there… but it’s surely beyond dispute that if one considers the players missing by the end of the game, when illness had forced Manuel Almunia’s half-time withdrawal, the absentees could have formed a stronger side than those available.  And incidentally, given the signings late this week of Hector Bellerin and Fitz Hall we perhaps shouldn’t be expecting Gabriele Angella, Lloyd Doyley or Ikechi Anya back anytime soon.

We’ve had injury crises in the past of course… there were periods of our 1999/2000 season where you could have made similar statements about the strength of those available versus those missing.  We were a top flight club then though, and coped rather less well in those circumstances than we did today, at least until the twenty-seventh minute.  We were the brighter side  in the opening period; if Bolton had begun to enjoy some possession they’d not threatened, whilst Thorne, McEachran and Acuña had all had half-chances.  This wasn’t Brazil 1970 by any stretch… but it wasn’t bad;  we’d started smartly enough in difficult circumstances.

2- Which isn’t to suggest that the last hour of the game was anything but sheer bloody purgatory.  Quite how much Manuel Almunia’s second expensive slip in two home games owed to the clattering he’d earlier received from Jermaine Beckford, or to the illness that reportedly provoked his withdrawal at the interval we can only speculate.  Either way, and more so than against Leicester, it was absolutely pivotal.  Whether Bolton are really as limited as they appeared – a considerably less impressive outfit than the side that lost here last season – or whether in sticking rigidly to a successful game plan that always looked a safe bet in the circumstances they simply had no need to showcase what they could do, they came across as a very average side.  By gifting them an unearned one-goal lead we had effectively cordoned off a parking bay for their bus in the penalty area and they parked and manned it diligently.

For all that his form has been, generously, variable of late, the loss of Deeney was the greatest challenge in the circumstances.  Picking your way through an obstinate and well-organised rearguard has so much greater a chance of success if mixed with a bit of welly, an option that really wasn’t open to us with the personnel available.  Acuña showed early willingness and aggression which earned him a yellow card, but again suggested that he too would rather be the creator than the bloke on the end of the cross, and whilst Davide Faraoni was one of our brighter performers in the first half there was too often little to hit with the space he found on the right.  Nor was our midfield particularly equipped to pick a lock… in McEachran and Battocchio we had two willing water-carriers; fetchers, bustlers and layers-off but none of the incision that an Abdi, a Murray or perhaps a McGugan might have offered.  For all that we had the lion’s share of possession we managed to carve out next to nothing in the way of goalscoring opportunities.  It was miserable, futile stuff… almost precisely what a badly-executed passing game looks like, precisely what we’d feared at the start of last season.

3- Which doesn’t excuse some of the idiocy going on in the stands. The low point of this came from an unfamiliar voice behind me who, after first Forestieri and then Pudil had had shots charged down in quick succession implored “when are we going to have a bloody shot?”.  On a later occasion successive sideways passes we greeted with wails of “shoot”, and when Battocchio did just that and in doing so failed to find the pinpoint accuracy and power required to test Andy Lonergan from an unsighted position outside the area, he was rewarded with sighs of derision. Here’s the thing, see…  if breaking down a packed defence was an easy thing to do, something that was just a matter of mustering the willpower to have a shot irrespective of the number of bodies amassed between you and the goal, opponents would have ceased employing it as a tactic years ago.  We weren’t not taking shots out of rejection of the tactic, we were not taking shots because we weren’t engineering, or being permitted to engineer, shots to take.  Those cries of “shoot!” actually represented a translation failure between the brain and the vocal chords… instead of “shoot!”, the message was “score!”, which is not quite the same thing and represents even more limited tactical insight.

4- On the bright side, George Thorne looks a bit of a player.  Very much in the Chalobah mould, he was physically imposing but comfortable with the ball, bringing it out, finding space and setting the tone like the conductor of an orchestra.  During his last season, Adrian Mariappa earned a standing ovation for a Bobby Moore tackle against Leeds…. Thorne executed two of these in the second half, somehow bruising and imperious without making any contact with his opponent at all, an exercise in bullish timing.  More to come as he rediscovers sharpness after nine months out, one suspects, and you’re left already wondering whether his loan might be extended.  Meanwhile, the return of Nos to the centre of defence was hugely welcome, bringing some of the uncomplicated brutality that our forward play could have done with. He lasted an hour before a positive but fruitless substitution saw Fabbrini enter the fray.  Good to see you back, sir.

5- There’s no doubt that, injuries aside and for all that we have greater strength in depth than last season (see 1) there are cogs missing that make the starting eleven, injuries aside, less effective.  The loss of Vydra’s pace in particular makes us much easier to defend against;  Abdi’s injury and Deeney’s loss of form expose our reliance on key players, something that a relatively clear run with injuries exposed less last year – although which is chicken and which is egg in terms of our injury record and form is perhaps open to debate.  Either way, on and off the pitch we resemble a morose teenager who has just been dumped for the first time and is wasting his time moping around and getting all introspective and probably composing awful poetry or something – instead of getting out there and doing something reckless.  We need to snap out of it.  We need a good slap.  And we need a lucky break to turn the tide.

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Comments»

1. Tim Turner - 24/11/2013

Nothing here to disagree with – especially the need for perspective.

Picking up on something you mention in passing in thunk 1: I’m not usually one for criticising managers, but the Almunia situation doesn’t reflect well on Zola.

If Almunia had really been ill since Friday, as Zola said in his post-match press conference, then playing him regardless suggests that he doesn’t think Jonathan Bond is up to the task.

And if the whole illness story is just a smokescreen to cover Almunia’s blushes, then that doesn’t say much for Zola’s judgement either. It’s been apparent for a month or two that Almunia isn’t the keeper he was last season. Even before the bizarre errors in the last two home matches, there were fewer outstanding stops and more ‘saves’ where he simply palmed the ball into the path of an opposing player rather than catching it.

The test will be next week against Yeovil; if Almunia is over his illness, will he start? For the record, I think it’s time to give Bond a run.

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2013

The Almunia situation does seem odd. In defence of Zola, I can understand him wanting to persevere with one of the few older, experienced heads in the team. He’s spoken several times about how much that has given us.

Roger Smith - 24/11/2013

I agree. Putting yourself in Zola’s shoes, you really wouldn’t want to sideline your captain when you had so many other enforced changes.

2. qm - 24/11/2013

Thunk 3. More frustration than idiocy from the fans, perhaps, and not a sigh of derision, surely, just a sigh! It seemed that we worked the ball to the centre of the parked bus over and over, usually then giving up possession, and we sorely missed Anya. I hope you are wrong about the potential length of his absence.

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2013

The sigh certainly reflected frustration. Wailing “shoot” and then complaining when they do is plain idiocy. But I agree, a fully fit Anya wouldn’t have hurt.

3. Realistic skeptic - 24/11/2013

As ever Matt the voice of reason. I am normally a reasonable man but TBBM and his constant berating of McEachran really got my goat.

Now is the time the team needs support, not moaning. I can already sense the tension that will be in the crowd before next week’s game before Yeovil. God help us if we are not 8-0 by half time.

Having said that it does seem that our recruitment policy this season did neglect to find some support for Deeney, this coupled with Abdi’s absence has made us much easier for oppositions to work out and stop.

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2013

Indeed, although as ig mentioned in his Bournemouth (6-1) thunks (thunk 3), the loss of Vydra is the key to us being easy to play against.

4. Stephen Hoffman - 24/11/2013

I for one don’t buy the Almunia illness excuse just like I don’t believe in Father Christmas. There was no signs before the game of illness or during the first 45 mins. Furthermore, the only player looking like he was being trained to go on in the second half was Fabbrini. Bond wasn’t even ready to come on. Put it simply Almunia was mentally shot. This is unsurprising given that having spoken to Arsenal supporting mates when Almunia was good he was good, but he was extremely fragile and when he made a mistake it would take him months to go after it. I appreciate we’ve got bad injuries but we haven’t played well for over a month after trying numerous team combinations and for a talented group of players on show today the performance of just one shot on target is unacceptable. That the whole team isn’t playing well suggests that at the moment Zola simply isn’t inspiring them. I appreciate that Bolton were dogged defensively but we only had one shot on target.

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2013

re. “no signs of illness”… there was an iffy moment around the 27th minute as I recall.

Scott - 24/11/2013

Fully agree with you Matt, some of the idiocy I had to listen to on the way out yesterday was mind-blowing. One great sage I was walking behind went on at length about how substituting the goalie at half time meant that Zola had lost the dressing room and would be sacked in the morning!!!

As to Bond not being ready Mr Hoffman, yes he was delayed back on for the substitution. I assume that you missed the reason for this. It was because he had to run back to the dressing room to get his match kit on after he spent the entire half time period doing a full on goal-keeping warm up in preparation for coming on.

hornetboy84 - 25/11/2013

Clearly not 100%. And reactions to shot drop were sluggish so I expect a combination of him being battered and Ill caused a problem.

Regardless – given the issues in front of Almunia – there was no way Zola would have “wasted” a substitution unless absolutely necessary !

Lloyd Arkill - 25/11/2013

Bond spent most of half time vigorously warming up with Chamberlain

5. Mark - 24/11/2013

Agree with all of the above. As you alluded to, when we did get the ball wide to Faraoni and Pudil and they got to the point of putting a cross in, you sort of need people in the box to try and kick the ball in the net. Instead, on the (relatively few) occasions that we got it wide, our forwards opted to hang around the edge of the box, meaning that our midfielders were 5m further back than that. Not going to score many goals that way.

Still, as far as frustrating performances go, I’d rather watch an hour of lovely but fruitless passing triangles than the same amount of time of Eustace’s endless chips to our forward line under Dyche.

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2013

steady. no dissing John Eustace on this site, whoever he’s playing for…

6. The Great Big O - 24/11/2013

We desperately need pace to frighten and stretch defences. The only real creative option we had on the bench was to bring on the dancing girl. He tried hard for half an hour, but the approach never looked like working.

I’d love to see Anya in the Vydra role – lurking off Deeney, ready to sprint.

7. Roger Smith - 24/11/2013

Thunk 1 is spot on: whilst automatic promotion may now be beyond us, we are only 3 points off the play-offs, and with a fully fit squad that should be well within our grasp. So let’s all get behind the team and give it our best shot. I think it will be good enough.

And whatever Zola’s failings as a tactician, the fact is that good players such as George Thorne want to come to Watford for world-class coaching.

8. MartinG - 24/11/2013

In addition to Abdi I think Chalobah is a real miss. Remember how he’d get us transitioned from defence to attack. He had that dummy he’d throw as the ball came and let it run past him,
and we were immediately going forward at pace. Forestieri and McEachran almost always stop the ball first or go backwards, and it slows us right down.

9. okocha125 - 24/11/2013

Well I read a lot of fans forums and tjings kike this and a lot of the writers and commentors say simular thing ti whay you have written whrn they have lost to us .Now this is our second season in this league and the one thing I have noticed is every team is average and any onr can beat any one on their day , we played better tactics and won thats it , we give teams possession thats the way we play now , we hassle or we man mark ane let teams piss around with it untik their knackered and because we have good attackers we can counter , anyways I still think yiur going to be up there just got to be patient

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2013

not arguing with any of that, but we played into your hands by gifting you a goal.

10. Stephen Hoffman - 24/11/2013

Matt I don’t doubt Almunia’s quality as a keeper. He was one of the few players who performed without nerves at the play off final. The problem is I’m not sure his head is in the game at the moment and to be fair I think a little break would help him and Watford, as well as giving Bond a chance to prove himself. Its not about saying Almunia is rubbish, but just realising a bit of time out of the firing line could do him good.

11. Paul Caruso - 24/11/2013

Dear Sirs, In what league position were we at this stage last season?

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2013
12. Andy Castle - 24/11/2013

Over the last year I have been sorting out nearly 20 years of Watford programmes that have been weighing down my loft and cataloguing them. Apart from the well known highlights over that period overall it has been a pretty depressing task that I have nearly given up on a few times and the local recycling centre has beckoned. Finishing 11th in Sean Dyche’s year in charge looked a pretty good achievement at the time.

Today we are in 10th place and well positioned for a play off challenge with a squad as good as any in the division. Matt pointed to this in thunk 1 in relation to the monster list of injuries we are carrying.

The old East stand is gradually disappearing and the club has just made a profit, it would appear. So, all in all it could definitely be a lot worse…and those programmes are a stark reminder of what we have been up against in years gone by.

I’m a bit nervous about the Yeovil game, mainly because I can’t bear to see another defeat, but also because of the predictable mush that will get posted on some websites about “meltdown”, “Zola out” etc et boring cetera.

COYH

13. Andrewh - 24/11/2013

We were playing a lot better before the club announced the demolition of the old main stand. Perhaps holy water and an Italian priest should be called for.

14. Simon J - 25/11/2013

Matt, I love your level-headed insights and I know we’re suffering from being on the wrong side of the ‘performance v expectations’ ratio – and if I bumped into GZ tomorrow, I would probably kiss him on both cheeks and tell him I love him – but I have one outstanding problem: Acuna.
Is it just me, or has he consistently failed to make any real contribution this season?
Saturday’s match was a massive opportunity for him to demonstrate that he deserves to start and yet – as has been the case in earlier outings – he either becomes invisible or noticeable for all the wrong reasons.
I’m not blaming him for Saturday’s woes, but I admit that my heart lifted when he was substituted.
What am I not seeing?

Matt Rowson - 25/11/2013

I agree that it’s not happened for him, but he’s not had an awful lot of match time to work with. That’s a reflection in part of what the manager sees on the training ground of course… I don’t think he’s been awful, he’s committed and tidy but not, apparently, the marksman we expected him to be.

15. Andrew J - 25/11/2013

I couldn’t help but notice the quiet atmosphere in the home end on Saturday, and wonder if the players used it as an excuse. It is a two way street, but the folk being paid £,000s a week to be there have to do their bit before expecting anything in return from the folk paying £00s a year to watch them. This may be the most skilful Watford side for a generation, but it doesn’t look like a team. I can think of plenty of less skilful ex-Watford players who understood the player-fan dynamic, and turned it to the team’s advantage. Only a handful of today’s WFC players seem to grasp that fact – most of them noticeable by their enforced absence on Saturday. The players are letting the manager down at present, but it is not too late to grasp the nettle. Let’s see more hunger from these players, and more empathy with the supporters.
And by the way, Vydra has left. Please, let’s stop bemoaning the absence of a player who was here for one season, however brilliant he was.

Matt Rowson - 25/11/2013

Not bemoaning Vydra’s departure. But we badly miss pace up front. It doesn’t need to be him, but is a key factor behind a system that was so effective last season (even when Vydra wasn’t playing particularly well) being much easier to play against this.

16. Dusty - 25/11/2013

I think, although it may be a little simplistic, all we need is an old fashioned “fox in the box” to finish off what was repeated excellent attack after attack. We played really well for most of the second half and lost to a goal of great fortune for Bolton. Is this the character building we need for the rest of the season?

17. GoldenBoy60 - 25/11/2013

The game on Saturday was very poor and neither team looked as if they had any confidence or real belief. That has obviously come for both teams through bad results and although Bolton are on a ‘run’, I couldnt see anything in them. It was a case of who was the poorest not the best. I think the team are in a poor mind set but the question is how do we get out of that?

A change of formation and playing with a more positive passing attitude would help. Every player dropped off and wanted to walk it through 8 players and as was suggested when we did get it in wide areas not one player ran onto the 6 yard box to get on the end of it, or the cross didn’t clear the first defender.

For me McEachran is a sideways and backwards player and will never play in Chelsea’s first team. Tottenham played like we did yesterday and got hammered when Man City pressed. We need to free the reigns and play with more urgency and get behind defenders. If I was a defender I am comfortable with players in front of me but not when they run in behind me. We need FF to play right up against the CH and look to run in behind. Admittedly we are missing key players at the moment but they too have not been playing well.

I do feel Zola may just need a bit of wisdom from someone experienced and who knows how to win games at this level when the team are not playing well. It is this qualty that gets promotion. At the moment I would forget about play off places etc and just look to get the team performing again. That change of mindset and giving the palyers something else to think about may just get the team out of the rut they are in at this point of time.

I also have to wonder why players are pulling muscles in U21 games during International breaks when last season they were playing at a much higher intensity and didn’t suffer these problems.

Matt Rowson - 25/11/2013

Disagree on a couple of points. Bolton weren’t overly impressive but, as qualified above, they did what they had to do having been given the lead and did it effectively. The lack of penetration on our part wasn’t just down to us.

Second, McEachran may not play for Chelsea’s first team but he could be a very effective cog in ours. Thing is, he’s not the man to provide the penetration he’s a continuity player… always looking for the ball, always providing a pass, but unless we’ve got options he’s going to look silly a lot of the time through not having anyone to release to (except sideways).

But I agree that we need a threat to run in behind defenders – more generally, there wasn’t a whole lot of space behind the Bolton defence for much of yesterday. And for all that GZ insists that Fernando is quick, we need speed off the shoulder as you suggest and that’s not his game.

18. Iain J - 25/11/2013

Matt, I do agree with your call for a sense of perspective but I also think the frustration came from not only a limited number of shots but simply being unable to put ourselves in a position to create genuine goalscoring opportunities.

On some occasions we had possession within 30 yds of goal yet nobody in a central position or in the 18 yrd box. At one point in the 1st half Foristieri had the ball out wide in front of the Rous, Acuna wanted the ball and was supporting him very close by, all three midfielders were deeper than them and neither wingbacks were trying to get ahead of the ball.

Whenever crosses went into the box there was nobody anywhere near them. Corners, well we may as well not bother, I’ve never seen centrehalves look so unlikely to get their head on a cross.

I take your point that Deeney was a big miss but my concern is that recent games don’t just suggest poor form they scream lack of knowhow.

We don’t get enough players into the box, we don’t see midfield runners get beyond the ball or the front two enough, we don’t use enough width, the whole team play 10-15 yds too deep. We don’t move the ball quickly enough, more often than not one of the midfielder’s receive the ball take a few touches and move the ball sideways or backwards. When did we see a real change of tempo, a drive from midfield? Is that because our ‘forwards’ play too deep and spend too much time ‘getting in the way’?

I really don’t know whether the performances are due to simple poor form, a lack of confidence, the team not ‘clicking’ just yet or whether it is simply the system and the instructions from the Management team that aren’t bringing the best out of the players involved? I am sure though that we are some distance from getting it right and that we have dropped a long way short of the standards set last season.

Matt Rowson - 25/11/2013

Frustration I can understand, but it doesn’t justify behaving like an idiot. I get frustrated at work, but I don’t sit here shouting inane abuse at my PC.

OK, bad example.

19. James - 25/11/2013

Totally agree about the need for perspective. Saturday’s game wasn’t much fun, but at least we still have a club to support.

I think the next couple of months will be a real test of Zola’s management. Turning around a side desperately lacking in confidence is one of the hardest things to do.

I don’t really see that raw pace, and getting behind teams is what’s required. It’s not often possible to get behind a team that’s defending the edge of the box with 10 men. Team’s aren’t giving us the kind of space we got last season that raw pace can exploit.
What we need is quicker passing, and a bit of risk-taking. Too often when a player receives the ball he has an option of a quick, slightly-risky forward ball, but instead hesitates and goes for the safer option. We keep doing this, going backwards until we concede possession, or are forced into going long, which usually equates to the same thing. It takes confidence to make those risky passes though.

Related to this is the lack of a leader. Someone who’s head won’t drop and who won’t allow other players to sulk, or disappear.

It wouldn’t take that much to turn things around though. A stroke of luck could do it. It was particularly unfortunate that the three players who were most capable of hurting Bolton:- Abdi, McGugan, and Murray; were unavailable. Bolton allowed us a fair amount of possession 25+ yards from goal, which is within the range of those three, but not the others.

Matt Rowson - 25/11/2013

I agree that pace wouldn’t have helped much on Saturday. In general tho teams are able to push op on us and squash out the space in midfield because there’s nobody getting in behind. Vydra didn’t score many in the second half of last season but that was in part because teams were scared of him and sat back, giving Abdi and co room to make hay in the midfield.

Completely agree about a leader tho.

20. Chris Turner - 25/11/2013

Thing is Deeney is the odd man out in our squad. He’s the only genuine striker. All the other positions are covered in our squad so when one is unavailable another can slot in. But we only have one striker, and we play 3-5-2 except that in reality its 3-6-1 when Deeney plays and 3-7-0 when he doesn’t hence one shot on target yesterday. We miss Vydra because of his pace, yes, but mainly IMHO because he was a second striker.

21. GoldenBoy60 - 26/11/2013

Some good points in your response Matt, but I think McEachran just slows the play down. If teams want to restrict space, passing sidways and backwards will absolutely allow them to do that. We need to pass forward more quickly and i’m not taliking about wacking it up to the front players. For me McEachran is a luxury and does not add anything to the team. Chalobah got forward and supported and there was much more rotation in our midfield. No we haven’t got Chalobah now, but Thorne for me showed some very good signs and can only get better as he plays more. There are two things you can do with McEachran. Work with him to play more positively, or leave him out.

Again with FF yes I agree he wants to drop off but you can work with players and change their mentality. FF could be a top player if you work with him to go in behind. He has all the attributes. He is strong has a really good and low centre of balance, is quick, and has really quick feet and tricks, and can strike with either foot. I feel he could do massive damage to the opposition if he played 10 yards further forward. And that CAN be done on the training field. He is similar to Messi in stature. Messi comes short but he also drags defenders when he runs in behind and scores plenty inside the 6 yard box. FF has that ability and will win penalties because he is so hard to shift off the ball. For me that is down to Zola, and by the way I’m not criticising Zola. I would be devastated if he left but I do think he is still in a learning experience and some advice from someone more experienced would be beneficial.

For me succesful teams get a momentum going from week to week. At the moment we have lost that and getting it back is not easy. We do need a little luck (we haven’t had much this season) and we need to help ourselves by playing with more purpose. A change of formation will give us the following positives:

Something different for the opposition to think about

A second way of playing when the game is not going our way

Freshen up the players with something different

And most important, give the players a new impetus

With the squad we have which is becoming bigger and bigger we should have that flexibility. Don’t change a system that is working but provide different options when not.

I have never been a fan of a back 3 because players can get down the side of the CH’s because there is no full backs squeezing that space. Teams are exploiting that this season and give us massive problems. The top teams play with a back 4. Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich etc….

But they play with rotation and movement and of course have individual match winners. I think we have those players in our squad at this level.

I think we have to forget the football that was played last season. The situation has changed and we need to provide something different. Winning is a mentality and breeds confidence which builds a winning mentality whatever system you play. Question is how does Zola get that back quickly? I fear for him if we don’t get promoted this season. It seems to me that the finances and loan repayments are dependent on Premiership money. The Pozzo family have been brilliant and I am so pleased that they are Football people and not a Vincent Tan or someone who wants to call us Watford Hornets. But I believe Zola has big pressure, and I so want him to succeed and continue to build our Football club in the right way.


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