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Watford 0 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (14/12/2013) 15/12/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- You really have to wonder how we got here.  Even those who didn’t expect this season to be a cakewalk, who anticipated difficult games at home as attitudes towards us changed and we had to adapt to new circumstances and a different squad, can’t have anticipated this.  It stands to reason, of course, that last season’s flamboyant style was never something that was going to succeed in moderation;  we’re not equipped to grind out results when the going is rough, less so given the summer departures.  The viability of playing open, confident football is kinda dependent on the “confident” bit.  Otherwise you’re just “open”, with the inevitable consequence that you’re rather easy to score against without the verve to overturn a side with something to cling on to.  Nonetheless the chasm between the performances that yielded so many goals last season, goals that didn’t entirely desert us as we were finding our feet again early this, and performances that have yielded no goals in the last four at Vicarage Road is vast and would have been all but inconceivable even in the wake of the Wembley disappointment six months ago, a result that arguably did neither manager any favours at all.

2- Wednesday, who like Bolton were more impressive in losing this fixture last season than they were winning this, joined the list of moderate sides who’ve turned up and gotten a result without having to do any more than organise themselves defensively and wait for an opportunity.  They didn’t even park the bus, particularly, much as they got bodies behind the ball when out of possession;  this wasn’t a smash and grab raid.  Indeed, the Owls started particularly tentatively and looked anxious in the opening ten minutes as the Vicarage Road crowd, craning our necks in a desperate attempt to peer round the corner we hoped we were turning, seized gratefully upon these suggestions of vulnerability.  You’ve got to capitalise on such situations though and we failed to do so, Cassetti – on a particularly ropey afternoon for the veteran – the most culpable sending a free header from a corner high of the bar.  A mid-half hiatus brought the dawning realisation that our supremacy hadn’t yielded an awful lot, with Deeney ploughing a lone furrow up front and a clear strategy of hitting him early with longer balls than we’re used to making us feel unusually impatient and edgy.  When Wednesday scored – from a well-struck free kick from Connor Wickham, who was giving Nosworthy an uncomfortable afternoon, the script for the rest of the game unravelled as joylessly as a dropped loo-roll.

3- That sense of inevitability was evident on and off the pitch.  The performance was listless, and the characteristic availability of a pass that defined our play last season was absent – it’s not just a destructive, hard edge than Jonathan Hogg took with him to Huddersfield.  In such circumstances you need a break and we didn’t get one… Anya’s on-side goal mistakenly ruled out by the linesman’s flag, although any assessment of decisions going against us would need to weigh that one up against a generous judgement that Nosworthy had got something of the ball in making a last-ditch saving tackle on the escaping Jacques Maghoma five minutes earlier.  Another characteristic of last season was Zola’s knack of positively influencing the course of a game through positive substitutions and tactical switches, spotting a problem, addressing it, sorting it.  Perhaps the scale of the problem is overwhelming… but that sense of clarity has gone too.  The second half, kicking towards the Rookery, yielded not a single effort on target and only one brief spell of fist waving and rabble rousing from behind the goal which died all too quickly. The introductions of first Fabbrini, forced in part by an injury to Faraoni, and then McGugan and Forestieri didn’t lack in positivity… but they were “let’s see if this works” punts rather than changes introduced to address a problem.  And yet…  in the dying minutes up popped the ghost of Christmas past, Fabbrini dancing in from the left and releasing Forestieri.  The Argentine had been roughed up on his introduction by a Wednesday side perhaps mindful of his impact from the bench last season but he was clean through and it was elegant and devastating, a slight of hand and a rapier thrust that Wednesday hadn’t seen coming.  This is what we do!  This is what it’s supposed to look like.  We’d probably have deserved a point, despite everything.  The shot went wide.

4- In context, the booing at the final whistle was pretty tame.  After five defeats at home, defeats which have rarely looked like yielding and scarcely merited any more than no points between them, we might have expected worse.  That such relative restraint is being shown is down to two considerations, principally.  First, the spectre of the glorious, devastating performances of last season.  We know what’s possible and the memories are still fresh whatever’s changed since.  Second, everyone wants him to do well.  Zola has done nothing but endear himself – whatever mistakes he’d made – and even those convinced that it’s time for a change don’t adopt that position with malice.  All would gratefully change their mind if they were told that Zola would turn it around – such unanimous support on a personal level is far from common in such circumstances.  What do I think?  I think it rather hangs on whether he thinks he can sort it out.  Because recent performances and decisions smack of floundering, fiddling with things hoping that the right set-up will be chanced upon or for the undoubted quality in the side to win us a break.  If he still has that conviction, I think he’s earned more time. For all the resources at his disposal, forming a team as coherently and quickly as he did last season was an immense achievement too often taken for granted.

5- But I’m far from convinced that that’s the case.  His 3CR interview with Jon Marks after the game showed no sign of fight, just helplessness.  Chekhov once observed that once a gun appears in a book, someone has to fire it at some stage else there’s no point it being there.  Similar inevitability exists between a manager “considering his position” – as Zola effectively confirmed during that interview – and what follows.  I don’t recall an instance of a manager taking time to reflect and then coming out fighting.  I hope I’m wrong.


1. Leavesden 'orn - 15/12/2013

It’s like watching groundhog day.
You are right, does Zola believe he can turn it round, because it’s mostly the same personnel as last year, but with the best bits missing and the new recruits not quite working.
Watching the ‘orns over more years than I care to recall, this has happened before, when we have had high expectations.
Boothroyd (bless him) on our year after the premiership. West Brom was it not?
Taylor, on our year after the premiership, Fulham was it not?
Vialli (what happened to him) things fizzled out after a positive start. Stockport home?
Harrison, did he not go through a sticky patch prior to limping into the playoffs?
Must be something in the Colne water.
I think the Derby game may have been the beginning of our problems, and McClaren has not looked back (down) since.
It must be a curse for us having high expectations of expected success.
As much as I like Zola, I’m not convinced, and the tendency for him to tinker does not help, especially as it’s easy with a big squad.
Something’s not right and as I am an optimist by nature, I have felt that the last few games were a blip, but after this, despite many promising bits, feels like its drifting like the above eras, leading me to a conclusion that Zola won’t be here much longer.
Like you, I hope I’m wrong, but after the Xmas games, more of the same, and a loss at Yeovil, well….. Do you predict a guaranteed win there?

Merry Christmas

2. Goldenboy60 - 15/12/2013

I still go back to what I said a few weeks ago. Zola needs an experienced head. Not in terms of telling him what team to pick or even what team shape, but just to quietly have a word about how to deal with this situation. What I saw yesterday was a team desperately trying to turn it around, trying too hard even. They were anxious to do well rather than confident to do well. It culminated in poor decision making, and not playing in a relaxed but vibrant manner, but trying to FORCE things.

We needed to score first, so that our visitors had to come out a little more, and we could play with more confidence and belief. But one sensed that without that first goal in the opening 20 minutes the visitors would grow in confidence and belief in themselves. Of course when they scored you could see all of their players grow in being first to the ball and recognising they had a real chance. We of course went totally the other way.

That is where an experienced head is needed. GT was there yesterday and I just wonder if he would have had that chat? I hope so because I think Zola is still learning this job. Warnock once said that he didn’t judge how good a manager is until he has a rough time. I don’t want him at Watford, but he has all the experience in the world and knows what he is talking about.

We ask our manager and players to be mentally strong, and I think the Watford fans now need to be strong when things aren’t going our way. That is testimony to a good club going in the right direction, and when it does turn the corner will be all the more satisfying for everyone.

3. Mark - 15/12/2013

In truth we weren’t far away from getting a win, let alone a draw. Out of the disallowed goal, Cassetti’s missed header early on from the corner, Fernando’s late miss and Fernando getting in the way of what would have been a tap-in for Anya, we’d have easily put away 2 or 3 last season. That would then look like a comfortable win. Fine margins really.

I’d give Zola until at least the new year if I was King Pozzo. And I’d buy a bloody quick striker in January.

Last thing – worth noting that, in terms of the belief that one needs to keep having the confidence to create things from midfield, it must make a difference that yesterdays midfield 4 had an average age of about 20.

Great write up again Matt – thanks!

Matt Rowson - 15/12/2013

A game like this in isolation might make your argument more credible Mark, but after five home defeats on the hop to pick out the couple of instances where we should have scored and claim fine margins doesn’t really wash. You’re right, of course, a bit more luck and so forth. The problem is that we’re rather reliant on that luck. Shouldn’t need it to score a goal against one of Leicester, Bolton, Yeovil and Wednesday.

4. NRC - 15/12/2013

This was so frustrating, especially after an enforced two month break from the Vic. Poor passing, a front man who looked frustrated and a team, and it would seem, a manager bereft of ideas. This wasn’t a team, but a group of talented sportsmen in search of a direction. You are right Matt, the interview sounded desperate, heart v. head time methinks.

5. Roger Smith - 15/12/2013

All the more disappointing because, after two very creditable away draws against top teams, there was every reason for the self confidence to return. And with Anya and Bellerin we are building attacks with width and pace. Get the first goal and the floodgates will open. Concede it, and go another three points.

To be fair to Bond, their free kick did get a deflection off a Watford head in the wall. But where is the leadership on the field to rally the side? Zola could yet succeed, but only with an experienced number two, who knows how to organise a defence.

Matt Rowson - 15/12/2013

Thing is Roger we’ve not really had a problem away from home. We’ve lost twice away, both to late goals… when teams have to come onto us we’ve got enough about us and will often grab a lead and almost always a point. However adequate the results at Leeds and Burnley were in isolation, the corner was never turned until we beat someone.

As for the defence… well, yes, that would help. But we were hardly watertight last season. Doesn’t matter half so much when you have a threat at the other end for the other lot to think about.

6. oldhorn - 15/12/2013

Thunk 2. Sorry to be the one that says “I told you so”, but………I told you so,

Cassetti is an absolute liability and he showed his true colours by marching straight off down the tunnel at the end of a truly woeful performance at the end of the game. At least some of the others (mostly – although not totally – home grown I noted) made an acknowledgement to those who have spent the thick end of 200 quid over the last few weeks following them around the country.

Zola out? No. For me not yet, but I agree with the thoughts of thunk 5. If that interview is anything to go by, he will make the decision himself. Let’s see,.

7. Andy - 15/12/2013

Great summary, totally agree, Zolas comments suggest he is a beaten man, not sure which way to turn, that to me, requires sorting maybe bringing in Steve Clark to help or bringing back the tactician from last season, either way the club is lacking leadership and this need sorting quick for I can’t see us winning a relegation battle if we carry n playing the way we are.

8. Hunsbury Hornet4 - 15/12/2013

Wise words, well written (excuse the alliteration). Especially section 4, which translates roughly to how I feel about the situation. I didn’t boo, and I never would. I do not believe, or rather I find it hard to believe, that any player would go out onto the park and not want to win a game of football (notwithstanding the recent match fixing allegations). So in that respect I would imagine that they feel as bad as us about how things are. So booing is not going to help the team in any way. The spectre of last season’s good form is indeed at the back of my mind, at least, and I think that by however means, we will return to something like it. The rest has been debated, but I would add one final comment. It irritates me that managers of far inferior teams than us always come out with these post match statements of “we deserved the win”. Did Sheffield Wednesday deserve to win, as their manager said? One shot on goal in 90 minutes, which went in, our disallowed goal, and FF’s missed sitter at the end suggests it was us who deserved to win. Have a good Christmas.

9. thanet horn - 15/12/2013

Didnt see the game, I thought wed turn it around given the fact Wednesday are struggling, but saw the Yeovil game That too had a depressing inevitability about the result as we couldnt take our chances but after Leeds last week i thought we would see off Wednesday worried about Zola the way the game works there may not be much time left for him, Irrespective of the fact that sacking a manager isnt always the answer,We need to freshen it up in Jan if hes not going to try and blood one of the youngsters a new striker even if only on loan could be important, Also an effective holding midfielder, Hogg is badly missed and for me Iriney so far hasnt filled his boots, Not sure about Thorne but only a short term loan
LIke always when you are struggling. your luck deserts you witness Anyas disallowed goal. we still have key players injured also [Abdi,.Hoban] lets hope we stick with Zola maybe get some help for him remember he gave us one of our greatest ever seasons last year, but when things go wrong the panic button gets pushed especially in football. lets hope it doesnt and Zola bounces back lets pray for that first win the best possible christmas present fo all Hornets
Happy Xmas to all Horns

10. Rod Green glove. - 15/12/2013

Some good comments again Matt but if you have a gun about to fire you don’t stand. you duck! As far as GFZ he has chosen to duck the issue when questioned on where we go from here. Very disappointing to here his reaction to a very poor performance and the worst so far in my opinion.
Where do we go from here? If he cant see as the coach, I see more problems especially, if he is allowed to continue without any plan to try and put it right.His comments were very negative post match.

11. Realistic skeptic - 15/12/2013

A good post which puts into words the absolute bewilderment that I think most WFC fans are feeling at the moment. Whilst there are a few hotheads effing and blinding for GFZ’s head, for most of us it is a confused, punch-drunk situation.

The side we most resembled on Saturday was the Blackburn side that we beat in April. Many very talented players but a total lack of focus, organisation or tactical organisation. As such oppositions only have to be vaguely organised and take their opportunities. So it proved again yesterday.

12. ADP - 15/12/2013

i went to the Fan’s Forum feeling rather dejected and left full of hope. There was no way we were going to lose this match, new stand, great owners, reinvigorated manager; bring it on. And yet there it was for all to see.

Our team of artists need more than just a conductor, they need a passionate leader, someone who can throw the odd teacup and put a helping hand round the shoulder when needed. In Pozzos we trust and they will need all their steel, guile and experience to do the best thing for our football club.

Good luck gentlemen – were all counting on you.

13. JohnF - 16/12/2013

I don’t know how much say Zola has had regarding coaching staff and actual player recruitment but the wholesale changes in the summer to a team that were functioning as a team on and off the pitch seem strange. The club seem to be ditching tried and tested success for personel who are unknown and untried in UK and I don’t understand why. The flood of young loanees brought in to try and bolster things up seems to reflect an admission of mistakes made. I don’t think we are seeing squad rotation, which implies planning, more tinkering without analysing the problems. Even last season GZ had a tenency to occasional wholesale tinkering that resulted in points being dropped that shouldn’t have been.

Matt Rowson - 16/12/2013

I think that’s a little harsh John. Vydra didn’t want to come back, we chose not to spunk £35k a week on Chalobah, Hogg wanted to move back up north. The one you’d maybe dispute (and we’ve banged that drum enough on these pages) was Eustace. Otherwise… the influx made sense on two levels. Firstly, we WERE short of numbers in some positions last season (and despite the recruitment have struggled for centre backs this). Secondly, THAT’S the Pozzo model, for all that Zola, it is claimed, has the final say. We don’t have a benevolent owner who has come in to underwrite our expenditure, nor would a solution like that, which could only be temporary, be welcome. What we have is a business model that involves polishing up rough diamonds on a grand scale. That means lots of players, particularly young players, and a few failures along the way. It also means playing hardball in not caving in to silly financial demands or below par offers (Chalobah and Vydra respectively). No problem with any of that.

Luke - 16/12/2013

Indeed Matt. And as a result of that policy, I wonder how much Anya has added to his value in the last 12 months? If Vydra builds on his midweek performance from last week, again, how much now?

JohnF - 16/12/2013

I don’t disagree Matt but the questions are, why so many changes to the backroom staff at a key time and did they have a plan as to what sort of players were needed to replace the ones they couldn’t stop leaving? Particularly, how well they would adapt to English conditions.

Rob Payne - 16/12/2013

I had no problem with not getting Chalobah back at those wages, I knew we wouldn’t get Vydra back, and we had no choice over Hogg. I even understood the Britt sale, although at the time I presumed we would be sigiing a striker. The big problem is the players we signed are not good enough. I don’t think Zola has much say, the players we have been given fromfrom our sister clubs are not the players we needed. The problems we have at home are mainly becuase we miss Abdi so much. We also miss pace up front. Teams know we have no pace and can play against us thus. We need Abdi back ASAP or an honest apraisal of how long he will be out and a player signed to replace him, Murray does his best, and has been a real plus so far, but he isn’t at that level yet. I think we will sign a striker with pace in January, the Pozzos don’t appear to be stupid, they must know what we need. We can’t get rid of Zola withouth making a couple of sigings in the window and see what he does with them.

Matt Rowson - 16/12/2013

I don’t know about “not good enough”. I can’t think of many of the new signings that I’ve already written off in my head… Belkalem’s looked iffy but was always going to need time to adapt. Iriney has been disappointing. The problem is that key pieces have been missing, for one reason or another.

Rob Payne - 16/12/2013

Not good enough was probably going a bit far, but not right is probably more what I’m thinking. No doubt Fabbrini is a very skillfull player, but his dive, limp, then sprint for the ball was embaressing. When he plays our tatic seems to be give him the ball and hope he can beat 5 men. Faroni is obviously a nice player, but apart form a great goal against Norwich he isnt very dynamic. Accuna, again, good touch, but he doens’t ever look like scoring, and is certinaly not what we need.

14. mattp - 16/12/2013

Are we in fact seeing the impact of changes to the backroom staff over the summer with Zola’s assistant being brought in on a hunch by Gianfranco with little experience. In today’s game a manager requires top coaches around him and I wonder whether this is where our weakness really lies..an impossible question to answer unless your a player I guess?! It’s pretty grim right now but I don’t see sacking zola as the right thing to do, if he walks away I would not be surprised but would have hoped he had more fight about him.

Matt Rowson - 16/12/2013

As you say, impossible to judge… tempting as it is to seize on that explanation

Harefield Hornet - 16/12/2013

Steve Clarke in as number 2 ?

Matt Rowson - 16/12/2013

From managing a mid-rank Prem club and previously assisting at top prem clubs? Unlikely…

Roger Smith - 16/12/2013

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head regarding Zola’s number two. I’ve said in the past how attractive to a young player it must be to have GZ as a coach. Except that, when you get here, you find yourself in the hands of someone with no coaching qualification and little experience. No wonder the team is deflated.

15. Harefield Hornet - 16/12/2013

Only a thought because I think he and Zola have worked together before and are pretty close.

16. drewoneone - 16/12/2013

If there is one thing we have learnt about our new owners it is that they are canny strategists. The communication from the club is mostly measured and timely. The Pozzos will have a Plan B, and probably, C, D and E. I’ve trusted them so far, and will continue to do so. As has been said on this page, it is probably down to GZ’s stomach for the fight as to what happens next.

17. Bradhaz - 16/12/2013

Very sad to see Zola go, I for one thought that he could turn it around. Though his post match statements did suggest what was coming. After the journey of last year it feels very heart wrenching to see such a gentleman leave our club. Wish him and his family all the best.

18. qm - 16/12/2013

How sad to see him go.

19. NickB - 16/12/2013

Had a great view of Nos’ tackle and, while he came in slightly from the side, he got plenty of the ball and, for me, never a pen in a month of Sundays, whatever the rather perplexing and ridiculously persistent Wednesday reaction. And I thought the free kick decision was incorrect – Nos simply stood his ground whilst the forward leant into him.
Just heard that Zola has gone; really sad to hear that, however the second half did feel as though only one outcome was on the horizon, unless a late equaliser had papered over the cracks for another week or two.

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