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Watford 4 Millwall 0 (26/12/2013) 26/12/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- A new manager always brings with him a sense of dislocation, wonkiness.  A new start necessarily means that the status quo has been dispensed with and for better or worse you return to Vicarage Road with trepidation, not knowing quite what to expect.  In these circumstances it’s natural to cling to familiar things: the fresh chill of Boxing Day air, turkey sandwiches as the lunchtime game kicked off. And a good chortle as a hapless opponent capsized and set themselves up for a hiding.  We needed that.  We needed it almost as much as the team did.

2- And boy did Millwall play their role to a tee.  Before they’d dropped to ten men in the ninth minute they had already demonstrated the qualities that had lead to one point in their previous six away from home.  In contrast to the established blueprint that has earned visitors to the Vic three points so reliably, they stood off us and allowed us pretty much whatever space we needed (“and if you need more, you only have to ask. Innit.”). This enabled us to get into a rhythm, revelling in the freedom, and you kinda got the feeling that if we didn’t win this one it was going to be a long time before we ended our spartan run. Danny Shittu’s physique, as we know, seems to have precluded him from ever learning how to defend; caught wrong side, not for the first or last time in his career, pulled Deeney back, red card, penalty.  Not so much gifting us the win as sitting down next to us and gently asking if we’d like them to start the unwrapping for us.

3- What’s chicken and what’s egg?  Did we look more aggressive, faster, sharper because we had the lead and found our mojo again, or was that aggression, that sharpness part of the recipe that gave us the lead that has eluded us at home since September?  Would we have won this game under Gianfranco, or would Millwall have stuck to the blueprint that had been serving every opponent so well?  It’s difficult to believe that any opposition would have been inane enough to deviate from that most straightforward of approaches, but there was little in the Lions’ performance to inspire confidence…  Lomas responded to the sending off by taking off a winger and moving striker Jermaine Easter wide, leaving Steve Morrison on his own up front.  He won more than his fair share in the air…  once finding space at the far post from a set piece to power a textbook header downwards and forcing Ikechi Anya into a goalline clearance.  Most of the time however there was simply nobody close enough to him to pick up his knockdowns; the ball didn’t stick, we took possession and the Lions’ penalty area began to resemble a coconut shy.  Indeed, I’ve seen more movement in coconut shies than in the Millwall team whose attitude was exemplified by Ikechi Anya’s impudent third goal at the start of the second half; playing down the left, his dummy cut him inside two stranded opponents who he left isolated on the flank.  They didn’t chase, nobody else closed down and he picked his spot with aplomb.  Ten days ago, the last game at the Vic sounded the death knell of one manager;  this one felt like Glenn Roeder’s team’s trip to Crystal Palace in 1996 for Lomas.  Hapless.

4- As for the Hornets…  plenty impressed, for what it was worth.  Deeney was aggressive and mobile again, looking for the ball.  Sean Murray was a livewire, involved in everything, always moving and keeping us moving.  George Thorne, tidy and disciplined.  Marco Cassetti revelling in being afforded yards and yards of space on our right in the mistaken belief that without any pace he couldn’t use it;  Anya indifferent to the closer attention he got down the left.  If there’s a frustration, and this despite the consideration of hitting the woodwork an extra four times (the inside of the woodwork three times) and having a rampaging counterattack rounded off by a flying chest from Forestieri ruled out for offside, it’s that this wasn’t the cricket score it should have been. For this, and I don’t think it’s too harsh a criticism, you have to blame a rather casual attitude to finishing those chances off.  Lewis McGugan, whose low profile during our bad run and relative resurgence today appear to validate Forest fans’ warnings, should have squared rather than taken a second half chance himself.  He hit the post, but teammates were queuing up. Later, Fernando and Troy were two on one with a resigned-looking Mark Beevers in vague attendance;  Forestieri had time to bring it down, or to square to his partner.  Instead he turned on the ball and attempted a scissor kick, straight down David Forde’s throat.  I guess if you can’t try such things in the dying minutes with a 4-0 lead when can you?  Nonetheless, Troy expressed his regard for the Argentine’s judgement.

5- So what have we learned of our new man?  Not an awful lot, in all honesty, beyond that his charges haven’t lost the ability to completely demolish opposition that invite them to do so.  With an optimistic squint it was possible to interpret communication between our backline as improved, more attentive, but this was in the face of next to no challenge, like mastering a computer game in training mode.  Certainly he made no attempt to seize the limelight, a courteous but unshowy appreciation of the crowd both before and after.  Simultaneously he made no attempt to keep rein in his emotions during the game.  From the first whistle he was on the balls of his feet, like a tennis player spending two hours bouncing in anticipation of a return of serve.  Despite the weekend’s much publicised contretemps he paid precisely no attention to the boundaries of his technical area, beyond the three seconds or so following entreaties from both his coaching staff and the fourth official.  And he skipped along the touchline, cajoling Marco Cassetti in pursuit of the ball like an over-eager parent at a school sports day. But his team?  You don’t learn much from watching a team rip up a paper bag.  Tougher challenges to come.  Starting Sunday.



1. Stephen Hoffman - 27/12/2013

A good report as always Matt. I do think you are being excessively hard on McGugan and FF mind. The last month of Zola’s reign showed a shot shy Watford constantly trying to pass the ball into the goal. It was good to see so many Watford players shooting much more and yes being slightly more selfish. I was pleased to
see McGugan shoot and he was very unlucky not to score.

2. Peter Smitg - 27/12/2013

Not often does a defender who has just pulled down you Centre Forward get a round of applause for getting sent off – typical Watford

Matt Rowson - 27/12/2013

An element of sarcasm in that applause I think…

John Blake - 27/12/2013

Don’t think so – seemed pretty genuine to me

Matt Rowson - 27/12/2013

Without doubt an element of sarcasm. There were at least two of us, anyway…

3. Harefield Hornet - 27/12/2013

One comment re Anyas goal line clearance. The guy who sits next to me has moaned every game for years that we never have a player defending the back post from corners/free kicks etc………..until yesterday!

4. Adam - 27/12/2013

Great article as always. I do recall Darius Henderson recieving a full ovation after a fairly horrific challenge on Lee Hodson a couple of years ago, Watford fans are nice like that.

Stephen Hoffman - 28/12/2013

I remember that and thought it was moronic we gave him applause for such a terrible challenge. I certainly didn’t applaud him and I still to this day don’t see why so many Watford fans did!

5. Peter - 27/12/2013

A great article as always but I think we learnt more than you credit from this game. For me differences were
1) a determination to get bodies into the box if the ball went wide
2) an actual preparedness to cross the ball (to the said bodies in the box) rather than to play a series of hundreds of short passes resulting in eventual and inevitable loss of possession
3) a willingness to put our foot through the ball in the final third if looking looking likely to lose possession
4) the defensive line seemed far more balanced in terms of retaining their shape when we had the ball (too often under Zola defenders would advance high up the pitch and then be caught wrong side of a counter attack)
5) Fessi actually looked to make runs in behind the opposition defensive line (my personal

These are all basics and you would be quite right to point out that this was against ten men but these for me were very stark differences from the Zola side of a fortnight ago, let’s hope that the team can do it again against stronger opposition on Sunday

Matt Rowson - 27/12/2013

Fair points. (1) and (5) kinda cover the same thing, well demonstrated by Fernando’s goal (and the celebration that followed). (2) also fair. (3)… well, yes, but that’s kinda what I meant by what’s chicken and what’s egg? Were we really doing that before we got ahead and the game was won? Ditto (4).

6. hornetboy84 - 27/12/2013

Good “considered” report.
I thought we Initially looked like we still lacked fluidity and it was laboured until the 2nd goal.
Yes we can be a good side when ahead but unlocking teams is still the concern.
We got the “luck/decisions” yesterday that must have given Zola a wry smile. 2 pens in 1 game ? And should have been 3 at least.
But hopefully we can take the confidence forward. There were signs of the movement and power play that was so inspirational last season. I honestly thought that was coming going in to the Sheff weds game but Zola failed to pick a more attacking team – so credit to Sannino for playing Forestieri and Anya.
Thorne and Murray were a revelation – but vs Qpr midfield experience … Hmmm.
So nice to win. I’m happy. But not fooled into believing this is fully fixed.

7. Sequel - 27/12/2013

That’s the first time I’ve enjoyed my half time cake since October, I think. Ah, it’s the little things which mean the most.

8. David Gray - 28/12/2013

Very impressed with the performance, and as you pointed out Matt, 6- or 7-0 wouldn’t have flattered us by any means. It is difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions given how shockingly bad Millwall were – most of the match felt like that training ground exercise of ‘attack vs. defence’. But to a certain extent, Millwall’s obvious deficiencies are irrelevant. A thumping against anyone is bound to give a side lacking in confidence a bit of a boost. Before the QPR match this weekend, no one will be sitting in the changing room thinking about how woeful Millwall were – they’ll be thinking ‘we’re coming into this match on the back of a 4-0 win’.

I was really impressed with Thorne – as much as we have lamented the failure to secure the services of Chalobah for another year, we may well be underestimating the loss of Jonathan Hogg. Thorne, for me, did a very good job of filling that Hogg-shaped hole in the midfield. Not sure if he gave the ball away once and always looked to pick up the ball from the back line and keep us moving forward.

Matt Rowson - 29/12/2013

I agree that Millwall’s ineptitude was irrelevant in that we just needed a win, and a big win obviously helps in itself on several levels. I’m just not sure that it permits us to draw too many conclusions about our own capabilities.

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