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Watford 0 Reading 1 (14/01/2014) 12/01/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- There’s an extra game-show-presenter bounce in Richard Short’s exuberance this afternoon, and you just want to punch it.  “Enjooooooooooooy the game” lasts an extra few syllables, with yer man still on the pitch looking as if he’s sizing up whether he’s got a half chance of a high five with any of the team before he finally exits the stage and lets everyone get on with the game.  Profoundly irritating – like Alan Partridge, but not funny.  It’s going to be that sort of afternoon.  By six pm I’m at my Gran’s watching “Reflex”, the latest astonishing depth plumbed by early-evening Saturday evening TV.  It’s breathtakingly inane bollocks that makes Deal or No Deal look like University Challenge. Two incidents that bookend the afternoon perfectly and not much has happened in the interim to lift the mood; it’s been a playlist of different flavours of bloody nonsense from start to finish.

2- Reading didn’t help, in all honesty.  Millwall were more civil visitors, taking their shoes off in the porch, asking permission to use the lavatory, getting a centre-half sent off early… it was perhaps unreasonable to expect the Royals to follow suit.  Instead they swaggered in, grabbed the TV remote and proceeded to channel hop whilst picking their nose and wiping the yield on the arm of the sofa.  In our faces from the off they were closing us down well inside our own half, no chance of building anything, no chance of gently easing into a rhythm. Instead it was Reading who took an early lead, bigger and more alert than us from a set piece, not for the first or last time.

If you’re in the position of building from the back, of course, in the work in progress stage where the defensive bit is getting sorted but you’re struggling to score then what you don’t do is give away an early goal against big, robust opposition.  Reading continued to hassle us in possession whilst Pogrebnyak was every inch the pressure-relieving target man, winning every ball that went anywhere near him.  Our own attacking play seemed concentrated on putting pressure on Chris Gunter at right back with long balls over his head;  the highlight was an imperious arcing flick of the brush from the excellent Angella which dropped onto Pudil’s foot a good forty yards away but much of the rest was gormless and without end product.  Once again the front two in particular failed to suggest much of a threat, Deeney fighting a lone battle against two uncomplicated centre halves whilst Diego Fabbrini mystifyingly persisted in dropping into an already congested midfield rather than providing an option in the box.

3- Reading’s aggressive approach did at least dispel any illusions Alexander Merkel may have had regarding the sort of football games he’s going to be involved in.  Nominally an attacking player he sat deep in the midfield in this one, Iriney’s decent run-out at Ashton Gate obviously not pushing him back up the pecking order. The German took a while to settle, twice giving the ball away in circumstances that suggested he’d have preferred rather more thinking time.  As the game went on, particularly as we got onto the front foot on the second half, he became increasingly influential… comfortable in possession, happy to receive the ball in tight corners and find space, find the pass and as he stepped forwards Reading, looking leggy after their first-half efforts, began to creak.  Slight of frame, he nonetheless demonstrated early and with some gusto that he likes a tackle…  already on a yellow, his silly, reckless challenge on Nick Blackman late on was always going to see him departing early – a straight red, it turned out. Irritating.  As was the smattering of applause he received.  Quite what was to applaud about a needless high tackle in the centre circle was beyond me.

4-  The second half did constitute an improvement though, and much of it stemmed from 55th minute replacement of Hector Bellerin with Fernando Forestieri.  The Argentine did well, but it was the change in formation from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 with Forestieri and Fabbrini either side of Troy Deeney that stretched the visitors and made the difference.  The chances started coming… Deeney perhaps missing the best of them as the marauding Doyley squared to him on the edge of the box.  He had a clear shot at goal but scooped over.  Deeney provided a chance for Forestieri from the right seizing on some dawdling on the Reading left to break down the wing and cross to the far post;  the Argentine had hurtled in from somewhere near the halfway line and got underneath the cross.  Three times Alex McCarthy was forced into a save… McGugan down the right set up a move which lead to Deeney acrobatically stabbing at goal, the keeper’s reactions pushed it over.  A long throw from the left dropped over Forestieri’s shoulder, inviting him to shovel a drive inside the near post which was pushed wide, and in the last minute a McGugan free kick swerved low towards the bottom right hand corner, but was pushed round.  Not enough, not convincing, much as we probably did enough to have deserved a point… we’ve seen too many games like this of late.  We know how the plotline goes.  What differentiated this one was a fractious atmosphere and a greasy surface;   referee Keith Stroud was under pressure throughout and lost all semblance of control with an erratic final fifteen minutes, the low point perhaps booking Forestieri for a dive after he’d been crudely sandwiched on the edge of the box.  Irritating.

5- If you’re the bloke who sometime last season asked us to stop wittering on about John Eustace, you’d better stop reading now.  As so often over the last eighteen months you found yourself wondering what a bit of bloody-mindedness might have achieved in these circumstances.  Rarely has a Watford side appeared to amount to so much less than the sum of its parts;  in the likes of McGugan, Fabbrini and even the still-improving and positive Forestieri we have three players whose contribution is so much less than their natural ability suggests they ought to be capable of.  Oh for someone to be driving us on from the midfield, for someone to be cajoling and encouraging and propelling the team in the right direction rather than scowling and sulking at bad decisions or bad executions.  Oh for a bloody leader.  The WObby tells us that the club are still after a nippy striker and a midfield destroyer, and that’s all to the good.  If the latter has cold blue eyes, battle scars on his shins and an upper arm with an indentation where a captain’s armband should be, so much the better.



1. Ian - 12/01/2014
2. Stuart - 12/01/2014

Hello relegation battle?

Matt Rowson - 12/01/2014

I don’t think so. You’ve got to be pretty rubbish to be relegated. The only danger is if we’re sucked in late and don’t realise what trouble we’re in. Lower mid seems more likley.

3. Leggatts 'orn - 12/01/2014

Sounds like Mr Rowson and his partner in crime needs to move a few seats right and a few rows up in the Rookery and join the John Eustace Appreciation Society seating area. If his name was mentioned once yesterday it was… I’m not with all this Sannino “kicking every ball” act from the technical area, that sometimes drifts into the wing backs path! Few occasions you had puzzled players looking over with a “what does he want now” expression and I’m not sure that is just language related. Easy target I know but the ref probably had a recent report that said something like “needs to take more control”, “should have stamped on that stuff earlier in the game..” and we got the rebound in this match, what a fussy, tetchy performance he put in.

4. JohnF - 12/01/2014

I haven’t been able to attend games recently through illness so, as yesterday, I have been listening to the 3 Counties commentary (thanks for your excellent co-commentary at Bristol Matt). I wonder if Fabbrini is dropping deep to try and avoid the physical challenge of being further forward. In which case he isn’t much use to us until he can toughen up. How much was Forestieri’s booking for (not) diving down to a growing reputation among referees for our smaller players going down more easily than they should? I think Forestieri has largely learned about this but is now unfortunate in facing a historic perception.

Matt Rowson - 12/01/2014

You might be right about Forestieri. Fabbrini I think is just dropping deep looking for the ball… the result is that there’s nowhere for the ball to go and our attacks build too slowly, if they build at all. He needs to be a little more disciplined.

Goldenboy60 - 12/01/2014

I have been saying this about Fabbrini since August. Is he a forward? I think he can be but he just never looks like scoring. I will tell you why? it’s because he doesn’t get into an area where he can score. In the first half a great ball in from Pudil went sailing over Deeney’s head but no one else. No one tracking the far post. In GT’s day Cally and Barnes would have been castigated for not getting there. I quickly looked at where Fabbrini was and he was 20 yards from the penalty area. If only he got into the box with his quick feet and a first time shot he would score plenty. Why oh why did not Zola and now Sannino work with him getting into the box. This is what coaching is all about. I would put Jakubiak in. After helping him develop this boy has talent and an eye for goal from midfield or as the support striker. He cannot do any worse.

The other point for me is that we are far too slow in our build up play and do agree with Sannino that we never got going at all in the first half. Reading were out of the traps and had won the game in the 5th minute. To break this run at home we HAVE to score first and that is unlikely until the tempo of our play from the back improves massively.

5. JP - 12/01/2014

I’m a firm believer in football, at this level, being as much in the mind as on the pitch. You could see the confidence drain out of the players when Reading scored. It went some way to explaining the first half performance.
One of the signs that we are struggling is the amount of possession Doyley has. That’s nothing against him, never ever. But so much of the play ended up with him having to take the ball forward and he’s not Almen Abdi. My point being that he was the only one wanting to take responsibility to move forward.
That the second half was better does reflect well on the manager and I thought his gesture to shake hands with the ref at the end of the game showed great dignity. We could and should have scored but again there is a lack of belief. It worries me that the new striker, Ranegie or whoever, will be under so much pressure to perform.
Finally, you’re spot on about applauding Merkel. What do people think when they do that? OK, I thought the first booking was harsh, but to make a challenge like that on a yellow is only going to end one way. Just a question of whether it was three matches or one for the ban. Plenty of time for him to reflect on his actions. The rest of this season is going to be hard and it will be interesting to see who has the fight.
Oh and Mr Eustace got a mention in our group too. Please feel free to say “told you so” as much as you want!

6. Roger Smith - 12/01/2014

Your thunk 4 sets the right tone: if only half those chances had found the net, we’d all be looking up the table and not down. In the last 20 minutes, crosses were coming in from both flanks, but the midfielders weren’t getting into the box to support Deeney anything like quickly enough. Let’s hope that Ranegie gains match fitness PDQ, starting with a run out on Tuesday. I reckon that five straight wins, including the game in hand, should put us into the play-offs.

Matt Rowson - 12/01/2014

You’re right that the play-offs aren’t really very far away, given a run of form. I don’t see that five straight wins run coming any time soon though. The same is true of a number of other clubs who look much more likely to achieve it. A single win against eleven men, something not achieved for three months, would be a start.

7. NickB - 12/01/2014

Like Alan Partridge but not funny. Exactly. Some idiot has actually started a petition to keep the dreadful ‘Shorty’. Ye Gods. You’re spot on, he actually thinks he should be playing.
Only bright spot of the day was the bloke walking to the ground who shouted ‘who are ya’ and walked immediately into a lamppost.

8. Mattp - 12/01/2014

“Gormless” – genius Matt – Our play was so slow at times it nullified any game plan we may have had. I thought fabrrini tried his heart out yesterday in a headless chicken way but there seems to be no understanding between him and deeney. Trying his heart out is something I doubt will ever be said of Lewis McGugan. One of the laziest players I have seen in a Watford shirt. Once again yesterday he failed to influence the game at all. I struggle to understand why battochio has not been given more opportunity this season when the midfield is not driving the team forward surely he deserves a chance to impress?

Matt Rowson - 12/01/2014

agree about mcgugan… useful on the ball but doesn’t work hard enough without and disappears when the team is struggling.
Fabbrini works hard but has no brain. An Italian Sordell.
Battocchio I like, but he’s a cog… not sure he’s got enough to drive a performance.

Roger Smith - 12/01/2014

It would help to “drive a performance” if the captain wasn’t chained to his 18 yard box.

9. The Great Big O - 12/01/2014

Concede from a set piece. Lots of shots, but no goals. This was yet another Groundhog Day at Vicarage Road.

It makes me wonder what the change of Head Coach has actually achieved. People were criticising Zola for being tactically naive, and not getting the best out of his players. But where are we now? We’re conceding fewer, but still not few enough to win games except against ten men. And we’re still firing blanks at home.

This season we haven’t beaten a team in the current top nine of the table. I’m wishing we could all accept that we seem to be a lower mid-table side this season and ask that lovely Gianfranco fellow to reconsider and come back. I’m missing the tone he set at the club.

viewsofthehoff - 15/01/2014

You are forgetting that Zola resigned!

10. SteveG - 12/01/2014

If (and OK it’s a big if at the moment) even one of those chances had gone in second half, it wouldn’t look anywhere near as bad. If two had gone in we’d be hailing the manager as a tactical genius (and as Matt points out above the substitutions and switch to 4-3-3 made a massive difference). Fine lines, as ever.

While McGugan continues to attract attention for all the wrong reasons re work rate, I did at least think he was looking to go forward a bit more yesterday, rather than stopping and playing the ball backwards every time he was in possession. Delivery from shots, free kicks and corners continues to be poor, though.

Above all, though, I think the point about the sum of the parts is critical – several managers (but most notably Dyche) got a fairly mediocre bunch of players performing effectively as a unit and for each other, and the results followed accordingly. Now we have a much better squad of individuals but no effective team. Agreed that the role of a John Eustace-type here is also critical.

Roll on Tuesday…

Matt Rowson - 12/01/2014

Fine lines in a one-off game, fine. But we’ve seen this game too many times for this to be down to “luck”. We have to be patient, unreasonable to expect Sannino to have waved a magic wand… but suggesting that because we made a few chances in the second half we were unlucky, on the back of five more-or-less similar home games (Millwall’s kamikaze act excepted) isn’t reasonable.

SteveG - 12/01/2014

I wasn’t suggesting bad luck, just lack of skill and/or confidence in the box when it really mattered. This was our first defeat since Sannino took over, and if we’d turned it around in the second half it could have been seen as another step towards a new dawn.

As it is (and as your comment suggests) it now just seems like further confirmation of a dismal run that has been going on for rather too long, and which a managerial change hasn’t been able to alter (yet).

11. Sequel - 12/01/2014

Our new midfield acquisition isn’t the first German, or indeed, the first Merkel to lose control of his feet on the slopes in recent weeks……..

12. hornetboy84 - 12/01/2014

Some learnings-
1. If you can’t hit a barn door from 6 yards ( Deeney, faroini, Forestieri …. Etc) then you can’t possibly win games.
2. Another management team better work out fast that Fabbrini cannot play up front in a 2.
3. We are so far from being a team – as you say- we need a leader in CM – who also needs to be the captain. So if not a Eustace – a Hogg.
4. Sanninoball is not zolaball – so those who wanted a change you got it. But it’s more Dyche-Mackay esque…. Without the grit. We will be okay long term but it’s going be pain before the gain.
5. Interestingly reading played the pressing game I thought we were meant to be playing. Their work rate shamed us – but they clearly ran out of legs and if we had have snuck an equaliZer then it would have been interesting.
– Anya Abdi and this mythical pacey striker will sort us out- wonder if it’s the same player Arsenal, man utd and everyone else needs !

13. Chris Needham - 12/01/2014

You’re hit the nail on the head Matt, this team is so much less than the sum of its parts. This season has been so frustrating for that one reason. However this does bode well for the future. It might be that the team suddenly work out what they have to do and we race towards the playoffs. Or, more likely, it will take us a season or two. In a perverse way, it may be that the best thing we can do is not to bring any more players, give the ones we have time to become an effective team. Most of our players would walk into any championship side and we have a squad full of them.

14. Mark - 12/01/2014

At times McGugan reminds me of how McAnuff was for us – clearly a good player, at times a game-changer, but too often seemed to be operating at about 50%.

Thought the applause for Merkel was just to say well done for what was a very good debut, not a condoning of his pointless tackle.

If we still have Angella on the books next season I’d be very impressed – he’d easily slot into any mid-table premiership side.

15. HolyHornet - 12/01/2014

Do I see something in McGugan that no one else does? Again yesterday I thought he was putting in a very decent shift and like against City the week before trying to make things happen. His delivery on corners is poor it has to be said. What I find so frustrating about this season is we are so close to being a very good team in fact an Abdi and Vydra away. Merkel shows signs of being quality but like all these new signings they take time to adjust so every time a new player from abroad comes in we go slightly backwards before we can go forwards. Mid table for us now and we go agin next season, prem within three season though I think.

Matt Rowson - 12/01/2014

Perhaps other people notice his contribution when not in possession.

Robin Walters - 13/01/2014

Or lack thereof.

16. viewsofthehoff - 13/01/2014

Murray who I think has been great this season, had one of his worst games this season. Like you McGugan frustates the life out of me, but I fear we are getting to a stage where some people not you are solely picking on him as the fault. Thats not healthy, at the moment we are not quite there as a team, though there are promising signs, regardless of McGugan.

17. Mark - 14/01/2014

I might get slaughtered for this given the general disdain towards him, but I thought Fabbrini had one of his best games for us on Saturday. He always seems to be more dangerous with his back to goal, getting a quick pass off to a midfield runner rather than dribbling past three players then falling; or as happened Saturday, when moved out to the wing. With space to play with, and against an isolated full-back, he suddenly sprung into life. I didn’t think it was a coincidence that Reading’s first two subs were both on Fabbrini’s flank.

Normally I’m in the camp that doesn’t look too positively on him but I feel it might be worth persisting – he’s clearly a talented player (I bet he was the younger kid who dribbled rings around all the older ones on the playground), and then look at the transformation Forestieri’s undergone, from ‘diving rubbish’ to a firm favourite.

I also seem to be on my own in thinking it was an interesting match to watch, despite the loss. Reading were much more direct than I anticipated, and I was keen to see how motivated Pogrebnyak was in the Championship: certainly a lower level than he should be playing at. The same goes for Merkel. Wasted as the most defensive midfielder. You could see his passing wuality was a cut above. Thorne would have beeen so useful in this game, as his presence would have freed up Merkel to take on Murray’s role, thus allowing himto get nearer the box. Alas! Hopefully there’s some truth in the Derek Boateng link…it’d be even better if he wasn’t a disappointment too.

18. Lloyd Arkill - 14/01/2014

Interesting to see McGugan emerging from a strong field as this season’s scapegoat.

19. David S - 15/01/2014

No you are not alone, I too thought that was probably Fabbrini’s most effective game as he seemingly had taken heed of Sannino’s advice of passing to a team mate quicker than he usually does.

This makes him a far more dangerous player and if anything we didn’t give him enough of the ball to cause Reading more problems.

Yes he will always be lightweight, but this deficiency can be reduced if he doesn’t try to beat four players before looking for a pass.

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