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Watford 1 Birmingham City 0 (12/02/2013) 12/02/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-  Sometimes, football is a beautiful, breathtaking spectacle.  Artistic and elegant, bold and dramatic, capable of lifting the spirit and carrying it away from all of life’s concerns to a happier place.  This was definitively not one of those times.  If football at its best is a duel between musketeers, all cut, thrust and dexterity, this was the equivalent of two trolls knee-deep in treacle heaving clubs at each other.  And grunting.

Mark, Steve and Tom were with me, football fans but not Watford fans, colleagues of my brother’s from oop north accommodating his need for a fix on a business trip.  He was apologising to them midway through the first half as passes went into touch, runs were mis-read and the game descended gently from a low starting point to knuckle-chewing tedium.  We have become accustomed, of course, to the established successful recipe for playing Watford at Vicarage Road, which includes lots of closing down high up the pitch, harrying and waiting for us to make a mistake.  Here, we pre-empted City’s closing down (which did come) by starting the game exactly as if  we were being hounded in possession to a far greater degree than was happening, saving the visitors the bother.  The goal itself summed up the evening nicely…  Troy Deeney, rightly lauded by Sannino for a combative, bloody-minded performance, pirouetting an air kick, regaining his poise and having another go, this time driving home via a deflection of a defender’s leg.

2- It’s worth noting that, for all the continued use of the closing-down thing it’s not proving nearly as effective for visitors as it once was.  That’s four wins, a draw and a defeat at home under Sannino, five clean sheets and one goal conceded against visitors including 3 of the current top 7.  Lee Clark, who looks perpetually like a sulky schoolboy sitting outside the headteacher’s office, claimed that City were worth at least a point but his view was rather fanciful.  City could have equalised, certainly (see below) but that’s not the same thing; in a miserable chore of a game, you did kinda feel that there was unrealised quality in the Watford side which was having a duvet day, whereas Birmingham were offering what they had and it wasn’t much, even if the combination of obstructiveness and a goal threat in Burke and Macheda will probably be enough to keep them up.  In any event it’s a source of no small enjoyment, particularly amongst those who’ll remember the 1999 play-offs and trips to St Andrews around that time, that we’ve beaten City four times on the hop without conceding a goal.

3- Which shouldn’t oversugar the performance, and in particular a petulance that was perhaps symptomatic of a frustrating evening all round but aggravating nonetheless.  In particular, given the high turnover of players that the Pozzo model has provoked, such conduct makes it very difficult to warm to a side… the same behaviour from more established favourites might be more readily forgiven, but this Watford will be in a constant battle to win hearts and minds.  Andreas Merkel jumping in two footed on Burke for no reason at all doesn’t help that, nor does perpetually wandering away from the referee as he’s issuing admonishment (misguided or otherwise).  Most concerning of all in this regard was Fernando Forestieri… arguably the success story of last season in terms of his trajectory from aggravating, sulky maverick to focused, combative dynamo.  His recent performances have been excellent, despite which the whining and gesticulating is back with a vengeance.  He didn’t have the best relationship with the ref last night, who offered him little protection and provoked a curious incident by appearing to beckon Forestieri back on after treatment, change his mind on realising how close the Argentine was to the action and then make to penalise him for entering the field without permission.  In fairness the official acknowledged his own culpability, apologised and awarded a drop ball…  but Forestieri really didn’t do himself any favours either, ultimately risking a red card by first clawing a ball out of the air in an attempt to fashion a break (for which he was booked), playing on and “scoring” on the break after the whistle had gone and subsequently blatantly slowing the game down by standing six or seven yards from a late Birmingham free kick.  Much has been spoken of the need for leaders in the team.  A few of our lot needed a kick up the backside last night.

4- Another recent hobbyhorse has been our tendency to sit back on a late lead, whether strategically or through lack of energy in the closing minutes.  At Leicester we paid for it;  last night we didn’t.  Actually I thought the introduction of Hall for Forestieri and subsequent rearrangement of personnel leaving Anya – much missed last night – up front was a good call on Saturday, but good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes.  Inviting pressure from a Birmingham side with scarcely the wit to fashion a clear chance but with enough about them to look a gift horse in the mouth and knock it’s teeth out was much less defensible; I’d have preferred us to take the game to them in the final minutes.  If that sitting back’s a strategy, it might get tiresome.

5- Which shouldn’t detract from the fact that we did win the game.  A game that, as the cliché goes, we would have almost certainly lost a month or two back.  And amongst the morass there were straws to cling to…  a tour de force from Lloyd Doyley, albeit that it speaks volumes that mere dogged competence stood out so brightly on a grey evening;  another masterful showing in the centre of the back three from Marco Cassetti, and once again “Kaiser” Tözsér.  Whilst the Hungarian was as sucked up into the humdrum as everyone else, he nonetheless did the Jonathan Hogg thing of receiving the ball under pressure and effortlessly moving it on, spreading the play, keeping things ticking.  And his set piece delivery is a joy… one wicked free kick should have been converted by Faraoni, a vicious corner very nearly was by Forestieri’s diagonal run and diving header  – but for the man on the far post.  Ugly progress, then.  But progress nonetheless.



1. Jamie - 12/02/2014

Doyley was superb when he came on. Possibly my MoM if for the tidy performance he gave amidst all the mess of a game that will be hard to recall in weeks, let alone seasons time.

To the point about FF, there was a time when he laying prone on the ground by the Lower Rous in the last minute. Doyley – as I saw it – was remonstrating with him to get up, to get on it with it, to get in position etc. All the traits you need when defending a one goal advantage. It’s that spirit we need to find again, not the feeling sorry for ourselves. That’s why having someone like Doyley – albeit of mixed footballing ability – is key to the matchday experience.

2. Smudger Jnr - 12/02/2014

On point 4, I don’t understand Sanninio’s logic of changing a settled formation into one that only confuses both the player coming on and those already on the pitch. Our formation is already pretty deep lying with 5 at the back, so where could another body possibly fit? Were we still playing 5-3-2 with Fararoni in midfield? Nobody seems sure! Leaving 2 up should provide some outlet that keeps the ball up the other end. If this is not happening then get a different forward on. So if Nando was tiring/being wasteful, then get ‘Cassiobury’ Park on (assuming he was actually fully fit), waste a few seconds and get someone one who can put himself about without the fear of a second yellow. It’s really just a matter of showing confidence in the players we have for each position, and know that we have someone in reserve to replace them. Keeping the game on our terms.

Generally on the formation, i’d still like to see us run with 4 at the back. So 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 depending on the players forward of the back four. If we want to go defensive, then the defensive unit does not need to change, only the substitution of a Diakete for a Battochio. Without Anya in the team I think the wingbacks offer very little extra. I really like Pudil and Fararoni but both are fullbacks, not Wingbacks. My concerns about the formation have subsided a little recently with the players that have been bought in to fill gaps. But still think Nando is a better forward R/L rather than a striker. Anya is a great tool i one of these positions, and also McGugan could find his niche further forward also!

The key is having the options in the squad. We are very close to having the options we need if injuries can subside, getting a bit more confidence along the way. So hopefully we’ll see less of this tactic of dropping deep.

Hornetboy84 - 13/02/2014

I think regarding “going too deep” he just needs to learn the English mentality. And fast.
Whist sometimes the other team just force it and you have no option the Italian way is to manage the game in the last 10-15 with everyone behind the ball.
But they don’t then have teams just chucking it into the penalty box for fun.
Watched that last chance again and oh so nearly might have been a tragic 1-1.

Matt Rowson - 13/02/2014


3. Adam Jones - 12/02/2014

A bit harsh on FF there. As you suggested, he had lumps kicked out of him all night, and the ref gave absolutely nothing. I think he was very reserved in his petulance compared to how many players would have reacted. It must be so frustrating to be kicked and kicked and kicked and get nothing – he looked exhausted by the end.

Regarding the bizarre drop ball situation, FF was very clearly waved onto the pitch by the referee. Was all very odd.

Nevertheless an ugly win is a win. And Lee Clark definitely does look like a sulky schoolboy sitting outside the head teacher’s office.

NickB - 12/02/2014

Thought the ref gave every impression of never having refereed a grown up game of football in his life. His decision making was bizarre and almost totally arbitrary: foul after foul, including some of ours, waved on, blatant handballs missed and on and on. A quite pathetic display.

4. Hornetboy84 - 12/02/2014

If Ronaldo had scored after such an exquisite step over as Deeney conducted we’d be talking about if for years.

Definitely agree. I’m struggling to love this side- missing the bedlam of Zolaball – but may have to take solace next Wednesday that if we beat boro on Saturday and qpr beat reading then a win vs Yeovil will mean 3 points off the playoffs. Yikes !

5. MartinG - 12/02/2014

That was pretty painful to watch. The team seems to have had a collective breakdown regarding their final pass. The amount of poor decisions being made game after game is getting tedious.

However there are one or two glimpses of hope. There was a wee 5 min spell towards the end of the first half where the old fluency threatened to resurface, and Toszer looks class. Plus Cassetti seems to have a new lease of life in the centre.

In a season of poor refs last night’s took the biscuit.

6. Red - 13/02/2014

I think you have to ask yourselves, why is the Watford final score almost the last to come in on a saturday? Why do I often get the train, after the one I was expecting to get? It’s because I am sad to say a number of our players go down after a tackle and stay down and then debate the point with the referee. Five minutes extra time is not all that infrequent. At least Eustace knew how to do it-go down, fall on the ball, pick it up and place it for the free kick, thereby making the decision for the referee.

Matt Rowson - 13/02/2014

In fairness, there IS a big difference between the way physical contact is interpreted in Italy, say, and here. So it’s not unreasonable that players need time to adjust. They do need to adjust though, and Fernando’s recent stroppiness, whatever the provocation, is disappointing since he seemed to have gotten the message.

NickB - 13/02/2014

On the point of late finishes, why on earth do we never kick off on time anymore? Teams appear about 3 mins before scheduled start, which is nowhere near early enough. We started at 7.48 on Tuesday.

7. drewoneone - 13/02/2014

I thought I might be alone in thinking our games often seem to be the last to finish. The main reason, I think, is the late start rather than players going down easily. It is not unusual to kick off 3 or 4 minutes late. I remember one instance of a 3.08 start. Not a massive deal for me as I drive home and do not have a train to catch, but I’m surprised we don’t get reported to some jobsworth at the Football League, FA or Environment Agency (random quango I thought I’d throw in to the mix) and get fined.

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