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Watford 1 Middlesbrough 0 (15/02/2014) 16/02/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- By half time, comparisons were being drawn with the notorious Christmas of 1996.  This was a different flavour of tedium to Tuesday night… less hulking ineptitude, more of a stalemate, but the consequence was yawning, shifting position, wondering whether it would start raining again as we left the stadium and then letting your attention half-heartedly return to the game.  Gripping, interesting it really wasn’t. Those on the edge of their seats had fallen asleep and were slumped in their stupor.

Boro looked a decent side, for all that.  Given and Woodgate were excellent, every bit the players of their reputations.  Nathaniel Chalobah began the game dictating the pace from the back of the midfield, Leadbitter slinging the ball around, Adomah and Ledesma hugging the touchlines and causing problems (even if the latter twice appeared to blame rogue patches of the Vicarage Road surface for his misplaced efforts from the right).  We scarcely got a touch for twenty minutes, chasing shadows… but the visitors couldn’t capitalise.  Part of the credit for that has to go to our increasingly well-drilled rearguard, Cassetti and Angella terrific again, but there was no avoiding that Boro didn’t have much of a focal point… not hard to understand how they’ve not scored in five games.  Danny Graham is still clever, still works hard but lacked support… and there’s rather more of him than I remember.  Nimble and mobile he wasn’t… and most of Boro’s passing took place in front of the defence.

Irish Joe, having navigated the inevitable flight delays to make his first game of the season, had asked about Sannino.  How was he doing?  How were we looking?  More solid, was my response in summary.  More solid, but not as… exciting.  “Ah, but we’ve always got Fernando to pull something from nothing”, Joe suggested, prophetically.  So it proved; ‘nando bundled in on a surprised Gibson early in the second half, cut past him towards the byline and drew a silly challenge from the flustered defender.  Troy rolled in from the spot, and the game changed beyond recognition.

2- An emerging subplot to the first half had been a private competition in ineptitude – Muppet of the Match, Dickhead of the Day, invent your own monicker – between Samba Diakité and Boro centre-back Ben Gibson. Diakité, making his first start since arriving from QPR, looked every inch like a player who hadn’t played for a year.  Frequently caught in possession, seemingly unaware of the location or proximity of teammates and opponents alike he looked like someone who’d won a starting position through a competition in the programme.

Gibson, however, was putting up a good fight in this masterclass of arse.  Already booked for a stupid, unnecessary foul on Deeney, he took a huge risk late in the first half when diving in to interrupt a monumental surge upfield from Gabriele Angella.  The run needed stopping, the aggressive challenge was well-timed but risky nonetheless – inside the area and already on a card, no margin for error as he appeared to fly in from some distance away.  In conceding the critical penalty Gibson edged ahead.

But Diakité was about to play his trump card.  The game quickly settled into a new pattern with Boro now committing forward and the Hornets attacking exclusively on the break.  The first of these was repelled, barely, with a loose ball breaking clear from the edge of the area.  Diakité and Whitehead contested it head on, the latter the favourite but the Frenchman decided that he wasn’t to be denied. Two footed, studs raised… having recently gained an unlikely looking advantage in a tight game it was an act of monumental stupidity, all instinct and ego and no brain whatsoever.  Straight red the only viable outcome, the card followed within five seconds.

As Diakité left the arena, the only thing standing between him and his crown was Gibson’s continuing involvement and therefore opportunity.  It proved a critical detail.  Boro, now very much in the ascendancy, threw everything at us for five minutes and the remainder of the game stretched uninvitingly in front of us.  And then Mr Gibson had his own rush of enthusiasm and, as Jonathan Bond attempted a drop kick, chose to obstruct him. A moronic act at the best of times but with Gibson on a yellow and his team having just been handed a lifeline by an act of similar idiocy, it was quite breathtaking.  Kudos to Mr Gibson, then, even if Nathaniel Chalobah (with a peevish punch aimed at Forestieri) and the Kaiser’s compatriot Jozsef Varga at right back (with a series of increasingly stroppy challenges that earned a yellow and then a last warning and then the hook from the Boro bench) made worthy but patently inadequate pitches of their own.

3- The penalty and the two red cards took place within the first twelve minutes of the half.  They left whopping great craters all over whatever gameplans had been in place, and if we’d looked anything but impressive before going ahead what followed was an absolute masterclass in navigating the revised landscape.

I remember visiting Dortmund zoo late one evening many years ago, and watching in awe and fear as the hunting dogs faced us in formation.  You’d move a step to the left and the dogs, in their pen in the dwindling twilight, would all shift accordingly, well drilled and utterly attentive. Nine, ten of them.  The yellow shirts were equally disciplined in formation here… one or two envoys hurtling forward to support Deeney on the break, back in formation by the time the ball came back the other way.  Forestieri dropped back into a midfield role and a surprisingly effective defensive display before being replaced by the equally dynamic Battocchio.  We played exclusively on the break, abetted by Anya’s perhaps overdue introduction for Faraoni, and suddenly had a swagger, suddenly looked potent.  Boro continued to have more possession, but the better, clearer chances would come our way… George Friend, it transpired, had a better chance of matching Anya for pace than many adversaries but it wasn’t enough to prevent our best break which saw the winger beat Given and the far post.  Another break saw Anya release Deeney with a perfect throughball that bypassed Chalobah only for Given to emerge from his line and time his interjection to perfection.  Murray, like Forestieri largely irrelevant in the first half, suddenly had the game between his teeth, bringing the ball out and making good decisions, red shirts scuttling in his wake.  Daniel Pudil, less eyecatching but far more reliable as our wingbacks have placed more emphasis on defending, put in a tireless shift on the left flank.  And Captain Deeney was simply magnificent, every inch the leader… bullish, aggressive, holding the ball up, retaining possession, relieving pressure on the defence, this was by some distance his best 45 minutes of the season.

4- But perhaps the real highlight was at the other end of the pitch.  It was a good afternoon for those who like a bit of an ovation.  Sir Tom Finney got a fitting tribute before the kick-off, the heartfelt ones always distinguished from the dutiful ones by dint of the applause already being in full swing before the referee formally starts the minute’s appreciation.  Danny Graham and Nathaniel Chalobah were both welcomed (although the latter was to turn the crowd via his altercation with Fernando), and later the departing Forestieri and arriving Anya were both warmly recognised.  Tommie Hoban’s welcome, though, was the warmest. It’s testimony to his impact in four months in the first team last year that a year and a week since his last first team appearance, everyone is delighted to have him back… and again, this was more than dutiful appreciation of a youngster who’s had it rough, this was genuine excitement.

And trepidation, at least in my case.  Worst case scenario:  he limps off five minutes after his half-time introduction.  We’ve seen that before.  Or maybe he looks rusty, slower, less confident.  “Not the same player”.  You know, they’re never the same player, not after that long out. Perhaps he messes up, an unfortunate mistake that rattles his confidence and sets him back, pushed back in the queue behind Angella, Doyley, Ekstrand, Hall, Cassetti, Nosworthy, Belkalem. No margin for error.

There’s still time for things to go wrong, of course.  Early days. But my God this was magnificent, beyond our wildest expectations.  Every inch the combination of strength, pace, composure and just being too bloody good for this nonsense that we remember from last year.  Well done, Tommie, and welcome back.

5- If Tuesday’s final whistle was greeted with relief, relief at having navigated a harder-than-it-should-have-been scrap with modest opponents, the final whistle today was met with a fist-pumping roar.  We quoted this stat on Tuesday, but it only gets more impressive with time… that’s seven home games under Sannino, one goal conceded.  And having pointed out that it was unreasonable to put our repeated capitulations at home under Gianfranco down to mere bad luck, it’s not reasonable to credit luck with too much responsibility for our recent ability to defend a lead – at least at Vicarage Road.  It keeps happening.

And as we clamber back into the top half of the table we should pause once more to doff our cap to the presence of the play-offs.  Not that we’re on a charge, not yet anyway.  Let’s see.  But just to their existence, without which our season would already be over.  Six points off and with further winnable fixtures to come, there’s still scope to train our eye on Reading in sixth.  Oh sure, us and half the division, but we’re not fussed about them.  Let’s just worry about ourselves for the moment, and actually we’re looking pretty good.  If Tuesday was winning ugly, winning without looking convincing, here was a win grounded in defensive organisation, sure, but in guts and fight and spirit too.  I’ll take that.  Wherever it sees us ending up, guts and fight and spirit go an awfully long way.

 

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Comments»

1. Phil Brann - 16/02/2014

Deeney and forestieri aside the higlight for me was the defending. Boro looked good passing the ball with a swagger (not unlike us under Zola) . Yes they were toothless up front but that does no justice to a very good defensive display, Plaudits to Angella (never lets us down) and Hoban (like he has never been away) but for me the change in cassetti has been the difference over the past 3 games. Back to the cool as a cucumber, strong , good distribution we loved so much last season . What a turnaround. Whats the difference – Sannino im thinking.

Matt Rowson - 16/02/2014

the thought that Boro looked a bit like us last season occurred to me too… Chalobah setting the tone a big part of that I think.

2. NickB - 16/02/2014

Diakité played like Keith Dublin in diving boots.

Vaughn Smith - 17/02/2014

That’s a bit harsh on Dublin. I’m hard pushed to think of a past WFC player to compare Diakite to – he’s that bad. Perhaps Mick Quinn? With any luck the suspension for Diakite will mean we’ve seen the last of him. We should have known better than take him in the first place though – Redknapp’s not the kind of bloke to let players go out on loan if they’re any good.

3. Mitch - 16/02/2014

What a great report! Spot on with everything I witnessed at the game. If I had tried to described the match to anyone exactly this article summed it all up 100% Well done Matt!

Matt Rowson - 16/02/2014

thx chief

4. Roger Smith - 16/02/2014

The game only sprang to life when it was 10 v 10. Maybe FIFA should start all games like that? And credit to the 3CR texter, who suggested that Watford appeal Diakité’s red card in the hope that the suspension might be doubled.

I wonder how much of the spirit that Watford displayed was down to having an outfield captain, leading by example. Certainly, Beppe seems to have instilled a backbone into the team.

5. drewoneone - 16/02/2014

Really good report Matt. Totally agree with all your sentiments about the players you picked out for mention.

I was watching Tozser particularly closely yesterday to just check I haven’t got too carried away with thinking this man is pure class. Apart from one slight stray pass he didn’t contradict my feeling he could be the key to a serious play off challenge. He kept things moving in midfield as well as breaking up play without being spectacular and his quality set piece deliveries have been excellent so far. I don’t think it will be long before we see one of his free kicks hit the back of the net.

Matt Rowson - 16/02/2014

Agree, love Kaiser to bits (and yes, I’m going to keep going until that catches on…). Magnificent, just what the doctor ordered.

James - 17/02/2014

“Kaiser” is German, not Hungarian!

Thanks for the report though. I particularly enjoyed: “Those on the edge of their seats had fallen asleep and were slumped in their stupor.”

Matt Rowson - 17/02/2014

Yes, Kaiser ist Deutsch. Weiβ ich schon.

“Kaiser” inspired by “The Usual Suspects”. Tӧzsér ALMOST rhymes with Sӧze…

James - 18/02/2014

Nope sorry. My Hungarian girlfriend informs me that “zs” is pronounced more like a soft “sia”, as in “Asia”.
“Toesia” is roughly what it should sound like phonetically.

She’s very pleased that we now have a Hungarian. It’s made up for us loosing “the funny little Italian” (Fabbrini): – her previous favourite.

Matt Rowson - 19/02/2014

Toesia is plenty close enough…

6. Old Git - 17/02/2014

This is a text I received from my friend Chris, a QPR fan of many years, when the news of Diakite’s loan was announced.
‘ So Diakite has gone to the Hornets. We loved him as a player, runs like a tank, but is completely mad. He will get sent off several times as he tackles enthusiastically but with no great skill or timing. Maybe he has calmed down a bit but that’s what I said about Emerson’

Emerson is Chris’s dog. The last time we met, he tore my trousers. Make of this what you will…..

Lloyd Arkill - 17/02/2014

I think I’d rather see your mate’s dog in a Watford shirt than Diakite

Harefield Hornet - 19/02/2014

And here’s an actual text message I received from a QPR mate after Diakite was sent off – “I told you he was a useless **** – you’re welcome to him!” – enough said!

7. NickB - 17/02/2014

It’s always a bugger when you have to explain a sophisticated allusion, Matt.

8. Hornetboy84 - 21/02/2014

Now we are safe from relegation, isn’t it time to bring Zola back and for it to start being fun again ?

If we didn’t have Forestieri and Battochio we really would be a soulless team at the moment ( they + Adbi + Vydra + Chalobah were last years heartbeat)


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