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Watford 2 Udinese 2 (02/08/2014) 03/08/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Five thunks from the visit of our friends from Udinese

1- The identity of the visitors, the fact that the match was at Vicarage Road and the pricing strategy that accompanied it made this the clear stand-out amongst the pre-season games.  Those aside, the game had been eagerly anticipated for a whole different reason.  Daughter Number 2 has been wanting to come to football ever since her big sister first started watching two and a half years ago.  She has only had a vague idea of what football entails, but this never affected her enthusiasm.  The long-standing commitment that she could come along after she turned five became relevant less than a fortnight ago.  Today was the day.

Consequently my own view of the game was somewhat patchy; please take what follows in that context.  Like one of those World Cup games half-watched whilst doing the ironing/reading Twitter/out at the pub with non-football friends I enjoyed an extended highlights package haphazardly put together with only vague attention to the key moments, such as they were.  For instance, the telegraphing of our first equaliser with a free-kick award on the edge of the area was insufficient warning to enable me to catch anything but a freeze-frame of the ball nestled in the top corner, before returning my attention to my left where daughter number one had vaulted onto the barrier in wild celebration and daughter number two was keen to follow suit.  All things considered, a good day for number two – she did at least fix the game with her attention for much of the time and didn’t request an early departure even if she struggled to get past our summer Panini collection, repeatedly referring to Watford as Germany and at one point asking which one was André Schürrle.

More generally of course this was the last chance to gauge where we were before the big kick off.  To weigh up our new signings, to judge which formation we’re going to run with, to cast an eye over a putative starting line-up.  Suitably enough, black clouds and summer sunshine competed indecisively as kick off approached.

2- Half-expecting us to play 4-3-3, it appeared initially that with Gabriel Tamas playing very wide, we were lining up with four at the back.  Whether due to an early change in strategy or whether the early set-up was merely deceptive (competing as it was with demands for hula hoops) we soon settled into a familiar 3-5-2 with Ekstrand in the middle of the three and Keith Andrews doing a tidy fetching-and-carrying job at the back of the midfield. Needs to be borne in mind of course that Udinese are a mid-table Serie A side and therefore, fielding a full-strength line-up, stiff opposition.  Nonetheless, and given that the Zebrette are three weeks further from the start of their season than we are from ours, the first half was a little disappointing…  ours were the touches that looked a little heavy, the runs that weren’t quite read.  Matěj Vydra was culpable here… every now and again he would sparkle, like a lost contact lens catching the sunlight, before disappearing back into the morass. Along with a low key acknowledgement of his noisy welcome at kick-off it was hardly a trailblazing return for the Czech.

Udinese, meanwhile, were finding us a little easier to slice through;  Tamas looked supremely confident in possession but this once or twice strayed into overconfidence, giving the ball away by overambitious decisions bringing the ball out.  He just about got away with that in a pre-season friendly butwon’t once the real stuff starts.  We had a warning when Fernandes found space to crash the returning Riera’s deep cross against the bar… shortly afterwards Widmer pulled away at the far post, timed his run well and nodded home unchallenged from behind a static back three.  Not great that, not even in a pre-season game;  Udinese worth their lead at half time.  It was very far from awful… but certainly underwhelming.

3- And whilst we’re on the subject of Widmer’s goal… I’m all for hospitable welcoming applause to the opposition keeper.  In the unusual context of this particular game, applause for Udinese substitutions and a welcome for the legendary Alessandro Di Natale, both fine too.  But a round of encouraging applause for Widmer’s albeit tidy header (and similar for Théréau’s neat second half finish) were a step too far for me.  Yes, yes, friends and partners, fine. but let’s retain at least a veil of competitiveness.  There’s a good deal of ground worth exploring between applauding the opposition goals and bawling at their every touch.

Generally, however, the game was played in good spirit as you might expect, with none of the tetchy, snappy feel of last year’s visit from Granada.  If Udinese’s players (with one or two exceptions including  Riera, mystifyingly persisted with in a left wing-back role sporting the number 3 shirt) generally failed to acknowledge their warm reception (possibly through not appreciating that they were the subjects of it), there was at any rate no grumpiness, no bad feeling, and indeed a comedy highlight when the prone Luis Muriel found himself unceremoniously dragged into touch by the arms as two of his teammates,  rather than await the stretcher (let alone try to slow things down) decided to hurry things along a little bit.

4- Second half was brighter from the off.  Perhaps an element of our greater fitness telling… whatever.  There was an oomph and a pazzazz evident immediately, the visitors now on the back foot;  an early move saw Anya scream down the right and scatter his opponents… perhaps a shot should have come earlier in the move before Pudil’s clip was deflected wide, but this was a clarion call.  Troy Deeney began to impose himself…  Tamas played a high ball into the area and Deeney crashed onto it to cushion a header to the onrushing McGugan who drove narrowly wide.  Deeney’s involvement here a perfect marriage of brawn and subtlety that left Thomas Heurtaux appealing to the official in polite but outraged disbelief (not for the last time), as if Deeney had produced a cricket bat from somewhere and taken a swing at the cross with that.  Within minutes we were level, but as already discussed I can tell you little about that.

What was most pleasing about the second half was that so many of the replacements  introduced had a positive impact on the performance (the possible exception being Hoban, on for Tamas in the wake of the visitors’ second and scarcely called into action thereafter).  Most obviously Odion Ighalo who in my head, being a Nigerian striker, was big and physical but in reality was quick, sharp, dextrous and energetic, running the channels, keeping possession with a box of tricks and endearing himself to everyone in the stadium (except, perhaps Mathias Ranégie who slightly overhit a pull back in a promising position as Ighalo saw a debut goal looming and copped the Nigerian’s frustration). Lloyds Dyer and Doyley came on in the wing-back positions, the latter as indifferent to the scale of the challenge as ever, the former’s pace and discipline a real threat down the left. Diego Fabbrini reminded everyone why we were so excited at this stage twelve months ago, an outrageous piece of skill taking him to the left byline where he dug out a left footed dinked cross to Pudil whose header was turned in by Ranégie. As Beppe has said since, if he sorts out the weaker aspects of his game he’s a real asset.  As for the big Swede, whilst he continues to look as if he’s present purely out of a sense of obligation and would rather be enjoying his own company, a glass of wine and a box set, that’s a rather useful tally of goals he’s racked up over recent friendly and competitive games.

5- As we ambled up Occupation Road (and allow plenty of time for that whilst the artery is narrowed by the building work, incidentally) the sun broke through decisively, and appropriately enough for this was an encouraging afternoon on balance.  A stout performance against a very capable side that showcased the quite remarkable depth of the squad as it stands.  There’s plenty of time before the window closes of course – to be honest I never expected to see either Deeney or Fabbrini in a yellow shirt again – but as it stands and without wishing to pre-empt the Watford bit of the season preview that will follow on Friday, the fact that we fielded 18 players and got the result against strong oppositoin without calling on Paredes, Tözsér, Cathcart, Murray or Forestieri is very positive.  Not even finding the entrance to the girls’ school on Wiggenhall Road locked (for £7 parking direct access isn’t an unreasonable expectation) dampened our spirits.  Daughters number one and two were both thoroughly enthused and if there are still question marks going into the season there are more reasons to be cheerful than not.  Even without André Schürrle.

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Comments»

1. George - 03/08/2014

Matt–

Thank you and Ian in advance for the hard work you do in preparing all aspects of BHappy for our enlightenment and enjoyment. Hope your girls get to enjoy a banner season this year–COYH!

2. Jon Arnold (@MintyJaffa) - 03/08/2014

I was sat just to your right yesterday Matt and wondered whether you would be thunking as I could see you had your hands full. I was fortunate to only have one with me who was entertained by my phone. Despite the distractions, I totally agree with you, as ever. Highlight of the game for me was the set of ‘chaps’ to my right who seemed to think we would get murdered by Bolton if we played like this. The difference of opinion in watching the same game is a debate for another day though.

Matt Rowson - 03/08/2014

Cheers Jon. You’ll appreciate that I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that the bits I was able to watch form a representative subset…

3. The Great Big O - 03/08/2014

Everyone seems to have liked the new Watford Odion. Me too. I hesitate to say it, but his all-round pace, positivity, energy and eye for goal reminded me of a certain fellow called Blissett I remember from a few years back.

4. Roger Smith - 03/08/2014

Shame that they didn’t open Vicarage Road for families. When the Rookery is full, the V-bar is a scrum, and absolutely not the place for young children. It may also be why the Rookery as a whole did not pick up on the singing section’s efforts, which duly died a death.

I thought that both their goals were greeted with polite and fully deserved applause by those who appreciate good football (especially if Watford learn from it), whereas both the Watford goals prompted roars of approval. Can’t argue with that.

The most interesting team change was Pudil switching to the right to accommodate Dyer. Not sure if that had anything to do with the fact that their goals were scored from the right in the first half and the left in the second.

A lot of the frustrating “mishit/stray” passes were in fact inspired interceptions. At first I thought it was a sign of Udinese’s superior class, but then I realised that we were equally adept. Roll on 2014/15!

Matt Rowson - 03/08/2014

I thought that the singing section’s success was pretty good for a pre-season friendly… I don’t remember hearing actual chanting at a pre season game before, even if it was an 11k crowd. But I agree that it was congested, particularly coming back up Occupation Road – and coming out of the ground. Very difficult to steer two small people… I didn’t brave the v-bar.

Polite applause, yes, fully-deserved? I suppose so, in the sense that every opponent’s goal is worthy of credit from an objective point of view. Balls to objectivity tho… I’m not advocating blind jingoism, but the applause felt odd to me.

Their goal came down the left in the first half… Riera put the ball in, Widmer was left free but that was probably Angella’s error as the left centre-back.

You’re right about Pudil… I can’t believe that Lloyd (Doyley) was only on for 8 mins + stoppages. I did warn you that attention to detail may have suffered…


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