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Watford 4 Leeds United 1 (23/08/2014) 24/08/2014

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. None of this is awfully surprising, is it? Oh, I don’t mean that. I mean this. Although, in a way, they’re part of the same thing: how, occasionally, football’s gory innards come tumbling out to everyone’s dismay and disgust. One of these people is, was and, who knows, might be again a deeply popular, widely respected and pretty successful player and manager, while the other is struggling to command respect in and out of the dressing room. A bit of ‘friendly banter’ goes a long way in that environment. It doesn’t excuse Mackay for a moment, but I wonder how many in football would survive a similar expose. I wonder, and yet I’m not sure I really want to know the answer. That first LMA statement spoke volumes, I fear.

2. As for the teetering Sannino, you can’t help but feel for him: the hand he’s been dealt appears to comprise the four of clubs, two jokers, an R2D2 Top Trump, and Mr Bun the Baker. As before, the summer has brought considerable activity; as before, it has brought in much talent and many options, especially if you fancy picking seven in midfield and eleven on the bench. As before, the challenge is to turn a lot of individuals into something sturdy enough to survive a Championship season without crumbling into pieces. There, inevitably, is where the season’s fate hangs.

Much, rightly, has been made of Gianfranco Zola’s ability to conjure a near-winning hand from a similar set of cards two seasons back, but there’s no John Eustace in that dressing room now, no-one with that level of earned authority. That includes the manager. And, indeed, you could argue – I would – that even Zola failed, falling at the final hurdle, that a fundamental lack of core discipline and concentration cost us promotion in the end. This is a hard, hard task, make no mistake. Those charged with it might have cause to envy the likes of Mackay and Dyche, whose dressing rooms were full of familiar faces and uncontested places; silk purses from sows’ ears are perhaps easier than silk purses from half a ton of off-cuts and fraying scraps emptied onto your desk in a great multi-coloured, sparkling heap with a reminder that you’re out on the street if you fail.

So, here we are, four games in, three wins and one defeat, and the manager’s job on the line. Notably, the pressure comes from inside rather than outside; these are questions being asked by the players rather than the fans. There’s no sense of mutiny around Vicarage Road, nothing more than a familiar impatient tetchiness, common to all modern football grounds. But you look at that squad – a winning squad, for pity’s sake – and you can’t see any structure at all. It’s just power vacuum and potential civil war. Perhaps the Pozzos will find the man who can command this rabble into a fighting unit; perhaps that man might yet be Beppe. Perhaps, as sometimes happens, success on the pitch will gradually quell the dissent and allow the manager to sideline the bad pennies, something that’s much easier when the chosen eleven is performing.

The owners seem like smart people, people who know and understand football. On that basis, I’d expect decisiveness, much as I expected it when Zola was running on air last season. And I’d expect some understanding of the task…which, above all, means a realisation that confidence is going to have to be placed in someone to piss a few players off in the cause of bringing the rest together. To wield the axe as the result of murmurs from the training ground seems an un-Pozzo-like approach: players have power in their model, sure, but it’s power held in strict balance. The coming weeks will tell us much about our club.

3. As I leave Hastings, it’s a beautiful day; the sea twinkles beyond the trees as I eat breakfast, the yellow shirts gleam and shine in my imagination. By Watford, it’s very much autumn again, gloomy cloud and chilly shade and a muttered threat of rain.

I expect our team selection to lose me completely. I pay little attention to close season activity even in a normal year and spend most of August and September catching up. The combination of a Pozzo transfer frenzy and an eight-month-old baby is surely too much for anyone’s brain to cope with.

I’m pleasantly surprised: the starting eleven contains four new faces, but each is instantly recognisable from the off. Of these, Gabriel Tamas has a fine game in the middle of the back three, copy book besmirched by slicing the ball into his own net for the Leeds equaliser but plenty that’s quietly, pleasantly capable otherwise, and a raking long pass or two for good measure. Don’t let the own goal fool you: he’s much less exciting than Joel Ekstrand, and that might turn out to be a good thing sometimes. Heurelho Gomes is exciting enough for two, obviously, but has little to do here.

On the right, Juan Carlos Paredes isn’t allowed to live up to billing either…but having been checked by the Leeds defence, he holds the line diligently, taking care of defensive duties without fuss. The most captivating figure, in many ways, is Gianni Munari, who takes up wonderful positions without seeing anything of the ball; it’s as if he’s a ghost from a game years ago, unseen by most of those present today. As someone who also spent most of his “career” playing in a separate, parallel game without the ball, I admire his work. He’s my new favourite. Which is odd, because he looks a lot like Diego Fabbrini, who isn’t my favourite.

4. There’s no Lloyd Dyer, tellingly. (See Thunk #2.)

5. The rest are a familiar bunch. True, missing the second half of last season means that I’ve seen little of Daniel Tozser, but he takes no time at all to get acquainted with: a brain constantly one thought ahead of everyone else, but feet sometimes loitering a yard behind. You could say that about each of the three midfielders, in truth, for these are people who like to let the ball do the work; these are cultured footballers of a kind that’s never before been the rule rather than the exception. At one point in the second half, a gravel-gargling voice from yesteryear urges our midfield to “break ‘is fakkin’ legs”…and you wonder who exactly he might think was capable of such a vulgar act. It’s all moved on. Keith Andrews might come in useful from time to time, you suspect.

6. Up top, Troy Deeney does a pretty terrific job of being a walking advert for himself, no agent required. On a couple of occasions in the first half, everyone just leaves him to it and has a bit of a breather while the whole of the Leeds defence tries to get the ball off him down by the corner flag. He is approximately 29.3 times the rather vague, clumsy player we bought from Walsall. This may turn out to be the last time I see him in a Watford shirt, but I very much hope not.

The star of the show, however, is the mischievous Fernando Forestieri, who is appromately 8.6 times the rather impetuous, silly kid we acquired a couple of years ago. He’s grown up in front of our eyes, not too much, just enough. This version has lost none of the impish charm, but now has a ruthlessness, a cut-throat glint. Leeds have simply no idea what to do with him, and the scoreline understates his contribution: in a game of relatively few openings, Forestieri scores twice, wins the decisive penalty (not a pretend one either), and has at least three other noteworthy shots on goal. His second goal, in which he foxtrots his way through the penalty area before picking his moment to wrong-foot the entire stadium, is a wonderful thing. He’s an absolute joy.

7. So, anyway, it turns out to be one of those games from which conclusions are hard to draw. I’m reminded a little of the 6-1 defeat of Bournemouth early last season, a game in which we were often uncomfortable and eventually grateful for our ability to knock a couple in from set pieces and polish them off on the break. Here, Leeds were matching us into the second half…and, indeed, missed a free header shortly after the interval, a moment almost as pivotal as Bellusci’s lapse and subsequent professional foul on Forestieri. That individual error changed the game; everything followed on from those ten seconds. In truth, this was a tight, dry game until then, two teams comfortable on the ball and patient without it.

In that respect, this doesn’t change much: we’re the same squad, with the same manager, as we were this morning. The flaws remain, the cracks can still appear. The margins are small. If that free header goes in, the atmosphere changes in an instant.

But it didn’t. Not this time.


1. Goldenboy60 - 24/08/2014

Fabbrini in the games at Stevenage and Rotherham playing wide on the right of a 4 man midfield and has been a different player to the one we saw last season. He has been an absolute pain to opposing defences who cannot match his quick feet, pace and intricate movement of the ball. If only he could now find that end product he would be righty up there with the best if not the top. Watch this space…

2. sw17 - 24/08/2014

Lots of people said that Leeds were comfortable at 1-1. Well yes, but certainly not threatening. If passing the ball along the backline, a-la Zola’s team in freefall last season, is being comfortable, fair enough.

But there was only one team making clear chances in each half & notwithstanding the header IG mentioned ( Hoban also had an identical one ) it wasnt Leeds.

3. Jimbob - 24/08/2014

I’m not sure I agree entirely with thunk 7. Although I don’t doubt if Pearce had scored and made it 2-1 the fear would have returned I think we always looked like we had enough about us yesterday to finish Leeds off. If anything we made them look half competent by stopping doing whatever it was we were doing to great effect in the first 20-25 minutes. We seemed a lot more lively after half time.

In other news – the pitch. What a disgrace. Aesthetics aside it was slow and a noticeable hinderance to our style of play.

Matt Rowson - 24/08/2014

Don’t agree with that myself. Didn’t think we were in any danger when they scored but equally didn’t think that we were knocking particularly hard when we regained the lead. The better side, probably, but not in a particularly consequential way.

4. drewoneone - 24/08/2014

Good to hear from the BHappy team this season. Well done IG in getting back to us so soon after the upheaval of a family expansion – I missed most of the eighties heyday because of the same sort of commitments (plus umpteen house moves and not much money!).

Your perspective on the squad having missed most of the Beppe Sanninho reign is a timely reminder to the rest of us that we have a much improved bunch of players – Toszer being the pick of the “new” arrivals in my opinion. Paredes, Munari, Andrews and Tamas have brought some extra dimensions, the full extent of which I am sure we will come to appreciate even more as the season progresses. Tommy Hoban (using your easy to understand Human Overall Reflective Numbering Enhancement Totalizer – HORNET) has come on by 7.6 times since he was last a regular. Matej Vydra does not quite register on the index, yet, and as for LLoyd Dyer I keep getting “Error, please switch off and on again” messages.

Keep up the good work IG and keep the slacker Rowson on his toes!

5. South West Hornet - 25/08/2014

Yep, good to see the Bsad / Bhappy team back. Great way to keep in touch with developments and opinion if being physically far afield.

Hope the manager can stay for continuity purposes. It can’t be easy with the squad being chopped and changed so regularly.

Hopefully Vydra finds his form from two seasons ago and off we go again!

6. Mattp - 25/08/2014

Good thunks and welcome back – I thought we looked comfortable but showed little in the way of having a clear game plan to score goals against a limited Leeds team. It was a hopeful/mishit pass that caused the game to change with the penalty and sending off and put a different complexion on the game. Before that moment we moved the ball left and right with little penetration or ideas on how to get behind them.

On the plus side Fernando was quite unplayable and, for me, is the most skillful player we have. I thought Munari was everything Iriney was supposed to be and gave a good account of himself and we looked v solid at the back. Having individuals who can win matches with a moment of magic will stand us apart from the average this year but this team can still be much much better.

7. Lesley-Anne - 25/08/2014

4-1 was a great result for us, quite clearly the penalty and red card changed the game in our favour, which makes up for Norwich! It wasn’t our best display; I didn’t think Abdi or Tozser, aside from his goal, had their best performances but fortunately Forestieri, in particular, did! I thought Hoban, Munari, Deeney and Pudil were probably our best performers after Forestieri. But imagine how good we’ll be when everyone plays well!

Talking of how players have improved, I’m surprised no one has mentioned Pudil. Two seasons ago I thought he was an ok player who gave his all whenever he was on the pitch. I remember him making a couple of vital clearances in the latter part of last season and this season, especially on Saturday, I thought he was excellent. He must cover more of the pitch than anyone else and used the space he was allowed against Leeds very well. And it was good to see him tweeting good luck to the team on Tuesday night when he didn’t even make the bench. Fast becoming one of my favourite current players!

8. SteveG - 25/08/2014

I think both here and elsewhere we may be underplaying this victory. Sure, at the end of the first half when they scored a frankly unexpected equaliser (not often you concede a goal when the opposition has no shots on target in 90 minutes), but isn’t the point that we ended by dominating the second half and now, twice in a week, have finished the game more strongly rather than ending up looking unfit and conceding stupid goals in the last 10 minutes.

Of course Forestieri can’t possibly play that well every week, but given that Abdi and Toszer, as mentioned above had competent, but not outstanding games and several other players each of whom is capable of making game changing contributions weren’t even on the pitch, this was a very impressive performance overall.

And, yes, Leeds could have gone 2-1 up with a header, but in another parallel universe the Tamas clearance ends up in row Z rather than the back of the net and Hoban scores and we’ve wrapped the game up at half time.

The big question is of course about morale and team spirit, and whether we can fashion an effective team out of an exceptional squad and on that I accept that the jury is still out.

But much to enjoy, and much to be optimistic about and, contrived statistic though it might be, we’re five games in and we still haven’t conceded a goal to an opposition player when we’ve had 11 men on the pitch.

9. JohnF - 27/08/2014

Welcome back Ian. I agree with all of your comments. At the moment there still isn’t a sense of a team rather than a group of individuals. At times some players looked unsure of what they were supposed to be doing and where they were supposed to be. However, it is early days with this group of players and we have to see what happens in the coming weeks. I have to say that we seem to have been given a kind start for our home games and stiffer tests lie ahead but it will be the away form that will determine much in the early part of the season. The win against Rotherham was a welcome one but it was only in the latter stages that we properly threatened and it was a player that may now be out of favour that changed things..Still, three wins out of four games is a good start.

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[…] been a little while since I was last here; the usual excuses apply. I’ve missed two managers in that time…but if I’m […]

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