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Watford 1 Doncaster Rovers 2 (26/08/2014) 27/08/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1 – Ahhhh, the early rounds of the League Cup, eh?  That comfortable familiar dullness, the football season’s equivalent of a Sunday afternoon repeat of Last of the Summer Wine…   yes it’s fist-chewingly tedious but at least you know where you are.  Ian once suggested that there was only one early League Cup tie, that it went on continuously and endlessly and we just tuned into it for 90 or 120 minutes once a year.  At any rate the script is familiar… lower division team turns up, makes a decent fist of it, we field a weakened side and looked laboured and dull and magnolia and just about scramble a 1-0 win, probably through Scott Fitzgerald or Andy Ferrell.  Or something.  This was just another to add to the collection.

2- Except it wasn’t, not by a long chalk.  You’ll already have noted one critical detail that didn’t follow the usual script.  For another Rovers are hardly your plucky underdogs…  relegated on the last day of last season they were beating us at their place as recently as March.  Much has happened to both squads since, but nonetheless, hardly David and Goliath stuff.  And, as you’ll know if you had the misfortune of sitting through this, they were more than just game triers who benefited from a smash and grab – in their discipline, game-plan and commitment they were everything that we weren’t, and thoroughly deserved the victory.  I blame Felix, who opened the evening by eulogising how any match under floodlights was a good thing.  Tempting fate, that.

3- Because in case you were in any doubt, this was lamentable stuff.  Rovers started much the brighter and sounded warning calls before they took the lead, our fragile looking rearguard eventually succumbing when Bennett skipped through to be felled by Tamas.  It had been coming.  Nine changes from Saturday or otherwise there was plenty of quality in our starting line-up and it showed in glimpses… Lewis McGugan once or twice suggested that he might take hold of the midfield before giving up and leaving it to its own devices; Odion Ighalo had a shocking, clumsy start to the game before finding his feet and showcasing a reasonable repertoire of competing, holding the ball up, flicking and switching, one such trick releasing Lloyd Dyer to scamper through and restore parity.  At no point did we look like cantering to victory however, and when we hesitated in the face of a tidy Rovers move at the start of the second half we fell behind again and only rarely looked like retrieving it.  Diego Fabbrini, who the temporary visitor to my left had bestowed with mystical game-changing powers hitherto unsuggested, came on and did liven up proceedings giving us at least a way of scoring if not a potent threat – we didn’t make anything of the free kicks that he won – and the game ended not with us kitchen-sinking the Rovers goal but with the visitors playing keep-ball in our half.

4- I don’t really subscribe to the view that there’s too much talent, too many players expecting to play.  The bloke in Fry Days before the game cited Burnley as evidence that you don’t need a massive squad, that a good team ethic goes a long way and that’s certainly true, but the inverse doesn’t follow.  A implies B doesn’t equate to B implies A…  it’s possible to get promoted with a small squad, but a small squad doesn’t get you promotion.  Plenty of evidence of THAT – ask Blackpool for one.  Certainly keeping players happy in our situation is a challenge, but I don’t buy the argument that you can’t foster an environment where everyone’s pulling in the same direction, the team’s getting results with good players chomping at the bit for their opportunity.  One might argue that the renewed competition for places played a role in Fernando’s remarkable performance on Saturday for example.

What I don’t understand is the decision to try to accommodate a(nother) large intake of new talent and a large squad (and so regular line-up changes) with the level of tactical flexibility that Beppe is aspiring to. The desire to be able to switch formations and play in different ways is completely understandable as an ideal but there’s a reason that not many teams do it.  I’m reminded of ig’s Vialli-inspired suggestion that you’re going to wait a long time for things to “gel” if you keep stirring them with a great big stick, and we’re in the same position again… a new week, a new-line up, formation, strategy.  We’ll be rotating the language spoken on pitch next, a great big game of Twister (4-3-3, Vydra and Ighalo up front, in Italian.  3-5-2, Tozser sitting, in Danish. 4-4-2, Rene Gilmartin and Eddie Denton get a start, Swahili).  We’ve got the quality in the squad to get promoted without being so excessively ambitious.

5- Whether we’ve got the attitude to get promoted is another question altogether.  The stench of the performance against Huddersfield at the end of last season still permeates, a performance not born of sloppiness, tactical mistakes, bad luck or an unplayable opponent but of screaming bad feeling in the dressing room.  Again, last night, there was a complete absence of any life, movement, enthusiasm from a very large proportion of the side, substitutes disappearing straight down the tunnel (although not clear from the Rookery whether there was a repeat of Saturday’s failure by Forestieri to acknowledge Beppe’s hand).  Ikechi Anya has been a player characterised by positive attitude and effort, even on days when things haven’t been working for him but there was none of that last night in the most subdued 90 minutes I’ve ever seen from him (albeit in an uncomfortable full back position for the most part).  Matej Vydra is present in body but not in spirit… he worked, he showcased his ability, he nonetheless spent much of the game with his chin on his chest.  Almen Abdi is another whose influence has been limited in the games I’ve seen this season, albeit not involved yesterday.  Doyley, Murray and Andrews were all appallingly off the pace last night.

I left the stadium thinking that if rumours of dressing room unrest are justified (and the circumstantial evidence in favour is quite overwhelming) then what better way to put pressure on an unpopular manager than to turn in that sort of performance in a League Cup tie… less long term cost, arguably, than the same in a league fixture.  I’m sure that’s an unfounded thought, borne of the disappointment and the prospect of a trudge across Watford and drive home – in reality, Doncaster did as much to win the game as we did to lose it in the context of which it wouldn’t take a wholesale lack of focus to make the challenge insurmountable.  Nonetheless, it’s difficult to see the status quo prevailing.  If a manager’s under pressure due to results there’s an obvious remedy, however hard it is to achieve.  Difficult to see an obvious way out of this.  And as ig implied on Saturday, if Beppe does leave then you have to hope that whoever comes in is up to the challenge – including the requirement to bang some heads together.


1. NLFG - 27/08/2014
2. simmos - 27/08/2014

I have to agree with everything you say and in particular thunk 5 with the exception that there is no easy solution. However much we may dislike player power these are the Pozzo’s players and assets. I cannot see another wholesale change of playing staff because they do not get along with the head coach and therefore the only way forward is to change the coach regardless of our league position and his qualities. As you rightly say we need to “bang some heads together” but with a new coach bringing about the change. If we want the players to perform at their best then we have to have a happy team spirit. Zola achieved this with an equally large squad and while ultimately his laid back style was not good enough to win promotion the Pozzo’s must realise that under Beppe the players will not perform to the level of ability we know they are capable of achieving. I say we should make the change now rather than during our usual lull in October/November. Sorry I cannot offer any names but I am sure there are several coaches who would be delighted to be given the chance of getting the best out of this squad.

3. Roger Smith - 27/08/2014

I didn’t sense a lack of effort, but we didn’t play to our strengths. Lot’s of pace up front, and no shortage of opportunities to use it. But when the through ball on the ground for Vydra to chase was on, the player in possession invariably turned back, then played it back from where it was punted straight down the throat of their centre halves. No wonder Vydra’s head dropped.

Sannini was right in one respect: we had enough quality on the pitch to have won easily. But whether he’s directing them correctly and the players aren’t getting the message, or he hasn’t a clue, the end result will be the same: the shambles of a team game that we saw last night.

4. Jim of the rookery - 27/08/2014

I really was amazed at how poor a team performance it was. I’m wasn’t convinced about sannino, much less so now

Keith Andrews was reminiscent of Pierre Issa – the guy looked like he was learning to walk, rather than a journeyman pro. We don’t need players like this guy in my opinion, hopefully the brief league cup run equals the end of a brief watford career

Murray, Anya, vydra, dyer (good finish aside) you are a talented bunch of players, experienced at high levels of the game and you thoroughly underperformed yesterday.

I saw mcgugan trying to impose himself, ighalo covering acres of ground and lloyd Doyley giving the best of his limited abilities, I didn’t see anyone else even trying to justify their salary.

And it’s been said a million times but for Pete’s sake you won’t contend with tidy and organized (ok, unglamorous) 4-4-2 playing football teams by trying to out pass them using wing backs – utter nonsense as it proved by where the game was played, ie mainly in our half

The last two minutes of added time made me embarrassed to be a watford fan

Matt Rowson - 27/08/2014

We didn’t play with wing backs yesterday. For the vast majority of the game we played 4-3-3 with Lloyd at RB and Anya LB, Anya switching sides when Pudil came on.

SteveG - 27/08/2014

Well, sort of … it seemed to me that they didn’t quite know whether it was 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 they were supposed to be playing and Anya then seemed to oscillate between LB and wing back without looking comfortable in either position. This was unfortunately the antidote to Saturday’s optimism and did indeed recall the Huddersfield shambles at the end of last season. Things have got to be bad if Matt is using ‘Doyley’ and ‘appallingly’ in the same sentence. As a fellow Doyley supporter, it was very sad to watch such an embarassingly poor performance last night.

Goldenboy60 - 27/08/2014

We started with wing backs in a 5-3-2 and then went 4-3-3, then some strange formation later on which I just couldn’t fathom. It was like ‘oh I don’t care just get on with it’. I could understand Anya’s frustration at playing left back. What a waste of talent that is.

The thing is formations don’t win games, players do, and our players weren’t up to it last night.

For the first time I am now not sure about Bepe’s ability to handle the situation he has on his hands.

Good news today about Deeney and at least we haven’t appointed Warnock, not that he has not been successful, but I’m not sure he could handle our squad.

What disturbed me last night was the lack of enthusiasm. The look in Vydra’s eye when Doyley fluffed a return pass. Dyer clearly did not learn from last week running away with his finger over his lips. THIS HAS TO STOP NOW. If not our season could disappear in front of our own eyes.

I SINCERELY HOPE NOT. Saturday will be interesting. But lets NEVER NEVER under estimate our opponents. I agree with Matt’s comments about how Rovers started with intent. When oh when are foreign players going to learn that in England NO GAME IS EASY or a DEFINITE WIN. I’m sure Louis Van Gaal will also be thinking that today.

Also tonight, learning of Aluminia’s newly found heart condition, I’m sure we all wish him well.

5. Jim of the rookery - 27/08/2014

Sorry Matt but I think you are unusually wrong, we definitely finished as a 4-3-3 (or maybe no formation at all….) but we absolutely started the first half as a 3-5-2, according to the wobbly:

Watford started the contest in a 3-5-2 formation but quickly switched to a 4-3-3 system once they fell behind.

It allowed Dyer to move forward from wing-back to his favoured position as an attacking winger and he netted the equaliser soon after.

“I watched Dyer so far in this position (as wing-back) and changed the system to 4-3-3. I put Dyer in a more advanced position,” Sannino explained.

Anyway, neither system works against a well drilled 4-4-2, especially when a sweeper system is employed at the back

Matt Rowson - 28/08/2014

I said we were 4-3-3 for the vast majority of the game. All but the first 12 minutes qualifies, I think.

As for “neither system works against 4-4-2” – cobblers. If it were that straightforward nobody would play anything else.

Roger Smith - 28/08/2014

But then, why play Anya behind Dyer when we have Pudil on the bench?

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