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Watford 1 AFC Bournemouth 1 (20/09/2014) 20/09/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Being live on the telly carries with it a few considerations. For one thing, it’s an awful lot easier to write about a midweek trip to Blackpool, for instance, internet streaming or otherwise. If nobody’s seen the game then it’s not difficult to add to their understanding of how it went down… and less likely that anyone’s going to pick me up on a sloppy detail. Consequence number two is that everyone’s performing a little bit, even now in the era of blanket coverage. This went for daughter number one and daughter number two, stopped by a Sky crew on Vicarage Road at 11.15 and eager to wave their yellow, red and black garlands around their heads for the cameras. It went for the referee as well, who was irritatingly assiduous about free kicks being taken in the right spot but missed a lot of rather more fundamental stuff, frustrating both sides into the process. The close attention of Bournemouth’s aggressive midfield wasn’t acknowledged, Ian Harte’s lethal, cynical hack on Forestieri should have been given a red card… all round, tiresome. His performance was at the forefront of the girls’ post-match account to their great-grandmother, delivered with the withering shakes of the head of seasoned veterans.

2- The referee wasn’t, in any case, central to the outcome of the game, a game that wasn’t in itself radically different to the same fixture early last season in many respects. The visitors, of whom more below, were competitive and impressive and potent then too, for the most part… the difference was that we got our noses in front and made hay as the Cherries chased the game with incorrigible optimism. In a match that had bursts of being similarly end to end we never had that luxury today. The other key difference was the absence of Troy Deeney, hat-trick hero of that game a year ago. For all that our squad has depth and options Deeney is the captain and talisman, and is fundamental to the way we play as the number of consecutive appearances he’d made before today demonstrated. The consequence of his absence was a predictably lightweight forward line that had plenty of zip and energy but asked a lot of a midfield that was being pressured for space at every opportunity. There were performances like this at the start of Zola’s season, before Troy’s return to the side. Pace and movement are great, but if that’s all you’ve got then you’re rather easy to defend against. The Cherries played their role too a tee… our midfield was hassled into overquick or long passes, or simply caught in possession; Abdi and Anya were both off the pace and we didn’t have Troy’s incredible strength to turn rushed balls into threatening positions. How we missed his presence… and I was surprised that Gianni Munari’s physicality remained on the bench. Bournemouth’s discipline wasn’t offering many gaps, we needed a mallet where rapiers were failing.

3- Bournemouth were terrific. As I’ve said, they weren’t 6-1 dreadful last year really… but more than earned the point they got here. A very easy side to support at the moment one suspects, with a combination of disciplined defenders, industrious and tidy midfielders typified by the excellent Harry Arter, and honest endeavour in attack. Aggressive and competitive but, with the possible exception of Harte’s execution of Forestieri, not cynical. Nothing that would leave a nasty taste in the mouth. I don’t quite hold with the Occupation Road consensus that we’d got out of jail… with a squad of this quality even a ragged performance has something about it and if there were far too many misplaced passes the fact is that even one of those passes being on target might have meant an extra goal against a side that didn’t create too much in the way of clear-cut chances themselves. Nonetheless, when Arter’s fine strike gave them the lead midway through the second half we didn’t have much to complain about.

4- Earlier on, Gabriel Tamas had put in a performance that was all but a parody of his eventful Watford career to date. With the ball… majestic, almost contemptuously dismissive of any challenge and capable of slinging raking passes across the pitch like a central midfielder. Without the ball… a clumsy, thuggish calamity. His one-on-one with Callum Wilson looked like a major issue as soon as it presented itself, the Romanian being caught on the wrong side of his charge and making a silly, unwinnable challenge anyway. Ian Harte’s wonky penalty a major let-off but Tamas continued to look befuddled and exploitable until appearing to twist his knee in a horrible looking fall on the half hour. On came Craig Cathcart for his second Watford debut and everything settled down almost instantaneously. His performance was composed and disciplined, verging on the elegant, and he sealed what was already comfortably a (Watford) man of the match display with a gorgeous volley to salvage a point in the final ten minutes.

5- So what, really. We’ve not learned an awful lot from this fixture, much as (being a home game) it’s one that we’d have expected three points from. Deeney leaves a great big hole. The team is a little rudderless and in need of some polishing. There’s an awful lot of quality anyway, and crazy depth in the squad (Craig Cathcart is only fourth? fifth? in line before today, right?). Some of it’s good. Some of it’s less good. None of this is news. Next…


Blackpool 0 Watford 1 (16/09/2014) 17/09/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- There’s something quite distinctive about Blackpool.  I hadn’t been here since Kenny Jackett’s season 17 (!) years ago but strolling down the seafront in the hazy late afternoon sunshine it was difficult to escape the suspicion that contact with the rest of the world has been scant for far longer.  There’s an air of melancholy neglect about the place, but defiance too.  “We’re an anachronism but that’s how we like it and if you don’t you know where the chuffing road is”.

Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t a thoroughly agreeable way to spend a couple of hours having taken the rather reckless decision to book the entire afternoon off work.  We’d arrived early enough, as it happened, to secure the best away supporters parking spot in the whole of Blackpool… in the Travelodge car park opposite the ground with our bonnet pointed straight down the exit back onto Seasiders Way and the route home.  By the time we arrived back at the stadium and noted that the placard accompanying Stan Mortensen’s statue neglected to acknowledge his one wartime appearance for Watford we were in a thoroughly relaxed and benevolent frame of mind.

The Blackpool team, of course, has the same patched-up, bedraggled feel as the town it represents, if for rather different reasons that the home support were very clear about.  The Oyston Estate Agents board, twice the size of any other advertising in the stadium, sneered smugly back from the rear wall of the stand opposite the away support, stretched down one side of the ground rather than behind a goal but no less noisy for it.

2- The Hornets, meanwhile, are somewhat treading water given the unfortunate and concerning health scare suffered by Oscar Garcia over the weekend (get well soon Oscar…). The starting eleven saw one change, the welcome return to the side of Juan Carlos Paredes in place of Tommie Hoban; given the Seasiders’ advertised susceptibility down the flanks an attacking full back seemed like A Good Idea.  Less convincing was the Hornets’ formation, described by Ruben Martinez as 4-2-3-1 but in effect indistinguishable from a 4-4-2 with McGugan sitting awkwardly on the right and Anya on the left of midfield.  The home side started particularly nervously;  we were applying pressure high up the pitch and it didn’t take a lot for the home side’s centre-backs to look vulnerable.  The very definition of “there to be got at”.  When in possession we tried to build up a rhythm, retaining possession and making the home side chase the ball.  Gradually we built up pressure and before the half was up the Seasiders were endebted to Joe Lewis for a string of fine saves including a clouted Deeney effort tipped wide and a lightning break to unlock Anya smothered by the keeper’s attentiveness – although the winger should have scored.  Nonetheless, as we failed to take advantage the home side settled down and grew in confidence and defiance, our efforts more laboured.  The half ended with Gomes denying a point-blank header and a suspicion that an alien free of prejudice would probably favour this Blackpool side, wobbly and patched-up but committed and demonstrably greater than the sum of its parts, over the visitors who were no less committed but rather less potent than might have been hoped.  Being entirely prejudiced we applauded the Hornets off anyway, albeit with a lingering concern borne of failing to take advantage of possession on Saturday, and a wish that Gianni Munari’s industry or Fernando Forestieri’s magic dust were available.

3- Highlights of the journey up had included the construction of a “Watford eleven who would get you into trouble in a nightclub” and “Watford eleven who would get you out of trouble in a nightclub”. Had Adrian Boothroyd’s attempts to recruit Ishmael Miller from Manchester City seven years ago been successful he would surely have been a contender for the latter;  as it is he has caused us no end of trouble since his decision to join West Brom instead of the Hornets and has scored for three different visiting sides at Vicarage Road.  The sort of opponent that might have seemed particularly likely to cause our defence problems, in fact, but as it turned out both Angella and Ekstrand looked vastly more comfortable in a back four than they have tended to do in a back three; Miller certainly looked like the Seasiders’ biggest threat but Ekstrand in particular coped admirably with the challenge, as impressive a performance as we’ve seen from the Swede in some time.

4- The second half proved to be more even, all round, but only in a roundabout sort of way.  Impatience in the away end was beginning to rear its graceless head, Matej Vydra too often on the receiving end.  This was inappropriate on any number of levels, the two most glaring being that barracking a striker low on confidence really isn’t likely to achieve the desired outcome and that, actually, this was a performance more assertive than many of those since his return.  For starters there was no shortage of effort and, yes yes,  “showing you’re bothered” as a meter of quality has its limitations but in Vydra’s energetic closing down there was at least evidence of something.  The pivotal change in the game was the introduction of Dyer for McGugan, which gave the side far better balance.  Within a minute Anya was screaming down the right, his clever ball inside to Vydra lashed hungrily into the side netting.  Then we got the goal and it was a far more elegant thing than a 68th minute penalty might sound, the sort of quality that can win a good side a game as the Premier League taught us all too well.  Pudil, a rival for Ekstrand as man of the match, sent an evil pass through for Dyer borne of the winger’s movement and Pudil’s awareness and leaving Tony McMahon with no option but to make a challenge that he was never going to execute successfully.  Deeney, one assumes, delegated penalty-taking responsibility to his strike partner and kudos to him for doing so as the Czech finished expertly… he needed a goal and acknowledged the travelling Hornets with a grin.  Within minutes Deeney was heading off the line as the home side came straight back out of the blocks, cementing a captain’s performance, but the pressure was all Blackpool’s.  Eventually it told, the home side got a penalty themselves after some hurlyburly in the box that was impossible to assess from our distance but the points were clearly destined to be ours as Ranger beat Gomes only to see his shot come back off the inside of the post.  Sean Murray came on for a positive and energetic cameo in place of the disappointing Abdi, Tamas came on for Vydra to shield the defence in a typically chaotic, brutal fashion and after the combined will of the away end (“Get OVER”) pushed a late header Blackpool header over the bar the points and a first win in Lancashire for five years were ours.

5- All good then, in the end, and another three points away from home that owed a little to luck but a lot more to a greater resolve than has always been evident.  Less pleasing all round were yet further signs of niggle within the squad.  Daniel Tözsér  and Troy Deeney having words at half time, Lloyd Dyer (him again) and the excitable Gomes having to be separated by Gabriele Angella at full time.  So too a hamstring injury sustained by Deeney in the game’s dying minutes leaving us to hold out with ten men throughout injury time.  This was particularly unfortunate in that the home side, whose approach in general hadn’t been overly physical, had on three occasions gone through the back of a skipper in what can only have been a deliberate strategy to limit the effectiveness of our biggest threat.  Deeney dodged those bullets and didn’t react, so unfortunate that he should injure himself by overstretching late on (in front of a gormlessly unsympathetic home end, one of whose delegates offered a mystifying “Italian cheats!” under his breath at us on our short step back to the car afterwards).  All in all, a fine away day (aren’t they all) a little bit of luck and a very welcome if not undeserved three points… but “as you were” in many respects. More to do.

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