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Watford 0 Cardiff City 1 (29/11/2014) 30/11/2014

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
6 comments

1. I quite like Steve Claridge. I quite liked him as a player, the impression he gave of a Sunday League huffer and puffer who’d stumbled through the wrong door, the slight air of Pig-Pen from Peanuts. I quite like him as a pundit too: I’m genuinely interested in what follows his oft-used intro of “Listen, if you’re in that dressing room….” I like his insistence on sticking with an argument – his indignant tone reaching a fever pitch at which he comes to resemble Mark Kermode’s impression of Danny Dyer – long after those around him have got bored and started being facetious and contrary. I like the idea that grown-up people with actual money once looked at Steve Claridge and thought, “Yup, that’s my manager! He’s my man!” They really did, you know. For a bit.

More than anything, though, I find joy in his tactical analysis, I find comfort in its simplicity. For Claridge, the root of all footballing woe is a team that’s not “set up right”. Faced with such a spectacle, he manages to convey a sense of genuine despair at the wrongheadness of it all; he appears to take it all a little too personally, to the point where you wonder if you’ll one day see him fronting a charity ad for the victims of teams that weren’t set up right. (“This is Jamie Moralee. Jamie was once a happy young footballer with his future ahead of him…”) There was one rant about Middlesbrough during last season’s Football League Show that I suspect would still be going on, probably with tears and wringing of hands and direct eye contact with the viewers, if Manish hadn’t stepped in to intervene.

Not for Claridge the diagrams and dissections, then. Not for Claridge the detail and the specifics. Instead, I like to think of him as a missionary on a boat off the coast of an unexplored continent, gazing in wonder at what it might hold, ready to land and spread the good word. And one day, maybe, all teams will be set up right and there will be no more winners and no more losers.

Imagine. You may say he’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one. And so on.

2. Except, of course, that it doesn’t really work like that. Even teams which are emphatically, decisively, definitely set up right can lose.

Allow me to demonstrate.

3. Because, aside from some quibbling about the selection of wide players, it’s pretty hard to argue with that line-up. That’s an extremely strong eleven, arguably the strongest pick of a strong squad, laid out as you’d naturally lay them out, three at the back and all. Reading through it as we walked up Vicarage Road, the statement of intent was clear: no more messing about. You asked for it, here it is.

We lost anyway. Funny old game, eh, Steve?

4. On a practical level – you know, facts and that – you can chalk our defeat up to a handful of factors.

For a start, if you can watch the goal without wanting to cover your eyes for shame, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am. One of those for which the only sensible response is to stare blankly ahead and hope it goes away soon, like when there are drunk people on the Underground. One of those which isn’t really worthy of winning a game: a more appropriate outcome would be a stiff fine for bringing the game into disrepute and then we all move on. Even allowing for the fact that we didn’t win a single header against Kenwyne Jones all afternoon, it was an absolute nonsense.

You don’t get promoted if you concede goals like that. You lose games like this, and then you don’t get anywhere. Seventh sounds about right.

5. So, yeah, that bit. And the bit where we opened up the Cardiff defence decisively enough and just about frequently enough to have won two or three games. If you manage to smuggle Matej Vydra behind your opponents’ defence a couple of times, you don’t expect to end up with ‘nil’ against your name. There’s a long list of nearly moments, starting with Marshall’s save from Tözsér’s shot and the goal-line clearance from Deeney’s follow-up in the first five minutes, and ultimately ending with Forestieri hammering a drive wide after conjuring a rare gap late on.

In truth, we created plenty, particularly during a flurry of pressure early in the second half during which it seemed inconceivable – and yet, at the same time, increasingly conceivable – that we wouldn’t manage to score eventually. At the point when a defender sliced a Vydra cross against the inside of his own post, you started to feel that it might never happen. It didn’t ever happen. Not a lot of luck to blame in that, in all honesty: we didn’t make it happen, we missed the chances we made. Or perhaps ‘missed’ is the wrong word; we just didn’t make them count. We didn’t do enough.

6. So, yeah, that bit too. And the bit where nobody – really, nobody – played particularly well. If we were using the old BSaD scoring system, there’s nothing above a three, quite a lot below that…and picking a ‘man of the match’ is just a matter of finding the least worst of those available, or not bothering at all. Which, in a way, demonstrates the vast talent within this squad, since I’ve already pointed out that we should be frustrated not to have won. And now we’re getting to the point…

7. Away from the facts and that, you find the real cause for concern. Because for all that we should be kicking ourselves for dropping any points here, let alone all three, this was not the performance of a team about to seize its destiny, claim its place in history, or even (let’s not set our sights too high) dig deep and do better next week. It lacked – Matt’s word, and he’s right – conviction.

We began both halves brightly enough, so there’s clearly something coming from the dressing room. But that impetus gradually and inexorably fell away: in the first half, you could blame the goal for derailing us; in the second, we just faded as Cardiff revived having weathered the storm. In both cases, the visitors were the likelier scorers on the counter by the end of the forty-five minutes; the final half hour was especially bleak. More than anything, there’s no sense that we can bounce off the ropes. There’s no resilience, no real steel to reinforce us.

Don’t get me wrong: our football remains tidy and largely competent and occasionally rather pleasing. We continued to pass the ball until the very end…which, while irritating to those who’d like to see it knocked into the penalty spot at the first opportunity, is our way and plays to our strengths. No point in abandoning that just because we’re behind; I’ve no problem with the patient approach, no problem with a sideways pass while we look for an opening. That’s all fine.

But someone has to take the initiative, someone has to be more than just another cog in the wheel. And you look around, first to Troy Deeney, who looks terribly subdued. Then to Matej Vydra, who looks frustrated and tired. Then to Daniel Tözsér, who thumps another speculative drive into the middle of the Rookery as if that’s all he’s got. And so on, and so on. This is a team packed with players who can turn a game in an instant, but sometimes that takes a certain force of will as much as a cute pass.

8. We haven’t mentioned Graham Taylor yet, have we? The club’s ceremony for the great man and his newly-named stand is beautifully concise and perfectly judged: a guard of honour made of former players and staff, a presentation, a short speech, and that’s enough to cause most of us of a certain age to get a little misty-eyed. For much of the club’s history, that kind of pre-match build-up would’ve been hugely unfair on the current team, which probably would’ve been struggling against constraints that Taylor himself never had to deal with. Here, now, that simply isn’t the case: this is a team built for promotion, and more. It has nowhere to hide. 

What strikes me is that, much as we rightly celebrate GT himself, that guard of honour was full of players who wouldn’t have waited to get back into the dressing room to hear it from the manager. Wouldn’t have needed to, wouldn’t have wanted to. Players who’d have stood up and resisted when that was necessary. Players who’d have stood up and made something happen rather than let a game drift to a conclusion. Players who changed the course of games, one at a time, and wrote themselves into history in the process.

And that’s the benchmark, more now than ever. Nowhere to hide.

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Savile Rogue Scarf Competition Results 24/11/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Nonsense.
6 comments

Many thanks to all those who entered our competition to win a Savile Rogue Watford scarf.   The objective was to name a Watford player past or present who had played competitively for each of the clubs in the Premier League and each of the other clubs in the Championship.  Beyond that, the winning entry would be the one whose 43 named players made the fewest number of Southern League, Football League and Premier League appearances for Watford between them.  (One for the anoraks, I appreciate.  I’ll try to come up with a more inclusive comp if we get this gig again….)

No player’s name could be used against more than one club, and each player used must have appeared in at least one competitive game both for Watford and for the team in question.

24 entries were received, of which 18 successfully put a name to each of the 43 slots.  Of these, the most winning entry in terms of Watford appearances was again received from Anders Flatas whose nominations made only 47 league starts for the club between them;  Anders defends his title, and having declined a scarf last year on the basis of no UK address is more than entitled to this year’s prize if we can navigate that obstacle… I’ll be in touch, sir. Commiserations to Paul Baxter, an honorable second for the second year running, and third place David Moore who beat traditional comp heavyweight Jem Whiteley into fourth.

After much fiddling around with spreadsheets I managed to beat Anders’ score by two appearances, but must confess to having employed the combined expertise of the entries, the composition of which is also detailed below, rather than doing the legwork on my own (are you mad?).  However this is only one possible avenue to this score… the insertion of Cliff Powell for Gary Plumley at Cardiff, for example, being one equivalent variant.

The most frequent error in entries was duplication… Scott Loach and Nigel Jemson just two names to have been allocated to two clubs simultaneously by entrants.

Other errors can loosely be categorised as either:

  • Naming a player against a team for whom he never played competitively
  • Leaving a team blank
  • In very few cases, putting a player down with no association with the club in question.

Been as generous as I can be re spelling…  happy to discuss or explain any queries, but please be polite… 🙂

So for those with an insatiable appetite for such data, enjoy:

Full Results Table

Club-by-Club Summary

Full Club-by-Club Listing

Player List in order of Most Nominations plus Detail!

Alphabetical player listing (for confirming your score!)

Note that both the Club-by-Club summary and the full Club listing are a little distorted by the occasions on which a player was nominated next to two clubs – since only valid entries are counted, the discarded lower entry in the team list is arbitrarily missing.

You can get a 10% discount off any Savile Rogue order using the HAPPY14 discount code.

That is all..

Watford 1 Derby County 2 (22/11/2014) 23/11/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
24 comments

1- I’m not very good at Monday mornings. I know that there’s a school of thought which suggests that you should return to work refreshed and reinvigorated, ready to start the week…  that’s not really me.  It’s nothing to do with not enjoying my job… I just need to get myself set, organised.   Back in gear. I try to use Monday mornings for planning and crossing off outstanding bits and pieces jobs before getting back into the swing properly.

Thing is, I’m lucky enough to have a job that generally affords me the flexibility to do that, up to a point.  I’m not, for example, a professional footballer coming up against the league leaders after an international break.  So… much as I can empathise with the shaking-out-of-cobwebs that seemed to dominate our particularly sluggish opening it was hard to actually sympathise.  You should have been ready for this, boys.  Whilst the early sparring was every bit as assertive as anticipated, two sides who wanted to attack, it was Watford’s defence that looked as if they were catching up with each other after a weekend, irritated by the onset of the white shirted phone-calls and emails, the unwanted onset of reality.  This was quite separate from any failings in terms of selection or approach to the first half.  This was a lack of up-for-itness unbefitting of the fixture or the occasion.

2- Derby were every bit as good as advertised, and whatever our mistakes or limitations it should be borne in mind that we still fashioned enough opportunities to have beaten lesser sides – indeed we’ve played if not worse then certainly as badly as this and won on several occasions this season.  Their midfield was particularly impressive, the lively Hughes (who my five year old daughter gleefully observed looked like a schoolboy) and Ibe, and the energetic Hendrick, reportedly a fanciful summer Watford target, were particularly dominant in the first half.  I’d argue that we have the stronger forward line, and perhaps that contributed to the Rams only being a goal up at the break for all their first half dominance, Ibe finally taking advantage of the acres of space afforded down our right by the cavalier Paredes to curl and exquisite shot past the reach of the helpless Bond, who had his best performance in a Watford shirt to date.  The Rams and the Hornets have similarly strong and deep squads, but Derby have a side and a way of playing that looks strong and confident, a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, whereas we still look tentative and uncertain, trying to make the most of our riches, trying to put together an lavish Airfix kit without the instructions.  And with several jumbled bits of kits mixed in together (do you think the wingers fit in this one or not?).

3- ….and there are reasons for that, none of which are Slavisa Jokanovic’s fault.  Like many, I was surprised by the non-selection of the monstrous Gianni Munari, not one of those  who’d been active in the internationals and invariably a force for good, today no less than ever… but in any other context we’d be far more tolerant of a manager experimenting with things, particularly given the breadth of the squad and the number of new players (again).  It’s not Jokanovic’s fault that he’s our fourth (I had to count) manager of the season, nor that Sannino’s opening spell was characterised by an insistence on tactical flexibility and refusal to settle on a favoured side.  We need to be patient, need to bear in mind that the expectation that four managerial changes gives us four times the chance of ending with the right guy is an unreasonable one.  For all but the youngest Watford supporterers this is still a new reality and a new way of thinking about things…  we’re used to the likes of Mackay  and Dyche making a lot out of perhaps not very much…  this isn’t the same situation and our expectations have risen, but there’s no straight line between the strength of a squad and position in the league table.  We’ve laughed at that suggestion, the implication of success by right, in other clubs in the past.

4- Which isn’t to say that the first half was a whole load of fun.  The biggest contrast between the sides was the energy in midfield, where Derby closed down aggressively and then looked confident in possession whilst the Hornets tended to stand off their opponents.  That said, we still dived in on vulnerable prey selectively… nobody’s going to coach much restraint into the irrepressible Fernando Forestieri, who made a reasonable stab of his shift on the right wing.  Put a more defensive-minded partner behind him and that might be a long-term option.  And as mentioned, we managed to fashion chances despite Derby’s dominance… it even occurred to me that this might be a deliberate strategy, perhaps looking to exploit the demands on the visitors’ legs that such energetic pressing of a side moving the ball well might make.  That suggestion was squashed by Jokanovic’s post-match criticism of his side’s lack of aggression in the first half, but by midway through the second period with the visitors still only a goal ahead we were in the ascendancy.  The introductions of both the lively, mobile Vydra and the bullish Munari both helped here, but Derby’s legs did seem heavier.  Munari got the equaliser, a bullish finish to end a magnificent move that peeled Derby’s defence open like a banana.  Thereafter the Hornets were on top – Vydra, Forestieri and Anya screamed at the Derby defence where the defending got a bit last-ditch… Butland and the excellent Keogh both getting crucial body parts in the way on several occasions.

5- As Derby tried to play out from the back Daniel Tozsér was vocally marshalling a wide spread, five across the midfield now cutting off the space.  For all that we ended up losing the game there was significant improvement in the second period, we’d significantly improved things.  There’s no denying that the visitors were worth the win over the 90 minutes… but as the game drew to a conclusion we looked the likelier to get the winner.  That we didn’t was due to a moment of pure quality from Craig Bryson… yes, we might have closed him down quicker but that’s a churlish criticism, implying fault on the part of the defence rather than giving credit to a stunning finish.  It wasn’t quite out of nowhere – you don’t get to the edge of the opposition penalty area if you’re under the cosh – but it was a case of a moment of quality deciding the game rather than, ultimately, the force of Derby’s underexploited superiority over the course of the events.  Again, we’ve been there (think Brentford) and we’ll be there again.

Ultimately how we look back on this game will depend on where we go from here.  In isolation, much as one doesn’t like to lose, there is no great shame in being beaten by this Derby side.  The concern is that this is now three games on the hop, three games where we might have got something but didn’t.  With a squad of this quality you kinda feel that we shouldn’t be losing these tight games, not several of them one after another.  We could rather do with a result next Saturday.

Competition: Win a Cashmere Watford scarf from Savile Rogue 07/11/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Nonsense.
35 comments

Once again, Savile Rogue have very kindly offered BHaPPY readers the chance to win one of the world’s finest cashmere football scarves in Watford colours.

Savile Rogue scarves (it says here…) give a nod to football terraces of yesteryear, shunning in-your-face logos and cheap nylon in favour of a traditional bar design and the comfort, quality and warmth of top grade wool.

Watford scarf 2Watford scarf 3To get your hands on the “faithful” version of the Watford scarf, here’s the deal…

Listed below the are the names of all the (other) clubs in the top two divisions in England.

You need to copy and paste these lists into the comments column below, and next to each enter the name of a Watford player past or present who has also turned out for the team in question in at least one competitive match.

  • No player can be used more than once
  • The winner is the entrant who fills the most slots – in the event of a tie, the winner will be the entrant whose listed players have STARTED THE FEWEST GAMES in Premier League, Football League or Southern League games for Watford (prior to the game with Derby County on Nov 22nd).  If there is still a tie, the earlier entrant wins.
  • Please enter player names in the format  J.Barnes .
  • Loans at Watford or at other club are fine, as long as the players concerned featured in at least one competitive game for each.

Entries close at midnight on  Saturday November 22nd.

Note that Savile Rogue are only able to dispatch the prize to a UK address.

Entries will not be published until the closing date.  Note that your own entry may appear automatically below the post on submission but this will not be generally viewable.

That is all.

PREMIER LEAGUE

Arsenal

Villa

Burnley

Chelsea

Palace

Everton

Hull

Leicester

Liverpool

ManCity

ManU

Newcastle

QPR

Southampton

Stoke

Sunderland

Swansea

Tottenham

WBA

WestHam

CHAMPIONSHIP

Birmingham

Blackburn

Blackpool

Bolton

Bournemouth

Brentford

Brighton

Cardiff

Charlton

Derby

Fulham

Huddersfield

Ipswich

Leeds

Middlesbrough

Millwall

Norwich

NForest

Reading

Rotherham

SheffWed

Wigan

Wolves

Watford 3 Millwall 1 (01/11/2014) 02/11/2014

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
13 comments

1. Back in my day – when football was football, men were men, false nines were real nines, wing-backs were full-backs, fouls were fouls, grass was brown, spades were spades, fields were fields, and so on was so forth – a manager could reasonably expect to have a ‘reign’. If he fell short of that, he might end up with a ‘tenure’ as a consolation prize. If he did really well, he might be rewarded with an ‘era’.

It’s all changed now, of course. What does Billy McKinlay get? “The Billy McKinlay Mini-Break”?

It’s 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 honest, I’ve quietly enjoyed our little spell as the division’s in-joke. No better way to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come under these owners than to wipe the egg from our faces and have a look in the mirror; the in-joke within the in-joke is that far from being the next basket-case to trouble When Saturday Comes’ “Clubs in Crisis” page, we appear to be thoroughly good shape. The point is emphasised by the pre-match remembrance display, indicative of an administration that’s doing significantly more than the bare minimum and is being solidly backed by fans as a consequence. (That’s hardly the main purpose, of course, but there’s no shame in feeling proud of good intentions.)

2. Anyway, that isn’t to say that the appointment and then removal of McKinlay wasn’t, at best, a bit shabby. But I wrote this at the time of the Leeds game, as Beppe Sannino teetered on the brink: “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. […] The coming weeks will tell us much about our club.”

And they have, I guess. Decisiveness? Well, sort of, eventually. But a realisation that the head coach’s position requires complete confidence? Without doubt. I wonder whether we’ll give any of this a backward glance in May or whether it’ll merely be a historical footnote.

3. The days of managerial changes ushering in revolution and upheaval are similarly in the past. The abrupt right turn brought about by Sean Dyche’s take-over from Malky Mackay – “The Iwelumo Affair”, soon to be a major motion picture staring Colin Firth as Mackay and Judi Dench as Dyche – may well be the last hand-over of its kind. The last old school managers in our history, perhaps.

Nevertheless, there has been revolution at play here, as much free will exercised as the Pozzos will allow. Matt thinks long and hard when asked which of the various hot seat incumbents brought about a radical switch to four-at-the-back and concludes that it was Sannino, much further back than I’d imagined. Interesting that it’s survived the upheaval in the meantime. It creaked ominously like a ghost story floorboard throughout these ninety minutes and may not survive much longer, I’d suggest.

I’d love to meticulously pick apart the rest, but it simply wasn’t that kind of game. It wasn’t that kind of game at all. For all of the stick justifiably sent his way, Holloway is a canny manager at this level: we began at a pace, but Millwall raised the tempo of the game further and further until the whole thing resembled a meringue on a spin cycle. And so it was the kind of game that, whatever your position in the table and whatever your aspirations, you’d be extremely happy to win…well, if not exactly comfortably, then at least by a distinct margin. We’ll play more complete sides, no doubt, but we’ll face few sterner tests. I’ve seen us lose this kind of game so many times. You have too, I imagine.

4. Barring a couple of spells in which a relative calm descended and we were able to knock it about at the back for a little while before the wind got up again, our passing game as we know and admire it simply didn’t exist, smashed to bits and trampled underfoot somewhere in central midfield. The 4-3-3 formation offers us little width, and Millwall (I keep wanting to call them Palace, which speaks volumes) poured savagely into the spaces behind Daniel Pudil’s attempts to get forward in the first half to drive the point home. We were left with whatever we could get forward to the front three, who were required to scrap for every ball and, quite frequently, to gaze longingly at over-hit passes flying through to the keeper.

At the end of a frantic, thrilling opening spell in which we pinned Millwall to the ropes for five minutes in front of the Rookery and then immediately found ourselves in similar trouble, we were behind to a goal which made us look distinctly frail and vulnerable. Millwall were insurgent, rippling with confidence and aggression. To win from there requires character and substance. It requires your key players to stand up tall.

5. In the past, I’ve watched us whine about rough treatment, get distracted by petty squabbles and start to believe in our own theatrics; I’ve watched us fall into well-laid traps. Not here. Many, including the big names, didn’t have vintage games, or weren’t allowed to. But they contributed, they pulled the strings anyway. Juan Carlos Paredes smashed an angled shot against the post. An extraordinary move involving Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra locked in orbit, playing wall passes off each other, ended in anticlimax, a scuffed finish. Forde pulled off a couple of smart low saves. The commendable Odion Ighalo buzzed around, less of a one-man-show but vital to the team effort. Daniel Toszer gradually emerged from the midfield chaos, leaving Keith Andrews behind to do the messy stuff. We pulled ourselves together.

There have been times when you’d question whether we’re tough and streetwise enough to survive a season in this division. Here, we were ahead by half-time, a remarkable comeback born first of a game-changing moment of inspiration – that string-pulling thing – from Vydra, Toszer and Andrews, combining to turn a simple corner into a thing of sculpted beauty, slightly muddled finish aside. That, and a wonderfully dumb injury time goal by Toszer, smacking a free kick hard and straight down the middle as if it were a penalty*. A later attempt to do the same from a corner, defying basic geometry, was markedly less successful.

* Which it should’ve been, as I saw it. I’d call it differently if I saw it differently, you know that. But I find Holloway’s whining intolerable: even if you’re being generous to him, that’s a fifty-fifty call by a referee in a game which must’ve been as tough to officiate as it was thrilling to watch. On a good day, you get that call; on a bad day, you get a penalty given against you and your defender gets sent off. The idea of some kind of grand injustice is fatuous nonsense. Millwall were hard, intense and not a little physical; I’ll happily applaud them for that approach, precisely the right one in the circumstances and superbly implemented. Just to be clear: they were excellent. To then complain to teacher when it doesn’t work out…well, pffft. Just that: pffft. Holloway interviews are ever more the sound of stale air being let out of an old balloon.

6. The second half was slightly less frenetic. Slightly. That’s the pleasure of a forward line including an in-form Vydra: woe betide the team which over-commits in search of an equaliser. The third arrived through more quick thought, Gianni Munari gleefully smashing home the chance created by a speedily-taken free kick, Vydra and Toszer again half a second ahead of everyone else. Marvellous goal, somehow combining speed and elegance with an animal ferocity, and not a little reminiscent of Zola’s team at their unstoppable best. By the end, Millwall’s defensive line was somewhere in our half and Forde was playing rush goalie, his position miles from the sticks nearly resulting in a couple of spectacular backpassed own goals.

But even then, the game tottered and teetered and threatened another twist, especially given Millwall’s three-goal comeback a week ago. Chances came and went at set pieces, of the type that sometimes fly in and sometimes fly wide. Daniel Pudil cleared off the line; Tommie Hoban just about weathered a horrible spell of being on his heels when he needed to be on his toes and vice versa; we were never quite in trouble, but only a goal away from being so. It was one of those games which just refuses to settle down, to be tamed. One of those games you don’t really want to end, even if the final whistle brings security and three points.

7. Perhaps it’s time to put that cliche about winning when you’re not playing well to bed. It seems to me that the modern version of it is to win when you’re not allowed to play at all, when your opponents shut it all down. That’s not to say that Millwall were negative, merely that they managed the bits where they didn’t have the ball extremely well and we struggled to cope. To some degree, we were out-fought here. Crucially, though, we weren’t out-played.

A tremendous win, even if those three points had merely taken us up to eighth or something. As a win to take you clear at the top, just fantastically uplifting. A real buzz. Get in.