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

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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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.

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Comments»

1. Leggatts 'orn - 02/11/2014

Glad to see Keith Andrews get a nod in the thunks. I guess in any MoTM poll for yesterday he would be way down the list, but he did a cracking mostly unseen job. He swept the kitchen floor, generally tidied up the cupboards and when he found some smelly veg in the bottom of the fridge he sorted it out and it stayed sorted. What excellent fun it all was.

2. NLFG - 02/11/2014

If the Tószer corner you’re referring to is the one I’m thinking of, I got the impression it was born of the fact there was only two people in the box, and the short option was marked. So he decided smashing it across the box in the hope we could get an amusing own goal was the way forward.

Ian Grant - 03/11/2014

Yes, quite so. I was being facetious, which seemed in the spirit of the set piece itself…

3. Roger Smith - 02/11/2014

A very even midfield scrap, but time and again – and with Munari’s goal a shining exception – our lightning counter attack broke down with an ever so slightly misplaced or poorly weighted final pass. Thoroughly entertaining, though, and woe betide the team we’re playing when it all clicks. Tongue in cheek, but when did a senior team last lose 8-0 in two successive home games? Anything Bournemouth can do…!

4. Moz - 02/11/2014

To all those that wondered why we brought in Keith Andrews, these types of games are the reason. Did all the horrible stuff which allowed Toszer and Munari to play. A wonderful 90 from the Bolton loanee.

Matt Rowson - 02/11/2014

I feel honour bound to correct Mr Grant’s spelling of Tözsér (Tozser at a push…) 🙂

Ian Grant - 03/11/2014

Fair enough, that. All of the years of correcting people’s inventive misspellings of Alon Nealson have taken their toll.

Ian Grant - 03/11/2014

I wasn’t one of those wondering, I have to say: that always looked a perfect fit to me, as long as his legs hadn’t gone. As you say, did all of the horrible stuff, and with plenty of verbals too. Really pleasing to see someone prepared to get their hands dirty in midfield.

5. graham w - 03/11/2014

“Holloway interviews are ever more the sound of stale air being let out of an old balloon”

The Oscar Wilde ‘nailed it in one line / wish I’d said that’ award for 2014 goes to …….Ig.

6. Harefield Hornet - 03/11/2014

Thought Ighalo was fantastic yesterday – a candidate for MOTM even?

Totally unrelated to Saturday (apologies) but he’s related to me so thought I’d give him a mention for the benefit of anyone old enough to remember seeing him play! – Brian Owen turned 70 yesterday – is his still the fastest goal scored by a hornet at the vic – 12 seconds?

JohnM - 03/11/2014

I was quite a fan of Brian Owen—I always felt he was never appreciated enough at Watford. I remember the 12 second goal—I seem to remember we lost the match. Brian, of course, also scored, quite possibly, the freakiest goal ever scored at Vicarage Road—the ‘Watford Observer Clock’ special. I used to watch reserve matches—when Brian played in one, he was always the best player on the pitch.

Harefield Hornet - 04/11/2014

He went on to have a fantastic career working for the likes of Bobby Robson, Dave Sexton, Ron Greenwood with Ipswich and the England set up as a coach,physio etc and also a memorable spell at Wolves where he worked again with Bill McGarry and Sammy Chung, including a spell as first team coach undet the latter. He also spent a time at Crystal Palace with Steve Coppell. The only black period was a spell at Luton with David Pleat – during which time I temporarily disowned him!

Goldenboy60 - 17/11/2014

John M, that freakiest goal was scored against Tranmere Rovers on Tuesday March 11 1969, and played a major part in our move to securing the Championship that season.

I remember well, it was a freezing cold night with a strong whirling wind. A block tackle involving Brian Owen and a Tranmere defender in the 2nd half on the edge of the penalty area, as we kicked towards the Rookery, sent it billowing in the wind towards the floodlights.

I remember the Tranmere keeper (Jimmy Cumbes who was also a fast bowler in the summer with Lancashire) and a decent keeper by the way, watching the ball balloon way above the cross bar in the swirling wind. He ran round the back of the goal waiting for the ball to come down, but it sort of hung in the wind. Then dropped like a stone out of the glare of the floodlights.

It passed the front of the crossbar by which time Cumbes had desperately ran back to the six yard box, only to see it hit the ground virtually on the line, bounce up and hit him on the arm as he was scrambling to to get back, and bounce into the net. We won 3-1, and i think that goal absolutely convinced people we were going to get promoted.

The best thing as a 14 year old was that I was standing in the Enclosure with my Dad, and next to us stood 4 Luton players who were in the top 3 with us and Swindon. They bemoaned that goal as ‘Watford were bound to get promotion with that luck”, and left the ground early.

That was a sweet feeling…….

Definitely the most unusual goal I have ever seen at the Vic. And YES a very sweet one indeed.


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