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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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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.

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Comments»

1. popsider - 23/11/2014

A very fair summary of the game, Matt. I was fully expecting a second Watford goal to come quickly after Munari’s excellent effort but I thought we (Derby) gradually got back into it after that. The Hornet forward line was dangerous throughout of course but I do think we deserved the win.
I was pretty astounded that Munari didn’t start, I think things might have been different with his power in midfield. That’s my second visit to the Vic this season and in neither game could I work out what formation Jokanović was playing. Tend to think that might be part of Watford’s problem, we’ve played 433 ever since McClaren returned.

2. Mike S - 23/11/2014

The other big concern for me is our inability to beat top 6 teams. How many times have we done it since Leicester in the play-offs? I can only think of Bolton at the start of this season, and Birmingham last, who were in the top six by virtue of the alphabet! There are probably more, but I can’t think of any.

Anyone can beat anyone in this league… almost…

3. Sirhornet - 23/11/2014

A nice antidote to the mass panic that seems to have infected WML and other social media. Yes, it was a strange selection but if our squad is as good as we pretend it should have been good enough.

Slav is playing the cards he has been dealt- the fact is that, despite his heroics yesterday – Bond is not a good enough keeper – he doesn’t command his backline. The back four that played yesterday would not be considered anything like the strongest in our division. I mean the Doyley, DeMerit, Mackay, Stewart combo was better than anything we have put out recently

Ekstrand gets a lot of flack, much of it warranted but Parades seems to have been watching Glen Johnson when it comes to positioning. Bassong has been OK but again yesterday left JE exposed. Doyley is a good defender but as a left back, his limitations come to the fore.

I walked into the ground earlier than usual yesterday to see Pudil being given a fitness test and mt heart sank. – we have to put a left back at the top of our xmas shopping list.

Promotion winning sides (e.g. Cardiff, Hull, Leicester, Burnley) are first and foremost around excellent defensive organisation of the back 4 and goalie – Zola and all the head coaches since haven’t cracked it and until we do, we can forget about promotion.

Mike S - 23/11/2014

The trouble is, Sirhornet, that is exactly what Gianfranco said – “it should have been good enough”. Repeatedly, it isn’t. Munari & Vydra left out, uninjured, no midweek game, against the leaders, just seems bizarre to me.

Agree about the JCP/Glen Johnson comparison – I said the same to someone yesterday. He scares me against a strong team in a back 4. He was hopelessly exposed for long periods against Boro.

4. putajumperon - 23/11/2014

Whilst Deeney seems very mature in conversing with officials; as a leader on the pitch, Tozsér just oozed captain yesterday.

5. Rob Young - 23/11/2014

Good summary, I thought we were slaughtered at right back position and that looked a huge vulnerability from the start. I was almost praying for Parades to get subbed and Lloyd to go back to his natural side. Three good goals in the match but to Thunk 1, too many back passes in defense putting each other under pressure including Bond on more than one occasion. Most of these ultimately resulted in a big hoof up field which might have been the answer to start with. Also we need leadership when things don’t go right, even if we get away with it. Bitching amongst ourselves rather than defending a early corner quickly is asking for trouble, there were times that we didn’t look much of a team

6. Jerry - 23/11/2014

Excellent article, well done sir!

7. Goldenboy60 - 23/11/2014

It’s amazing the reaction when we lose. the 2nd half, in my view was the best we have played. Had we scored again within the next 15 minutes of us being in the ascendency we would have won it and everyone would have been over the moon. Yes results really do bring out the expectations of everyone. We looked powerful and full on inventiveness with a 4-4-2 and our best players on the pitch. Please SJ stop tinkering and play the best players.

Derby are the best team in the league, but it will be a long time before they again score 2 outstanding goals like that in a game.

SteveG - 23/11/2014

Aware of the dangers of leaving a comment when not having attended, and listening to the first half only on 3CR, and also sometimes sceptical of the demands to play the best team when we can’t agree what the best team is, but I have to say that the decision to start without either Munari or Vydra seemed mystifying in advance – and the comments about the improved performance in the second half seem to bear this out (OK, so 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing).

Can Airfix not bring out a kit which allows us to attach the defensive qualities of Doyley to the more attacking flair of Paredes? Or allow us to play 4-5-2 without anyone noticing?Surely, Santa, that’s not much to ask?

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2014

It’s worth a try…

Vydra I have SOME sympathy for. He’d been away on internationals, the other hadn’t; Forestieri is better suited to the wide midfield role perhaps. But the Munari decision was mystifying, I agree

8. Scully - 23/11/2014

Tactically, we got it wrong first half. They played with a 5 man midfield with Hughes as the loose player and man marking Toz who never really got a chance to play and was forced deep into our half. Having said that you have to question the team selection, Dyer who for me has yet to start a game with passion or a will to contribute, unlike FF who buzzed around and was the outlet if we were to score.
Come the second half we seemed to adapt to a 4-3-2-1 formation and I would not have taken Igaho off as Deeney was making many mistakes with over hit balls.
Master stroke bringing on Munari who should really have started.
I have to say, hats of to Mclaren and Derby.
Thats the standard we should be aiming for if, we are to progress to the Prem.

9. Wimborne Hornet - 23/11/2014

I thought Lloydinio looked very vulnerable in possession yesterday, as he was closed down there was an element of panic. Lloyd Dyer on the other hand didn’t look up for it, very few overlapping runs and lots of frustrated shrugs.

It was almost as if Slav had too long to think about it and worry what was his best team.

Onward and upward hopefully.

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2014

It was evident that the tradition we’ve seen of the team quickly providing Lloyd with a simple pass in the past was absent, exposing his limitations.

Boxmoor Jules - 25/11/2014

In Lloyd’s defense, he was on at least three occasions well into the attacking half and all three occasions made exactly the right pass, finding his man in a dangerous opostion each time. the onlyn error for me was the ommission of Munari which was spotted and fixed.The maatch is general as a terrific advert for the Championship with excitement and quality from both sides. Tension filled the ground from beginning to end and thats what a supporter needs (plus a victory if poss!)

10. CDub72 - 24/11/2014

I think I understood what we were trying to do, in being very disciplined with two holding midfielders, but to then complain that we didn’t put enough pressure on the ball seemed odd. After all that midfield screams anything but energy.

With no more internationals until March, perhaps we can settle on a best team / style and try to stick to it for more than one game. If we continue with the tinkering, I see another mid-table finish coming up, swiftly followed by another overhaul of the squad.

Derby were everything you would want your team to be, solid, energetic, youthful, talented and well managed. A fine template to aspire to. Oh and on Saturday’s showing, I’d happily take Forsyth back given our paucity of full-backs.

NickB - 24/11/2014

Yes, he’s in possession of a left foot, for a start. We need to find Dyer a loan move pronto; carrying a less than abundantly talented player with a lousy attitude is a no no. Why was he applauded off?

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2014

yes, I was a little surprised by the gusto of that. thought I’d missed something.

11. JohnF - 24/11/2014

I talked to Craig Ramage at half time and he was amazed at how negatively Watford were set up. One of the issues is how positive the midfield can be, remembering that sides know that by closing us down quickly all the way to the back they can disrupt the style of play. Neither Lloyd not Bassong (or Ekstrand?) are comfortable with the ball at their feet and onrushing forwards closing them down. This is not a surprise, and can only work if you have a midfield who come looking for the ball straight away. Unfortunately the movement is frequently poor and to play this style of game requires a lot of hard work off the ball. It also means that, unless you are amazing with the ball at your feet, you have to be looking for a quick pass to a colleague to pull the mid-field and defenders out. If we are going to rely so much on wing backs then either the midfield have to be prepared to cover or you go back to five at the back.
My concern about our coach is that his experience is actually extremely limited when you look at the leagues in which he has coached. It’s one thing on the practice pitch and another against hard working championship teams.
I thought the criticism of Bond by Sirhornet was unfair. He kept us in the game and did better than Gomes, the problem is we don’t have a settled defence or a defensive captain.

Matt Rowson - 24/11/2014

Agree that a lack of movement in our midfield was a real problem. I think you do Bassong a disservice, he’s not bad with the ball at his feet but as mentioned above, Lloyd was often (deliberately, on Derby’s part?) isolated with the ball with nobody to pass to. Not a healthy situation.

M

Sirhornet - 24/11/2014

Maybe I was harsh on Bond on Saturday’s showing but I genuinely don’t believe that he is amongst the best goalies in the league, Butland, Darlow, Ruddy, Westwood etc. are all better than him. Great shot-stopper but just doesn’t command the box.

12. Goldenboy60 - 24/11/2014

I believe too much emphasis is put on formations. Teams need good balance, width, defensive organisation (not just the back 4) and inventiveness and pace up front. We played a simple 4-4-2 on Saturday. I agree the midfield 2 did not put pressure on Derby far enough up the pitch, something which was corrected in the 2nd half which made a huge difference. I agree with Matt about FF. he looked very suited to that role and worked his socks off. Look who it was trying to defend their first goal NOT Paredes. But FF needs to stay on his feet and get closer to the ball when defending. These things can be done on the training pitch. These are simple things.

Coaches sometimes make things too complicated, and I believe they need to do more pattern of play work as GT, Tom Walley and Steve Harrison used to do. Every Frida morning they would play a short game and practice the movement of the team in a competitive situation. During a game everyone knew what job they were doing.

We are also missing Troy, because he hasn’t really turned up yet since his injury. I’m sure he’s desperate to get going again and needs a little bit of confidence and swagger back in his play.

Are we the best team in the League – NO. Have we the best squad of players – NO Proven with the results and performances of those that come into the team. I think our expectation needs to be lowered because at the moment we are not a Promotion winning side. Could we be? YES I believe so, but some things need to change and quickly (like – PLAY YOUR BEST PLAYERS in a systeam that is not constantly changing. That way we will get continuity.

13. NickB - 24/11/2014

Thinking a bit more deeply about players’ attitudes, which seems to be an increasing issue in the modern game, I recall hearing a lot of comment around the time Malky was in charge about thorough vetting of players’ backgrounds and personal characteristics prior to signing them. I think John Stephenson might have been head of recruitment/ scouting at that time, although I’m not certain and I think Ross Wilson thought along similar lines.
McGugan was a noted disruptive influence, according to Forest fans, and while I hadnt heard similar stories about Dyer prior to his acquisition, you have to wonder whether we’d have made these signings under more thorough and well established regimes. We’re always going to sign the odd duffer, but bringing in players with bad attitudes (walking straight past the Rookery without acknowledging applause when not selected being but one appalling example) is potentially enormously disruptive and can derail an entire season.

Ian Grant - 24/11/2014

I’m sure you’re right about the difference. That said, it’s very common for managers to talk about vetting players’ backgrounds before signing them…and I wonder how much that actually happens when there’s a hole in the squad to be filled and a transfer deadline approaching. It’s a luxury.

Anyway, what you’re describing is the challenge now, surely? That’s the job for the management team to take on. It’s well known that, among other things, the Pozzos are specifically looking for talent that might’ve slightly lost its way, so their reservoir of players is going to include some who are a bit difficult. Beyond those, it’s going to be a disparate group with a lot of different backgrounds, much harder to pull together into a tight-knit squad. The flip-side is that it’s going to be a group with a great deal of potential, plenty to work with in terms of both quality and quantity. You’ve just got to turn it into a winning team. Great ingredients, find a recipe. That’s the challenge. That’s why Mourinho’s such a genius.

JohnM - 25/11/2014

Interesting comments about vetting. G.T., particularly in the earlier years, made a specific point of investigating players attitudes, backgrounds and motivations before signing them. That’s probably why he always had a squad that played hard, worked hard and backed each other up.
I wonder what, if any, checks are carried out these days. I would assume that the Pozzos keep an eye on the players in Italy/Spain and ensure they have a decent attitude.
Is it me, or does it seem that it is a high proportion of the British sourced players that are (rumoured) to be disruptive?


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