Cardiff City 2 Watford 4 (28/12/2014) 29/12/2014Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.
1- Context, as ever, is important. Interpretation of this game and of the reaction to it cannot be divorced from the horror show on Boxing Day, nor should it be… in the wake of that one a number of supporters will have opted against the trip to Wales (hello, Dave) and it says quite a lot that a single defeat, however depressing, had such a profound impact on the general mood on the back of three wins. Fascination was the motivator for me, the consideration that saw me heading down the M4 in brilliant winter’s sunshine despite my original lift (hello, Dave) wussing out a day earlier amidst insistence that his own decision was nothing to do with Boxing Day. Fascination at how Slav would send us out, at what sort of reaction we’d get from the Wolves game less than 48 hours earlier. Nothing can or should be taken for granted in this division, and however disappointing Wolves was nobody could argue that we don’t boast an array of weapons, that we weren’t capable of changing it up.
2- I was feeling considerably less smug about my decision at around 3:40 than I am now, with the Hornets a goal down and not looking terribly like changing that situation.
We’d started brightly enough but Cardiff’s goal, a flick from that eternal irritant Le Fondre to a fine Whittingham free kick after a non-existent foul by Munari had knocked the air out of us like a damp fart. We looked laboured and bereft of both leadership and ideas… and I was nested amongst the grumpiest and least tolerant of the travelling faithful, this not improving my mood or making the trip to Wales seem any less foolish. Juan Carlos Paredes, having been spared the broom that swept six team changes into the starting eleven, was the subject of much vitriol after giving the ball away several times early on… he looked forlorn, but in fairness was often merely the man at the end of passing moves having freed himself on the right to receive a pass but with nowhere to go and little movement in front of him. He got better. Guedioura was the source of much of what positive inroads we had managed, and he gave us the lead out of nowhere, volleying home Munari’s cross after Forestieri had somehow contrived to miss an easier chance. A couple of minutes later we were ahead, Ighalo getting his head onto Pudil’s wicked cross. Half time, a little dazed and confused, we were ahead.
3- There’s always a tendency to dwell on one’s own circumstances, to look at your team’s performance in isolation and to regard the opposition as mere props. You can take the reverse too far, of course… paying the opposition too much respect, worrying overly about what they might try. But it took our scoring to bring into focus that, Whittingham’s deliveries aside, Cardiff really didn’t have that much about them. Not only that, but there was a simmering resentment in the largely silent home stands. The red shirt thing, an embarrassment which should serve to emphasise once again quite how lucky we are to have foreign owners who nonetheless respect our club and tradition, is only the most visible facet of an football club that feels thoroughly wrong and unhappy, from the obtrusive revolving collar of electronic adverts high in the stadium to the fragile, one-dimensional team. In individual games we’ve been in a similar position at home as sides have started off nervous and gradually worked us out and realised that we’re not all that. Cardiff were not all that at all, and the game changed completely on our equaliser.
4-There’s a danger in reading too much into the second half. After all, as we’ve just discussed, Cardiff are a side with their own problems and we know that we’re a good side when we’re in the lead against a side that’s letting us play, who then have to chase the ball particularly in front of demanding home support. Bearing which in mind, it’s difficult to overstate the degree of our second-half superiority of which a 4-2 final score was a far from flattering summary. Cardiff were punch-drunk, completely overrun in midfield and incapable of getting as much a period of possession let alone a foothold in the tie; Guedioura remained the architect and with much more movement around him was less prone to disappearing into rabbit warrens than he had been in the first half. He made the scoreline more comfortable by clubbing a venomous shot into the top corner from over 25 yards; David Marshall didn’t move. The other stand-out performance was that of Odion Ighalo, who played the target-man role to the tee. Magnificent with his back to goal, holding up play, stretching out an indiarubber leg to seize and smuggle off possession. He sashayed his way past three challenges on the left of the box before forcing a save from Marshall, and later perhaps should have scored when sub Deeney escaped on the right and squared, Marshall denying the Nigerian again with a brave stop. Nonetheless, a hugely charismatic and effective performance from Ighalo, which asks serious questions about team selection for next Sunday.
5- So Slav came into this game under a bit of pressure. Wolves, in case this point hasn’t been made clearly enough, was a shambles, and the head coach, appointed from nowhere in odd circumstances, has failed to make a strong impression in his TV interviews giving a convincing impression of a distracted and slightly self-conscious schoolteacher. Nonetheless he’s not pulled any punches in his press conferences and today made what turned out to be a blinding selection decision in making such a brutal set of changes. He might cite the need to freshen the side up as a key consideration… from the stands it looked more like a no-bullshit response to a lamentable performance. Either way, suddenly, we have a situation where Deeney, Vydra, Anya and Tözsér, four key senior players, need to play their way back into a winning side, the end of Guedioura’s loan notwithstanding. Competition for places, of all things, and the sort of competitive advantage that this squad ought to offer. The Chelsea game, perhaps, slightly unfortunately timed, we could do with building on today without that distraction. Either way, for all that today’s circumstances fell well for us the Hornets and their manager took full advantage and if both can build on this success this squad could yet fulfil its potential this season.
1- Some games are memorable for the drama. The unscripted theatre, the two hours of adrenaline that knackers your calf muscles by suspending you on the edge of your seat. Some are memorable for the context… OK, it wasn’t a great spectacle but it was significant in itself… you often don’t remember much of these games themselves, just a few key details and probably as much about how you got to the game and how bad you felt the next morning (Burnley in the 2003 FA Cup falls into this category). Some games will be remembered for one incident only, one detail. How much can you remember about that win over QPR in 2009 except Lloyd’s goal? Some games are filler. Unremarkable. So-so draws, humdrum wins and take-on-the-chin defeats against superior sides.
Other games are just a waste of time and effort, leaving you feeling bitterly resentful about the decision to spend/go overdrawn on brownie points particularly, say, during the Christmas break. Often conducted in the pissing, freezing rain and cold on a day when they couldn’t even get bloody Z-cars right on the tannoy. Like listening to nails being scraped down a blackboard. For two hours. (Kids… that used to be a really annoying noise). Guess which sort of game this one was.
2- The first half was a car crash. Wolves were bigger, faster, sharper, cleverer than us and should have been several goals up at half time. There’s detail in there… quite which player punched a shot narrowly wide, who belted one top corner until Heurelho Gomes clawed it over and so on and so on, but that doesn’t really add anything to your understanding of events in any interesting way and certainly doesn’t accelerate the process of me getting through the purgatory of this joyless report. We got away with it, in short, albeit that Gomes was given a shot-stopper’s dream half in being afforded a number of snap-shots to save without having much in the way of conscious decisions to make and flourished as a consequence. Meanwhile we made everything look awfully difficult, seeming to struggle more with the conditions insisting on that extra touch that was completely inconsistent with a snappy passing game aimed at exposing an opponent’s high defensive line.
3- Wolves weren’t anything special, but they were more than good enough to merit a win against another perfunctory effort from far too many of those in yellow. Debates in previous years have challenged, not unreasonably, the tradition of such a high stock being placed in mere effort… but effort, or rather spirit buys such a lot of goodwill (seasonal or otherwise) and there was precious little spirit about this performance. Contrast with the performance of Wolves’ centre-half Danny Batth, whose brutal, one-dimensional and thoroughly effective approach to the central defender’s art saw him take precisely one touch of the ball (and as much collateral damage as required) to deal with each incident that he was involved in. Other of Wolves’ tactics, such as their taking advantage of the officials’ tolerance of timewasting, kicking the ball away and so on were altogether less charming, but a(nother) irritant rather than something that affected the course of events.
4- Actually we came out looking a lot better at the start of the second half; Slav has tended to improve situations with the changes he’s made all things considered, so it was a bit unfortunate (if far from undeserved on the balance of the game) that the vastly more potent-looking 4-3-3 that lead to us genuinely getting on top of the game for the first time resulted in, finally, a goal for the visitors as the generally industrious Abdi let his man go past him and square for Dicko to finish. Thereafter… we had chances, certainly, spells of possession which might have seen us grab a point. As with the changes in formation, the introductions of Forestieri, Ighalo and Guedioura all made us more potent, we might have nicked something. But we didn’t. Altogether… underwhelming, as if I hadn’t made that clear enough. The challenging Christmas schedule ought to be a period when our deep squad delivers us that competitive advantage. Losing the first game probably wasn’t part of the plan.
5- Meanwhile. Twenty years ago, BSaD first took to the web in the wake of an inconsequential but less fist-chewingly awful win over Portsmouth. In the interim we’ve reflected on a few games like this. It doesn’t get any more fun. But the benefit of hindsight does at least suggest that there’ll be a better game around the corner. Let’s hope it’s Cardiff. In the meantime, happy birthday us…
Watford 2 Wigan Athletic 1 (13/12/2014) 14/12/2014Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- Another special day at Vicarage Road, irrespective of the game itself or the result. A bright, crisp winters afternoon and a raucous welcome for the club’s most exalted fan and ex-chairman. He took the microphone at ten to three and gushed his appreciation from the centre-circle as the haunting “Elton John’s Taylor-Made Army”, an echo from the past, rumbled around the Rookery for the first of many airings on the afternoon. Completely fitting that the club should honour both him and GT in this way… but as my co-editor would wish me to point out it speaks rather a lot for our current owners too, of whom Elton also spoke glowingly. Too easy to overlook the significance of this… well of course Watford should have stands named after these Graham and Elton who did so much for the club and the town. But how many chairmen/owners would have the lack of ego to honour any of their predecessors in this way? And how utterly sensible to make this move, during an era where the club’s links to its tradition and community are too frequently and lazily challenged.
Coming hot on the tails of the opening of the Graham Taylor stand, more facetiously, ours can’t have been the only corner of the ground to ponder what else might be renamed in honour of the heroes (or otherwise) of the past. The Les Taylor clock, the Gerry Armstrong sub’s bench and the Trevor Senior corner flag the best we managed.
2- If we started well enough, then there was a slightly disappointing lack of going for the jugular early on. Possession, yes, and plenty of it but… and of course a 5-0 away win is an impossibly high bar to set… you did rather expect that whilst Fulham, a recent Premier League club on a bit of a roll might push forward and leave us gaps, Malky Mackay is rather too canny for that. Not that Wigan were ever merely spoilers… but the pattern that the game settled into, ultimately, of us having the ball but not being able to fashion enough space to do much with it always felt a likely outcome. Coming out like a hurricane with a view to bludgeoning an early lead was what I had anticipated. Instead it took until the 20th minute, when Anya slipped Deeney in down the left to finish with bristling confidence. At the Rookery end, Heurelho Gomes roared into the crowd.
3- Wigan looked like a reasonable side but for the lack of a focal point. Or to put it another way, Wigan with a Deeney in their ranks would be a top half outfit, but that statement probably goes for most of the division… in any case, a slightly obvious point to make about a side that took to the field without a recognised striker – winger James McClean fumbling around rather uncomfortably up front. Defensively they were sound enough, Boyce and Barnett plenty savvy enough for most at this level. In midfield they squashed the space of Abdi and Tözsér, both of whom misplaced a far greater number of passes than is typical- as so often recently, we had cause to be grateful for the bullying presence of Gianni Munari who made sure that the visitors didn’t have it all their own way, even if his interruptions sometimes involved little more than knocking his opponent over. But when Wigan got as far as our penalty area… the lack of a forward, a target, was painfully evident; the only route to goal a ping-ping-ping to release a midfield runner, of which there were several. Evidently the Hornets feared little from set pieces, such was our happiness to concede throw-ins deep into our half rather than trying to play out, so it was a little aggravating that that’s how the equaliser came, Chris McCann losing his man to crash a header past the helpless Gomes following a right wing corner.
4- The winning goal gives the whole afternoon a gloss, of course, and Slav is right to reflect on the value and the positive implications of being able to pull out a result when not at your best. The goal, (to which we’ll devote most of the final thunk, so don’t go anywhere boys and girls) may prove hugely significant for a number of reasons, but most immediately it will dilute the memory of a rather tetchy afternoon. Not in the conflict itself, which was never particularly antagonistic, but in the sullen mood of the Watford side. This was eloquently reflected in the performance of a would-be cheerleader on the lower East side of the Rookery who, in apparent frustration at the failure of the majority of the stand to replicate the sterling efforts of the 1881 stage left would turn frequently to remonstrate with those around and above him… not in jest, or in encouragement but in snarling, disgusted, red-faced outrage. That was the mood on the pitch too… so much quality, and when given a convenient platform with all the planets in line, as at Craven Cottage, an irresistibly beautiful thing. And yet still so much less than the sum of its parts… no lack of effort, no passengers, but a lack of drive and of a sense of shared purpose. If anyone’s found a website knocking off bottles of team spirit whilst doing their Christmas shopping we could do with a batch or two… Tözsér and Anya clashed in the wake of the goal, misplaced passes and misread runs were greeted with frustrated gestures and irritation. As remedies go, an English-speaking assistant manager with long experience of the division including of getting teams promoted, a people’s person as a go-between twixt squad and manager, to cajole and encourage and polish the rough edges who also happens to be the club’s record appearance maker doesn’t feel like a bad idea. Wonder where we might find one of those…
5- The winner was brilliant. Malky Mackay might complain of sloppiness and viewed objectively he’s probably right but this was still a fine thing, mere sloppiness – rather than slapstick clown-shoes incompetence – has to be forced into relevance after all. The tone of our play had changed with the introduction of Ighalo for the industrious Vydra… in his mere enthusiasm, his willingness to show for the ball and eagerness to do something Ighalo stood out and his attitude was infectious. Marvellous that Anya was at the heart the goal itself; his recent contributions haven’t lived up to his new-found international profile and he’d had a bit of a stinker of a first half, albeit isolated on his weaker side until the half time withdrawal of Paredes who had appeared to pick up a knock. But he’s so obviously a good bloke, why wouldn’t you be rooting for him, be wanting him to do well. As Tözsér released him on the overlap down the right you were reminded of that goal against Leicester, when however many consecutive full ninety minutesworth at wing back didn’t count for a damn as he charged half the length of the pitch in the build-up to Deeney’s strike. Don Cowie, no longer the arch-villain of his return with Cardiff, always had astonishing stamina… Anya has stamina and pace, and ripped up his marker on the overlap past Tözsér before hoiking a peach of a cross from the by-line to the far-post for Troy Deeney to crash home a headed goal (and a rare one – Birmingham away at the start of 2013 was the verdict from resident sage Jon Marks on Twitter). Proper old school goal, anyway, Tommy Mooney would have been proud. As Deeney acknowledged the Rookery it was Anya who was mobbed… perhaps those concerns about team spirit had been misplaced, perhaps we just need a bit of a run to feel happy about ourselves again. Either way, no doubting that Anya’s triumph was a popular one with his team mates, and the win keeps us up with the pack going into the Christmas fixtures. More to do though, we earned this win but will need to be a bit cuter about similar challenges in future.
Have a good Christmas…