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Watford 1 Blackburn Rovers 0 (07/02/2015) 08/02/2015

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. At the time of writing, I’m just three episodes from the very, very end of Breaking Bad*. Those last three are going to get what’s coming to them on Monday evening when Andrea’s up in London, assuming that Fred doesn’t interrupt and I manage to stay awake beyond the usual nine o’clock watershed. It would be fair to say that my feelings about it as a series are more mixed than most: it’s artfully written, beautifully played and frequently breathtakingly tense, but it lacks an essential humanity that I find in my very favourite things. Spectacular as it is, it hasn’t really made me care as much as I’d want.

What is beyond question, though, is the exquisite elegance of its plotting. In particular, its use of flashbacks and flash-forwards to drop clues and hints and bits of intrigue, ensuring that no matter how dense it all gets and how unexpected some of the sharp turns are, you never, ever know nothing. At their worst (hellooo, Heroes), these shows simply avoid giving you any kind of straight answer, to the point where you stop being interested in asking any more questions; it’s like conducting a conversation with a random phrase generator via Google Translate, and it ends with shoes being thrown at the television. But this…ah, this is wondrous to behold, honest and gleeful in its manipulation, rewarding at just the right moments. You never quite know what’s going to happen, but you never entirely don’t know either. You can’t look away.

The same is very much not true of our season, in which I confess I’ve lost a certain amount of interest over the last two or three months. Basic Shearer-level punditry would highlight our inconsistency, suggesting the Heroes-style, stick-it-in-a-blender approach to plotting, each result as unpredictable as the last. That would be quite wrong, of course. In fact, my attention is drifting for precisely the opposite reason: our results appear to have become rather easily predictable, a straight line in a frequently bumpy division. We’re thoroughly consistent, when, in fact, doing really well in this division involves being able to ride the waves.

So it feels as if you could have a pretty decent stab at filling in the rest of our fixture list (lose at Brentford, win at Bolton…), our final league position (sixth), and the eventual outcome (losing to a better organised bunch in the playoff semi-finals before changing the coach again in the summer). Removed from weekly involvement, from seeing it all close up and understanding all of the nuances, it feels a bit monotonous. Yeah, all right, I’m still sore at missing Blackpool. But you get my drift….

2. And this one felt more predictable than most, even leaving aside the bit where we’d scored several hatfuls since my last visit to Vicarage Road and now I’d turned up again. You could see it a country mile away: a one-nil defeat in the bitter cold, the only goal of the game being a free header from a corner after 71 minutes. I wrote that on Facebook in the morning and, as if we’d all read it and taken it as gospel, we endured a full minute’s worth of complete pandemonium when the clock reached that point, Heurelho Gomes flapping at a cross and then recovering incredibly to scramble the resulting shot from Rhodes around the post, then tipping a ferocious drive over the bar from the corner. Living to see the clock tick over to 72 minutes, it was as if we’d somehow defeated destiny.

3. Because this was a proper win against proper opponents. Forget yer cricket scores, promotion campaigns are built on these results. It’s not about whether you’ve played well. There are too many occasions, particularly in this division, where there’s no opportunity to play well, when your opponents simply aren’t going to let that happen to them. And then what do you do?

In this case, you hope to capitalise on one of the occasions when you can break against a depleted midfield…and, indeed, we come closest by that route, Steele saving smartly from Layun’s shot early on. And then, as the game settles into a routine, you spend much of the time trying to pick a lock. The occasional mis-hit shots from long range and over-hit passes from defence are just the equivalent of booting the bolted door in frustration. It’s not that Blackburn are especially negative, merely that they’re streetwise and they’re equipped to do a job. We misplace countless passes, lose countless fifty-fifty challenges, get crowded out everywhere we turn. We push our wide men forward in an attempt to get around the sides, then find Ben Marshall rampaging into the open space behind Juan-Carlos Paredes, threatening to punish our adventure. Even when we bring on the lockpicker-in-chief, Almen Abdi, we get no closer: he barely touches the ball.

4. Blackburn dictated terms for long, long periods here, including the whole of a second half in which we barely created as much as a half-chance and, I suspect, mustered no more than one vital, decisive shot on goal. They set the agenda, they shaped the game, they’ll feel with complete justification that they should’ve won it. They were well-organised, robust and physical, and a bit charmless in a way that I find oddly charming; these kind of Championship gurners are gradually dying out, and more’s the pity. In Chris Brown, they had a proper old-fashioned villain of a centre forward, all bad-temper and elbows, whose only failure in the service of his side was to miss the couple of chances that came his way. In Jay Spearing, whose resemblance to one of the boulder-trolls from Frozen is uncanny, they had a proper midfield hatchet man, treading the kind of disciplinary tightrope that any midfielder worth his salt ought to spend his career walking. The rest aren’t exactly shrinking violets. There’s something Victorian and industrial about them, and I’ll regret the day when our legion of continental fancy-dans doesn’t have to overcome this kind of challenge. They’re a good side. Not a nice one, but a good one.

All of this is our worst nightmare. A recurring nightmare at that. We hate games like this. We lose games like this. The Bloke Behind Me spends the entire second half shouting “FAACCCHHHING HELL! WHAT’S GOING ON?” over and over again at every wrong decision and every crap pass and every single faaaacccchhhing thing, inadvertently capturing the sense of idiocy and impotence perfectly. We get to the point where we’ll appeal for anything, then howl at the referee for not giving it to us. We demand substitutions, none of which make any noticeable difference, even though our bench appeared to hold untold riches when read out before kickoff. It gets colder and colder and colder, and the game gets bleaker and bleaker and bleaker. Only one team is going to win it. It sure as hell ain’t us.

5. It is us, though. And that’s a truly marvellous thing. We win it with a proper goal too. None of your modern ways here; none of your passing and movement and that. Odion Ighalo wheels away having scored a winning goal thoroughly befitting the game: wonderfully scruffy and scuffy, in off the post via the keeper’s glove and just creeping over the line. Echoes of your favourite low-budget goal-hanger of yesteryear, echoes of vital and memorable wins secured by mis-hits and deflections in winters passed. A proper goal, a proper win.

As injury time dawns, a long cross to the far post threatens to pick out the unmarked head of Gestede. As we hold our breath, Gomes, sometimes a complete liability and sometimes a crusading green-shirted hero, back-pedals to reach the ball, flips it over the forward’s head and then gives chase beyond his area. He reaches the ball as it bounces and gleefully carts it high into the darkening sky, a great cheer of relief and joy rising from the crowd as it clears the roof of the new Elton John Stand. You half-expect him to follow it, climbing over the wall, finding the garden it’s landed in and giving it another gigantic heave-ho, then bounding onwards, a silhouetted figure, to the horizon and beyond. Get out of it.

It was his afternoon, his victory. Because what you do more than anything when faced with this kind of challenge is hang in there. Don’t concede, even if you have to ride your luck at moments. Stay in the game. Sometimes, when you’re up against it, that’s all you can do. I’m reminded of last weekend’s Murray-Djokovic Australian Open final and the point early in the third set when the eventual winner was caught in the corner, the match escaping from him at an alarming (or thrilling, depending on your point of view) rate. Sometimes you just have to hang on, to weather the storm. And then when your opponent drops their guard, you have to punish their failure to finish you off.

A fortunate win? Oh, sure. Without question. But the kind of win that can turn predictable seasons into something else entirely, the kind of win that can make you believe in things you previously questioned. We should be relishing that trip to Brentford. We should be eager for another challenge. Come on.

* Do. Not. Even. Think. About. It.


1. NLFG - 08/02/2015

That imagery of Gomes chasing the ball is *wonderful* Brilliant stuff as always

2. Simon Waldman - 08/02/2015

* The Butler Did It. (sorry…)

3. Red - 08/02/2015

For me, one positive and one negative. Negative-we need to work on our throw ins, in the first half there was no one to throw to, let alone someone in an attacking position. Surely not that difficult to sort out. There was often signs of frustration within the team with colleagues. Positive-we probably not going to be relegated with fifty points.

4. Goldenboy60 - 08/02/2015

Yes. But I thought the way the game played out was just as I expected. Blackburn are physical and big, and always a threat. I always knew it would be a very very hard game to play and compete in. They are not pretty but do use their strengths well, and in Gestede and Rhodes have a pair of strikers that are really top of the tree in this Division. Together with Brown who has always given us problems I hold my hat out to a resilient Catchcart, Angella and Hoban before he was taken out of the physical mess.

Gomes was outstanding at times but you never know whether he will be brilliant and then throw one in. Yesterday, he didn’t and that saw us home. I would like to give a massive amount of praise to Anya, who ran and ran, tackled and stretched the opposition. And even at times looked at home in the left back position, though not suggesting that should be the case regularly.

Yesterdays win, would NOT have been won before Xmas. It was ugly and horrible and tedious and frustrating, but this time we won where we would have lost. Is that a good sign or as you say will we be just short?

Well, we have 2 massive tests on foreign soil now. Warburton will be desperate to win against the club for moving him out even though it was his wrong doing that triggered the upper hierarchy to remove him. So he deserved what he got. Can we deserve what we get tomorrow and then get something from a ground where we seldom do well and get anything.

We have to get out at the starting pistol at full pelt to get them on the back foot and take our chances when they come. Then we will see.

I think the next 2 games will tell us whether we still have an outside chance of automatic, or whether we will have another potential play off fight. At this moment I believe it will be the latter, but they surprised me yesterday to win an ugly, ugly game. Can they now go and put pressure on the top 3?


The one thing about this Watford team is that it is so hard, but yet so easy to predict, Can they surprise us over the next 6 days?

5. SteveG - 08/02/2015

50 points. Should mean we’re safe from relegation.

6. Wimborne Hornet - 08/02/2015

Agree about B Bad. Held us spellbound except for “The Fly” which was a waste of an hour!

Tough watch yesterday but totally enthralling. I’m still waiting for the Gomes-David James type disaster and it was perfectly set up for one yesterday but no. Looked like a typical last minute loss, but no. Felt like 6 points and miles more significant that the 7-2 v Blackpool.

Still smarting about Bournemouth though. It’ll take a few Blackburns to get that out of my system.

Griffin Park here we come.

7. Wessex lad - 08/02/2015

For what they achieved in this match, I woulkd drop Paredes and Anya to the bench for Abdi and Pudil, with Layun dropping to right back of a 4-3-3. Then FF for Vydra if it isn’t working out.

Brentford will come on at home, and that could be their undoing.

Matt Rowson - 09/02/2015

Maybe. But they came on at our place too and were unlucky to lose.

8. SwindonDave - 09/02/2015

Brilliant report as always Ian. I was thinking on the way home that potentially this win was better than the previous two thrashings handed out to mediocre teams as for most of the game it was so unexpected.

9. James - 09/02/2015

Thanks for the report. It was an interesting read but I have to disagree with your overall assessment of the game. I guess it’s influenced by our positions in the stands. You, in the Rookery, saw the second half in close-up, whereas I, in the north end of the Upper GT stand, had the better view of the first half.

We were definitely the better side in the first half. We had two very good penalty shouts waved away, plus a number of half chances from around the edge of the area. If just one of those had gone our way then the second half would have been different.

I think we scuppered ourselves in the second half by taking Hoban off. He had been the target of most of the aerial bombardment in the first half and he’d just about dealt with it, with Angela backing him up when necessary. Switching to a flat four let Blackburn hit Anya and Paredes, and occasionally a free man.

I think taking Watson off was the wrong choice as well. Munari worked really hard but he was clearly hurt in the last 15 and not able to fully compete.

10. Vaughn Smith - 09/02/2015

I think we badly missed Toszer in this game. The quality of set piece delivery and midfield link passing was quite dismal throughout. Would also have liked to seen what he would have done with all 3 of the chances that fell to Layun in the first half.

Matt Rowson - 09/02/2015

Agree that we were missing something in midfield, but Tozser has suffered when identified as our playmaker and has been bullied out of games by more delicate types than Blackburn.

11. BH - 09/02/2015

I agree with 10. above, we missed Tozer. He is the organiser of the team. We looked shapeless in midfield at times with Blackburn having an awful lot of space. He should have been on for a fading Munari much earlier.

Two other thoughts:
– For me, Blackburn were far from a “good side.” From where I was sitting in the Rookery, I saw gamesmanship at Mourinho levels with the manager trying to get players booked; their players lying prone to try and get people booked; time wasting from about 20 minutes in. That’s before the dullness of their football. I’m glad I don’t have to watch that every week.
– did anyone else think the pitch was a mess? It’s no excuse for our poor play but the ball seemed to bobble more than usual. It was as if Saracens were back.

Still, like everyone else, an ugly win was a very satisfying one, especially as it meant that Blackburn got exactly what their grim brand of football deserved. Nothing.

12. NickB - 09/02/2015

Happy as I am with any sort of victory, it was a hideous watch: can’t remember ever seeing so many misplaced passes in one match. Positives for me were Cathcart, Angella, Ighalo and the Good Gomes; negatives Paredes (utterly abysmal), Hoban (sorry, but have yet to see any evidence he’s anywhere near pre injury level) and the midfield as a functioning unit. I dont think we should set up to counter strengths of lower placed opponents at home and virtually eliminate our own attacking threat, however big and ugly they are.
Intrigued by the Warburton comment above; his misdemeanours passed me by, any chance of clarification?

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