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Watford 0 Norwich City 3 (21/02/2015) 22/02/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.
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1- I’ve been staring at a blank screen for half an hour.  I’ve even been distracted by bloody Jonathan Ross, of all things.  Not fun, this.  Not fun at all.  It doesn’t matter that there is stuff to say, this isn’t a search for inspiration or a dredging up of five thunks.  That can be difficult too… but this is just purgatory.  Reliving five goal wins is fun, joyful.  There wasn’t much to enjoy this afternoon, not much to take pleasure in.  You want to forget about this one?  Head home and think about something else?  Yeah, me too.  We’d all been looking forward to this, on the back of three unlikely wins from challenging positions this had been another chance to test ourselves against one of our fellow contenders.  Nervous tension all week, nervous tension for much of the game as the noise of the crowd was sucked inwards by the gravity of the occasion.  Now… I feel let down.  Not by the team, or the manager, or the referee.  But by myself.  Why such an emotional investment in something so brittle, so unreliable, so meaningless.  Screw this.  Bastards.

2- Much of the game was very well balanced, a tug of war between two sides carefully, cautiously restricting their trading of blows to a congested midfield.  Each side had spells in the first half, but chances were few;  early on Layún picked out Deeney with a nine iron from deep in the midfield… a difficult ask, the ball coming over Deeney for him to head out of the air but not quite low enough, over the bar.  An early encouraging move, we were keen to get behind Norwich’s high line quickly but this was to be as good as it got for the Hornets. City’s approach to defending revolved around preventing us having any possession in the final third, this largely achieved by Tettey and Johnson hounding down the space in midfield to hurry our attempts at penetration with Russell Martin and the monstrous Bassong, who looks as likely to return to the Hornets  any time soon as John Barnes, Ashley Young or Clements, sweeping up much of what came through.  On the few occasions when we did get hold of the ball in and around their box our we were able to do the things we’re good at and City looked vulnerable, get-attable.  Late in the first half some snappy passing released Abdi; Johnson was befuddled and brought him down in panic, he got a yellow and the “shield” Tettey followed him into the book for his protests.  Abdi’s free kick took a nick and went over but this was a positive way to end the half.  Neither side had been on the canvas, but we were probably ahead on points… and with everyone above us losing or already condemned to defeat, the mood was positive.

3- Much has been made of the limited number of chances that we made throughout, but our defence had looked solid and Norwich’s compact shape cost them in terms of the number of bodies they were able to commit forward. Frankly, if anyone was going to score it was us but you would have been reckless to put money on that for all of our attacking riches.  So…  the award of the penalty was both unexpected on any number of levels and absolutely fundamental to the outcome; like ourselves City had barely had any controlled possession in the final third but Hoolahan put his head down and ran, and then fell over.  The referee gave the penalty, Gomes went the right way and got down well but the kick was right in the corner.  It hadn’t looked like a penalty, and the Hornets’ frustration with an official whose control on the game had been fingertip since the first whistle nearly boiled over.  We’d nullified City’s threat, there seemed no prospect of them scoring and the decision to award the penalty changed the game; newly invigorated, the visitors had no cause to deviate from the sit-deep-and-break approach that so many have tried before, if rarely as effectively.

4- The point is, of course, that frustrating as the apparent injustice was it’s par for the course.  Not in the sense that we have any more bad decisions go against us than anyone else – much as it feels like it sometimes – but in the sense that stuff happens and you’ve got to deal with it an awful lot better than we did for the rest of the game.  If City were lucky to get the break then they didn’t half build on their luck, whereas the Hornets lost all shape and discipline.  Yes, Cameron Jerome’s follow up was a brilliant piece of opportunism and skill, dropping a shot over the stranded Gomes from outside the box but we were already far more ragged at that stage than at any earlier stage.  Subsequently we could have conceded a third before we did… Heurelho Gomes’ miraculous save to the incredulous Johnson’s thumping header low down to his left would have provoked a standing ovation in a less glum environment before City wrapped things up and compounded our misery by pulling off the move that Layún and Deeney had attempted earlier in the game, Grabban applying the finish to a ball from deep on the right.  We have spent the last few weeks digging out victories from improbable positions, watching with growing respect as Slav’s switches in tactics have made us stronger.  After going behind there was none of that… no sign of any fightback, nothing added by any of the substitutions.  We fell apart, and concluded a shapeless mess.

5- It was good to see Slav acknowledge this in his post-match comments… that the real problem lay not with a bad refereeing decision, however consequential, but with our response to it.  Slav’s dispassionate, analytical assessment of games as something that he observes rather than participates in jars a little to an English ear accustomed to observations made in an aggressive first person plural, but there’s great reassurance in him both drawing sensible conclusions and not hiding behind any bullshit.  Much earlier in the season we were complaining about our side being less than the sum of its parts, being a collection of talented individuals without a common purpose.  He’s applied corrective surgery and it’s questionable whether any of our three recent wins would have been achieved in similar circumstances in September or October.  You’ve got to trust his ability to recover from this also.  Because that’s the value today, if anything…  this was, in many respects, a Premier League defeat;  so much good work undone by one moment – of this case of bad luck, it might as well have been quality – following which things ran away from us resulting in a scoreline that was simultaneously both harsh and fully deserved.  If we do go up, that’s going to happen against better opposition than Norwich.  If we can’t cope with the fallout from that, if we’re not strong enough to recover mentally and take it out on the next mob then we need to stop kidding ourselves that we’re equipped for the top flight.  Tuesday night at home is a godsend, and will be interesting.  Today was disappointing, but needn’t be disastrous.  There’s a load of games to go.

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Comments»

1. hornetboy84 - 22/02/2015

Perfect. Nuff said .

2. James - 22/02/2015

Good write-up Matt. I can appreciate it must have been a difficult one.
While I agree that Slav’s post match assessment was accurate, I think he got it wrong tactically both before and during the game.
Norwich were physical, dirty, and above all, cynical; and we tried to match them at it, but that’s not our game.

Having got to half time, it was clear the game wasn’t going to produce many chances, and set pieces were probably going to be our best bet. Waiting until the last 10 minutes before bringing Toszer on was a mistake. Layun’s floaty delivery was just too easy for Ruddy to pluck out of the air. To make matters worse, Watson seemed to loose all his composure after Norwich went ahead.

Also, I think we need to bring Pudil back into the side. Paredes has looked suspect defensively all season, but his forward play isn’t really making up for it now. He looked thoroughly dejected in the second half, and looked confused for most of the Blackburn game.

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2015

Don’t agree about strategy. Tozser struggles when he has no space, and was caught in possession a couple of times when he came on. Layún did a decent job for me.

Agree that Watson lost composure but he wasn’t the only one. Can see your point on Pudil.

James - 22/02/2015

I wasn’t necessarily suggesting taking Layun off. His overall game was ok, we just needed something special from the set-pieces. Watson would have been my choice.

Yes Toszer got caught in possession a couple of times, but I would argue that any player is going to struggle to cope if you bring him on 10 minutes before time when the team is falling apart and the game looks lost.

3. Loz - 22/02/2015

thunk #2, I thought it was a Tettey foul and Johnson who shoved his head into the referees face, worst reaction to a clear foul I’ve seen. Also thought Jokanovic who past experience on subs have been good, but thought he was slow to react this time. Layun was off the pace most of the game, I’d have liked to have seen Munari much earlier. Never mind, onwards.

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2015

Official Site agrees with you Loz, I must have been hallucinating. I can still see Johnson committing the foul in my head.

4. Goldenboy60 - 22/02/2015

Most of what you said Matt was bang on. I do feel however that the penalty was a massive game changer given that I couldn’t see either team scoring before that happened. I had been concerned about this game. I believe Norwich have that little bit of arrogance in them both on and off the pitch and I felt we would need to be right on top of it to get a result.

I agree we were the better side in the 1st half though never really looked like scoring. I felt Forestieri would have made a difference in the 2nd half and was disappointed that he didn’t get on. He would have mixed it up and got in amongst them.

I agree after the penalty we looked lost and bewildered and just couldn’t get into our stride. That’s now twice we have lost to them with incorrect refereeing decisions deciding the game in my opinion.

Unfortunately it appears that the referees are now deciding the results and not the 2 teams on the park. They are now star of the show and the old saying Referees should be seen and never heard is way off the mark now. I agree with Troy in that they get no ban or suspension when they get it wrong, and I feel our game is moving away from the playing side to the theatre stage of referees.

2 years ago we had 56 points after 32 games, exactly the same as now. But we were in 3rd place then and not 6th. I think it proves that the points are being more evenly shared. Even Derby can’t or haven’t been able to ‘pull away’ yet. Though they may in the next 6 weeks. I feel Bournemouth have lost momentum and that Middlesbrough and Norwich are now serious contenders. Ipswich have been suffering as we have been.

It’s all to play for but we cannot legislate for Refereeing decisions. We need to stay mentally strong and be a little more consistent. But I think winning a Play Off this year we be the most difficult there has ever been.

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2015

You say most of what I said was bang on but I don’t really see here we disagree… Unless you’re implying that theres a more appropriate response to bad, even pivotally bad decisions (as I acknowledged) than to knuckle down and getting on with it? Where does moaning about a referee get you beyond fuelling a persecution complex which is rarely healthy and certainly doesn’t suit us.

Hornetboy84 - 22/02/2015

Spot on again Matt.
Same reaction as to Bournemouth needed for next 2 games and its forgotten.

Use the experience positively -move on

5. Roger Smith - 22/02/2015

We struggle against well organised defences when we give them time to organise. We have pace, but don’t use it when breaking out of defence, other than to chase hopeful balls over the top which have to be perfectly weighted or they are gobbled up by either the opposing centre halves or the goalkeeper. We never seem to use our pace on the flanks, with an early cross to our forwards to run onto.

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2015

I think such absolute statements are unfair and unrepresentative. Our tactics by definition don’t work when they don’t work. We broke with pace against Bolton and won the game.

NickB - 23/02/2015

I think the key phrase missing from Roger’s analysis is ‘at home’

6. bexdex - 22/02/2015

Absolutely. Well said.

7. Marc - 22/02/2015

As always an intelligent match report.

One thing that I thought you might mention and discuss is the obvious need for video technology in the modern game.

Every other sport has adopted it to good use, why not football?

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2015

“obvious need” rather prejudges any discussion, doesn’t it? For me there’s a lot more to be lost than to be gained… the pace of the game, the intensity of the action all stand to be compromised or abused in the name of what? A misguided pursuit of “the truth”, not recognising that a rogue decision is as much a random event to be dealt with rather than whinged about as a lucky/unlucky deflection, or a ball hitting the post and coming out rather than going in…?

The media has a vested interested in (eg) video replay technology since surely it would suit Sky (for example) down to the ground since they stand to benefit. I wish there was more questioning of this “obvious need” elsewhere since frankly I’m far from convinced of the benefit.

8. MartinG - 22/02/2015

I wondered how you’d report that game. Pretty spot on. The ref blundered but they have a hard job. When you get the England manager condoning diving, and with all the hand wringing about Hoolihan Ighalo had tried it earlier, and the players continually haranguing the ref, it ain’t easy for them. Though God knows what the linesman was doing as it was right in front of him.
It did seem to turn a game that looked destined for 0-0. If you stifle the midfield we struggle big time. Lumping it forward just doesn’t work for us. This league will go to the wire and we are well in the mix though.

9. SteveG - 22/02/2015

For reasons of family harmony and because those in the know assured me that I would enjoy it (and they were right), I spent Saturday afternoon at the ballet rather than at the football. Sounds like I may have made the right call – certainly with Edward Scissorhands there was no lack of cutting edge and plenty of movement in the final third. Sad ending in both cases, though.

Roll on Tuesday…

10. Robin Walters - 22/02/2015

There’s a simple solution for dealing with diving. Long bans on the basis of clear video evidence. Would Hoolahan (or Rooney) have gone down if he risked a 6 game ban? I don’t think so.

Mikanary - 22/02/2015

So, you’d support a ban for Ighalo for his dive too?

As for Norwich being physical, why are you scared of that, I mean Deeney doesn’t battle with the opposing defenders, and dirty!!! Excuse me?

The referee was clearly out of his depth from the first minute and simply favoured the home team as usual, but random decision after random decision and someone was going to get the benefit. Ighalo tried, more than once, and failed. So you lost this time – get over it.

If you make promotion this season, and you’re no better and no worse than the rest of us, god help you if you think you’re going to get a fair rub of the green next season.

OTBC

Matt Rowson - 22/02/2015

A rather garbled “argument”. You claim that the referee favoured the home side, and yet Ighalo didn’t get a decision whereas Hoolahan did? And as for Norwich being physical… I don’t remember reading any comment where this was levelled as a criticism.

But you’re right about Ighalo, who did go down very easily early on. The most aggravating thing about the Hoolahan incident perhaps was that it wasn’t even a very convincing dive…

Robin Walters - 23/02/2015

The intention to hand out bans would obviously have to be made clear in advance. Once in place, though, I’d not be impressed with a WFC player who dived.

11. Simoninoz - 23/02/2015

For those who advocate video technology, have a look at a game of rugby sometime. An already stop/start game is further slowed down by long pauses as the video is watched and re-watched. The non-stop action of our game is mightily attractive and we should worry that this could be compromised.

12. Lloyd Arkill - 23/02/2015

Was there a problem with Forrestieri? I didn’t notice him on the pitch at half time with the other subs and he didn’t seem to be warming up on the sidelines at any point during the game.

13. Paul - 23/02/2015

18,602 largest crowd for some time, since when?

Matt Rowson - 23/02/2015

Dec 2007 vs QPR, 18698

14. Simoninoz - 23/02/2015

Largest crowd discussion? Time for some serious old-git-dom, surely! I was there (the only time my dear old Dad took me – a great bloke but not a footy fan) when we lost 1:0 to Sheff Utd in the FA Cup on 27 January 1968. 23,461 fans (according to Sir Trefor Jones) and I didn’t see a thing, being 8 years old and 4ft 7in at the time. Google tells me that the Number 1 at the time was Love Affair’s “Everlasting Love.”

NickB - 23/02/2015

My first ever match. I seem to remember displaying a surprisingly impressive command of the F word for a 10 year old, particularly as I’ve no recollection of ever using it before.
I went on my own, I should perhaps add…

15. Old Git - 23/02/2015

Old-git-dom? Did somebody mention old-git-dom? OK, you started it.
34,099. I was there. And it was “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac.
And – for what it’s worth – from my angle that was a clear penalty. There was no doubt. Harry Redknapp, Neil Warnock etc would have described it as ‘stonewall’. It was only on watching the video replay that I saw what an outrageous dive it was. And the referee, remember, will only ever get a real time view from one specific angle. No wonder they so often get it wrong.

16. J T Bodbo - 23/02/2015

Where have I been ? After the tragic demise of BS&D I’ve been making do with 606 -> not606 not realising this had emerged from the ashes. 606/not606 is passable, sometimes interesting, but no depth! Oh the joy of reading this, in spite of the unfortunate circumstance. Never mind, I’ve got lots to look back on!
Thx for excellent feel for the game in the report. My take on it…
Before the game – quite nervous. At half time, quite pleased, although a bit worried by a truly incompetent ref – I wondered if a gaffe might come into it. Otherwise, a 0-0 or 1-0 to us looked a reasonable result. I was disappointed that Vydra came on instead of Fessi. After Hooligans audition for Swan lake Fessi would have had a hattrick of genuine pens. Vydra really shouldn’t play any further back then the penalty box (theirs). He cannot pass properly, and his talent is wasted. We should have worked on Bassong’s turn and lack of pace, the ball over the top is too easy for him. I think whoever finishes above deby or Middlesboro will go up auto. Could easily be us, if the luvck that is supposed to even out turns.
One more thought. We didn’t deserve to beat Blackburn, and deserved to draw on Sat. So, 2 draws – 2 points. One wi, one loss 3 point. What’s not to like !

17. Christopher Westcott - 23/02/2015

Excellent as always Matt. The one thunk I had as it started to unravel was the similarity to life in the Premiership, when we often looked physically inferior.

Norwich were not the first team to be bigger than us, but they were also quicker and more athletic. No criticism of our technical ability but when you meet a team that can match you technically these things count. Anyone fancy us against Stoke or West Ham anytime soon?


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