jump to navigation

Watford 0 Ipswich Town 1 (21/03/2015) 22/03/2015

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. If you’ve hung around on the anti-establishment end of the football-supporting spectrum for any length of time, you’ll be familiar with the argument that the game’s unfettered capitalism inevitably leads to wealth concentrated in the hands of a few super-clubs, to predictable and repetitive pseudo-competition and, eventually, to the erosion of the spectacle and its value. (If you haven’t hung around on the anti-establishment end of the football-supporting spectrum, I saw you sneaking out halfway through that sentence.) In other words, the rich get richer, the rich beat everyone else ad infinitum, everyone gets bored and wanders off. It’s like when the inevitable winner starts putting hotels on everything in a game of Monopoly: sooner or later, someone’s going to throw the board up in the air….

Appealing as it is, that argument has always looked a bit shaky on closer inspection. At the point where two broadcasters are prepared to pay five billion pounds for the right to broadcast the Premier League, it falls apart altogether. This is, after all, a league in which the only contest consistently going to the wire in the top half is the race for fourth place rather than first; the absurdity of the equation was nicely summarised by an Arsenal fan a couple of months back, who commented that “we need to get knocked out of the Champions League in order to concentrate on qualifying for the Champions League”. Meanwhile, the standard further down can be measured by the fact that there are apparently three teams worse than Sunderland. No, seriously. Stoke City are eighth. Five billion, y’say?

Thing is, it’s a bit of a naive argument. The harsh reality is revealed, as it often is, by Richard Scudamore (boo, hiss, etc) on the relative decline of Manchester United: “When your most popular club isn’t doing as well, that costs you interest and audience in some places.” Perhaps even more notable than that quote is the unmistakeable sense of regret and resignation in the following statement: “…you have to balance that off against, generally, we’re in the business of putting on a competition and competition means people can compete.” Yeah, sorry about that. Excuse us. The truth is that beyond the traditional, old-fashioned band of fans embracing their clubs life-long through thick and thin, there are millions who just want to watch their team win everything, always and forever…and they’re where the money is. It’s always been a bit like that, but never quite like now. Let’s face it, it’s so much easier to market a product with a reliable set of outcomes, with a set of Super Sunday fixtures you can plot out years in advance.

In which context, this Championship title race feels like a glorious throw-back, a last day of summer. Because rest assured that ever-increasing parachute payments will see an end to this kind of chaotic nonsense eventually. But for now, there’s this thrilling dash for the line, all flying elbows and pulled hair and fraying tempers. The adrenaline rush kicks in, opens up your senses to every detail. The tension gnaws away. It’s one of those times when the momentum of it all seems to consume everything, when the gaps between games can’t speed by quickly enough, when an international break seems like a spoken-word interlude in the middle of “Teenage Kicks”.

It’s bloody brilliant, this. It’s what football is about. I love this division.

2. But not as much as I’d love it if we won the damn thing.

3. So…here we are. The stage is set: four sides of Vicarage Road nearly full, a packed away section full of cascading inflatables and rowdy songs, home stands eager and expectant. There’s the inescapable sense that we really do have to do it this time, that this has to be the season. No excuses.

We begin with the intensity of a side brimming with confidence, looking to drive forward on the momentum of previous victories. Last time I saw us, we approached the contest as if suspicious that someone might’ve booby-trapped the halfway line; this time, we look determined, aggressive, potent. We take the initiative, shove Ipswich rudely back into their half and largely keep them there, relentless in our pressing from Deeney and Ighalo backwards. It isn’t terribly pretty, but that’s the thing: we’re not bothered any more, we can handle ourselves when the need arises, the naivety has gone. For half an hour, we actually look like a team that’s top of the league.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say. And it’s true that we had little to show for it, just a magnificent shimmy-and-drive from Guedioura and a few fleeting quarter-chances, mainly courtesy of progress made by Layun and Motta on the right-hand side. Ipswich, an industrious side built in the foothills of Daryl Murphy, were making us work for everything. But we were responding to that, stepping up to the challenge. For once, this felt like a proper, old-fashioned Championship contest – physical, tough, uncompromising, thoroughly McCarthy-ish – that we weren’t necessarily destined to lose. We lost it anyway, of course.

4. If there was a turning point – of the match, hopefully not of the season – it was the five minute break in play for a horrible injury to Joel Ekstrand. His replacement, Gabriele Angella, was almost immediately booked for an, um, assertive aerial challenge on Murphy…and suddenly it all got very tetchy and irritable, a series of inconsequential decisions going against us to disproportionate outrage in the stands. We lost our concentration amid the hullabaloo, we lost the initiative and the momentum. We didn’t get any of them back.

I’m trying to avoid turning Ipswich into a caricature, but there was no question that a scrappy and fragmented game suited them better. In the fifteen minutes to half-time, our passing game collapsed, the midfield disappeared, and our opponents took something of a stranglehold on proceedings, albeit that their threat was generally confined to set pieces. It didn’t get a lot better after the interval: tellingly, it took less than quarter of an hour for Slav to make his first move, replacing Daniel Tozser with Ikechi Anya. Tozser was one of several to disappoint here, failing to keep his head in a game where quality was scarce and the ball was precious; Guedioura was similarly inconsistent and profiligate, and thus Ben Watson’s water-carrying was often wasted by someone carelessly dropping the bucket and tipping it all into the gutter. Troy Deeney’s frustration was very evident on more than one occasion.

5. (This thunk doesn’t really fit into my little story. But it has to be put in somewhere or an injustice is being done: Tommie Hoban is wonderful. Perhaps even more wonderful at left-back than in the centre, for out wide you can see him earnestly grappling with fresh challenges, getting to grips with something new and relatively unfamiliar. Much like Lloyd Doyley, you could almost see the thought bubble over Varney’s head – “Fancy my chances against this bloke” – and chuckle at the subsequent frustration as Hoban refused to yield. It’s great to watch.)

6. As Matej Vydra replaced Miguel Layun, we began to throw caution to the winds. Increasingly, we threw the ball to the winds too, to little effect. The changes didn’t help us, in truth, even though we dominated possession: Anya was swiftly shoved into a broom cupboard, Layun, while frustrating, had been taking up useful positions looking around the corner of the Ipswich back four, Motta’s legs were too tired to make any use of the spaces ahead of him. You’re never going to beat a side like Ipswich with crosses from nearer the halfway line than the by-line. You’re unlikely to beat them with a flick-on from your big bloke to your little bloke either, although I accept that there are times when you might as well try.

Guedioura smashed a volley wide from a very tight angle, and in most games it would’ve barely registered as a chance; here, though, it was our first shot of the half and we wondered whether we might not manage a second. It was that tight, that difficult. Ipswich were perhaps more likely at the other end, Gomes producing the best save of the game – only two candidates, mind – to push wide Sears’ low drive. And then, the moment: Deeney flicking a cross towards a flying Ighalo, the ball flashing over the bar in an instant, the striker flat on his face, the chance gone. That was it. That goes in, and no-one cares what the game was like. That goes in, and we’re top of the league for a fortnight.

7. Injury time, and everyone rightly howls at Matej Vydra for taking a short free kick when, really, it’s time to launch it and hope for the best. When we get another free kick, then, we do the sensible thing and chuck it forward while completely forgetting to do the other sensible thing and leave enough cover behind to prevent Ipswich from breaking and winning it at the death. I don’t really think there’s much to say about that, except to note, perhaps unnecessarily, that a point from a rather spirit-sapping nil-nil draw might’ve come in awfully handy at the end of the season. We lost our heads, simple as that. I like the manager’s reaction an awful lot, I must say: reminiscent of one of those occasions when you’d come back hurting from a defeat and find that Ray Lewington was being reassuringly straightforward and sensible about it, that he’d seen exactly what you’d seen.

Your archetypal Championship food fight, then. Two teams pelting slop at each other until exhaustion sets in. I can hear the people saying that we should rise above it, make our quality count, all that kind of thing; it’s a fair point but, in return, I ask how often that actually happens in this division. I suggest that it doesn’t, by and large, and that’s because Ipswich weren’t rubbish, far from it. They were effective, organised, extremely difficult to play against. There were things we could’ve done better, true, but they were little things, moments that could’ve been made to count for more.

Sometimes you’ve just got to scrap it out. Sometimes nil-nil isn’t a terrible result.


Wigan Athletic 0 Watford 2 (17/03/15) 18/03/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.

1- In less heady times, perhaps in following a less bloody-minded body of Hornets, I might have paid greater attention to portents.  Logistical arrangements were slow to materialise.  Once made, getting out of work and then out of the house took forever…  being interrupted, then forgetting things, having to go back inside, not being able to get on with it.  On hooking up with my travelling companion in plenty of time we took a leisurely break at Kidbrook a theoretical 20 minutes from Wigan and left there at 5 to hit an M6 traffic splurge.  Comparing notes with other travellers by phone we opted to leave the motorway for a scenic route, only to sit stranded on a stationary back-road some 15 minutes later watching the free-flowing M6 fly past beneath us.  By the time we reached the “Marquee Club” much later in the evening, a well-conceived but ill-executed away fans’ bar at the ground serving Guinness-flavoured water and no food, we might have been apprehensive about what the fates were trying to tell us as regards this particular Potential Banana Skin.  Had we been following a different team, a different vintage.  Hell, last season’s vintage.  The contrast between the mardy indolence that reached its nadir against Huddersfield in May and what we’re seeing now is extraordinary.

2- Slav’s unshakable emotional detachment and his (team’s) ongoing success at pulling these things off is lending him a mystique;  it’s getting to the point where one searches for the genius in his selections rather than evaluating them anything like objectively.  “Ikechi in goal, Lloyd up front and Billy Hails in midfield you say?  Hmmm, yes, I can see that…”.  This one harked back to Rotherham in a formation that screamed “keeping it solid”;  a 3-5-2 featuring five defenders, actually, plus one sitting and one destructive midfielder.  On a horribly scruffy pitch, the set-up contributed to a stodgy first half of few chances.  As the only attacking player in the midfield Adlène Guedioura was simultaneously the man most likely to dig something out and the man most likely to give the ball away, which his responsibility for the final ball contributed to him doing frequently.  His was nonetheless a terrific contribution throughout, although our early control of the midfield was relinquished somewhat when his early booking tamed the ferocity of his harrying and chasing.  There seemed more menace about our own attacks – perhaps only when viewed with background knowledge – the best of which coming when Deeney’s diving header to a left-wing cross was pushed wide by Al Habsi, but Wigan were more than in such game as there was; Bong and Ojo threatened down the left, Kim was lively in midfield and some early free kicks from dangerous positions gave more credence to Slav’s selection decisions (behind the goal we nodded wisely).

3- They were horribly blunt though.  They didn’t look like a bad football team, certainly not a team otherwise worthy of a place in the bottom three, but there wasn’t much of a goal threat – you felt that if a goal came for the home side it would be through attrition, the crushing of the game towards our penalty area resulting in a deflection in the wrong direction rather than a deliberate, conscious act (Malky Mackay, after the game, wasn’t the first manager to identify our finishing as “the difference” between the sides, as if the art of goalscoring is somehow an aside, or an unfair advantage afforded us by our forward line rather than the point of the exercise).  The mood, in contrast to our own, was painfully gloomy – a relentless and occasionally effective drummer in the stand to our left offset this a little, but the emptiness of the wonderfully steep stands told its own story.  Meanwhile despite a goalless first half there was no suggestion of dissent in the away end, no “we should be beating these”.  The inner confidence extends beyond the pitch… there’s a trust there.

4- Another of Slav’s surgical changes was applied at half-time and we came out minus Motta, plus Forestieri and now 4-4-2 with the Argentine at the front of the midfield to wreak havoc behind the forwards.  It was designed to open up the game and in doing so it allowed us to showcase our superiority, since whilst Wigan continued to have possession and territory and whilst we perhaps wouldn’t want to rely on nervous finishing to preserve a clean sheet against a better side we were far more potent.  This was made to tell nine minutes into the half, when the immediately vital Forestieri received the ball as we broke, dragged backpedalling defenders away from the left flank whence he released Guedioura who sent in an evil cross which Deeney crashed in at the far post.  On the subject of stock goals, it was all but a tribute to a favourite stock goal of yore with Guedioura in the Neal Ardley role and Deeney as Heidar Helguson, piling ball and defender goalwards… with the exception that Guedioura’s incredible delivery had been with his weaker foot as he eagerly pointed out to the bouncing mob behind the goal.

We were immediately in our element;  Wigan had no choice but to push forward in search of an equaliser and we broke on them joyfully like schoolchildren released for break on a summer’s day.  We should have extended our lead… Joel Ekstrand came mighty close to doing so, picking up a loose ball to the right of the goal, cutting past his marker and firing narrowly wide across the face.  Forestieri and Vydra both had chances, and Boyce had to clear from under the bar after a deflected Guedioura shot wrong-footed Al Habsi.  At the other end Wigan had far from given up and our defending was fuelled by sheer willpower – Guedioura and the outstanding Hoban performing the two most dramatic of a large number of blocks achieved by throwing bodies in the path of the ball.  A degree of comfort was earned by Forestieri whose lung-bursting run to reach an escaping ball down the wing was rewarded when Boyce allowed him into the penalty area before sticking out a tired leg and bringing him down.  Boyce lay prone in dejection, Forestieri in happy exhaustion.  Deeney belted the penalty past a static Al Habsi, on which his teammates charged in from the halfway line where they’d waited to a man to guard against a potential breakaway.

5- This wasn’t the best game we’ve watched this season nor the most spectacular scoreline but the triumph was in making it look like a routine victory.  To the outsider its unremarkable, team near the top beats team at the bottom.  So what.  Anyone who’s watched the division for any length of time knows it’s not that simple… and yet we keep digging out these wins.  The car journey home was noisily exuberant, fuelled by my iPod’s shuffle function which captured the mood perfectly, spitting out Pump it Up, The Littlest Rebel, Jean Genie and The Temple of Love.

Bellowing our way through the fog our minds’ eye is a blur of images. Tommie Hoban dummying his marker on the left and cutting inside past two more markers on his right foot. That’s a centre-back, that is. Daniel Tözsér coming off the bench in another Slav masterstroke, instantly sucking control of the midfield to his feet and swinging in his vicious bending free kicks (you can all but hear the “oh f*** this” from Wigan’s backline). Those bodies flying in front of the ball at our end. And Odion Ighalo, not involved in the last few games through injury and probably deprived a cameo here by the immaculate Cathcart picking up a knock, riding to the away end on Daniel Tözsér’s back, punching the air whilst Forestieri screams his joy into the night sky. This is a team with spirit and quality and wit and menace. Anyone preventing us getting promoted will have to go some, and will have earned it. Tonight we not so much sidestepped a banana skin, as my travelling companion suggested and repeatedly demonstrated on the way back to the car, but trod on it square on and carried on in indifference.  Next?

Watford 4 Reading 1 (14/03/2005) 15/03/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.

1- There’s no reasonable way to describe the context without doffing our cap to happenstance.  Reflecting on the role that chance has played in our season it’s natural to feel bitter about Gabriele Angella’s sending off at Bournemouth, about Wes Hoolahan buying a penalty for Norwich, and so on, and so on.  Consistent with the “we only get s**t refs” chant, it’s easier to bring to mind instances where things have gone against us.  Indignation burns deeper, perhaps.  So let’s be clear that the perverse preciousness of Champions’ League television schedule regulations did us a huge favour.  That was evident when the implications of Reading’s draw with Bradford – that the replay would have to be this Monday – became clear, and was underlined in big fat marker pen when they announced a starting line up with nine changes, four debutants and very few senior picks.  You’d kinda hope that we’d have beaten Reading’s senior team whatever the circumstances; taking the Cup replay out of the equation you’d have been left with a side that have underwhelmed but are probably safe from relegation, the Royals were never going to be the most driven of opponents, but this one fell for us.  As if to provide further emphasis, “no we really don’t give a crap about this one”, one of those debutants was Slovenian Jure Travner whose Watford career under Malky was only memorable for his never quite making the first team.  So… yes, this fell for us.  The fact that Reading’s league season is all but done and dusted and that they could afford to do this doesn’t make the scheduling of their replay for Monday any less inappropriate.

2- For all of which, Reading’s scratch side were some way short of terrible.  Limited, sure, lacking anything like our threat in front of goal however many goals Yakubu, looking a very old 32, has scored in the top flight.  But organised and competent.  We weren’t gifted any goals, they all needed crafting and were each elegant, sculpted things.   It started after a minute, Abdi passing the ball into the net after being prised through by Troy Deeney.  Abdi, the one concern from the day, appeared to aggravate his injury in the move and departed soon after, his replacement Forestieri playing in Vydra at the end of the half and setting up Deeney after the break.  Steve Clarke identified our clinical finishing as the difference, bemoaning the harshness of the scoreline but the visitors never came as close as Motta did with his wicked dipping volley that crashed off the bar, or as Forestieri did with his scissor kick that forced Andersen into a quite brilliant low save low to his right.  Our finishing was great.  The rest of it wasn’t bad either.

3- And it was all perhaps rather too comfortable.  Abdi’s early goal averted the threat of impatience in any failure to take the lead in A Game We Ought To Win, but at three up the atmosphere became drowsy, our football slowed down and Reading weren’t ready to just lie down and see the game out.  If our squad lacks anything, as has been discussed ad nauseam, it’s a big lump in central defence.  Zat Knight, who briefly looked as if he might be that man, had little competition in the air from our lot, and fear of his threat forced a succession of corners, as if we were happy to sacrifice another set piece in preference to allowing the big defender to get a header on target.  Eventually they took advantage, Jem Karacan on his return from injury picking out the top corner  after a scruffy clearance…  and briefly there was a concern, we couldn’t seem to snap out of it and the visitors were in the ascendancy.

4- Until they weren’t.  The change in shape, Angella coming on for the fading Vydra as we switched to 3-5-2, seemed to hand us back the joystick immediately and Forestieri rounded off what had become a masterclass with a drilled left foot finish, a well-earned goal and a celebration that screamed catharsis.  Relegated to the role of fourth-choice striker Nando’s performances of late had not suggested a happy camper, petulance and laziness creeping back into his game.  After last Saturday’s incident with Bakary Sako, which was neither as violent as his reaction made it look nor as ludicrous as an unhelpful camera angle and lazy “analysis” suggested you had to fear in which direction his season was going to go.  Slav came out fighting, defending his striker’s conduct late in the week and then had the confidence to thrust him back into the fray early in the game in the mischief-making hole vacated by Abdi.  He took some time to warm up but ultimately delivered what was comfortably his best, effective and infectious performance of the season, punctuated not just with a goal but with two “assists” borne of combining his quick feet with a cool head and the right ball.  Well done Nando, and well done Slav.

5- Much of the focus off the pitch was on Nic Cruwys, who remains in hospital following the horrific, anachronistic attack in Wolverhampton last weekend.  I’ve nothing particularly new to add to the many heartfelt and appropriate things that have been said elsewhere, but it’s worth echoing those sentiments anyway.  Our thoughts are with Nic and his family.  Many references in the aftermath to the “Watford family” and the wider “football family” in the context of, in particular, the vast amount of money raised via Ollie Floyd’s online collection.  My wife snorts at the suggestion that the Watford family fosters an almost religious sense of belonging, a very real family; she disputes it.  She’s wrong, of course, not that she’ll ever admit it.  The best of that has been on show this week and to their immense credit the club and the players have reinforced that too, not to mention supporters of other clubs who have donated to the fund and shared their disgust.

I’d like to close by mentioning a departed family member, Guy Judge, a one-time BSaD contributor and very nice man who lost his battle with cancer on Saturday morning.  A significant empty seat at the family table, he’ll be sorely missed.  All the best mate.  You ‘orn.


Watford 1 Fulham 0 (03/03/2015) 04/03/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- One of the more remarkable aspects of our recent form has been the degree to which our performances and results have held up despite a degree of squad rotation and tactical flexibility that popular wisdom agrees is unconducive to success.  You don’t tinker, you don’t change a winning team, a “settled side” is the gold standard.  And yet here we are with 11 wins in 15 (now 12 in 16) in the League making not just selection changes every week but formation, tactical changes too, often during games themselves. Some formations and changes are effective, a few aren’t, but the process of changing, of rotating, hasn’t in itself appeared to be overly disruptive – at least not since Slav disposed of the services of the five miscreants, a few of whom might not have been as tolerant of the general approach. This isn’t supposed to work, it’s certainly been credited with upsetting more illustrious teams than ourselves.

In the spirit of which, I’ve recently abandoned adherence to any number of long-held rituals previously deemed vital to the team’s fortune.  New places to park, new places to eat, grabbing a pint in the V-Bar before the game.  I didn’t even buy any lucky chocolate for this one (albeit this was in part enforced by disgust at the stadium outlets’ stocking of only vat-sized bags of Munchies that might qualify, these being of dubious suitability and exploitative of the lucky chocolate requirement).  Ten minutes in after a bright, open start Fulham’s defence fell apart like a sodden newspaper as Almen Abdi’s corner bounced around the box and Troy Deeney took advantage to crash home. The sort of shot that would have looked good in a Roy of the Rovers freeze frame with monstrous thigh swinging, ball flying top corner, defence and goalkeeper aghast and a voice bubble proclaiming “that’s blown it!” from the away contingent behind the goal. My recklessness with tradition was vindicated.

2- The line-up for the evening featured a return to 3-5-2 and starting places for one new new boy, one old new boy and one new old boy.  The former was Marco Motta at right wing-back who looked exactly like an ex-Juventus full back called Marco Motta ought to look.  Tough, compact, bearded, industrious, took no crap from anybody whatsoever.  It wasn’t an impeccable debut… a few of his crosses were misjudged, he seemed to tire late in the game but he looked clever, a thoroughly encouraging showing all round.  The new old boy was Daniel Pudil, a popular recall if judged by the response to the first reading of the teams who provided plenty of energy on the left flank before being hoiked on the hour, five minutes after being dispatched into the hoardings by Fofana as we switched back to 4-4-2.   The old new boy was Adlène Guedioura, who started in the centre of midfield with Watson and Abdi but finished the game on the right flank.  He was positive and ambitious throughout, creating as much as anybody and being the most comfortable in running at and committing opponents.   Despite which… the midfield never quite worked.  Because a 3-5-2 in particular, with big holes to attack behind the wingbacks, rather relies on you dominating possession and with with two essentially attacking players in the central midfield three we were never permitted to do so….

3- …since Fulham clearly hadn’t read the script suggested by the speed and manner of our opening goal.  That script had us making hay as Fulham chased the game in what remained a wide open contest, taking advantage of such opportunities as the Cottagers’ defensive record – not to mention their rather passive approach to defending the opening goal – suggested were inevitable.  Instead the visitors displayed a confidence and composure that belied their league position, knocking the ball around and increasingly controlling the midfield with Fofana and McCormack prominent.  They struggled to create chances for all that…  the closest either side came to adding to the score before the break was when Guedioura wriggled between two markers on the right flank to set up Vydra who flung a shot over Bettinelli and violently back off the crossbar, but they weren’t about to roll over.  The phrase “we need a second” was made for half time intervals like this.

4- Had we got one, perhaps the scoreline might have become even more comfortable.  There was a brittleness about the visitors’ mentality that probably wouldn’t have coped very well with going two goals down having been so much in the game.  Despite being behind they were in quite a good position going into the second period having come out defiantly in response to conceding and yet they got tetchy and arsey, the game threatening to boil over a couple of times.  Referee Kettle actually got most decisions right, but Fulham’s narkiness should have cost them when, having been floored from what was no more than a robust shoulder-to-shoulder challenge from Vydra, Ashley Richards sprang up and shoved the striker over two-handed from behind.  It was petulant rather than violent;  I vaguely remember a similarly sulky performance from Richards when he came here with Ian Holloway’s Palace two years ago – in any event it looked a textbook red, Kettle’s yellow affording Richards far more leniency than someone who chooses to go by the name of “Jazz” really deserved.

As the game calmed a little Fulham re-exerted control on proceedings;  that they didn’t profit from it reflects well on the entire Watford team’s defensive performance, since whilst we clearly tired from the unaccustomed efforts of chasing the ball in the last ten minutes – normally it’s us doing that to the other lot – we hung in there with the back four but also Watson, Deeney, Vydra, Guedioura chasing and harrying and getting in the way.  Fulham threw on the monstrous Matt Smith from the bench;  always looked like an obvious threat to me, this, and perhaps we’re lucky that Kit Symons hadn’t re-introduced a striker back into the Cottagers’ fold after a productive loan at Bristol City a week or two earlier.  Had he been confident enough to start him, our job might have been all the harder – we had no competition for him in the air.  At the other end Layún came on on the left of midfield as we switched formations and was rather blown away by the frantic nature of it all;  Odion Ighalo made a welcome return too, replacing Vydra and adding a menace to our attacking play.  One of those occasional moves that resembles a choreographed dance more than a passage of football sashayed in from the left but left Ighalo with the ball just too far under his feet, unable to get the shot away to crown what would have been a special goal.  The crowed eddied between nervous tension as Gomes saved brilliantly from McCormack, Fulham’s best chance, and cathartic bellowing, but the final whistle went with Troy holding the ball in the corner.

5- It should go without saying that this was a massive win.  Much has been made of our relatively poor record against the sides up around us, but such statistics can be misleading since I don’t doubt that Fulham tonight, despite their misleading league position, were a tougher task than Brighton found a wobbling Derby side deprived of both their injured centre-forward and the loan signing who has been deputising.  Once again we demonstrated our resourcefulness in finding a way to win the game and demonstrated the value of our vaunted forward line – grabbing a goal in a game of few chances as valuable as hitting four when the other mob hit three in a bunfight – and our new-found defensive bloody-mindedness.  We found a way to win a game against a challenging opponent that the League table suggested shouldn’t have been – so, no evidence of the complacency of which we might earlier have been accused, no flimsiness when things don’t go our way.  Just bloody relentlessness.  It was marvellous and inspiring, and further emphasised that the push for automatic promotion looks very far from theoretical. Come on!