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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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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!

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Comments»

1. Wimborne Hornet - 04/03/2015

Fully agree with above. We would have conceded a late goal last year. Re new man Motta; I find myself only able to say his name I a Geordie accent.

Those around me lost it with FF after losing the ball with 2 minutes to go. Could have cost us a goal.

Keith Hannigan - 04/03/2015

The Forrestieri sub was an interesting one. It clearly wasn’t Slava saying “Screw this, we’re going to go balls-to-the-wall in pursuit of the coveted second goal.” Instead, it seemed to be a considered tactical choice to pull Deeney back to defend against headers while turning FF loose to harass the Fulham back line, sort of the way you might sic a hyperactive terrier on a herd of cattle. Seems an interesting and unconventional way to use the assets on hand to kill a game and also to keep Fernando involved. On the other hand, you suggest he almost cost us the win.

Since I didn’t see game, I might have that wrong. Am I right about Slava’s instructions? Did it work?

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2015

I think you’re about right, and it worked in that we won the game. We needed something to pressure them in possession and in the absence of Munari, Nando was it.

Goldenboy60 - 04/03/2015

I think Nando has been like a little boy so far in his career. Full of tricks and play acting to get attention. But he is one of those that are well liked and let off with his naughtiness. I believe SJ is attempting to turn him into a man to ensure he takes ownership on all that he does.

In my book no one in our squad can get near him for ability, and when he plays he really does light up the sky. He is well liked, and now as the team are learning to get tougher with themselves as part of the whole team, can Nando also make that transition. If he does he could be a top top player. I hope he does. His impish behaviour is lovely and he always seems to have a smile and a trick up his sleeve.

I know that even if he is on the bench, I always feel warmed that he could come on and turn the game with a wonderful piece of skill. He hasn’t had much game time recently and that would have downed his confidence a little, but once a naughty impish boy always a naughty impish boy. But I would rather have him in our team than playing against us.

I am sure he will come again, and full credit to SJ for growing and developing these players into men playing at the top level.

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2015

amen

James - 04/03/2015

That would have been an interesting tactic, had Forrestieri been brought on up front. However, he was brought on on the left and clearly expected to do some defensive work. It was a bizarre decision, especially with Anya also on the bench, and it very nearly backfired.

2. thisisourtime - 04/03/2015

Thought Motta was like a fitter version of Casseti, strong, put in some good crosses and very comfortable in possession. If Paredes had been in that role, would we have defended as stoutly?

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2015

Different beast I thought. Not as languid, delivery not as reliable, much better engine. Based on 90 mins…

3. Boxmoor Jules - 04/03/2015

Heaven forbid I should be thinking that FF may no longer be good enough for WFC. I really hope he can kick on but competition becomes harder every week. Both Motta and Guedioura have the physicality to just bounce tacklers off them or turn past them, which FF struggled with yesterday. Hope he can get another opportunity when things are just a bit less breathless

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2015

He didn’t have the best cameo yesterday but has been well up to the physicality in the past. Wouldn’t go writing him off just yet

4. NickB - 04/03/2015

Also took to Motta straightaway: proper player. Never felt comfortable with the holes in our midfield: nobody was poor individually, but agree balance seemed awkward. We did, though have a strong spine – Gomes making more important saves, Angella and Deeney both immense. Cathcart has done well in an unshowy way since coming in. Although you’d have expected Richards to have gone, I was more exercised by the dangerous and sneaky challenge on Pudil by Fofana – straight red all day long to me.

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2015

Didn’t have as good a view of that.

5. Paul - 04/03/2015

I appreciate criticism of any bearer of the yellow jersey is not taken kindly in this forum, however I was relieved to see that Paredes was dropped to the bench and hopefully this is one step further to the exit door at t’end of the season. Having seen a handful of his displays this season and including last week at Leeds, in an otherwise measured team display, he has done nothing to dispel my view that he ‘plays’ football like an excitable Cockapoo presented with too many toys in the driveway. Ineffectual passing and decision making, can’t defend and no end product, I can only presume he is put on to ‘scare’ opponents with his running. There may be something there, as proved with Buckley when he moved onto another club to some success, following similar criticism levelled at him. However he has to be regarded as one of the poorer choices in our recruitment approach, is he really a better punt than Hodson or Thompson?

john Parslow - 04/03/2015

thats really harsh on Paredes. He has had some strong moments. 1st season is difficult and yes much better than Thompson AND Hodson – not sure that should be the benchmark.

Lloyd Arkill - 05/03/2015

I don’t understand why so many fans have a problem with Parades. He has played more minutes on the pitch than almost any outfield player this season and, in my opinion, his contributions have, by and large, been excellent

6. Old Git - 04/03/2015

Yes, what’s going on with the Munchies? I share your bafflement.

7. James - 04/03/2015

Agree with you on Motta, but totally disagree with you on the referee. He was dreadful. It’s all very well allowing the game to flow but he has to be aware that some players will exploit that.

I think you missed a few of the chances in the first half. Abdi’s immediately springs to mind, but there were others too, and Fulham had at least one decent chance.
While it was a game of relatively few clear cut chances, both sides put the ball into the opponent’s area repeatedly. It could easily have been a much higher score.

8. john Parslow - 04/03/2015

I may be alone in this assessment – but I enjoyed the game. Mind you I like baseball games with close shut-outs.

I thought for the most part we played well and looked in Motta and Guedioura to have added yet another new dimension to the flexibility in our play. some decision making, and stray passes and tiredness did affect the flow.

BUT we suddenly looked BIGGER and STRONGER and i think we were only inches from a resounding win… (a) Vydra bar (b) Abdi shot wide and (c) the distance between the Red card the red should have pulled out and the yellow he bizarrely did. Did he not SEE the Matic sending off. I expect he will be rested for a few weeks by the assessor.

Fulham showed the dilemna for the rest of the season. We will be playing teams with nothing to play for who can be care-free. So next goal wins stuff every game methinks.

And as I write this Ipswich and Norwich are dropping points. Utter wonderful madness of the Championship. If we go up – boy will we miss it !!!

9. Royston ROF - 05/03/2015

Having spent the match in the new EJ stand amongst the Wags, I can only comment that Mrs Motta is on a par to Mrs Helgason, lovely lady and well versed in her Italian when Mr Motta was pole axed in the first half…..

..good steady debut by the ex Juve man imo….hard but never nasty….

10. Paul - 05/03/2015

Regarding Paredes perhaps Miles can provide a Football Manager analysis of his pass completion rate, assists etc. I suppose it is more a comment on our wider recruitment policy and if he is really a better option than some of the Academy lads hitting that glass ceiling…

NickB - 05/03/2015

I share the widespread unease with Parades; his pass completion level has to be well below average and his crosses, with the odd exception, have been woeful. Worst of all, his positioning is generally atrocious: have lost count of the times he’s been caught the wrong side of the player he’s trying to deal with. To describe his performances across the season as generally excellent, per Lloyd above, makes me seriously question whether I’m losing the plot.

11. JohnM - 05/03/2015

I always find it interesting accessing fans forums for opposing teams after games. The Leeds game, for instance, the Leeds fans thought that Troy was far and away the best player on the park—a Premiership player in the Championship. However, in both the Brentford and Bolton away games, the general opinion was that the star attacking player for Watford was Paredes, and that he took the opposing defender apart.

12. Vaughn Smith - 05/03/2015

Yes, Trevor Kettle. First came across this fool in 1998 watching my then local team Cheltenham Town (still in the Conference at that stage). The local hard core appreciated his performance that day so much by ‘inventing’ the following ditty “Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the kettle on, ‘cos you’re a twat’.” I’d have to say that having seen this cretin officiate at all levels from Conference South to ‘Championship’ on at least 20 occasions since, nothing I saw on Tuesday night surprised me, or did anything to change my initial view of him (sympathetic to the Cheltnham boys)….


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