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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?


1. Tybalt - 18/03/2015

Great stuff Matt. I too have noted the tendency of opposing managers to bemoan our better finishing, as if scoring actual goals was somehow a vulgar intrusion into football as it’s meant to be played.

Matt Rowson - 18/03/2015

That’s what I wanted to say, but you found better words… 🙂

2. Royston ROF - 18/03/2015

I had forgotten just how good a record “pump it up” was / is……

I had forgotten just how good the golden boys in yellow could/ are / will be….its just like watching the detectives

Note for the ed…take Slav’s thinkings on tatics and never leave the road one has planned to take…always follow the yellow bricked one

3. Lincoln Hornet - 18/03/2015

Great stuff as always Matt and a pleasure to read, especially as you mention my Uncle in dispatches.
I presume you mean Billy Hails who stood by GT in the heady days of the eighties as physio and trainer, at least I hope you do.
It was during those days that my family and I made many journeys to the Vic from Lincoln in support of Bill and the family and I began my relationship with the ‘orns. I was about 13 then and I’m the wrong side of 40 now but it is a bond that will never be broken.
I couldn’t tell you a lot about Watford itself and I doubt I could navigate my way around the streets very well but I can tell you lots and lots about Watford FC from about 1980 onwards and many of the best days of my life have been spent supporting a truly great club. I’m hoping another one of those will be coming along in a few weeks time. I just hope that my ticker and fingernails can stand it!!
U ‘Orns

Matt Rowson - 18/03/2015

I did indeed mean THAT Billy Hails LH… not meaning anything particular by it, beyond picking out of my head the first name from Watford’s past unlikely to be genuinely appearing in midfield that came to mind.

Thanks for your words. 1980 is my “year 1” as well really. Am I right in thinking that you must have a cousin/sibling who played for ?Southend?

4. NLFG - 18/03/2015

Nice write up. This is beginning to feel a bit like that 98/99 run in to me….

5. Adam Segal - 18/03/2015

Brilliant piece on the Wigan game. i thoroughly enjoyed the read! It brings a little piece of Watford back to me in far off South Florida. Thanks! By the way was streaming the game live through my car speakers on the way home from the office. It doesn’t get much better than that for me. 🙂

6. Robin Walters - 18/03/2015

The key comparison between now and the start of the season (and the end of last) seems to be unity of purpose. Disruptive elements were shown the door, no matter how talented they may have believed themselves to be. One strongly suspects that the impression Slav gives of not taking any sh1t is more than an impression, and it’s had the desired effect. This really is a *team*.

7. Simon - 18/03/2015

Of course, the next three games probably come now to define our season (I’ll no doubt be saying the same in three games time !). We’ve been great all season at putting away sides from the lower reaches of the division but this recent run does feel different and we can hopefully translate this grit and momentum into results against top 8 sides. So far we have a record of P11, W2, D3, L6 against the top 8 and P27, W20, D3, L4 against the rest of the division. The quality is there – it’s time to make it show against the sides around us. Oh, and of the 13 sides we’ve dropped points against, we play 6 of them in our last 8 fixtures so we owe a few hammerings a la Charlton !

8. Harefield Hornet - 18/03/2015

The international break has come at a bad time. If we beat Ipswich on Saturday it would have been nice to use the current momentum to get stuck into Derby and Boro. COYH

9. Lincoln Hornet - 18/03/2015

Quite right Matt, cousin Julian did indeed play for both Southend and Fulham and once scored a hat trick at the old Filbert street. Billy was once a very good footballer I believe and played for a few league clubs as well as managing Peterborough for a short spell.
I can remember Billy telling me many stories of just how close the club was in the 80’s era and the real togetherness they had and a genuine family feel. I don’t think it’s possible in todays game to achieve anything like that again but I do feel that Slav and the current squad are very focussed and you can sense that we maybe on the verge of something historical again. Let’s hope so!

10. Ian Lay - 19/03/2015

“…..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”

Classic Rowson. Brilliant.

11. Hunsbury Hornet4 - 19/03/2015

My drive home was anything but exuberant. After my satnav had directed me from a relatively safe spot near Asda into a multi-story car park, I then had to endure 2 exit closures on the M6, the first of which I ignored the diversion sign, thinking I could find my way home down the A5, only to find my way blocked at Telford, then after eventually finding the M6 again, the M1 entry closed. Not to worry, I know my way back to Northampton via the A428, I thought. Not in thick fog though. I eventually crawled in at 14.30, a four hour drive, to a welcome from my wife of “Don’t forget to take the dog out”. The joys of away days – wouldn’t miss ’em for anything!

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