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Derby County 2 Watford 2 (03/04/2015) 04/04/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- As dramatic set pieces go, this was hugely impressive. For the Hornets, a weekend that’s approach has long been monitored. For the Rams, on the back of an awful recent run but reinforced by the returns of George Thorne at the back of the midfield, Chris Martin on the bench, perhaps a last chance to reclaim involvement in the automatic promotion shake up. For both, a match that has been given almost a fortnight’s clear run up. For once, television added to the drama by invoking an evening kick off and so the darkness was falling and all light and focus sucking into the Stadium Formerly Known as Pride Park like a spotlight. From inside, a vast distance up but not back from the pitch in the hugely steep stand, it was as if the world’s attention was on this and this alone. Certainly, for the 30-odd thousand inside the ground, the rest of the world might as well not have existed for a couple of hours.IMG_0929 This is part of the attraction of attending football matches of course. The wresting of every millimetre of attention from the rest of the annoying, distracting, preoccupying bullshit that clutters your consciousness and drains your energy. Clearing your mind, just for a few hours. We were in the ground long before kick-off and the suffocating tension was thick enough to smell, visible on every face, in every pair of shoulders, deep in each pair of eyes. Afterwards, after the drama that captivated and battered every soul in the stadium into submission and lived up to every inch of its billing, supporters on both sides will have been utterly drained whether high on adrenaline or otherwise, put through the wringer. If you can’t be captivated by spectacles like this you really ought to give up and go home. From start to finish this was absolutely breathtaking.

2- As ever, particular attention on which combination of players Slav has deemed best suited to the task in hand. Guffaws of nervous pleasure throughout the concourse as the news rippled through at around 7pm… all three of our headline strikers selected, so much for “keeping it tight for 20 minutes and quietening the crowd down”, balls to that. Behind the gusto there were concerns about a three-man midfield that featured the rather lightweight and as yet not thoroughly convincing Miguel Layún… and the underlying concern in the fact that the selection of all three forwards was rather necessitated by the absences of both Abdi and Forestieri, the availability of at least one of whom from Monday would be a huge boost. As an aside, that the starting eleven featured only two of the eleven that started the reverse fixture in November – Deeney and Ighalo – speaks a lot for our season and for the stunning job that Slav has done to fashion a team of such overwhelming spirit in the meantime.
Concerns about that midfield were exacerbated when Ben Watson started what wasn’t destined to be the best of his thus far positive Watford career by getting himself booked for a stupid late lunge in the middle of midfield. Our one plausibly defensive midfield option immediately restricted wasn’t the start we’d have wished for, but in mitigation it had been preceded by an opening five minutes in which the visitors, ominously, barely got a touch… Derby hadn’t penetrated but had held on to the ball and, immediately on the front foot, probed and pushed and when met with resistance smuggled the ball off again and reshaped to try again. Utter concentration was required from the off and it’s to our credit that the rams obtained scant benefit from this period although Gomes pulled off the first of a number of vital saves to deny Darren Bent with his foot. At the other end, when we did clutch possession, the rams looked get-attable and gradually control of the game was wrested away from the home side. Derby were always potent, Bent leading the line and Ince in particular an uncontainable threat on the flank, but we increasingly gained territorial advantage and an energetic opening by the front three was rewarded when Ighalo and Vydra hounded down nervous Derby possession on the left of their box and the ball broke for Vydra to drive the opener first time under Grant. The thunderous noise that had been rolling around the stadium since before kick-off was now focused in one corner.

3- We were on top and revelling in it, on and off the pitch. Derby will take solace, despite extending their winless run to seven in the fashion that transpired, from the fact that they barged themselves back into the game before half time by forcing an incident that was to prove pivotal. Watson lost the ball attempting an impossible pass deep in midfield and Marco Motta, who had appeared slow to react, flat on his heels, once or twice earlier in the half was caught on the wrong side of the the excellent Russell who roared into the box. Motta fouled the forward inside the area and the ref pointed to the spot, crushing all the air out of the away end. More controversially he followed this up with a red card for Motta… for me this was harsh rather than ludicrous, something that Motta could reasonably expect to have gotten away with a yellow for with Russell appearing to have lost control of the ball and Cathcart covering. Whatever, the real blame lies with the errors of Watson and Motta, albeit pressured by the home side’s considerable probing threat; without those mistakes the referee doesn’t have to make a decision.
The game and the mood changed instantly, and the home stands were rejuvenated over the break. Two half-time subs set the tone… Tözsér for the unfortunate Vydra, who had harried and hustled but appeared to overstretch in trying to reach a slack Craig Forsyth pass across the face of the Derby back line ,with Layún appearing to move initially to a left wing-back position. Derby brought on a forward for a full-back, their intent perfectly clear. Our worst fears were realised twelve minutes in when Thomas Ince went on The Run He Always Goes On Against Us and curled a shot inside the far post. He remains the sort of cocky, unlikeable git that you want to smack in the mouth, but this was quite brilliant. The rest of the game loomed in front of us like a chasm… as McClaren was later to comment Derby should have gone for the jugular and in previous seasons – at the risk of repetition – we would have folded but it’s not as if we’ve not demonstrated our indifference to going behind once or twice already of late…

4- There’s something about celebrating a goal in a packed stadium, particularly when high up in the gods underneath a low roof.  My cod science explanation is that a simultaneous bellow from a few thousand people in an effectively confined space releases a whole load of carbon dioxide which causes the dizzy headiness that follows and has been curtailing my own celebrations… at any rate, the same phenomenon doesn’t occur when I’m jumping around the kitchen to Jon Marks-relayed commentary.  Either way, there was no suppressing the bellow that greeted our equaliser.  It had been preceded by the crowning achievement of a quite inhuman performance from Adlène Guedioura who received a slightly overhit pass wide on the right flank and was therefore chasing it off the pitch before hooking his foot round it and sending an impossible pass across the runs of two retreating defenders and into the path of Odion Ighalo, at his indiarubber best all evening, who finished exquisitely by rolling calmly, precisely into the side netting.  The world was invented for goal celebrations like this.

5- This was the longest match ever.  That had been evident in the first half, when we glanced at the clock in the dying minutes of the half and found that only 19 minutes had been played.  The final quarter hour was insane;  Derby brought on Chris Martin and kitchen-sinked us.  We brought on debutant Matthew Connolly for the heroic Ighalo and he endeared himself straight away by taking a yellow with a foul that curtailed a run into the box.  Ince found a mystifying amount of space in the centre of the penalty area but got underneath the ball and was smothered before he could get a shot on target… otherwise it was a combination of pure guts, bodies on the line, and a strategic masterclass which saw Deeney, dead on his feet but still fighting, as our lone striker but the fresher Tözsér and Anya howling out after the ball whenever the pressure relented.  Heurelho Gomes, in one of his most important performances for the Hornets, made any number of important stops, the last and most dramatic in pawing Keogh’s header over the bar as the ref put the whistle to his lips.  The away end celebrated this like a win, and in a sense perhaps Motta’s card worked in our favour.  One-one at that stage, eleven men might have had a better shot of securing three points in the second half but might well have drawn the game anyway.  A point here, even in the context of a ludicrously unrelenting and unforgiving chase for the top two, was always going to be a good result but given the loss of a man and coming from behind with ten it’s an absolute triumph worthy of the judgement of the away end that saw all the songs ringing around the stadium long after the players and home fans had vacated the arena.  The real cost of the victory may be the amount taken out of the legs of the players before Monday’s game – perhaps here is the value of our squad, even in a game that the weekend’s results have rendered all the more significant.  Derby’s failure to secure the win here means that, barring some unheralded collapses of form, automatic looks like two from four now.  Derby and Brentford might catch any of the top four, they’re unlikely to catch three of them.  With Boro and Norwich still to face each other, getting our noses ahead of Boro on Monday gives us a strong grip on our destiny.  We fought our way out of the toughest of corners here and have nothing to fear.  Bring it on.



1. @popsider - 04/04/2015

Excellent, fair and balanced post as usual, Matt. In fact you’re probably more positive about Derby’s performance than I was/am. I agree with you about the red card. Clearly a penalty, definitely at least a yellow, probably a bit harsh to say it was a red.

And good luck for the rest of the season.

2. Sequel - 04/04/2015

Having already had my insides turned outwards by a virus this week, you can imagine what this game did for my recovery.
The pause button was invented for moments like this….

3. Roger Smith - 04/04/2015

I once got to say on 3CR that you can always tell a Watford supporter: they spend more time looking at their watch than they do the game. Last night was a classic example!

4. Wrighty - 06/04/2015

I thought Connolly was a good sub, through himself about and was both strong and aggressive, but it wasn’t him that took the yellow for tripping ‘that bloody’ Ince, it was Cathcart.

Matt Rowson - 06/04/2015

Noted. Realised that on watching the highlights. Still a “good” booking tho.

5. JohnF - 06/04/2015

Ben Watson has been excellent for us but his lapses resulting in him being caught in possession are a problem. I am not sure just why this happens but it may be due to other players not making themselves available and it may also be that he sometimes gets the ball caught between his feet. However, the lapses in defence where defenders are caught sleeping is even more worrying. If you then make mad lunges to try and recover the situation you give the referee a decision to make without the benefit of hindsight and that will result in a proportion of red cards, harsh or not.

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