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Watford 2 Middlesbrough 0 (06/04/2015) 07/04/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- In all honesty we were still sitting under tables recovering from the aftershocks of Friday’s drama.  We neither anticipated nor even dared hope for more of the same… and yet this was the perfect complement to the game at Derby, the ying to Friday’s yang.  Whereas that evening was wet and windy and dark and malevolent, the sun blazed down on Hertfordshire this Easter Monday lunchtime fooling a significant proportion of the overclad crowd in the process.  On the pitch, if Derby was a shootout between big guns today was a different challenge altogether, snipers dug in and ready for a siege.

Where the events were comparable, against expectation, was in the dizzying atmosphere.  Friday night was ear-ringing, thunderous, overwhelming…  but that was an away fixture in an evening kick off in front of 30,000 people.  Away crowds are supposed to make a lot of noise, that’s how it works (if not always quite to that degree)… the extra financial and emotional investment invokes a determination to enjoy yourself.  IMG_0945Home crowds aren’t the same, and Vicarage Road in particular is has struggled to match that atmosphere in recent years.

But today was different, and the 1881 deserve endless credit.  Not just for today actually, not just for the barricade of flags that made a roaring statement of support that made Boro’s “we believe” banner look a half-hearted cop-out, but for reinvigorating the club’s support and over the course of the season giving Vicarage Road its most boisterous away “end” since we switched to the Rookery in 1999 and unreserved seats were fixed in place.  The twenty-somethings that took the vanguard of the chorus line then are forty-somethings now…  and yet the 1881 have created something magnificent that’s transcended the middle-age spread.  Today was an event in itself, and a glorious thing to be part of.

2- The latest spin of the wheel saw Paredes in for the suspended Motta, Anya and Tözsér in for Vydra and Layún with no sign of Fernando Forestieri and the much-hoped for return of Almen Abdi restricted to the subs bench.  The first fifteen minutes were carnage… we’ve seen sides come to hound down our possession before, but few as aggressively or assiduously as in this opening period.  In an extremely congested midfield anything resembling possession was dragged off into a sidealley and clubbed mercilessly to death as Michael Jones, a referee whose sanctimonious “don’t you dare talk to me” posturing was matched only by his knack for looking in the wrong direction, looked in the wrong direction.  Boro were edging it, Ikechi Anya looking a vulnerability early on…. before sorting himself out and putting in a masterclass in “defending high balls as a small guy”.  Anya was involved in our own early forays, overlapping to chase a masterful throughball from Troy Deeney and only narrowly beaten to the ball by the alert keeper… but generally it was frantic, scruffy stuff.

3- In the context of which, the first goal was absolutely crucial.  Had Boro got it then for all our resilience and track record of clawing points back from losing positions you’d have had… concerns about how this would turn out.  But Boro didn’t get it.  Both sides had spells on top, Boro’s following a brief period where we reacted negatively to a dubious decision… Ben Watson appeared to be cleaned out when on his way through, the ref disagreed and we seemed to lose our focus a little, echoing the costly collapse against Norwich.  This time it wasn’t expensive, this time we regained our balance and pushed on.  Once again it was Adlène Guedioura, accurately described as “a machine” in post-match discussion, who provided the opening… the crowning moment of another performance that combined power and energy and determination and a quality that’s frankly far beyond what might the likes of Crystal Palace have any right to expect to find flattering Selhurst Park.  His wicked, arcing missile of a cross found Troy Deeney at the far post who dispatched expertly from a narrow angle to cataclysmic celebration.

Aitor Karanka was later to join the ranks of managers complaining about our strike threat as if it’s some kind of unfair advantage, like a twelfth player or a bribed referee.  Beyond dispute, however, was the inherent risk in Boro’s strategy…  if you’re going to try to close out a game and feed off the scraps you’d better have a Plan B to cope with the eventuality that one of the individuals providing that threat gobbles up a rare chance with trademark efficiency.  Deeney’s goal was quite brilliant, and it blew Boro out of the water.

4- With the benefit of hindsight the game ended at that point, it never felt like a fair contest thereafter.  The visitors came out fighting at the start of the second half but the suggestion of threat lasted a matter of minutes… our defensive shape was immaculate, with credit due to all of our defenders including the monstrous Connolly, introduced for Cathcart, and the peerless Tommie Hoban.  On the break we were always a threat with Anya and Guedioura tireless on the flanks and the rampaging Paredes as impressive as he’s been since the opening day of the season… the edge, the theoretical possibility of an equaliser was only dispelled midway through the second half when Odion Ighalo carved another brilliant goal out of a half-chance, taking out two defenders with a dummy before clubbing a shot into the top corner through the keeper’s fingertips.  It was rising as it hit the roof of the net, and the roof of the stadium raised with it.  What was left of the game was largely celebration…  Guedioura came close to grabbing the goal his performance deserved, improvising a devious volley over a crowded penalty area and demanding a brilliant stop off the unsighted Konstantopoulos, his fingers strong enough on this occasion.  In the dying minutes our defensive work lapsed for the first time, Kike breaking a suddenly flimsy offside trap but Gomes was equal to the striker’s effort, a terrific piece of goalkeeping – again, contrast to Friday when he was so involved… less so here, but he made the stop when he was needed.

5- A quite monstrous performance in all, on and off the pitch, that made the lazy line about how we have struggled against the better sides look like the load of old tosh that it always was.  Looking at the ridiculous state of the top of this division, an outsider might be fooled into believing that there’s a lack of quality… no outstanding teams, just a load of so-so sides competing to finish top of an unimpressive bunch.  How else do you justify the number of sides going hammer and tongs at the top?

But the remarkable thing about the division is that the quality is there.  Any of the top eight…  including Mick McCarthy’s drifting Ipswich, let alone Boro, might justifiably have expected to gain promotion in any “normal” season, certainly each of the eight appears a match for sides that have gone up automatically in the past.  The standard is extraordinarily high, and whilst we’re not top of the league we’re matching what anyone can offer.  We’ve come through The Weekend That Would Test Our Promotion Credentials with four points having come from behind with ten men away from home and then beaten the table-topping side comprehensively less than three days later.  There’s a terrifying ferocity about this Watford side now.  Any side wanting to stop our progress is going to have to go some.  Boro simply weren’t up to it, and a reprise of their disappointing showings at Bournemouth and here when they visit Norwich in ten days time is likely to simplify the automatic promotion race to two from three.  On the evidence of this weekend, we have absolutely nothing to fear.  Bring it on.



1. NickB - 07/04/2015

At the risk of sounding obsequious, the match now has the report it deserved; terrific stuff.

2. Nick Corble - 07/04/2015

Thanks Matt, great stuff. Heartily agree about the efforts of the 1881, they deserve an award of their own come season’s end, whatever the (nail-bitingly uncertain) outcome. What a good mix of players we have, from the blood and guts of Watson, through the sublime passing of AG and, indeed, the india-rubberiness of Ighalo, an unlikely hero at the start of the season. Bring it on!

Stephen B - 07/04/2015

Yet more credit to Slav. Moving Watson up the pitch where his attempts at changing the direction of the game were more effective – directly contributing to Iggy’s goal – at the same time reducing the room for catastrophe when it failed to come off. It’s not just the changing of the personnel that has been impressive, but the tactical nous to change their positions as well. Sometimes it has not worked I.e trying to get Vydra to play the Abdi role and other times have meant Slav has had to persevere with players out of position like Anya and Hoban rather than left-footed but vulnerable Pudil. In most cases the manager appears to have shown he is tactically astute, pragmatic and adaptable. The whole is finally almost the equal of the parts having been very much less.

3. BillC - 07/04/2015

I have been reading your insightful reports for a few years and have enjoyed your considered comments and opinions without ever replying. This one exceeded your usual high standards. Keep up the good work, hopefully in the Premiership next season!

Matt Rowson - 07/04/2015

Thanks Bill

4. Royston ROF - 07/04/2015

..superbly put into more words than the guy sitting in front of me..

…”that is a bloody good cros……yes” and

..”that is a good tur……yes”

..not bad signs that we can sub a goal scorer with an Otter…

..and its already been said…but applauds all round for 1881…the Vic is starting to come alive….

..and lastly it appeared to me that the team had been given strict instructions not to get involved and also stay on their feet today (which helped the referee to do his job (apart from the silly short free kick incident))…a well disciplined effort all round

5. Jim B - 07/04/2015

Nice report

For me, this run-in is being marked by my inability to actually attend games thanks to work travel, bank holidays and Sky!

However re: thunk 1, we were down in North Devon for the weekend and watching the game simultaneously with radio on.

Five live commentator (alongside Steve Claridge who was practically a hornet by the final whistle) said of the crowd after igalho scored “…now it’s all quiet among the away fans while Watford’s Yellow Wall is in full voice” something like that but great to hear the yellow wall used about what The vicarage road I grew up with and mates would refer to as ‘the library’

It certainly was obvious what a difference the crowd made and sent shivers down the spine. Five more times, starting at millwall, which I am going to

6. Adam Segal - 07/04/2015

Brilliant piece as usual Matt. I honestly believe we can win the last 5 games. However, I feel that Bournemouth and Norwich could do the same. It will come down (fittingly I think) to the very last match of the season; first and second place up for grabs from one of three teams, two of whom will be level on points and thus it will come down to goal difference. So starting Saturday, let’s try and rack up the score against a poor Millwall side to boost the goal difference coffers. This has been one hell of a season; the best in years. it just needs to be capped off with an automatic promotion spot. COYO!

Matt Rowson - 07/04/2015

Any of the three could. Not all will. Doesn’t make your point about goal difference invalid either way.

Goldenboy60 - 07/04/2015

I still believe there will be some more twists and turns. As we get nearer the end, games will become more twitchy and opponents will be out there just to show what they could or might have done. Seen it all before. Our professionalism and togetherness has gradually grown with SJ and full credit to him because I think he saw very early what we needed in addition to our ability.

So It’s squeaky bum time now. Who has the temperament to show through these nail biters coming up, not just in our camp but the others. Nairwich have survived on goals coming from their midfield in Bradley Johnson. Can he continue in this scoring vein of form? Bournemouth just score goals from fun and with their run in I think they have enough, though again will they twitch? Middlesbrough have a lot to do as goalscoring is not their trade mark this season, but they could dent someone like Nairwich, and have to play Wolves who are fast coming up on the rails. I still don’t think Derby are out of it as the confidence they might have gained from Wigan could carry them through. They have the ability and with real belief could, if others twitch. I fancy them to make it 6 out of 6 against Brentford.

As for goal difference, Norwich have the advantage at the moment. But we first have to win each game and see if we can totally run over opponents with goals. We need to keep everyone fit and I hope Cathcart is ok, because he has been outstanding. Connolly looks good and Angella is playing very well.

And will each referee we have keep 11 men on the pitch?

That bit worries me as they seem to be wanting to be superstars now.

JohnM - 07/04/2015

Got to agree, there. I have put (more or less) the same comment on another site. At this point in the season, with the pressure on teams and players, there is no way all three (might still be four, conceivably) teams will win all of their five games. Even so, unless one side total disintegrates (unlikely, I think), it will be on the final game. That goal difference will be vital.

JohnM - 09/04/2015

Oops, did I say possibly four? Since Norwich play ‘Boro, it can only be three—!

7. Goldenboy60 - 07/04/2015

Oh and meant to remind us all that we will not have Guedioura for the final game or potential play offs, as his loan period expires. We still have it all to do.

8. Lincoln Hornet - 07/04/2015

I would prefer that we just concentrate on beating Millwall first who still have a chance of salvation and will be bang up for it.

9. Roger Smith - 07/04/2015

There was a period, with everyone drooling about the quality in the team, when the players thought that all they had to do was to turn up. SJ has well and truly knocked that idea out of them. If we play every game as we played v Middlesborough, I’m confident that automatic is within our reach.

10. Adam Segal - 08/04/2015

Ok. 5-0 vs Millwall. We’ll overtake Naaawch on goal difference and we will never look back! 🙂

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