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Watford 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2 (28/12/2015) 29/12/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- “I’m worried that we could get a wake-up call today”, says ig on the way down Vicarage Road.  He won’t have been the only one.  Whilst we went into this on the back of a five-game unbeaten run this was the game, two days after a trip to Stamford Bridge, that perhaps looked the most ominous of our challenging four-match Christmas run.  Nonetheless, if this peculiar season has served any lesson at all it’s the value of reputations, or rather what can be achieved by dismissing reputations and labels and just playing.  Aidy Boothroyd, whose words of wisdom have not in general gained much credibility over the passage of time, was nonetheless conscious of this with his much publicised airy targeting of Europe last time around.  You can talk yourself into a mindset, positive or negative. A number of “big clubs” are going through, um, difficult spells.  There are all sorts of contributing reasons and circumstances, but beyond dispute is that the big clubs being rendered less scary, less intimidating, generates a snowball effect.  People aren’t scared of Chelsea because they’re suddenly a bit crap and so give it more of a go and Chelsea’s life doesn’t get any easier.  So…  we were always going to lose at some point.  Few teams, let alone newly promoted teams, go for a season without defeat.  But it never needed to be “a wake-up call” unless we chose to interpret it as such, settling back into our boxes.  “It’s been fun, but let’s stop kidding ourselves, it was never going to last”.  That way lies a slide down the table, almost demands it.

2- Those concerns won’t have been eased much by a first half which, for the most part, saw us very much second best to an extent that we’ve rarely suffered in this remarkable first half-season.  Our opening forays earned us nothing clearer than half-chances from distance which Étienne Capoue,  with an eagerness that betrayed the significance of the match in his mind, clouted elaborately wide. Spurs, meanwhile, were doing to us what we’ve been doing to teams all season… chasing down possession a long way up the pitch, swarming, forcing errors.  To blame Spurs’ first-half superiority on our inability to retain possession would be as one-eyed as reflecting that we’ve been lucky to face Stoke, Newcastle, Liverpool, West Ham on off-days.  Part of the plan involved the visitors attempt what Liverpool had done far less effectively and far too late nine days earlier, having their full-backs glued to their touch lines and pushing up. Nathan Aké, unsurprisingly restored to the side after missing Chelsea due to ineligibility, wasn’t comfortable as betrayed by an uncharacteristic need to defend by reacting rather than anticipating.  A brilliant and decisive block on Trippier, who was in danger of escaping inside, was only necessary because the loanee had lost his man.  Eventually the pressing told;  Cathcart lost the ball to Alli, perhaps hampered by a slippery pitch that had surprisingly had the sprinklers on it in the build up to kick-off, the ball broke to Lamela and he finished adroitly.

The rest of the half saw Spurs look sit back a little, and press less furiously, but we laboured in possession.  We really weren’t getting anywhere… whereas without pummeling us with shots, the movement and awareness of Kane, the power of Alli and the sprightliness of Lamela looked far more likely to create an opening.  We just didn’t look like scoring.  Until we did.  And what a bloody inspiring thing it was.  A ball in from the right, Deeney had pulled wide on the left and headed it into the box.  Ighalo, once again, was gloriously single-minded whilst three Spurs defenders debated whether the Nigerian was third or fourth favourite to prevail.  He had no right at all to end up in possession in front of a stunned Lloris, who found the ball slipping underneath him.

3- There have been two features of previous top flight seasons that have been largely absent this time around.  When you think back to the eighties you think of Luther, of Barnes, of GT.  Tony Coton.  Beating Arsenal.  And also… at least from my gold-tinted view from the Family Enclosure, the way that teams would turn up at the Vic and kick us.  Tottenham particular protagonists of this approach, a 1-0 win 30 years ago achieved in the face of astonishing violence, sticking in the memory.  That’s what it was though, a memory,  the worst excesses of top flight opponents not replicating this phenomenon since then.  Maybe I imagined or embellished it… I was twelve, after all, and perhaps overly inclined to a Watfordcentric point of view.  The other feature is being penalised by awful and seemingly one-sided refereeing… there was the odd bad decision in 2006/07, but 1999/2000 was a vintage year.  Rob Harris at home to Arsenal. Uriah Rennie at home to Sunderland. Paul Alcock at Bradford. You’ll have your own favourites, if you were about.

We’ve not had to experience either this season.  Indeed my Dad, never one to give referees the benefit of any doubt that’s going, recklessly observed over the Christmas turkey that we’ve not suffered any particularly bad refereeing performances thus far.  Whining about referees doesn’t make particularly compelling reading, admittedly, so I’ll simply thank Anthony Taylor for restoring balance to the universe.

The sending off was odd, in that at the time with only a view from the Rookery to rely on it looked pretty innocuous, the red card not so much surprising as completely baffling.  TV replays cast it in a new light of course, but it remains an odd one.  Aké is not prone to either violence or to getting it so very wrong.  It seems to me looking at replays that Lamela’s handball, knocking the ball upwards as Aké approaches, leaves the full-back committed to coming across his opponent but suddenly not able to clear a ball that isn’t where it might have been and messing up in his indecision. This would certainly be consistent with the oddly gentle approach which suggested neither a violent collision nor intent, and left half the ground bemused and outraged. 

Either way, the Tottenham players did their forbears of 1985 proud with a display of snideness and gracelessness unparalleled by anything we’ve seen this season.  From Harry Kane sprinting halfway across the pitch waving an imaginary card to get Britos booked for a perfectly clean tackle to an orchestrated hounding of the official at every contentious decision to Danny Rose’s pathetic attempt to win a free kick off Troy Deeney that was blatant enough to be aped by Harry the Hornet but not to earn a yellow card, apparently.  Spurs are a young side, you could argue that with a goalkeeper as skipper there wasn’t quite the leadership on the pitch to keep the behaviour in check.  Or you could reflect, as my brother did on the way back down Vicarage Road, that most of the complete scum that you’ve had the misfortune to meet have been Spurs fans, and this charmless lot are every inch fit to wear that shirt.

4- For ten minutes or so after the dismissal it was proper backs to the wall stuff;  we barricaded ourselves into our penalty area and took up position for a shootout.  Valuable in this period was Sebastian Prödl, making his first appearance since Arsenal, who got his head to anything that Spurs lobbed in high.  Otherwise it was pass, pass, pass but little penetration from the visitors.  Eventually, with the home crowd roaring on in indignation, we made some chances of our own and came closer than the visitors had… Ben Watson’s inswinging left wing corner coming within centimetres of crossing the goalline before Lloris brilliantly scooped it out.  The atmosphere was furiously intense… claustrophobic.  Had we held on for a draw we’d rightly have celebrated as if for a victory, a winner would have brought the house down.  Instead, Spurs broke and at the second time of asking Son flicked the ball beyond Gomes.

5- A choker, obviously, but we can console ourselves with the knowledge that if you stand by the premise that good and bad luck and decisions even themselves out you’d probably choose to have the latter all at once.  Given this, given the misfortune with Son’s winner being narrowly offside but missed, with Watson’s corner nearly in but not, with absurd refereeing, we can take solace in the fact that we only lost 2-1 to a very strong – if repugnant – opponent via a last minute winner.  There were several other far more mundane ways to have lost this 2-1 – especially after that first half – which could have been far more damaging.  Here… the circumstances, the ludicrous second half should guard against us telling ourselves that this was inevitable, that this was always going to happen.  That this was a wake-up call.  With Ighalo flat on the turf in frustrated exhaustion at the final whistle of greater concern is our ability to physically recover in time for Manchester City on Saturday…  but as far as the result goes, choking as it is, there’s an awful lot to take pride in for this side.  As there has been all season.  Yooorns.


1. Jon - 29/12/2015

Interesting that you only saw the instances of Tottenham players surrounding the referee… And not the Watford players doing the same to Dele Alli in the 5th minute, Deeney’s sly late trip on Rose when he already had a yellow, Iggy elbowing Carroll to draw blood and then screaming the F word in the linesman’s face from a foot away… I thought both teams overreacted repeatedly last night to both their discredits. And arguing away a red card with the logic that you could only tell on slow motion replay is doing a disservice to the referee. The decision was correct as it was a straight leg, studs up challenge to the upper thigh – just because the ref saw it and the fans did not, doesn’t mean the decision is suddenly wrong.

Matt Rowson - 29/12/2015

Deeney’s “sly trip” was a dive by Rose. Iggy “elbowing Carroll” involved Carroll hanging off his arm and Ighalo batting him away.

But I wasn’t arguing with the red card, just not expressing myself very well. I agree that it was a red; what I was trying to square with it was the reaction at the time. I didn’t even think it was a foul at the time, only the replay lends insight and I’m not arguing the ref got it wrong. But Ake, on what we’ve seen, neither mistimes things that badly nor goes in to hurt people. Nor was his approach violent or uncontrolled. So my explanation is as stated, indecision on his part having been fooled by Lamela’s handball. Which doesn’t make it less of a red card.

Matt S - 29/12/2015

In my view – red card depends on which angle in the video clip. Sideways on – from GT stand – yes; back view – no. Ake seems to be going for the ball (which is high) and Lamela seems to be following the ball inwards. As it is, Ake only just touches his body. Unfortunately, not worth appealing, as in real time from the ref’s viewpoint, it probably looked a terrible challenge.

Alan - 29/12/2015

Don’t know why you referred to it as a strange one. Even if Lamela handled it, you don’t try and win the ball with a straight legged, studs up challenge. It is dangerous play and a text book red card.

I also can’t believe you are trying to justify Ighalo batting a player away with his forearm just because he was being harried and pressed. He was very lucky Carroll didn’t make more of it and his constant berating at officials should have seen him punished earlier.

I throught it was a very good game which ended cruelly by a fortunate goal. It was offside and it is that you should focus your greivances on as apart from that, your arguments are rather baseless

Matt Rowson - 29/12/2015

As regards Ake, I’m not disputing it was a red nor criticising the decision, just trying to reconcile what happened with the impression the incident left on first view and our experience of the player (Ake). So “odd” in that the difference between what we thought we’d seen and what our expectation overlaid were so at odds with what happened. I maintain that Lamela handled it, whether deliberately or otherwise, and that stopped from the ball dropping to where Ake expected it to be. He was already committed and what resulted was confused (and ultimately dangerous).

Ighalo wasn’t being harried and pressed, Carroll was hanging off him and it was less a swing of the arm than trying to shake off a challenge that should already have been penalised. The same illegal, not violent but niggly attention that he’d been enduring for much of the game, which is why his goal was such a magnificent thing.

We’ve lost six games this season – to the top six. Liverpool whined a bit, but you make allowances for the fact that they were being gubbed. Spurs stand out as being the only genuinely unpleasant mob that we’ve come up against, irrespective of result. You can choose to believe otherwise – and I’m open to the possibility that yesterday wasn’t a typical performance – but if you’re of the school that refuse to see Spurs as anything but pure as the driven snow you’re kidding yourself.

2. Danny Mackay - 29/12/2015

Agree wholeheartedly about ‘reality check’ nonsense. Losing is inevitable. It happens to all teams. But why should it be deemed the ‘reality’ as though winning is somehow a mirage? Watford are deservedly a top half team at present. City could yet get their own ‘reality check’ at the weekend.

3. MartinG - 29/12/2015

Very good point 1. We are competitive in every game. Gone are the days when at 1 down you think that’s it. I thought Spurs moved the ball well and were quick in the tackle. Our passing was a bit sloppy unusually. Lots of too short passes and that made it hard to retain possession. Great passion after the sending off. Pity Watson’s corner didn’t make that extra centimetre. Great first half of the season. Roll on City.

4. JohnF - 29/12/2015

A good report Matt. Spurs fans normally tell me that their’s is a footballing side with the implication that they are pure as the driven snow, although a friend who is a Spurs fan tells me otherwise. Our side are not angels but the issue on Monday was that the punishments were not even handed. I would argue that Rose should have already left the field on two yellows and they are the most niggley team we have seen so far.
One of the problems we faced was our two wide mid-fielders did not play well in the first half, Abdi was replaced at half-time and we know he has something of a stamina problem. However Jurado remained on the pitch and continued to lose and give away possession while contributing little to defensive duties and showing little eagerness to get back. When he plays well he is very good when he doesn’t he is a liability because it increases pressure on the full back. I hope that it is only that he still hasn’t adapted to the different nature of English football and the pace and physicality of the premier league.
That several players looked tired was clear. One very good reason we are where we are is that we play at a very high intensity and that can be draining when the games are thick and fast. Flores seems to be unsure of the ability of a number of those on the bench and in the squad to perform in this system and environment so rests are likely to be limited. That is also a concern as suspensions and injuries kick in.
Incidentally did you hear Motson’s reaction to Watford equalising at Chelsea on the match of the day commentary – patronising pratt. “Would you believe it” indeed!

Matt Rowson - 29/12/2015

🙂 I love Motty. Dad has always hated him. Agree with the rest of your points tho.

5. Old Git - 29/12/2015

I thought Alli’s late assault on Capoue worthy of a straight red, rather than a lenient yellow, and I was more than a little curious as to what the ‘neutral’ pundits would make of it on MOTD. After all, it was far more premeditated than Ake’s mistiming. And when Alli went through on Anya from behind I thought, right, that has to be a second yellow. But when none materialised I thought aha, something else for our pundit friends to have a close look at.
I am innocently puzzled as to why they chose to ignore all of this….

6. Goldenboy60 - 29/12/2015

I have a slightly different view of the sending off. Firstly, I looked as I always do at the referees contribution in previous games like, how many cards has he dished out this season? This normally tends to give a clue as to how the game will be managed by the referee.

In 122 matches over the last 5 years this referee has given 23 Red and 413 Yellow cards. So you can sort of know what is coming.

This season despite some bad decisions in some games, I have felt that in the main the refereeing HAS been top draw, Premier League class if you like.

But Anthony Taylor in my book got it totally wrong yesterday and didn’t look in control of the game. He handed out 7 Yellow cards and of course one Red. Matt has alluded to some niggling antics from Spurs players yesterday and quite honestly it was good to see our lads standing up to it.

So for me the game management was not there from the Referee, apart from using cards to try and control it. And that for me is the difference from the refereeing I have seen this season. Oh what a difference from the pragmatic and sensibility from other ref’s during the last 5 months.

The sending off for me was a Yellow as Lamella came from the side of Ake. Also when you are running forward as he was, it is very hard to put your foot higher than your knee, so I thought it was very harsh, with Lamella going down like a sack of spuds, and clearly not injured of course, as he stayed on the pitch until the end. But more importantly spoilt a game which was coming to the best moments with a 1-1 score. The referee in my opinion stopped the game and dictated its ending despite our valiant efforts. That of course included the assistant on the touchline not picking up on Son’s start position the first time it was crossed in. A free kick there and the game was 1-1, which would have been a fair result I believe.

The Referee stopped what was coming to a climax. It’s like watching a great film at the cinema and then someone coming in and turning all the lights on.

That was something we had plenty of in the Championship last season,

7. Derek - 29/12/2015

Having seen the film of the Ake sending off, it’s a poor challenge, but then again so was Alli’s on Capoue. A bit of consistency would have seen either two yellow cards or two reds. One shot on the MOTD coverage should a Spurs playing looking amazed as Ake got his read card.

The overriding feeling that I got from the officials was one of deference to the ‘big’ team that we’ve seen so often in the past. For example, there is a photo on the official site that shows Cathcart being held while Lloris scrapes out Watson’s corner. Missed or ignored!

I was waiting for the Michael Oliver style farcial injury time penalty award. Allowing the offside goal is a new twist. It removed our opportunity to score the winning goal on the counter attack.

With regards to the football, I thought that in the first half, Spurs looked more threatening in possession, but never actually got around to creating anything.

We looked better in the second half, before the red card. For the 20 minutes after that Spurs played the ball around without looking dangerous.

The one thing that did surprise me was that during our late flurry of corners Spurs had everybody in their own penalty area. When you have man advantage why not leave somebody upfield. I thought it showed a lack of ambition.

A disappointing conclusion to a fantastic first half of the season, but well done to everyone at the club for what we’ve seen so far.

8. Luke B - 29/12/2015

My non-typical Tottenham supporting freind went to the game, we caught up afterwards and he confirmed the haranguing of officials and general cheating is typical behaviour of the current team to his own frustration.

9. Leavesden 'orn - 29/12/2015


Your comments about Boothroyd remind me of one of his statements. ‘Manage the game’. I felt that after Spurs scored the first, that’s what they did. Not take any chances and keep us at arm’s length. Igahlo’s goal woke them up I feel. In most games this time we are equal and the main difference is that we have a constant goal scorer. Think King, and in the first visit, most of the strike force missing.

Having also watched the 80’s visits, I don’t remember the physical nature of Spurs games, but just the condescending nature of reports and opposition managers to ‘little old Watford’. This did appear to subside over the years, but there was definitely a big team agenda.

I feel this is different on this visit, which is refreshing, but we are still regarded as interlopers and having watched us since the 70’s, I still feel that we are, but hope that we can stay a little while and become a permanent fixture. Perhaps a good cup run would change things.


paullbaxter - 30/12/2015

When I started followng Watford in the mid 60s we had been in the bottom tier of the Football League for nearly our entire existance. We were promoted to Division Two in 1969 and were very much interlopers then at that level, so it was no surprise when we were relegated ignominiously 3 years later.

What a change since 1979. Over those 36 years we have have only been outside the top two divisions for 2 years. Watford hasn’t been a bottom tier club for a very long time. There’s nothing to say we can’t shift the paradigm again and become a top tier club. I doubt it will be me but maybe a contributor to this blog in 36 years time will reflect on this successful transformation. If I’m still around I’ll do it myself (I don’t doubt BHappy will still be here)!

10. John Parslow - 30/12/2015

I have indeed got a wake up call.

The “dare-to-dreamers” like me who see this as being currently the 3rd best season ever (vs. 1982-83 & 83-84) have to realize that we are not going to get top 4 !

But a record of vs. top 6 (Pl 6 L 6) and vs the others of (Pl 13 W8 d 5 L0) shows that we are where we are on merit.
We have become a Stoke, Palace, Everton already.

The interesting point on this game and vs. Chelsea for me was the way both teams were able to stretch the game wide and so test us differently – something we dont (yet) have in our armoury. I think we just need to add a back-up forward of quality and 2 absolutely quality wide men with pace and we will be pushing on again.

On this game – Ake was maybe a red but normally not… and the refs early decisions should have meant not. To lose the game when technology confirmed that it was not a goal for Watson – but was not available to confirm Son was off-side …. is an ironic gutter.

But we can take great heart. Spurs (because they have become nastier) have become a very good side. One I cant wait to beat at the Lane in part 2.

11. NickB - 31/12/2015

Thanks, Matt for, unusually for you, giving the opposition a proper slagging off for underhand behaviour; was amazed to watch Kane’s shabby antics. One of our party said after about thirty minutes ‘This ref is going to do something to ruin this game’, not wrong, what a lightweight. Thought we were poor first half but outstanding after the interval and done out of a point by a self regarding idiot

12. Ralph Jackson - 01/01/2016

Matt you did not imagine that 0-1 win at Vicarage Road by Spurs,it did happen that way,in March 1983. Spurs (managed by Keith Burkinshaw at the time) were miffed at Les Taylor’s winner 5 minutes from time at White Hart Lane early the previous November,that put a winless October behind us and started a 4-match winning run that culminated in a 4-2 triumph at Arsenal. The London press,Jeff Powell and all,were outraged: how dare we not follow the script roll out the red carpet for Glenn Hoddle (great player that he was,who I agree didn’t get enough games for England) and actually try to win the game? To the bitter disappointment of a very big Vicarage Road crowd that Saturday,Spurs chose to employ stifling tactics and a physical approach in the return game – so much so that Steve Perryman was sent off for the first (only?) time in his career. I heard a guy standing near me by the floodlight pylon on the old North East (Red Lion corner) terrace saying to the people he’d come with: “this has got nil-nil written all over it”. Then,of course,Tottenham scored,from a quickly-taken free kick if I recall that was finished smartly by Watford player-to-be Mark Falco. The biggest cheer of the afternoon from the home support came near the end when Gerry Armstrong fell over on top of one of the Spurs players,accidentally (slightly on purpose,maybe?) squashing him.

But six months later Spurs returned to Vicarage Road and did it the right way: from behind at half time,with that brilliant goal by Hoddle when he gave two defenders the slip on the edge of the box and chipped Steve Sherwood,then a cracking shot from Steve Archibald and a well-taken third from left back Chris Hughton before Cally pulled one back from the penalty spot for 2-3. I don’t recall Spurs being particularly physical in their approach in any of their subsequent meetings with Watford either,just that one occasion upon which they were a disgrace. It seemed in those 80s years that whoever won the first meeting between Watford and Spurs in a season lost the return match,usually by the same score!

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2016

Thanks Ralph. The game I was referring to was in December 1985 as discussed further up this thread and it certainly WAS that nasty. Don’t dispute the other details of your account though…

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