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Watford 1 Manchester City 2 (02/01/2016) 03/01/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Have you noticed how folk are much more punctual for a 3’o’clock kick off than for a kick-off at any other time of day?  Evening kick-offs, fine… people are rushing from work or whatever.  But even a delay of a couple of hours is a deviation from routine sufficient to persuade the masses that cutting it fine is the way to play it.  In fairness it’s been raining all day, switching between half-arsed drizzle and petulant rain showers in the manner of someone channel-hopping between unappealing options, giving up with a “there’s never anything good on” and then flicking back ten minutes later.  If anyone’s got their timing wrong it’s us… for tedious logistical reasons we’ve been parked up since 3:30 and are in the ground an hour before kick-off.  Nobody else is, you all arrive with five minutes to spare, none of us quite sure what to expect in the last of our Big Four Christmas fixtures.

2- Oddly, what we get is precisely what might have been expected from such a fixture before the start of a season in which all convention has, thus far, been largely disregarded.  That script is one that became all too familiar on our previous visits to the top flight, particularly early in those campaigns:  Give it a good go against exalted opposition, take a lead, not quite hold out.  Been there before, seen that one played out (too) many times.   And it ends with opponents making all usual noises about how we’re such a good side and what a good three points it is for them.  All very worthy and polite.  Give me whinging about how unfair all of our goals were any day of the week.

3- By which faint praise of course I’m doing both the game and our part in it a disservice, since both are excellent. The first half ends goalless, but almost by accident… nobody’s quite got around to scoring any goals yet.  We have a good little spell that sees Nyom clout a shot narrowly over, Troy – not quite at his terrifying best – muscled out of a chance by Kolarov and Ighalo wriggle away from Otamendi to draw an excellent save from Hart.  City shift ominously into gear around the half hour mark and threaten to slice us up several times… but the immense shift that our lot put in (and Ben Watson’s ongoing heroics in midfield are as well highlighted here as anywhere) contribute to their players never quite having the space and the time to stick the knife in. The ball to Aguëro isn’t quite perfect, it’s too far beyond him.  Sterling has a chance but it’s fleeting and involves bodies flying across his path as he shovels his shot into the back of the Rookery.  Fine margins… but our industry pushes those margins.  Meanwhile Allan Nyom has resumed acquaintances with Raheem Sterling, who he booted into the hoardings at the Etihad earlier in the season in one of the more memorable fouls of the campaign so far, and it seems reasonable to assume that all is not forgotten.  The England forward’s goal was deemed critical in that earlier game; he’s bullied out of this one, it’s no surprise when he’s pulled on the hour.

4- The second half sees more of the same, at least initially.  The timbre of the occasion changes altogether when Ben Watson whips in another of those malicious corners of the sort that required such heroics from Lloris on Monday.  Joe Hart isn’t as lucky;  he’d have had a job on anyway, I think, but as it is a nick off Aleksandr Kolarov gives him no chance, takes a romantic edge off of what had initially appeared to be that four leaved clover, a goal straight from a corner, and leaves those of us who’d called it as Watson lined the kick up only marginally less smug and annoying.  We expect a kitchen-sinking from City and it doesn’t really come… indeed, there are moments where City’s defence seems to stand still as we break towards it, little in the shape of cover from midfield retrieving a situation.  They won the game of course, so who am I to criticise but it wouldn’t have taken much… Capoue, who disgraces himself by allowing Fernandinho a free header from a corner, almost makes up for it by bundling through some distracted challenges to be foiled by Hart’s attention (the keeper having smiled politely at the Rookery’s rendition of the “no no, there’s no dandruff” song from the advert, as if it’s the first time he’s been subjected to it).  Jose Holebas has had a couple of wobbly moments, but these are far outweighed by the positives including a couple of barrel-riding rampages into the area which perhaps merited more decisive finishes.  There’s no doubt, incidentally, that he’s an excellent left back.  If he were a bit rubbish there’d be no issue and no discussion.  Will be interesting to see what happens next there.

The other thing that changes is City’s emphasis, thanks to a bold change by Pellegrini that sees Bony on for Mangala, the sort of formation change that seems so obvious in such situations until you actually have responsibility for making it work.  Pellegrini demonstrates faith in his players’ ability and, ultimately, it pays off…. Ighalo and Holebas aren’t quite attentive enough at a left wing corner.  Cathcart isn’t quite sharp enough to the threat behind  him as Sagna’s cross flies in…. and you can’t help but wonder whether Sebastian Prödl’s presence might have lead to a different outcome.  Fine margins, though… not awful mistakes, not like Fernandinho’s free header.  Just the slivers of space that make top player’s jobs slightly easier and permit those brilliant finishes.  That’s all it took.

5- Much as I’ve dressed this up as Just Another One of Those Huff and Puff Defeats in Thunk 2, the big difference is the context, the backdrop.  Those narrow, worthy defeats of yore only got tiresome because we’d had so many of them.  When they kept happening, we began to figure that it was more than just bad luck.  Here…  four points from the last four games plus two narrow defeats is certainly no worse than par; Monday’s defeat hung on an officiating mistake, this game is an example of the genre in isolation and came despite a genuinely forceful performance.  Significantly, it feels like huge progress from the defeat in Manchester in August where the well-drilled-but-not-quite-adequate defensive wall was all we had – as Quique acknowledged post match.  This time we took the game to them, and were arguably the better side for three quarters of the game.  Against Manchester City, for goodness’ sake.

Nonetheless, this little facet of the fixture list always recalled a similar feature of 1999/2000, when the previous season’s top five came at us in sequence from the beginning of September.  We got three points from those five which was just about OK if you squinted at it, the run featuring a number of defeats of the sort described in Thunk 2.  It was the next two games, bad defeats against Boro and Coventry, that blew whatever belief we had left out of the water.  We’re in a very different place now… better run, better organised, a stronger squad, a bigger threat.  And luckier, touch wood, than the side that suffered so badly through injuries that season.  We’ve given everyone a game.  We are much, much stronger.  The next few games give us a platform to prove it.

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Comments»

1. Tony - 03/01/2016

Watched the game live on TV here in Abu Dhabi and was struck by Watford’s self belief and not just being there to make up the numbers. I felt that we still lack that poise and quality in and around the box that Man City demonstrated so ruthlessly in the final ten minutes. Maybe a couple more fresh legs were needed apart from AG… So it is the top seven clubs that have prevailed against us and the omens for survival look really promising. There is so much potential in this team and the current squad that is only likely to be augmented in this January transfer window.
Your insightful reports make me feel as if I am there with you, Matt, keep up the fantastic work and here’s to a successful 2016 for the WD18 fraternity!

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2016

Cheers Tony.

Goldenboy60 - 03/01/2016

No its the top 6 as Manchester City have beaten us twice whilst losing 7 games. Funnily enough MOD said that too, and they are supposed to be experts!!!!!

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2016

Palace are seventh (before Sunday’s game). So teams in the top seven, as it stands, is correct.

Goldenboy60 - 04/01/2016

aaaah but not ALL 7. I think that was the point I was trying to make, but hey ….hairs I guess

2. petebradshaw - 03/01/2016

Well said and the last paragraph is crucial. In the darkness of the night I saw defeats at Southampton and Swansea. Please, no.

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2016

Amen

3. Roger Smith - 03/01/2016

Lots of hopeful balls over the top, but very few crosses, even when our wing backs had the time and space. An early and well delivered cross into the danger area is a greater threat than keeping possession whist their defence gets into position, eg Behrami’s v Liverpool and Man City’s winner yesterday.

4. WD3 - 03/01/2016

It was only a matter of a couple of weeks ago that we described Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and Citeh as “four free hits”, where any outcome other than a complete shellacking would be acceptable. The season starts again away at Southampton, though – straight back on it, and ignore all the new-found media respect.

Maybe shuffle the pack a bit in the F. A. Cup?

5. Big Al - 03/01/2016

It may be customary caution, but I much prefer saying that only teams in the top 7 have beaten us, rather than the alternative I have heard that only teams above us have. Think Villa can also lay claim to the latter.

6. Paul Caruso - 03/01/2016

Excellent stuff as ever, I look forward to the reports as much as the matches. As an aside could anyone on this forum enlighten me as to which home game at The Vic in 1986 GT was on the front cover of the programme in the white away Solvite top holding two babies? Also having just enjoyed ‘That Damned United’ how did GT fare in our meetings with Ol’ Big ‘Ed? Ta very muchly with any help on the end of year quiz!

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2016

Oxford United (H), first game of the 1986/87 season.

Vs Cloughie, GT’s first meeting was as Watford manager in the League Cup semi-final over two legs; we lost 3-1 on aggregate. Eighteen months later, when Forest were European champions, we beat them 4-1 in the same competition.

Overall I make it:

Watford (78-87) P14 W3 D5 L6 F21 A30
Villa (87-90) P4 W1 D2 L1 F4 A7

Overall P18 W4 D7 L7 F25 A37

7. Paul Caruso - 04/01/2016

A compendium – thanks very much!


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