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Watford 1 Newcastle United 0 (09/01/2016) 10/01/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- We could win the FA Cup this year. Ha. How ridiculous is that?

Could isn’t the same as “will”. Plenty of teams could, and plenty of them have a better chance than us. Probably. But someone will, and for the first time in any number of years, Watford winning the FA Cup feels like more than a purely theoretical possibility.

This is all taking rather some getting used to. Even a year ago, the notion that we could rest four key players against a top flight side, even a struggling top flight side, not play terribly well and still muddle through would have been ludicrous. Hell, we hadn’t beaten a top flight club in the FA Cup under any circumstances since Anthony McNamee’s incongruous goal at the Boleyn Ground in 2007 (and incidentally, you have to go back to Highbury twenty years earlier for such a win by more than a single-goal margin).

And the fact that this was so very low key in the relentless rain on a heavy pitch, and so very far from being convincing, doesn’t dismiss that possibility. Rare is the cup run that doesn’t involve muddling through a poor performance somewhere along the way. In 1987 we were pretty rubbish against Maidstone United before we got as far as Highbury. The third round win at Macclesfield in 2003 did not scream, “we’re heading for the semi-finals”. Only the Indian Sign we held over Ipswich for so long got us through the fifth round in 2007. Italy won the World Cup in 1982 without winning a first round game.

We could have done without using up that duff performance as early as the third round, admittedly… the FA Cup equivalent of using your Chance in Yahtzee on the first roll. We’re going to need to do better than this…

2- Those four restings of legs saw Guédioura, Prödl, Oularé and Berghuis in for Capoue, Britos, Ighalo and Abdi respectively, the latter four all on the bench in-case-of, while José Holebas continued at left back in place of the suspended Nathan Aké. On an individual basis the outcome can only be described as mixed, of which more later, but the impact on the team was marked. We were far more confident, imposing, aggressive and effective in each of our recent Premier League defeats at Vicarage Road, and not through wont of any effort or focus. The impact of the replacement of these key men only served to emphasise the magnitude of the achievement so far this season and building up to it… in terms of recruitment, performance, and the honing of the team into such an effective unit. Take some of those key pieces out and the whole thing doesn’t work nearly so well.

Perspective is everything, of course. Viewed dispassionately without context Newcastle would feel positive about their performance, if disappointed at the outcome and manner of it. They were the better side in the central third of the pitch more or less throughout the contest, and as the first half progressed they eked out more and more chances, Heurelho Gomes called into sprightly action more than once. In context of course, we’re still mentally punching above our weight whilst Newcastle have months, years, of lack of welly to look back on glumly. Nor was their play devoid of evidence of that backdrop… their defending panicky, not that we exploited it sufficiently, their final ball anxious. Nonetheless, they had gained the upper hand before the game’s decisive moment, Wijnaldum being closed down in midfield and playing a perfect through ball for Troy Deeney, who sleepwalked effortlessly past Elliot with the help of a dummy. The cliché “shooting yourself in the foot” was made for such instances. A gift for us, not just of a lead but of control of the game which was never uncomfortable thereafter.

3- Meanwhile, as suggested, our fringe players were experiencing mixed fortunes. Debutant Oularé, juggling with the conflicting expectations of a big transfer fee, a tender age and zero first team action up to this point, looked every inch the work in progress that Flores has alluded to. He looks an absolute beast physically, but his strength didn’t appear to match his physique… I was reminded of GT’s comment in respect of a young Peter Crouch, that really tall kids sometimes need a few years for their strength to catch up with their height. He looked leggy, got the ball stuck between his feet and failed to bully his opponents as we’d hoped and half-expected… but at the same time displayed awareness of what was going on around him with decent lay offs and flicks, and on one occasion when he found the space on the right to open up his legs Newcastle were suddenly backpedalling and not quite sure what to do. The only question really is whether a player who had already played in the Champions’ League will be happy with a peripheral role (for now). This concern can more obviously be applied to Steven Berghuis, who offered fewer signs of encouragement and at 24 is hardly the grass-green youngster that Flores’ comments paint him as. The coach asserts that there’s a lot of adapting to do, there’s raw material there and he’ll “get there”; you’re inclined to trust his judgement. The question is whether the perpetually grumpy looking Berghuis shares that patience.

The two more experienced players fared rather better. Daughter 1 is increasingly engaged by the football itself as much as the event (although both daughters spent a good ten minutes giggling at the possibility that the players’ shirt numbers, as their own, reflected their ages rather than squad numbers). Her first observation was that no 17 was doing really well – who’s he? She can be forgiven; a then eight year-old missed his eye-catching highlights of last season, the clubbed goal at Cardiff, the evil pass for Ighalo at Derby, the clouted shot at Forest. Here Guédioura shirked nothing; Flores has since suggested that he needs to calm down a bit, further evidence of the perceived importance of discipline in roles in the team – “the way we want to play”. Flores, too, has been won over as we have by the Algerian’s willingness to give it a go though… we’ll see more of him, one suspects, particularly given the peculiar and decisive-feeling omission of Behrami from the squad.

4- Half time saw Oularé replaced by Anya, facilitating a switch to 4-5-1 with Jurado “in the hole” behind Deeney. The intention, presumably, was to gain some control in midfield but the success of the change was questionable… the flexibility switching formations so in evidence in the promotion season didn’t seem to be there, people looking for options and runners where they didn’t exist. Admittedly the steady dribble of Newcastle creating chances (and ever new and creative ways to fluff them up) was abated, at least temporarily. The subsequent appearances of Abdi and Ighalo increased the quality of the side without increasing our threat, but it’s only on reflection that you realise that an attack with any confidence at all would have asked us far more serious questions. As it was, the result never felt in doubt… Perez was lively for the visitors but Mitrovic and substitute Thauvin were pictures of misery, the former resorting to a leap over a tackle to land inside the area in desparation, and both all but beating the ground in anguish as half-chances came and went.

Throughout all of which Sebastian Prödl, the other newbie, was as bloody-minded and defiant as you could hope of the brick-shithouse of a defender. If Britos and Cathcart have formed an excellent partnership and if the Urguayan is definitively the undroppable member of the trio, then Prödl’s appearances since his losing his place have done nothing but emphasise that we have three very decent centre-back options… indeed, the injured Hoban and Ekstrand might yet add to those options. The Austrian’s head was unfussily on everything that came into the box, while one surgically executed clearance to an awkward cross was significantly more than just “getting in the way”. Ausgezeichnet, that man.

5- Into the pot, then, in the hope that this win proves an unspectacular but necessary footnote to successes to come. As regards our league programme, there was plenty to suggest that the Magpies’ return in a fortnight will more of a challenge. For all of their low ebb, Sissoko, Perez and Mbabu created plenty and United were some conviction in front of goal away from being a very difficult opponent. We’ll have a different side out too, of course, but it might only take a goal going in off Mitrovic’s ample backside in the meantime for United to gain that confidence.

Otherwise, Newcastle were the second opponent to switch to three at the back to counter the (anticipated in this instance) threat of Deeney and Ighalo. Like Sunderland, they lost 1-0 anyway in games which nonetheless didn’t see the most imposing performances of our season. A beleaguered Southampton on Wednesday also switched to three at the back for their cup exit to Palace – with Wanyama again suspended they don’t really have the option of dropping someone back from the midfield (as Spurs did with Eric Dier). How our, presumably, restored first choice selection copes with this will be interesting. Popular wisdom has it that opponents will now be “wise to us”, will counter the perceived threat in the return fixtures. The rumoured pursuit of Andros Townsend becomes ever easier to understand.

Not dull, is it? You Orns….

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Comments»

1. petebradshaw - 10/01/2016

Those moaning about Hornby should talk to those of us over a certain age who remember just how rubbish the equally tall (but more bambi-like) Ross Jenkins was for years before he blossomed…

Matt Rowson - 10/01/2016

Is Hornby a nickname that I don’t “get” or an autocorrect? You did the same elsewhere so I suspect the former…

Mike - 10/01/2016

Obbi Oulare? 00? Trains? Just a guess, a little cryptic and, well, trainspotter-ish for me…

JohnM - 10/01/2016

I assume Hornby ‘DoubleO’. You need to be long-in-the-tooth to remember those electric train sets of fond childhood memory.

Matt Rowson - 10/01/2016

Whoosh. I had a Hornby set, I think. Doesn’t ring any bells tho…

petebradshaw - 10/01/2016
2. Goldenboy60 - 10/01/2016

I like the look of Sissoko who in our team with his athleticism and quality, I feel would shine like a beacon. He is a quality player.

3. Roger Smith - 10/01/2016

“Her first observation was that no 17 was doing really well.”

That’s one very perceptive daughter you have there, Matt. Well as we are doing in the league, there were a few games earlier in the season when the injection of some Guédioura oomph was just what was required.

petebradshaw - 10/01/2016

Yes but AG is not in the same league as Capoue or Watson. Or Abdi or Jurado come to that. But he is keen and a useful back up.

James - 11/01/2016

The first three I’d agree with. The jury’s still out on Jurado though. He may be better going forward than AG perhaps, but defensively he’s hopeless. Very rarely wins anything, leaving his full-back exposed.

4. Roger Smith - 10/01/2016

PS. Watford down from 80-1 for the cup, but could still be a good outside bet at 33-1.

5. morrismac - 10/01/2016

It’s Hornby Dublo, isn’t it?

JohnM - 11/01/2016

Yup. Used to spend my pocket money when I was about 8 buying Hornsby Dublo train set bits from the long vanished Fox’s toyshop in South Oxhey

6. Fingers - 10/01/2016

Good & helpful piece (had to miss the game entirely). One question though, can you shed any light on your “decisive-feeling omission of Behrami” comment?

Matt Rowson - 10/01/2016

Behrami seemed nailed on for a start. He’s not injured, and Flores was tight-lipped about why he’d been left out in the press conference. Excluding him – and having Ibarbo, who seems to be halfway out the door – too much of a statement.

7. HB84 - 10/01/2016

Oh poop!
Having bet on wimbledon many moons ago at 50-1 to win the cup ( they did) – I meant to have a punt on us. …. 80-1 was free money !
Matt – you are indeed right. We should be “up for the cup” – we are one of the top 10 teams so should be one of he favourites !

8. Leavesden 'orn - 10/01/2016

Hi,

The next few games could go some way to guaranteeing our season in this league. With Newcastle, I thought their ’finishing’ was woeful, and showed a lack of confidence and understanding. Another couple of defeats before they return, and against our usual in form duo and the margin may well be greater. As you say, once the regulars came on, normal service was resumed. In Newcastle’s case whilst they may have ‘figured us out’ they still need wins and an even game, till the last quarter, means they have to take chances. Let’s hope we return to form until the end of Jan like prior to the 4 ‘tough’ games. Agree about SB, something amiss there?

Top half finish and a trip to Wembley in one season. Now that would possibly equal 1982/83 season.

Regards,

9. Chris P - 10/01/2016

We are No.1 in the FA Cup (at least we’re ball no. 1 in the 4th round draw) !

Old Git - 11/01/2016

Regarding Leavesden ‘orn’s posting, I still stand by my recent comment that nothing can ever come near the 1982-3 and 1983-4 seasons, for the simple reason of where we started from…mired in Division 4.
And yes, petebradshaw…Ross Jenkins was truly awful before GT arrived. He looked like, and played like a collapsible ironing board and has the unique distinction of being a candidate for both the Greatest Ever Watford side, alongside Blissett, Barnes and Callaghan, and the worst, with Moralee, Senior and the immortal Harry Willis. Ah, what days! I would not swap my aching bones for the youthful and bouncy exuberance of Matt and ig, if the cost were losing those wonderful memories of that unique time.
And yes, of course I remember Hornby Dublo. I had a set. Other kids at my school had Tri-ang sets, that I remember thinking were markedly inferior. Anyway, time for my medication.
PS thank you to everybody who helped pick me up when I fell over after the game.

Matt Rowson - 11/01/2016

youthful exuberance. pffft.

10. Lloyd Arkill - 11/01/2016

Having spent most of this season anxiously watching the clock run down, it was nice to play a team who looked like they wouldn’t score if the game went on all night.

11. Simoninoz - 11/01/2016

Ross Jenkins transition from Galloping Hairpin to superb forward did, in fact, pre-date GT’s arrival. The fans voted him Watford Observer Player of the Season in 1975/6, fully a year before GT replaced Mike Keen.

12. Old Git - 12/01/2016

Thanks Simoninoz, that fact had completely slipped my mind. Ross’s early performances revealed an inability to stand up. I remember one away match at Aldershot when he was badly fouled and a penalty conceded. For a moment it looked as if Ross was having to go off. ‘Great’ shouted one wag, ‘We’ve got a penalty AND Jenkins is injured!’
‘Galloping Hairpin’…love it! I recall ig once describing Dominic Foley as ‘having all of the grace, but none of the skill, of a three-legged tea trolley.’
Bloody hell, we’ve put up with some donkeys in our time! Compiling a worst-ever team would be an interesting exercise.


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