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Watford 0 Leicester City 1 (05/03/2016) 06/03/2016

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. By nature, I’m someone who cries rather easily. Although I’m not ashamed of that, it does mean I need to steel myself against disproportionately strong displays of emotion in some situations. It’s not the done thing to disintegrate into a howling wreck at the funeral of someone you barely knew, for example, nor do your fellow cinema-goers really need to hear you sobbing your little heart out at the end of “Toy Story 3”.

Similarly, nobody wants to be the fan who’s loudly blowing their nose on their scarf during the end-of-season lap of honour, especially if the “honour” involved is of the mid-table-in-the-Championship-could-do-better variety. As far as I can recall, I’ve only openly wept at one football match – that Allan Smart goal, so I was hardly alone – but I’ve been just a kindly word away from full-on waterworks countless times, most commonly at moments of triumph rather than disaster, and often when the triumph involved is so paltry that it’d barely merit a firm handshake or a hefty pat on the back. Swallow hard, look for something in your bag, stare at the pigeons in the Rookery roof, hold it all in. Sniff.

First thing in the morning, all bleary-eyed and semi-conscious with Fred sitting on my lap drinking his wake-up milk, I’ve found that I’m increasingly incapable of showing sensible emotional restraint when faced with whatever breakfast telly might throw at me. I’ve misted over at all manner of things: the maiden journey of the Flying Scotsman, little Harry’s antics, a Davis Cup victory I didn’t care enough about to actually watch at the time, the episode of “Hey Duggee” where the Squirrels got their Teddy Bear badges, and so on, and so forth.

Oh, and the bit where Jamie Vardy scored that goal against Liverpool.

2. Perhaps the defining moment of the season, that. So far, at least. At that second, slumped on the sofa watching the previous night’s “Match of the Day” without having seen the scores, I suddenly realised quite how badly I wanted Leicester to win the league. A goal by Jamie Vardy, who’s essentially the product of a laboratory experiment involving Andy Johnson and a sewer rat, brought me to the verge of tears. Bloody get in.

So vivid is our recent history with Leicester, it’s difficult not to see them as somehow ours, an old flame that’s still smouldering. An ex from a somewhat tetchy affair who’s suddenly shown up as a Best Actress nominee at the Oscars, still wearing an outfit bought in the Top Shop sale. They’re just like us. You can take the team out of the Championship, and all that. If you’ve got any imagination at all, you know how they must feel at this moment, how many sleepless nights there must be. Promotion in ’99 seemed to occupy every waking thought, every last nerve-end, seemed to sharpen every sense. That, and then some.

3. Thing is, we’re meant to be satisfied with meagre crumbs from the top table: the possibility of doing something in the cups, perhaps even qualifying for the Europa League if we push hard enough. If we dream, it’s supposed to be of somehow finishing in the top four, of qualifying for the competition they invented for themselves. That’ll never happen, of course, but it’s something to waft at us like a wad of notes out of a limousine window when we need some encouragement. And that’s it. Know your place.

Know your enemy. We aren’t exactly the grubby, dispossessed under-classes ourselves, quite clearly. But as the money-spinning elite continues to explore ways to close off entry to its little club, nothing could say a louder “f*** you” than Leicester winning the title. Not qualifying for the Champions League; that’s their world, in which money matters far more than trophies, in which a couple of those wafted notes might be caught by the wind and carried into the street to be fought over. No. Big fat bollocks to that.

Win the title. Make proper old-fashioned history, on your own terms. They can never, ever take that away.

4. So at the risk of being condemned as a cry-baby turncoat, there have been games of football I’ve wanted us to win more than this one. If we’re being flippant, we could say the same for the team, for Leicester’s newly-minted set of household names were that little bit hungrier for every ball from first to last. It’s easy to say that the other lot wanted it more, but Leicester play like they’ve considerably more at stake. “Hungrier” as in more aggressive, then…but also “hungrier” as in keener, sharper, more alert. The difference is marginal, but marginal is enough.

Spurs were supposed to be three points ahead by this point, with a better goal difference; Leicester start like condemned men given a reprieve and let loose in the pub at happy hour. We have some excuse: Britos is injured in the warm-up and Ake* takes his place in the centre, something we can’t have done that much preparation for. Our first proper injury crisis of the campaign, I guess, but there’s something throughly willing about Ake* and, to his great credit, he’s very much a fish in water here. Nevertheless, we’re thoroughly exposed early on, Vardy careering away from a lumbering Prodl* with extraordinary ease on a couple of occasions before Ake*’s last-ditch tackle saves us as Gomes’ save leaves a potential tap-in. For a bit, and not for the last time, they’re absolutely all over us.

5. And then, also not for the last time, they retreat into their shell. But let’s be clear about this: there are parts of the contest which are more even than others, but there are none – simply none – which aren’t played almost entirely on Leicester’s terms. It’s their game throughout. They’re not the kind of side to make a grand show of their dominance: possession is conceded willingly, and we spend large periods of time staring at the ball and wondering what we should do with it as if someone’s handed us a lost puppy and some feeding instructions before scarpering round the corner. Unlike the puppy, however, we find it easy enough to give the ball back.

Our opponents are obstinate, organised and extremely adept at picking us off. We haven’t built an especially creative side for this campaign, by choice. It’s an approach which has served us well and which we have no reason to regret, but it can look bloody horrible in these circumstances, as we forlornly search for inspiration against a team confident in its ability to pick us off on the break. It’s not even as if we’re that bad, and it’s certainly not that losing to the league leaders is cause for a finger-pointing inquest. We merely fall short, with a grim inevitability matched by the creeping cold of the early evening.

6. For quite a bit of the game, it’s like watching someone bang two stones together until one of them cracks. There’s a period at the start of the second half when both teams invent a version of Battleships, powering long balls upfield in the hope of hitting something. “Vardy, behind Prodl.” “Miss. Deeney, against Morgan.” “Miss.” None of it suits us, all of it suits Leicester. We fail to take our very few chances – Ake drifting a header onto the roof of the net, Deeney unlucky to find a placed shot deflected straight to Schmeichel – in the way that you always fail to take your chances in these kind of defeats. Leicester waste some too – Vardy prods the best one wide of the near post after picking Prodl’s pocket – but carry a confidence in their ability to create more and finish one that we can only envy.

They’re happy to retreat for long periods, but tellingly, they’re also happy to push on when the time seems right, and the only goal is the culmination of a concerned spell of prodding and probing before Fuchs’ searching cross is only half-cleared by Holebas and Mahrez curls home an unstoppable finish. They briefly threaten to smash our faces into the canvas: Huth heads wide, Gomes claws another header away, Ake clears a ball squared by Vardy across the six yard box with King awaiting an open goal. Their midfield is everywhere, Drinkwater ubiquitous. And then they settle back again and leave us to it.

7. If the game had previously been frustrating, it becomes fairly unbearable from here. We have no answer. None at all. Nordin Amrabat provides some much-needed energy and attacking intent, which, even if it doesn’t amount to an awful lot, is enough to make his the stand-out attacking contribution in a field of one. We need some goals from elsewhere, badly.

Our set pieces are terrible, almost without exception. Ighalo finishes an unhappy week by heading the only chance of note straight at Schmeichel from six yards; he barely touches the ball otherwise. Abdi and Anya replace more defensive-minded starters, to little effect. We’re reduced to lumping the ball into a crowded box by the end, our lack of conviction betrayed by a strangely lethargic pace; it feels as if any urgency is more likely to bring about a second Leicester goal on the break than an equaliser. We know how it ends. Leicester stifle our screams with a pillow.

8. Far from a disaster, but you can sense the growing impatience with this style of football. We’re hard to beat and we’re really very resilient; neither of those things seems to mean very much if you end up losing anyway, with ‘nil’ to your name yet again. You can see the temptation to aim for something more expansive and luxurious next season. You can see the dangers in that too, the perils of raised expectations for the difficult second season. You don’t have to look hard for examples of that going spectacularly pear-shaped.

And you don’t have to look hard for an example of how far an essentially conservative approach can take you, if everything slots into place. Leicester’s own difficult second season seems to be going quite well, all things considered. Same basic template – hard to beat, extremely resilient – except with a well-oiled counter-attacking operation welded on top; they look like quite a side here, powerful and lean and intelligent. We’d do well not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Conventional wisdom has it that Leicester, built for defending and breaking as they are, are likely to struggle in a run of fixtures that’ll see them up against teams unwilling to come out to play. Me, I’m not so sure. They might not find it easy, but there’s something unbelievably determined about this side. Something that was forged in the fires of a relegation battle, of six-pointers with entire careers at stake. Something tough and streetwise. Something of the grubby, dispossessed under-classes.

9. Come on, Leicester. Come on, Leicester.

10. (We’ll just settle for winning the FA Cup, shall we?)

* Look, it’s half seven on Sunday night and I’d like to have my tea. I’m not doing the accents. Fill them in yourselves.

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Comments»

1. NickB - 06/03/2016

That game didn’t deserve such a dazzling epitaph – wonderful stuff.
Very impressed by Leicester, too.

2. Roger Smith - 06/03/2016

The fundamental difference between the teams was that, when Leicester had the ball they attacked; when we had the ball we passed it around until their defence was in place, and then wondered why we couldn’t break it down.

Ian Grant - 07/03/2016

Yes, that’s true…but we shouldn’t be too down about it. Leicester have really taken that kind of football to a different level this season: they’re as compact and frustrating as a prime Mourinho side when they haven’t got the ball, but with so much direct intent when they win it back that it almost takes your breath away. We’re in a better position to try and emulate that than most.

3. Luke B - 06/03/2016

Great write up. Hey Duggee reference, superb, it is great episode! (Says my 1 year old son ;))

Ian Grant - 07/03/2016

Hey Duggee is awesome. We only record them for Fred’s benefit, obviously.

4. Nige from Oz - 06/03/2016

First game back at the vic in nearly 3 years and alas thought we were very poor. Leicester played as a team, they played quick one twos, knew where to move to receive the pass, moved the ball quickly and looked dangerous.
After a relatively even first half, in the second half we played like a team of strangers, with no energy, no drive. I was surprised how poor our passing was, the lack of movement and options. Tactic seemed to be to stretch the play but then we refused to cross the ball, attack the byline or even run at the defence. we were outfought, pushed off the ball far too easily and made Danny drinkwater look like an England international. At the same time I thought their midfield maestro Kante was exceptional, won everything, was quick into the tackle and strong too.
Like you Ig, I wasn’t too disappointed overall as the better team won and it’s another 3 points towards the title for them. And credit to their fans, sang all the way through, although learning a few new songs would be beneficial.
Was great to be back at the vic, sitting in the new stand ( thanks Dave M), loved all the flags and the huge banner, just disappointed with the quality of our play. However last game I saw was a dire game at home to Doncaster so I shouldn’t complain really as so much has changed for the better since then. Onwards and upwards.

5. Will W - 06/03/2016

Great report Ian. Living a distance from Watford, I’ve been a keen reader of yours and Matt’s reports since the mid nineties.

Am I the only one who wishes we had kept hold of Forestieri? While I admire what has been achieved this season, letting go a player who would have given us another creative option struck me at the time as an odd decision. And after games like this, even more odd now.

I’m with you in cheering Leicester on too.

6. qm - 06/03/2016

Yes. Good commentary as always. Thank you.

7. Leavesden 'orn - 06/03/2016

Hi,

Our last few performances have started to remind me of games and periods in the last two sad campaigns.

Keep it tight, hard to break down, not taking chances. strikers struggling against tight defences, and undone by single quality strikes.

The difference this time is higher quality players and depth of squad, but thank goodness for the early season performances and the point’s buffer.

Leicester were a revelation and fully worthy of the top position. If we were in Norwich’s position, then the margin could have been greater, as we would had to have chased the game and had to have taken more chances. I felt Leicester were always in control, and even more so, once in front. Control the game, irritate the opposition and keep them at arm’s length.

Where do we go from here? It would be so sad to continue this second half of the season and slide as per Palace, and then do a Swansea, who, so recently were our role models. I’d fancy Bournemouth to finish the season with a flourish and finish above us based upon current form.

Which is us? Giving Liverpool a thumping, or putting in a poor show against Swansea? I hope the former, as limping over the line would be a sad end to this so far thoroughly enjoyable campaign.

Regards,

8. esphornet - 07/03/2016

Another fine report ig and yes Come On Leicester!! I agree there are many other matches I would like to win more.
Now where can I put my laptop so it’s handy at 10pm on Tuesday…..

9. Graham W - 07/03/2016

Thunk 1 Me too – apart from the Fred bit. And breakfast telly is long gone by the time I do breakfast.
Thunk 2 Yes
Thunk 3 & 9 Oh yes.

10. Old Git - 07/03/2016

No need to fear being thought of as a turncoat, ig. I found myself hoping that we wouldn’t equalize as I think it is important, for the bigger picture, that Leicester do win the title because it will demonstrate to everyone else that yes, it CAN be done, that the title is not the exclusive property of the big Brand Name Clubs, whose mission is not to win titles through sporting endeavor, but simply to buy them.
I was disappointed that none of those clubs informed that rich American oaf to piss off, we will not meet with you, this is not how football operates here.
So let’s hope Leicester become Champions and that both Man U and Chelsea fail to qualify for the Champignons League.

11. Andy T - 07/03/2016

Vardy = Andy Johnson x sewer rat. lol. Nice one.

12. Goldenboy60 - 07/03/2016

I think that there is too much negativity in the report and responses this time. I think we have forgotten a) that we would have taken this at the start of the season b) the season is not over yet, and we have lost 9 of the 12 games against the top 5 (6) whilst Man U are below West Ham. Thats only 3 losses to the rest of the league c) we would have had more points than this if we had put our chances away in Manchester d) and their in lies the problem. Can our front 2 get going again, and can our midfield come up with a few?

For me the game was fascinating. A tactical, physical and technical challenge to a team that look every way the best team in the league. Their consistency proves it, and I REALLY DO WANT THEM TO WIN IT. The Premier League needs some freshness. I like to think that Leicester and Watford have supplied that this season. We are only 4 points away from being in the top 8 and have a decent run in to the end of the season, and possibly a further cup run to come.

Cheer up people. The players didn’t play badly, but Leicester were very good and there wasn’t too much difference between us and them in both games this season.

Lets all go again and NOT get down. We would have accepted this in August….

13. Olly - 07/03/2016

Your report is receiving lots of plaudits on the Leicester fans website. The general consensus is that you understand and define Leicester in a far more amusing and accurate manner than any press or pundit has done all season! the Sunday Times should sign you up as their Features Editor.

14. Goldenboy60 - 08/03/2016

We are solid, organised and never look like getting a real beating. Teams are finding it tough to play against us and it took just a poor clearance for them to beat us. Of course we are not scoring and obviously that’s where we are falling short at this moment in time. I don’t believe Leicester were too much better than us. Vardy hardly had a kick.

And we are never out of games and should have won comfortably at Old Trafford. We have dried up and Ighalo cannot hit a barn door at the moment. Goalscoring is a confidence and coolness under pressure and how many times have we seen this. I have always thought that Ighalo has his weaknesses, and with Deeney playing not quite so far forward, that has contributed to him losing his scoring mantra. But he has frustrated me too over the season. Yes you expect top strikers to be a little selfish, but Messi passes it when it is right to do so. That is the massive difference in quality and decision making.

But the midfield should be contributing a lot more. Abdi has missed some he would or should have scored, and Capoue although playing well never looks a goal threat. Amrabat has shown some promise but again doesn’t look at the moment at least, a goalscorer.

Patience is the word for me, and with what looks a fair run in now I think we will get to just below 50 points. We would have settled for that at the beginning of the season surely. Then I think there will be an overhaul in the summer.

So, like so many of you I hope Leicester go on and win it, if only to make a statement regarding the monopoly the top clubs have had for so long. With the money coming in next season to all Premier League clubs life in the top Division could take a very different path. We shall see…


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