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Watford 1 Stoke City 2 (19/03/2016) 20/03/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Everyone’s got little jobs that need doing. Things that are kind of ignorable, for now, but need sorting at some point. When they’re got round to. I have bloody loads of them, from not-quite-tidied up DIY jobs to trips to the recycling centre to things that need sorting through. And the longer they hang around the more annoying, the more of a big deal they become. That crack that needs polyfilling sneers at you every time you pass it after a while, as if it knows that your vague intentions are little more than empty threats. Before too long it’s sniggering about you with its mates. Then it just doesn’t bother to acknowledge you at all. The bastard.

We really could do with getting those three points. Sooner, rather than later. This conversation is had around our lunch table, and again with passing friends outside.  And again, several times over, by a significant proportion of the home support in the lead up to the game one suspects.  37 points is probably OK.  37 points with 9 games to go, including Villa at home, bound to be OK.  Bound to.  No worries.  Be nice to put the conversation to bed, though.  Then we get the team news and purr.  Look at the strength of that team.  Look at that midfield.  Behrami, Capoue, Jurado, Suárez.  The midfield looks wonderful.

2- The midfield is bloody awful.

Actually it doesn’t start too badly.  The match fizzes from the off, both sides keen to seize the initiative.  Our visitors look comfortable in possession but nervous and tentative at the back;  Troy is winning everything in the air, Jurado is buzzing around on the left flank.  Iggy bursts through on the right and gets a little nudge from Wollscheid as he latches onto a ball… just enough to affect his balance without risking a penalty.  It’s not quite there but we’re not far away.  And then Jonathan Walters scores, and any semblance of an even scrap disappears.

It’s worth emphasising from the off that we’re not the sole architects of our own downfall.  Stoke are excellent… tough and streetwise but clever and deft too.  Walters’ goal is comfortably the move of the game to that point – even if there’s rather too much standing off going on – and thereafter the visitors settle down and the much lauded Imbula begins to boss the midfield in which the names we’d cooed over fail to click at all.  Capoue’s name rings from the stands, but the performances that earned that adulation are fewer and further between;  this wasn’t one of them.  Suárez still looks sluggish, and with Jurado and Britos also looking rusty after spells out we’re simply off the pace.  Most visibly Ben Watson isn’t there at the back of the midfield, ferrying everything along and tidying up things that go wrong and neither Behrami nor Suárez seem to be delegated to do his job.  We look flimsy, and City nearly capitalise again before half time – Arnautovic may be offside (replays suggest not), but we couldn’t have complained in any case.

3- It’s tempting to look at this – and Palace and Everton’s results – and draw a straight line with a big fat marker back to last weekend.  Whether or not the energies spent and the focus devoted to beating Arsenal are impacting our performance today is open to debate – although the flatness of the display and indiscipline of the defending are certainly in stark contrast with Sunday’s heroics.  More clear-cut still, however, is the contrast in the attitude of the support – not so much of those in the stadium, although there’s a predictable enough lack of tolerance of the dreadful first half suggesting that the credit earned from one of the landmark victories and performances of recent years doesn’t even last a week – but of those who weren’t.

20,700 odd, officially.  Unofficially, bunkum… this official number includes all STs and therefore is a reflection of tickets sold rather than seats occupied.  Having admittedly missed the Southampton and West Brom games which would have been vulnerable to summer holidays (including my own), this was the first time this League season that pockets of empty seats were visible in all home areas of the ground. It’s very difficult not to think back to GT’s reflections on his decision to leave in 1987, that the Hertfordshire support had dropped to an average of only around 15000 after a few years in the top flight.  Yes yes, only one game, no our recent home record hasn’t been great… but really?  I’d like to know what the actual crowd was.

4- Any suggestion that Stoke’s fading reputation as ultra-pragmatic cloggers was a justification for the (seemingly) low turnout was dispelled by the second goal. It looks shabby from our point of view… but only, really, because Walters and Joselu both responded astonishingly well to what was no better than a glimpse of a chance from the outset.  Yes, perhaps our defenders could have been quicker to respond to Walters’ return ball over the top, no Gomes didn’t help himself by neither backtracking nor charging out to close Joselu’s angle… but it was the merciless execution that made it look awful, Gomes’ weak kick was very far from the worst defensive crime of the afternoon.

After which the game changed somewhat.  Stoke still threatened more than we did, but gradually sat back in recognition that we really hadn’t been hurting them very much.  Arnautovic and Afellay being withdrawn was a bit of a statement, it was difficult to argue with the logic.  Jack Butland began to slow the game down, referee Pawson spending much of the half with his hand in the air waving play on without actually doing anything to follow up on his empty threats or even actually looking at who he was gesturing at…  you wanted to summon the spirit of John Eustace to start badgering in his ear about the number of times Stoke were leaving a boot in, the length of time Butland was taking on drop kicks.  Pawson, who was also officiating at what remains our worst show of the season at St Mary’s, didn’t leave the centre circle if he could help it and Troy was perhaps a little far away to do that job.

Bright sparks appeared in the form of Amrabat and Guedioura, which gave us a much more offensive looking 4-4-2 than the flatter shape we’d had previously.  Most of it was ineffectual, but at least we had a knife, something to threaten with if only theoretically.  Stoke stepping onto the back foot helped… but when third sub Anya combined with the other two replacements, beat Bardsley in the area and dinked a cross for Deeney to thump home the visitors suddenly looked very fragile again.  The crowd suddenly rallied, the team were on the front foot and if we didn’t really come terribly clear to burgling a point from the visitors you were rather left wondering why it took so long to capitalise on what looked a very get-attable central defence.

5- So what, then.  The next few games will tell, I think.  It’s easy to look at the selection and read it is a strategic one – not with a view to sacrificing this fixture, but more a recognition that certain things needed to happen to maximise our chances of success in the rest of the season.  In other words, with a two week break to come, the introduction of Suárez, Jurado and Britos was more about getting minutes into legs than giving the likes of Watson and Prödl a rest.  But to end where we began, that awkward almost-thereness of 37 points will jeopardise our enjoyment of the rest of the season for as long as it fails to tick up to 40.  The mood of the whole place changes when we get that win, and we’ll look forward to games as opportunities to bloody more noses… rather than looking at three games left at home and thinking Everton – capable of being excellent, Sunderland – could be playing for their lives and Villa – yes yes, but less than a week after the semi-final?  Based on this performance?

I’m polyfillaing that crack this afternoon…

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Comments»

1. JohnF - 20/03/2016

Good analysis Matt. I was disappointed by our lack of performance in the first half but booing? This team has earned a lot more tolerance and respect than that. There was a constant commentary from a guy near us saying each player in turn was rubbish. I wonder whether he is another new season ticket holder who has only watched the premier league on television and doesn’t understand we are not Barcelona (yes I know they aren’t in the prem). Having said that, there were some real problems. The first goal came from a misunderstanding between Capoue and Suarez, not the only one, and until the changes, the midfield didn’t really look as though they knew their roles and responsibilities. Frustration crept in and made things worse.

I agree the referee was rather lazy, yes the disallowed goal probably wasn’t offside and I would like to have another look at the challenge on Amrabat near the end but fundamentally it was a got out of bed on the wrong side day. A week without a game is good and I’d take three draws to get to 40 points. We don’t want to see the league season fizzle out with a nervous last few games. It has been an amazing season so far, better than we have ever done in the premier league and another FA Cup semi. How many clubs would give their eye teeth for that?

2. Adam Segal - 20/03/2016

All very nervous stuff Matt. I was crying into my beer after yesterdays result, I was so sure we were going to get something out of this game. Clearly we missed Watson’s influence but I’m beginning to think we are a little bit one dimensional sometimes. Igahlo’s threat seems to have wained in the second half of the season. Our form is that of Aston Villa’s for heavens sake! Had we not had such an amazing (mini) season from August through December we’d be bottom or the league or there abouts right now. It is also of note that the January signings haven’t really added that much; whether it’s because Suarez and Amrobat need more bedding in time coming from Italy and Spain, I don’t know but they haven’t really changed the dynamic of the team.
Do I think we’ll survive? Probably. It would be a capitulation worst than Blackpool’s disaster if we don’t, and if that happens when then we don’t deserve to remain in this league. We aren’t going to make it easy though. Arsenal I fear will exert some revenge for the cup defeat two weeks ago and Everton at home the following week won’t be much better. So you are looking at games against West Brom , West Ham, Villa , Liverpool, Norwich and Sunderland. I see us taking 4-6 points at best. It will be enough, but don’t be surprised if our safety is not secured until Match 37 or even38. Something will need to change next yer because it won’t get any easier! It’s still been an amazing season, it’s just a pity it’s tailed off (other than the F.A Cup) so dramatically in terms of lack of goals and points.

Hang on to you hats everyone!’

Adam
Florida ‘orns

3. SteveG - 20/03/2016

Always risky posting a comment when you weren’t at the game, but one of your key points, Matt, goes beyond any single 90 minutes of football. In Watson, Behrami, Capoue, Suarez, Jurado and Abdi we have a strength in depth in midfield that we could only have dreamed of a few years ago. And yet… there remains no obvious, nailed-on, first choice combination and none of them have ever looked remotely comfortable or effective when asked to play in a wide role. We don’t have the same choice with wide players and they haven’t made a really strong case for inclusion either (although Amrabat looks a promising signing and Guedioura’s stunning goal last week clearly strengthens his case).

Creativity remains in short supply, which is OK when Ighalo is on top form and converting the few chances into goals with dependable regularity and can look a bit desperate if we’re on the end of another 1-0 defeat and not looking as though we are going to trouble the opposing keeper.

None of which should take away from the ‘big picture’ which remains hugely positive overall – we do have a realistic chance of winning the cup, after all. But there is still this nagging feeling that we are not quite the sum of the parts at the moment (unlike, say, Leciester, for whom the reverse is emphatically true) – if we can sort this, next season could look fantastic, but if this season peters out with negative momentum (is that a thing?) we might find it difficult to pick up again in August.

And I still don’t understand why he hasn’t tried Ake and Holebas together on the left even once to see how it works. Still seems worth a punt at some point.

Roger Smith - 21/03/2016

Certainly when the threat is down the flanks (Zaha?), Ake and Holebas, and Nyom and Anya would certainly be worth trying.

4. Goldenboy60 - 20/03/2016

As i sit in the upper GT stand it is difficult to see how many seats are available to the side and behind me, and cannot see below in the lower part either. But Matt I absolutely take your word for it.

What I do see is that seats in the EJ stand showing their colours like it is a game against Rotherham in the Championship. And they poor out of the ground before extra time is played out. I don’t know what people want some times.

Success breeds higher expectation levels no matter what club it is. Going to Old Trafford and Arsenal means that you see many different nationalities in very high numbers. People chasing or wanting to be part of a gravy train. I wonder how many seats at these grounds would be empty if that were not the case?

As for the game, i had one of those feelings that the Stoke game would be very difficult for so many reasons, none more so than them wanting retribution after our win in October. This is the next stage of the test for our club. In the stands, on the pitch, and less so with the owners, who have been magnificent.

I just wish that the Watford public would wake up to the overall long term planning going on at our club, rather than suggesting that, oh its only Stoke today I will give it a miss. Its very sad.

As far as our permanence is concerned. That was definitely a hangover and where have we seen that before? If the players want to remain at the top level, they have to give better performances more consistently in the future. I noticed Hull stayed up 2 years ago with 37 points and a cup final looming, but only just. In this league it is quite easy to lose all your games, but I hope they realise that a similar fate needs to be avoided this year, and next year. We don’t want another repeat of the Hull scenario next season.

I felt

5. Roger Smith - 20/03/2016

It wasn’t just the shape that Amrabat and Guedioura changed, it was also the intent. As soon as they got the ball they either headed for goal or played the ball forward, which had a double effect. It stopped the Stoke full backs from being so gung-ho, and also denied their defence time to organise itself. Thus Anya’s cross found an unmarked Deeney on the 6-yard line.

As for 37 points, the MotD comment was that, if Swansea beat the Villa, which they did, they would be safe on 36 points. Currently, teams in the bottom three have four points fewer than games played, and the longer that goes on, the fewer games they will have to make up the deficit.

Matt Rowson - 20/03/2016

True enough. I would still say only “probably” safe, tho, even after today (Sunday)’s draw. To go down would require us to lose all/most of our games. That gives Norwich and Sunderland an extra three points for starters. Norwich then have six points and Sunderland eight to make up in six/seven further games respectively. Unlikely, but not impossible.

6. Keith Endean - 20/03/2016

Thunk 3 very dissapointed to read about empty seats. I for one was unable to get a season ticket due to not having a valid buying history through the club, despite a drawer full of tickets from buying on the gate, friends buying tickets for me etc. My work collegues had also agreed swaps to get to matches.

7. Harefield Hornet - 20/03/2016

Nothing to add to a good summary of yesterday’s debacle. On the empty seats – ironically when everyone is screaming for lower ticket prices we great value season ticket prices that have been frozen for a couple of years now. Therein lies the cause, there are plenty of people around who can afford a season ticket and only use it when the top 6 are in town, hence the gaps around the stands. A lot are in the family part of the Vic Road stand where prices are virtually peanuts compared to other clubs. Perhaps its time to find a way of making people actually use them!

8. Nick UGT131 - 20/03/2016

your point three on empty seats is interesting Matt. I was expecting to see the spaces appear next season if we stay up & expectation goes up a further notch. To see them in year 1 suggests Watford is no more a football hot-bed now than it was in the mid-80s.
Sitting in the UGT most of the empty seats I saw yesterday were in the SEJ, certainly not in the Rookery. I have no view of LGT or the Family Stand at VR end so was it obvious there too?
What to do about it… The clubs resale option for STHs not attending doesn’t seem to be working – either club not being informed or no market for these? Is there scope for denying cheapest renewal rights based on less than say 70% attendance by season ticket holders?
Surely it’s not possible the urban myth that fans of Premier League teams buy season tickets at the likes of WFC to guarantee a seat for their teams visit is both true & becoming more widespread?

Matt Rowson - 20/03/2016

There were a good number of empty seats near us in the Rookery, and in the LGT.

Nick B - 21/03/2016

Pretty full on the GT side of the Rookery.
Whilst Suarez was poor, he’s not there to inspire – Jurado is, and was dreadful.

9. Simoninoz - 21/03/2016

I watched it on TV for obvious geographical reasons. I swear I heard booing at the end of the first half. Say it ain’t so, Joe! Despite a lacklustre performance if any ‘supporters’ did boo then I would doubt their intelligence and also their grasp on history, context and reality.

10. lukefairweather - 21/03/2016

Empty seats? I spent an hour on Saturday morning coordinating various families who never get the chance to go and 6 tickets all spare on the day; spare due to other commitments NOT disinterest. Anyway, two five year olds saw their first game on Saturday (poor things) and a couple of OAPs went for the first time in years and my second son saw his first game too. All good and no money changed hands. But, none of the STH’s with spare tickets knew anything about a club resale scheme.

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2016

Agree that the resale scheme – assuming it still happens – is very low key at the moment.

Everyone has “other commitments”, there’s no compulsion to attend in any case. On an individual level, understandable. At a top view empty seats level, funny that lots of folks have commitments when Stoke visit in mid-March.

lukefairweather - 21/03/2016

True, but 5 people got to a game for the first time ever, or for the first time in ages. Perhaps it was Stokeapathy or summat, but I found no shortage of takers for tickets at short notice, so how hard is this to do? I gave the money to the Peace Hospice, but will consider taking a commission next time 🙂

Wimborne Hornet - 21/03/2016

If you email the ticket office (ticketoffice@watfordfc.com) the seats are resold and the money goes to the Peace Hospice at the end of the season.

Simon - 21/03/2016

Whilst some of the empty spaces will no doubt be due to the profile of the opposition, it’s probably also relevant that this was our 4th Saturday home game in 5 weeks with the Arsenal game thrown in for good measure. I also suspect that the tickets put up for re-sale are much less likely to have been sold for this one as the “ordinary” seats were on general sale until quite late on suggesting that most (if not all) people that wanted a ticket got one.

As for the game, I thought we suffered during the first hour from a lack of players being prepared to take a chance and receive the ball in positions to hurt the opposition. That, to an extent, is the flip side of the defensive organization that has served us so well. An example is the number of occasions that Capoue played a ten yard pass to Ake and then immediately dropped round to cover the space Ake had left. That shows incredible discipline and means we’ll never concede many but does contribute to much of our attacking play involving a longish pass to Deeney and allowing him and Ighalo to conjure what they can. When we made the changes after an hour, Amrabat and Guedioura both made errors in possession and showed less discipline but did allow us to get men around the two forwards.

Moving that balance of play slightly further forward while losing as little as possible of the defensive solidity is all part of the transition required for a lengthy stay in the division(and anything more). I’m sure that with a more settled squad and increased quality (at least in theory) likely to arrive in the summer, we’ll see a more balanced and varied approach next season (assuming we stay up etc… etc…).

In the mean time, the sooner we can get another three points and release some of the tension the better. Everything on Saturday felt a bit jittery from both the players and the crowd. Hopefully, relative assurance of safety will allow us and them to enjoy the run-in a lot more and may well lead to some more dynamic performances.

11. Wimborne Hornet - 21/03/2016

I agree we’re safe, and probably there was a hangover from last week but we’re demonstrating relegation form in the league at the moment. Thank heavens we’re on 37 points and not Palace’s 33 or I would be very concerned.

The games to the end of the season are now about planning for the next campaign. Its a bit like a band releasing its second album – it has to be as good or better than the first. We need to develop a plan B, now that Ighalo has been worked out by opposing defenders. He’s obviously been coached to look up and pass; something he has probably never done, meaning his touch is awful. QSF needs to show his skill for this phase of the campaign as those players who have clearly been brought in by him (Jurado and Suarez) are really not contributing to the results. Jurado, for all his guile and skill doesn’t look a goal scorer to me, Suarez looked lost on Saturday.

Of course, if you had offered me 37 points and a cup Semi against CPal I would have bitten your arm off, but expectations are now slightly higher. If we are going to stay in this league for the long haul the remaining games are crucial to get it right for next season. Let’s get to mid table, above Bournemouth, with good momentum into May and be ready to kick-on in August.

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2016

Agree with most of this, but don’t think we’re safe yet. “Probably” safe, which is almost the same thing at this stage but becomes less and less close to the same thing as time passes.

12. Sequel - 21/03/2016

The booing at the end of each half was, I think, largely aimed at the officials, certainly from me!
Stoke: 13 fouls, 1 booking
Watford: 8 fouls, 3 bookings
Inconsistent performance by officials and players alike.

Matt Rowson - 21/03/2016

Yes, very much aimed at the officials I thought

13. Steve T - 21/03/2016

Ironically the late Newcastle goal in the Tyne-Wear derby could be the thing that eases any real relegation pressure – if we can’t get 3 points against Norwich, Villa or Sunderland, we don’t deserve to stay up.

Actually think we will be 5 points clear at the end, but the key is the momentum at the end of the season, look how Leicester and Villa moved on (and down) from their performances in the 2nd half of last season…

great report, Matt, thanks

14. Simoninoz - 22/03/2016

The booing was not aimed at the team then. That’s a relief. It also means I shouldn’t base things on the distorted impression one gets from the TV. Cheers.

15. James - 23/03/2016

Interesting, if disappointing game. I think playing three defensive midfielders put an awful lot off pressure on Jurado as the primary creative outlet, in his first game back after injury. Also, the opposition/referee combination didn’t help him. With a picky ref Jurado could be lethal against Stoke but if they’re allowed to kick lumps out of him and his ‘going-to-ground’ gets no sympathy, then he’s a liability.

On a positive note, we seem to have stumbled on our most effective attacking line-up. With Capoue and Suarez in the middle and Guedioura and Amrabat forward either side. Not necessarily the line-up we’d start with, but definitely a good one to switch to.

Related to that, we really need to keep Capoue in the centre. I know he isn’t the most consistent of players, but when he’s playing well he’s the best player in the team, so we need to do everything we can to get him playing well. It’s notable that our run of poor form has coincided with him shifting to the wing.

I don’t think gaps in the stands are that surprising. Our core support does not fill this ground now that the EJ stand is open, so it’s to be expected that the casual support will drop off when things aren’t going so well or the opposition is less attractive.

16. Old Git - 25/03/2016

Just seen the Anya goal for Scotland last night on the telly. Brought to mind the BHappy report earlier in the season of ‘Anya on his little motorbike’. Brilliant description! Was that one of yours, ig?

Ian Grant - 07/04/2016

Yes, it was. I’m rather proud of that one, I must admit.


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