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Crystal Palace 2 Watford 1 (24/04/2016) 25/04/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Sometimes these reports are enjoyable to write. Winning helps, of course, but it’s not a perfect correlation… there are interesting defeats too, defeats that don’t quite feel like being slapped in the face. This isn’t one of those times. This is the sort of occasion when you kinda suspect that everyone wants to forget it as much as you do. You have to force yourself to put fingers to keyboard. Because if you’re going to reflect on the reality of supporting the club… well this is part of it. It would be a shallow soul who chose to report only on the good bits, discarding the difficult bits that make the good all the more satisfying.

Lewy had set the tone earlier in the week. In the email discussion that had organised tickets and pubs he’d referred to “Sunday’s inevitable heartbreak”, which irritated me. It irritated me because I felt it too… something intangible, a wrongness. I countered with bloody-minded defiance. I’m normally circumspect with predictions but no, this time We Were Going To Win. It had to be so. But then things like Man United beating Everton, a possibility for Palace to avenge 1990 rather than us to avenge 1984, kept chipping away…

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2- Equally cheerfully, the Hornets on the adjacent table on the train down from Bedford to West Hampstead had nailed it…  a very nice day out (was to be) spoiled by a game of football.  Our 2013 experiences had honed our planning, a big meeting of friends and family in jocular mood.  Pubs and trains full of grins, ambles down Wembley Way featuring team photos and chance meetings.  And inside the ground… colour and balloons and confetti and bouncing and noise.  Daughter 1 diligently scampered around the gangway below our seats retrieving the balloons that were sucked bafflingly and unerringly into it, dispatching them into the crowd and watching their passage with approval.  It was a good day.

Then the football started.  Watford began slowly, lethargically.  Palace started as if it was a Cup semi-final.  Aggressively, energetically.  Only five minutes in, yet it was no great surprise when they scored… and it was pathetic.  Or rather, it was the sort of simple, unimaginative goal that a team scores to nose ahead of a complacent opposition.  It was as much as it needed to be… a near post flick-on, a far post header.  Hardly requiring of much imagination or skill.  Just competence and focus on their part, and a lack of the same on ours.  And suddenly, we were back in 2013 again.  Grim.  Silent.  There were straws to grasp at…  Nyom got down the right and put in a cross that was deflected narrowly wide.  Capoue powered through the midfield leaving bodies trailing in his wake… and then later bust his knee.  “That looks awful,” said Will.  Capoue defied him by getting to his feet and trying to play on, before collapsing again.  “That looks awful,”, said Will.

3- Suárez was the selection from the bench.  He did OK for me, without pulling up any trees, but the lack of consensus – and volume of shrugging – amongst our group in discussing potential replacements as Capoue writhed on the Wembley turf spoke volumes about the state of our midfield.  Comprehensively less than the sum of its parts for some time it is shapeless and without clear roles or responsibilities – with the exception of Ben Watson, overrun on this occasion.  Almen Abdi has put the effort in to “adapt” where Matej Vydra didn’t; his reward has been to fade into an inadequate wide role whilst the players signed to do what used to be his job flail ineffectively in turn.  Part of me thinks that this sort of circumstance is an inevitable consequence (occasionally) of the Pozzo approach, the rough to be accepted with the (very) smooth.  You bring in good players, players that are available and who have potential to grow but haven’t necessarily been signed to do a particular job here, now, and you end up with twenty seven central midfielders and no width.  Maybe.  So sometimes you end up with Jurado and Abdi wide because why would you choose not to have two such players in your squad and the wide players you really wanted didn’t come and so you make do.  And in all honesty, this midfield has got us to mid-table and a Cup Semi final, and so on, and so on.  It still looks rubbish today though.

4- Half time is glum.  The girls dutifully munch their sandwiches.  Only at the start of the second half does the flaw in my logistical planning reveal itself…  half-time, with the match finishing at 6 (maybe) and then the queue and the tube and the train, half-time was the best time for dinner.  But if the girls are having their food at half-time, there’s something else that they’re not doing.  A regular half-time activity.  Daughter 1 is bouncing up and down within five minutes, as children do in such circumstances.  An inward sigh, and I ask whether we ought to descend into the massive concourse and address the situation.  “No, I might miss something”.  I’m unspeakably proud.  Within minutes she’s rewarded, Deeney’s thunderous header putting us back on terms.

Things are better.  Straight away, things are better.  The noise explodes from the Watford end and briefly, too briefly, the tide has turned in our favour.  Palace are back on their heels and we’re taking the game to them.  The yellow masses roar encouragement.  This will not be another let down, Palace had their chances, they’d bossed the first half but it had only been a one goal deficit.  We’d held them off, now we had our reward.  Downhill from here on in.

The cross was from nothing.  Palace had been on the back foot.  And again, too easy.  The cross, the header, too easy.  Yes it was in the corner, but Costel seemed to react late, to chase it into the net.  And that was it, really.  Much as our second half was better, much as Guedioura added much-needed energy, it was never happening.  Even when we let rip in desperation in the final ten minutes or so, I was thinking “surely, surely you get salvation from these situations sometimes, surely it doesn’t always have to be a countdown to the grim finality of the final whistle”…. rather than perching on the edge of the seat in anticipation.  It wasn’t quite game over in fairness.  I thought Guedioura had scored, when he shot narrowly wide.  Ighalo had a chance too… I missed that, as nature finally caught up with daughter 1.  But the grim finality came anyway.

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5- In the build-up to the game, with criminally inappropriate timing, the possibility of Quique being replaced in the summer had reared it’s head.  National commentators, putting the club’s achievements this year alongside expectations, have guffawed at the mere suggestion.  And they’re right, of course.  Seventeenth or higher was the target, whatever the circumstances.  Job done and then some.  Talk of replacing him perverse.  And yet… I find myself not as appalled by the possibility as perhaps I ought to be.  Here’s the thing.  Our form has dwindled since Christmas, but the pattern of results isn’t consistent with a drop in confidence, psychological exhaustion.  Had that been the case then the victories, when they’ve come, would have been seized upon with glee, capitalised on, romped off with.  They haven’t.  They’ve been achieved – earned – and then… as you were.  Ighalo, most visibly, has tailed off and his attitude reeks of complacency. The hard work’s done, the foot’s off the pedal.  As we’ve discussed, he badly needs some competition – for a break where needed, for a bit of pressure on his position.  But he’s only the most visible and most problematic for that reason, our team  plan falls down without him.  A solid defence with a goal threat is a whole different thing to a solid defence with limited goal threat.  He’s not the only one though, as Lewy pointed out trudging glumly back down Wembley Way.  When we beat Liverpool in December we swarmed over their midfield.  How often have we seen that sort of energy since?

Watford’s administration have defined themselves by looking forward at what’s coming and making decisions accordingly ,rather than being purely reactive… most famously in making the change last summer – whatever the contractual wrangling or lack of it, it seems clear that they saw Slav as the man to get us promoted, not to keep us up.  Perhaps they were right, we’ve done alright by the decision.  It would be altogether out of character if, at the very least, serious discussions about the team’s attitude have not been had.  This is something that needs sorting.

Yoorns.

 

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Comments»

1. Mark Pearce - 25/04/2016

We live in Newcastle, so don’t get to many games. This felt better than 2013 because the team turned up in the second half, at least. However, your last point rings true. We came down for the home game against Spurs after Christmas and saw a team that gave Spurs not an inch of room, not a moment to sit on the ball, a team that competed, nagged and harried for 90 minutes and was desperately unlucky not to win a point from the best team in the league. Where has that energy, that drive, gone? It certainly wasn’t evident at any point yesterday, in a game the team should really have been tearing into.

2. JohnF - 25/04/2016

Matt you encapsulated my feelings and my day exactly. I went with a group of young friends and we had an excellent lunch before heading to Wembley. I too had a feeling that it was going to be another day like the play-off final but was hoping against hope that we would play to our full potential. The start made hope difficult to sustain and that was further eroded by the loss of Capoue, who looked lively. However, we were not set up to cope with quick and positive wingers (and haven’t been for some time) and the pressure kept coming. Deeney’s goal was great and we hoped a spark to ignite a high tempo aggressive charge that would win the game, until an abject piece of defending allowed hope to be more or less extinguished. Even if we had equalised and gone to extra time I felt that Palace would just come again and their much greater goal threat would prevail. My disappointment was not helped by Flores’ post match comments, which sounded a bit complacent. Yes we have achieved more than expected but we have shown that we should be achieving a bit more. I have some sympathy about the recruitment of players and we know that it sometimes takes time for players who haven’t played here to adapt to the pace and physicality of the game. However, there is a feeling that we are still playing to plan A, even though it isn’t working, and that there isn’t a plan B. The next four games will be an indicator of the players’ attitude and the coaches’ ability to adapt to playing the best team rather than the best technical players.

3. Boxmoor Jules - 25/04/2016

1 Sums it up just right. We have played better at times this season than I have ever seen in 20 years. It has been as a team together, whether through great management or blind luck, a group of new players (many of them) were able to genuinely prove they deserved their place at this level. Currently the ? factor/whatever it is that pulls a team together to achieve more than the sum of its parts, has drifted away somehere. The Pozzos may be extremely ruthless
2 Yesterday near the front of the top tier my wife daughter and I had the misfortune to have to contend with 6 horribly drunk “supporters” just behind us. The moment the goal went in in min 5, these “fans” screamed foul and continuous abuse at the manager and all the players (except maybe Troy). There were plenty in the ground pleasantly beered up and plenty not happy with our side right now but this was absurd. My 14 year old daughter at half time politely asked them to stop swearing and was told inevitably to F off. Stewards did nothing and we had to move. If being top flight means have to toleate this type of brain dead idiot, who thinks we are Man City and every player should be perfect then I’m going to go and support Hemel.

Matt Rowson - 25/04/2016

Sounds particularly rubbish Jules. We’ve all been there. The Chelsea (A) FA Cup tie when we lost 5-0 at Stamford Bridge stands out for me in that respect. At least you don’t have to sit in front of them every week… and they could have ruined a decent game.

4. Royston ROF - 25/04/2016

1..do the same get the same..
2..big forward = big center half = Prodl
3..wide player with (some) pace and keeness to put a big shift in, not wave to his family in the crowd (Jurado)= Gueudioura
4….Capoue injury = Beharami
5… 1881 did well with the little flags..Palace impressive show on the glitter blue and red
6..my brother asked what we would do, had 90/1 on a four nil, I said give me your money, it will be a bit wasted
7.. GT said in his documentary before the Utd Everton game, the game is won before you reach the pitch….Palace wanted this so much more than us…well done to Pardew

..and I had drunks in front of me at Old Trafford….got stewards to warn them before a ball was kicked….

5. Goldenboy60 - 25/04/2016

In terms of the game Palace were more hungry than us. Quicker, brighter and with more energy. they were up for it. We started tentatively and for me lacked that swagger and belief in our play. The team ended up very predictable, and found that the words from Quique about every player having a chance in the team if they performed well. I like that approach, but Berghuis should have been a shoe in after his very positive appearance at Upton Park on Wednesday. But we ended up with an out of sorts Abdi (playing again out of position, and Jurado, neat and compact, but not a threat like Bolassie and Zaha. And they had Sako on the bench too.

Basically for me we fell well short. But, I really like and respect Quique. He has some very humble traits and is very calm, cool and positive. If I was a player I would want to play for him. Personally I think he got the team selection wrong yesterday, and we needed to bring something different to the table to disturb Palace’s planning.

But, we have had a great season, and I’m now looking at the players to see if they want a holiday or finish the season in style. We have the opportunity and will play a massive part in who gets relegated. We should be approaching these games with a steel and determination for a top half position, 10th. That would be fantastic and a massive confidence boost to everyone.

The team/squad will need an overhaul in the summer with an improvement in the quality, so that we have a chance to at least stay in the league comfortably and build on this season’s achievement. I have the feeling Gino can be a little impatient on that, but I personally hope that Quique stays.

One last word. Odion has done amazingly well in the 1st half of this season, but he has been found out. I have always thought he doesn’t seem to have had a ‘football upbringing’. For me he plays off the cuff, but is not getting away with his strength and pace now. They have sussed him, and if he is not scoring i’m not sure what he brings to the party. He plays up against the Centre halves other than pulling them around, so makes it easier for them. His movement is very predictable, and for me his lack of success in 2016 is because of that. But having said all that he is one of a team that for me has done really well this season. So I am staying really positive and look forward to us getting more points in the last 4 games.

Harefield Hornet - 25/04/2016

Great summary Matt. I was looking forward to your report as part of the healing process! The only thing I have to add is that days out such as these are frequently being spoilt now by heated arguments about people standing in front of those who would prefer to sit and it happened again yesterday near me. I had deliberately bought seats in an area where I expected most people to sit and my 9 year old daughter could see but again nasty exchanges resulted from people constantly standing. So her first visit to Wembley was ruined by drunken morons, not so much by the standing but by the four letter exchanges that ensued. I have some sympathy with both sides of the argument and don’t really know what the solution is, but it needs to be found – and found fast. As for Flores departing , I found the media’s fascination with it totally depressing in the build up to the game but having said that nothing would surprise me after last season. Let’s hope we get a couple of early goals on Saturday to lift everyone otherwise we could be in for a depressing afternoon.

Matt Rowson - 25/04/2016

We got lucky. Went for the front of one of the rear blocks on the lower tier. Another group had beaten us to the front row, fortunately they were “sitters” meaning the girls had a great view. Very difficult, as you say.

Nick Corble - 25/04/2016

Maybe a 4pm KO doesn’t help, plenty of time for those so inclined to get properly ‘beered up’? Sorry you had this experience,

6. Smudger jnr - 25/04/2016

Let’s be honest, the final paragraph is the crux. Yesterday being a symptom rather than cause. My reading of the game was that is was reliant on match winners. We don’t have enough, and with no real options from the bench. Ighalo’s goals are the difference between us and mid table in the champ, 2 seasons running. It was a game crying out for the likes of Andros Townsend, even Ibarbo, or dare I say it, Nando. Palace had 3 of these types in Bolasie, Zaha and Puncheon. Can I say that we should have stumped up 80k a week for Townsend? Well he could have been the difference yesterday. He likes playing at Wembley after all!

I was at the Vincente Calderon for Athetico v Grenada last weekend. Doucoure is very much but in the capoue mould. Driving ball carrier dragging the team forward through the middle. Penaranda is not a lone striker but probably a better option than even vydra to play off Troy. More options that are not available.

Can we blame QSF for the lack of replacements that we all knew were necessary?! Or should he be lorded for part enabling such a one dimensional team to safety and Wembley? I’m in the latter camp. Cheer up the lot of you!

7. Old Git - 25/04/2016

I wouldn’t ever want anyone to think I’m becoming like the halfwits who post on the Watford Observer but I do feel short-changed after yesterday. QSF’s comments indicate that the FA Cup doesn’t really matter and to be in the semi-final was a ‘bonus.’
When we lost the1984 final to Everton, GT said that one reason why we lost was that we were just happy to be there. And I think he was right. Then, of course, we were playing against a fantastic side who went on to win the League Championship and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup the next season. Losing to them was not a big surprise. Yesterday, we were playing Crystal Palace who we recently beat and are in no way superior to us. Yesterday, there was not one single supporter there who thought that being in a semi-final was ‘a bonus’. We were saving that feeling for the Final. Palace were there to be beaten but they really did a job on us. Their players were always half a second ahead, winning every loose ball and every 50-50 tackle. As Matt rightly said, they started as if it were a semi-final and for that reason alone they deserved to win.
The Gomes question bugs me. Is the FA Cup really just seen by QSF as an opportunity to give a run-out to the second string keeper? Dropping the talismanic Player of the Season in Waiting (OK, it could be Deeney, it could be Watson, but no-one could argue if it was Gomes) left the defence without his inspirational presence. Ake looked like a frightened rabbit, Nyom looked like a disaster waiting to happen and the central pairing had lost their usual authority. Where were they all when that routine cross came over for the winning goal?
Sorry but the FA Cup semi-final was NOT ‘a bonus’. It was a real opportunity to make history, to be one match away from lifting that wonderful trophy. QSF is quoted as saying we were ‘very competitive’. If so, then Palace were fantastically competitive. It’s a cliché, I know, but I feel reduced to saying that Palace just wanted it more.
And that’s why I feel let down.

Matt Rowson - 25/04/2016

Agree with all of this ex the Gomes/Pantilimon thing. 20/20 hindsight. Good decisions don’t necessarily result in good outcomes… there was little debate about this before the game.

PEDantic - 25/04/2016

Hear, hear Old Git. Yesterday I was sorely disappointed but today, after reading Quique’s comments, I’m angry. It’s clear he comes from a culture where the Cup IS ‘a bonus’ and so to him we should just be grateful we are sitting 12th in the league. Well we ARE grateful but he’s missed the point. In the words of the song ‘I just don’t think you understand…’. This was the chance of a free swing at Man Utd with possibly historic consequences and it didn’t seem to matter that much to him.
This is so reminiscent of the feeling I had at the end of last season when we lost the chance of a trophy against Sheff Wed. Then the apologists said: ‘Never mind, we’re in the Prem next year.’ Yes but I want us to win something THIS year. We had a great opportunity at Wembley and it seemed like we just didn’t go for it.

8. David - 25/04/2016

Unfair to blame Pantilimon. He has had very little game time for months, and should have played in one of the two warm-up Prem games last week. If he’d got injured, I’m sure Gomes would have been a capable deputy!

9. James - 25/04/2016

The really disappointing thing about this game, and indeed the last couple of months, is that we’ve lost our sense of adventure. This is apparent from the players being unwilling to make runs behind, and unwilling to beat a man, preferring to retain possession rather than take a risk.
I’m sure this comes from the manager, and the replacement of Capoue by Suarez was typically cautious.
All this cagey possession football is fine when we’re winning, or at least on level terms. The approach has to change when we’re loosing though, especially when we’re looking flat and there for the taking.
Anya or Guédioura should have come on for Capoue, with Abdi or Jurado moving into the centre. Bringing Suarez on was a defensive move, which was the last thing we needed.

The sign of any great manager is being able to turn around a team in a slump. Not a slump that was there when he arrived, but a slump that he lead them into.
It’ll be especially difficult for Flores to do that before the end of the season, because the remaining games really don’t mean much, but if he does manage it, then we have to hold on to him.
If he can’t, then in some ways the safer choice is to bring a new man in.

10. Even Older Git - 25/04/2016

This is my seventieth season as a Blues supporter; (whoops, sorry, ‘Orns supporter.) I’ll come clean that I can’t really remember the 46-47 season cos I was only 3/4. The first game I do remember vividly was a 0-5 home drubbing by Bloody Palace in 47, so I thought yesterday was a fine chance to seek revenge — finally.

It didn’t bode well when our cable internet went down at 10.30 a.m., (3.30 p.m. to you in the UK). By half time I was close to jumping out of the window in frustration at not knowing what was happening, (though luckily we live in a bungalow, and I’m not sure I would make it through the mosquito screens anyway these days!) Then my Missus reminded me that one of our nearby friends has a satellite internet connection rather than cable. I called him up, and amazingly, (for a Cleveland Indians supporter), he was actually watching Us v Palace! He broke the HT score to me gently, then clearly understated the situation by saying that Palace were probably a little the better side in the first half. He also nobly invited me round for the second half.

I arrived at his place just in time to see Troy find the net! (Sadly, they had just given me a plate of sandwiches which got liberally distributed around their living room.) Well, that was the high spot of the day, and I’m still coming to terms with the rest of the game and the result. Still, yesterday provides the perfect reason to hang around for some more years yet to finally see us lift the Cup in 2025 (or so.)

Away from yesterday, I’ll be sad to see QSF go, (especially as I regularly fill up my car at “Quique’s Gas Station”.

Matt Rowson - 25/04/2016

Thanks EOG. It seems my instinct – that there was just something Wrong – was well-founded, affecting you across the pond as much as it did us at Wembley…

11. Wrighty - 25/04/2016

as for all those bemoaning the team selection, a thought to mull over. Those 10 outfield players who started yesterday were the same 10 who outplayed Liverpool so convincingly. Although it certainly didn’t look it

12. johnsamways28 - 25/04/2016

Good conversation – by which I mean reasoned, inviting and listening to other viewpoints yet speaking from one’s own conviction, laced with observation, lightness of touch and perspective – is sadly an ever diminishing presence in today’s society…….. not least in the world of social media. BHappy constantly ‘bucks the trend’ and, of all you have written this (and any other season), Matt, this summary caps the lot. Not simply because of what you’ve written (which describes exactly what I saw and felt) but because of the ‘conversation’ it has generated. Thank you ……… and keep up the good work.

Old Git - 25/04/2016

No-one’s blaming Pantilimon as he’s a top notch keeper and didn’t take the decision to pick himself. What is beyond dispute is that he’s extremely match rusty, so for him to be selected to play in what was one of the dozen or so most significant games in the club’s history was, at best, wrong-headed. Gomes is not just there as a shot stopper and cross gatherer. Like all great keepers he bosses the back line and gives this vital part of the team the confidence and leadership that are crucial to a sound defence. Pantilimon is a stranger to that defence and they to him.
And Matt, in my part of the world, the choice of Gomes or Pantilimon was being very much debated, right up until the 5th minute, when we sadly saw our fears realised.

13. Paul Cook - 26/04/2016

Thank you for the report – it captured the mood exactly. I know single observations are useless in trying to explain why we didnt turn up, but I had a shudder when Troy came onto the pitch before the warm up with his mobile phone and then spent five minutes taking pictures of himself. It just felt wrong – thirty minutes before the game and not in the changing room with the team getting the players together and ramping up the intensity. I get its a big moment and we would all love a momento – but as I said it just felt wrong.
As for QSF – he was tasked with keeping us up and he has done it. Yes the slide is alarming and yes he has been conservative in team choice, but it would be a huge ask for any team to have been drilled in being compact and hard to beat to then change tack mid season and become paragons of scintillating attacking football. We have only been ‘safe’ for a couple of weeks. He deserves to have the summer and next season with the new signings. However there are plenty of players who rightly should be nervous – too many have lost focus. I hope we can stick together and finish well, be a degree more open and forward, and roll onto next season on the up.

Matt Rowson - 26/04/2016

Thanks Paul. I don’t have a problem with the style of play at all. Everyone loves to see attacking football but I’d take successful pragmatism over unsuccessful attacking football any day of the week. It’s the slackness of attitude that concerns me, as suggested by the lack of energy in performances (Ighalo only the most obvious), by Quique’s post-match comments, perhaps by the Troy incident you describe (I didn’t see it). That’s what Quique needs to answer for (if not necessarily with his job)

RS - 26/04/2016

Do we need to give Ighalo some slack given the fact that his Dad died just a few(?) days ago? If there was a long term illness then this may be a root cause.

However, that begs the question over his continued selection and I think I read that he does not intend to return to the family home until the end of the season since funerals take a while to organise; perhaps he should have been made to take a step back. QSF man management again?


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