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Watford 1 Hull City 0 (29/10/2016) 30/10/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Whilst this, our fourth visit to the top division, is proving vastly more successful than the last two it’s not the case that everything has improved in Hornetland since our promotion.

Some things are clearly better.  The quality of the football, obviously.  The dramatic improvement to the ground and facilities.  The size of the crowds, the feel that every game is a big event, a drama.  The security to the club and its prospects afforded by our status and the money that comes with it.  You’ll maybe think of others.

Other things haven’t changed.  Football is still football, your mates are still your mates.  It’s still Watford, Vicarage Road, Fry Days and so on. We’re still playing Burnley, Palace, Hull, as we have been forever.

But what’s worse, what’s much worse, is the quantity of football.  The accepted line, spouted by those who regard the rest of the Premier League as supporting cast to the top six and for whom anywhere lower down the pyramid barely enters consciousness, is that Premier League Clubs Play Too Much Football.  Arrant nonsense.

The top teams, teams in European competition, play a lot of games.  It’s not unreasonable to suggest that many of those clubs would have had input into the design of these competitions and ought to have more pride than to bitch too much about busy schedules… that aside, we reached a Cup Semi-final last season but barely played a mid-week game.  This season we’ve had Turf Moor because of TV, Man City coming up in December and then Palace on Boxing Day.  That’s it for the first half of the season.  I resent the loss of midweek games, the loss of that looking forward to a week of work being interrupted by this nugget of excitement (or Rotherham at home, whatever) simply to accommodate Manchester United (for example) losing to some Danish team in a bloated competition that will give them plenty of second chances anyway.

2- Meanwhile, Hull City.  I won’t have been alone in being a little nervous in the build up to this one, a rare occasion on which we are confronted with a game that we’re expected to win.  Bournemouth, perhaps, we went into with a decent chance of three points… but that’s not the same as being solid favourites.  That brings it’s own challenges.

Several of which would have been at the front of Watford minds as we hurtled into this game with a frantic urgency.  We created our first noteworthy chance from the kick-off, a ball from the right drifting narrowly beyond the arriving Deeney at the far post, and continued in kind in a frenzied first ten or fifteen minutes.  Pereyra, who again failed to dominate a game as we hoped he might but nonetheless sprinkled it with moments of breathtaking composed competence, curled a shot narrowly wide of the top corner.  Kaboul thumped a header against the crossbar – in the Rookery we were on our feet, we thought it was in.  Daughter 1, her hands gripping the barrier in front, turned to me with her eyes shining.  “This is so exciting!”

3- And so it was, but unfortunately it didn’t deliver the opening goal that it probably deserved.  Instead the game settled into the pattern that the opening salvo had been designed to avoid.

Hull are extremely limited;  the vast majority of pundits predicted relegation at the start of the season (for what that’s worth) and wins over Leicester or otherwise there was little here to challenge the suggestion that it’ll be Sunderland and the Tigers plus one.  In any circumstances they would have a challenge on, but that the away fans’ songs as the initial furore calmed down focused entirely on the understandable desire to finally see the club shot of the Allam ownership reflects a sorry backdrop.  Frankly I’m surprised that they’ve amassed seven points in the circumstances.

But they’re not cannon fodder by any stretch.  They’re solid and organised and difficult to play against in this mood.  The 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 thing is new and seems to suit them, vast injury list notwithstanding as the possess three excellent central defenders in Dawson, Davies and Harry Maguire.  As soon as they had a foothold the chances that we had created early on disappeared as the gaps in the defence closed up.  Hull sat deep and broke, not an overwhelmingly original strategy but one that suited their available personnel.  It nearly earned them a point.  We chipped away for the rest of the half… Seb Prödl was quickly up supporting the attack, another Amrabat cross found Deeney at the far post, he should have scored.  But it was hard work, and frustrating to watch.  Both daughters began to read the match programme.

4- In the second half, more of the same.  At least initially.  Nordin Amrabat, who always looked likely to retain his place given the demands of the game above the returning Janmaat, had Sam Clucas on toast over and over again.  Clucas is filling in on the left in the absence of injured duo Adubajo and Robertson and was exposed by the formation – in fairness, for all Amrabat’s success he didn’t create that crucial opening.  But it was a chastening, difficult afternoon for the Hull midfielder, who was booked after one frustrated challenge and did well to stay on the pitch as the winger pushed the ball past him and flew after it to cheers and hurrahs.

Meanwhile Hull’s counters, if not exactly frightening and often ending with an overhit cross or crossfield pass, had enough about them to cause edginess in the home stands, not least when Abel Hernandez was let through on the right but failed to beat the adroit Gomes.  We’ve been here before.  If the opening salvo might have lead to a game in which Hull had to come out a bit and we racked up a more comfortable win, another possible eventuality was suggesting itself in main home fans’ minds.

Eventually, Daryl Janmaat came on for Kaboul, whose parting shot was a clubbed effort from about 30 yards that only briefly got any closer to the goal than it had started.  Janmaat changed the dynamic immediately whilst reminding us what we had been missing, picking up the ball and barrelling towards the penalty area, our change in formation creating spaces that hadn’t been there before.  Hull survived that one, just about, heroic limbs in the way as so often…  that “no shots on target” stat isn’t a great one but is a little misleading, woodwork and crosses that just needed a touch and twists and turns that were snuffed out by flying blocks meant that it wasn’t that bad.  No shots, but plenty of less easily defined and tabulated “nearlies”.

Frustrating, yes.  But we kept plugging away, and got our reward.  The explosive Janmaat and devilish Amrabat combined down the right, the Dutchman swung in a cross.  Deeney and Pereyra both seemed to go for it, it spun off Dawson and dropped into the net.  Harsh on the defender, you couldn’t have begrudged City a point if they’d held on.  He can get his karmic balance sorted with a goal against Southampton next week.

5- The nervous tension released we played out the game;  Iggy, who looked as uncertain and deliberate as he ever has, tiptoed through and clubbed a shot into the side netting.  We broke on a suddenly reckless City and should maybe have extended our lead, but the whistle confirmed the win.

In isolation this is three points, always welcome no matter how they come.  In context it’s an absolutely massive result.  For one thing it sets the last couple of games into perspective… three tight and untidy encounters, if different in their way.  Jose Holebas’ goal at Middlesbrough earned that win – no doubt that a moment of quality like that deserves to win a humdrum game.  But much more significant that we’ve now ground out a narrow win from another tight encounter, whatever it says about our attacking limitations.  We can grind out tight games, that says, Boro wasn’t a one off lucky punch. We now have seven points and three clean sheets from three such games.

As for our limited attacking potency, our injury list is much better populated than it ever was last season and despite this we’re in seventh with one defeat in seven.  The depth and quality of our roster has never been more evident, the more so since our injuries have focused on particular areas of our squad.  We have been deprived of different flavours of magic dust in Success, Okaka and Kenedy and won games anyway.  Seb Prödl’s late injury combined with Cathcart’s absence might test the depth of our defensive cover.  You’d be confident on this evidence, Anfield or otherwise.

So whilst the last few games won’t live long in the memory there’s no doubt that we’re in a great place.  Those who lazily looked at the end of last season and presumed little Watford to be returning to their “natural level” are already looking rather silly.




1. Roger Smith - 30/10/2016

The overriding memory from this game was the woeful lack of urgency in midfield. It could have been an end-of-season game, or even a pre-season friendly. There isn’t a Premiership team with a poor defence if it is given time to get organised – and that was the difference that Janmaart made. Only he, Amrabat and, at times, Pereyra showed any sense of urgency – oh, and Gomes, who was clearly getting as frustrated as we were. Let’s hope we can continue to do better against teams who come at us, starting next Sunday.

Matt Rowson - 31/10/2016

Very difficult when playing against a packed (and well drilled) defence tho. Janmaat definitely added something, but it was a new dimension as much as urgency. They had two players chundering down the right instead of one.

2. PEDantic - 30/10/2016

I couldn’t agree more with Thunk 1, but would also add the introduction of the dreary ‘international break’ which, on this occasion left us with a four week gap between home games.

Having said that, when we were promoted I said to a friend who supports Palace that I thought I would miss the close and relentless competition of the Championship. He said he had thought the same but now realised that the Premier League is the only place to be. Last season at first I tried to keep up with what was happening in the league below but soon gave up when I realised he was right and I wouldn’t want to swap. I’m afraid we’ll just have to live with the Prem’s flaws and bloody the noses of the big boys now and again.

As for the Hull game, three clean sheets in a row, even against so-called lesser teams is not to be sniffed at. It guarantees 3 points and we came away with 7 to sit in 7th place. So it’s a little concerning to read (on other sites) people moaning about the quality of Amrabat’s crossing, Igalho’s lack of form etc. Enjoy the moment. We don’t know what’s round the corner – and that’s why it’s fun.

3. Wimborne Hornet - 31/10/2016

Great to see, what in the Championship would have been luck going our way. ‘Boro looked like a draw, but we won. Swansea we probably deserved to lose, but we got a point, and Saturday could have easily been a draw but for an own goal. It looks like we’re making our own luck now; seventh after the recent performances and Deeney/Ighalo not really in form is a fantastic return.

Imagine if we start to fire on all cylinders.

4. BH - 31/10/2016

Thanks for the report Matt, excellent as ever.

It’s amazing how different people see the game differently. I had five blokes immediately behind me who came with one apparent objective: to whinge about Ighalo for 90 minutes. Every time the ball was near, or even not so near him, the grunts, groans and complaints just became louder and the language less choice (Thankfully, it was their first time in those seats. I’m hoping they’ve not become belated/moved season ticket holders.). For me, Ighalo did really well at holding the ball up and finding a pass (I’d love to see if his stats back this up) BUT he did all this outside the box. The twice he really threatened were in the second half when a cut-back from the byeline to him in space four yards out was cut out by a defender and when he took on what looked like six plus defenders and went close but into the side netting.

I think that Deeney has not recently been putting in what you have regularly and rightly called “monstrous” performances in the past; but it’s Ighalo who is getting the stick. The only apparent sitter I remember us missing was Deeney at the back post in the first half.

Still, I thought we did way better than the blokes behind me who said “we only played for three minutes.” Once they recovered from our remarkably fast start, Hull made it very difficult with their tightly organised formation.

As for the number of games, it’s a tough one. I miss the Tuesday night games under the lights but as you say, the PL games have a real sense of occasion. I suspect their scarcity has something to do with that.

5. Mark T - 01/11/2016

On thunk 1…I get really fed up with managers and players telling us they are tired…get over it ! Have you seen tennis players be on the court for 3-4 hours and do the same thing the following day and do that for about 48 weeks of the year. They really don’t have a leg to stand on (no pun intended)

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