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Watford 0 Stoke City 1 (27/11/2016) 28/11/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- If decent mid-tableness is what we aspire to for the moment, then a degree of balance is to be expected. By balance I mean… games when things go against you as well as those when they go for you, and that means losing games to fair-to-middling clubs as well as to the top sides. Sometimes. It’s no fun, but it’s going to happen. In this division, fair-to-middling sides are all capable of giving you a slap in the face.

But the degree of contrast between this weekend and last was stark. For one thing, Daughter 2 forgot her lucky teddy. For another, rather than flying into our regular car park we mistimed that one and ended up in the backup, stuck behind a minibus of lairy Stokies as it was directed around a corner that was never going to accommodate it. As an added bonus said Stokies had already stepped out of their minibus and were loafing around guffawing at their driver as those of us queued up behind it tried to find corners to reverse into. The voices were bellowing “this is going badly already”, and were difficult to ignore.

2- Things didn’t get any better once the game started. Last week we blew Leicester away and capitalised on the position that put us in; this one wasn’t quite the same. The visitors were on top from the off… big, physical, pressing us high up the pitch they knocked us out of our stride and we never regained anything halfway resembling the initiative. Initially there was some defiance… bodies on the line, Gomes scrambling to a fine save, ranks being cleared and Janmaat thundering down the middle on the break like a boulder careering downhill, bouncing off trees before smacking a shot too close to Grant. This seemed to crumble with Kaboul’s withdrawal after 15 minutes or so… the big centre-back had been doubtful, supposedly; he hadn’t been desperately significant, replacement Kabasele played no worse than anyone else (although he spent an inordinate preparation for his entrance that even Daughter 1 would baulk at) but the incident seemed to mark the end of our resistance. From there the Potters bossed it, bullying us much as Burnley had done and chasing down our possession high up the pitch. We didn’t tend to retain that possession for very long. On the half hour Charlie Adam met a set piece unmarked; Gomes blocked, the ball hit the post, then the keeper, then apologetically rolled inside the side netting. I’ve not seen it again – it transpires that Adam fouled Behrami en route but whatever. Stoke were worth the lead.

3- By this point another subplot was developing. Prödl rose to a header near the touch line, Arnautovic shoved him in the back. Nothing. Amrabat shielded the ball from his marker further up the same touchline and was pulled up. As frustration with the way the game was going grew, referee Madley channelled the anger in one direction.

Social media has changed the world. It could be argued – and has been – that twitter, which amplifies extreme opinions at the expense of moderation making it easy to filter the views that you hear to re-enforce your own has radically altered the world that we’re exposed to and affected the outcomes of recent elections. Social media’s immediacy also makes it very easy for idiots to fall victim to trigger-finger responses borne of red mist. I am one such idiot, and have had a shitty week as a result of failure to count to ten. This failure to count to ten manifests itself at games on occasion, with a tendency to let rip in a fashion that might be considered yellow-tinted.

Thing is, I’m in the stands and whilst I’d prefer to retain a degree of class (ha) and perspective this release from needing to be rational and reasoned is part of the reason I’m there. The same luxury can’t be afforded to the players on the pitch, and if our number of bookings for dissent were a cause for concern before the game this concern was exacerbated and inflated by the complete lack of discipline that characterised yellows for mouthing off, kicking the ball away… yes, some of the decisions prompting a response were cretinous, no Stoke weren’t being penalised for the same things but grow a brain. A referee having a bad day isn’t going to be reacting with moderation to stuff like that. Amrabat, for instance, was visibly cowed by his yellow for mouthing off about the free kick mentioned above and the tenacity that’s characterised his best performances disappeared as a consequence. This needs sorting.

4- If there’s a positive to be drawn it’s that we didn’t collapse. Despite being clearly second best we were still in the game throughout in the sense that a single goal would have nicked us something. There was a moderate degree of fist-waving as we rallied in the last quarter of the game but despite another encouraging cameo from the bullish Stefano Okaka and despite City visibly tiring and stepping back a bit it was never terribly likely. Nonetheless, we’d clung on sufficiently to render that a possibility.

The question the afternoon presents really is whether the tactical flexibility demonstrated by our ability – and the coach’s willingness – to switch shapes and positions and formations costs us in terms of not having enough in the way of stock moves. Things That We Can Rely On When Things Aren’t Working. Ardley to Helguson. Boom. A cost, perhaps, of that flexibility is that there’s not enough familiarity. It’s all rather hard work when we meet resistance. There’s no reliable crutch to lean on.

5- West Brom, then. Could, perhaps, be ugly. We’ve struggled against teams that have tried to strong-arm us despite Troy, Prödl, Behrami, Kaboul. Now we face them with only three – one assumes – available centre-backs, two of whom have ?one? start between them this season. And no Behrami, also suspended due to one of those witless yellow cards after he’d perhaps been one of the players to pull the performance up by its bootstraps in the second half. Over to you, Walter…


1. Stuart Campbell - 28/11/2016

The last four words of your fine report indeed go right to the heart of the matter. Yes, there were some truly abysmal performances and a depresssingly increasing tendency to petulance, but I fear the worst performance yesterday was that of the coach.

Quite simply, Mark Hughes did his homework on us better than Walter and co did on them. They really had us sussed. And no-one from Watford, either on the pitch or on the bench, seemed to have an answer. Only the very late introduction of Okaka brought a faint glimmer of hope.

There should have been no surprise about the kind of street-wise game Stoke would bring to the Vic, or indeed that they have some very capable midfielders.

Is the overwhelmingly non-English profile of Watford’s coaching staff and team becoming a handicap against teams like Stoke? I have never given this a moment’s thought during our immensely exciting and fast-developing new era, but yesterday’s inept affair coupled with a long, dreary drive home had me pondering gloomily. Still, Watson will have his chance against West Brom. Fingers crossed for that game!

Goldenboy60 - 30/11/2016

Yes now theres a name I’m glad to hear. Ben Watson. Clearly not been in Mazzari’s plans, but surely an experienced, consistent quality that the team have been sadly lacking. Hopefully he will provide the quality passing in midfield that we have lacked. And can he repeat his trick at West Brom last season? I’m bemused by our performances. Non descriptive but always tough to beat. We are up and down so much and without any consistency.

We are 8th and from some of our performances I don’t quite know how!

This week we are short in the back 3 bit, but hopefully will have Success back in the side. This will be a huge check on our mentality and ability to win against teams similar to us.

2. Harefield Hornet - 28/11/2016

I was racking my brains to try and think of any positives at all from this debacle of a match but you’ve managed in thunk 4 so fair play to you! Also felt Kabasele did slightly better than OK, having been thrown in with limited match time under his belt this season. Perhaps chucking on Okaka a bit earlier instead of Iggy may have resulted in a scrambled equaliser before we ran out of time, speaking of which I can’t understand why there was only 4 minutes added given all the dramatic watch pointing by Mr Madely and the number of stoppages? Definitely one to file under “best forgotten about and move on”!

3. Adam Segal - 28/11/2016

West Brom will be interesting. We seem to be able to put in good performances after the depressing ones so far this season. Ben will get his chance holding down the midfield and maybe if we are lucky Success will be back; that could prove the difference. I’ll also take the positives from Okaka’s appearance too this week. Coupled with Troy up front those three could bully anyone!

4. Adam Cummings - 28/11/2016

Amarabt’s inability (or was it unwillingness?) to run at their full back gave me much cause for concern.
His “trick” of grabbing the defenders shirt and then waiting for the pull back was sussed by the linesman in our first attack and when it happened again (result – yellow card for dissent) he went into his shell and never recovered.
He got away with it against Hull as Clucas wasn’t a full back and so fell for it whereas the more experienced Pieters kept his hands to himself and waited for the linesman to spot it.

5. JohnF - 28/11/2016

Matt, you really are going to have to take some responsibility for checking that Daughter 2’s lucky teddy is packed. As far as I can see he is a vital component of the team playing well. Your report was absolutely right.. However, the players are really going to have to learn to keep their mouths shut with the officials and call to each other during the game, as in giving each other a shout. The resources seem to be a bit stretched with suspensions and injury although I’m not sure whether Britos being available against West Brom is a blessing or a curse. There seem to be an awful lot of injuries and it is taking a long time to get them back.

Mazzari and the team will need to recognise the need to battle against sides like Stoke and to work as a team. Stupid bookings do not help and your comments on Amrabat were right on the button. Counting to ten in whichever language they choose might be one of the training ground exercises in preparation for next week. We are gaining a bad reputation and unfortunately reputation goes before.

6. MartinG - 28/11/2016

Good reflection of a poor performance. We seem to lurch from very good (West Ham after 40 mins, Man Utd, Leicester first 20 mins) to absolute garbage. When you see yesterday, Burnley, Liverpool, you think how can this team be anywhere near 8th. Anyway hopefully that game goes in the bin and we bounce back against West Brom.

Amrabat is getting stick as he was weak (and why did he keep turning inside?), but I think Capoue despite the goals can be a right passenger at times. His passing yesterday was awful. Stoke did a number on us and were good value for their win.

7. Goldenboy60 - 30/11/2016

Oh anyone agree that Prodl has been our most consistent player this season? I think he has been magnificent.

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