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Watford 1 Crystal Palace 1 (26/12/2016) 27/12/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
10 comments

1- Football on Boxing Day is always a little bit disorientating. This one isn’t helped by being shunted to lunchtime; it’s cold and sunny but the ambience of too much food and alcohol being recovered from pervades all four sides of the stadium from the Rookery, where the 1881’s flags are confined to the west end of the stand, to the away end which is full but far from the raucous wall of support that the Eagles pride themselves on.

The disorientation isn’t helped by the resuscitation of Danny Wilson’s “Mary’s Prayer” over the tannoy. In the late eighties and early nineties this was a staple in the home game playlist; someone’s brother was obviously in the band or something as it felt disproportionate even at the time. If you must play banal pop songs at least change it up a bit. However there’s less justification still to bring back a dirge associated with a fairly miserable period in the club’s history, the original single charting during the 1987/88 Bassett season. Chariots of Fire gets a proper airing too – that’s much more reasonable, even if Felix and I can’t decide whether it ever went away. A more subliminal number than Z-Cars, no less cherished. Anyway…

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2- Injuries, eh? The volume this season is remarkable in itself and it’s natural to wonder about the coincidence of this with the unexpected summer revamp of the medical department. Based on, you know, a somewhat limited knowledge of physiotherapy, conditioning, the demands on the body of a professional sportsman and so on, and therefore the lack of ability to deduce cause and effect perhaps we should stop at wondering. Nonetheless, natural to wonder. More peculiar still is the systematic focus of injuries on particular areas of the team… central defence a few weeks ago, the creative end of the team now.

The first half hour or so can be summed up by the hung over growl of “FFS” that rattled around the home end throughout. The team selection didn’t inspire confidence… the evident unavailability of Okaka and Success, Deeney on the bench, it looked a cautious selection in contrast to a Palace side which was set up with Allardyce’s trademark bullishness. Things started badly and got worse… first Janmaat, after seemingly overstretching, then Behrami collapsed and were replaced. Janmaat’s replacement was a straight swap but Behrami in the absence of Watson, also injured, necessitated the clarion introduction of Deeney and a complete reshuffle.

Only to be expected that things go a bit screwy as a consequence. Almost immediately Benteke got onto the end of a cross and needed just a little more power. It felt like a portent of things to come – actually it was all but Benteke’s only positive contribution. Such was his ineffectiveness that we debated whether his seemingly impending red card in the second half would be a help or a hindrance. Instead it was Cabaye who broke the deadlock, a rapier thrust abetted by a wobbly offside trap. Nothing new here… we know that three at the back can leave you open an vulnerable. This isn’t a problem in itself… the problem is when you’re not actually providing the threat to offset this risk.

3- The penalty changed everything, obviously. It arose from the lowest point of an increasingly nervous, tentative opening by the Hornets, an appalling back pass from the otherwise exemplary Prödl sold Gomes short and he gave away a spot kick with a wild swing of the boot. Keystone cops stuff. We’d have taken a point, and gratefully, at this stage.

Instead, Benteke lined up the kick and rolled it delicately to the keeper’s left. Having waited for him to make the call Gomes all but fell on it, and with that the veneer fell from Palace’s performance, the suspicion that their lead – certainly deserved and arguably flattering the Hornets – hadn’t asked an awful lot of the visitors firmed up. Suddenly there was a bit of spirit, even if it didn’t materialise into much for the rest of the half. Sleeves were rolled up, the job was taken in hand.

4- Palace are a truly grimy lot. It’s a source of fascination that so many ostensibly talented players – Benteke and Cabaye most obviously, others too – conform to the traditional Selhurst model of conniving, barging, throwing in an elbow which Big Sam seems unlikely to disrupt. Attention post-match was drawn to Harrygate and Zaha’s late tumble… actually I’ve got some sympathy for the winger; quick feet are always going to draw nervous tackles and if you are getting booted around there has to be some temptation to make challenges visible. Britos was probably lucky in that he made a stupid challenge and another referee might have called a pen. The excellent Clattenburg called it right though – Zaha was on his way down. Less forgivable than Zaha was Cabaye’s inexcusable swallow dive in the second half as he fabricated the illusion of a sandwich challenge and curtailed a tentative Watford attack. That’s not survival, exaggerating a challenge so the ref sees it, that’s just plain cheating.

5- By that time we were level, Seb Prödl winning the pen and Troy slashing it down the centre of the goal after Wayne Hennessey made a big deal out of showing Troy how big an obstacle he was facing before helpfully vacating the centre of the goal of said obstacle. We deserved a point too, in the end, much as our attacking play continued to look like hard work. Palace were there to be beaten, their famously porous defence almost demanding to be exploited, the out of position Joel Ward at left back a particular problem. For the Hornets… Amrabat was excellent but necessarily withdrawn to wing back was further from the fun than you’d want. Guedioura was perpetually as likely a source of something as anyone whilst simultaneously demonstrating why we’re much better off using him as an impact sub at best – his ball retention shocking, the randomness of his contribution not suited to a starting role, let alone alongside a sub-par Capoue. But the back three, by and large, did well, the embers of the Deeney/Ighalo partnership glowed again.

So the disorientation lingers, really. Coming from behind, wresting control of the game from the visitors despite the injury set-backs and selection limitations, all brilliant. Not winning at home to a Palace side that is significantly less than the sum of its parts, not good. Bottom line, though, is that we’re still top half despite injuries ganging up on us, particularly in creative areas… any one of Success, Pereyra and Okaka (who I would consider creative, if in bludgeoning opportunities with a mallet rather than carving them) and today’s game would have been quite different. Bottom line, we’re much better than what Palace showed us today, concerns about relegation remain hysterical.

And having hosted one unpleasant mob it’s kinda convenient to have another turning up a few days later. Nobody bother cleaning up, clearing away the beer cans and emptying the ashtrays, the next lot really aren’t worth it.

Happy New Year all. Yoorns.

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The List – January 2017. 18/12/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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As we approach the January window our stated intent to have a quiet January hadn’t prevented us from being linked to players even before our latest spate of injuries. Bookmark this page if you want to follow progress up to and throughout the January Transfer window. What does and doesn’t constitute a “rumour” is entirely at my discretion of course but generally “Watford following the progress of…” is in, whether substantiated or not, “I’d like Watford to sign…” is out.
* Indicates player linked in previous windows

Summer 2015 List
January 2016 List
Summer 2016 List

Running Total: 44

IN
Paul-Georges Ntep (Rennes)                                         – joined VfL Wolfsburg
Pontus Jansson (Torino)
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (Aston Villa)
Danilho Doekhi (Ajax)
Wilfred Ndidi (Genk)*                                                           – joined Leicester
Ben Osborn (Nottingham Forest)
Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Riccardo Orsolini (Ascoli)                                                      – joined Juventus
Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal)
Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax)                                                – joined VfL Wolfsburg
Sergi Enrich (Eibar)
Romain Thomas (Angers)
Saido Berahino (West Brom)*                                           – joined Stoke City
Yacine Brahimi (Porto)
Henri Lansbury (Nottingham Forest)                                 – joined Aston Villa
Molla Wague (Udinese)                                              – joined Leicester on loan
Isaac Cofie (Genoa)
Dale Stephens (Brighton)
Geoffrey Kondogbia (Inter)
Hernanes (Juventus)
Scott Hogan (Brentford)                                                       – joined Aston Villa
Vicente Iborra (Sevilla)
Keisuke Honda (Milan)
Keita Baldé Diao (Lazio)*
Tom Cleverley (Everton)                                                  – SIGNED ON LOAN
Omar Elabdellaoui (Olympiakos)                                         – joined Hull City
Andrea Ranocchia (Inter)                                           – joined Hull City on loan
Manolo Gabbiadini (Napoli)*                                          – joined Southampton
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea)
Toby Sibbick (AFC Wimbledon)
Jake Livermore (Hull City)                                                    – joined West Brom
Marco Sportiello (Atalanta)                                       – joined Fiorentina on loan
Morgan Sanson (Montpellier)                                              – joined Marseille
Mauro Zárate (Fiorentina)                                                                – SIGNED
Max Gradel (Bournemouth)
Luka Milivojević (Olympiakos)                                        – joined Crystal Palace
Robin Quaison (Palermo)                                                           – joined Mainz
Bojan Krkić (Stoke City)                                                  – Joined Mainz on loan
M’Baye Niang (Milan)                                                       – SIGNED ON LOAN
Robert Snodgrass (Hull City)                                              – joined West Ham
Nicolas Pépé (Angers)
Tim Krul (Newcastle)                                                          – joined AZ67 on loan
Asmir Begovic (Chelsea)
Zach Clough (Bolton)                                               – joined Nottingham Forest

OUT
Odion Ighalo (Napoli, Shanghai Shenhua, West Brom*, Changchun Yatai, Crystal Palace)
.                                                                    – joined Changchun Yatai
Jerome Sinclair (Brentford, Reading, Norwich*,Cardiff, Sheff Wed, Ipswich, Derby, Nottm Forest, Birmingham)
.                                                                    – joined Birmingham on loan
Juan-Carlos Paredes (Tigres, Rangers, Trabzonspor, Emelec, Olympiakos)
.                                                                    – joined Olympiakos on loan
Adalberto Peñaranda (Granada, Malaga)                 – joined Malaga on loan
Troy Deeney (West Ham United, Hebei Chinese Fortune)
Christian Kabasele (Anderlecht)
Étienne Capoue (Everton)
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Nantes)
Costel Pantilimon (Derby County)
Isaac Success (Bursaspor, Beijing Guoan)
Adlène Guedioura (Aston Villa, Hull City, Middlesbrough)
.                                                                          – joined Middlesbrough
Obbi Oularé (Den Haag, Sint Truidense, Besiktas, Willem II)
.                                                                       – joined Willem II on loan

Watford 3 Everton 2 (10/12/2016) 11/12/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
25 comments

1- I had a friend once. I still have friends, in fact, but this particular friend isn’t a friend any more, not because we fell out or anything but because we drifted in different directions. She doesn’t seem to indulge in Social Media to permit the illusion of an ongoing relationship that is actually no more than an echo.

Anyway, she came to a few Watford games. She was at Wrexham away midweek in December 1997, so she can’t be faulted for not giving football a go but she absolutely never got it. Whilst others come along and participate, however temporarily, chanting and singing and being submerged, she just watched on nonplussed. She even went as far as deriding the very notion that football was something that could be “discussed”, when I claimed to have spent an evening with friends doing just that. Discussing football was as inconceivable as discussing a colour, a piece of paper, a stretch of tarmac. It had no nuance, it just was.

She was wrong, of course. Plenty of us spend an awful lot of time discussing football, in mind-numbing detail. The only thing that’s remarkable about this to my mind is how it continues despite how inconsequential such discussion is. Our evaluations don’t change, cannot affect reality… none of our opinions, however well formulated, influence a manager’s decisions or a game’s outcome. Where a crowd influences a game it’s a product of a groundswell of opinion, not a conversation.

There’s a point to this thread. It’s to do with the popular grumble about the distance of any youth products from our first team but I’ve spent a lot of your time not talking about the game so I’ll come back to this later…

2- It was pissing it down with rain. Rob McKenna would be able to offer a more colourful description that captured its dreary, mild, inconsequential boredom but suffice to say that it kinda suited the anxiety of the occasion, with this one against our most established bogey side potentially constituting the tipping point between an iffy run and a bit of a problem.

The game started in corresponding fashion. We had the opening chances but it was… anxious, tentative, half-hearted. As if we were waiting for an excuse to feel sorry for ourselves. It came… a looping ball dropped over our defence; Britos was asleep, Gomes came out and hesitated, Lukaku slipped the ball home and we looked forward to expanding our catalogue of ways not to beat Everton (current entries including spirited draw, low-key bore, aggravating travesty, miserable humdrum defeat, abject humiliation…).

3- So, back to that thing about youngsters. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. Almost anyone. It feels wrong that we have no kids near the first team (injury crises excepted), that our closest thing to a first team youth product is on loan at Blackburn, that Sean Murray dwindled so sadly, that Michael Folivi, exciting as he may be, will be conscious that Bernard Mensah, Alex Jakubiak, Uche Ikpeazu were all in his place once.

Thing is, when the chips are down experience has its uses. This game was not so much in danger of drifting off into miserable soul-sapping defeat as halfway down the aisle with a bag of snacks checking its seat number. Everton were buoyed by their goal, and whilst Lukaku’s movement and ability to drop into space continued to be their only threat (and target) they were on top and in danger of dragging the game beneath the surface and suffocating it.

That’s where the experience comes in. The bullishness. Valon Behrami, chasing down dawdled balls as the visitors slowed the game down, setting an example. Sebastian Prödl, monstrous again, bullying Lukaku out of possession. Nordin Amrabat taking responsibility, committing people again and again. Stefano Okaka, a broad-shouldered thunderous force of nature. Troy… just, Troy. Crashing into a header to Okaka, Okaka releasing Amrabat and meeting his cross with a balletic flicked backheel and – here’s the extraordinary bit – at the near post. We have someone attacking the near post. Crazy.

4- Less crazy is the number of leaders we have in this side, in stark contrast to our visitors who looked utterly rudderless. Ashley Williams is Wales’ captain but the defence was fretful throughout; Gareth Barry has skippered his country but beyond his usual trick of more or less judging how hard and frequently he could put the boot in without attracting sanction his influence was limited. This is a side with better, more prominent youngsters than us – Barkley, Deulofeu, Lukaku, Funes Mori – and they weren’t able to hack it.

Meanwhile Prödl snarled into an immaculate challenge on Lukaku. Okaka flew in decisively on Coleman. There was only one direction this game was travelling. Perversely it was set pieces, so often our bugbear, that got us there… the comically bad-tempered Holebas swinging in a corner for Prödl to thunder home and another for Okaka to flick in with Troy there to confirm. In and around that Prödl got underneath another, Britos ghosted in to a deep cross to force an impossible save from Stekelenburg. We could have been further ahead.

5- It doesn’t pay to get carried away. This was a mighty win that spoke volumes for our character and the options in our squad but it was thrilling rather than high quality… the defence was get-attable throughout, Lukaku pulling one back having been afforded an exclusion zone in the penalty area as Koeman’s changes afforded the visitos some options.

But thrilling and seventh in the table will do, for now. As above, this was a pivotal game, defeat would have been four in five with Man City on Wednesday. Now, having come from a goal down, that’s a free punch. And we do pack a punch.

But don’t discuss it with anyone will you?

This is likely to be the last BHappy report before Christmas, so have a good one…

Yoorns.

bhappy

West Bromwich Albion 3 Watford 1 (03/12/2016) 04/12/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
14 comments

1- So this time we start with the “taken as read” thunk. The Jamie Hand Booking, the Lucky Chocolate. First… West Brom are great. A proper football club. Second, the Fanzone at the Hawthorns is tremendous… food and drink, a big screen showing the lunchtime game as Sergio Agüero wrote himself out of our game there next week; the generous atmosphere rendered the UB40 cover artist crooning over a microphone something of an irrelevance.

Thirdly it’s bloody cold. Seriously, why? Always? Yes, yes, the Hawthorns is the highest altitude ground in the country and so forth but… it’s next to the M5, not in the middle of the mountains, not some icy tundra. You wouldn’t know it. Jesus. Five layers. Not enough. Not nearly enough. We hide in the Fanzone’s Greggs and try to blend in with the sausage rolls, figuring – accurately as it turned out – that the staff were too busy to police the warmth of their shelter and that much of the populace of the fanzone had more scruples and/or more layers than us.

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2- Once in the ground the first question was how we’d line up in the wake of myriad suspensions and injuries. A measure of quite how dramatic our absentee list is came when the news of Janmaat and Mariappa wiping each other out with a head collision in training was met with a shrug. We were already up against it, what did two more matter? Indeed, given that we’ve got a bizarre coincidence of absentees already perhaps it’s better to get all our misfortune out of the way in one go.

In any case, the absentees were largely defensive – four centre-backs, a right (wing) back, the holding midfielder with his deputy presumably half fit on the bench. Little surprise then that we saw the resumption of our hurricane start to the game, get the ball up the end of the pitch where we’re at full(er) strength; Nordin Amrabat cracked a shot that Foster tipped over within the first minute, Capoue and Deeney both had chances and the home side barely got out of their half in the first fifteen minutes.

Thing is, you need to score in such situations. Especially away from home, especially when you’re protecting a botched together defence. Especially against a team that are decent from set pieces…

3- No small frustration greeted the first Albion goal, then. The home side forced a corner, Evans crashed in to score. Gomes should have done better, we had a lot of people standing around watching and taking up space and nobody attacking the ball as aggressively as Evans (or at all, in fact). On another day Evans might have been pulled up for climbing, but if we’d defended attentively that wouldn’t have been an issue.

Of all the patchwork repairs to our side, the enforced employment of Guedioura in a central midfield role felt the most vulnerable; alongside a dependable ratter like Behrami or patroller like Watson he’d have been OK, maybe, but less so with Capoue. The Algerian has many attributes – enthusiasm, positivity, creativity – but footballing discipline is not one of them. Fifteen minutes after Albion had gone ahead he crashed into an untidy challenge giving a free kick away within shooting distance. As the set piece was teed up the Watford wall collapsed on itself, Zuñiga turned side-on to the shot. It still required luck on Albion’s part for the deflection to spin off the Colombian and into the corner, but we shouldn’t have afforded ill fortune that window.

So Albion were two up despite us having much of the play. We might have been called unlucky, but that would do a disservice to the way the hosts play. Their modus operandi doesn’t rely on having the ball very much. Indeed, the set-up is much like that of Sean Dyche’s Watford side but executed with better and much more experienced players… a rock-solid defence, an experienced and disciplined midfield and enough up front to steal breakaway chances and set pieces. They don’t need to have the ball very much. They don’t actually want to have the ball very much.

4- The second half settled into just such a pattern… Watford with the possession and territorial advantage, Albion rattling off threateningly on the break. We were facing an uphill battle, facing the constant risk that the scoreline might head off at some point in the direction of the Bob Taylor or Lee Hughes-inspired results we’ve suffered here in the past.

Nonetheless we kept at it. Nordin Amrabat was back on the front foot after his frustrated outing against Stoke and screamed down the right flank, pulling a cross impossibly back from touch for Deeney to connect with – only a stunning block prevented us from reducing the deficit. Stefano Okaka had spent much of the first half complaining about Albion’s physicality – disappointing really, that the guy who’d presumably been brought in due to his ability to deal with such attention seemed so dismayed and surprised by it. His impact overall was underwhelming, though he too kept going and got better after the break, constantly engaging Albion’s defenders if to limited effect – he bundled goalwards with Deeney and took a half-chance that his captain might have done better with.

Another teasing ball from Amrabat tempted an Albion head to intervene ahead of Deeney; the ball was dropping over Foster who was forced to tip over, a fine stop. From the corner Troy stabbed a loose ball across the face of goal for Kabasele to touch in – game on. Pereyra slalomed through but a combination of Foster’s speed and dexterity and his own tentativeness saw the chance go begging amidst optimistic calls for a penalty from the away end. More defensible appeals minutes later when Okaka was upended as we unsettled Albion’s defence again. Gripping, nailbiting stuff, and for once a pitch-level view added to the drama being performed in front of us.

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5- Had the game finished here, and much as nobody likes losing, we’d probably not have been too unhappy. If there’s a way to lose this is it… narrowly, competitively in the face of a patchwork side and a confident opponent away from home. What followed was disappointing then, although it’s difficult to be too harsh on Pereyra. I had no view whatsoever of what had happened from our distance and position (although the guy over my left shoulder seemed to be able to employ the extra six inches or so of elevation to provide an accurate running commentary)… based on TV replays only you’d have to say that McClean went in aggressively and recklessly and whilst Pereyra shouldn’t have raised his hands it’s easy to sympathise. Easy to sympathise too with the view expressed by Mazzarri that McClean can think himself very fortunate to escape with a yellow, so too the likes of Rondon who piled in to no censure whilst Watford’s captain was booked for dissent. Less easy to sympathise with the manager actually articulating this opinion, albeit in the emotional window post the final whistle. I used to think that Jose Mourinho did this on purpose – blow up a smokescreen by drawing attention to his own utterings and shielding his team; now I rather fancy he’s just a bad loser. Mazzarri, certainly, had little to shield his team from after a stout performance that wasn’t quite enough, but plenty to lose by fostering a victim “everything’s against us” mentality. We don’t need that.

Matt Phillips put a full stop on the afternoon’s proceedings with a fine slaloming shot and goal; you’d perhaps have preferred the otherwise reassuringly stout Kabasele to have gotten a bit closer to him but that’s a bit churlish, a splendid goal. Allan Nyom, meanwhile, had put in a performance that was a bit like a highlights video of his Watford spell… careering boldly into attacking positions (and displaying more reliable delivery with his weaker left foot than we ever saw with his right), occasionally slicing the ball out of play and looking eminently get-attable when defending. All that was missing was a reckless booting of Amrabat or Pereyra into the stand. There were a few more catcalls from the away end than his so-so-but-no-worse Watford spell really merited, which had escalated into a relatively witty exchange with the adjacent Baggies (“He left cos you’re Sh*t” / “He left cos HE’S sh*t” / “He’s still beating you” / “He’s still f***ing sh*t”). Any sympathy for the Cameroonian rapidly evaporated as he opted to celebrate the winner in front of the away end. We had some morons in our end, as ever. It appears footballers aren’t above stupidity either.

6- If I’ve sounded critical of our performance then I’ve been unfair. This was vastly better than last week’s sloppy showing against Stoke; Prödl was monstrous again, Kabasele as above did fine alongside him. Deeney was more aggressive and mobile than of late, Amrabat sizzled up either flank, Sinclair had an encouraging cameo. We were bright and positive and if we weren’t tight enough at the back or stiff enough in midfield then we didn’t get the breaks either.

We’re a good side, and those panicking that Sunderland have started winning are being hysterical. Survival remains the primary objective but we weren’t a million miles away from grabbing a point from two-down despite a glut of missing players. We need to keep our cool and our focus. But we’re doing OK.

Yooorns.