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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

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…


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.


1. Goldenboy60 - 27/12/2016

Like you, I have never been a fan of a back 3, with 2 wing backs. Having coached at high levels, I know that teams can easily get down the side of you thus taking the full back/wing back out of play, and drawing all 3 CH’s to the ball, thus leaving big spaces on the far post.

Just on this I am beginning to get a bit frustrated of Mazzarri. There seems to be no plan, but just ‘a gut feeling’ with him. In my opinion the team has not settled under him, and don’t look likely to do so, at least in the short term. But if he is to stay, he will have to get hold of it,

Injuries. I have to wander what the players are doing. 2 Hamstring pulls in the first 10 minutes. Unheard of, so are they using everything in the tank in training. Because I think that sometimes we have no change of pace or electricity dynamic in the team. We look ponderous and slow, and i wonder if it all goes out in training sessions, where he regularly teaches another system. Why has Success and Okaka, and now Janmaat and Behrami got hamstring issues? It doesn’t make sense. The team fitness guys do not seem as good as the team that got moved out in the summer. Why?

Players are simple really, and want things simple. Sometimes, just let them play within the confines of the system, but let them express themselves more than it seems they are allowed at the moment? We are hanging on at the moment, and the prospect of Tottenham tearing us apart is looming.

The plus side is that all the teams around us seem no better than us,or consistent too.

Alarm bells are ringing in my head.

Matt Rowson - 27/12/2016

Don’t mind 3 at the back at all… but you need to have an attacking threat for it to work.

Hornetbiy84 - 28/12/2016

I am a big tab of a back 3 , having played that system to a reasonable standard. If played as an attaching formation the opposition can really struggle – but Matt is right – if you are not expressive in attack Ma dim the middle then you are not forcing the other team back – so you do need to be flexible. And we are lacking that cohesion .
So we are huffing and puffing – but not going to blow the fans away until we add one or two dimensions – which in part are all out injured.
For me a good point – keeps Palace 6 points behind and we can still look upwards .

drdavewatford - 27/12/2016

The team hasn’t settled under Mazzarri because injury has denied him the opportunity to play the same team twice….

2. Adam Cummings - 27/12/2016

I must admit to thinking I had woken on Boxing Day in a parallel universe when Mary’s Prayer followed Chariots, one where I was still “spinning the discs” and saying that Malcolm Poskett will never score a luckier goal than the one that went in off his back side to give him a hat trick against Cardiff.

Then I woke up and had to suffer another 45 minutes of faking injuries and bottling out of 50-50 challenges, things that would have been hanging offences back in GT’s day.

And no, despite having an ancestor who would have King of Scotland but for Robert the Bruce, I have no family who were in the band Meet Danny Wilson. It’s just the best pop song ever.

3. PEDantic - 27/12/2016

I’m surprised nobody seems to have commented anywhere on the sight of Etienne Capoue carrying two young children (presumably his) onto the pitch as the teams emerged yesterday. After the handshakes and a photo he then slowly carried them both all the way down to the extreme SW corner of the GT stand before deigning to rejoin his teammates for what was left of the warm up.
If he had asked permission to do this I’m surprised it was allowed and if he didn’t I hope Walter was as annoyed with him as I was. Here was a man probably still in Christmas Day mode and clearly not focused on the job in hand, which was plain from the way he played the entire 90 minutes.
He seems to me to be a talented player who is freewheeling at the moment on the back of a few goals and is certainly not contributing as much to the team as he can or as he did last season. With all the injuries we need him to step up and take some responsibility in the centre of midfield.

4. JohnF - 28/12/2016

The injuries are a worry and imply poor preparation and insufficient warm up before the game. The injuries to Janmaat and Behrami both came from trying to recover after the ball was given away partly as a consequence of poor passes over a relatively short distance. The fact that the team recovered is good but the fact that they had to is bad and they only seem to start briskly occasionally. Playing with Igalo as a target man at the start I don’t think helped. It was puzzling that Zuniga was removed just when he seemed to be making things happen down the left and when Sinclair really had little chance to get into the game.

5. SteveG - 28/12/2016

Thanks, Matt, as ever, for a report which manages to combine the passion and partisan nature of the football fan with an objectivity and fairness that is so often absent from the message boards.

While I felt a bit sorry for Behrami last year when he was either left out or asked to play out of position by Flores, I remain mystified about what Ben Watson can possibly have done to have been so comprehensively sidelined (and rumoured to be on his way out in January). While he may not have set the world on fire, he was a solid, competent member of the midfield for much of last year – you didn’t feel that the team had been significantly weakened if either Watson or Behrami occupied a defensive midfield slot (although I was never convinced on those occasions when they both played together). While I can see that a different new coach might put them in a different order, I’d have thought that at the very least he’s a more than capable understudy (and certainly more reliable that Gueds, for all his energy).

I’d also prefer Cathcart to Kaboul I think, but again it’s a marginal call. Certainly given the squad that we’ve got, and the relative strength in this area, I can see why he’s playing 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 much of the time. I certainly wouldn’t be dropping Britos or Prodl.

And with festive cheer at the forefront of our thinking, a definite award for pantomime performance to Harry the Hornet – and, in fairness to Zaha, he seems to have taken it in good humour, unlike the graceless reaction of Big Sam. Neither side played particularly well, a draw was a fair result, and given the history between the teams Zaha was always going to be up for the role of pantomime villian. Get over it.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Matt Rowson - 28/12/2016

Lack of energy has been the argument put forward explaining Watson’s absence, if not explicitly by Mazzarri. But I agree with you entirely, his exclusion is baffling.

In fairness to Allardyce he made a fairly dismissive comment at the end of the game which has been blown up to fuel a funny story. His comments could have been less graceless, but fell short of the outrage that they’ve been depicted as.

Tim Turner - 28/12/2016

I read that Ben Watson has ‘family issues’ that have prevented him being part of the squad for the past two games. I hope they’re sorted out by Sunday, as we really need him to deputise for Behrami.

The way things are going, I suspect Walter might field the under-23 team against Burton in the cup.

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