Millwall 1 Watford 0 (29/01/2017) 30/01/2017Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- I was reminded once again today of the trite 6-0-6 throwaway, “fans just want to watch their team win“. As previously discussed, this is fundamentally incorrect. Fans want to watch their team win, yes. They don’t just want to watch their team win. Fans, largely, want to watch their team. This is taken for granted, but as such is far weightier a concern than the triviality of victory, at least for active supporters who attend games. A relief, then, to learn of Lewisham Council’s retreat from a threatened compulsory purchase order of, amongst other things, the New Den site under the auspices of a questionable (and, consequently, questioned) property deal. Whether or not the very future of Millwall was threatened its location – being dumped out in Kent a real possibility – certainly was and as such that taken-for-granted bit was in danger of being whisked away. And yes, sure, as we saw today the Lions have above their quota of the sort of buffoon whose xenophobia, boorishness and ignorance recent world developments seem to legitimise… but they’re also a club rooted in their community. Good that they’ve seen this off. This is relevant, I’m coming back to it, promise…
2- Pete came to the game today. He’s not a big football fan, interested enough to ask reasonably informed, polite questions about the ‘orns progress at work but little more. When he asked what I thought of the cup draw I invited him along. I’ve since apologised, naturally.
We’d discussed on the train down the possibility that something like this would happen, on this weekend with so much of This Sort Of Thing going on. What with Millwall already having dumped one top flight side out who thought they could get away with anything less than full throttle, with us still clawing a team and any kind of form back together. It was always a possibility, but I don’t think many of us expected it to be quite this bad.
Indeed, if there’s was a positive to be taken from the afternoon it was the knowledge that this would be a straightforward set of thunks with no call or place for balance, perspective or “on-the-other-hand”…
3- Good God this was lamentable, on so many levels. As someone who has spent a sleepless night and a considerable time in the dentist’s chair this week I feel qualified to describe it as a painful experience.
The team selection, first of all. Certain things out of anyone’s immediate control… injuries, suspension, international clearance, and so on. Nonetheless, the relegation of the FA Cup to some sort of irritating sideshow, some trivial inconvenience not worthy of proper attention is repulsive and cowardly. It’s not something that Watford are guilty of in isolation, it’s a negligence that many clubs share and not just in the top flight. It’s easy to cite the money tied up in League status, “this has to be the priority”. Had we played our strongest team and picked up an injury, or sapped legs further, questions would have been asked.
But for me, this is a side that needs to remember how to win. There have been contributing factors to our poor form, but now we need to start stringing results together. Bournemouth was cautiously encouraging. We needed to build on that today. A stronger team would have guaranteed nothing, but this was eminently winnable. Had we lost giving it a good go then any failure would have been more forgivable and Arsenal on Tuesday less daunting because there would have been some spirit. Quite apart from the fact that the FA Cup is a prize in its own right, with big guns tumbling we might have had a shot. It’s not like our trophy cabinet is overburdened with such achievements.
4- The first half was a complete bloody fiasco. We know that three at the back can leave you vulnerable, and it can make you potent. Amongst other things it relies up wingbacks pushing up to provide width, and some venom in midfield to provide threat. Here, Brice Dja Djédjé and Brandon Mason were seemingly under instruction to push up to a point and no further… Mason in particular had displayed his eagerness to bomb on and overlap against Burton, so this was no instinctive caution. It resulted in everything coming down the centre through a midfield trio that put in a performance that was comprehensively ineffective. No need to pull out individuals – Watson has barely been permitted to string his laces, Guedioura just back from Africa, Doucouré must wonder whether he’s coming or going. It just didn’t work at all, no energy, no movement, no attempt to address it – all three played the ninety minutes although, and I’m conscious that I’m lapsing into qualifiers here, injuries to Pantilimon and Dja Djédjé limited flexibility.
Pete had welcomed the trip as a vastly more attractive way to spend a Sunday than hanging wardrobe doors, his default option. Can only imagine that Stefano Okaka’s immobile, lazy performance reminded him unhelpfully of his wardrobes… we’ve seen Okaka display a menace and an energy on occasions, terrorising opponents. On others, particularly when he’s receiving it rather than dishing it out, he’s of very little value – though at least he was visibly inept, unlike Jerome Sinclair.
Meanwhile, Millwall were doing what they were scripted to do. Coming at us, hounding us… physical, yes, overphysical sometimes. But this is a cup tie for goodness sake, what do you expect? Any lingering irritation at the Lions’ strong-arm tactics disappeared with Steve Morison’s post-match comments. “If you don’t like it, go home”. Spot on, and fair enough. We didn’t like it. We somehow got to half time at nil-nil regardless, in part due to luck, in part due to an opposing attack that was more bluster than finesse, in part due to some decent defending – good to see Mapps back in the fold, he didn’t let himself down whilst Younès Kaboul was comfortably our standout player, full of welly and decisiveness, the defender we thought we’d signed.
5- In the second half things got better, which as you’ll have gathered isn’t really saying an awful lot. The tempo that was utterly absent from our play in the first half had evidently been a talking point and our passing suddenly had a bit of snappiness, urgency. Nothing dramatic, we hardly took the home side to task but it was something. Meanwhile Dja Djédjé and Mason had finally been given licence to push on… the youngster had a tougher task than against Burton and his inexperience was exposed more than once but he kept at it and was arguably our biggest threat, sending in half a dozen or so worthy crosses in the second period from wide on the left. Okaka wasn’t enough of a target and too easily marshalled… I was reminded of a Wolves supporter (and the accent doesn’t come across in print, so superimpose that…) describing new signing Robert Taylor’s aerial threat: “When he joomps in the air, ye can’t get a ciggy paper oonderneath him…”.
Nonetheless, we were beginning to dominate, finally. Troy came on to loud hurrahs and now there was some urgency too, a weapon in attack. Let’s not start taking his attitude for granted, dips in form or otherwise. Millwall were looking leggy, I can’t have been the only one thinking we’d gotten away with it – would this be a replay, an unspectacular win at the Vic in ten days after which we put the whole sorry mess behind us much as we did Bristol City three years ago, or would we grab a thoroughly unmerited winner. Neither, as it turned out.
6- We got to the station platform having made it through a hastily constructed police safety cordon just before it was closed. Our relief was short-lived; timing had awarded us the honour of not-quite-squeezing onto the first train and spending the next fifteen minutes – including a futile hunt by staff for the puller of an emergency cord in an unspecified but sardine-rammed carriage – in the cold drizzle on this iconic football-followers’ station. A cup shock, yes, two divisions, yes yes. But Millwall and Watford… not cut from the same cloth, exactly, but certainly used to being stocked at the same class of retailer. Let’s not get above ourselves.
The train northwards from St Pancras was no better. We missed a quick one, so caught a stopper. It being Sunday, when nobody travels, there was engineering’n’that and limited trains. So all those people who don’t travel on a Sunday were rammed into this one. When we got to West Hampstead, the passengers on the preceding train – the fast one, it’s windscreen having been smashed in the interim – joined us, often indelicately. A fitting end to the day.
Pete, surprisingly, declared himself satisfied with a good day out despite everything. He’s a lifer, natch. Which takes me back to my original point. Watching football, watching your team, is a good thing. Shouldn’t be taken for granted, not by anyone. Not us, not the players, not the manager… who’s bizarre post-match assessment echoed his countryman, Gianluca Vialli, in their surprising perspective.
Arsenal, on Tuesday, looks ugly. The players we’ve signed look decent – Cleverley a great fit, Zaraté and Niang apparently offering some much-needed magic dust. But we’re going to need to see an awful lot more than this.
Watford 0 Middlesbrough 0 (14/01/2017) 15/01/2017Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. On Thursday morning, unaware of the breaking news, idle curiosity led me to dig up some early eighties albums on Spotify, much-loved during my student days a few years after their release. They sounded distant and diminished, almost comically morose and bleak; they belonged to an entirely different time, both musically and personally, and it was clear during the couple of hours we spent together that we had nothing left to say to each other. A lifetime ago, near enough. Another world. We’ve all moved on.
2. But some things endure. Some things are forever, or near enough. For all that we enjoy watching the clips of yesteryear, were this only about our golden memories of a football team and its manager, it’d be a very different occasion. In the expressions of sadness, pride and remembered joy since the news of his death, it’s evident that the seeds planted by Graham Taylor way back in the late seventies and onwards have continued – and will continue – to grow. That the people who bought into the values he instilled in the club and its surrounding community continue to do so. That the significance of those values in an era of insatiable profiteering is no less than it was in an era of brutal hooliganism.
The idea that a football manager could shape a generation – or one town’s contribution to a generation, at any rate – seems completely preposterous when you write it down. I can imagine Graham chuckling as I type. But you were probably there too, you were probably part of it as well. You know what it meant. If I count the people who showed me how I ought to live my life, what I ought to value and what I ought to aspire to, I get to Graham Taylor very quickly indeed. It’s just there, it requires no thought at all. It’s part of me. I know I’m not alone.
3. This isn’t an easy day for anyone. It comes with the inevitable awkwardness of these occasions, the desire to say it all and the utter impossibility of doing so. We do the appropriate thing: we do our best. The club conducts itself with considerable class, with the restraint and good taste that’s typified this new era. The minute’s applause is intensely moving, almost lifting the stadium from its foundations.
I take reassurance in the fact that he knew, that we told him time and again of our endless gratitude and admiration, that he invariably preferred to graciously acknowledge that adoration before moving onto a proper conversation about something of greater interest. He knew. He got it. Incredibly, it didn’t really change him. But I hope that some kind of comfort is given to his family, to whom we owe almost as much as the man himself.
4. Not an easy day, least of all for today’s crop of players, charged with honouring an occasion of which most can only have a limited understanding. In some ways, a game of football is exactly what you need: something to get lost in, something to carry aloft the songs from the good old days. Elton John’s Taylor-made Army rings around Vicarage Road again, through tears and smiles. In other ways, a game of football is the last thing you need: it’s not as if we can throw four up front and relive those good old days, and the deadening mundanity of a hard-fought mid-winter six-pointer feels distinctly out of keeping with what we wanted today to be about. Squibs don’t come much damper.
5. It quickly becomes apparent that the absence of Nordin Amrabat leaves us with not a jot of creativity. Aware of this, we abandon all interest in passing the ball through midfield – Valon Behrami practically turns his back when possession is with our wing-backs behind him, safe in the knowledge that he won’t be involved until Boro have it back – and thud it long in search of a Deeney flick or, you know, something wherever possible. We were often guilty of over-passing last season, of being content to be tidy rather than incisive; we’ve certainly got that one sorted. It might’ve been kinder just to have given Ben Watson the season off.
Inevitably, we look better when we make progress in wide areas: Jose Holebas can hit a decent cross when afforded the opportunity, Younes Kaboul shows a surprising aptitude for attacking play once he gets through the gears on his occasional forays. Abdoulaye Doucoure, the pick of the midfield, has a drive saved from the edge of the area. At the Rookery end, we’re largely untroubled until Stuani has a close-range poach disallowed for what appears to be a tight offside; he later floats a chip onto the roof of the net when well-placed. Not a game in which you want to concede a cheap goal. Or any goal, come to think of it. Nobody does.
6. Half-time brings chocolate, which tastes almost indecently luxurious in the context of such unsweetened gruel. Of the parade of former players, Luther pays the most heartfelt and touching tribute, the force of his emotions evident in every word. “He was like a father to me. I owe everything in my life to Graham Taylor.” It takes you back to a time when Luther Blissett wasn’t a household name, when all of this magical, wonderful story was yet to unfold. It makes you realise how fragile it all is. How precious.
7. We do more than enough to win the game in the second half, while also failing to do so. It’s a crude assault on the Boro goal, like trying to pick a padlock with a rocket launcher, but it pretty much does the job: we’re a gigantic side and absolutely dominant at set pieces, when we can remember to deliver them rather than trying to be clever. Boro gradually retreat in protection of a point that’s considerably better for them than it is for us, leaving only the threat of it being one of those games where Gestede thumps a header into the top corner in the ninety-third minute. If my memory is to be believed, that’s happened at least four times in the last five years.
We force chances at a steady pace. Valdes saves comfortably from Okaka, Capoue swings a curler very narrowly wide, Cleverley hits the post from a long throw, Deeney breaks clear and is foiled only by a minute deflection as the ball travels under Valdes’ dive. None of it is anything other than agricultural, although Cleverley’s fifteen minute cameo in a supporting forward role suggests some promise of better things to come.
And I have to say that, on this evidence, better things are desperately needed. Yes, injuries. Yes, squad lopsidedness. Yes, I get all of that, I sympathise. Still. You can sustain this kind of football while it’s successful, because none of us care as much about style as we care about winning. But heavens above, it looks ugly as sin without that hazy glow. If you’re going to play like this, if you’re going to abandon aesthetics in favour of brute force, you’d better bloody win. Especially if you’re not going to bother to build a relationship with the supporters.
Thin ice, I suggest.
8. But that can all wait. It’s easy to contrast the past with the present, but nothing will ever match up, let’s face it. In truth, the generosity of the Pozzos to those who built the club before they bought it is uncommon and laudable; there are few people successful enough to buy a football club and yet modest enough not to need to prove how thoroughly they own it by trampling over its history. Today isn’t about them, clearly, but it’s framed by their willingness to cede the spotlight. And when you look more closely, you find those seeds still growing, still branching out: the recent opening of the Sensory Room, for example, feels as if it comes from much the same place, and the same set of values, as the family enclosure once did.
There’s only one Graham Taylor. But there are many of us, and there’s no better tribute than to continue to place the values he instilled at the heart of our football club. And beyond, to continue to make them part of our lives.
Family and community, open and welcoming and inclusive, determined and ambitious, modest and yet proud.
Elton John’s Taylor-made Army.
One Graham Taylor. 12/01/2017Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
How to add anything. What to add. Eulogies can be so dull. How not to flounder in superlatives? Forgive me if this isn’t coherent…
It’s tempting to list achievements. Promotions, Cup Final, Europe and so on. You know all that, though. How about… pre-GT we had spent three of 96 years in the top two divisions. Since GT arrived we’ve spent four outside the top two divisions. Three of them getting promoted. His legacy includes a permanent shift in status. But more than “mere” achievement on the pitch, dramatic and fabulous though it was, changing our status though it did, was the “how”. The what AND the how were what made him, what made us.
I started coming to Vicarage Road in 1980. The best time, the worst time. The best because we were on the gallop, on the way up. The worst because, by the coincidence of my birth, I joined the party at a time when Watford were fantastic, on the pitch, off the pitch and that left a legacy. Such high standards. In that period, the five seasons that it took us to get to the top flight from the fourth division, we found time to record nine cup shocks. Nine victories against higher-division opposition, including Manchester United (twice), European Champions Nottingham Forest and the overturning of Southampton’s 4-0 first leg lead with a 7-1 second leg. For longer serving Watford fans this was remarkable. For the kids… it was fantastic, but surely how football always was. Beating the big guys. Going out simply trying to score more than the other lot, and expecting to do so.
And more than that, being part of the family. Mike Walters‘ brilliant piece in the Mirror hits the nail on the head; he changed the way the club was. He made it inclusive, safe, fun, and created a legacy that has little parallel. So you have kids of that generation – my generation – growing up with a wonderfully romantic, positive view of how Watford should be. What the family club was like, what it meant. And that filters down. The prominence of red was part of that. Yellow and black, smart, classy. Yellow, red and black, fun.
England. Yes, whatever. Expectations exaggerated by an overperforming – some might say lucky – 1990 team which lost key personnel, had others on the way out. Gascoigne injured, Shearer injured, still had to be horribly unlucky. Whatever. The lazy, armchair view, the pillorying that we’ve all heard too often still makes me bitterly angry more than twenty years on. Except that he had the good grace to get over it, or at least not to let it poison the way he conducted himself, so heaven knows I can manage. And anyway, but for that would we have got him back, to do it all again?
Anecdotes. So many. The one about Elton and the bottle of brandy. The one about ringing up fans who hadn’t renewed Season Tickets. The one about being some stranger’s best man just because he’d asked him to. The ones about the Family Enclosure Christmas parties where all the players turned up (in 1985, for example, the day after a horrible, violent clash with Tottenham) and he had as much time as anyone wanted. The thing that’s really clear, from social media, from your mates, from the radio is that everyone who ever had any contact with him had such an anecdote, or six. The one where he is introduced to someone, meets them again six months later and remembers the name of their wife and kid. The one where he meets a colleague of mine on the starting line of the London Marathon and when the name is shared asks the colleague to thank me for sponsoring him.
It’s all so human. He was brilliant, brilliant at what he did. As extraordinary as a rock star, a leader of industry, a fine artist, a racing driver, a bestselling writer. But he was a real person too, touchable, reachable, quirky, goofy. He replied to every star-struck letter that I sent him from the age of 10 to the age of 37. As Fran put it elsewhere, whenever you met him he made you feel as if the privilege was his. He was brilliant AND human, and that made him truly, truly inspirational.
He was loved by many people, but he was the heart and soul of our club and our town.
We owe him a send-off. We need to pull ourselves together.
See you Saturday.
Watford 2 Burton Albion 0 (07/01/2017) 08/01/2017Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
1- So the F.A. Cup, then. Not What It Once Was. Maybe. Overburdened with bluster, the same tosh about romanticism that gets trotted out more or less annually around now before the TV companies pick the predictable games. And yes, West Ham getting humped was very funny but just as good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes sometimes bad decisions get lucky.
Either way, the F.A. Cup hasn’t plumbed the depths of the League Cup. The third round IS exciting, whatever, even with an absentee list that’s stronger than the available eleven, even in a no-win fixture at home to a new Championship side. We’re expected to go through, it’s a free punch for the Brewers. Romanticism and David v Goliath is all very well until you’re suddenly Goliath, relatively speaking, on the back of awful form and that injury list.
So, the decision to neglect Season Ticket holder’s right to their seat for the League Cup game against Gillingham was kind of OK. Everyone knows what the first round, our first round of the League Cup is about by now, few enough want to subject themselves to it. But for this? This is supposed to be a big deal, at least a serious game, and I want to be sitting in my seat, with my family and my mates. It’s part of the ritual, being denied “my” seat just pisses me off. Anecdotally a good number of the no-shows were turned off by that decision. Should I come to the cup game? Well I haven’t got my seat, so actually no. The club are well in credit as far as treating support is concerned and heaven knows that there are bigger things in the world to worry about but surprising that the importance of these things to folks is misjudged. Don’t think it’s just me.
2- So we watch developments from the Elton John stand, which adds to the sense of this not being quite normal. Daughter 2 has her eyes on our seats. Daughter 1’s appears to be free, the other two are not and Daughter 2 glowers her disapproval. Fortunately it’s overcast; it’s thirty plus years since I sat in the Family Enclosure, I don’t miss the peaked cap.
The team selection was always going to be a source of fascination; whilst Walter has precious little flexibility it’s slightly surprising that he’s gone for virtually the strongest available selection in the circumstances. We’re pared back enough, perhaps, but you did half expect more than merely Seb Prödl given a rest on the bench, albeit perhaps a few of those unwell or unfit might have been risked for a League game. As it is, Seb is called into action anyway as Cathcart, who had taken a blow early on, is pulled up with what the ref indicates is a head injury. Initially it seems that he’s going off for stitches or something, but Seb’s on the touchline before Cathcart gets there. In fairness, the back three are immaculate throughout and in the first half are more than a match for the tentative questions that Burton throw at them.
But the stand-out selection is Brandon Mason at left back following his debut off the bench in the less forgiving environment of the caning by Spurs six days ago. Yes it’s been forced – it’s difficult to conceive of an alternative selection that wouldn’t have been extremely wonky – but it’s welcome anyway, a Good Thing. And Mason plays his role to a tee on several levels. His relentless positiveness and enthusiasm stands out a mile – he’s clearly having a whale of a time, and is the one pelting up the flank on the overlap to make an option. He gets carried away too… more than once he’s pulled back into position, his eagerness to play as a winger exposing Britos behind him and attracting stern words from senior colleagues, not least the still off-beam Ighalo who is reluctant to indulge the youngster with a pass. On balance though it’s a complete triumph… brave, bold, energetic, robust, tougher than his slight frame suggests. The crowning moment comes with yet another scamper down the left, a vicious low cross and Christian Kabasele is all alone at the far post. Mason’s celebration is a thing of joy, certainly unmatched in the SEJ stand where daughter 1 is aghast at the lack of jumping around.
3- Burton turn out to be a convenient opponent. Tough and competitive, putting a lot of pressure on the ball they are characterised by a level of aggression that just about stays the right side of the line, a general bluntness up front and a who’s who of familiar names from Championship years past – not the stars, the other guys, the supporting cast. Lee Williamson, who joined the Hornets ten years ago this week, ticks all of those boxes; five years later he received a red card here in Sheffield United’s colours for taking out Lloyd Doyley, here his thunderous challenge on Capoue was as clean as a whistle but left no margin for error and saw the Frenchman sitting on his backside and rubbing his jaw. Elsewhere Albion reveal a decent line in narky little forwards; Jamie Ward is a first half sub, Luke Varney stretchered off on his debut after a collision with Pantilimon. Andy suggests Jamie Cureton would have completed the set.
Overall though there is next to no threat on our goal in the first half. In the second period Albion have a lot more attacking width and have two good opportunities earlier on but are forced onto the back foot and having missed those chances offer little thereafter. We rarely threaten to overwhelm them, but it’s comfortable enough… long spells of possession that occasionally unsettle the visitors when we tease some discomfort from their defence.
4- The second period also sees two other fringe players make a claim. Jerome Sinclair has seen his status escalated from occasional bench-filler in the wake of our current situation. Here, fielded as part of a rotating front three with Troy and Ighalo he failed to impose himself in the first half, often struggling to keep his feet. In the second… at one-up we’re always vulnerable to an equaliser, however stealthily it would have needed to sneak up on us, until Sinclair sets off on a slalom from the halfway line midway through the half and finishes with a flourish. Daughter 1 and I execute the premeditated strategy of celebrating like it’s the Rookery and be damned. Sinclair’s made it look easy – in fairness Burton’s resistance was cursory – but his confidence blossoms thereafter. Now he’s a menace, running at a Burton defence that’s clearly had enough, first releasing Ighalo for a painfully deliberate shot that McLaughlan saves then threatening to reprise his earlier effort with angles, this time, narrowed by the Brewers’ once-bitten caution. Difficult to dispute Mazzarri’s later assertion that getting games is the key thing for him on this evidence.
Meanwhile, the near-mythical Brice Dja Djédjé has made an unheralded entrance from the bench and looks thoroughly accomplished… dynamic, powerful and clearly happy to be playing football at last he comes close to crowning his cameo with a goal, clouting a long range shot enthusiastically, narrowly over. Like Sinclair, his energy and willingness are welcome.
5- Overall, then, reassuringly straightforward. True, an away tie against a Championship side in a better vein of form might have presented more of an issue but all in all and against all expectations – and awaiting news on what will hopefully have been a precautionary withdrawal for Cathcart – the game has proven to be a Good Thing in its own right. Yes, you’d want to see us playing better and creating more and looking more confident but it’s a positive step nonetheless in it’s routineness, in racking up a comfortable win despite everything. Good showings by several younger or newer players, a clean sheet and no replay.
Job Done. Yoorns.
Watford 1 Tottenham Hotspur 4 (01/01/2017) 02/01/2017Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- It had occurred to us, pre-match, contemplating the magnitude of the challenge that today’s fixture falling where it did might not be a Bad Thing. A huge ask in the circumstances, without doubt… a monumental absentee list, an opponent who would be daunting at the best of times. Perhaps this was what we needed… a backs-to-the-wall, free punch game to quell the wobbles in the crowd. Memories of Sunderland in 1999, when crumbling form was rendered irrelevant as the runaway league leaders arrived in town. Or failing that… perhaps losing against Spurs was something that could be ridden out anyway. Losing to Spurs happened last season despite a sterling performance. Had this been a more moderate opponent perhaps the injury list would cost us more obvious points.
2- Good god this was awful. Let’s not pretend otherwise. For half an hour or so we hung in there… did a reasonable job of keeping the ball up at the Vicarage Road end, dug in in midfield, got the ball to Amrabat. Nothing as reckless as a threatening attack as such, but we were doing OK.
Despite which, there was a suspicion that we felt we were getting away with it. That Heurelho Gomes was quite happy to keep possession and wait to be closed down. That in such circumstances things DO look fine until they don’t, the tunnel at the end of the light. Adlène Guedioura had been our strongest performer in this opening period, taking responsibility, both fighting for possession and making things happen. Unfortunate, if inevitable, that it was he that gave the ball away for Holebas to be skinned down our left, where Spurs were focusing their attacks, and Kane to finish ruthlessly.
That was it. Perhaps I was kidding myself, perhaps they game was always over. In any event, from that point the result was never in doubt and from that minute on anyone in the home stands would have taken the scoreline at the time, no questions asked. Trippier crossed brilliantly in too much space for Kane to finish again. Kaboul haplessly gave the ball to Alli, who struck a third. It felt clinical, but Spurs had missed chances too.
3- Three points to restate from the Palace report, without frippery in the interest of brevity. One. Our injury situation is astonishing and unprecedented. I don’t know whether there’s any “blame” there, but it would be insane to imagine that Duxbury and Pozzo hadn’t considered that possibility. Two. Losing players in the warm-up, during the game, screws things up even if you’re NOT down to the bare bones. Three. 3-5-2 only works when there’s an attacking threat to offset the vulnerability of the defence.
In the wake of this horror show, all sorts of accusations have been thrown at Walter Mazzarri. Amongst these, inevitably, has been his inability to master English publicly, his lack of relationship with the support always likely to be a stick to beat him with when things went wrong. Other than that… of the above, we have to reserve judgement on the fitness thing. I just don’t know. As for formation… difficult. With fourteen available(ish) senior(ish) players, two of whom goalkeepers, our options were rather limited. With four of that number centre-backs the decision to stick with three at the back is at least rationalisable, even if a 4-4-2 might have given us less of a flimsy look.
None of the back three covered themselves in glory, Prödl at fault for the miserable fourth at the start of the second half on which the second half stood before us like a chasm. However the most fundamental problem with the side is in the midfield; it has been all season, as even with all personnel available it’s only ever kind of worked. Here… Guedioura was always the most willing and the bravest, but simply gives the ball away too much. Capoue, in a game where we really needed the senior players to step up, disappeared as Spurs took the lead. Difficult to recall the last time he played well. And Doucouré looked like a half-decent player who hasn’t played all season. Good bits, and lots of iffy, out-of-touch, wonky bits. Difficult to know what could have been done differently… we needed a much more robust option than was available.
4- Lack of passion has been the other criticism. Lack of fight, lack of looking like they cared. With very few exceptions this is not an accusation can reasonably have been levelled before today, whatever else has been going wrong. In this one… with such a limited hand, against an in-tune opponent, at four down with the visitors quite visibly in cruise control, it’s hard not to be sympathetic – it’s not as if the rest of us went into the fixture beating our chests. But you want more than this.
Things did get a bit better, once given the room to do so. Undoubted highlight was the introduction of Brandon Mason from the bench. Forced by circumstances, perhaps, but the prudent withdrawal of the overheating Holebas saw the first home-grown debut for I don’t know how long. Well enough he did too, holding his own on the left flank and combing with the lively Jerome Sinclair. Good also to see Troy chatting in his ear when the ball went dead – if heads were down, not all responsibilities were being neglected.
5- Sinclair attacked a deep cross, just as he did at Stevenage pre-season. Headed the ball out of Lloris’ hands, Michael Oliver blew up but it was something. Then we scored, the scruffiest untidiest effort imaginable, officially Kaboul’s but it could have been any one of three or four. Suddenly we looked alive, and ended on the front foot to give the result a lustre it maybe didn’t deserve.
Much as we’re in a bad place, we have to cling to that. We’re promised new recruits and players will come back and so it’s a matter of not getting carried away by however many wins in whatever, or by the depths of this particular afternoon. This is a better squad, a better side than circumstances have allowed us to demonstrate and certainly better than this game afforded, a game in which everything was stacked against us. Yes, it was terrible, a terrible afternoon.
That’s all it was.