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Watford 1 Tottenham Hotspur 4 (01/01/2017) 02/01/2017

Posted 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.




1. Paul Perkins - 02/01/2017

Yep a perfect summary of a dismal afternoon.
Top marks though Matt for an excellent use of the word “rationalisable” – a word either picked up from under our rather forlorn depleted bench or from the minutes of a boardroom meeting at Unilever; not sure which..
Happy New Year to the BHappy editors

Roger Smith - 02/01/2017

Totally agree with that, and particularly for not overlooking the half-hour or so before they scored. Doom and gloomers are likening us to relegation fodder, but Southampton might be a better analogy, as they too lost at home to this Spurs side by the same margin. Let’s keep a sense of perspective.

2. Stuart - 02/01/2017

Fair enough Matt, but the thing that worries me is putting this result (despite the odds stacked against us here) in the context of some of our other more recent performances when we have had more players available for selection. The thing that scares me is us heading into free fall and whether a slide can be arrested before it’s either too late, or we’re well into a relegation scrap. I hope I’m not overreacting here, but I think it’s a valid point.

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2017

It’s a fair point, and we’ve been relegated before with a squad that would probably have been OK but for an injury crisis (1996 springs to mind). The point I was trying to make was that losing to Spurs in that context, whatever the fashion, doesn’t make us relegation candidates in itself. It was a bad day, but citing it as typical and extrapolating is daft. You cite other poor recent performances, and its tempting to draw a straight line through the performances but the availability of personnel is a confounding factor. We needed creativity in the summer and brought in Pereyra, Janmaat, Success, Okaka, all creative in their own way. All injured.

3. MartinG - 02/01/2017

I wondered how you’d write up that pile of dross from yesterday and yet again you’ve hit the nail on the head. In 50 years of watching football I can rarely recall seeing so many bad individual performances in one team. Brandon Mason definitely was the highlight. The Stoke game is going to be very interesting in terms of reaction (or not).

4. Martin B - 02/01/2017

1881/Rookery deserve credit for trying to breathe life into the afternoon in the 10 minutes before Watford’s goal. Particularly enjoyed “Brandon Mason, he’s one of our own” as a riposte to the Spurs fans song about Kane.

And talking of the Spurs fans … back in April I recall them singing “Leicester City we’re coming for you” as they won 4-0 at Stoke. They did not win one of their remaining four games. After the tasteless reprise of the same song yesterday in relation to the upcoming game with Chelsea (presumably referring to recent revelations about the disgraceful treatment of young footballers) I will smile if the outcome on Weds is the same as it was April.

5. NickB - 02/01/2017

‘The tunnel at the end of the light’ is 1) brilliant and 2) worryingly apposite. Well done for finding five thinks amongst that utter dross.

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2017

Thx Nick. Was proud of that one… 🙂

6. Stephen B - 02/01/2017

As ever an excellent summary of events amongst all the clamour and emotion – most of which lacks any kind of critical analysis let alone any attempt to offer up a remedy other than “get rid ……” insert Mazzari, Duxbury, Capoue, Ighalo….I’ve even seen Pozzo on one forum.
The heat maps provided by 11tegen11 provide some data to contrast the success of Tottenham vs our abject performance. For those interested, it’s free to follow. It illustrates the midfield problem and a major concern. Our players simply don’t trust each other to take and retain a pass through the mid third of the pitch. We miss Pereyra enormously and anyone else who can retain position. Even Amrabat, a rare highlight of the season so far, doesn’t fancy passing to anyone in midfield now that Janmaat and Pereyra are no longer on the pitch….Gradually perhaps this has seeped into the collective mindset of the defenders who now hoof it at every opportunity. Tottenham countered this very effectively with three centre backs…….which made it look like there was a problem up front but in reality the challenges lie elsewhere even if Ighalo and Deeney had been in the form of 2015.
As Matt reports, Spurs are exactly the wrong side to face at the moment – and I thought they were the best team we played last year too, especially at WHL.
As for a remedy……surely hat is what the enormous back room staff are there to work on, but getting back trust without changing personnel would appear to be unlikely – so over to Gino.

7. Graham Daly - 02/01/2017

Thank goodness for a sensible report – reading the Wobby comments makes one want to reach for the razor. They all seem to be expert medics there, as well as genius managers. I feel better now – listening to it on the radio was torture enough for 1 day. And it’s also true that Spurs have demonstrated before that we suit their game. They destroyed us at white hart lane last season -even though it was 1-0. Anyway, we can play better – WILL play better – and today will be forgotten – by me anyway.

8. Goldenboy60 - 02/01/2017

Our start to the season now seems a long time ago, and in this period we have lost some good players who have ‘made a difference’.

My concern yesterday is that as soon as we went one down the spirit of the side deflated like a balloon with a tiny air hole.

The lack of belief and bullishness from the seasons beginning has disappeared. This season if you’re not in the top 6 you are in a relegation battle. It is that tight and even. We are about to lose both Amrabat and Guedioura after tomorrow’s game, and so for me this is really concerning. Of course Geudioura would not be a mainstay in the side but for injuries and for the fact that he gives the ball away very cheaply, though I love his enthusiasm and determination. Capoue has disappeared.

For me we still haven’t got a system to play. The swapping and changing does not help the players settle into a ‘way’ of playing. Combined with the injuries we have, we should be very concerned.

And of course we should be asking about the injuries, especially those that could be avoided. How can we lose 2 players (Janmaat and Behrami to hamstring pulls within the first 10 minutes. When that happened I was hearing alarm bells. Unheard of before.

I am not normally doom and gloom, but I do think Mazzarri has lost the plot, and doesn’t know which way to turn. I always appreciated QSF, but do so even more now. But ultimately it is the players who make the difference. Deeney and Ighalo are shadows of what they were last season. Perhaps the excitement of the first season has now gone and the real tests are now. We will see, but the players now need to show great grit and determination, otherwise a defeat at Stoke can start a seriously worrying slide coupled with our now regular run of defeats. Now we will see what players come to the table.

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2017

I agree with all of this except the Mazzarri line. I agree that the lack of spirit is a concern, but think understandable if not forgivable in the circumstances. Mazzarri… we simply don’t know. Difficult to know what else he could have done with bodies available, difficult to judge the injuries thing or to point at him with authority (tho fair enough to ask). Dangerously easy to assume he doesn’t know what he’s at simply because we don’t hear his voice (or, rather, understand it…)

Goldenboy60 - 05/01/2017

Yes I totally get your point Matt. But the number of injuries are strange, especially the Hamstring pulls. I have never witnessed 2 players going with Hamstring pulls in the first 10 minutes. My feeling is that playing 11v11 games the day before a game is a nonsense unless it is shortened to practice particular patterns moves. I know from speaking to players from GT’s time, that they did practice 11 v 11 on a Friday morning in a full game. But it was more about movement, timing and getting a pattern of play. Jenkins pulling into space, Luther running in behind and Barnes and Calls getting real width. Now I don’t particularly know what they are doing on a Friday, but what I do see is players looking leggy and not sharp. This is a real concern and wonder what they do on the day before a game. REST is vital to pro’s the day before a game.

And just to say Doucoure was a breath of fresh air at Stoke. Boy that lad worked and ran his heart out.

9. sahorn1 - 02/01/2017

The MOTD2 team summarised our performance more succinctly than your excellent analysis Matt:-


Thank the Gods there are 3 woeful teams occupying the bottom 3 at the moment.
If they pick up and we continue with this lack of fight attitude, we are in trouble.

The reaction of the team at Stoke will be a good marker … it’s the hope that kills you etc etc ..

Roger Smith - 02/01/2017

I totally disagree. MoTD comment was OTT, and their specific criticism superficial. The difference was that our errors were ruthlessly punished, whilst we didn’t press hard enough to force errors in their defence.

Holebas was criticised because Kane got behind him, but then he might have intercepted the pass. He was also criticised for being out of position for the second goal but, with Watford breaking out of defence, he was getting into space as a wing back. A pass went astray and rebounded straight to a Spurs player who instantly found Trippier. Kaboul makes an error, but who would you expect to react quickest, Cathcart facing the wrong way or a world-class striker?

And I don’t think we lacked fight. It was just that Spurs were good enough to play around us. There were crunching tackles on both sides throughout the game, and Spurs players made several last-ditch tackles as we were about to pull the trigger.

If I had a specific criticism, it would be of Amrabat. Time and again he was found in space, but then deprived himself of that advantage by running at the Spurs defence. Contrast that with the almost first-time cross from Trippier for Spurs second. If there isn’t a Watford player to pass to, put it into space for the forward to run onto, and get there first.

10. Red - 02/01/2017

Looking to the future, not one of last seasons FA cup semi-finalists managers are still in charge, therefore Walt abandon that as a line of hope and let’s concentrate on the league.

11. SteveG - 02/01/2017

It’s always good to come on here for a rational view of life, and I’m normally an optimistic, glass-half-full sort of person. But I’m not entirely convinced that this was just a one-off, bad afternoon (which is definitely what I felt after we’d been stuffed by a rampant Liverpool at Anfield).

The desperate lack of alternatives at the moment is a real concern, as was the body language when we conceded that first goal – the shrugging of shoulders and evident complaining between players didn’t suggest that we were up for a fight back. We were never going to match Spurs for skill, but what was so disappointing was that they were definitely more up for it in terms of pressing, challenging and chasing down.

I’ve always believed that generally speaking the system should be built around the squad and under the circumstances a back 3 seems to me to be an essential. Given that Cathcart, Prodl and Britos were three of our more relaible players last year, I thought Flores should have given it a go, but now that we’ve added Kabasele, Kaboul and Mariappa to the squad, to leave four of them out of the starting 11 would be criminal. Added to which we don’t have an obvious choice for RB in a 4-4-2 unless Janmaat is fit again (using Cathcart in that position last year wasn’t excatly an encouraging precedent). On the other hand, given the paucity of resources at the moment, giving Brandon Mason a start at LB with Holebas in front of him as Left mid might be worth a shout in desperate times.

The next month or so will be crucial – if we can pick up points against Boro, Burnley and West Ham, then we can consign yesterday’s performance to ‘bad memories’ and go back to being comfortably inconsistent in mid-table. But if we lose to Burton, and then hit a losing streak in the league as well, then by the start of February a relegation battle will genuinely start to loom, and not just in the imagination of the trolls and doom-mongers on the Wobby message boards.

12. tonyfirasse - 03/01/2017

Thank you Matt for a very sobering review of what was a chastening experience. Being over from Abu Dhabi for the holiday period, I was able to catch the match at Vicarage Road with two of my daughters, rather than via Bein Sports. OK, my expectations were not terribly high and I had hoped that we would make an attempt at competing with Spurs as we did last season. We capitulated after the first Spurs goal and were never at the races thereafter. Spurs played with great movement and cohesion, with men making themselves available while we were a bunch of individuals who just seemed to want to get rid of the ball as soon as possible.
I remarked that the ‘rest of the season would be grim’ to the elder daughter who rounded on me for being negative and that being a supporter entails these highs and lows. So what positives can be gleaned?
1. The injury list would have stretched most Premier League squads
2. We ‘drew’ the second half 1 – 1
3. Doucouré got a start and kept plugging away, lasting the 90 minutes uninjured
4. Cathcart is back and did not get injured
5. Brandon Mason was a breath of fresh air and augurs well for blooding other promising young academy players
6. The 1881 section made themselves heard in the second half
7. There are at least three worse sides than the Hornets in this ‘top six versus the rest’ league
Am I clutching at straws? I will continue to watch the games out here in the Gulf and much, much prefer your reflections Matt and the balanced commenters, than the toxic bile spewed on the Watford Observer forums.
Happy New Year to all Watford FC supporters from a warm (23 degrees C), foggy Abu Dhabi!

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2017

Thanks Tony. Appreciate and agree with your positives… ex no 2, which is a straw too far. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Spurs could have made life more uncomfortable still if they’d really wanted to.

Goldenboy60 - 05/01/2017

I agree Matt. There was no point in them not taking their foot off the peddle having won the game already, even if you take into account goal difference.

tonyfirasse - 07/01/2017

Er, ‘drawing’ the second half was being deliberately facetious, indeed it seemed more like a training session for Spurs after their fourth goal…

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