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Millwall 1 Watford 0 (29/01/2017) 30/01/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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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…
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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.

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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.

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Comments»

1. Stuart - 30/01/2017

Arsenal’s a free hit, I don’t expect anything. Burnley at home though…lose that and I’ll start tying the white flag to the mast. I hate it when you get that feeling of freefall as a football fan.

Matt Rowson - 30/01/2017

Arsenal… yes, of course. Can’t help but feel trepidation in the circumstances tho. Especially when you have a ticket. Straw to cling to is that when expectations are lowest anything short of calamity is a positive…

Stuart - 30/01/2017

I guess this is part of being a fan Matt, you never know what might happen… However, I can’t help but feel we used our 30 year ‘Arsenal away win (or any win)’ pass last season in the Semi Final. Good luck, I hope you enjoy it. I’ll be watching Soccer Special on Sky from behind my sofa.

SteveG - 30/01/2017

Yes, but isn’t that the point – we’re not expecting anything much from the Arsenal game, but we should be able to beat Millwall. We’ve ‘saved’ Cleverley for Tuesday and we’ll probably still get stuffed. If we get an improbable point tomorrow then I’ll accept that I’m wrong and the team selection on Sunday was correct. But it doesn’t look a smart move at the moment

2. Old Git - 30/01/2017

The Vialli comparison had occurred to me, too. As it was then, there now seems to be no real commitment amongst the current squad (with, of course, exceptions). The week after we were reminded of GT’s ‘you don’t get cramp at this club’ exhortation, we were treated to the spectacle of a key defender at a key moment in a key game deciding to have a sit-down because he felt a twinge in his tootsie, poor dear. And how much does he get paid? Aidy Boothroyd built a team spirit, so did Slavisa and, until he knew he was going, so did QSF. And most emphatically, so did Sean Dyche who continues to do so at Burnley. That spirit extended to forming a bond with us, the fans. Vialli treated us with indifference and produced an unmotivted team. I fear Mazzari is going the same way.

3. Roger Smith - 30/01/2017

In this week’s Ref Review, Watford got the “Team most likely to feel brassed off award” for Okaka being pulled back by the arm with the score at 0-0 – a stonewall penalty: “If Martin Atkinson gives the foul…then Watford would almost certainly still be in this season’s FA Cup. It was clumsy by Webster and warranted a foul.”

Matt Rowson - 30/01/2017

All true. We were still terrible.

4. Harefield Hornet - 30/01/2017

The language issue obviously doesn’t help him but I’m sure a couple of decent results will dramatically change his surly demeanour!, preferably starting tomorrow night. Vialli spoke perfect English but what difference did that make? Results decided his future and will decide Walter’s future. Yesterday was an accident waiting to happen and as soon as I saw the line-up I wasn’t very optimistic but having said that I expected more from those that played – and I think, in his defence, the coach did also and was badly let down by those who should be fighting for a place in the first Xl. People in some circles are acting as though he actually told Guedioura to kick that free kick out of touch just to deliberately wind us all up. I also bought a ticket for tomorrow night so I’m desperately trying to remain positive! (for the moment)

5. Royston RoF - 30/01/2017

Overpaid, under delivering….at least today showed who is good enough and who isnt and who isnt wearing their Hornet on their heart….as GT always sad…”I expect you to do your best”..and that goes towards the management of today as well…

I cannot remember one forward move and a shot on goal that made the Millwall keeper have to look up and stop reading his Sunday newspaper
We allow teams to get 11 bodies behind the ball, the quick breaks which Troy and Igalo fed on last year just isnt happening…its like a bunch of pensioners playing “over 50” walking football…

Britos was getting skinned today, Plan B would be to play a left back to counter…or play ball forward that the winger now becomes ineffective and has to back track….

It could have been 1-0 down after 30 seconds…2-0 seconds after Gomes came on, and 3-0 for an offside goal that was debateable

I havent come away from a match so down beat for a long while…at least the coach on the way back went through the middle of London and we had a free tourist trip..highlight of the day

6. Tony H - 30/01/2017

Normally of a positive disposition but starting to feel the pain. Mazzari is behaving like a man waiting for a team to work with his formation and not adjusting the formation to the available team. To play 3 at the back you have to have the capability to play an attacking, pressing game but with our square pegs in round holes we end up playing 5 at the back with the free man being Britos or Kaboul who bring the ball out and then bypass the undermanned midfield with a long ball to a dejected frontline. If you haven’t got the right men available go 442 …. Really feel sorry for Deeney and Iggy who are starting to get the negative press but what do we expect with the service provided. If he stays then the boss will probably luck into the team for his style of play but do i want somebody in charge who doesn’t / can’t change according to the situation ?

7. PEDantic - 30/01/2017

It’s a sad day, but I think I finally have to admit it: I have to stop caring about the FA Cup because nobody else does any more.

Back in the 80s under GT, as soon as the New Year came round it was thrilling to look forward to 3rd round day. Would this be our year to get to Wembley, maybe even to win the Cup? A run to the later rounds was an adventure and the League games in between were almost an irrelevance. But now the rewards in the Premier League are so huge the FA Cup is really only for the lower and non-league teams (and the BBC) to get excited about.

After yesterday it’s clear that even our club doesn’t care about it, so why should I?

The performance at Millwall was as far away from the Watford we all expect to see as I can remember and the team selection is no excuse. I too have a ticket for Arsenal and expect a hard night tomorrow but more than that I dread a lesson in heart and fight from someone we know well on Saturday. Burnley will win away from home soon.

As fans we all yearn to see top players playing in the top league for our team but I’m worried we’ve sold our soul in exchange for it. Can anyone reassure me?

8. snorterboy (pete) - 30/01/2017

i was indeed a grand day out for the unitiated Matt. The wardrobe still looks accusingly at me. The most astonishing part of the day was the 1st half. I have now idea how 11 people can amble about apparently oblivious to why they were there to do. As a 57 year old touch rugby player I can hand-on-heart say I usually cover more distance in 51mins on a sunday morning than that shower. Stand outs for me in the somewhat more active second half were Mason, Deeney and Gomes – possibly the rest could follow Gregory’s harrying, energetic performance. and don’t ask me why but i’ll be back.

9. Simon - 30/01/2017

On the “treating the FA Cup with respect” question, I confess that I also looked at the line-up and thought “that looks weak”. On reflection, though, the 7 changes headline news is a bit misleading. Essentially you had:

Pantillemon for Gomes [no obvious impact on the game and rendered irrelevant after 30 minutes anyway]

Mariappa for Prodl [fair enough, this did arguably weaken things slightly but it’s hardly as though Mariappa is an unknown kid]

Dja Djedje for Kabasele [arguably an upgrade on paper at least as Dja Djedje is a more natural wing back and, given the response to Kabasele after Bournemouth ….]

Mason for Holebas [Holebas was suspended so it was a forced change. We could have played Janmaat but surely playing Mason can be filed under “good thing”.]

Watson for Capoue [this also probably weakened things given Watson’s lack of game time but Capoue hasn’t exactly been pulling up trees of late, to put it politely]

Guedioura for Cleverly [I think this weaken us but Guedioura was a regular started before AFCON and this was his first game back]

Sinclair for Deeney [this probably did weaken us but, again, there have been plenty asking for Deeney to be given a rest].

So, all told, only three of those changes were anything vaguely out of the ordinary.

All of that arguably makes things more concerning though as there seemed a complete lack of direction out there. No real force to the play or feeling that we had an identity. Instead, a lot of frustrated folk complaining about each other and the opposition rather than rolling their sleeves up. That almost seems to have become the default in recent weeks. Given the press reports about players complaining the training has been too hard and the reputation Mazarri had on his arrival for being a man of painstaking detail, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of it bearing fruit. As an example, the defensive errors seem to be the same every week – against Millwall, we once again got undone by a straight ball down the side and also had huge problems both holding a line and picking up runners between the center halves. That’s been the case whoever has been playing.

You would hope for a solid backs to the wall type reaction at Arsenal but, having seen the home game with Spurs, I’m really worried that we’ll ship 3 or 4 without Arsenal really having to try very hard. I really hope I’m wrong and that the return of Cleverly/introduction at some point of Niang give us some impetus going into Saturday but I’m not holding out much hope.

PS I really can’t stand the “how much do they get paid” line – I cannot believe that, once players are in a game situation, their pay packet makes any difference to their decision making. Kabasele clearly made a huge error of judgment against Bournemouth but to suggest that he could/should have reacted differently had his wages been higher or lower seems to me to be plain daft.


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