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Watford 3 Southampton 4 (04/03/2017) 05/03/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- It occurred to me this week that I am allowing my life to descend into a mere sequence of events dictated by routines borne of habit and laziness.  Every stage, every decision pre-scripted.  Middle-age steers you towards such a life, of course…  jobs have to be turned up to on time, kids have school hours, gym classes, cello lessons to be navigated.  In between these things you have to fit other stuff and because so much is timetabled the other stuff also becomes timetabled…  supermarket run happens on a Friday evening when it’s empty.  Gym can be fitted in on a Wednesday evening when the girls are at swimming lessons.

As a diabetic statistician – and therefore of reasonably ordered mind – with a propensity to cram in things like writing match reports the pressure to succumb to this demand for routine is almost overwhelming.  It sometimes feels as if every step of every day could have been scripted. I wake up at 7 and give myself my first dose of insulin. I get up and empty the dishwasher, prepare a child’s packed lunch.  Take various tablets, check my blood sugar, prepare breakfast (Monday: Salmon and Eggs, Tuesday: Cottage cheese with fruit) and then take more insulin.  And so on.  I might as well not be here.  You could stick a stunt double in my place, or a robot with a set of instructions, and not lose anything.  Actually, you might get more interesting conversation.

Today was the day I started fighting back.  Nothing too reckless you understand…  a different menu option at the pre-match meal, a different choice of turnstile on the way into the Rookery.  These small acts of rebellion will build up over time, even if my co-editor would warn me of the risks of upsetting the Gods of pre-match routine were he here.

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2- I’m not the only one who’s been ringing the changes.  The 1881 appear to have revised their flag distribution strategy, today confined to their own home base on the west side of the Rookery.  This is a shame, even if it only occurs to me as the pre-Z-cars anthem pipes up and the absence of a flagpole in my hand and yellow and black fabric obscuring my vision jars.  Something’s missing.  A shame because showing your colours literally – not merely symbolically, by turning up n’that – is a statement of pride and sets a good tone.  The wall of colour has been a fine fine thing, but I guess I’m not the one who’s been giving up time to sort it.  Thanks to those that have.

On the pitch, Stefano Okaka is the man chosen to fill the space in the line-up vacated by Mauro Zárate; he’s up front with Troy, Niang starts on the right of midfield with Capoue on the left whilst a defensive jumble about sees Seb Prödl come in and Younès Kaboul shunted across to right back.

As last week, we started aggressively.  Heaven knows there will be plenty to bemoan about what follows but we’ve made a habit of starting well and shouldn’t lose or overlook that… here, Stefano Okaka bullied open the space to hold the ball up in the area and lay back to Deeney who improvised an excellent volleyed finish with his left foot. He’s scored in five of our last six league games.

3- But as last week, the suggestion that we would canter off into the sunset and record a comfortable win proved illusory.  Whilst we retained a modicum of threat after our goal our chances were snatched, or optimistic from range.

Southampton, meanwhile, were very good indeed.  It’s always tempting to focus on your own inadequacies in assessing a defeat, but this wasn’t a game in which our failings presented the win to the opposition whatever the scoreline or match highlights might suggest.  Southampton’s movement and set-up asked those questions of us.. a tough, efficient midfield, all sorts of width on both flanks stretching us all over the place, and the alertness and mobility of Manolo Gabbiadini down the centre.

And so they flowed at us with increasing inevitability.  Kaboul has done a passable job as a makeshift right-back in the past but struggled here as did the entire back four.  In midfield we simply weren’t getting enough of the ball…. Behrami was subjected to a couple of heavy early challenges and was a pale form of his usual self. Cleverley was again the best of an underwhelming bunch in midfield but struggled to get hold of the game.

Saints equalised… perhaps we were unlucky, Redmond vaulted Tadic’s shot on its agonising way through, didn’t get a touch but was clearly gaining an advantage by obscuring and potentially distracting Gomes.  It could and perhaps should have been called offside, but there was no denying that Southampton were worth parity.  More aggravating still was the visitors taking the lead on half time… we thought we’d got away with it, perhaps the players did to.

4- Routine has its place, of course.  Part of our problem – in part reflecting the disruption that injuries have wreaked on the side – is that there doesn’t seem to be a routine at all, no “this is what we do”… it’s reliant on pressurising mistakes (and Saints, particularly Soares at right back, weren’t immune from those) but when we have the ball it seems so.. heavy, deliberate and anxious.  There’s no rhythm, no familiar way of playing.  No stock goals either… no Ardley humping it to Helguson at the far post, as we’ve lamented before.  You can’t rely on inspiration indefinitely.

Inspiration came though, and off the bench in the form of Isaac Success.  Mazzarri’s press conference quotes implied fitness and form issues;  certainly there have been concerns over the former, he’s yet to start at home and even here his introduction was agonisingly prolonged as if we were trying to work out how much injury time would be added and delayed to accommodate it.  But I’ve not seen any “form” issues; on his best cameos he’s dominated the games he’s been thrown into;  at worst he’s made us look more potent, given the opponent a problem.

He replaced Capoue, who had struggled on the left.  His generally patchy form notwithstanding, it’s now over a year since his one good game on the left of midfield – at Old Trafford – so you’ve got to wonder how long that will be fallen back on as a plausible option.

Within ten minutes Okaka, whose urgency stood out even if he did occasionally look as if he simply wanted someone to have a barney with, brought down the ball and released Success down the left.  The Nigerian clipped a ball in to the near post where Okaka met it sharply.  Two all.

5- It would have been daylight robbery, but we weren’t given long to savour the possibility.  Both of Southampton’s decisive goals were calamitous from our point of view;  Gomes, in particular, who had kept us in it earlier in the game should have done better on both occasions.  Abdoulaye Doucouré’s consolation was almost aggravating – a cross floated in by Niang, more involved than last week but still underwhelming, was allowed to travel miles before being tapped in by the surprised Frenchman.  Saints’ defence, albeit perhaps switched off on a two-goal lead, was get-attable, we just never held on to the ball for long enough to capitalise.

Walter asserted that we were worth a point, and that a break at 2-2 which saw Behrami win possession high up the pitch and Okaka briefly through on goal, constituted a match turning moment, an opportunity to win the game.  Both assessments seem optimistic.  Certainly we could have nicked a point… and the straw to cling to is that despite being outplayed by a very good side we were in it almost throughout.  But should have is stretching it, and a bit concerning that he’s done so (again).  As for Okaka’s chance… he never looked like pushing clear of Jack Stephens and was on his wrong foot.  Weighing this up against the seven Saints shots on target that didn’t find the net is hugely optimistic.

I’m still confident that we’re not in any trouble.  Leicester, Swansea and Palace may all have won but will need to keep doing so, and one of the bottom three will need to put in a similarly convincing and unprecedented run of form for us to be worried (although the one or two wins that would probably secure us safety might best be achieved before Easter, with Liverpool and Man City the only visitors thereafter).

I’m not entirely comfortable with “not relegated” being good enough though, or being the only yardstick to judge the season with.  Injuries notwithstanding, the squad’s a bit better than that.  Hopefully the return to fitness of Amrabat in time for a tasty looking trip to Selhurst in a fortnight will help us demonstrate that conclusively.

Yoorns.

 

 

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Comments»

1. Roger Smith - 05/03/2017

“You could stick a stunt double in my place, or a robot with a set of instructions…you might get more interesting conversation”… but not a more accurate or fairer report – thanks as usual, Matt.

As an enthusiastic flag waver, I too am hugely disappointed by the decision to withdraw them from the majority in the Rookery. If it is too onerous to deploy and recover them, how about putting a cartful at every staircase entrance, and asking anyone who takes one to return it after the game? I don’t think there would be many left unwaved.

HornetFez - 05/03/2017

Too many take them home, don’t bring them back, and argue aggressively when you point out that it is not “your flag”. Coupled with a lack of volunteers apparently. All a bit sad but one only has to read the Wobby comment pages to see how fractured the fan base is.

2. harefield hornet - 05/03/2017

You mentioned injuries above and the loss of Amrabat,Pereyra and Zarate, the players that provide guile and the creative spark, have been hugely overlooked by many who have spent the last 24 hours slagging off the team and Walter in particular. Ro lose one if these players is a big blow but in my opinion losing all three if them is a devastating to the squad.

Matt Rowson - 06/03/2017

Undoubtedly true. You could lump Janmaat in there too, at a push.

3. NickB - 05/03/2017

One thing in particular that continues to do my head in is the insistence on bringing back all eleven for corners, even when we’re losing. Yes, I know Dyche and Mackay did it too, but we just hump it clear to no one and it comes straight back. Yet when we’re attacking at set pieces, opponents leave players in advanced positions, break at speed when we inevitably get caught in possession and look like scoring at will against an overstretched defence. Grrrr.

Sequel - 06/03/2017

I’m glad you pointed this out, Nick. At times, we had all eleven players within 12 yards of the goal for corners. A tad unnecessary I’d say.
I think it was Jokanovic who, in one game, instructed us to leave 2 players on the halfway line when defending a corner (one on either side of the pitch). The opposition, of course, then had to leave 3 back, with 2 more outside the box.
I’d call that thinking outside the box!

4. Pete - 06/03/2017

Matt
Thanks for a very good report. Saturday was supposed to be my return to the ground after a lengthy hospitalisation. In the event I had to defer it till next month, but I’m not sure I missed much. I have followed all the games on tv and radio, and read all your comments. I think this is a most depressing season. My view is that Walter is up there with the ill-fated Harry Bassett in terms of his attitude and performance. I really hope he is asked to leave in the close season.
Pete

Matt Rowson - 06/03/2017

Thanks Pete, hope your recovery goes well.

Whilst it’s difficult to warm to Walter I find that comparison very harsh. For all the occasional wonkiness of the team we’re still mid-table and (relatively) comfortable. Bassett decimated a team that had finished ninth.

5. crisb - 06/03/2017

i think one of my overriding of this season is that things feel worse than they actually are. ie from someone who only looks at the results and the table every week, we beat man u and arsenal and have never been in any trouble with relegation, so all is hunky dory and anyone who says otherwise is a self-entitled prat right?

Yet from the performances I feel that’s far too rosy a view. the creative players being injured yes, but really none of them had elevated themselves to ‘lynch-pin’ status before their injuries. Some bright performances yes, but the abilities of Amrabat and Success in particular have been elevated far above what they have actually achieved on the pitch so far.

It just seems like all is not well with this bunch of players, cf Sannino’s reign.

Matt Rowson - 06/03/2017

I don’t completely agree with this cris, I think Amrabat HAS been a big loss, ditto Pereyra, and the injuries do disrupt everything tedious though it is to keep stating as a caveat.

But I share your feeling that “all is not well”. It’s never felt like a particularly happy camp has it.

6. Michael Smith - 06/03/2017

Thanks for another good report Matt. I think the mass exodus at 2-4 said it all on Saturday. Haven;t seen that for a very long time & I’ve been supporting the ‘orns for nearly 60 years! On the club website Troy & others are saying that our defence needs to be sorted but that’s because WM insists on playing 3 at the back & it isn’t working.
When we try a back 4 he deploys 4 centre halves. No wonder Kaboul had an off day. Zaha & Townsend witll run us ragged if Mazzarri persists with that. At the end of the day you might ask. Is WM better than Flores? At least the football was more watchable,
Mike Smith

Harefield Hornet - 06/03/2017

“More watchable?!” up to Xmas last season at a push perhaps? Away at Arsenal in the cup aside.

7. Old Git - 06/03/2017

Yes, the injuries are a setback but a bigger concern is the lack of intervention from the manager/head coach during the match. It became evident early on that we were leaving huge spaces on both the left and the right behind the defence, enabling Southampton’s pacy runers to exploit it, as Holebas and Kaboul were constantly caught out of position. Nothing was done to rectify this. Also, Okaka was playing much too close to Deeney for most of the game, as if there was an invisible piece of string tying them together. Then the absolute AGE it took to get Success on the field was very frustrating. Mazzari’s comment that we could have gone 3-2 up was disingenuous at best because we made it easy for Southampton and the fact that he’s not apparently troubled himself to learn basic English indicates that he has no real thought of a long term project. And I note that Fulham have just given Slavisa a two year extension on his contract. He was a manager who could and would intervene, making swift changes mid-match that were very successful. I don’t think Mazzari can do that, because on Saturday, he should have.

Roger Smith - 06/03/2017

I’m not sure that you can criticise Okaka for being too close to Deeney. In the past, his supporting act has been too far away to pick up his knock downs, and Deeney was winning quite a lot of balls in the air.

8. JohnF - 06/03/2017

A very disappointing afternoon after a reasonable start and a good goal. There are several good points above and you make the point that it is difficult to warm to Mazzari, which doesn’t buy him much slack. The thing that struck me yesterday was that the team morale seemed very low and there was a deal of blame being handed around. We do have injuries and they are to important players but that is for the coach to work round and the changes every week do not help. Success should have been on earlier because he is quick and speeds things up. Much of our play could be described as turgid and I fear Palace’s quick counterattacking. We ain’t out of the wood yet and it’s sad that we are looking over our shoulder as confidence ebbs.

9. Goldenboy60 - 06/03/2017

I can’t remember many games this season when we’ve been comfortable. Winning games hide many facts. Now one may say that perhaps we are ahead of ourselves in terms of ability in the Premier League, but we can never seem to dominate long enough at this level to tie the game up. Panic sets in and we are always vulnerable.

I’m not a Mazzarri fan to be honest, and I’m not sure this is the ‘happiest’ squad we have had. Something is not right but I can’t put my finger on it. We could easily in my opinion be looking over our shoulders. Five of the next 6 games are vital, I think Tottenham have too much for us, otherwise our last 4 fixtures do not make good reading.

I thought we would have a real chance of finishing a couple of places higher this year than our finish last season. But my confidence in that has waned considerably with the up and down performances we manage to show. With our current lack of consistency, I am concerned.

10. PEDantic - 07/03/2017

It’s strange how we all see things differently. Watford’s defence didn’t seem like a conventional back four to me, more a half-baked back three with Holebas expected to provide the width on the left (he can) rather than Capoue (he can’t) and Niang expected to track back on the right (he can’t). This left Kaboul having to fill a big hole on the right, rather than playing as a proper right back (he can’t). If we wanted a back four, why not go for what we had at Arsenal with Cathcart playing full back (he can)?

Another thing people see differently is the performance in relation to the result. Up to the poor piece of defending for the Saints equaliser, I thought we were comfortably on top and winning all the 50/50s but that goal completely changed the game and Southampton’s confidence surged. Later, after our own equaliser, there were only 10 minutes to go and if the game had ended then I suspect we would have thought, like last week, that a draw was a ‘good point’. But the mistakes by Gomes and Prodl/Gomes seem to have negated any positives from the game in most peoples’ eyes.

Something everyone saw in the same way was the farce of the Success substitution, which was already overdue and then took over 9 minutes from him being called to the dugout to him entering the game. As clearly our most potent attacker surely he need to be playing and I think the club owes the fans an explanation as to why he never seems ready to start, especially at a time when we have so many players out injured.

Finally a thought on the exodus of fans at 4-2 and the poor atmosphere at home recently. I feel, as a collective, Watford fans are now realising that the club might have reached the ceiling of its potential. We have achieved promotion and survived, probably, for 2 years in the Premier League. We know we can’t compete right at the top so now we are searching for a new target to aim for. Personally I think this should be a Cup, but that isn’t so fashionable these days, so we are left with simply surviving and the pragmatic approach that implies.

Matt Rowson - 07/03/2017

Don’t agree with your second point at all. Repeating myself but… I thought we were never in charge, Saints looked much more mobile and threatened before they scored. Agree that we’d have taken 2-2 gleefully but it would have been a good point because we’d gotten away with it against a good side. Then we didn’t.

PEDantic - 08/03/2017

Like I said, Matt, we all see things differently. I didn’t mean to imply that we deserved a point at all, just that lots of fans and many in the media seem to judge the whole 90 minutes’ performance purely on the basis of the result.

11. John M - 07/03/2017

Just as an aside, a columnist in the Saturday Mail (I think), made a throwaway comment that ‘Mazzari in recent weeks has cut back on his English lessons, having very good reasons to do so.’ I don’t think I need to enlarge on the meaning behind that comment.

12. Old Git - 08/03/2017

I agree wholeheartedly with PEDantic’s first paragraph – and of course the point about the Success substitution. As for the mass exodus, I usually get annoyed at something like this and start muttering about fair weather fans etc. But this time I sympathised with the exiteers. Looking back to our two single seasons in the Prem under GT and Boothroyd, I do not remember the fans behaving anything like this despite weekly defeats. That’s because those two sides continued to play with spirit, as if it mattered, and the two managers kept fighting to the inevitable end. And we supporters were part of that fight. Following the last two matches I really have started to feel like I am watching a team – sorry, wrong word, I mean a side composed of well paid mercenaries with no real connection to one another. And managed by another mercenary who has no intention of putting down any long term roots.

PEDantic - 08/03/2017

As one Old Git to another, I’m afraid this is probably the reality of Premier League football today. In the GT and Boothroyd seasons we didn’t expect to stay up so we appreciated any vain resistance. Now we are looking for more than that and losing at home to mid-table teams is pure failure to some.

I, too, long for the team spirit we saw in ’99 and for the way GT made a long-term commitment to building the club in the 70s but those days are gone. Few clubs have any local players in the first team and generally players only look from one contract to the next, which means a year or two at most. Now managers/coaches are following the same pattern, either through choice at the top end or through all too frequent sackings lower down. Everything is run in the short-term and we are very lucky to have had someone like Troy Deeney as club captain over the past few years providing the only continuity during that time.


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