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Hull City 2 Watford 0 (22/04/2017) 23/04/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Ten days ago we went on a road trip.  Only 100 miles or so, so not a vast distance, but the drive from Addis Ababa to Ziway is not to be undertaken lightly.  There’s tarmac in Ethiopia now… this is a proper road but it’s still not quite the same as a motorway drive in the UK.  Swerving columns of vehicles anticipate the worst of the potholes.  Occasionally we pass long-abandoned carcasses of trucks at the side of the road, trucks that have fallen victim to either potholes, poor visibility, tired drivers or khat, perhaps a combination of the four.  Roadworks are complicated by single lanes, no lane discipline anyway and nothing to divert onto (there is only one road…)…  so diversions head into the bumpy savannah and kick up dust clouds which occasionally conceal hidden surprises.

The drive to Hull is altogether less exciting, which is probably a good thing.  It also ends at a working mens’ club in which beer is almost as cheap as it is in Ethiopia.  Given that I’m not the driver, this is also a good thing.

2- There’s a possible outcome which is to be dreaded here, borne of the knowledge that not only do the home side have a rather more pressing set of circumstances than we do but also that they’ve been doing rather well at home.  At the front of our minds also is the sort of deckchairs-and-flipflops performance that was horribly prevalent at the end of last season (Norwich the best example).  We’re braced for such an embarrassment.

But actually, we start OK.  Miguel Britos, slightly disappointingly, is straight back in for local hero Mariappa but otherwise it’s the same side and though the Tigers are reputed to have been starting strongly the Hornets are the side who take early charge.  This is not limp and passive, it’s assertive and determined and if Hull’s plan is to steam forward from the off they’re never allowed to.  In the stands we allow ourselves to drop our mental guard.

3- The more so as Hull go down to ten men.  You’ll have seen the challenge by now… over the ball and studs up so careless and silly, foul aside it was an utterly pointless attempt at a tackle that invited the possibility of censure and no possibility of winning the ball.  Nonetheless incredibly harsh, obviously, not a stamp and with little force behind the challenge.  From our point of view… we nod to fortune and carry on, surely.  What else can you do?  We’ve been on the receiving end of bad decisions, indeed from the same referee this season.  That dose of bad luck is out of your control and you have to deal with the consequences, so when the boot’s on the other foot you have to take advantage.  Nothing to feel guilty about (not even in the case of Niang who, for all the home fans’ hysterical and increasingly ludicrous bleating was largely blameless – he was clearly caught, and even a scrape across the shin at that speed would have been painful).

And we did capitalise, up to a point.  The rest of the half was largely a coconut shy; the Hornets dominated possession and territory as, significantly, Marco Silva opted not to replace his loan/lone striker initially.  Janmaat crashed a violent drive goalwards but into a crowd of bodies.  Prödl sent one header over, then a second under the bar only to be clawed out by Jakupovic.  Britos met another cross at the far post but failed to get it on target.  Capoue danced in the midfield and swung the ball around.  There was a patience and a rhythm to us… we weren’t laying siege to the City goal or forcing many chances from a still disciplined defence but we were thoroughly in control and if the Tigers had looked blunt before Niasse’s departure they were utterly without threat thereafter.  Only as the players left the pitch at half time did it occur to us that Silva’s apparent conservatism had got the home side to the break level.

4- The interval saw Hull make that switch, reintroducing a spearhead in the shape of Abel Hernandez but initially at least little changed.  We were perhaps not quite so overwhelmingly in control but we still had the lion’s share of possession and created another good chance when Capoue bullied himself a shooting opportunity but, falling away from the ball under challenge, stabbed too close to the keeper.

It’s not really as if City were threatening either, not even on the counter.  Until, obviously, they did… and removed from the huge frustration of going behind in such circumstances away from home and all that entails, it’s hard not to reflect on the goal as a masterfully executed ambush.  It was as if City, rather than throwing bodies forward in inefficient pursuit of a breakaway that would have been costly with ten men, waited for us to overcommit. The very first time that we did they howled out of the back in great numbers and swamped us, unaccustomed as we had become to facing such a threat… Markovic got on the end of Grosicki’s cross and got the break his side’s bloody-mindedness deserved when he received the rebound off the crossbar to prod home.  From the away “end” it looked like keystones cops stuff, heads were in hands.

5- For all the subsequent wailing we’d not done an awful lot wrong up to this point.  Our performance had been adequate, no worse (if, admittedly, no more).  What was utterly lamentable, however, was our lack of reaction to going a goal down.  No urgency, no fight, no waving of fists either literally or metaphorically which set what might have been interpreted as our earlier patience in a new light.  Our reaction was passive, limp and lazy… reverting to the cautious, measured, possession-based build up that hadn’t quite delivered a goal against a nervous opponent at 0-0 and was never going to wash at 1-0 down against a City side with the bit between its teeth.  Harry Maguire, City’s wonderfully “Have It!” bootery centre-back, was on the end of everything, whilst Sam Clucas was unrecognisable from his horror show at left back at Vicarage Road, a monstrous presence in midfield.  His was the second goal, an arcing dipping half-volley from outside the area… Gomes blameless, but the midfielder had too much time to line up his exquisite shot.

Success, Okaka and (in the dying minutes) Zuñiga were thrown on in an attempt to change things; of the trio only Okaka had a positive impact, giving us some glue and some welly around the penalty area that Deeney’s unusually low key presence to that point hadn’t achieved.  It wasn’t enough.  The final whistle brought a howl of boos from the away end.

6- It’s perverse that there’s so much disquiet in the face of what will be, in terms of final position, one of our most successful seasons.  It’s something that’s quite hard to rationalise… the two most popular extremes, that we are an ungrateful lot with unreasonable expectations on the one hand versus Walter is a clown who doesn’t know what he’s doing on the other are both trite, lazy, inadequate explanations.

Perhaps a fundamental point is that Watford supporters, whatever the team’s strengths or failings over recentish years, have been accustomed to seeing a bit of effort.  Or rather, we’re used to seeing teams built on relatively limited resources thriving or at least overachieving on the basis of spirit, drive, organisation, determination.  It would be overstepping the mark to describe the current team as disorganised… but certainly the lack of effort, the being the team that doesn’t always fancy it, is alien and difficult to reconcile.  Much less so when you’ve spent a day travelling to Hull (camels or no camels).  Not difficult to see why we’ve not shifted many tickets for what should be an attractive away fixture at Leicester, the last away Saturday of the season.  Hard to see queues forming for potential gubbings at Everton and Chelsea. As we’ve said before, and much as part of the problem is safety having been achieved, it isn’t half a good job that we won those more winnable games.

As for Mazzarri, he’s clearly not an idiot.  He’s guided the team to mid-table (albeit 10th feels like a high water mark) in the face of malevolent injuries with some impressive wins along the way.  However as much as he’s failed to build any kind of relationship with the support, you have to question the extent to which the team are on side either.  This was not a side inspired by their leader’s comments, fighting for a common cause.  You can point the finger at the players too, of course… but significant that our man-by-man squad appraisal on the way up the M1 didn’t identify anyone who we’d willingly throw out on his ear.

7- The journey back was similarly relaxed, if slightly grumpier, enlivened by that Saturday evening classic of a service station stop at Leicester Forest East where myriad football shirts congregated on their way homewards to and from all directions.  Sheffield United, York City, Scunthorpe, Doncaster, Wimbledon, Watford and others ruminated on the days’ events whilst sucking through straws and chewing on cardboard fries.  You don’t get this in Ethiopia, much less on the motorways, even if the food is better… Arsenal shirts proliferate.  Why a mid-table club should garner such fervent following is beyond me, but I did spy a Palace shirt too.  Takes all types, I suppose.

Meanwhile, Troy’s response to this capitulation was appropriate – and gracious, given the unjustifiable booing of the he and Gomes’ the team’s leaders, as they approached the away support. It’s not unreasonable to expect more against Liverpool, a high profile game in front of the cameras.  Whether this would dispel concerns of a more general problem is open to question.



1. Robert Hill - 23/04/2017

I think this game sums up the frustration that many of us have held this season. We have no right to automatically win games against lower positioned teams. But we should expect a Watford team to turn up and not show boat.

We never looked a real threat and our keeping of the ball played right into their hands. For me it needed more direct play to turn them facing their own goal, and for us to get after them. They sat back and waited for the right moments to counter attack. They so deserved their win and got it right.

2. Roger Smith - 23/04/2017

“Whatever the team’s strengths or failings over recentish years, [Watford supporters] have been accustomed to seeing a bit of effort.”

Over the years, maybe, but I’ve lost count of the number of times this season that at 0-0 I’ve turned to the bloke next to me and asked “How many goals up are we?”, for that is the tempo at which we are playing.

3. Mazzarri out - 23/04/2017

My issue this year is that it’s been made so boring. There is no excitement in going to watch the team this season.

We have possibly the most talented squad for years but the players seem unwilling or not allowed to express themselves on the pitch. Too often turning back with an easy pass rather than trying to make something happen.

Talking of players to throw out on their ear, how about Amrabat? 3 assists and no goals in 36 matches.

Matt Rowson - 23/04/2017

True, but for a significant spell this season he was our most threatening forward. Our consensus was that you’d keep him as a squad player.

Robert Hill - 23/04/2017

I agree with you Matt. But The one thing about Amrabat is that he always gives everything he’s got. And why oh why did he not play Mariappa. He is quicker and more mobile than Britos and really organised the back 4 well. I cannot agree with leaving out Mariappa after his long awaited and very good performances.

4. harefield hornet - 23/04/2017

I’ve never been to Hull,which is a bit of a shame given my maternal Grandfather turned out for the Tigers on a few occasions in the 1920’s. But having spent the last few weeks trying to persuade my daughter to come with me and failing miserably, it appears as though I dodged a very large bullet! Listening on 3CR it occurred to me the problem with the current manager is more straightforward than we think, I just don’t think the majority of the players like him or like playing for him. Their ability and individual professionalism has got us safe this season but I think it’s evident this is not a happy squad. Troy’s comments following the game about playing tica taca when a good old fashioned bit of hoof was required spoke volumes.The next few weeks should prove interesting.

5. Nick Corble - 24/04/2017

Whilst reluctant to board the Mazzarri Out bus largely because of the wish to not fall into the ‘ungrateful lot with unreasonable expectations’ camp, a clip from Sky (I think) last week during which Troy was questioned about his relationship with the manager and gave a decidedly flat answer spoke volumes to me. As Leicester’s success last season showed, and indeed did our promotion season, having a team working together as a team, with nothing less than a win seen as acceptable, is worth an extra man or two on the pitch. We don’t have this at the moment, and it shows. On the other hand, sacking yet another manager for achieving relative success will surely dent our chances of attracting the right man in the long run. It’s a dilemma, but not one I’m paid to solve.

6. PEDantic - 24/04/2017

I suspect Troy’s disgruntlement might not specifically be with Mazzarri but with the role he is currently being asked to play in the team. Much as we love him, he is no Drogba and is not suited to being a lone striker. He needs a nippy partner around him or at least frequent support from midfield, which we don’t have.
Sadly this may well not change, even if the manager is replaced. This is because of the modern malaise that exists in the Premier League aside from the top 6 or 7 teams. Everything is focused on reaching 40 points to maintain the £100 million plus income next season and clubs employ highly skilled but essentially mercenary journeymen to achieve this by being good at things like ‘maintaining possession’ and ‘keeping their shape’. So many clubs, managers, pundits and even fans have bought into this now.
This is why we see Watford playing so many careful passes inside their own half and bringing all 11 players back behind the penalty spot at ALL corners, even against ten men. A new manager might well do exactly the same thing.

7. Dusty - 24/04/2017
8. SteveG - 24/04/2017

Two quick points on the back of a 3CR commentary and a typically detailed and thoughful report (thanks, Matt):

It may be boring to agree with everyone else, but Mariappa must feel incredibly hard done by – Britos has been OK, but it’s not as if he’s been a real stand-out performer this year. Mariappa played really well in his brief outing, and deserved a run in the team.

The Premier League is very skewed – even the ‘best of the rest’ with West Brom in 8th position have a negative record overall (i.e. more losses than wins and a negative goal difference). Using the league table as a guide, they’ve had a brilliant season, but it may not feel that good even at The Hawthorns. Ending up with 13 teams in the ‘bottom half’ may not be strictly statistically accurate, but none of those teams would truly have the ‘feelgood factor’.

So 10th should feel great, but I know exactly why so many people don’t feel good about it.

harefield hornet - 24/04/2017

Most realists, including myself, would have bitten off the proverbial hand to be 10th with a few games left but as everyone seems to agree, something ain’t right! Perhaps this is the reality of mid-table Premier League life? Managers nobody particularly likes and journeyman mercenary players, with the odd exception. Pererya and Zarate may have made it all easier on the eye I suppose!

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