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Watford 0 Liverpool 1 (01/05/2017) 02/05/2017

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. I had intended to begin proceedings in rib-tickling and topical fashion with some sort of mock election manifesto. However, I quickly realised that my policy platform comprised little beyond a desire to roll back thirty years’ worth of progress: no substitute goalkeepers, an offside law that Alan Shearer can understand, compulsory Bovril, proper kickoff times, proper tackling, proper pitches, that sort of thing. Common sense. Back to basics. Take back control. Make football great again. You can do your own punchline.

I had second thoughts. Partly because it’s essentially just the same old guff that I’ve been writing and re-writing for the last decade or more. That clearly hasn’t stopped me before, though, so there must’ve been something else. And that something else was this: it struck me that I’ve come to really actually believe in at least some of this stuff and that perhaps I ought to challenge it more before it turns into ranting at strangers on a bus. Before I start denouncing anyone apologising for the backpass rule as a stooge of our capitalist oppressors and refusing to pass through the turnstiles unless I can pay in those triangular vouchers you used to cut out of the programme. After all, if I’m going to point out to others that everything else wasn’t a dish of peaches in the good ol’ days, I should apply the same critique to my own views on football: piss-flooded toilets, barbed wire, racism, violence, Bradford, Heysel, Hillsborough. Never again.

It seems that football has formed itself into a small but significant enclave of conservatism in my largely liberal, outward-looking world. The modern game has left me behind, bitter and betrayed and boring. I’ve become a dyed in the wool Plexiteer. I need to lighten up. I need to live in the moment rather more.

2. And, indeed, this was a moment which promised to be worth living in. The season’s main objectives already achieved; famous opponents with well-established weaknesses rather dovetailing with our well-established strengths; an away hammering to avenge; an away capitulation to make up for. The floodlights are on, although modern floodlights can hardly be…oh, for pity’s sake, I can’t help myself. Ross Jenkins is here, with a grandson in tow and full of high spirits and brilliant memories. The scene is set.

3. And cue Watford.

4. And cue…Watford.

5. And…

6. Perhaps we should begin by saying that there ought to be no shame in being out-played and out-thought by a team with superior players and by a club with vastly superior resources. The truth is that we tend to forget that most encounters with top four-ish sides turn out like this, preferring instead to remember the occasions when logic is overthrown and everyone dances barefoot on its grave. We remember those occasions because they’re relatively rare: for a mid-table side like what we appear to be, once a season is about par, and we’ve already had that Manchester United game back in September. We’re owed nothing.

The form book is not re-written, then. Instead, we spend really rather endless periods of this match playing second fiddle to a confident, cohesive Liverpool; there are other bits where we’re doing nothing more than sheepishly shaking a tambourine somewhere at the back. There’s not a single spell of the game when you could argue that we’re the better side, even if the scoreline remains tight and there’s nearly an unexpected twist in the tale. It’s the game it ought to be, the gulf in class and stature laid out before us. Like I say, there’s no shame in that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t criticise it either, of course.

7. The good news is that we do plenty to ensure that this isn’t another 6-1 annihilation. We set out – rather optimistically, if I’m honest – to play out from the back of our three-man defence; we get chased about relentlessly, hunted down with a regularity that becomes tiresome within fifteen minutes and leads to us largely abandoning the whole idea within twenty. Barely able to get the ball over the halfway line without losing it, we’re under almost ceaseless pressure once the game settles into a pattern; for twenty minutes either side of half-time, we’re doing nothing more than stopping the ship from sinking, all hands to the pumps.

That we very nearly survive is admirable, especially bearing in mind the early departure of Miguel Britos. Liverpool lose a hobbling Coutinho too, but replacement Lallana, even short of fitness, is hardly any easier to police; he hits the bar with a dipping volley from a half-cleared corner, Can forces the first of countless strong saves from Gomes with a swerving drive from distance. But that’s all, that’s the sum total. Lucas is booked for a ludicrous, shameless dive on the corner of the box, and you realise that this is all starting to look a little bit desperate. We’re doing absolutely nothing ourselves – Troy Deeney might as well be in the pub – but no matter, we’ll take a goalless half, we’ll see what we can build on that.

Then Lucas drifts a cross into the box, and Can drifts into a couple of yards of space, and somehow twists his body upside down and inside out, and his overhead is directed very precisely and rather gently into the top corner. Overhead kicks of old used to be products of athleticism, a spring let go, a somersault with a flailing leg. These days, players seem capable of defying gravity altogether, and this is purely balletic rather than acrobatic, the Guardian’s photo perfectly capturing the poise and the grace. Good toes, naughty toes. A goal worthy of winning a far better game than this one, in all honesty. Yes, the marking could’ve been better. Yes, yes. A thing of exquisite beauty nevertheless.

8. Whatever’s said in the dressing room at half-time, whatever tactical tweaks are made, there is absolutely no change in direction: if anything, Liverpool strengthen their grip on the game and our forays into their half become even less frequent. We continue to defend purposefully, but need to call upon Gomes with increasing regularity. His final save of the evening, a reflex fingertip stop low to his right to prevent Sturridge from squeezing in the decisive second, is most astonishing of all.

When we do find ourselves with the ball, when we sometimes even find ourselves with the ball and a yard of space, the mistakes – unnecessary offsides, poor touches, over-ambitious passes – are amplified and echoed back by the crowd, desperate for something to get behind and frustrated by its absence. Referee Craig Pawson offers a masterclass in getting nothing important wrong while being really sodding irritating.

9. This ought not to have been a close game. But it is, still. Eventually, triumphantly, we force ourselves up the pitch enough to claim a part in it all. We bring a couple of saves from Mignolet, tipping over a rising drive from Capoue and just reacting quickly enough to avoid being caught out by a cheeky dart at his near post by Janmaat. We bring on first Success and then Okaka, big bloke changes which are immediately matched and negated as if foreseen by the highly animated, occasionally furious Klopp, who often appears as if he’s doing an impression of himself doing an impression of himself. We fall some way short of really giving it a go, but do at least raise the possibility, pencil it in the diary. It’s a bit of a contest, at last.

10. And then, finally, as time is nearly up, we expose their failings at set pieces, and Seb Prodl swivels to bang a fierce half-volley against the face of the crossbar. All of that hard defensive graft and commendable goalkeeping is nearly rewarded with a ludicrous point and a joyous bundle of celebration. It doesn’t happen. It doesn’t deserve to. Nobody would’ve cared, clearly. Rightly.

11. And so I feel as if I’ve probably been more charitable in defeat than I was in victory last time, sniffing haughtily at our failure to beat Swansea more convincingly. If you’re of a critical bent, you could have a bloody field day here: we were utterly disjointed in midfield and scratchily ineffective in attack, leaving only the defence (and I include the terrific Doucoure in that) and the goalkeeper emerging with much credit. And I realise that my desire for more ambition to be shown, to avoid simply playing the percentages in the hope of finishing thirteenth every season, means that these are very fixtures on which we ought to be making more of a mark.

But still, but still. We’re well beaten here. We barely manage to lay a glove on Liverpool; we’re not at their level, not in their class. Somehow, I don’t mind that so much. We ought not to be satisfied with it, but it feels honest, at least.


1. Harefield Hornet - 02/05/2017

Beautifully summed up Ian. I agree about the ref and the thing that irritated me the most was that despite him continuously pointing at his watch and warning the Liverpool players about timewasting towards the end he did absolutely sod all about it.

2. JohnF - 02/05/2017

Liverpool were good and I agree with your assessment Ian, a point would have been classed as robbery. What is of concern is that we don’t really look like a team and we achieve less than the sum of our parts. Missing two play makers to serious injuries doesn’t help but the arguments and recriminations on the field during the game don’t indicate togetherness. There were a lot of individual errors, many of which were unforced and we do seem to give the ball away very easily. At least we battled a bit although we still look toothless in terms of goals scored. I don’t see where we are going to get even a single point before the end of the season. Something is not altogether right in the Watford camp and the question is, can Mazzari fix it?. Is this the future for life in the PL as a smaller club? Possibly, but it would be nice to think we could do something (cup run?) other than just about survive and that we could relate to the team (and coach) rather better.

3. Old Git - 02/05/2017

A bit defeatist, Ian? You seem to be saying that because of the huge difference in resources, we might as well not bother. Sorry, but even when we began the second half a goal down our tactics seemed to be designed to accept a 1-0 defeat and this is what I (and most people around me in the Rookery) find annoying.
Crystal Palace faced Liverpool a few days ago in the same situation but they gave it a go and won. We have seen this season that Liverpool are fragile in certain situations. It was Benteke who won it for Palace. Defenders bounce off him and panic when he comes at them. He’s a big, solid, pacy striker who puts himself about. We’ve got one of them, by the name of Stefano Okaka, so what do we do with him? Stick him on the bloody bench, that’s what.
And then there’s Deeney, who at the turn of the year was being talked about as a potential England striker. Deeney’s success has come with a partner – Ighalo or Vydra. He is not equipped to play the lone striker role, so what do we do with him? Isolate him and make him play as a lone striker, that’s what.
On a positive note, didn’t Mariappa play a blinder? But we know he was only in the side because of injury and he’ll probably be dropped again next week.
We need a change.

PEDantic - 02/05/2017

I agree with most of this, Old Git. The first 25 minutes of the second half were hugely frustrating: there was absolutely no prospect of an equaliser and yet nothing was changed. It was like we were just waiting for Liverpool to score a second.
I would also go further and suggest the whole setup at the start was asking for trouble with both wing backs being played out of position. It’s unforgivable that we have no real replacement for Holebas. I would have thought playing Mariappa as a full back ought to have been a better bet with Amrabat further forward. The result was we had no width in attack, so it was back to the long ball from way too deep.
Of course Liverpool are a better team than us, but they weren’t exactly Chelsea were they? We only seemed to up the tempo and have a big of a go following the injustice of not getting a corner when Capoue’s shot was tipped over. Then came the (late) substitutions and Liverpool finally had something to think about.
Totally agree about Deeney’s strengths – perhaps it will be better next year with Zarate in the Vydra role. However I didn’t think Mariappa was quite so good this time but Kabasele did well when he came on.

4. Roger Smith - 02/05/2017

The team that finished the game were a darn side better than the one that started it. Shame we didn’t see it earlier.

5. Michael Smith - 02/05/2017

Ditto to the 4 good comments. Time for a change. With this squad of players regardless of injury we have under achieved and the football has mostly been dire. We are staying up despite Mazzarri not because of Mazzarri. Get rid.

6. Robert Hill - 03/05/2017

I want to firstly state the obvious but one that we should all remember. We are about to stay in the Premier League for the 3rd year running. Better than we’ve ever done since before the Premier League introduction and all of its finances now coming our way. The longer you stay in this League the more you can build for the continuing future. If someone had said to me 2 years ago that we would go into a 3rd season I would have been so delighted. The biggest plus is that better players will come to us where as before they wouldn’t have taken the risk. Our owners have been smart and am sure they are always planning on the future. I’m certain their first desire is to get us into Europe. They will get there, but this journey should be savoured and enjoyed. Expectation is not good but behind the obvious we know how far we have come since the summer of 2012, and what fun it’s been. Just look at the stadium now. Just think about the future planning and continued development our owners have achieved. I am close friends with Tom Walley and Tom has been a massive help to me in my coaching career. I’m am fortunate, and I have been bringing Tom with me over the last few home games. He in his own words uses the description of brilliant to the view he is having of the club and especially the stadium now. We also know that GT had the same opinion. Yes we’ve lost 1-0 to Liverpool, but in many ways you could argue that we should have got a point. I have got frustrated with some performances, especially at Hull where a better result would have helped us to better last seasons effort. We all have our own opinions on Mazzarri and Flores and Jokanovic, but our owners are driving us forward in every aspect. We are still known as little old Watford that are getting in the way, but I don’t believe that opinion is with the other clubs. Klopp was very very worried about the game this week. We could have nicked a draw and weren’t in my opinion that far away. It’s about attracting better players as we grow and takes a while to get them to believe. We have a daunting last 4 games and I’m closely watching which players are responding. We shall see in the summer the next steps of our growth when another avalanche of money comes into our club and the players that are brought in. In my opinion both Pereyra and Zara’s would have made a big difference. Oh and Mazzarri needs to trust English players especially Mapps who I coached in the Academy at Watford from 13 and upwards, and who has been nearly exemplary despite Mazzarri unbelievably leaving him out of the side at Hull. But let’s really enjoy this journey and never forget how fortunate we are to be enjoying this development of our great football club.

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