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Leicester City 3 Watford 0 (06/05/2017) 07/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- There are days when it’s just a bad idea all round.  The great empty swathes of seats in the away end for what should be a popular trip – local-ish, easy to get to, against the League Champions to boot – suggested that plenty had had the same thought.  Dad nearly didn’t make it, Daughter 1 pondered whether she should forego the afternoon in favour of preparation for her forthcoming SATs.  Meanwhile the pre-match pub turned out to be closed;  we opted for an alternative next to the station, but beat a disorientated path from the pub in entirely the wrong direction until we sorted ourselves out.  Sometimes the world is trying to tell you something.

2- Whilst appreciating that survival in itself is an achievement, and the injuries, and the fact that winning away in the Premier League is a very difficult thing to do I can’t tell you how bored I am of this.  Of games like this.  Our season has been an extension and elaboration of Niang’s loan spell…  occasional sparks of brilliance with quite a lot of drab, shapeless nothingness in between.  You have to imagine that the rest of the Premier League wouldn’t really have missed us had we gone down, for all that everyone likes a routine home win against a toothless opponent. Why on earth would you spend time, money watching such miserable, spiritless inevitability?  (On the money front, incidentally… East Midland Trains.  Good God. I can get the three of us to London and back for under £20.  Three times that for a shorter distance to Leicester.  Criminal. Bastards.)

3- Actually the first half wasn’t that bad for the most part.  For much of the season our midfield hasn’t ever seemed quite right and it still doesn’t, but nonetheless it’s the bit that kinda looks closest to fully functional at the moment.  Doucouré, again, was majestic and looks like the engine of a much better side.  Tom Cleverley’s form has wandered off of late but this was his most dynamic outing for a while… and we were well in the game, having more of the possession.  It was scruffy and untidy and the final pass was inevitably missing but we were holding our own.

The thing is, an opponent competent enough to dominate possession but too blunt to do anything with it is pretty much exactly what this Leicester side, defined by their ability to counter-attack, would choose to play against.  Stefano Okaka, restored to the side in eye-catching fashion in place of Troy, worked hard in displaying a willingness to take on all comers but in similar fashion to Deeney against Liverpool was too isolated, the flickering Niang always happier pulling wide.  When we got bodies into the box we looked vaguely threatening but our best chance of recording our first away goal since January came when Cleverley latched onto a ball and thundered a rising drive goalwards.  Had it been a bit further from Schmeichel it would have caused problems.

Instead, the breakthrough came at the other end where Leicester’s attacks were already looking more venomous than our own. So they didn’t really need the helping hand of a silly free kick conceded by Prödl on bar-of-soap Okazaki, nor of an inexplicable leaden touch by Capoue to the resulting corner that teed up Ndidi.  All he had to do was swing a leg at it.

4- In the stands, we entered a sort of Twilight Zone.  Our afternoon had already taken another downward turn in the discovery that our seats located us behind an explosively angry, foul-mouthed gentleman who persisted in berating both teams and all officials loudly and crassly and, in the absence of a companion with whom to share his opinions, turning and elaborating in our direction.  We relocated in stages and watched as successive groups took up temporary residence in the same seats.

As the game progressed there were more and more angry men dotted around the stands, if none as spectacularly unpleasant.  Mariappa was having the first poor game of his second wind in the side, albeit he was slightly unfortunate that the beneficiary of his error was the elegant Mahrez;  he might have gotten away with it with half a second more to recover.  Gomes, also, bore no small responsibility having been beaten at his near post.  But the core problem was the lack of spirit, of ideas, of fight in the Watford ranks.  It wasn’t as stark or miserable as Hull but it was the same narrative.  Out for the first time came the “Quique Sanchez Flores” chant (and, more arbitrarily, odes to Aidy Boothroyd and Al Bangura), ostensibly provoking angry disputes within the stand. Nordin Amrabat – whose second half performance showcased the frustrating contradictions of his Watford career, willing running combined with hesitancy and hugely variable end product – became the focus for the boo-boys, the first in a few years.  Calls for his removal – and the introduction of the underused Success – were ignored as Niang was withdrawn for debutant Dion Pereira.  His first contribution was an instant, arcing left footed cross from the right that Okaka couldn’t quite get over.  He got a raucous reception in response, but there was never a suggestion that we’d get back into the game.  Instead Leicester got another fine goal on the break.  The stand emptied.

5- If the treatment of Amrabat, however inadequate his performance, seemed harsh – he was a potential player of the season before his injury – the resurrection of the Flores chant is revealing.  Looking back, Flores’ departure could not be justified based on our league performance;  45 points and 13th place absolutely more than fine.  What did for Flores, ultimately if not exclusively, was the trajectory of the season.  29 points in the first half, 16 in the second with performances that didn’t suggest that we’d merited any more.  There’s been no such schism this time (22/18 as we stand) but the recent performances have been poor, the defeats more absolute than the victories with few exceptions.  The trajectory argument still holds, I think… I’m certainly very happy that we’ve already got 40 points; if we had as few as 38 at this stage I think we’d be in serious trouble.  That’s not beating Swansea, for example, in particular.  Fine margins.

But that doesn’t justify chanting Flores’ name in itself.  You can argue that both sides nosedived, but what makes Flores a more attractive prospect?

The answer, beyond the grass-is-greener argument that always holds, is that Flores was manifestly a nice bloke.  Mazzarri may be a nice bloke but we just don’t know, we have no relationship with him and therefore no instinct to side with him.  A big element of supporting a team is being part of it, feeling you’re on the same side.  Mazzarri simply hasn’t prioritised that, it’s not important enough to him.  You can argue that it’s not his job to be everyone’s mate, but a consequence of the path he’s chosen is that nobody instinctively sides with him when the going gets tough.

6- And critically that appears to include the team.  These recent performances haven’t been as poisonous as the notorious Huddersfield game under Sannino in 2014 but there’s a manifest lack of team spirit, lack of belief, lack of evidence of everyone singing from the same sheet.  The discord is most evident in the relationship between head coach and captain in particular…  it seems inconceivable that both Troy and Mazzarri will be at the club next season, and for all that Troy has had a few of his less effective games recently, he was still there at the end of the game ushering Dion Pereira towards an ovation that completely changed the tone in the away end where boos had been echoing again.  The point is, Troy gets it…  he’s a great captain but a better diplomat than Mazzarri.  I want to root for him, I’d rather support a team captained by Troy than one managed by Mazzarri if that’s the choice.

Either way, it seems quite possible that we’ll end the season with six straight defeats.  Something needs to fundamentally change over the summer… it’ll be fascinating to see what decisions Pozzo and Duxbury make.

Yoorns.

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Comments»

1. Marc - 07/05/2017

“it seems quite possible that we’ll end the season with six straight defeats”

and a relegation?

Matt Rowson - 07/05/2017

I don’t think so. As above, 38 points and I’d be worried. But even if we lose our last three games (likely?) and Swansea win their last two (possible), Hull would need to make up 12 goals across our shared games by beating Palace and Spurs, and Palace would need to win at Old Trafford. Even allowing for our fixture list making those 12 goals vaguely possible, it’s not ALL going to happen.

Matt Rowson - 07/05/2017

…but I’d still rather it was impossible rather than highly improbable…

John M - 07/05/2017

I don’t like Palace or Big Sam, but I’m confident that he will set up Palace to ensure that they don’t lose (which they won’t), that (without looking at the table) would, I think, be enough for them and us. C’mon you Eagles!

2. Robert Hill - 07/05/2017

Spot on with all points made. Clearly the euphoria after staying in the Premier League has well and truly gone. A first season stay and almost certainly a second season keeping us in the league for a 3rd season has to be welcomed. Are we expecting more?

My concern now is whether Mazzarri gets what Watford FC are all about. His relentless pushing of the players with 12 days continuous work for me is not right at this time of the season. They should be physically fit but are they mentally tired at this moment. Sometimes they need rest and a day or so away from it. That would be the best training and preparation in my opinion.

As for our football we play too many sideways and back passes. We need to get the ball forward more quickly as Leicester did and the result proved it. When have we heard that before.

Indeed I can’t see another point this season and we will probably escape by the skin of our teeth, hopefully. One positive is Doucoure who is developing into a very good player.

3. Tadcaster Hornet - 07/05/2017

Strange. The last five games of our season are what we (and our players) should all dream about. Top teams to be matched against, real quality to watch. And in reality, at other times of the season we might well get nul pints from those five individually and almost not be bothered. But bunched all together I can see it’s all a bit of a grind.

From the viewpoint Flora and I had in the disabled are, we thought the performance was certainly way better than Hull and the game was decided on small margins. We forgot to defend (or made a poor mistakes) twice and then it was game over. Until then nothing much between the teams. Last minute third was just unnecessary from Leicester.

Truly dispiriting though was the QSF chanting (people have such short memories of spring 2016) and the booing. By all means boo if we don’t try (see: Hull away) but not yesterday please. Simply wrong…

Not sure we got many favours from the ref either…

Matt Rowson - 07/05/2017

It’s not the results as much as the performances, and specifically the way heads drop when we go behind. This is indicative of a lack of spirit as discussed. And to be honest, the games we’ve lost (generalising hugely) that are “to be expected” are the ones to come.

4. Wrighty - 07/05/2017

This is my nearest game and both my kids have been pestering me to take them to see us play but I couldn’t bear spending around £100 to see a limp performance. This current malaise that the team are suffering from is catching, something needs to change this summer.

5. PEDantic - 07/05/2017

I didn’t join in with the singing of the Flores song but I didn’t get the sense that the fans were saying they would prefer Flores back to Mazzari, any more than we would want the awful Boothroyd back. It was simply a neat and clear protest against the current incumbent.
I’m also not sure that Flores was unlucky in the timing of how he gathered the 45 points last year. I, and I think the Pozzos, were unhappy that he seemed to ‘trust’ a decreasing number of players the longer the season went on, so there was little prospect of any change, development or progression.
However I heartily agree that we need a manager (sorry Head Coach) that we can connect with so we feel we are all on the same side. It’s so sad to see what appears to be a power struggle between the manager and the captain and who knows how many players. What a grim season it’s been.

Matt Rowson - 07/05/2017

Didn’t mean to imply that Flores was unlucky, merely that things were going wrong and he didn’t do anything to address it (witness your point).

Robert Hill - 07/05/2017

I still don’t get the Flores criticism. We finished with 45 points and got to an FA Cup Semi Final. Not a bad achievement really.

Matt Rowson - 07/05/2017

As in the piece, the trajectory of the season and the Pozzo’s evident belief that he wasn’t going to turn things around. What he was going to do next more important than what he’d already done.

john parslow - 08/05/2017

I also have never understood the rejection of Flores.
For me:
– Limited squad options of about 14 core players.
– gelled a team quickly.
– a huge number of exciting games including losses to leicester, Spurs, Man City because we were always in the game.
– team got safety early (Palace) but were burned out – and focus was on the Cup to a little detriment
– If you add in the Cup wins the first half and 2nd half performances were close…. and we had some close big game losses after Liverpool (Spurs / man City).
– I always thought we might do something
– Something must have been right to get the reception he got last game

Negatively
– when Ighalo went AWOL – he did fail to find a solution and persistence with Suarez vs Capoue/Abdi wide was a mistake.
– But I think a summer of recruitment and with this squad we could have judged him properly and he deserved that chance.
– Cup semi final – but we did score and for me the mistake was being too loyal to Pants.

But this season – I agree – its souless. I have not felt this disconnected from the team for such a long time — and that includes relegation years.

6. David Simpson - 07/05/2017

” I’d rather support a team captained by Troy than one managed by Mazzarri if that’s the choice.” Nail. Head. Hit, Matt. This is exactly how I feel about it and I think we can pretty much guarantee that Troy and Mazzarri won’t both be at the Vic next season.

Regarding the QSF singing my own view was that the fans don’t necessarily want QSF back, it was more simply a dig at Mazzarri (plus of course it is such a great song). I still believe the decision to activate the break clause was the correct one – it was the following decision to appoint Mazzarri that now seems to have been the mistake.

A good coach/manager creates a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Mazzarri has drained every bit of confidence (and in some cases seemingly ability too) out of the players. I would love to know what is going on during these daily training sessions because it certainly isn’t evident from watching them play. Yet I still believe we have players who are good enough for a comfortable mid-table Premier League team. Doucoure is the stand out performer but I would include Gomes, Janmaat, Prodl, Cathcart, Holebas, Cleverely, Capoue and Deeney in that category. Add to them the likes of Pereyra (and maybe even Pereira ! :-)) and Zarate and we should be fine next season – let’s just hope we’re playing against Bournemouth rather than Burton….

7. Mike S - 07/05/2017

Thanks Matt.

I’m feeling like I’ve missed something here with the Walter or Troy thing. Is there evidence of a rift aside from him being left out 3 (?) times? Wasn’t he dropped by QSF and Jokanovic too? Why do we think this time they can’t work together? Others have said it too.

Matt Rowson - 08/05/2017

There was a very pointed “yes, we get on great” response to a “how do you get on with your manager” question from a Sky reporter, and Instagram posts of him doing a long distance run “because he was obviously too tired to be playing instead”. And as above, I think it’s evident from the way that the team are playing that things aren’t altogether happy.

8. Lesley-Anne - 07/05/2017

Completely agree PEDantic! I was about to write the same; I did not join in the singing of the QSF chant either but I understood it to be on a par with singing Mazzarri out!!! Definitely not wanting QSF back but wanting change.

Yes Matt, agree with most of what you’ve said especially about Mazzarri and Troy! Since August, myself and Judy, who sits in the row in front of me in the Rookery, have been commenting about how we haven’t warmed to Mazzarri yet and we still haven’t!!!! Maybe it’s too much to ask for the head coach to acknowledge the fans but for the reasons you give he only has himself to blame for why the fans are not supporting him. And while I’m not sure that “fascinating” would be the word I’d choose for what will happen in the summer I am in complete agreement about supporting a team captained by Troy rather than a team managed by Mazzarri. I really hope Gino and Scott Duxbury understand that!

9. Peter - 07/05/2017

It was good to see ALL the players coming to acknowledge the away support at the end of the game and the clear leadership from messrs Gomes and Deeney. The absence of the manager shows that he either doesn’t understand the importance of connecting with the supporters or refuses to do so. We have no God-given right to top flight football at Watford but Graham Taylor taught his players that the supporters have a right to expect the whole club to connect with its community.

10. Roger Smith - 08/05/2017

An excellent set of comments to go with your report, and thank you for commenting on them. Let’s hope that the Pozzo’s get the message.

11. Russell moss - 08/05/2017

I went with my 2 lads and we all thought that the performance was pretty good. Just 2 stupid errors. We had 3 older “gentlemen” sitting behind us, one of who booed from the very first minute. I think his friends were embarrassed by him, but I was embarrassed as a watford fan having to hear quique sanchez Flores song and nordin getting booed at the end. I take a slightly different view on things. Love him or hate him, you have to trust the Pozzos and Scott in appointing mazzarri. Singing for Flores is just disrespectful. We are safe in the premier league with 6 games to go, having been one of the favourites to go down. Get some perspective watford fans and get behind the team!

Matt Rowson - 08/05/2017

Hi Russell. I wouldn’t go as far as “pretty good” but I’m beginning to wonder whether my perspective on the performance was influenced by the pig’s ear of a day and the unpleasant atmosphere in the stand. It certainly wasn’t the limp capitulation of Hull but it was all too easy for a below-par Leicester. Champions or not, I’d have liked to have seen a bit more resistance and to have believed that we had a chance of scoring. We had seven shots on target, but only Cleverley’s long-rangers had a shout of going in from memory.

12. Harefield Hornet - 08/05/2017

I enjoy my visits to Leicester and unlike yourself our day went reasonably OK – £10 on the coach ( there by 12.45), decent lunch and beers in the Blue Bar and Grill near the ground which included some great conversation with the Leicester fans who were in there, on a variety of subjects, which included the demise of Ranieri, “Mr Knock-heart” and that goal in the PO SF! I actually enjoyed the first half until they scored and thought we did OK. The big disappointment for me came in the 2nd half when the fight back I thought was possible never materialised. The Flores chants were just Childish in my opinion and my 10 year old made me laugh when she got upset about it and said with wide eyes and a straight face – “that’s not fair, Walter will be really upset by that!” Bless. And I suspect we’ll all be back there again next season whether Walter, Troy or whoever are there or not. That’s the most important thing.

13. Mike Smith - 08/05/2017

Great comments from everyone. All very measured & well done again Matt for a good report.
Here’s a few questions.
When Watford appoint a manager what are they looking for?
A manager who:
1. Keeps us in the Prem?
2. Tries to play attractive football?
3. Has a rapport with the fans (especially after a defeat)?
I think we all know WM has failed on 2 & 3 and very nearly all of them. We’re going backwards with a better squad than last season.
A song for the Man City game. To the tune of arriverderci Roma..
Arriverderci Walter! Perhaps he’ll get the message at last!

Mike Smith - 08/05/2017

I also meant to mention Messers Jakanovic & Flores.
They don’t seem to be doing too badly this season!

14. Rob Payne - 08/05/2017

I honestly didn’t think we were that bad on Saturday. I didn’t see a huge lack of effort. It is natural that after winning 3 home games without conceding a goal to ge tot 40 points there might be the players turning off. I don’t think they do this on purpose, but it is impossible to manufacture the kind of focus that must win games require. Like matt right says that Huddersfield game was the players giving up, I have seen no evidence of that this season. Leicester are a good side, well organized at the back and without being on top form we found it hard o break them down. they have rediscovered their mojo and won a title beating better teams than us playing the way they did on Saturday. the treatment of Amrabat was shocking, he had 2 men tight on him and people screaming at him to get it in the middle, as if it is that easy. I posted the following on my facebook when I got home on Saturday…

I was embarrassed to be a Watford fan today, not because of what happened on the pitch, I have seen literary hundreds of worse performances over the years, but because of the hatred shown by a large number of morons that call themselves fans towards a team and a manager that have all but secured 3 consecutive seasons in the top flight for the first time in the 30 years that I have supported the club. I am not a huge fan of Walter, and have found a lot of his team selections and tactics baffling and frustrating, I won’t be that sad if or when he leaves, but the vile atmosphere in the away end today was ridiculous. It seems a large chunk of our supporters have become spoilt little babies that expect footballing perfection on a weekly basis and the team to be in the top ten of the premier league. We have beaten man United and Arsenal this season and produced performances against west ham and recently against west brom that have included wonderful goals and thrilling football. We are a mid table team for crying out loud, playing in the most competitive league in the world! Some weeks will be good, some weeks will be bad. That’s the life of a football fan! Ask a leeds fan or even worse a coventry fan if they would swap places with us right now. Think back 10 years to the boothroyd premier league team and the rank long ball stuff we played the following season. We do not have a divine right to be where we are. Remember that before you viciously boo a team that is performing, all be it inconsistently, at a level higher than we have in a generation.

Simon Hornet - 08/05/2017

Well said!

15. Harefield Hornet - 08/05/2017

Very well said that man.


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