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Watford 0 Manchester City 5 (21/05/2017) 22/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- “Bit quiet, isn’t it?” noted Daz as we ambled down Occupation Road in the sunshine, daughter 1 polishing off the Magnum that she’d negotiated. And so it was, but there had been little surprise in the observation… nobody was under any illusions and a goodly number had clearly opted out. Those of us in attendance approached the game with a mixture of apprehension, obligation and morbid fascination… Manchester City are a tough opponent at the best of times, in other circumstances this might have been an exciting game, an opportunity to bloody a nose in a nothing-to-lose encounter. Nobody harboured such expectations today. That we had little material to play for that City (as it turned out) needed a result to confirm Champions (sic) League qualification, that we’d lost all semblance of form whilst City had rediscovered theirs were challenges in themselves.

But our perverse injury problems turned the contest into a farce from the off. It has become increasingly difficult to sympathise with Walter Mazzarri’s bizarre prognoses as time has gone on, but there can be no disputing the gist of his parting shot. Nobody survives against Man City with their six (six!) senior central defenders unavailable. A thankless task for Mazzarri, whose meagre stock has dropped so low in the last fortnight that it was difficult for any to look at the back four of Janmaat and full Prem debutant Mason either side of midfielder Behrami and full-back-cum-powderkeg Holebas and acknowledge that this was probably as good as he could manage.

Which, as so often, was partly his own fault. If you could look at that defensive “solution” and say “yes, OK” there was no defending his bench. In such circumstances, when backs are likely to be not so much up against the wall as pummelled halfway through it, you need your leaders, you need senior players to cajole and organise and pull the side along. Our leader, in a final peevish move by his manager, was on the bench (and it’s arguable that in the admittedly ring-rusty Ben Watson, another to have been discarded cheaply by Mazzarri, we had another wise head underemployed). And, of course, we named two goalkeepers… much as we all love Rene Gilmartin this was no tribute to a departing hero (notably, no fawning 26th minute intro/outro for Rene who isn’t nearly a vain enough peacock to have suggested one) but a pathetically self-indulgent sulky statement by the outgoing coach. “Look what I’m left with”. A Charlie Rowan, a Carl Stewart or an Ogo Obi could have filled that space and garnered Mazzarri more sympathy and options.

2- If nobody expected a result then I think we hoped for a bit of defiance before the inevitable, a bit of “hey, we’re still in this, come on lads”. Alas. Indeed, all plans seemed to go astray on a day that confirmed the suspicion that we’re better off with this season ending and never being mentioned again. I’d gone as far as to order a mixed grill at Middletons with the intent of extracting what pleasure there was to be extracted from the afternoon, only to delay everyone else’s food as a result to quite reasonable scowls and sarcasm from friends and family young and old. So much for that. So much for our show of defiance also; four minutes in and Vincent Kompany was afforded space to pitch a tent, time to heat a barbecue in our penalty area and directed a corner inside the postage stamp. Worst fears realised, and not for the first time this season we progressed down a slope at any stage of which we’d have taken the scoreline and no questions asked. Whilst reflecting, again, on our complete inability to defend corners (no height and no defenders didn’t actually make that failing any more complete).

3- Actually there was some defiance.  There was a contrast between the play at the two ends of the pitch;  City were dominant in each, but at least as we attacked it looked less of an unfair contest.  M’Baye Niang nearly scored that goal he scores, cutting in from the left on his right foot but shovelling the shot narrowly over.  Doucouré and Capoue moved the ball quickly and fiercely, Nordin Amrabat found space on the right. And then, inevitably, City broke on us like water and it was men against boys.  Brandon Mason dug in and stuck his chin out, piling Gabriel Jesus into the advertising hoardings.  Valon Behrami, bless his snarling fangs, dived in to deny Agüero but it was all last ditch and desperate.  It wasn’t, in short, a fair fight… City spun and swung and sliced through us, a match for anyone on this form let alone our botched together defence.  And so we draw a veil over the detail of the rest of the half, except to mention that we lost Daryl Janmaat to the three hundred and seventy sixth hamstring strain of the season (nothing to do with our training methods though, naturally) allowing Andrew Eleftheriou to make the debut he probably wouldn’t have chosen.  And that some chose to boo at the half time whistle as if these circumstances compared to Hull or Palace, because “me sad, me boo” is as close to reason as some get.  Oh, and that City scored three more goals.

4- After more brief defiance – principally from Stefano Okaka, who provided much of what was left in that department for the rest of the half and opened the second period by barging himself a space and forcing a fine save from Caballero – City scored again.  And then more or less stopped, for which we could only be grateful.  There was some muted gallows humour, some attempts to recruit both Thierry Henry, pitchside for Sky Sports, and fifties centre-back Bill Shipwright who performed the half-time draw.  The most attention afforded to Mazzarri came when Jon Moss spoke to him on the touchline and the ground exhorted him to send the coach to the stands, but in vain.

The real question for me is why Mazzarri was in the ground at all.  By all accounts his departure was a mutual decision rather than “yet another” Pozzo sacking (the second, I make it?) and so perhaps the end of the season felt more natural… but this has never felt like a respectful, best-thing-for-everyone, no-hard-feelings kind of deal.  There’s bitterness and discomfort on both sides, and the line-up itself betrayed the questionable nature of the decision to retain him for the final game.

5- And so the season ends on six defeats with the Hornets one place above relegated Hull City and as intimated we’re probably best of all round to put the season behind us.  Despite the poor form, despite the miserable low on which we finish, despite the portents of the witless Pleat on 5 Live, and others, who refused to make allowances for the unprecedented circumstances of this game… it really isn’t that bad.  The reality is that we’re in the morass in the middle of the division between which there’s little to choose;  despite our recent tumble we’re as close to eighth place Saints as we are to Hull.  The summer will see a new coach, a new training regime, and undoubtedly another turnover of players… Nordin Amrabat, like Seb Prödl on Monday, seemed to be saying goodbye when he approached the Rookery before the lap of honour.  He’s looked nervous and been thoroughly ineffective since returning to the side… but he’s a trier, and it was good that the waiting crowd responded to his efforts and his own acknowledgement of them warmly.  For all the team’s struggles, the club is still in a good place and we shouldn’t need Daily Express headlines to remind us how lucky we are.

The List, Helping Hands and the Squad Review will follow in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, have a good summer.



1. Lincoln Hornet - 22/05/2017

Love the bit about Kompanys tent. What a miserable season it’s been. U ‘Orns.

2. Harry Rowson - 22/05/2017

Much to agree with here, my son. Particularly the way my deflated stomach was wrapping itself around my spine as we all waited for your meatfest to be slaughtered, butchered and cremated. It only took an hour. And I noted the adults eyeing the chips and nuggets of other parents kids and grandchildren. Stealing off your own kids is really not on, but third party offspring…?

You are right. In this year’s PL, top half vs 17th is really beige. Except that it’s that bit easier attracting players from top half than from 17th. By the time you’ve explained how the league was tight, that we had so many injuries (and that, no, it had nothing to do with offing the medical staff early in the season) and … the Beats phones are bracketing glazed eyes.

And except that the Pozzos will have only reluctantly determined to ‘mutually’ agree on Walters departure. They would rightly be concerned at the reputational risk of dispensing with another manager. And journalists are lazy. They repeat, without checking, the mantra that they’ve dumped 10, 20 managers in 6 months. The reality was that Watford hero Dyche was dismissed by a new owner who bought the Club 30 minutes before the start of the new season, had to bring in 30 odd players on loan for the same reason; Zola lost interest and put on his Beats; the next manager resigned due to health conc….. hey! Are you listening?! Take those Beats off!

We slumped at the wrong time – the worst possible time. We want our players to go to the beach on a high; to think and speak well of the Club. We want our players to remember what it was like when a majority of players was fit and we were 7th. It would have been preferable for our debutants to be on a winning team, but they all gave cause for enjoyment.

What about the supporters, you ask? The only excuse for booing is when players don’t make the effort. There was no lack of effort here. In my 50 odd years of support, I can count the number of times I’ve booed my team on half a hand. Yesterday wasn’t one of them.

Once a Hornet, always a Hornet

3. Harefield Hornet - 22/05/2017

I know it’s probably easy to be reasonable when you’re 5-0 up but I thought Vincent Kompany showed his true class when he put an arm around Stefano and ushered him away from a potential red card in the 2nd half. A class player (when fit) in a classy side! As for the reaction of some of our fans – you would have thought we’d actually had our first choice 11 on the pitch! Don’t like the look of these Russian takeover rumours though! – I can just about stand the change of coaches every year but owners? – no thanks! Have a great summer.

4. South horn - 22/05/2017

I get the feeling the booing was about a level of helplessness and understanding at the team that was put out. Yes we had centre backs out but we didn’t even try to pack the box or keep the midfield tight. Instead we had an make shift back 4 and no plan what so ever. This felt more like a boo at the situation rather than the players. (I didn’t boo btw).

Like everyone I’m glad this season has ended. I thought about your comment a couple of weeks ago that there is no one in the squad that you’d look to get rid of. I think these few.

Amrabat – Tries but doesn’t have enough quality.
Holebas – Liability with his temper and never seems to stop a cross
Britos – Not quick enough and often caught out

Matt Rowson - 22/05/2017

Will do a review of the squad here in the coming weeks but Amrabat… yes, OK. Britos… can see your point, but a left-sided option is always helpful, esp if we’re playing a three. Completely disagree on Holebas, think he’s been stonking. Yes, he needs to control his temper, but I’d still take another season like this from him.

5. Stuart Campbell - 22/05/2017

With a near 5-hour round trip in the car I had plenty of time to think on the way home from the Vic. Frankly, the game – and most of the season – had been forgotten by time I passed Luton and my thoughts had turned to which players I’d like to keep or happily see depart. I agree with the comments on Amrabat who has gone from early season good guy to liability in my book. There’s no point in a winger who can’t cross.

I agree with you, Matt, on Holebas. From someone I originally watched through my fingers he’s developed into a true strength in the team. Huge effort in defence and some very decent assists. Yes, there’s the cartoon-villain temper, but he seems to have got bored with antagonising refs and passed that role on to Okaka. But I bet he shouts at his duvet when he gets home.

One player I’d be very sorry to see go is Prodl. After much head scratching I finally gave him my Player of Season vote. Many more fine games than dodgy ones. As for Britos, I think his time is up.

Now looking forward to the Rowson Review. And some summer sun.


6. PEDantic - 22/05/2017

What a sad day it was at Vicarage Road. Not for the scoreline, nor the final league position, nor even six defeats in a row, but for the huge decline in the relationship between fans and team compared with where it was two years ago. The boos were unkind, given the extraordinary situation, although an internal enquiry into the injury record must surely be in the offing. As a Watford fan of course it was awful, but as a football fan what a rare treat to see a superb attacking team in Man City, led by my favourite current player, Sergio Aguero.

I too agree about Holebas. I secretly like his spiky attitude to everything and voted him my player of the season, with candidates thin on the ground.

Anyway thank God it’s all over and let’s start with a clean slate in August. I hope the Pozzos will employ a manager whose mindset is not just focused on the bare minimum of 40 points which is seemingly afflicting all clubs from 8th place downwards. I really don’t care about the position in the league, I just want to see some ambition on the pitch. Everyone have a good summer.

7. crisb - 23/05/2017

I think the booing was more for the fact that despite the injuries we never looked like we were that bothered about putting up a particularly strong fight. And i think that is hugely symbolic about the team as a whole this year.

If (for some reason) you compare us to muesli we’re strictly Tesco Value. We meet all the criteria for muesli (yep oats, yep raisins) but we’re not the muesli you bounce out of bed can’t wait to get downstairs for, we’re the type you wolf down just thankful that you haven’t run out of muesli yet. Sometimes you might get a nice bowl, but more often that not…

Anyway I think Holebas shows remarkable restraint *after* he gets yellowed. It’s like he needs the yellow just to calm down. I like the way he limped around looking hugely pissed off at the final whistle, it makes a change from those who leg it down the tunnel, he at least feels it (or shows he feels it). He’s Carl DIckinson but with ability basically.

Matt Rowson - 23/05/2017

I don’t think I agree about the booing – I mean, that may have been the thinking but I don’t think it’s reasonable.

However the muesli line is so good that you’re completely forgiven…

8. Old Git - 23/05/2017

The last time a group of players representing Watford (I have to abandon the word ‘team’) were so disconnected from each other and the supporters was during the period when Vialli made such a mess of things. Say what you will about Mazzarri, at least he didn’t try and make Deeney play at full-back, as Vialli did with Helguson and neither did he sign Patrick Blondeau. Or Ramon Vega.
In the Worst Ever League, for me Vialli trumps Mazzarri. Mazzarri and Bassett are joint Runners-Up.

Matt Rowson - 23/05/2017

I think Bassett beats Mazzarri. Mazzarri did at least keep us up, and didn’t dismantle a successful team quite so wantonly (Richardson? Bardsley? (sob))

9. Royston RoF - 23/05/2017

Another great season of thunks MAtt, thank you

Once a ‘orn always a ‘orn…when ever where ever..

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