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Watford 0 Real Sociedad 0 (05/08/2017) 06/08/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- First and foremost, we’re here for GT. There’s yellow everywhere, including in the Rookery where, if the donated tributes get a bit lost the sentiment is evident and a mighty GT banner dominates. And that’s the theme really… what’s important is not the substance, not the what, but the motivation behind it.  Everyone… club, supporters, guests… want to do this justice.  So there’s all sorts of entertainment going on behind the Rookery by all accounts – and whilst I grouchily resent not being allowed to sit in my seat, let alone my stand for any fixture on this occasion allowances must be made.

Motty’s on the pitch before the game giving a very Motty tribute, heartfelt and verbose.  At half time there’s a fine parade of those who played under or worked with GT, plus Rod Thomas, a little perplexingly, who signed as a trainee the summer that GT left and was long gone by the time he came back.  An injury means that his circuit of the pitch is by far the longest…. the highlight of the parade is the appearance of Jan Lohman, looking exactly like Jan Lohman ought to look at 58, wild hair and all.

Hell, even ig is here to join in with the manifold rounds of ovation and applause.  He stands up until kick off, of course, in the rather claustrophobic Upper GT stand… when challenged about whether good luck rituals have any place in pre-season friendlies he mutters something about injuries.

2- There’s a debutant, too, blessed with all the enthusiasm and lack of cynicism you’d hope an expect from a younger member of the squad. Discussions regarding his potential inclusion during the week covered his stamina, his ability to cope with the big occasion, the risk of a premature debut ruining a burgeoning career.  The selectors are all old enough to remember Gary Fitzgerald.  In the end the head of the selection panel, my brother and Jacob’s father, adopts the strategy of shovelling chocolate down him regularly in a shameless attempt to foster association between being at the football and having fun.  Not four until November, Jacob makes a hugely encouraging debut the highlight of which being several second half bellows of “Yoooorns” from the front row of the upper tier in defiance of pre-season friendly protocol and the lack of justification for such exuberance emanatig from the pitch.  You’ll notice that, two thunks in, I haven’t mentioned the actual football yet.

3- Because it’s rubbish.  Or rather…  it’s rubbish in many respects, entertainment value being high on the list of said respects.  Sociedad may not have been the most obvious opponent for this GT-themed encounter but they’re a tidy side (and, it should be noted with thanks, played a low key, patient and accommodating role in the afternoon’s commemorations including skipper Xabi Prieto warmly greeting Rita Taylor during the post match trophy presentation.  We all wanted to go home by that point so I don’t doubt he did).  Reassuringly, it’s Dad who makes the mistake of asking where exactly Sociedad is…  they’re much the stronger side in this first half in which our defence, three-quarters rebuilt since Villa Park, holds out rather well.  Miguel Britos in particular looks more composed than he has done in competitive action for a while and behind them Heurelho Gomes is mostly alert and defiant, one exception being a bouncing ball catching him out before a linesman’s flag came to the rescue.

But it feels like a song to which we’ve learned the verse but have yet to master the chorus (and for which precious few sympathy points will be awarded for “giving it a go”, to extend the metaphor).  In the final third we have no conviction and no cutting edge;  as is Marco Silva’s trademark the wide men get a lot of the ball but next to nothing makes its way to Sinclair, who for all his energy isn’t much of a target anyway.  Roberto Pereyra is by some distance our best hope of making something happen, aggressive as well as deft and furiously purposeful in possession and with license to wander around but there’s not enough going on around him to disrupt a disciplined Sociedad rearguard and he’s visibly wound up before half an hour has passed.  Those much vaunted attacking options that are supposed to be incoming will be welcomed by the Argentine as much as anyone.

4- The second half is better in that we at least register a couple of shots.  Roberto Pereyra executes the first, a trademark cut inside and curling, dipping effort that skims the far post.  Later, the frustratingly tentative Nordin Amrabat breaks mould and clubs an optimistic but venomous drive straight at Rulli from 25 yards.  Tom Cleverley, who rather falls between two stools in this formation and doesn’t flourish “in the hole” on this occasion, is on the end of a good early move that sees him through on goal but seems to let the ball run away from him.  It’s not a lot, but it’s something which is progress.

We make nine replacements during the course of the half; Stefano Okaka’s position on the bench, as reported elsewhere, is to protect him from risk of injury as we build up to Liverpool.  He seems quite well suited to this formation to me given his ability to hold the ball up, his willingness to chase down defenders, and particularly his adeptness at attacking the near post.  This he does as another sub, Femenía, makes a break to the touchline and slips a ball across.  It’s the closest we come, if not to scoring then certainly to raising blood pressure a little. The closest to scoring comes when Okaka puts a header into the net from an Amrabat cross; the diffusion of celebration caused by the offside flag less noticeable in the more restrained pre-season atmosphere meaning that some of us, um, don’t realise for a while that it has been disallowed.

Elsewhere Doucouré, who’s been the better of the double-act at the back of midfield on this occasion, makes way for Capoue and we lose something straight away, Doucouré perhaps better suited to this job.  Ben Watson comes on for Chalobah – we joke that you half feel he’d be less out of place in the half-time parade, so remote does his Watford career seem, but it’s good to have him back involved and he puts in a peach of a cross for Success, who’s had a stinker of a cameo, to shovel over the bar from close range.

5- So a game to be viewed through two lenses.  As preparation for Liverpool the kindest thing you can say is that some of it looks alright but you wouldn’t expect Joël Matip et al to be quaking in their boots.  This doesn’t look like a humming machine, not yet, but let’s see what competitive action does.

The other aspect is as a celebration, a tribute to a truly special man.  There’s no value in repeating words that we’ve written many times on this site and the other one.  You all know the score, and nothing should need further explanation.

Thank you GT.

Yoorns.

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