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Toddy 25/09/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

We don’t make a habit of sharing writing responsibilities on these pages, as you’ll know.  Special circumstances demand an exception.  We’ll miss you, Toddy.

As Richarlison burst through Alfie Mawson’s wet lettuce of a tackle and delivered the coup de grace on Saturday, you couldn’t help but wonder what Steve Todd would have made of it all.. Toddy set sail for whatever awaits last week and we’re all going to miss him terribly.

Back in the first Premiership (not, not etc) season a thriving regional supporters group community had built up around the Watford team, specifically on the away days. The Norfolk Hornets, with Toddy and the equally much-missed Steve Brister at the helm, were in the vanguard and The Yellow Experience fanzine regularly reported on the various adventures of Toddy and his crew over the following few seasons.

Later, with Look at the Stars in its pomp, Toddy also bought his unique humour and love of sailing to its pages as part of our ‘Since We Last Wrote’ match reporting. With the focus often on anything other than what actually happened on the pitch, Toddy’s whimsical genius was a perfect ingredient for those pages.

As far as words of tribute go, we could have filled Matt and Ig’s blog with glowing reference and stories of one of our best writers and much-loved shipmate. Instead, we present two of his best articles in his memory and hope his many friends enjoy the memories they invoke. If you’re reading and never met or knew him, take our word for it. You’d have loved him, too.

Sleep well, Cap’n,
Your bitchmaster and flooze
TYE, LATS editors/co-editors 1991-2004

 

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Watford 0 Manchester City 6 (16/09/2017) 17/09/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
25 comments

1- So.  Fourth in the League.  Early days, yes, but still.  Fourth in the league.  Cool, huh?

It’s got to the point that analysts have to at least acknowledge us.  This lack of such until now bothers me more than it should… I mean, we obviously get more attention than we used to in the second tier where you sort of tacitly accept that nobody (except those directly affected) gives a stuff.  Being a small fish in the Premier League is aggravating since you’ve gotten to the top table and you expect a degree of focus and recognition and then you have to reconcile this with the fact that, still, nobody gives a stuff. Our role is as straight guys for the big clubs.  Incidental necessities, supporting cast.

But being fourth is different.  It might only earn a “they look good, Watford”, or a “I really like the look of their midfield” from someone who’s at least done ten minutes of research, but it’s something.  And people at work, People Who Don’t Really Like Football and must therefore be treated with a degree of caution, will say “hey, I see Watford are doing well”.  And you try to humour them, knowing that there’s no scope for a proper conversation on the subject, by saying something inane and conversation-ending like “yes, and if we beat Manchester City on Saturday we’ll be top, ho ho”.

The title push might need to wait for another season…

2- This had the air of a free punch given our strong start to the season, the edge taken off our bravado slightly by the paucity of centre-back options with Marco Silva, interestingly, picking out that absence of Kaboul as particularly unfortunate.

City started at high speed and with an immediate intensity, clearly hoping to put us to the sword quickly and perhaps influenced by their midweek fixture – best put this to bed early to save their legs.  We withstood this, owing a little to luck when Agüero fired narrowly wide, a little to Raheem Sterling air-kicking spectacularly, but more to our own resilience.  Christian Kabasele executed a fine, precise tackle in the box to rob Sterling, released by de Bruyne (“a Steve Palmer tackle” said Loz, high praise). Daryl Janmaat’s bravery denied Nicolás Otamendi a far post opener at the expense of a painful looking clash of heads. The rain came down ferociously, but we’d weathered the early storm and ventured upfield ourselves, Richarlison getting on the end of a wicked Holebas free kick but directing his header narrowly wide.  This was a game, and we were very much in it.

3- Until we weren’t.  Three goals in eleven minutes and it’s over. It’s tempting to dwell on refereeing mistakes…  the first and third goals offside, the penalty bizarrely denied to Chalobah after a clumsy challenge by Walker that left no room for misinterpretation, the prevalent suspicion that Taylor and his assistant in front of the GT stand rather steeled themselves against the Hornets in indignation at protest against their errors and were far from even-handed in their dealing with marginal calls.  All irrelevant really.

What’s significant about today’s game is the narrow margins between an unremarkable and even competitive outcome and the mauling that the scoreline suggests.  Goal 3 was clearly offside, Goal 1 less obviously so but both are only revealed by replays;  it pains me to say it, but you have to sympathise with Taylor and co, and say “OK, I can see how they missed that”.  So what you take from that is that City’s timing and movement was absolutely precise, that whatever failings we might have contributed to the two goals the fact that the movement was timed perfectly in balancing advantage with what might be gotten away with, that Agüero’s header was absolutely perfect… combined with the fact that the energy and movement was relentless, maybe they weren’t perfect every time but they were close enough to keep us perpetually on edge.  This was never better illustrated than by the fifth goal; you can argue that someone should have put a more aggressive tackle in, maybe taken Agüero down but the obstacles in his way still required a ridiculous shot to curl towards the goal and bounce in off the inside of the post with just about enough oomph to beat the attentions of Kabasele on the line.  Absolutely merciless precision.

4- It would be wrong to suggest that this was all out of our hands.   Daryl Janmaat, in the build up to the second goal, attempted to reprise Brendon Mason’s achievement of shovelling Gabriel Jesus into the hoardings but the young Brazilian has been in the gym over the summer and dispatched his opponent instead.  Then, instead of charging into the space created and mishitting the cross, or seeing his delivery cleared or a header saved as happens nine times out of ten, City capitalised mercilessly exposing Gomes’ only real error of the game in the process.   So… we made mistakes, we contributed to our downfall but City ruthlessly exploited our failings, teased apart the slightest flaws and poured relentlessly through them.

Superlatives are dull, but I struggle to remember a more impressive team performance.  You’re tempted to say “attacking performance” since we weren’t completely shut out, we did have a few chances particularly early in the second half when Carrillo upped a gear.  But if you can’t get the ball and the opposition attack is so formidable defensive limitations don’t matter so much.  Only the Liverpool side of Barnes and Beardsley stands comparison to my mind, and my only first hand experience of that was against Steve Harrison’s beleaguered side – Harrison, like Elton, present yesterday – which hardly acts as a benchmark.  The movement, the precision, the speed and above all the relentless intensity was quite breathtaking.

5- So if we didn’t do a lot wrong, if the opposition were extraordinary and if (some of) the officiating can be forgiven and certainly wasn’t a determining factor – bad decisions, like bad bounces, need to be accommodated – then we should perhaps be grateful for something to vent our spleen at without reservation.

Regular readers will know that I like a good stat as much as the next man and more than most.  The contribution of StatZone, however, does nothing to add to my match-going experience on the best of days and today certainly wasn’t one of them.  A ticker-tape message bar along the back of the electric ad-boards pointed directly at the stands as if it’s occurred to some marketing guru that making the live experience more like television is easier than the more traditional reverse.  Pre-match and at half time this monstrosity declared:

THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THAT WATFORD HAVE FOUND THEMSELVES INSIDE THE TOP FOUR OF THE ENGLISH TOP-FLIGHT

So much wrong with this sentence. Firstly, trivially, factually incorrect as anyone who remembers as far back as 1983 could tell you.  Secondly, the implicit presumption that football before 1992 doesn’t matter… “OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE” would have been similarly irritating but at least it would have been accurate.  The language… “found themselves” implies an accident, something that’s happened to Watford rather than an achievement, temporary or otherwise.  It comes from the same lexicon as “shrewd signing by” and “share your view” popular in clickbait football websites.  Impersonal, indifferent, banal.  “They look good, Watford”.  You’re talking to supporters, for goodness sake, not the lowest common denominator.

Most of all, if a particular website is rubbish I can choose not to view it, if punditry descends too far into pub-bore twaddle I can turn it off.  I resent this imposition on my match day.  A repulsive development.

6- So we got dicked by City.  Plenty of teams will get dicked by City and whilst the margin of defeat negatively effects our goal difference (early days but a 1-0 defeat would have seen us five places better off) this game doesn’t have to be a disaster.

Our reaction is all important, and will be fascinating as well as potentially determining how our season pans out.  Swansea and West Brom away preceded an international break, followed by Arsenal and Chelsea.  Bring it on.

Yooorns.

Gomes 3, Janmaat 3, Holebas 2, Mariappa 2, Kabasele 3, Chalobah 3, Doucouré 2, Cleverley 3, *Carrillo 3*, Richarlison 3, Gray 2

Subs: Pereyra (for Cleverley, 64) 3, Capoue (for Chalobah, 70) 2, Deeney (for Gray, 74) 2, Wagué, Zeegelaar, Success, Karnezis

Southampton 0 Watford 2 (09/08/2017) 10/09/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
9 comments

1- On Friday night the Palace Theatre played host to the latest Tales from the Vicarage event.  The latest of several, the first I’ve been able to get to.  Adam Leventhal is the host and John Barnes is the guest;  it’s a fine evening for a number of reasons.  Barnes is a relaxed and convivial interviewee if a little too rehearsed, as befits someone practised in talking about his career at such events.  These stock stories are occasionally engaging but impersonal;  only when Leventhal leads him onto less routine ground does Barnes become intimate, earnest and genuinely likeable.  When he talks about the influence Graham Taylor had on his career, something presumably less well covered on the Liverpool circuit, the slick laddish wisecracks disappear and he’s plaintively appealing to his interviewer and the audience, desperate to convey the gravity of his sentiment.

The evening features a recital from the voice(s) of Hornet Heaven  Colin Mace, and the recreation of some photos from back in the day, some of whose subjects have been treated more gently by the passing of time than others.  Most of all though, it’s another opportunity to spend time with Like Minded People.  One of the best things about match day itself, of course.  Diverse opinions on most subjects are to be welcomed, even football, especially football.  But sometimes it’s good to be with people who Understand.  The highlight of the evening is Leventhal orchestrating a series of chorusses of “Yooooorns” before the main man even appears.

2- So to matchday.  And bearing in mind what’s gone immediately before it’s tempting to compare and contrast, this team with that.  A thankless task, a fool’s errand.  Scale of achievement versus shift in standard, a top division now drawing talent from a much wider pool.  The best footage of Barnes is timeless, he would have been a star whatever the era but, more generally, how do you compare?  You can’t penalise the current side for playing in a faster league with better players but you can’t penalise the 1982/83 side, say, for playing when they did either.

Actually, if you spend any more time than it took you to read that paragraph thinking about this nonsense you need another hobby.  Learn a language, take up cookery or something.  Whatever.  Such comparisons are moot, this team needs to compete with the Premier League teams of today not the Watford teams of thirty-five years ago.

But there are some absolutes.  Barnes, as above, is one. A performance like this is another.  An absolute that is what it is irrespective of time.  We’ve played well at times since we’ve been promoted.  We’ve won impressively and deservedly against intimidating opponents.  But we’ve not won like this.  It’s not that we merited the win; that’s beyond dispute but not unique.  It was the way we crushed Southampton between our jaws.  The way that, more than merely deserving to win the game we were much, much better than our opponents.  Play this game a hundred times, we win ninety nine times.  Away to Southampton, a side who it could be argued are a reasonable target for our ambition in some ways. The victory is absolute, awesome, magnificent and magnificently straightforward.

3- The game starts as it’s going to continue.  We’re absolutely in charge and it’s that extraordinary midfield that’s crucial, the rock on which everything else is based.  There’s another historical comparator here;  that Boothroyd team that got promoted in 2006 when, even if we didn’t have the best players man-for-man we had a way of playing and individuals who had been expertly picked to make that system work.  So you had a solid defence and a hard working midfield that could soak up pressure, Foster’s distribution, King’s pace and aggression and so on.  Here, it’s the midfield.  It’s Doucouré striding across the pitch like he owns it (because he does), with adulation thundering from the away end.  It’s Chalobah one moment sashaying into space the next mincing an opponent and emerging with possession and a diffident shrug.  More than once he’s taken down off the ball as the move that he engineered escapes, they can’t live with him.  It’s Cleverley the dynamo, the duracell bunny, he’s fetching and probing and ferrying and providing an option.  This is the bedrock that will continue to provide Richarlison and Carrillo and Pereyra the licence to do whatever the damn they please.

If there’s a problem it’s that we’re on top but not actually creating much.  The 22nd minute’s applause in honour of a Saints fan who recently passed away risked being punctuated by a Richarlison goal as he wriggled into space but otherwise we’d not tested Forster.  Southampton, it should be noted, create nothing either but are holding us at arm’s length and with Femenía twice being caught flat footed by overlaps that went nowhere we don’t look invulnerable early on. Having missed Bournemouth the last win I saw was the West Brom victory and this was reminiscent of that in that we were going to need something special.  So we generated something special.  Half a second before which, Daughter 2 demanded my attention;  I’ve long trained myself to respond to such enquiries as patiently as possible irrespective of timing, for karma purposes.  You’re welcome.  For what it’s worth, she wanted to know whether Emma Watson was an adult or not.

4- We cut and thrust for the rest of the half, trying to capitalise on the spectacular development which had provoked a ferocious reprise of that chant, as if any excuse were necessary.  Chalobah drove at Forster, Doucouré got on the end of another fine move and did the Darren Bazeley thing of trying to recreate his fine strike but this time crashing a volley over the bar.

The second half started, predictably, with a bluster of pressure from the home side.  A bluster of pressure high on energy but short on conviction, the greatest injury we suffered was, predictably enough, injuries to personnel as Kaboul’s hamstring clocked off again and Femenía went off simultaneously.  Aidy Mariappa and Daryl “made of biscuits” (© Mike Parkin, FTRE) Janmaat came on to replace half of our defence and we caught our breath for the first time.

Here, for perhaps the only time in the game, we relied on a little fortune.  The timing of this goal was crucial and in that sense we curtailed any impending kitchen-sinking that the home side might have mustered in response to this development.  As it was, Daryl Janmaat galloped to the edge of the box and clouted a drive beyond Forster.  Game Over;  we stomped all over the rest of the game with Mariappa looking comfortable alongside the majestic Kabasele, who has surely nailed down a starting place over the last couple of fixtures.  If there was going to be another goal it would have been ours; André Gray, who had worked tirelessly and thanklessly throughout, scampered onto a through ball and outmuscled one chaser-back before being outdone by the second.  Carrillo screamed down the right making up a quarter of the pitch outside the touchline such was his momentum before cutting inside, leaving Bertrand on his backside and curling a shot wide.  Troy came on to an ovation and looked more mobile and combative in ten minutes than he has all season so far.  If a Southampton midfielder stuck a nervous head above the parapet, Nathaniel Chalobah stamped on it. It was a full back that finally registered a shot for the home side, Gomes fielded comfortably.

5- Returning to John Barnes, then.  It’s been clear for a long time that kids like mine who have gotten into it over the last few years will be cursed in the same way that those of my generation were.  By the time they realise that Watford Doing Well, scoring goals, winning games, isn’t the default state of affairs it’ll be too late.  There will be no going back.  For all of us…  this suddenly looks like a very special team, and whilst maintaining a Champions’ League position might be a little overambitious there can be no dispute that these are the new good old days.  Enjoy it.  This side looks really rather special.

Yoorns.

Gomes 3, Femenía 3, Holebas 4, Kaboul 4, Kabasele 5, *Chalobah 5*, Doucouré 5, Carrillo 4, Cleverley 5, Richarlison 4, Gray 4

Subs: Mariappa (for Kaboul, 61) 4, Janmaat (for Femenía, 62) 4, Deeney (for Gray, 84) 0, Success, Watson, Capoue, Karnezis