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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

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:


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.


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


1. JohnF - 17/09/2017

Matt, everything you said is right, although we saw the linesman in the second half not flag for a very clear off-side (we were in line) that he could only miss by actually closing his eyes for several seconds and a second attempt to do this that was only prevented by howls from the crowd. One of the big differences was their first touch compared to our first touch but that can be worked on. They were also very physical and very strong as well as the quickest side back to front I have seen. So we aren’t likely to challenge for the title this year, or even the top four, but we aren’t a bad side because we had a drubbing from the most expensive squad ever. I have more confidence in Marco Silva than the previous coaches but I am concerned at the continuing injury problems. Playing your fourth choice pairing at centre-back is not ideal against City. A learning experience and we move on.

2. harefield hornet - 17/09/2017

I know its Silva’s preference but I’m really fed up with the lone striker option already. On the occasions we did get forward nothing was sticking and Gray again was left to plough a lonely furrow. Surely with a good hiding imminent as the game progressed we could have gambled with two strikers yesterday? We never gave their defence that much to worry about ,as good as City are. Having said all that they were literally different class.

Matt Rowson - 17/09/2017

I dunno. It would be nice to see Deeney and Gray together, but losing that striker gives us the bedrock in midfield which has been so potent until now, and releases the wider attackers.

3. PEDantic - 17/09/2017

I’m so glad someone else has noticed and highlighted that deeply offensive ‘stat’. I’m not as opposed as you to the the ticker tape thing per se, but get the facts right for God’s sake. I didn’t notice that the abomination was repeated at half time and I rather assumed some irked fellow fan (perhaps your good self) had stormed up to a club official and demanded the erroneous message be deleted forthwith!

4. Ray Knight - 17/09/2017

Great write up as normal Matt. Citee in this mood will be champions this year. I thought it would be United a few weeks ago but have changed my mind. That was a Barcelona or Real at their best performance yesterday. Our only mistake was to try and play football rather than do a Burnley and shut up shop. The pundits at least seem to have recognised that this week. Good to see Pereyra back. Move on Asap without a prolonged post mortem. Confident Silva will do the right thing and prepare us well for Swansea.

5. Roger Smith - 17/09/2017

Thanks, Matt. Your reports must be a godsend to overseas Hornets supporters whose only other source of information are the reports in the MSM.

Simoninoz - 17/09/2017

Never a truer word said regarding overseas ‘orns, Roger Smith. Matt, ig and the FTRE guys are wonderful for we exiles, although strangely I experienced the game yesterday at a sensible time as I am on holiday in Italy. Let’s be honest, we may be jealous of City’s money, but then a club like Chesterfield (for example) are jealous of ours. Happy days…

6. NickB - 17/09/2017

Well said on the ticker tape: the factoid at the Brighton game was wildly inaccurate, too.
Are you similarly exercised by the appearance of a pneumatic blonde lady advertising the merits of the maturer female at the conclusion of your report? Nowhere’s safe anymore…🙄

Matt Rowson - 17/09/2017

Bizarre. No, I don’t see the ads… because I’m perpetually logged in I think

Neil M - 17/09/2017

I’ve got ads for floral gifts, I think that the ads you see are based on your internet searches Nick. I saw the ‘challenge ‘ on Chalobah on MOTD last night and thought it looked even worse than when I first saw it; could easily have been a red card if it had been the other way round.

NickB - 18/09/2017

Haha, touché. If only….

7. Robert Hill - 17/09/2017

I would just like to go back to the Gray/ Deeney issue. I don’t believe that Gray is a Premier League striker. In fairness he works his socks off and runs the channels, but sadly and mostly, the ball doesn’t stick with him. If you are playing up top, you must hold the ball up to let others join in. In my book he is perhaps a Championship player. Deeney this year has come back looking very fit. The ball sticks with him and his strength always gives defenders something to think about which allows others to get quickly to him. I felt there was a big improvement when he came on, especially for Pereyra who is so clever. I’m not criticising Gray, but I do think he is limited for they way we play. Now if he plays alongside Deeney that would be interesting, but I cannot believe he will try that. Also he has not really looked like scoring, though I appreciate his work ethic and determination.

8. Ray Knight - 18/09/2017

Think Gray will get one more start before Silva looks at a change. He wants to give Gray as long as possible to get at least a scruffy goal.I too thought Deeney was OK when he came on but Citee were never going to be stretched by one up front.

9. Simon - 18/09/2017

I wonder if we’ll start to see Deeney more at home, particularly against sides outside the top two or three, with Gray being used away from home. In games where you’re more likely to have the opposition sit in a bit, Gray’s pace is nullified a bit and his ability to chase the channels/close down across the back four are required less. For those games, Deeney provides a different focal point to the attack and allows us to use crosses from wide areas. My slight concern is that Deeney has traditionally tended to need fake time to stay sharp so rotation hasn’t really suited him too much.

I think Silva will stick broadly to one up front, not least because, if he plays Deeney and Gray, Deeney will effectively play as a 10, meaning two of Cleverly, Pereyra, Richarlison and Carrillo will miss out. It also seems to have a nice balance about it given that at least two of the “three behind” are essentially out and out attackers.

Simon - 18/09/2017

I don’t know what “fake time” is either – not quite sure how my fat thumbs created that but do ignore it. Alternatively, if anyone has any ideas on what fake time might be ….

Wrighty - 18/09/2017

I am a constant sufferer of FTS (Fat Thumbs Sydrome) and so recognise the alternate spellings caused by this this affliction. I think you meant game time

10. Stuart Campbell - 18/09/2017

Fake time surely relates to that sort of player whom you can never remember despite official stats claiming they appeared three or four times, five or six years ago. They only ever came on very late in games to appear in a vague holding role in that mysterious part of the pitch that not even Tom Cleverly covers. They hardly get a touch and quietly sneak off at the end down the tunnel. Three months on and they’re on the bench for Fleetwood – or Granada. The fake time Hornet. Whassisname bloke.

11. Wimborne Hornet - 18/09/2017

Like you I thought City were fantastic to watch. Fast, accurate and deadly. It was like a much loved relative being beaten around the head. I really enjoyed the way we continued with the right attitude and our heads didn’t drop; in marked contrast to the end of last year.

Matt Rowson - 18/09/2017

Agree, and should have mentioned that.

12. Matt Rowson - 18/09/2017

Have just been contacted by the club re the StatZone nonsense. Measures are being taken…

13. john parslow - 18/09/2017

good report.

I think its clear we would have lost regardless – but in a way i’m happy that we got so much of the rub of the green and a few problems all appear in one game.

Richarlison and Capoue could have scored. We had a definite penalty. 2 off sides, and a handball and foul in a build up for another… the game might just have been interesting for example if we did get back to 3-1 early in the 2nd half….

I thought Chalobah, Carillo and Holebas overplayed at times…. trying to beat players when a quick triangle pass would have been better —

but its good to take this as an education lesson and move on…. and if there is going to be a Manchester domination this season – i know which team I prefer to see do it.

we will have to settle for 4th.

14. Levenshulme Blue - 18/09/2017

City fan here. Enjoyed your writing, Matt. You clearly know your stuff and it makes a refreshing change to read such an honest account of what must have been a disheartening experience and, trust me, I know what I’m talking about because I saw us getting dicked at Maine Road too many times for my liking. Keep up the good work and believe me, your boys were far more impressive than the scousers…your lads have got soul, heart and pride and I’d love you to nick the Europa League spot from Everton….COME ON!

Matt Rowson - 18/09/2017

Many thx. Hope you’re as complimentary and gracious when I report on us dicking you at your place… 🙂

Levenshulme Blue - 19/09/2017

Whatever will be….will be 👌

15. SteveG - 19/09/2017

There’s a parallel universe in which a linesman gives two admittedly highly marginal offside decisions in our favour, the referee sees the foul on Chalobah, Janmaat makes a tackle that’s as perfectly timed to win the ball as the one that Kabasele made a little earlier (or was it later?), Richarlison and Capoue are both rather sharper with directing their headers and, as a result, we manage to go in 1-0 up at half time and get an extraordinary 3-3 draw against one of the best attacking sides that I’ve had the privilege to see.

I’m hugely encouraged by the fact that both here and elsewhere there is a realisation that, despite the result, we didn’t actually play that badly – we had no luck at all with decisions, weren’t quite sharp enough at a few critical moments, and City were simply brilliant.

That kind of performance should be good enough to give both West Brom and Swansea a hard time.

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