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Watford 0 Stoke City 1 (28/10/2017) 29/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- This was always going to be a different sort of challenge.

After a couple of marquee games from which three points and plenty of kudos was a very reasonable return, the first of three matches against sides who have been a bit rubbish and who have suffered through none of the promoted sides being completely terrible thus far and have consequently been getting edgy.

And much as we tried to convince ourselves that this was going to be a case of New Watford putting a struggling side to the sword, the day hadn’t felt right.  Wonky. Our reserved table set for the wrong number of places at the restaurant.  Harry the Hornet heading resignedly into the Red Lion pre-match.  Empty seats in the stadium.  Lots of them, despite what was officially a 20k+ gate.   And a confused pre-match process involving a bagpipe recital and a minute’s silence in recognition of Remembrance Day in which nobody seemed quite sure what was happening.  Wrong.  Wrong.

2- Two further things went wrong from the off, the one compounding the other.  First, as you’ll have noted, we conceded; on the back of an opening 15 minutes in which we’d utterly dominated possession without getting particularly close to the goal, Darren Fletcher’s strike following the first corner of the game felt like a sucker punch.  Didn’t look great on Gomes however composed the finish and deflection or not; “oh for f***’s sake”, said everyone.  For the sake of your sanity as a spectator you don’t want to be giving this Stoke side a head start.  And if they’re going to get a winner you’d almost rather it came late to spare you what was to follow.

The second thing that had gone wrong had actually gone wrong an hour short of a week earlier.  Given the above, given the very real  possibility of the sort of game that actually transpired, Roberto Pereyra’s lock-picking skills were the last weapon you’d choose to be without.  Étienne Capoue’s inclusion as an extra body in midfield was interpreted by just about everyone in the ground as yet another (last?) chance for the Frenchman to demonstrate that increased competition would coax more urgent, reliable brilliance.  Instead he was particularly culpable in a ponderous first half display that was too easy for the visitors to defend against.  The last thing you need against a side minded to defend deep and strongly and to slow the game down is a midfielder whose instinct is to take an extra touch.

3- Stoke executed an away day mugging thoroughly effectively.  We’ve been on the right end of this sort of thing before and there’s little credibility in begrudging it or criticising it as Marco Silva, slightly disappointingly, did after the game.

But that doesn’t mean you have to like them. There was briefly a suggestion that, post Tony Pulis, Stoke would be pursuing a more refined blueprint.  Instead, this more exalted set of names is utterly callous and brutal and with manager Hughes at the forefront there’s a snide arrogance about it.  At least there’s a humility of sorts, a brazen honesty about Pulis.  There are few redeeming features about this menagerie of trolls and mutants.

The performance began early, as after Kurt Zouma had afforded Richarlíson the Brazilian’s traditional welcome to a game Xherdan Shaqiri followed up with an altogether nastier, sulkier assault.  The young winger has stood up to all such intimidation up until now, but had the poorest game of his fledgling Watford career to date.  He can be forgiven an off-day, but we could really do with a proper winger to provide respite from the bench.  Jack Butland, meanwhile, was wasting time as soon as City took the lead while both Mame Biram Diouf and man of the match Ryan Shawcross belied their tough reputations by inventing assaults and reacting to them accordingly.  Joe Allen was the poster boy for Sexy New Stoke when recruited last summer, evidence of a new ethos at whatever-the-stadium-is-called-now.  Instead he’s gone thoroughly native, a horrible little goblin who spent the game mouthing off at officials and opponents alike whilst making cheap, cowardly tackles in the midfield.  Stoke’s fans will be revelling in an away mugging.  Rightly so, there’s a certain profound joy in such a thing.  But I can’t imagine that this side is one that they’ll look back on fondly – Aidy Boothroyd’s 2007/08 team an obvious comparator.

4- None of which excuses what happened at the end of the game.  Troy Deeney won’t have been the only Hornet in the stadium minded to take the little scrote by the throat, but he’s the captain.  A captain with a colourful past to boot, he’s the last person who could afford to be succumbing to that temptation.  Whilst our record of yellows and reds might not reflect it, one of the less highlighted areas of improvement this season is the side’s discipline but this was a weak and disgraceful reaction from the captain.  I don’t share the confidence expressed elsewhere that the referee having seen and adjudged the incident will prohibit further sanction.

Not that anyone comes out of that little episode well, Mark Hughes least of all.  His typically pious post-match interview reflected in mock outrage at Deeney’s failure to return the ball after Stoke had put it out for a throw-in as befits “the spirit of the game”.  This would be the same spirit that his own side had trampled, spat and grunted over with callous disregard for the previous hour or so, not least when Erik Pieters had collapsed with “cramp” in the incident provoking the conflict only to recover quickly when referee Oliver motioned to call on a trainer.   Oliver himself  did a reasonable job of handling a game that was always volatile, but should have clamped down much quicker on City’s timewasting – blame City’s attitude to “the spirit of the game” rather than the official, but the combination of the two – and our captain’s nerve finally snapping – led to him losing control in the final moments.

5- The second half had been an improvement.  Jack Butland may not have been called to make a save, we were never quite laying siege to the visitors’ goal for all of our 70% possession, but the keeper did make some crucial punched clearances, and other goalbound efforts were denied by defensive blocks some of which – Shawcross a key protagonist here  – reflecting outstanding awareness and some merely volume of big blokes in the area.  Kiko Femenía, not for the first time, was a potent threat frequently overlapping on the right where Carrillo developed a good line in slick through-balls.  Andre Gray came on for Capoue and was lively – he was twice denied by flying blocks.  Richarlíson, for the second week running however, was found wanting in front of goal; he made a bad decision in trying to convert Carrillo’s brave header from too wide, and must have shut his eyes in failing to head in Britos’ cross unchallenged.  Ultimately I think we were worth a point, but taking something from such a position requires wit and/or luck, and we didn’t have enough of either although admittedly Stoke twice broke and could have extended their lead but for a fine save from Gomes – missed by the officials – to deny Berahino and a comical miss by Charlie Adam.

6- A defeat, then and arguably – given the context of Britos’ red card against Brighton and the strength of the opposition against City – our first truly disappointing result of the League season.  We’ll learn much about our already coveted head coach in the fallout… more than one managerial tenure – Alex Neil at Norwich springs to mind – has foundered on an inability to cope with failure once results start going awry.  Silva’s public calling out of Tom Cleverley for failing to close down Darren Fletcher – the same Tom Cleverley so often at the heart of marshalling a defensive set-up against a set piece – doesn’t entirely augur well.

On the plus side, losing to Stoke in miserable fashion has become something of a tradition and as such we’re still ahead of the game – no worse off in comparative terms than we were on Saturday morning.  Getting something from Goodison Park, traditionally a similarly unprofitable fixture, would be most welcome.


Gomes 3, *Femenía 4*, Holebas 3, Kabasele 3, Britos 3, Carrillo 3, Doucouré 3, Cleverley 4, Capoue 2, Richarlíson 2, Deeney 2

Subs: Gray (for Capoue, 58) 3, Hughes (for Carrillo, 80) 0, Janmaat, Mariappa, Zeegelaar, Watson, Karnezis



1. Bill C - 29/10/2017

A terrific report Matt. Absolutely spot on in every respect. I particularly like the reference to “menagerie of trolls and mutants” !

2. NickB - 29/10/2017

Pretty spot on, particularly with regard to the odious Allen. Goalkeepers time wasting is a particularly bad area, a booking is an entirely empty gesture, as a second one has never, to my knowledge, ensued and it just breaks up play even further. Slightly surprised you didn’t take issue with the incredibly stupid Nadal style nonsense of handing their players a towel with which to waste yet more time on a perfectly dry day.

Matt Rowson - 29/10/2017

Thanks Nick. Was worried that I’d been a little bit hard on Stoke… didn’t mention the Nadal trick cos I didn’t notice it. Perhaps blinded by the yellow STATZONE facts being shouted in my face (which I did forget to mention…)

Adam Cummings - 29/10/2017

I think Holebas must have asked for it as he was using a towel every time he took a long throw. The Stoke player then decided to “copy” him before deciding someone else should take the throw and sheepishly handed the towel back.

3. Mike Smith - 29/10/2017

Yep, another good report Matt. Spot on.
In a weird way Stoke paid us a compliment by playing the horrible way they did. Hopefully Marco has learnt a lesson on how to overcome a parked bus! These days if we don’t win it usually means we doff our hats to the opposition a la Man City. You wouldn’t want to watch Stoke nasty City every week!

4. SteveG - 29/10/2017

1. I know that this is a football site, but as you mentioned it, Matt, I did think it very odd that we were having a Remembrance Day commemoration on 28th October. There may not be a fixture on the day itself, but that’s surely just one of those things.
2. And why bagpipes?!
3. I was stitting some way away, but at the time I thought Deeney was lucky to get away with a yellow rather than a red card. Now I’ve seen the TV replays, I think he was VERY lucky to get away with just a yellow. We were all frustrated, but it was a very poor call to get dragged into that melee.
4. I wonder what Okaka has done to offend Silva. Given that, for all their industry and, in Troy’s case, nuisance value to opposing defenders, the fact remains that neither Deeney nor Gray has looked much like scoring from open play. I’m not pretending that he’s a magic solution to our striking issues, but I’m surprised that he’s been so comprehensively sidelined.
5. You weren’t hard on Stoke. They were tediously, horribly effective at what they did.

Matt Rowson - 29/10/2017

No win situation for the club that. Yes, it’s a fortnight until Remembrance Day but they’d have gotten dogs abuse – rightly or wrongly – had they done nothing.

5. Roger Smith - 29/10/2017

Surprised you didn’t mention Butland holding onto the ball for an eternity, well 17 seconds – as chanted by we home fans – when he’s allowed only 6, I believe. And this after he’d already been spoken to.
Shouldn’t Oliver have awarded Watford an indirect free kick for this violation? And if he had already been booked, then a second yellow would have been perfectly justified.

Matt Rowson - 29/10/2017

😊 I did mention the general approach if not that incident and I agree he should have been booked. But had he been he wouldn’t have been stupid enough to do it again, which is why Oliver should have stepped up.

6. David Simpson - 29/10/2017

Excellent report Matt. My summing up as I left the game was ‘If I had to watch Stoke every week, I would stop going to football’. Is there a more odious manager than Mark Hughes in the Premier League (or Football League for that matter) ?

I too was reminded of the latter part of the Boothroyd era and also that teams can get away with playing awful football for a while if they are winning (the end justifies the means) but if results go against you there is no goodwill with the fans for the manager to fall back on. Given that Stoke are now a well established PL team you would have thought their fans would maybe want a little more – but hey, maybe what we saw yesterday IS considered entertaining if you come from Stoke.

I was heading straight out after the game so missed Silva calling out Cleverley as being at fault for the goal – that is a shame as I thought he was our best player by some distance. We could certainly do with getting something at Everton just to stop this little blip developing into something more.

Matt Rowson - 29/10/2017

Agree entirely on the goodwill point. And I suspect that the Stoke masses aren’t sold either.

7. Ray Knight - 29/10/2017

Great report Matt as per usual, capturing the essence of the game better than many a national reporter. Don’t think you are keen on Stoke or their manager! Think you are a little overkind to Michael Oliver, who set an early precedent of not intervening in niggly fouls mainly by Stoke. He then tolerated their gamesmanship and time-wasting. Both clubs will no doubt be hammered by fines. Deeney let the whole side down and not much fussed if he gets a ban. Also Doucoure was still our best player and tried valiantly to energise our team. We did not deserve a draw because we failed to even get one on target and our attacks too slow and predictable. Deeply disappointing but we must move on quickly.

8. harefield hornet - 29/10/2017

I dont know about everyone else but I’m getting a bit sick of this Graham Poll judge and jury nonsense every other week! First he was calling for a ban on Richarlison for diving and now Deeney for yesterdays nonsense! While Deeney was guilty and didn’t do himself or us any favours why cant Poll etc all just wind their necks in and let the officials do their job if it’s necessary. As for Hughes he must be the biggest hypocrite in football!

Matt Rowson - 29/10/2017

Poll is the Daily Mail of ex refs. Outrage sells.

greywhistler - 29/10/2017

“Poll is the Daily Mail of ex refs. Outrage sells.”
Wonderful – and so apt

Roger Smith - 29/10/2017


9. Robert Hill - 29/10/2017

I missed this game as I had been invited to a wedding of someone who actually played for our club. But I always knew what sort of game this would be. Ugly, horrible and somewhat frustrating. After all, it’s Stoke and Mark Hughes!

To my memory we always seem to have fallen short when we play opposition who come to niggle, frustrate and play with 4 six foot centre halves. How many times have we seen this over many years. Gillingham in our 3rd Division days seem to always be masters at it. So, ears of those who were using their mobiles to see and transmit the score made me feel a little better about missing the game. Watford one down they said and at that point I knew it was one of those games, and everyone who has posted on here have clearly described that scenario. We never seem to cope with these horrible hurdles.

Matt Rowson - 29/10/2017

A Gillingham side managed by T.Pulis…

10. RS - 30/10/2017

Given the context surely Pieter’s collapsing with cramp amounted to simulation and was, therefore worthy of a booking? Ok, I know it will never happen except in my yellow universe. While I cannot condone TD’s hands-on response I think in trying to cross the ball he actually expressed what the majority thought of the Stoke team’s behavior, a proverbial two fingers to it all; maybe putting it out for a Stoke throw right in the corner would have been slightly less pointed. There were a couple of Watford fans behind me aghast at his failure to return the ball but for me it was the least they, Stoke, deserved, again in the context of it being 90+ minutes and all that preceded.

I’ve just been subjected to a re-run of this week’s Strictly and saw a bit of Debbie McGee’s Charleston which immediately reminded me of Xherdan Shaqiri’s waggling of the left leg at (I think) Britos down at the Rookery end, the unimpressed Britos who then simply proceeded to remove the ball as an unwanted prop..

Lets give the whining Rooney the run around next week as by way of an antidote, it can’t come soon enough for me.

Matt Rowson - 30/10/2017

Agree with you entirely. The simulation of injury thing is so cowardly for that reason; the ref can do little more than he did, which is to wander over and make it clear that he thinks that you’re taking the piss before calling the trainer on. I guess he could have added more time. Worthy of Boothroyd, as suggested in the article.

11. Wimborne Hornet - 30/10/2017

I’d rather have 2 minutes of silence than a minute of bagpipes!! I’m not sure the guy could actually play them. Awful.

12. PEDantic - 30/10/2017

I’m a little disappointed with the degree of moaning about Stoke’s tactics since the game on Saturday, both here and elsewhere. I believe it stems from the fact that we all turned up expecting a home win (hence the flat atmosphere) and since it didn’t happen people are understandably frustrated and annoyed.
The fact is that, if our team is to be successful, they need to be able to cope with whatever the opposition puts up against them, be it the horrible spoiling tactics of a Stoke or the slick lethal passing of a Man City. Of course we wouldn’t want to watch Stoke’s brand of football every week (although we used to once), but it’s no good metaphorically stamping our feet and saying they’re just not playing fair. We have to find ways to overcome those tactics next time and, by the way, shaking opposition players warmly by the throat is not one of them.

13. simmos - 30/10/2017

I think we have to be careful in our criticism of Stoke. Their style is not what I would want to watch every week but didn’t we play similar stifling tactics in the last two seasons? We have to find ways to combat all styles of football and not bemoan the manner Stoke played out the game.

As for time wasting, we would undoubtedly be doing the same if we had been in a similar position to Stoke. In fact I think it was at Southampton earlier this season that their fans were counting how long Gomes held the ball (one count got up to 21) and how our substitutes ambled off the field of play. I sort of feel that as horrible as it is to watch, the laws allow it and Stoke just played within the rules. After all Stoke had earned the right to play in that manner by scoring.

Matt Rowson - 30/10/2017

In response to both of the above… I don’t dispute the cautionary note, but I think that there’s a line between the approach of Stoke on Saturday and that perpetrated typically by Burnley and Brighton, say. You can be solid, defensive, even “negative” without resorting to gamesmanship and, frankly, cheating. Much less topping it off by pontificating about the Spirit of the Game.

Agree entirely that we need to find ways to combat it; actually, as in the report, I don’t think we were that far from doing so. Lacking two midfielders whose speed of foot and thought would have been particularly helpful we still made chances. Didn’t finish them, sure, got ourselves in that position by conceding the goal, yes. But in the second half it wasn’t a case of “however long we play we’re not going to score”, a game that we’ve seen often in these circumstances before.

14. Paul - 30/10/2017

SteveG and Wimborne Hornet – Whilst wholeheartedly biased allowing sentiment to dictate music taste, Remembrance honours all those who were involved in the armed forces conflicts, not least the Great War. The Royal Scots were led into battle by a Pipe Major armed with nothing more than his Bagpipes. Getting shot in the eye and hip in 1915, then having retired from service back to Durban Rd Watford, just over from the cemetery from Vicarage Rd, my then 31 year old Scottish Great, Great Grandfather’s location unwittingly led to a line of Hornet fans. As emotive as The Last Post.

15. Peter - 30/10/2017

Having seen the Deeney incident in close up on TV nobody would try to justify his actions, but coming so soon after another touchline altercation, a further incident was entirely predictable from a throw-in resulting from time-wasting gamesmanship. Mr Oliver was well placed to see the incident at close quarters. I just don’t see how he can claim at this stage to have seen enough to issue a yellow card but not seen the key incident. The truth must be that he has now realised his judgement was wrong. Well if the F A would like to start reviewing referee misjudgements I could come up with plenty of suggestions in the next six seconds – could you just count to 17 for me?

16. Old Git - 31/10/2017

We shouldn’t get diverted by Deeney’s ill-discipline or Stoke’s blatant time wasting. The real issue is how we got to those final few minutes scoreless and,in the first half, chanceless. Stoke were always going to play like that and Silva’s reported annoyance at the leisurely pace of the first half maybe hints at the team thinking they just had to turn up to beat a poor side that had been leaking goals. Had the relative urgency of the second half performance,following what must have been a colourful half-time team talk, been matched in the first half, then the result might well have been different. I fear complacency was setting in during that first half. The last thing those players need is a sense of superiority.

PEDantic - 31/10/2017

I agree with this, except for the fact that Stoke scored after only 15 minutes. Presumably our players realised they were losing at that point, so they had half an hour to up the urgency of their game without waiting to be told to by Silva at half time. It seems odd that they would still be complacent at 1-0 down.

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