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Watford 1 Swansea City 2 (30/12/2017) 31/12/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
20 comments

1- For f***’s sake…

2- Friday had been a good day. A day with the girls, hanging out. Having lunch, spending Christmas vouchers, going to the pictures. Lots of fun, lots of laughter. The happy afterglow got me through the weekly trip to Sainsburys in the evening, got me to the petrol station to fill up for the drive down to Watford the next day, got me to sticking the unleaded nozzle in the tank and squeezing and just about to the point where I remembered that I drove a diesel.

For f***’s sake.

3- If Leicester on Tuesday was The Turning Of The Corner, this was to be the point at which we picked up speed again. Swansea, one win in twelve, bottom of the table, Not Good Enough by general consensus were perhaps the ideal opponent. The “new manager bounce” thing was there at the back of the mind, but quickly dismissed as the game started. We were on the front foot quickly; Cleverley came close, Richarlíson had an effort saved. Ayew thundered a shot off Gomes’ bar but this had come from nowhere, there was one team in it. Martin Atkinson even saw fit to completely ignore two Watford fouls in the middle of the park; this was officially going to be our day. When André Carrillo met a rebound to a Richarlíson shot to open the scoring the passage of events thenceforth seemed set out. Only one way this was going to go. We’d found our mojo again, and Swansea were the fall guys.

4- It didn’t turn out that way, obviously. With the benefit of hindsight it’s tempting to suggest that… we stepped off the gas. No urgency. Complacency. Certainly the pace of the game, of our game, dropped. Our visitors had something to do with our failure too, mind; whilst there was little attacking threat to speak of they were disciplined defensively and more competitive than advertised. Rather than chasing down possession or jumping into challenges they would sit back and cut off options. A sort of “come on then”, affording us a lot of possession and challenging us to do something with it. Meanwhile our slow pace will have been influenced by the knowledge that we’d already created chances, that the onus was on Swansea to fashion an opening, that this was the third of four games in eleven days.

The fierce, swirling wind limited options; the visitors fell foul of it frequently, any attempts to lift the ball accurately over distance stymied by the conditions. This forced us to keep the ball on the floor and we retained possession more successfully than we created chances. The first half saw Richarlíson get on the end of a Janmaat cross but head straight at Fabianski. Then at half time Swansea changed their shape, removing the volatile Mesa and bringing on a winger in Narsingh. Perhaps as a consequence we made less progress in the second period but whilst it was aggravating there was little obvious threat and we still made the better of the chances. Molla Wagué’s disallowed header was preceded by a push that seemed more apparent at the time than it does on review.

5- Stefano Okaka’s widely demanded start had given us some physical presence up front, but even allowing for understandable ring-rustiness his impact was disappointing. There’s stuff to ponder here, not just in terms of our attacking options but more generally in the role of the lone striker in this team. We have three senior strikers of quite different styles and backgrounds and none has looked consistently comfortable. It may be just a coincidence of circumstances – Deeney having a poor season, Gray not settling, Okaka not featuring to which you can add Richarlíson out of position, maybe. But this lone striking role, reliant on support from relatively distant quarters – out wide, or a supporting midfielder – is a big ask. Quite how Silva proceeds with it in the remainder of the season will be interesting.

Meanwhile, Andre Gray replaced Okaka for the final quarter hour. There had been murmurs of “we could do with another goal” but Swansea’s genius – if such it was – was to provide no evidence of a threat until it was too late. We could have, should have put the game to bed, sure… but the lack of nervousness in the crowd until the deeds were done evidenced the peculiar set of circumstances.

The first real anger greeted Gray’s miss. It was a bad one, for sure, but much as I’m still to be convinced by Gray it was disproportionately harsh – certainly the prolonged hysterics over my shoulder that cited Gray’s Luton heritage as explanation of his perceived lack of commitment were on the ludicrous end of the spectrum. First and foremost this was our most convincing attack of the half… a bit of direct running by fellow sub Pereyra, committing people and executing an outrageous pass with that outside of his foot that blindsided the defence and left Gray through one-on-one. His run had been excellent, a different threat, hovering like a falcon waiting for the pass but he had too long to think about it, long enough for the seed of doubt to be sowed and for Fabianski to hurtle out, brilliantly, and block. His reaction was desperate, anguished. It was the single most significant moment of the game.

6- Since had that gone in, or had Wagué goal been allowed, we’d surely be talking about another performance that was far from perfect, but constituted another tentative but solid step towards some kind of form. Instead, another capitulation. Again, the circumstances were unfortunate; Ayew probably was offside but you can’t really go complaining about that, or blame the officials in that instance. The offside rule wasn’t introduced to isolate such fine margins. What it did, though, was rattle us more than it might otherwise have done. Our soft underbelly was exposed yet again and all of Tuesday’s fine work was undone. There were floods towards the exits as the winner went in, a piece of clumsy goalkeeping from Gomes after an otherwise solid game contributing, and boos at the whistle only interrupted by a warm reception for our goalkeeper who had the guts and grace to do a full circuit saluting what was left of the crowd.

The biggest questions here are to be faced by the head coach. The echo of Hull’s season are now deafening, particularly given the evidence in front of our eyes of a high energy, vivacious and exhilarating style collapsing to dust when players’ legs go. Leicester provided evidence of the manager’s ability to vary his style to the circumstances but we need more of that. We need evidence of a backbone, of an ability to hang on to a lead; we need a solution to the attacking quandary and we need a means of navigating Tuesday night without another hammer blow to our fragile confidence.

Who knows, the stripping away of all expectation – a problem on and off the pitch in this game – might be just what we need.

For f***’s sake…

Yoorns.

Gomes 3, Janmaat 2, Zeegelaar 3, Kabasele 3, Wagué 3, Watson 3, *Doucouré 3*, Cleverley 3, Carrillo 3, Richarlíson 3, Okaka 2
Subs: Prödl (for Wagué, 64) 2, Gray (for Okaka, 77) 0, Pereyra (for Carrillo, 83) 0, Sinclair, Holebas, Capoue, Karnezis

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Watford 2 Leicester City 1 (26/12/2017) 27/12/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5 comments

1- Christmas, then. For us there’s a routine now that doesn’t even merit planning because it kind of works. Christmas Eve at home, down to my wife’s family in South London during the day, up to Essex to my parents for the evening and football on Boxing Day if accessible.

Advantages are of course that we get to see everyone – lots of people, anyway, both sides of the family – and that there are periods of relative calm built in amidst the noisy chaos that only a melee of overexcited children and pets can generate. Plus, the roads are generally quiet making the transit relatively painless.

Not this year.  We spent 40 minutes stationary on the M25 near Waltham Abbey en route to venue 1 on Christmas Day, then were stymied by an undiverted road closure in Catford on the second leg later in the day.  Trips to and from Vicarage Road and particularly the final leg homewards today were stymied by the weather – snow, sleet, rain, wind, water.  Just nasty.  In such circumstances all you can do is hang in there.  Hang in there and cling to the knowledge that this is finite, that we’ll get there in the end and everything will be fine.  Eventually.

2- Rewinding to yesterday lunchtime, similarly, the end wasn’t in sight. Yes, Swansea on Saturday looked a winnable fixture, maybe, but the gentle descent in our recent run from the forgivable through the slightly unfortunate to the downright appalling hadn’t left us banking on anything much.  As discussed in the post-Huddersfield gloom there were plenty of concerns, plenty of things for which there seemed no immediate remedy.  As we parked up Dad’s mood wasn’t improved by the realisation that he’d left his turkey sandwiches in the fridge. At the top of Occupation Road we were held up by a late-arriving and late-unloading Leicester team coach;  the cold damp clung to our faces as a steward of infinite patience explained to one disproportionately irate gentleman why she couldn’t let him take his chances with the reversing vehicle.  The afternoon was already becoming a bit of an ordeal.

Until we got inside, back to familiar routines.  A pint in the V-bar, receipt of team news via Twitter, reaction, discussion.  My usual seat – my real seat, my 1999 seat this afternoon unchallenged by Daughters 1 & 2, left at home to torment their Grandma. Friendly faces arriving, hands shaken.  Actually… this is all good.  Even if Watford are terrible.  And you know what, maybe we won’t be terrible.  “Good things happen when you go in with no expectations” says Daz, sagely. Nonetheless, and for the first time at home in a long while, I’d have taken a point.

3- The team news, at the outset, was a little alarming.  Molla Wagué’s selection was completely unheralded, Seb Prödl on the bench and Mapps out of the picture altogether.  Richarlíson up front was bold, a statement to Stefano Okaka but particularly to Andre Gray.  Assume nothing.  But risky, too.  Desperate, maybe.

We started brightly, assertively.  Roberto Pereyra has been challenged to put more of a shift in and his industry was evident early on, closing down high up the pitch.  Elsewhere we look assertive, positive.  Encouraging, this, no flimsy heads-down waiting-to-be-beatness here.  The returns of Zeegelaar and Doucouré are both significant – the Dutchman is relentlessly positive, and whilst Doucouré will have and has had much better afternoons he’s a fundamental cog in the side, a force for good even when he is, actually, giving the ball away more often than his eulogy might suggest.

Leicester are no less combative, as is their wont.  Referee Chris Kavanagh has a decent game with only variable help from his assistants who have a generous interpretation of onside and appear blind to repeated foul throws, one of which in the second half sees Harry Maguire leave the ground and pirouette unchallenged in returning the ball to play.  But Kavanagh gets in their early, decisively and correctly booking Maguire, Watson and Kabasele.  No nonsense here, chaps.  A line is drawn, both sides are to a certain extent “at it” and the despite the cold wetness and our form, the game is starting better than feared.

4- So Leicester’s goal is a bit of a downer.  They’d already come the closer, in truth, started slightly the stronger… the visitors’ most effective player Marc Albrighton got some joy down our left, where Daryl Janmaat had a ropey 45 minutes; his cross found Okazaki’s head, Gomes tipping over.  Vardy was sent clear, the keeper came out but the England striker should have done better than to dink wide.  We had possession too, but less in the way of clear chances… Carrillo had the beating of Chilwell and was a source of resilience and mischief but we’d have been grateful for 0-0 at half time.  So when City went ahead – Janmaat exposed too far upfield, Albrighton flinging in a cross for Mahrez to score for the third year running at the Vic – the already sombre atmosphere went very flat.  We were cold, and we were losing, and being a goal down at home to a decent counterattacking side is not a good place to be in any circumstances (ask Newcastle).

So the fact that we came back so quickly and decisively was hugely encouraging in itself.  Leicester, it has to be said, were very quiet themselves thereafter until the closing bombardment;  perhaps they believed they had it won, perhaps they simply didn’t anticipate  a team in our form fighting back.  Whatever, it suited us since we weren’t yet bolshy enough to be up-and-at-them.  It was a tentative response in which we gained courage from each new foray…  Carrillo sent Richarlíson through, Schmeichel forced the Brazilian wide and he again demonstrated his quick feet and imperfect finishing by firing narrowly wide with Carrillo waiting for a tap-in.   Pereyra departed to be replaced by Okaka – Silva has suggested “a small problem” with the Argentine, certainly a tactical switch could have waited another couple of minutes maybe but the Richarlíson up front thing has never really worked.  The crowd were rallied by Okaka’s arrival (Felix and I mumbled “give it to Slater” in my absent co-editor’s honour) but suddenly we had a muscular presence and our tails were up.  In swung a Cleverley corner and Wagué, who’d looked both brave and nimble in a thoroughly competent debut – tucked in.  There was still time for Richarlíson to thunder another shot against the upright before the referee blew his whistle and we all got a much-needed rest.

5- At no point in the second half did this feel inevitable.  There was no assault on Leicester’s goal, no return to the joyous verve of earlier in the season.  But this just makes the victory more impressive;  whisper it, but we ground this out.  Significant figures in this were Kabasele, stupidly booked earlier on but a defiant beast at the back thereafter, swooping in with an heroic block to curtail a rare Leicester chance, the utterly dependable and getting-back-into-gear Ben Watson, a rejuvenated Janmaat and the impossibly dynamic Cleverley, who I absolutely love in the more advance midfield position. Doucouré and Chalobah behind Tom still the winning combination for me when doable.

Cleverley’s corner it was that Doucouré smuggled in at the far post, over the line before cleared.  Cleverley it was too who gambolled clear late on as Leicester begun to pick up a head of steam, still with the energy to break from midfield but not quite composed enough to tuck his shot inside the far post.

Meanwhile Leicester did get their kitchen sink out, and Harry Maguire attacking the far post was a frequent target.  His knockdown lead to an inhuman block from Gomes to deny Morgan, who followed up with a sharp save to his other side to deny the sulky Ulloa and a fine claim under pressure to diffuse City’s final attack.

6- Despite our positive start to the season this little run had raised nervous questions.  Did Silva actually have a plan B, the tactical versatility to adjust things when the fast-flowing plan A got clogged up?  Did our players have the character to battle their way out of this?  Is Gomes still reliable?  Have we been found out?

Convincing evidence for the defence this afternoon.  Silva found a winning formula, abetted by City’s limp showing but contributing to it too.  Simultaneously he resisted the temptation to drop Watson and exploited our squad, rather than feeling obliged to persist with underperformers.  The team showed plenty of guts in difficult circumstances when the crowd’s expectation – and energy – was at it’s lowest.  And Gomes.  Ha.  Marvellous.

The end of the tunnel is a fine place to be.  Bring on the Swansea.  Yooorns.

Gomes 4, Janmaat 3, Zeegelaar 3, Kabasele 4, Wagué 3, Doucouré 3, Watson 3, Carrillo 4, Pereyra 3, *Cleverley 4*, Richarlíson 3

Subs: Okaka (for Pereyra, 44) 3, Prödl (for Watson, 87) 0, Sinclair (for Carrillo, 90) 0, Gray, Holebas, Capoue, Bachmann

The List – January 2018 21/12/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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It’s that time again.  The January transfer window opens in, you know, January.  Listed below every player linked with the Hornets or linked with a move away since the last window closed;  as ever, a low threshold of plausibility is applied but clickbait saying “We think Watford should sign…” doesn’t meet it.

* Indicates player linked in previous windows

Summer 2017 List / January 2017 List / Summer 2016 List / January 2016 List / Summer 2015 List

Running Total: 48

IN

Matheus Jesus (Estoril)
Yves Bissouma (Lille)
Francesco Vicari (SPAL)
Pau López (Espanyol)
Raul Meireles (Unattached)
Danny Ings (Liverpool)
Dean Henderson (Man United)                          – joined Shrewsbury on loan
Tyler Roberts (West Brom)                                  – joined Walsall on loan
Lovro Majer (Lokomotiv Zagreb)
Lazar Marković (Liverpool)*
Koray Günter (Galatasaray)
Islam Slimani (Leicester)*
Jakub Jankto (Udinese)*
Pontus Dahlberg (Göteborg)
Matt Clarke (Portsmouth)
Adrian Šemper (Dinamo Zagreb)
André Simões (AEK Athens)
Mario Gavranović (Rijeka)                                           – joined Dinamo Zagreb
Josip Mišić (Rijeka)                                                       – joined Sporting Lisbon
Daniel Opare (Augsburg)
Rui Patrício (Sporting)*
Oualid al Hajjam (Amiens)
Francesco di Mariano (Novara)
Fousseni Diabaté (Gazelec)                                          – joined Leicester City
Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)                                                         – joined Everton
Amin Younes (Ajax)
Nicolas Gaítan (Atlético Madrid)
Vicente Guaita (Getafe)
Kortney Hause (Wolves)
Didier Ndong (Sunderland)
Yassine Benrahou (Bordeaux)
Benik Afobe (Bournemouth)
Alfie Mawson (Swansea)
Charly Musonda (Chelsea)                                          – joined Celtic on loan
Bruno Peres (Roma)*
Papa Badou Ndiaye (Galatasaray)
João Mário (Inter)                                                – joined West Ham on loan
Antonín Barák (Udinese)
Rody de Boer (Telstar)
Grégoire Defrel (Roma)*
Loïc Rémy (Las Palmas)                                               – joined Getafe on loan
Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht)
Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona)                                      – SIGNED ON LOAN
Carlos Benavídez (Defensor Sporting)
Dodi Lukebakio (Anderlecht)                                                           – SIGNED
Zambo Anguissa (Marseille)
Aleix Vidal (Barcelona)

OUT
Craig Cathcart (Fulham)*
Richarlíson (Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Milan, Dortmund)
Stefano Okaka (Milan, Marseille, Wolves, Sevilla, Torino, Crystal Palace, Besiktas, Fulham, Galatasaray)
Brice Dja Djédjé (Lens)                                         – joined Lens on loan
Isaac Success (Real Valladolid, Malaga)
Troy Deeney (Everton*, Newcastle*, West Brom*, Stoke, West Ham*, Brighton)
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Arsenal, Everton)
Mauro Zárate (Vélez Sarsfield)                          – joined Vélez Sarsfield on loan
Ben Watson (Crystal Palace)
Étienne Capoue (West Ham, Fiorentina, Leganes, Torino, Inter)
Brandon Mason (Dundee United)                     – joined Dundee United on loan
Jerome Sinclair (ADO Den Haag)
José Holebas (Galatasaray*)

Watford 1 Huddersfield Town 4 (16/12/2017) 17/12/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- I was in a pantomime this week.  You know the sort of thing…  slapstick humour, bedlam both on stage (planned) and off it (less so).  People running into each other, frantically trying to work out where they were supposed to be, getting into a kerfuffle, trying to improvise frantically when things went wrong.

You can insert your own metaphor here, if you like.

In the build up to showday the challenges built up.  Short-notice audits at work took out a cameo and threatened cast and crew.  We were underrehearsed, naturally.  Then the snow, threatening access to the venue amongst other things.  The discovery that the road to the venue was being resurfaced during showweek was the point at which I stopped panicking and started laughing.  By Tuesday night, the day before the dress rehearsal, things seemed to have turned around.  It was going well.  Challenges navigated.

Then came Crystal Palace.  One-up early on, all going swimmingly until, suddenly, it wasn’t.  Listening to Jon Marks, in my precarious emotional state I saw potential parallels as Tom Cleverley was dismissed and made a Faustian pact.  I was willing to trade Watford’s lead against Palace for a successful panto, “nothing going wrong at the last minute”.  Sorry, but sue me… you weren’t there, I was and I had to make a snap decision.  So in my head, I made the sacrifice, with only a smidgeon of guilt.  And as is traditional when dealing with the devil, I suddenly find myself paying back more than I’d bargained for…

2- It’s not always Huddersfield, but it does tend to be Huddersfield quite a lot.  The notorious end-of-season calamity under Beppe Sannino was worse than this, except that it probably mattered less.  Then there was an incongruous defeat in West Yorkshire during our promotion season when Miguel Layún got rinsed on his debut and promotion felt less than a done deal.  And then there was this one  almost exactly seventeen years ago;  the nadir of the collapse of GT’s last season afforded appropriate disdain by my co-editor who had the good sense not to come up from Hastings on this occasion.  Him and a good number of others, the nominal and now traditional 20k gate including a good number present in Season Ticket but not in body.

Huddersfield showed up though, both on the pitch and in a particularly and understandably boisterous away end.  And much as Newcastle at St James Park had been our ideal opponent – blunt, but with an unconstrained urge to push forward because they were at home to Watford and that, leaving them open to counterattack – Huddersfield were our worst nightmare.  Direct and aggressive without ever (needing to be?) crossing the line they swarmed all over our increasingly tentative possession and attacked with purpose and bloody-mindedness from wide positions, overloading our wing backs.  Yes, the opening goal offside in several different ways – this was an awful afternoon but not all of it was our doing – but the defending was still an utter calamity and thereafter we caved in like a house of cards.  I could strive for creative outrage but frankly I’m just too tired (the after-panto party was a fine thing, as witnessed by my still being hung over two days later…).  Read that last linked report above if you need catharsis.

3- A key factor in this defeat was the attitude and competence of our opponent (see above).  And yes, the officials did play a part, though bitching about bad decisions is even more tedious than excessive introspection.

But there are, clearly, sources of concern here.  Some aren’t new.  The team has looked wonderful at times this season, wonderful in general perhaps.  But in the same way that the midfield never really worked last season, the role of Troy/Andre Gray is yet to be fully resolved this.  Yes, Troy came on and bullied Arsenal but that reflected their failings as much as his success.  Here, even before Troy’s (latest) moment of madness he was ineffectual.  And this… reflects uncertainty in his role, since lack of conviction has never been a reasonable accusation in the past.

Then there’s injuries.  Yes, boring.  Every team gets injuries, and actually two big losses were suspensions and therefore within our hands.  Nonetheless, you can make a good argument for the back five being weaker than the back five ruled out (Femenía, Zeegelaar, Cathcart, Kaboul, Britos) and ditto, more contestably, the central midfield (Chalobah, Cleverley).  You’re tempted to blame bad luck, except that this is the second season blighted by injury;  you have to wonder again at our ability to either keep players fit or to evaluate their robustness on recruitment when comparing our injury list to Huddersfield’s, whose notoriously high energy game nonetheless leaves them with a much more manageable injury list.

Finally, most fundamentally, there’s our approach and Marco’s flexibility.  We’ve won plaudits for and revelled in our expansive play this season, which has been great when it works well.  Glorious, even.  Thing is…  when that’s the only string in your bow and your players get leggy, injured, low on confidence and you’ve no means of keeping games tight and giving yourself something to build off… well, you get dicked like this.  We looked, amongst other things, horribly flimsy.

4- Troy aside, but that’s not really what I had in mind.  I’ve not seen the replays, but consensus and my view at the time was that whatever contact was made, jumping in like that was fuckwitted and unnecessary in the circumstances.  I mean, what the hell, Troy?  A few weeks after a suspension for losing his rag against Stoke?   It gave the referee a decision to make;  maybe Troy might have gotten away with it on a good day, but this certainly wasn’t one of those.

A peculiar coincidence that Jonathan Hogg followed him off the pitch in similar manner in the second half.  Coincidence in that both skippers were leaving the pitch, but also in that Hogg’s last competitive touch at Vicarage Road prior to today had been a memorable cushion down for Troy to convert under the watchful eye of the same official, Michael Oliver.  He was afforded a warm reception before the game and a slightly bemused one as he left it, reaction to a slightly harsh looking second yellow being glee before sheepish realisation that it was Hogg that had seen the red.

By this stage we were a miserable three down, and without a focal point were making precious little progress towards the Terriers’ goal.  A bit like when someone makes a run at the wall in Ninja Warrior, gets a third of the way up and you just know that anything that follows is futile.  Andre Carrillo was at least showing signs of fight and life, taking responsibility, but too little was working around him and the contrast between Capoue’s heaviness and the buzzing energy of Cleverley was stark.

But as Hogg went off a chink of light opened, if briefly.  The pressing game is hard to maintain with eleven men, let alone without your midfield general and captain.  In the pre-match restaurant the Huddersfield fan suggested that if Jake Livermore’s in the England squad then Hogg should be too, to which we quietly agreed whilst thinking that the same applies to my Gran, and she’s German and nearly 90.

So suddenly we had some of the ball and it felt like a fight in which we could land blows again.  With some relief the whole stadium rallied, supporters on their feet happy for the familiar “come on-ness” of it that had been missing, the team suddenly pulling their opponents around a bit.  We did strike back too, an extraordinary drive by Doucouré out of the air through a crowded box that deserves more than to be buried in an episode of MotD that few Hornets will want to watch.  Briefly, we believed.

5-  It fizzled out, though.  It fizzled out before the late penalty, dispatched by comfortably the best player on the pitch in Aaron Mooy, just by not quite being sharp enough or lucky enough, through Huddersfield not being rattled enough.  Shots cannoned around the box, an exquisite move ended with Huddersfield defenders falling over themselves and Andre Gray driving across the face of goal.  Signs of life, right up until Roberto Pereyra thundered the last kick of the game towards the top corner, Lössl clawing it away.  Not enough, not even close.

A miserable afternoon, then, and one best confined to whichever box we put the other Huddersfield horror shows in.  Some issues to be addressed – injured, suspended players will come back (though we miss Zeegelaar, Deeney and also Doucouré for the trip to Brighton) but some more fundamental issues need addressing, not least the conviction of the squad which looked questionable for perhaps the first time this season.

As for the panto…  that was awesome.  A welcome dose of people pulling together, and recognising that laughing at frustrations is more effective than bitching about them.  There are easier times to do it than in the cold after a 4-1 defeat to Huddersfield, mind.

Have a good Christmas.  Yoorns.

Gomes 3, Janmaat 2, Holebas 1, Mariappa 2, Prödl 2, Kabasele 2, *Doucouré 3*, Capoue 1, Carrillo 3, Richarlíson 2, Deeney 1

Subs:  Pereyra (for Mariappa, 29) 2, Gray (for Capoue, 64) 1, Okaka (for Holebas, 82) 0, Wagué, Watson, Sinclair, Karnezis

Watford 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (02/12/2017) 03/12/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5 comments

1- Football isn’t supposed to be played in the summer,   that’s the maxim.  It’s a winter sport.  The mental image of condensation on your breath, scarves and hats, cups of bovril, stamping your feet to keep warm is a romantic one, the clichéd “can they hack it on a December midweek in Stoke” a derisive put-down to your fancy dan foreign types.  They can’t, is the implication.  Not being British obviously makes them inferior because they don’t make them tough wherever it is that they’re from whereas we’ve done it.  We’ve been to Stoke midweek, braved the elements and the parking and the food, and we’re tougher for it.

It’s still bollocks though.  Cold isn’t fun, cold and wet less so.  This is, admittedly, an intro that could have been more aptly stored up until Stoke away midweek in January… but the elements were an overriding consideration today as the clammy damp chill clung to your cheeks and any attempt to make a noise was muffled by suffocating condensation.  It was Spurs at home, a vitriolic bad-tempered affair typical of this fixture, and yet the atmosphere had none of Tuesday’s bravado.  Damp, cold.  Slightly sullen.

2- Our visitors have been going through a bit of a blip, which formed an interesting backstory.  This young team has been flying for a couple of years… genuine title challengers for the first time in recent memory, lively and dynamic. The acid test is always going to be when things start going wrong though, really wrong… yes, of course Spurs have had wobbles over the past couple of seasons but, arguably, not like this. Not a run that has seen them drop out of the top six, however briefly, suddenly hanging on the coat tails of the leading pack.  That’s when the test of character comes, and a side that has had plenty of peevishness about it even when things have been going well – Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose – looks, unsurprisingly, rattled.

Not difficult, either, to attribute Spurs’ vulnerability at set pieces to the absence of Toby Alderweireld.  Certainly we appeared to perceive a vulnerability or a weakness as from the off we were very happy to send the ball into touch and compete toe to toe rather than risk being pulled around by Spurs’ midfield despite our own vulnerability from set pieces.  Little surprise, either, that our opening goal came from a corner, Cleverley’s ball angled in expertly by Kabasele under minimal challenge.

3- By then another of the game’s themes had emerged. Kieran Trippier had a stormer in his Burnley debut against the Hornets in 2011 and has reprised these barnstorming outings at regular intervals since.  He escaped on the right in the first five minutes and sent in a ball slightly in advance of Harry Kane who collided with the post in lunging at it and yet another recurring theme emerged with Kane prone on the turf.

With the Hornets holding a high defensive line and Spurs closing downing our possession high up the field the game became rapidly congested.  Through the damp and cold with scrappy play, bad tempers and tackles flying in it was a mid-table Championship game, if executed by much better players.  The one reliable outball was provided by Spurs leaving Trippier hugging the right touchline and launching hail mary passes in his direction.  It’s to our credit that little came of this, ultimately, but Marvin Zeegelaar was inevitably the man exposed.  He’s done well since coming into the side but wobbled on Tuesday and was horribly exposed this afternoon both by his opponent and by his own limitations.

4- The game was stodgy, and the stodgier it got the more volatile it got.  Much has been made of Martin Atkinson’s display in the middle but in assessing anything the context, the difficulty of the challenge has to be taken into account and in slippery conditions with players clashing frequently this was not an easy one to officiate.  He got things more or less right for me – with one or two exceptions, which we’ll come to – but more or less booked players when he had to and didn’t when he didn’t.  Certainly our first penalty call, of which I was oblivious from the Rookery until Match of the Day, looks a coulda rather than a shoulda on review.  From that incident Spurs broke – down their right, natch – and Son tucked in Eriksen’s cross.  We’d been pulled apart; harsh words were exchanged in the back line and we felt slightly precarious.  It could all have gone downhill from here.

So we should take something from the fact that it didn’t.  Indeed we restricted Spurs, held them at arms’ length and if our defence were aggressive in bullying the Spurs forwards into submission then the fact that the visitors didn’t get anywhere and resorted to sulky theatrics rather justifies the approach.  Nonetheless, the impasse rather suited Spurs better than us, since However Far We’ve Come they were still more likely to pull a goal out of nowhere.

5- That changed with the sending off of Sánchez, again an indisputably correct decision;  a flying elbow in the chops is a flying elbow in the chops, whether or not in contains Andy Carroll levels of malice.  Thereafter we did manage to get on top and to pin Spurs back a bit;  they’ll feel gratified that they kept us at bay with ten men and certainly we didn’t make enough of the situation.  The ball was zipped around, but heaviness of legs and minds maybe contributed to a lack of final ball.  Our closest calls came perhaps from balls bobbling around in the box and not falling for us… Doucouré arced a beautiful strike over the melee and off the inside of the post; Richarlíson rose to meet a deep Femenía cross at the far post and seemed to angle his header perfectly only to find Trippier’s forehead blocking the effort.  The Brazilian acknowledged the defensive effort with a handshake, but will not be sorry to see the back of Trippier who gave him little space all afternoon despite finding plenty of his own.

The penalty appeal changes your perspective a little bit, because we’ve had the possibility of finally beating bloody Spurs snatched from us by a refereeing error.  We’d been knocking on the door increasingly vigorously,  well-judged substitutions having again made us more potent through changes in formation and personnel as well as moving precarious yellow cards from the line of fire. Capoue came on for Kabasele, an extra body in midfield, Carrillo for Pereyra, as ineffective as his predecessor if more visibly so, Gray as an extra striker in the final knockings.  All positive, all aggressive.  Dier’s handball should have rewarded that, it didn’t…

But I think it’s stretching it a bit to argue that we deserved all three points.  Coulda not shoulda again; for all our numerical advantage we hadn’t put Spurs to the sword, hadn’t made enough chances, and had looked the less likely at eleven v eleven.  Nonetheless…  we’re talking about being irritated at not beating Spurs, who maybe be sulky and loathsome but they’re still one of the top sides in the country.

There are worse places to be.  Yooorns.

Gomes 3, Femenía 4, Zeegelaar 2, Mariappa 4, Prödl 3, Kabasele 4, *Doucouré 4*, Cleverley 3, Pereyra 2, Richarlíson 3, Deeney 3

Subs: Capoue (for Kabasele, 64) 3, Carrillo (for Pereyra, 67) 2, Gray (for Cleverley, 88) 0, Wagué, Watson, Janmaat, Karnezis