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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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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

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Comments»

1. Morale Reprehensible - 27/12/2017

One of my favourite things about football is hanging on for the last 10 minutes of a match for a one-goal win. The team defending stoutly while the opposition pile on the pressure. The crowd cheering every 60-yard punt upfield (Prodl produced a fine example of the species yesterday) and celebrating offside decisions wildly. It doesn’t come around all that often, but when it does it’s marvellous.

And Gomes. The man is magnificent.

Roger Smith - 27/12/2017

I once had a quote on 3CR: “you can always tell a Watford supporter; he spends more time looking at his watch than he does at the match!”

2. Roger Smith - 27/12/2017

Give Silva his due. Playing Watson in front of the back four, with Wague replacing Prodl for his pace was a masterstroke.That said, once again Watford noticeably improved when Okaka replaced Pereyra.

For Swansea I would sacrifice Watson, and bring in Gray alongside Okaka in the hope of restoring his confidence.

PEDantic - 27/12/2017

Agreed, but is Silva really likely to go to a two striker formation? He was clearly loath to start either Gray OR Okaka against Leicester. If anything, given the second half, he might swallow his pride and start with Okaka, keeping the excellent Watson in place if there are the same injury problems.

3. harefield hornet - 28/12/2017

The difference on Boxing Day was no passengers – Everyone put in a decent shift and more of the same is required against Swansea.If anyone has taken possession of Graham’s book yet and managed to put it down you’re better than me! A wonderful insight into the life of the great man and I can hear his voice as I’m reading it. Parts of it brought a tear to my eye. COYH!


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