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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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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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Comments»

1. John - 31/12/2017

Very accurate report as always Matt which expresses how I feel better than I could.

What’s worrying me is that this is the type of game that we need to win and have won over the last two seasons. As with the past two years we’ve probably got enough points in the first half of the season to scrape through somehow but the three games where we’ve lost from winning positions (Everton, Palace, Swansea) would have given us enough points to be virtually safe.

You expect the occasional late equaliser but to then consistently not even manage to hold onto a point is more than just careless.

Once Gray missed that chance we all knew exactly what was going to happen next and it duly did.

2. SteveG - 31/12/2017

It felt absolutely horrendous at the time, but a little while later it does leave you to reflect on the fine lines between success and failure, as you allude to above, Matt.

We’d been musing for some time about how a second goal would be needed just to guard against Swansea suddenly coming to life and there was definitely a nervousness as we seemed to do that horrible Watford thing of defending deeper and looking more vulnerable as the game goes on.

Having said that, the turning point was clearly the Gray miss. If that goes in, we get a workmanlike if uninspiring three points, Gray gets a bit of confidence back, we applaud Pereyra for a moment of skill and vision and Silva for the tactical acumen or making the right substitutions (and those who say that Okaka or Deeney might have finished better miss the point that neither of them would probably have made that run in the first place). But we do play strikers to score goals, and Gray should have taken that chance.

It was indeed a day when just about everyone was worth a ‘3’ – I might have given that to Okaka as well, as I thought he did give us a decent shape and some different options – as well as playing a crucial role in the lead up to our goal. He’s not the messiah (and he may have been a very naughty boy) but it’s good to see that Silva is at least bringing him back into contention for a place in the starting line-up. What we don’t need at the moment is tha head coach sulking and bearing a grudge.

It will be interesting to see what he does on Tuesday (and indeed next Saturday – I do hope we don’t just throw the towel in against Bristol City). There is a case for some rotation given some tired legs. Would something a bit ‘left field’ (both literally and metaphorically) like playing Holebas behind Zeegelar be worth a punt as a one-off way of trying to shore up the left side while giving Zeegelar an opportunity to show what he can do on the break? I don’t imagine Janmaat is looking forward to Tuesday, though.

Happy New Year and thanks as ever, Matt, for the insight and entertainment in your reports.

Matt Rowson - 31/12/2017

Thanks Steve

3. Roger Smith - 31/12/2017

Not only was their defence more disciplined, we constantly gave them time to settle, and then tried to pick our way through.Comfortable became complacent became casual. I don’t doubt Gomez’s committment, but wouldn’t an outfield captain have had a better chance of galvanising the team?

Matt Rowson - 31/12/2017

I think you overstate the captain’s role.

4. reg - 31/12/2017

It was an immature performance by Watford, it was no surprise to the home supporters when Swansea equalised and then scored a dramatic late winner after the way Watford drifted aimlessly in the second half, so I don’t really know why the players did all the stunned head in the hands stuff, they must have short memories if they can’t remember Palace away, we are still capable of playing well as the Leicester game showed and with over half the season gone we are in the top half of the Premier League but let’s remember a few things, 1 it’s a fiendishly difficult league as yesterday’s game showed, why even the bottom club can beat you on your own patch 2 Marco Silva is still very young and has known nothing but failure in the Premier League despite all the hype, it would do him the world of good to keep Watford up this season and 3 whatever anyone says Watford’s realistic ambition has to be to stay up.

5. South West Hornet - 31/12/2017

Was watching the game on TV. Turned on just after the first goal. Dam that was frustrating. No conviction or purpose whatsoever Just needed someone to take the team, give them a good shaking up and tell them to get on with it and tear into Swansea, who we should have beaten comfortably with all the quality in the squad.

Was the catalyst for this recent turn of form not being able to beat Spurs that time? We had so many players attacking during the last 15 mins and they were there for the taking but no-one could get the killer blow. It was almost if we felt we weren’t meant, or allowed to beat them. And then Leicester excepted its been a terrible run.

Couldn’t even make it to the end of the game, turned off after 70 mins, knowing that Swansea would probably score. And then turned on at the last moment seeing Swansea get the winning goal!

Now we need to do what Palace did today. Not care about how many games City have won and just play an attacking game. Importantly, fight for the game.

Come on Watford we’re better than this – should be right up there near the top teams with this squad.

Anyone we can sign in Jan to get stuck in and get the team going? In addition to Deeney obviously?

And anyone know the latest on Hughes? We need him back…. yesterday!

Matt Rowson - 31/12/2017

Hughes, yes. Femenía, Kaboul too. But Chalobah is the biggest loss.

6. Moralee Reprehensible - 31/12/2017

All of the above. And yet if the Lino flags Ayew offside, as he should have done, we win 1-0.

Matt Rowson - 31/12/2017

Yeah, but. Marginal decision. “Should have done” is harsh and irrelevant. Was hardly clear cut.

Vaughn Smith - 01/01/2018

Absolutely – so marginal was that offside we’d have gone bananas if it had been given if we’d scored from it. As far as the ‘for f**ks sake’ goes – yes – I was swearing my arse off by the end, but I stayed and didn’t boo – never have done in 40 years of attending the Vic. Deeply disappointing that there are so many fair weather supporters now who think that we’re somehow entitled now to win games like this. My reference point is a 0-3 at home to Colchester United in my first season as a season ticket holder, late in the 1978-79 season when we were nailed on to win Division 3 but effed it up pretty much due to this result. My god I wept on the way home that day. I didn’t on Saturday, but really felt like doing so.

7. Simon - 31/12/2017

I thought in the first half Swansea sat in deep and played two very tight banks of four. In those circumstances, I can see why we took the approach we did, keeping possession and trying to move them about, although I’d have liked to see more urgency and I don’t understand our reluctance to play in behind, even when we have the third man running. In the second half, Swansea seemed to push an extra man into the centre of the park which allowed them to press higher up the pitch and sit on the two deep lying midfielders (who had little pressure on them in the first). We didn’t really adapt to that though and continued to try to play through Doucoure and Watson rather than go a bit more direct to beat the press and use the pace we have.

All of that said and frustrating though it is, I’m still confident that we won’t be troubled by relegation and fee better about our prospects than I did during the slumps under Flores and Mazzarri. For some reason the foundations seem more solid, particularly with important players to come back. Some of the more hysterical calls for Silva to be sacked strike me as very odd. We can’t just get rid of the manager after every bad run and I think he can and will right the ship sufficiently to keep us comfortably mid-table.

8. Rousman2 - 31/12/2017

Grays first touch let him down once again he is an 18m pound premier league striker he has to score. The day is then a whole lot brighter.

Matt Rowson - 01/01/2018

Don’t agree. His first touch was good, it gave him plenty of time to put the ball away. It was a combination of him having too much time to think and Fabianski seizing that opportunity. I tried watching the extended highlights to confirm my recollection but bizarrely they exclude this incident. However the multiple replays of the Naughton/Okaka incident are entertaining… Carvalhal certainly expected a red card…

9. Roger Smith - 31/12/2017

Surely Pereyra desrves a point for the pass that put Gray in?

Matt Rowson - 01/01/2018

Indeed, but the rules set arbitrarily by Ian for BSaD in 1994 and therefore sacrosanct are that less than 15 mins is a 0 (no rating).

10. Robin - 01/01/2018

The lone striker formation can only be sensibly played if the lone striker is, er, a striker. You know, someone who occasionally puts the ball in the net, or at least looks like they might. The recent run of results has come as Richarlison and Doucoure’s purple patches have tailed off a bit and they have become slightly less frequent scorers, with no regular (or even intermittent) source of goals from the single front man to keep things ticking along. We cannot continue to play games a man down even with 11 on the pitch. We need either to sign a 20-a-season striker or a change in formation.

Matt Rowson - 01/01/2018

That was kind of my point in the report. We have three quite different strikers, none of whom look comfortable in this formation (add RIcharlison to that, who has been no more successful). It’s in part a reflection on them, but in part on the demands on this role in the current formation. Not sure it’s necessarily a goalscorer, though that would be useful… someone capable of holding the attacks together and releasing the wingers would be a start. I’d have expected Deeney to do better at this.

Robin - 02/01/2018

Despite his build and ability in the air, Deeney is really a No10, not a No9. He is a different player with a partner up front.

11. finsherwood - 05/01/2018

Yes, it is painfull; leading the game, done enough to deserve three points and then late in the game, conseding not just once, but twice.It also sucks when You are two goals up and then lose the lead and draw the game. I hate those. But atleast during those games You have been able to witness goals and celebration. Feeling ups before downs. My the most painful experience is from the early nineties. Exited by the weeks holiday and waiting to see the Horns. It is just that everything wasn`t very rosy then: things were going badly on and of the pitch. But during my holiday I was to witness two 3-0 defeats (Boro, Norw). At home. Without any highs and things to look forward to. That was hurting. About this game. I was happy to see someone hold the ball up, move wisely and pass to an advancing player and in the end there was someone to score aswell. More of that please.


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