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Watford 2 Southampton 2 (13/01/2018) 14/01/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Leeds. September, 1991. Tentative steps being taken into the outside world, a world not constrained by living at home or by the accident of which school you happened to go to, who you happened to sit next to. Into this noisy, exciting, anxious world of the Old Bar in the Student Union I saw someone arrive wearing this.

Leaving aside the questionable kit design for one moment footballing loyalties were always going to forge friendships, particularly this footballing loyalty in Leeds in 1991. Over the next few years Felix’s Yugo shuttled a small but committed (in several respects) crew from Leeds to any away games vaguely within striking range. Occasionally he would persuade it to start by opening the bonnet and clouting the engine with a piece of wood. There was a chaotic trip to St James Park – an eviction, a car crash and a red card. The Baseball Ground, and an unwanted encounter with a uniformed “firm”. Oakwell, Boundary Park, Roker Park. Vicarage Road, too, once or twice, including the win over Leeds in the League Cup.

Vicky was often part of that crew. In the 25 years since lots has changed, I’ve lost touch with many friends and scarcely see others. Vicky and Felix are both in the Rookery today though, we’re sat together with scarves held aloft commemorating the anniversary of Graham’s passing. They’re connected to a common thread through all of our lives the profoundness of which doesn’t change whilst everything else churns beyond recognition. That’s why there’s such an eerie, absolute commitment to this stunning tribute to Taylor; a reflection of his extraordinary legacy, but also of everyone’s connectedness to it from those who date back 25 years or more to my kids, Felix’s kids, not old enough to remember but plenty old enough to “get it”.

Warmingly, as well as the scarves creating a stunning tableau in the home stands there are Saints scarves aloft in the away end. I’d like to think that these represented solidarity as well as a statement of pride in their own team. Being proud of what and who you are doesn’t obligate you to hate anyone that’s something different whatever the current political climate might imply.

2- “Elton John’s Taylor Made Army” thunders around the stands for a couple of minutes until the nervousness on the pitch in front of us reminds us of our current precarious situation. Both sides look nervous, actually… and there’s a collective fit of scruffiness until both sides settle down and start to attempt to land punches. Southampton’s counterattacking is evident quickly, a laser-guided Kabasele tackle robs a flying but baffled Shane Long of the ball to vociferous approval from Daughter 1. At the other end we build up a cautious head of steam; Carrillo feeds Gray but the ball surprises him, he swipes and misses; we work it out and around and find Janmaat who thunders a drive across the face of goal and narrowly over.

Better. Not convincing, not refined, but as against Leicester it was something that might conceivably have gotten us somewhere had the visitors not gone and scored. In what was to become a recurring them we were exposed down the flanks, Zeegelaar on this occasion; the resultant firefighting in the defence saw bodies flying left and right but none got sufficiently close to James Ward-Prowse who threaded a shot through and past Gomes.

Had the goal come up the other end, things might have been very different. Well… reversed, inverted. As it was the Hornets’ confidence visibly collapsed and a newly buoyant Southampton looked to take advantage. They were well set-up to do so… this could have been our game at Newcastle again, a home side blunt and lacking in confidence having to push on against a visitor very happy to counterattack. Long again found space and time to pitch a tent on the right flank but took a touch allowing Zeegelaar to block. Saints looked for Gomes wandering off his line and twice attempted to drop balls over his head, once forcing the Brazilian to tip over. It felt very difficult for us to find a way through compelled as we were to play short, whilst Southampton were finding it horribly easy to threaten. Someone over my shoulder had clearly decided that Everything was Andre Gray’s fault with the perhaps unintended consequence in hardening the support for our lone striker of everyone in earshot.

Marco Silva made an early substitution decision, ostensibly intending to bring Pereyra on for Ben Watson to introduce a little more craft but forced instead to replace the ailing Cleverley to murmurs of disquiet from the stands. Finally, inevitably, Saints scored again and again Ward-Prowse popped up on the right to convert. The stands emptied in search of half-time respite, the scoreline not flattering the visitors one bit, apt reward for our flimsy lack of resilience.

3- Coming back from two goals down in any circumstances is a Good Thing; there’s a theoretical danger in papering over the cracks by overdoing celebration of the second half performance but actually, after one League win in whatever it is that risk is perhaps minimal.

Therefore, given the desperate need for a bit of positivity why not celebrate the monumental second half performance of our captain. True, such performances have been fewer and further between this season but if there was any definitive riposte to the murmurs suggesting that maybe Troy’s time has come at Watford, that it would be better for all concerned if, you know…. well, this was it. As ever on such occasions it was the how as much as the what… but let’s dawdle on the what for a second.

Suddenly, with two up top, we looked cohesive. Saints boasted two big lumps at the back but not only could neither do much more with the ball than kick it in the direction they were facing (often into the crowd), but Troy absolutely destroyed both of them in the air. Fitting that it was against Saints, as an aside, since in the reverse fixture two years ago Troy got absolutely bossed by Virgil Van Dijk, the first time I’d seen him so comprehensively shut down since he established himself in our side. Not this time. This time they got it back in spades.

And it wasn’t just the what, as above. Here’s a leader. Here’s someone grabbing a flagging side by the balls and dragging it along and grabbing harder on any suggestion of protest. How on earth could we be better off without this?

It wasn’t a rout. Richarlíson looks a shadow of the irrepressible force earlier in the season, any suggestion that he’s merely suffering from lack of protection dispelled by the recollection of quite how aggressively he’d fight off such attention when his flame was on. But otherwise… things started buzzing around Troy, not least Andre Gray who reacted quicker than the leaden Saints defence when Deeney found Janmaat, the full back clubbed a shot against the bar and Gray snapped up the spinning rebound.

4- We got a break with the equaliser, quite obviously, though I’m far from convinced that any contact with the arm was consequential much less intentional. As we’ve reflected before on these pages we’re acutely sensitive to such breaks going against us so shouldn’t perhaps feel too guilty when fate smiles upon us, certainly in such circumstances where we’ve not gone and duped anyone. In any event, respect to Saints’ Ryan Bertrand for maintaining the ten yard defensive exclusion zone around the left side of the Rookery End penalty area that we’d so diligently upheld in the first half, allowing Doucouré to latch onto Troy’s flick unattended.

The incident inevitably provoked much screeching and demands for immediate VAR from predictable sources, including the Daily Mail of retired referees Graham Poll. What continues to baffle, as ig reflected on these pages many years ago, is the lack of any balance in assessment of merits of this or any similar system. TV and radio in particular go no further in their evaluation than “mistakes are bad, VAR will correct some mistakes, therefore VAR is good. I don’t understand why we don’t use it already, it must be them luddites what are stuck in the dark ages. Look at cricket…”. Bloody cricket.

The thing is, if your digestion of a football match is based on highlights and talking points it’s natural to focus on these incidents but such shouldn’t be the basis for evaluation of VAR. Nobody could reasonably argue that preventing mistakes isn’t a Good Thing. The downside that’s ignored is the interruption to the flow of the game… not just delay, not just the practical questions like “what happens if this happens then that happens” although they bear consideration too. But the cutting off of the adrenaline, the breaking up of the play, the depriving of those actually paying attention and digesting the spectacle of the vital unpredictable momentum of a game of football.

Anyone in any doubt as to this threat need look no further than the consequences of the absurd performance of Roger East in this one. Painfully aware of the direction the wind was blowing, Southampton were slowing the game down throughout the second half. No fingers to be pointed here really – any side in such circumstances would have attempted similar, ourselves included. But it is cheating and it does disrupt momentum and give the side with an interest in defending a lead, say, an unfair advantage by interrupting the avalanche, not just by using up time. East’s ludicrous tapping of his watch in response to increasingly hysterical protest from the stands betrayed a complete indifference to the game of football. If you don’t want to be here Roger, feel free to sod off home and see if we can’t do a better job of it without any officials at all. The addition of (only!) five minutes at the end didn’t counterbalance the disruptive effect of Southampton’s approach, unhindered as it was by any yellow cards until much too late in proceedings. A disappointment of course that the winner didn’t come, or that the late equaliser didn’t occur in the fifth minute of injury time earned by such nonsense, as at the Hawthorns earlier in the season.

5- A point, then, and a much less miserable outlook than it might have been. It is, still, pretty miserable though. Less so for the lack of signings, though they would be nice, nor for the lack of evidence of return of our many waylaid players (to which add the name of Tom Cleverley, perhaps), though these would be more welcome still – Filippo Giraldi’s assertion that we have a very strong squad is difficult to argue with. This is surely the best squad we’ve ever had – it’s just that so many of them are unfit.

The two gravest causes for concern are our continuing inability to win The Sort Of Game We Could Be Winning. If you’re going to write off games against the big six – a third of our opposition, more or less – as free punches, nothing to loses then you really have to get points from the others and our ongoing failure to do so sees us slide ever closer to the morass. Secondly, the apparent lack of harmony behind the scenes. You can place whatever trust you like in accounts such as that in the Times on Saturday suggesting disquiet both at the Silva-to-Everton thing and at his lack of people skills, credible though it sounds. But the inconsistencies in Silva’s communication vs that of the club are beyond dispute, semantics aside. You don’t respond to an experienced player getting a new contract with “it’s nothing to do with me”, whatever you think of it. “Very glad to have José tied down” surely a no brainer. The stark contrast between the vibrancy of September and October and the pathetic last twenty minutes of the first half tells its own story.

We will, of course, all continue to watch this space. For many years.

Yoorns.

Gomes 3, Janmaat 2, Zeegelaar 2, Kabasele 3, Wagué 3, Watson 2, Doucouré 3, Cleverley 3, Carrillo 3, Richarlíson 2, Gray 3
Subs: Pereyra (for Cleverley, 35) 3, *Deeney (for Watson, 45) 4*, Okaka (for Gray, 73) 3, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas, Karnezis

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Comments»

1. Mike S - 14/01/2018

You had me until “Bloody cricket”! Excellent stuff, and totally with you on Troy. However, not sure we’re on the same page about East. Within the constraints of law, he did about all he could to stop the timewasting. There is nothing in law that specifies a speed at which a keeper must move from one side of the six yard box to the other. The tapping his watch thing, preferably coupled with stopping the thing (only he knows if he did), is about all he can do in most scenarios, and in one WML discussion recently was exactly what a couple of people wanted more of. You can’t please all the people all the time!

There were only 4 substitutions in the second half, one of them a double, and no injuries bar Okaka’s Holebas impression, so 5 mins wasn’t a ridiculous number, even if we’d have liked more.

Cheers!

Matt Rowson - 14/01/2018

Thanks Mike. East… I don’t agree that he could do nothing. He could have shown a card (or rather, had words and then shown a card if it persisted) much earlier – clearly permissible within the Laws of the game, since he did it eventually. Southampton were visibly pushing their luck and on seeing that he wasn’t going to do anything about it carrying merrily on (and why not). As in the piece adding time on doesn’t solve the problem, since the objective is to disrupt the attacking play as much as to waste time.

Time added on… no five minutes not ludicrous but insufficient and not compatible with “I’m adding time on lads”. 30 secs per sub and 1 min per goal makes 4 minutes… so he only added on one minute, assuming he blew at 5. But the disruption of the play is the bigger problem.

RS - 14/01/2018

Has a goalkeeper ever been sent off for a second bookable offence for timewasting (i.e. booked twice for time wasting)? Probably not; if someone had the wit to do it it might send a few ripples across the pool? Just saying…

Going back; Troy’s retrospective punishment was born of his frustration of just this type of “game management” by Stoke which may be seen as being on the grey edge of the rules. Personally I’d rather see this sorted out as a priority ahead of VAR which itself (as I think you are saying Matt) will surely serve to disrupt the flow of a game just as much and definitely the adrenaline as you observe. Finally, it was my impression that the “bloody cricket” version of VAR was being questioned in the recent battle for some wood ash I believe? Who checks the checkers?

2. PEDantic - 14/01/2018

Two main observations from yesterday: we have to play with two strikers from now on (Deeney and Gray are both enhanced by playing together) and to consider letting Deeney leave would be madness.

Regarding the equaliser, I think Doucouré was determined that the ball was going in the net but as the bounce turned out the only way of doing it in the end was by a certainly deliberate handball. From my view in the Rookery I immediately expected the goal to be disallowed and I was surprised the referee and linesman missed it. (I’m greatly opposed to VAR by the way.)

3. Bert Slater's Grandad - 14/01/2018

PED I was listening to the radio and even I could see the AD’s hand /arm did not go within a yard of the ball. Any road up 79 mins in AD had to put his shirt back on, as it was tugged until it went over his head. Penalty!

4. Peter - 14/01/2018

Thanks for your usual thoughtful report, Matt. It was indeed a stunning tableau enhanced by the cooperation of the Southampton supporters. By my calculations, the Southampton half a stand means that there were 7 half stands of Watford scarves and 1 half of Southampton. A very fitting reminder of one of the great man’s greatest matches.

5. Royston RoF - 14/01/2018

Very surprised no one has brought up Diers handball when we played Spura…as GT would say.. what comes round goes round…”rub of the green”.

…oh and Matt the Saints supporters were applauding GT as well as putting up their scarfs….and at 72 minutes…

6. Goldenboy60 - 15/01/2018

I think the Saints fans did their club proud on Saturday. They never mocked, but just supported their side in the right manner. And, as you’ve said the response towards GT was stunning. I hope some Saints fans are reading this, whilst we are accepting the terrific response from them on such a day. I look forward to our FA Cup visit in two weeks and hope the friendly rivalry can be extended further whatever the result.

NickB - 15/01/2018

Very well said.

7. Dave Battersea - 15/01/2018

Good report as always Matt…..I also thought that Robert Peyera had a great influence on the game in the second half. Playing in the deeper position alongside AD he gave much needed impetus and energy which we have lacked since NC has been injured. He should play there again or as an alternative drop Richarlison to the bench and play Peyera out wide.

8. Crispticker - 15/01/2018

I think the “how” came from our Manager recognising we were losing the skirmishes in the middle, where at crucial times it felt like they were 5 against our 3. Watson was removed and we went medium long, with the majority of balls appearing to be deliberately aimed to outside their box, where Deeney won everything.

Another pair of centre halves may not have given him such joy, and another opposition Manager may have acted quicker to try and nullify the threat.

However, any credit Silva earns for the HT switch is dampened by bringing Okaka on for Gray, which seemed to coincided with a lessening of the tactic and a loss of momentum.

Until the end, that is…

9. Simoninoz - 15/01/2018

We have VAR in Oz. The jury is very much out. On more than one occasion the decision has taken 4 minutes – yes, 4 long minutes as the video is viewed a dozen times and then the ref goes to a monitor in the technical area to have a look himself. I am not against VAR but it must be quick.

10. Vaughn Smith - 15/01/2018

On a totally different thread it was very sad to hear of Cyrille Regis passing today. What a fine man and footballer. I remember vividly in the late 70s as a young boy the abuse that black footballers used to receive. I can remember the likes of Chelsea and West Ham supporters booing their own black players and throwing bananas at them. Thankfully I was brought up in a family that had no prejudice against anybody – colour, sexuality, disability, religion, whatever – it made no odds. Also I feel privileged to have had my formative years (and many, many more since) being part of the family at Vicarage Road, where much the same attitudes were and still are shared – an overtly gay chairman/Life President, plenty of (unbelievably gifted) black players (back then and ever since), every member of staff nurtured to reach out to the community and visit schools, hospitals, hospices, childrens’ homes etc. Not a political rant or anything – just a reminder of how lucky we are to be Watford supporters, regardless of results on the pitch.

harefield hornet - 16/01/2018

I met him in fan zone earlier this season at the Hawthorns and shook his hand. So sorry to hear that news.

David Wheatley - 16/01/2018

Vaughn Smith, Quite right. I completely understand the outpouring of emotion from WBA and Coventry fans. On a related note I have debated with myself if the achievement of success, (defined by being in the prem, The stadium & seemingly stable finances) brought about by the Pozzo’s outweighs the loss of empathy (Deeney/Gomes aside) I have with the current coach/1st XI. I always conclude that we are better off but there is a romantic attraction to yesteryear when we formed attachments to players/managers. M’Baye Niang may have more talent in his left toe than most former hornets but if I have to accept he moves on after a season, I think I prefer a gut busting 7 years of Tommy Mooney.


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