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Huddersfield Town 1 Watford 0 (13/04/2018) 15/04/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Huddersfield doesn’t look like Watford, feel like Watford, smell like Watford. For one thing it’s tentatively and occasionally gloriously sunny as we arrive, which is something that Watford hasn’t been on matchday for a while. For another it’s, like, hilly and that. Daughter 1 blinks away her sleepiness as we emerge from the car… “is this really Yorkshire?”, as if we were in Narnia or Magrathea.

But as far as the Premier League landscape is concerned there are commonalities between two small(ish) town clubs whose support is very much rooted in their local community… even if the degree of Huddersfield’s smallness becomes a matter of some debate in the Rhubarb Cafe Bar as Wikipedia has decided that it’s the eleventh largest city in the country. Daughter 1 prefers “like London, but smaller”, because there’s traffic.

Similarities or not, there’s a shared purpose in the mutual and wholehearted celebration of Chelsea coming back from behind to cement Southampton in the relegation zone. Celebrating Chelsea goals feels a bit dirty of course, but such moral compromises have to be made at the business end of the season. As Will later points out, given Mark Hughes’ arrival at Southampton there is joy to be taken in many of the potential relegation outcomes. Not all of them, obviously.

2- The Stadium itself is a beautiful thing, whatever it’s called now. The arched stands are distinctive and elegant, woods form a striking backdrop to the stand to our right.

The most impressive feature of the stadium however is that impossibly, claustrophobically noisy. The home side have been talking up the atmosphere all week; with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City to come in their remaining games a lot was riding on this and the troops had got the message. This racket dwarfs anything we’ve been exposed to this season, quite extraordinary.

It had an impact on the game from the off which after a tentative couple of minutes is similarly oppressive, the home side’s pressing game being bellowed on from the stands. In truth there was a lot of bluster and not much end product, a garbage crusher bluntly forcing the play towards us without much in the way of clear chances coming with it. Principle obstacle was the immaculate Craig Cathcart, making his first start since forever and once again turning simply being in the right place into an unelaborate art form. Our full backs look particularly vulnerable; Daryl Janmaat has three good goes at getting booked before finally sealing the deal, after which he looks surprisingly disciplined and realises neither of the gloomy predictions prevalent in the away end – “he’s going to get sent off” and “he’s straight off at half time”. Meanwhile on the left Aidy Mariappa is standing in for the injured Holebas and looks almost exactly like a centre back playing on his weaker side as full back for fifteen minutes or so, but he too settles down and stifles the Terriers’ threat on their right.

3- The bigger problem introduced by Mariappa being at left back is our lack of balance in attack. Kiko Femenía is our only source of speed, and whilst Roberto Pereyra sidesteps and twists we inevitably come inside from the left; he has no pace, and no crossing option bombing past him. Nonetheless, the biggest achievement of the first half is the gradual subduing of the home crowd to merely boisterous levels; by midway through we are the side making the better chances. Deeney has a vicious shot blocked at close range, Doucouré cuts into the box and drives straight at Lössl. Pereyra draws a free kick to the right of the goal as we attack prompting fanciful speculation about a Neil Cox tribute goal in memory of a freak goal eighteen years ago from the same position, but alas we got a rehearsed move that didn’t quite come off instead, more prosaically.

Nonetheless, come half time there are reasons to be positive. We’ve weathered a storm that has proven to be more of a passing, aimless squall and we’re beginning to get on top – a platform to build on. Instead… the second half never really gets us anywhere. Certainly we’re never under the cosh – and as you’ll have noted, Huddersfield don’t manage a shot on target until, critically, they do. But we’re not getting very far either, albeit we’re not getting very far with an increasing amount of the ball. Our tendency to go long is in part pressured by Huddersfield’s pressing and in part deliberate, seemingly, since such balls are played under little pressure. Perhaps to bypass a midfield in which the still-missed Jonathan Hogg is charging around doing his thing, in part, perhaps, to expose what is perceived as a vulnerable backline. Either way it’s ineffective.

Richarlíson is brought on for the presumably tiring Femenía. Coinciding with another lull in the home stands he gets a noisy ovation; I’m all for this, poor form or otherwise, but can’t help but feel that our captain has earned slightly more patience over the course of several seasons and a very large number of goals. He gets no such support, albeit he’s again entirely ineffective. No more so is the newcomer, whose only strong performance in five months came in the anomalous demolition of Chelsea.

4- We’ve been starting to toy with Huddersfield, moving the ball around tidily and looking like the better side for the first time. We don’t look desperately like scoring, though whirligig Will Hughes once again runs himself into the ground and occasionally dances through promisingly into the box. If someone’s going to score though, it’s us. Except it isn’t.

Which casts a whole new perspective on the game, obviously. Gloomily reviewing email and social media accounts on the way back down the M1 I’m surprised (for some reason) by the negative tone. The game wasn’t of particularly high quality and neither side looked potent but it was intense and there was no lack of commitment on show. We’ve all seen much worse in terms of entertainment, put it that way.

Nor did we play particularly badly, as has been the case in the majority of the recent run of games. Defensively we were absolutely fine at worst for the most part (although someone who shall remain nameless was calling Seb Prödl every name under the sun for his flimsy response to Depoitre’s challenge in the build up to the goal). Nor can Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes, Femenía, Pereyra reasonably be lambasted, though they’ve all had better games.

The problem is that the team doesn’t know how to score goals. This doesn’t really reflect upon Troy either, much as he was ineffective; he competed well with what he had, which wasn’t an awful lot, and neither Andre Gray in his brief cameo, nor Okaka in recent games have done markedly better.

The problem, and the challenge for Javi Gracia, is that we’ve played pretty well over the last three games and earned one point from them. It’s not that we’re playing badly as much as that we don’t have an effective or efficient way of playing, particularly away from home as reflected by no away goals since he took over (and scarcely any decent chances in those games). And whilst it’s true that any one of our missing players would have given us something that might have made the difference here – balance from Holebas, speed of thought and feet on the counter attack from Chalobah, raw terrifying pace from Deulofeu, energy from Cleverley – the problem is more fundamental than missing players.

5- It’s hard to begrudge Huddersfield their win, much as I’d argue they didn’t really do much to deserve it on the pitch, much as being trapped in the stand to witness the celebration by slow-flowing aisles was something we could have all done without. There was a single-mindedness to their support that’s rare in a home crowd and could only be borne of a situation in which everyone knows they’re punching above their weight and mucks in accordingly. We’ve lost that a little bit I suspect, which is where the parallels with Huddersfield fall down, at least for now, and the complaints borne of unreasonable expectations start.

Nonetheless, it would be nice to think that we could enjoy the end to a season for a change, and confirm our safety through our own actions. “More or less safe” and “Absolutely safe” aren’t the same thing, and the distinction becomes more critical as the number of games dwindles. We’d have to work very very hard to go down from here, but getting nothing out of reasonable performances isn’t the best platform.

Yoorns.

Karnezis 3, Janmaat 4, Mariappa 3, Prödl 3, *Cathcart 4*, Doucouré 3, Capoue 3, Femenía 3, Hughes 4, Pereyra 3, Deeney 2
Subs: Richarlíson (for Femenía, 58) 2, Gray (for Deeney, 81) 0, Sinclair (for Hughes, 90) 0, Gomes, Britos, Kabasele, Okaka

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Comments»

1. paullbaxter - 15/04/2018

Thanks for the report, Matt. I only get to see 4-6 games a season as I live in the North West and it’s now two and a half years since I have seen Watford avoid defeat. 2-0 up at Everton this year and it seemed certain my run would be broken and I was relatively confident at 90 minutes that this would be the one despite our tendency to let in late goals. Not to be again unfortunately, although my feeling was that over 90 minutes if anyone deserved to win it was Huddersfield. I’m probably being swayed because I like teams that play a pressing game. I thought that for a lot of the first half we were overwhelmed in midfield and kept giving the ball away, but then Huddersfield did very little with it once they got it.

The plus point for me was that the defence which looked so much better with Cathcart back and I thought that Mariappa put in a good display playing out of position. We don’t really look like scoring, though, which I think is as much to do with the conservatism that Gracia has brought in as much as the ability of the strikers. There’s not much Deeney can do with a long ball to him when there’s no-one near to head the ball to.

Oh, and you’ve managed to get an action shot of me looking to my right in the picture! Nice ground and atmosphere as you say. Loudest support I’ve experienced since the intimidating atmosphere at Hull in the league match when we lost 3-0.

2. Harefield Hornet - 15/04/2018

Arriving at 12.30 we tried the away fan recommended pubs which turned out to be dire. Then we stumbled on The Vulcan, which turned out to be a condensed version of the ground run by a formidable Bef Lynch lookalike who was frankly terrifying!! If the police catch you in here they’ll probably chuck you out she grimaced before serving us some of the best and cheapest beer I’ve had for years. The locals were terrific and we enjoyed watching the Saints demise with them and feeling the ceiling explode when Chelsea scored the winner. …….then we went to match!

3. reg - 15/04/2018

I wasn’t at the game so my reaction is based on MotD highlights but if I was in Gracia’s position I would have gone absolutely ballistic after the game, it seemed to me that after 90 minutes the players thought they’d done enough to earn a point, the ball is played up to Gray who gives it away cheaply, it’s then played into our box, Prodl and Janmaat are both indecisive, a Huddersfield player gets a lovely touch and Ince scores, unacceptable, if we keep playing like that next season we will go down
unless we are amazing going forward and we haven’t scored an away goal under Gracia as you say Matt so that is a long way off, Gracia has to get across to the players that the Premier League is not a picnic where you run around for 90 minutes and then switch off, I hope that Gracia is in charge at the start of next season but similarly Gino needs to tell Gracia what’s acceptable and what’s not and the way we finished yesterday’s game is unacceptable, rant over.

4. SteveG - 15/04/2018

And how was your play, Matt?

Matt Rowson - 15/04/2018

Well I had fun, but you’d have to ask someone who was in the audience!

See https://www.facebook.com/pg/adhocgroup/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1901209789910873

…and thanks for asking!

5. Robert Hill - 15/04/2018

A lovely day, good but basic food and drink at the Gasworks while watching Southampton’s demise, I then set off with positive feelings. We surely must score away from home today, and possibly at least nick a point. I would be satisfied with that. Obviously it didn’t work out like that. We didn’t play badly, and in fact in my opinion was that we matched them and for periods dominated them, until we got near their penalty are, and then almost nothing. My mind kept going back to the last 2 seasons from the middle of April onwards. Do the players think of their holidays from the middle of April? I don’t think so but something is missing. I also look at the substitutions. Last 2 weeks the game changed in Bournemouth’s and Burnley’s direction as soon as the 11 were disturbed by substitute changes. Why change something that is not needed? From those changes in the last 3 games we have ended up losing from a winning position very late in the games. It’s not needed sometimes and disrupts the team’s flow. It’s not that it’s like a schoolboy game to give everyone a game. My disappointments in the team’s decision making is very frustrating to say the least.

simmos - 16/04/2018

Robert, I agree with your point about substitutions but probably more telling is that we don’t react to the oppositions substitutions. Goals by Defoe, Vokes and now Ince in the last three weeks makes me feel that Gracia is not adept at making the necessary changes to match the opponents line ups.

6. David Wheatley - 15/04/2018

I too was surprised by the vitriol in the Watford observer and at the game. My first away game of the season enjoyment was more impaired by the bloke behind criticising Maps than the late reverse. I guess this is another price of moving from 8,000 to 18,000 fans.

Robert Hill - 16/04/2018

Hi David, I think a lot of that vitriol is of frustration and lack of football understanding. The guy you pointed out obviously doesn’t look in depth at the players or understand their strengths and weaknesses. Ive been to every away game so far and have been disappointed with the results but not necessarily the performances. We are missing an out and out goalscorer. Some of our play is intelligent and we have looked to play from wide areas, but for some reason we have no real punch in our attack. With regards to Mapps, I coached him in the Academy between the ages of 14 and until he got into the under 18 side. I always felt he would be a professional and challenged his mentality at that time. I left him out of the side to see how he reacted, because becoming a pro is not easy and you have to be tough mentally to be a success. He came through all that and has done brilliantly in his career and is a very dedicated individual. To be fair he is not a left back and is much more comfortable playing centrally. He is not a tall one, but mark my words he can jump 6′ 6″. He is a tremendous athlete and has had a very good career so far. Some people just don’t understand, and the result is the be all and end all. Football is not like that. We have lacked some fire power in our forward play at times, and I feel Gray is not good enough for this level. I can’t criticise his efforts, but quality wise he cannot hold the ball up against good sides, and our attacks break down. I think he is a decent guy but at the moment we just don’t have a goalscorer that can nick something out of nothing. I guess that’s the start of some frustration in our support.

PEDantic - 16/04/2018

This is a great post of the type we’ve come to expect on this blog. I couldn’t agree with it more.
I would just add that much of my own frustration now stems from the optimism we felt early in the season when the performances, especially away, were terrific and some were suggesting this might have been Watford’s best ever team. That seems like a bad joke now. Of course there are good reasons why form has dipped so badly.
I agree that people (fans and media) focus far too much on the result. They have jumped on Watford conceding another late goal to lose the game but I thought the defence played well on Saturday. As the away team you must expect to lose the odd goal, but when there is no prospect of the forwards scoring any it makes any small mistake catastrophic. It’s true that we are desperate for new blood up front but the Coach is not helping by refusing to play with two strikers. The modern fashion is to pack the midfield but if you don’t have people flying forward to support the striker you’re not going to score many. It’s a disgrace that our last away goal was scored on January 2nd.
Apart from the football, though, it was a cracking away trip in all respects and I look forward to going back next season.

Matt Rowson - 16/04/2018

Agree with almost all of this. As Roger intimates further up, you can’t help but feel that we’re missing a trick by not giving two forwards a more concerted run. I’d have Femenía to RB, Hughes to RM and Gray up with Troy against Palace.

David Wheatley - 17/04/2018

Thank you for the further insight Robert. I guess at it’s heart is the conflict between supporting a football club and football company. I was slightly churlish at the 2006 promotion because Adrian Boothroyd had decided that Nigel Gibbs wasn’t for him. Clearly AB should have the right to select the team he wants (within the constraints of the law) but I, the uneducated fan, loved Nigel Gibbs and want him to be ever associated with the “club”. The same goes for Maps, Doyley, Sherwood, Kennedy, Wilkinson who for whatever reason I had an emotional attachment too. They for me are as much of the reason I support Watford than almost anything else.

7. Roger Smith - 16/04/2018

When Hughes returned from injury he played wide right and was a sensation. Moving Femenia to left back and bringing in Okaka would have made the team more balanced and increased our firepower.

8. Mark S - 17/04/2018

So, after that debacle do we think that Gracia will last the Summer ?
I fear not as our form particularly away from home has been woeful.
It’s a shame because he is a decent fellow

Harefield Hornet - 18/04/2018

If he can orchestrate a win against against Palace he’ll be my hero for ever!


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