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Watford 3 Huddersfield Town 0 (27/10/2018) 28/10/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
10 comments

1- “Well I’d like to think we can get a point but… I can’t really see it”.

Such was the glum prognosis of the Huddersfield fan accompanying us for navigation purposes pre-match.  He was taking his lad to as many away games as possible, he explained.  The unspoken subtext was that such an opportunity perhaps best not be taken for granted.  Difficult to argue.

Nonetheless, here was a challenge we’ve rarely experienced before, certainly since the 1980s.  That of being the side… not just favourites but comprehensive favourites, odds-on favourites, expected to win in a top flight game.  As with all unfamiliar things it doesn’t feel altogether comfortable, as positive an indicator as it may be of the status to which we’ve elevated ourselves.  You’re much less open to disappointment – and pressure – as the underdog.  Nor had this edginess been improved by finding ourselves placed at exactly the same spot in Wagamama as we had been pre-Bournemouth.  Or by discovering, now as then, that it was much bloody colder than anticipated necessitating hat purchase for the second home game on the trot.  (Or, as an aside, that the hat was too small.  The costume fitters of the Adhoc theatre group will roll their eyes, full of complaints at the the prohibitive size of my head.  Nonetheless…  a one size fits all hat shouldn’t be too small…).

Only in the ground, at our seats, were nerves assuaged.  Pre-match pondering over selection was answered decisively.  Same team.  Holebas and Kabasele return from suspension to a place on the bench.  You get yourselves suspended, you’ll have to win your places back.  As soon as we heard we knew it was the right call, too damn right. And the 4-2-3-1 retained, despite suggestions that this was specifically to counter Wolves’ midfield.  Our own midfield riches need to be accommodated, it seems.

2-  The start of the game certainly didn’t suggest that a comfortable win was on the cards.  After Bobby Pereyra made brief early inroads the visitors came right back at us with World Cup winner Erik Durm twice finding aggressive space on the flank stretching us wide and Aaron Mooy warming Ben Foster’s gloves.  This looked in danger of becoming the game we’d feared as Huddersfield appeared aggressive, purposeful and together in the way that a team without a win in late October really shouldn’t have;  grumbles reflecting as much began to echo around the Rookery.  Not for the first or last time, this game could have headed off in another direction altogether.

That it didn’t was due, essentially, to the quality with which this squad is liberally sprinkled (and some tentative defending).  Pereyra, the source of magic as on so many occasions this season, uncovered Huddersfield’s greatest failing by simply running at them.  This was a strategy that was to pay off repeatedly, since for all their character and discipline the visitors simply couldn’t cope with being committed in this way.  From the Rookery it became impossible to follow his scampering beyond the bodies left in his wake, the outcome clear as the ball hit the net with the full detail of what preceded it only revealed by the replay.  My brother’s vantage point in the Upper GT gave him a better view, his description citing Pele’s tactical input to “Escape to Victory” as below.

Within ten minutes it was two, and this time there was no mystery about the passage of events, Deulofeu skinning one Huddersfield defender to his right, another to his left before cruelly slugging a shot through Jonas Lössl.  As at Molineux a week earlier we’d put ourselves into complete control with two goals of the highest quality.

3- The thing is, Huddersfield weren’t that bad.  Blunt, certainly;  short of goals but critically also short of a source of goals.  I know that I over-rely on this comparison but…  Neal Ardley dumping a cross to the far post for Heidar to propel in somehow, anyhow, was a stock goal that was there for a fairly limited side to fall back on.  Huddersfield have nothing like that, and not nearly enough angel dust to generate enough special goals like the Bobby Pereyra one, or even halfway to it, to sustain them.

That said they came closer and threatened more frequently than the scoreline suggests.  Chris Löwe nearly pulled a goal back straight away, his fierce drive nicked onto the bar by Ben Foster.  Philip Billing clubbed a shot towards the top corner, clawed away.  Less spectacular but dealt with in wonderfully unfussy fashion were a number of low drives that all required concentration and the awareness not to spill the ball to an opponent.  A magnificent performance from Foster.

As for Huddersfield, for all that Javi Gracia’s warnings that they were better than their results suggested were backed up and despite strong competition it’s difficult to see them staying up.  This was a side playing to the limits of its ability;  admirably single-minded despite their poor results, defensively capable (fragility when committed notwithstanding), competitive in the midfield but beaten 3-0.  They won’t always play this well.  As above, they just don’t have any goals…  when you see that there’s a long throw expert you think maybe that’s an option, except that the long throw expert and the 6’6″ target are the same bloke.  They’re screwed.

4- Into the second half and the game continued to toe a line between several possible outcomes.  Certainly a series of bad decisions at the last moment – and a couple of bad finishes – were all that was between us and a more decisive win.  Often we screamed out from the back with the last pass agonisingly lacking as Huddersfield scrambled back.  On one such occasion Deulofeu hared beyond the defensive line and touched the ball around Lössl only to find Schindler a sufficiently large and patient obstacle, the Spaniard’s attempt to curl the ball into the empty net not quite good enough.  An elegant move concluded with Pereyra darting across the ball to apply a masterful flick with his heel to leave Hughes in front of goal.  He couldn’t have been more dramatic with a wand and a puff of green smoke, but Hughes too seemed surprise and his stabbed left foot shot was much too comfortable for the Terriers’ keeper. Ken Sema, desperate to make a positive impression, bundled joyously into the box only to slug a shot wide.

Another possible outcome remained a much tighter, nervier finish and as Huddersfield gained in confidence again the third goal appeared increasingly to be a necessity rather than a cherry on the cake.  I was about to suggest that “fortunately it arrived”, but fortune had nothing to do with it.  This was a set piece as exquisitely borne of discipline and teamwork as the first two were of individual brilliance and owed nothing to tentative defending.  The moved concluded with Étienne Capoue arcing a looping ball to find Kiko Femenía barrelling down the right; his scuffed ball across the box fell perfectly to Isaac Success; Huddersfield’s defence completely blindsided.  The big Nigerian had been as guilty as anyone of bad decision making but his performance was nonetheless a tour de force;  impossibly powerful but deft and clever and aware too.  Uniquely suited to the lone striking role, his goal was well earned.

5- Game over, then.  And get us, we can play moderately well against limited but spirited and competitive opposition and make it look easy.  So much for struggling when expected to do well.  And because it’s fun, because it emphasises quite how stunning a job the club management have been doing, let’s roll off some of the names not involved today: Deeney, Chalobah, Cleverley, Holebas, Janmaat, Prödl, Gomes, Navarro.  The youngsters, Quina, Wilmot.  Goodness me.

Two away games to come next, different challenges in their own way but both against sides struggling to score goals but in front of home crowds who will expect a result against The Likes Of Watford despite what the League table suggests.  With our dizzy, spinning brilliance on the break – and one or two more sensible decisions – that ought to suit us.  Let’s see.

Yooorns.

*Foster 5*, Femenía 4, Masina 3, Cathcart 5, Mariappa 4, Doucouré 4, Capoue 4, Hughes 3, Deulofeu 4, Pereyra 4, Success 4
Subs: Sema (for Deulofeu, 65) 3, Gray (for Success, 83) 0, Kabasele (for Cathcart, 85) 0, Wilmot, Holebas, Okaka, Gomes

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Watford 0 Bournemouth 4 (06/10/2018) 07/10/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
20 comments

1- Waking up to bad news is an unpleasant thing.  You feel cheated, somehow, as if the day’s shit has stolen a march on you before you’ve even brushed your teeth.  You may be able to think of a couple of examples of the not too distant past of waking up and thinking “what?  what?  but today hasn’t even started yet!”.

But if waking up to bad news is unpleasant, being woken up to bad news is worse.  Specifically, woken up an hour after you went to bed to the fraught words “there’s a rat in the house!!!”…

It’s been an atrocious week, frankly.  Our unwelcome house guest has carved out it’s own niche in my head also, never far from the front of mind whether at home, or work, whether I’ve been wondering whether that noise was the washing machine or not or whether the little bastard has been parading across our kitchen behind the glass windows that separate it from the living room in a manner befitting of a top hat and tails.  If you’ve been there, I guess you’ll know.  Anyway…  as we’ve discussed on these pages before, football serves a variety of purposes dependent on circumstances and catharsis is certainly one such.  I needed the weekend to come.  I needed something to shout at.

2- Perhaps we all did.  Despite the vicious cold and miserably persistent rain that had snuck up on early October (and indifferent to the fact that having been preoccupied with locating their coats I’d forgotten my own. Again.), daughters 1 and 2 insisted that we adopt position in the Rookery shortly after 2pm.  By kick-off Daughter 2 was standing on her chair vigorously waving an 1881 flag, giggling as the wind caught it and almost took her off her seat and pausing only to ask what had happened to Ben Watson, whilst Daughter 1 was using Siri to identify “Hard Men” by DJ Vickers off the tannoy.  This may sound mundane, but it’s a level of pre-match involvement in matters in hand which is slightly unusual.

It was also the highlight of the afternoon.  Line-ups revealed our third right-back in as many League games, Femenía now in for the injured Navarro, but an eleven otherwise unchanged since the opening day.  And the first 14 minutes were OK… Bournemouth dropped deep and invited us into congested areas, but we did an encouraging enough job having accepted said invitation.  This culminated in Andre Gray’s shot being blocked as he span away on the right hand side of the area, and shortly afterwards the cumulative attritional effect of a series of attacks peeled open a space for Will Hughes to have a go.  It was a relatively comfortable ask for Begović, who held the ball down to his right, but as an opening salvo it was perfectly acceptable.

Our complete bloody doziness in dealing with Bournemouth’s counter-attacking that saw them burst out like speedskaters and quickly overload us was less acceptable.  As an approach it’s designed to catch you on your heels, to capitalise on any sluggishness in attention but it’s as old a strategy as the game itself and it’s what Bournemouth do.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy to stop but good God you’ve got to to do better than this.  You’ve got to be ready for it, alert to the possibility, Étienne Capoue, that Ryan Fraser might be looking to steal a march on you.  90% of Watford supporters’ pre-match analyses would have featured the sentiment, “we’ve got to watch them on the break”.  We did watch them.  We watched them scream out down the left and find a man free on the far post.  Ben Foster hurled himself across goal to make an outrageous save that was entirely lost in the fact that he could only parry the ball to David Brooks, who finished unfussily.

3- Eddie Howe would acknowledge post-match that Christian Kabasele’s red card was pivotal.  It could equally be argued that we had our backs to the wall as soon as we went behind in conditions like these against this particular opponent.  I’d further suggest that we lost this game before we conceded as soon as we got all lackadaisical in midfield.

But certainly it’s true that if there’s one thing worse than being 1-0 down at home to an expert counterattacking side it’s being 2-0 down at home to an expert counterattacking side, and if there’s anything worse than that it’s going down to ten men in the bargain.  Craig Cathcart’s missed header in the interim was perhaps another sliding door moment, a cruel glimpse at a different game but it came and went as chances have done in preceding weeks.  And suddenly Christian Kabasele, who had already picked up a stupid booking for a clumsy challenge on Begovic, found himself the wrong side of Josh King.  It was a horror show in retrospect, losing his man and then not even doing a good enough job of bringing him down outside the area – if you’re going to grab his shirt for god’s sake don’t let go again – before swinging a leg in the manner of a child who already know’s they’ve lost the game and are making a sulky pretence of playing it out.  At the time I thought he’d taken the ball; very quickly the lack of on-pitch protest revealed this to be nonsense.  Kabasele departed, King sent Foster the wrong way and we were looking down the barrel of a horrible hour of football.

4- It’s tempting to draw a veil over the rest of it.  But before we do, a word for the rather odd decision to drop Étienne Capoue into defence and maintain a two-man forward line.  Bold, certainly… but whilst pausing to acknowledge that it’s much easier to make such calls after the event, bizarre also.   Capoue showed a brief glimpse of what the idea might have been;  a rare moment of unhurried possession saw him rake an extraordinary crossfield pass to the galloping Kiko Femenía wide on the right; this, as with too many of Femenía’s gallops down the right, came to nothing.  More frequently Capoue was simply not looking like a defender; harsh to blame him for that, but the fourth goal just after the break made an already evident problem unignorable as Callum Wilson wandered into the space that Capoue should have been monitoring and almost apologetically completed the scoring.

On came Mapps and Isaac Success and the ship was steadied, albeit with the game gone and the performance so low it was perhaps less difficult to make some kind of positive impression.  There’s something to be said for the fact that we kept plugging away… I think you’d be stunned, given the character of the side this season, with anything else but perhaps not to be taken for granted.  Abdoulaye Doucouré for one seemed willing to take hold of the ball, to take responsibility for trying to make something happen.  Equally, there’s no avoiding that Bournemouth came much closer to adding to their tally than we did to opening ours in what was left of the second half.

As for the Cherries… the addition of Jefferson Lerma is significant in the midfield; he’s the heavyweight anchor that allows the likes of King, Wilson and Fraser to spin off with a degree of abandon.  Hugely effective today, albeit that the day panned out pretty much as they’d have chosen, but no more likeable than ever despite, for a change, not being faced with a tight game in which to manipulate any advantage that was going.  Adam Smith, who collapsed in prolonged paroxysms of agony after Gerard Deulofeu coughed on him in passing in the final minutes, epitomised the snide nature of Eddie Howe’s side.

5- Looking forward, it will be interesting to watch how Javi responds to what is his first major setback as manager;  his placid “we lost four-nil; forget the ref, we’ve clearly got stuff to sort” on MotD was encouraging but there have been plenty of managers – Alex Neil springs to mind – who’ve looked great when everything’s humming and dramatically less so once it’s stopped.

But today the cold rain has gone and the sun is out again.  Difficult to reconstruct quite how miserable yesterday was. And that’s the way I’m going to think about it for the next two weeks;  we’ve had a brilliant season so far – even if the cost of not winning when playing well is now all the more evident – and getting all stroppy about our first bad performance won’t do anyone any good.  It’s not stretching credibility too much to say that this was a day in which absolutely nothing went our way, from conceding on the break to two yellow cards for Kabasele either of which might have been passed over on a good day, to Jonathan Moss huffing and puffing around the centre circle.  Perhaps this is the world getting back into balance, payback for Joel Ward’s last minute miss against Palace, for Spurs and Burnley… not in terms of fortune, but in terms of good and bad has to even out and we got all of our bad out of the way in one go.  There’s stuff that needs sorting.  But a lot of stuff that doesn’t.  As for our intruder… it, too has been absent for a few days, the hope that the poison laid down by The Man has taken effect.  I may even re-enter the kitchen this afternoon.  Horrible things are always a tunnel to get through after all.

Next up Molineux, without three-quarters of our first choice backline, but with a clean slate.

Bring it on.  Yooorns.

Foster 2, Femenía 1, Holebas 2, Cathcart 2, Kabasele 1, Hughes 2, Capoue 2, *Doucouré 3*, Pereyra 1, Gray 2, Deeney 2
Subs: Success (for Gray, 55) 3, Mariappa (for Hughes, 55) 3, Deulofeu (for Pereyra, 74) 2, Masina, Sema, Chalobah, Gomes