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Watford 3 Cardiff City 2 (15/12/2018) 16/12/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Panto week. No, not that sort of panto. Not for kids. For colleagues. In jokes, that sort of thing. Written from January to June, cast in July, rehearsed from September onward. Not for everyone. It is for me. Really. Lots of good things… from spending lunchtimes laughing solidly, an oasis of joy in the middle of the working day. Raising money for charity. Doing something creative. The most monumental and magnificent post-show piss-up. Making friends and being part of something. Especially that.

There are parallels with following a football team, I think. A bit. Particularly that last point. It’s a drum I’ve banged before, no apologies for that. It’s the answer to that question we used to ask when we were in the second tier. “What’s the point of being a mid-table Premier League side?” Of being (Fulham/Stoke/West Brom/insert your choice here). No hope of challenging, limited peril until there is, then it stops. We are now that side. The side that are the go-to name for throwaway lines about mid-table irrelevance.

Leicester answered that question in part of course. But there’s more to it. Being Watford (any team, but Watford more so, obviously) is great because it’s us.  It’s being part of something.  And being us is great wherever it is.  Being good is fun.  But it’s not all of it.

2- Meanwhile, it’s wet and it’s cold.  And here are Cardiff in the drizzle.  Being Cardiff is great too, if you’re a Cardiff fan and I’m quite comfortable with there being a bunch of bruisers in the Premier League that stick out like a sore thumb given that we have to watch them, at most, twice a season.

I was ready to say that there’s a disarming honesty about the unabashed negativity of the approach, but that doesn’t really ring true having watched the side in action.  Considerably less brutal but more cynically unpleasant than advertised, as exemplified by Callum Paterson’s early employment of the Poleon manoeuvre, a cowardly shove on Cathcart into his onrushing goalkeeper.

But bloody-mindedly destructive they were, and for all that the Hornets dominated possession the visitors retained their shape and were effective at denying space and options.  It was imperative to score early, it was likely to require something a bit clever and we got it as Deulofeu’s directness forced fatal hesitation from City’s defence.  He slipped it home, one-nil.  Defiantly, City refused to change their approach, and as they twice threatened through long throws it was clear that there was a cold logic to the negativity.

3- Which doesn’t mean that it worked.  Neil Etheridge produced a string of athletic saves to deny Bobby Pereyra in particular;  one of these came from a free kick at the tail end of the half which was going in but then didn’t, a quite remarkable save that drew applause from Etheridge’s opposite number at the far end of the pitch as the half term whistle blew moments later.

But even Etheridge couldn’t hold back the storm as the second half developed.  Gerard Deulofeu’s decision making is ropey at best, profoundly aggravating.  Thing is, if he made consistently reliable decisions he’d still be playing for Barcelona and in a game like this a Deulofeu who makes the wrong choice two times out of three will still produce a man-of-the-match display, following up his terrific opener by dragging City’s defence into a blind alley before producing Jose Holebas out of a hat on the edge of the area.  The left back’s finish was exquisite.

4- Significant again had been the retention of Sema and Quina in midfield following the qualified success of the draw-that-was-nearly-a-first-win at Everton.  It’s beyond any reasonable dispute that this is the greatest array of midfield options we’ve ever had.  The fact that Ken Sema’s tidy, efficient, occasionally boisterous but generally low key performance suggested a player capable of stepping in and doing a job but not really being anywhere near a first team eleven speaks volumes.  We’ve got steady Premier League players on the fringes of our first team squad.  Jesus.

Quina, meanwhile, looks extraordinary.  A teenager thrust into the centre of a Premier League midfield… not a winger, peripheral.  Not a cameo role as sub.  Not an encouraging performance, suggesting  that there might be something in there, which would be a result in itself.  But a gem.  Here.  Now.  Tenacious, tidy, elegant, clever, brave.  Brave enough to volley a driven pass through to Troy – too hard, not everything was perfect, but applauded for its intent in what was a clear strategy of playing straight through City rather than around them.  Tidy enough to burrow into challenges and spin away into space on any number of occasions.  Deft enough to apply an impossibly so-on-top-of-this finish to yet another terrific move.  Étienne Capoue, Player of the Season elect, is available at West Ham.  Extraordinarily, his return is not guaranteed.

5- We swarmed at City, and it really should have been the first proper thrashing that we’ve dished out since promotion.  Etheridge (again) denied us, one or two bad decisions – not least when Deulofeu attempted to chip the keeper rather than squaring to an unmarked Doucouré.  City, by now, definitely didn’t know whether to stick or twist and were caught between the two frequently scattering like rabbits in headlights as we screamed down the pitch on the counter.

So Junior Hoilett’s extraordinary finish was a bit of a blow. Not undeserved; under no circumstances would a finish like that not merit a goal.  But… a shame.  Taking the shine off a performance that deserved a shine.  When City followed that up within three minutes by scoring the goal that they’d threatened to score twice earlier – Morrison now on throw-in duties with Gunnarsson removed, someone else gets the flick on, Bobby Reid capitalises on the scruffiness – it’s simply insulting.  Offside too, apparently, though less consequentially than previous episodes in this series.

Despite the predictable and hysterical anxiety in the home stands and despite Colin’s rather optimistic post-match assessment that there was only one team in it from this stage it was never in doubt.  City didn’t have enough threat to muster a corner for the duration, the best they offered in the closing minutes was the bluntest of high balls into the box, fielded by the exemplary Foster.  Tom Cleverley made a welcome return after ten months out and looked like he’d never been away, instantly calming everything down and nearly scoring with his first touch after a great lay-off from Okaka.  Doucouré and Holebas took advantage of Andy Madley’s manifest refusal to issue a yellow card for anything short of GBH.  And then it was over.

Closer than it had any right to be.  This was a 6-0 win in the next universe along.  But plenty good enough to be going along with.  And still us.

Merry Christmas all.  Yooooorns.

Foster 4, Femenía 3, Holebas 4, Cathcart 4, Kabasele 3, Sema 3, Quina 4, Doucouré 4, Pereyra 4, *Deulofeu 4*, Deeney 4
Subs: Success (for Sema, 77) 0, Okaka (for Deeney, 81) 0, Cleverley (for Deulofeu, 87) 0, Mariappa, Masina, Chalobah, Gomes


1. John van Dyk - 16/12/2018

Great as always Matt! Thanks.

2. Kristoffer Vad - 16/12/2018

Funny how – despite the evolution we’ve been through since the Pozzo take-over, despite people claiming the club would lose its soul – we are still very much us. Exemplified by the tifos at Leicester and v. Man City. Fans coming together for a good cause. Showing integrity, decency and – dare I say – humanity.

Great to get a win today and great to be a mid-table premiership side. To me it is all about our continued evolution. I do not expect us to become a top 6 side, but a regular challenger for 7th with the odd foray into Europe and success in the cups – that to me is the goal and something about which I’d be very very happy. Especially if achieved like it has been so far.

Matt Rowson - 16/12/2018

Agree with every word of this. Leicester banners were great but the Man C display no less fabulous. Would such a display have been conceivable 20 years ago? 10?

3. j t bodbo - 16/12/2018

Panto season is always here with Colin’s take on a match. Although their 2 goals made it rather more exciting than we would have wished – and we should have improved our goal difference by 5 not 1, nevertheless, the gulf in class was extraordinary. Our recent run of close results (1-2 to Citeh, cheated out of a win at goodison,several other awful decisions etc costing us about 5 points) indicates that we are a good midtable at the very least Premiership side. And that the sides at the bottom are not in the same league. We looked like Citeh yesterday. Cardiff looked like most sides playing Citeh!
Magic !

4. John Smith - 16/12/2018

Always a great read 👍

5. Wimborne Hornet - 16/12/2018

Quina is a gem as you say. His passes are hit about 10% harder than anyone else in the team which means the recipient is already on the move when the ball arrives; with the exception of that pass to Deeney who giggled like a proud Dad when it didn’t work out. I can’t see him being left out of the Wham game (look what you idiots let go).

6. Robert Hill - 16/12/2018

Yes I saw Quina on my first sighting at Reading this season and he looked like an absolute gem. I came away thinking wow, we have a huge talent, and then began wandering what West Ham had done to let him leave. Since then he has been growing and is not frightened now he is playing at the near highest level. I’m sure the bigger clubs will be sniffing which will tell me where we are in the overall standing. Will they get him or will we stay steadfast and say no? I hope for the latter and we need to keep these players especially at the young age he is.

7. Harefield Hornet - 16/12/2018

I know it’s easy to say this because we won etc but I thought the referee’s performance was amongst the best I’ve seen this season. Unfussy, got on with it and was for the best part inconspicuous in a game on a difficult surface. I’ve (we’ve) all seen a damn sight worse! Colin’s comments were just sour grapes because his team lost – away – again.

Matt Rowson - 16/12/2018

Can’t say I agree. He was consistent, but both sides could and should have had players in the book.

PEDantic - 16/12/2018

By modern standards only, of course. In my view there are way too many bookings these days – this leads to a devaluation of the sending off.

JohnF - 17/12/2018

I was less impressed with the linesman on the EJ stand side who missed several fairly obvious line decisions evenly spread between the sides although I agree about the cards.

Defensively we rather missed Capoue as without him Dacoure is less confident defensively and Quina is still learning.

Fantastic attacking performance just need to be a tad more clinical.

8. Red - 17/12/2018

Can anyone explain the Cardiff City mascot to me? Thank heavens we have Harry.

Harefield Hornet - 17/12/2018

Bartley Bluebird – their nickname is the bluebirds?
straightforward enough?

9. Old Git - 17/12/2018

And talking about the fans’ banners at Leicester and then the rainbow display for the Man City game, yes, I agree, fabulous. But ironic that the rainbow display came against a club owned by a chap called Sheikh Mansour, deputy Prime Minister of a place where penalties for homosexuality are, shall we say, medieval.
I am pleased we have the Pozzos and not rather less savoury characters involved in our club.

Robert Hill - 18/12/2018

Totally agree

10. Dusty - 17/12/2018

As a regular reader, and supportive of the “free press” nature of this blog, I unfortunately find myself immediately disagreeing with this sentence:
“Gerard Deulofeu’s decision making is ropey at best, profoundly aggravating. ”
I thought his decision making was on a higher level. The aggravating thing was the others only occasionally joined him.
His goal was sublime and I will be talking about it for years, as this is the accolade it deserves. I thought he was everywhere on Saturday, super energetic and more should be made of his performance.
Quina was excellent also and will be a special player if he carries on as he does.
Sorry Matt, no offence meant.

Matt Rowson - 18/12/2018

None taken. 😊.

Robert Hill - 18/12/2018

Yes Gerard Deulofeu is one of those blessed with technical quality. Perhaps we could say that he lacks consistency at times, but I think after taking some time to settle with us, he is now showing more consistency and end product. I think he is one of those that need to be ‘loved’ a little. He has a lot of quality and you can see why he was at Barcelona. After his dynamic performance against Chelsea last season he showed what he has in his armoury, and I think he has more to come personally as he has now really started to settle in our club, with so much more consistency and impact.

Dusty - 19/12/2018

I have had no feeling that he has been inconsistent. He’s just getting warmed up! He came back into the team as a sub v Bournemouth, started against wolves, and has come on as sub for a couple of games whilst being subbed a couple of times also. He is settling in, you’re absolutely right. Building fitness and re acquainting himself with the rough and tumble of British football. Cant wait to see how he gets on v West Ham.

Robert Hill - 19/12/2018

YEs me too. He started so well with us on loan last season and then for me lost a bit of impetus, but we know he has that quality to win games. I think some people expect more of him, but I think he will get better with his growing confidence and a little bit of love from us all. He can be a match winner in my book.

11. Robert Hill - 19/12/2018

I think he started brilliantly last season at Stoke and against Chelsea, but he died a little towards the end of the season. But he has set himself this year very well and seems to be settled and happy with us. I hope his growing confidence will get better and better, and we could have a major player on our hands in my view.

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