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Watford 1 Newcastle United 1 (29/12/2018) 30/12/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1 – There is a danger in preconceptions. In making assumptions, not judging things at face value. The human race wouldn’t have survived without a degree of educated guesswork of course… “that wolf/precipitous path/large drunken sweary man looks iffy, I’ll give it a swerve” and so forth. But as a general rule, you don’t broaden your perspective by presuming that you know it all. To do so would be tantamount to believing that you are blessed with perfect knowledge. That you can’t be surprised, you have nothing to learn.

Easy to say. Worthy. Harder to live by, despite the best of intentions. On Friday evening we were invited to a gathering at the home of a pastor of my better half’s church. I’m not a christian, rarely attend said church, didn’t expect to know many if any of the guests and the prospect was a little daunting. I guess socialising in a crowd of people who know each other and not you, who have something in common that you don’t share, is only something that the most confident would look forward to.

On the drive over my better half mentioned that the pastor’s daughter makes music, and did I want to listen to some? Dutifully I agreed. I don’t know what I expected… not that it should be awful necessarily. Perhaps I subconsciously, stupidly expected that people who, in my head, were “churchy people” only did churchy things, that it would be an overtly religious piece. Gospel, maybe. Not that that’s a problem – each to their own and so forth. But anyway. It wasn’t. And it was stunning.

2- In some circumstances your preconceptions are entirely reliable of course. Take, for example, our shared beliefs about the nature of a home game against a Newcastle United side, a Rafa Benitez side, stung by a 4-0 whupping at the hands of Liverpool three days earlier. A cynic, one liable to pre-judging, might anticipate a frustrating encounter against a joyless, mercilessly well-drilled outfit, a bit like trying to breathe with your head wrapped in a sodden towel weighed down with rocks. If you’re somehow ignorant of how the game turned out and wish to retain a modicum of mystery you can pretend that this isn’t (necessarily) how it turned out if you like.

Our approach to it was distinguished by a raft of team changes; one enforced by Christian Kabasele’s spectacular injury on Boxing Day (this having prompted Daughter 1 into gushing eulogy about his fortitude), five more apparently prompted by the congested, demanding schedule of this chunk of the fixture list. To which… it’s difficult not to be slightly excited. A little trepidatious, yes, but… this is us. Watford. At home to Newcastle… if not Premier League royalty then certainly a big club, whatever Bigness means. And we’re resting players. Taking advantage of what is surely the most lavish squad we’ve ever had, if still slightly imbalanced. Get us.

3- The game starts and we’re bright and positive. In charge of possession quite quickly, and if headway is hard going there’s patience to balance our zest. And there is headway. Isaac Success, ostensibly the target man with Troy on the bench, is pulling left and has DeAndre Yedlin in all sorts very quickly, committing him and drawing fouls. Not the first time that the American has looked a ropey excuse for a defender against us. Then Gerard Deulofeu’s skidding away from Newcastle’s defence and if he doesn’t capitalise, if the finish isn’t quite there, again, then at least we’re making tracks. It will come. We just need to be patient.

Except it doesn’t. Instead, Newcastle hit us with their stock goal and it’s a Neal Ardley to Heidar Helguson tribute act. Matt Ritchie swings a beast of a cross in from the left to our far post and Rondón rises to dump a header past the helpless Ben Foster. Newcastle aren’t a great side, Ray Lewington’s Watford side weren’t great either however lovable but that goal more than kept us up and it’ll keep them up too.

4- And suddenly we look a bit of a mess. Our “new guys” to a man look rusty… Will Hughes digs in but is well short, Daryl Janmaat will play himself up to his imposing full speed in the second half but doesn’t start that way at all. Domingos Quina is brave, takes responsibility but is now drowning in the midfield morass, twisting when he should stick and sticking when he should twist with the help of a good kick up the arse from Mo Diamé. Aidy Mariappa looks anxious and tentative, and Adam Masina is completely unlike the heir apparent at left back that his brief forays have encouraged us to believe hitherto.

At half time, slightly surprisingly, Daughter 1 turns to me with shining eyes and proclaims her passion for all things football. She has, in the relatively recent past, seemed to float distractedly through the most thrilling of games so this is no small triumph, unjustified as it seems by the 45 minutes that preceded it. We start the second half with a vigour to match my mood, but it’s the introduction of Troy and Doucouré ten minutes in that tips the tide. Suddenly we look potent, and slightly unexpectedly the game opens up a bit. Troy has dragged us along by our bootlaces so many times, this is no exception; fuelled by his inhuman hurtling we’re the better side now, and if the final ball is still wanting and if we’re struggling to get Deulofeu involved then there’s nonetheless renewed belief and energy in the stands from which listless half-hearted booing had emerged at half time. By the time Deulofeu finally picks a ball which Doucouré flies onto to noisy relief we just about deserve it.

5- The final ten minutes don’t quite see us pick up enough of a head of steam to convince that we’re going to win the game. Bobby Pereyra tiptoes through the area and doesn’t quite get the break. Isaac Success’ afternoon deserves to be crowned with a winning goal for sheer perseverance – never hiding, all twists and turns and muscle and determination and bad decisions and bad luck. But he doesn’t hide, he keeps at it and in a fairer world his closing shot has a bit more venom to it, we win 2-1. In this universe Dubravka fields easily and it’s a 1-1 draw.

It’s tempting to reflect that the wholesale changes cost us two points, but even if you believe that’s true then the decision’s reasonableness can only be judged on the basis of how Bournemouth, Woking and the rest of the season rolls out. Let’s not forget that the failure of Gracia’s predecessor was as much in the dearth of energy (and ideas) in his squad come this time of year as in the more publicised stuff. I’m happier with a coach who Does Stuff, all things considered.

6- Meanwhile, and as a slight aside, the event on Friday evening was perfectly fine of course. More than fine. I met Navina, the pastor’s musical daughter, and she spoke compellingly and passionately about the challenges of “making it” as a female soloist in the age of streaming, how even live gigs have limited mileage when competing against a noisy band with a fuller sound. Anyway… if you want to cheer yourself up after this stodge then watch the video below. Self-written, performed, produced. And if you don’t, listen to it anyway. Do me a favour, do Navina a favour. Enjoy it and share it. Yoorns.

Foster 3, Janmaat 3, Masina 2, Cathcart 3, Mariappa 2, Hughes 2, Quina 2, Capoue 2, Pereyra 3, Deulofeu 2, Success 3
Subs: *Deeney (for Hughes, 58) 3*, Doucouré (for Quina, 58) 3, Holebas (for Masina, 78) 0, Britos, Cleverley, Sema, Gomes


1. Roger Smith - 30/12/2018

Harsh on Masina. He couldn’t bomb forward given Newcastle’s threat from the wing, so he needed someone in front of him. That should have been Pereyra, but time and again Masina found himself in yards of space with no outlet other than to recycle it in the back four.

WD3 - 30/12/2018

Do you think that would have stopped Holebas?!

Roger Smith - 30/12/2018

Maybe not, but then we may have conceded a couple of goals off his flank, whereas none was conceded off Masina’s.

2. Peter Gillions - 30/12/2018

The mistake was not just 6 changes – it was leaving both Deeny and Doucoure out against a rough very physical side like Newcastle.

Matt Rowson - 30/12/2018

Not sure I agree entirely. We didn’t fail to win through lack of physicality, it was lack of ability to play round and through them. Quina didn’t have his best game but I can see the thinking. We missed guile really.

3. Andy - 30/12/2018

It’s so unlike Gracia to make such changes ever! Was he trying to prove a point to the board? It has been clear for a long time that we are in desperate need of a centre back. Mariappa for all his previous good work, is at best Championship player, with Britons as cover? Do me a favour. If he was not trying to prove a point, he should grow some and say sorry for putting out that team at home for the fans to endure.

Matt Rowson - 30/12/2018

I don’t think he was trying to prove a point. I think he was trying to rotate his squad and give good players some game time which they clearly needed. You can argue it didn’t work – I’d suggest that we drew the game and could have won it and as in the piece we’ll only really have an insight into whether it was the disaster that you imply when we see how the rest of it rolls out. Marco Silva didn’t rotate his side and the team ran out of legs by this stage.

I think you’re a bit harsh on Mapps. There aren’t many CBs as good as him who would be happy to essentially be cover. Don’t disagree that we could do with a dominant figure here though, tho I think Cathcart and Kabasele are great.

As for “say sorry”… that’s nonsense. You only have to read the replies to this article to recognise that “we the fans”, as ever, have a range of opinions on this and very few wander in the direction of “he needs to apologise”. Good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes.

4. tonyfirasse - 30/12/2018

Super write-up Matt, as usual. Wishing you and fellow Hornets fans a fulfilling 2019.
Over from the Gulf for three home games at Christmas, a deserved win, expected loss and gutsy draw was what I had probably expected.
Javi shuffled the pack and it didn’t quite work out against such resolute, dour, frustrating ‘toon’ opposition.
Walking home after the match down the High Street what amazed was a pair of ‘fans’ behind me lambasting the team, certain players and the tactics (in very unchaste language).
Do these guys have any perspective on how far Watford have progressed? They presume that Newcastle will be brushed aside?
Will be watching most games live on Bein Sports in Abu Dhabi, where I provide VAD (Video Assistant Dad) WhatsApp service to ST holder daughter number two in the Rookery.
I feel a top ten finish is doable for the Golden Boys and wish the lads a successful second half of the season, unlike previous letdowns.

Matt Rowson - 30/12/2018

Agree with your sentiment, though I think we’ve got off relatively lightly in terms of demands running away with people. There are always a few, perhaps more than a few, who can’t tolerate a disappointing result but I think on the whole expectations have been fairly reasonable. An extreme opinion always gets more airtime, at which point I’ll stop for fear of wandering onto dangerous ground. Happy New Year to you too, Sir.

5. Andy - 30/12/2018

To apologise is not nonsense, we all make mistakes. It was pretty obvious that Newcastle had targeted this game for 3 points as they rested players at Man Utd. Why not make some changes against Chelsea? We are at home and with a full team, we had more of a chance taking 3 points. As for being harsh with regards to Mariappa, No, the guy has given great service to the club in his history with us, he should not be regularly starting games, but that’s down to the Pozzo’s in not purchasing a quality experienced defender. A player like Ghalli, (spelt wrong I think) would be great asset. A defender of that capability would be an easier and cheaper alternative to buying a goal scorer that a lot of fans are craving, but it’s not the Pozzo way.

Matt Rowson - 30/12/2018

Claiming to speak for the majority doesn’t really add weight to your argument.

6. Stuart Campbell - 30/12/2018

Odd game to judge. I don’t see anything Machiavellian in the big rotation, and it’s easy to criticise after the event. But we did lack our usual pace and thrust in midfield. Capoue looked confused with Quina alongside or even deeper. Perhaps having Cleverley in the equation would have encouraged more thrust and running at their heavily manned, but essentially lumpen, defence. Who knows?
I think it’s worth feeling positive that we can rotate at this level and that there is an air of disappointment that we didn’t grab all 3 points. We are a better team and squad than last year.
Your player scores were spot-on for me, Matt. Except the one you could have added. I’d have have put in 5 for Navina.
Happy New Year.

Matt Rowson - 30/12/2018

😊 quite so.

7. petebradshaw - 30/12/2018

Thanks Matt. Again that’s exactly how I saw it despite those behind us claiming it was a sackable offence to play Success for 90 minutes.

8. Simon - 30/12/2018

I had no problem with the changes. We needed to keep things fresh and, had Deulofeu’s one on one gone in, you suspect the outcome may well have been different. I suppose it’s right that players could have rested for Chelsea but we shouldn’t be in relegation bother come the end of the season and in those circumstances I’d have been a bit annoyed at being perceived not really to bother with a shot at a top 6 side. The players would have wanted to play in that one too and that is also an important factor.

I suspect Gracia will also have learnt a fair bit from the game. There’s a bit of rustiness to Hughes and Janmaat but that will fall away quickly. I understand why he went for Quina rather than Cleverley, say, and I didn’t think he did too much wrong but, with hindsight, I wonder if he’s a bit similar to Capoue for them to play together at this stage. It was all very tidy but Doucoure coming on brought with it the ability to break lines from a slightly deeper midfield position.

Masina looks a bit short of confidence (passes a bit under hit, a slight lack of conviction moving forward) but it’s difficult to know what to do about that as, with Holebas’s current form, he’ll struggle to get a run of games.

Success has a lot about him but my issue is I’d like him to show a bit more strength (both physically and of character). He’s improved hugely though and doesn’t seem too far off being a real handful.

Be interesting to see how we line up v Bournemouth as I thought Deulofeu and, particularly, Pereyra looked in need of some rest. This game also highlighted that those are (possibly the only) two that we really struggle to replace if they’re not playing.

9. Royston RoF - 02/01/2019

Navina 5/5

As for the match, a mid table slug or should that be sludge….it really is time we had a Vydra amongst the present players who can put a 1 on 1 situation away
..as well as a Booterer who will put their foot through the ball when on goal..Deeney has been poor at this of late
…we could be the best of the rest , time will tell if its 7th or 17th

Matt Rowson - 02/01/2019

Agree with most of this, but I would dispute the last point. Certainly 7th is a realistic target, but I think we’re better, significantly better, than a bunch of teams at the bottom. Can’t see us dropping that far even if things turn against us, it’s a function of how good other teams are as well as our form.

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