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Watford 0 Burnley 0 (19/01/2019) 20/01/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- The highlight of the day was the GT stuff, quite obviously. Two years on the club provides all attendees with a drinks voucher, then orchestrates another tremendous scarf display as the players enter the arena. This might have been more effective still but for the unwanted, unneeded and sadly non-negotiable twaddle that is the Premier League anthem as the players solemnly shake hands. It could have been so much more than a stunning visual spectacle. But it is a stunning visual spectacle. There are scarves aloft in the away end too – Claret and Blue stands out a little less than Southampton’s red and white of a year ago, but it’s still a fine thing.

At half time there’s a tribute to Captain Thomas Sawyer ten years after his passing in Afghanistan, the most significant aspect of which is that the club chose to acknowledge something that wasn’t recent, wasn’t prominent in everyone’s consciousness.

It goes without saying that this is a club that is proud of its community and of which its community should be proud.¬† More so than at any time since GT’s first tenure, a fact unconnected with relative success on the field.¬† It also flies in the face of quotes attributed to Burnley manager Sean Dyche this week, quotes so lazily inaccurate as to be not worth challenging.¬† In fairness to Dyche, his stoic attention to the GT tribute and to Duncan Welbourne’s subsequent minute’s applause have been widely reported and it’s unreasonable to on the one hand laud a manager’s rare candour and on the other to object when he talks complete bollocks.¬† Nobody gets it right all the time.

Nonetheless there are boos mingled with the cheers as Dyche is welcomed over the tannoy.¬† As team news reveals the absence of the much-speculated Abdoulaye Doucour√© with an unannounced knee injury one is forced to wonder whether the afternoon’s drama and emotion has been played out before the game kicked off.

2- And it hasn’t.¬† Not all of it.¬† But my god there are meagre pickings on offer for the next two hours.¬† In exhorting my co-editor to increase his rather miserly attendance rate I’ve argued recently that even the poor games – Newcastle at home being case in point – have been enjoyable.

This one wasn’t.¬† This one was eye-bleedingly awful.¬† This one was sit in a traffic jam needing the loo with a broken stereo, late for a flight or something whilst kids bicker in the back seat for two hours awful.¬† This was the sort of thing that used to provoke a sort of gallows humour back when we were a mid-table second tier club and games like this were an occupational hazard, we had one-liners ready to go.¬† Here… nobody really new how to handle the mindless tedium.¬† Hell, there might even have been youngsters here who¬†weren’t born the last time we had a game like this.

At some point I’m going to need to start talking about the football.

3- Actually it started off extraordinarily well.¬† In retrospect, this could have been a ruse by the visitors to put us off our guard but it seems unlikely that Burnley, the most oblong of opponents, would be capable of such subterfuge.¬† No, this was mere incompetence on our visitors’ part as they failed to start the game until a good five or ten minutes after Michael Oliver’s whistle.¬† By this time Troy had twice been allowed to chest the ball down in the middle of the park and turn unchallenged.¬† On one occasion his sublime through-ball to Deulofeu released the Spaniard through on goal.

The afternoon would, could, should have panned out entirely differently had Deulofeu’s first touch and composure not deserted him, allowing Tom Heaton to hurtle out and give himself a chance.¬† Given that Gerry’s finishing is, um, a growth opportunity you have to wonder why he so rarely uses his quick feet to try to bypass the keeper in such situations.¬† Here, Heaton blocked the shot, Deulofeu’s head was in his hands, his first touch walked out on him in disgust taking the kids, not leaving a note, and he sulked his way back towards the halfway line.¬† Within five minutes there were further chances;¬† Deulofeu fluffed a free header with a mistimed jump, Ken Sema had a similarly clear chance which didn’t quite drop for him, Troy had a header cleared off the line.¬† We looked good, but our visitors plain terrible.¬† Not so much slack as really not playing the same game at all.¬† The missed chances were shrugged off, the goal, goals, were clearly coming.

4- Until Burnley woke up, quietly got hold of the ball and proceeded to wrest away any semblance of control that we had on the game.  Not that they took control, particularly, though they certainly had the better of it and the better of the subsequent chances.  More that they brutally rejected the concept of control, a nihilistic, anarchic destruction of any semblance of such a thing buried under hurtling bodies and closed down possession.

There’s something admirable about Burnley, in the way that you might quietly, privately, take pride in a very large shit.¬† Consistent with this analogy however Burnley are a thing best admired from a distance;¬† you might be capable of a sort of respect but you don’t want to watch it, be close to it, invite it round to dinner.¬†You want to flush it away and forget you ever saw it. There is no joy in it.¬† It’s just a very large shit.

Troy no longer has time to bring balls down in midfield.  Instead he has Jack Cork shoving him in the ribs, or two opponents double-teaming him Рone blocking, one winning the header.  The cowardly thuggish Ashley Barnes is one minute backing into his marker, the next flopping forwards over the ball in anticipation of a challenge from behind to win a free kick.  Hoodwinking the hapless Michael Oliver is an art form, jabs to the ribs synchronised with the turn of his back as perfectly as if this were a dance synchronised to music.  The official increasingly resembles a frantic supply teacher, the pitch of his voice surely rising steadily as he demands respect and receives none in consequence.

5- Not that we deserve a damn thing.¬† It’s easy to look to the significance of our absentees – the movement of Hughes, the power and dynamism of Doucour√©, even the authority of Cathcart though the defence does well enough in fairness.¬† But the guys left on the pitch needed to do better.¬† Worst of these is Deulofeu, who disappears up his own backside early on, can’t do a damn thing right and spends much of the game flouncing.¬† Ken Sema is in many ways his counterpoint…¬† equally prone to a bad decision, less able to rely on quick feet to compensate, far stronger of mentality.¬† He keeps going when Deulofeu would give up, shows for the next one, probably deserves better than to be hauled off for Isaac Success in the second half, much as this is the right decision.¬† Cleverley was a force for good at Palace but struggles here, a ferocious ball to the privates in the second half sums up his afternoon whilst the battle-hardened Phil Bardsley relentlessly forces Bobby Pereyra down the line and Pereyra relentlessly attempts to cut back onto his right foot anyway.¬† In such circumstances it’s slightly surprising that Pereyra and Sema didn’t swap wings to at least allow¬†Troy the possibility of¬†something to attack via a cutback from the byline.¬† It’s painful stuff.

5- So, yes, Burnley have the best chances after the first few minutes.¬† Troy forces Heaton into a stunning reaction stop on half time but against that the Clarets fluff two easy chances, Jeff Hendrick slips a ball agonisingly across the face of the goal in the early minutes and Ben Foster is forced into a number of decent stops.¬† If we’re looking for a straw to cling to it would be that “we would have lost¬† this last year” thing.¬† Except… we should have lost this one really.¬† Chris Wood’s late offside effort really wasn’t.

So we nod to Lady Luck and scramble off with a point trying to block out the sound of Sean Dyche bitching about referees (again).¬† And yet… and yet there¬†is a positive to come from today.¬† Of all the head coaches we’ve gone through since 2012 the two that you’d question the departures of would be Jokanovic and Dyche, probably.¬† Both vindicated by this season’s developments, I’d argue.

We’re left with the point.¬† Oh, and that enduring pride in our club and our community.¬† Seventh in the Premier League and Top of the World in reverse order of importance.


*Foster 4*, Femenía 3, Holebas 3, Kabasele 3, Mariappa 4, Sema 2, Capoue 3, Cleverley 2, Pereyra 2, Deulofeu 1, Deeney 3
Subs: Success (for Sema, 56) 3, Britos (for Femenía, 77) 0, Masina, Gray, Quina, Wilmot, Gomes


Crystal Palace 1 Watford 2 (12/01/2019) 13/01/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- So when I was at school, a boys’ school, football was What You Did at lunchtime, at break, before school. Hell, you caught an earlier bus than strictly necessary just to play before school, either with a tennis ball on the concrete or with a proper ball, or something resembling it, on the muddy field. Dom Ludden mocking my Watford-emblazoned contribution to the cause sticks with me for some reason.

But there was another kid.¬† He was an OK footballer, but not as good as he thought he was.¬† And he wanted to do it all himself.¬† Never passed to anyone, ran off with it, tried to beat everyone on his own.¬† Looking back on this now, I can only wonder whether he did so because he felt his chances of success were¬†better¬†that way (in which case he was a moron – not all the kids were as clumsy as me), or because he simply preferred to try and do it himself (in which case he was an arsehole).¬† Either way, he surely can’t have been surprised that all the other kids got a bit fed up with him spoiling the game and will surely have regarded him with disdain thenceforth.

2- Fast forward thirty-odd years and here we are, back at Selhurst Park.¬† Those of you familiar with this corner of Croydon will be unsurprised to learn that today is grey and overcast, though not so grey that it deters us from walking to the ground from East Croydon Station.¬† Pre-match food is somewhat bland, pre-match conversation involves someone suggesting that it’s a Good Thing that Luton appear to be on their way “back”, that what good are rivals if you never get to play them.

This is not a good start to the day, if a visit to Croydon can ever have a “good start”.¬† In the all too welcome absence from relevance of them up the road, Palace (and Bournemouth) are surrogate rivals but the anticipated spiteful raucousness is absent as the home stands are uncharacteristically timid.¬† Instead it’s the visitors making the noise, loudly commemorating the second anniversary of GT’s passing.¬† Fuelled by this event or otherwise, it’s as boisterous an away end as we’ve enjoyed for some time.

3- If the day has begun badly, the game’s start is almost perfect.¬† We’re at Palace’s throats before they’ve woken up to the fact that the match has started.¬† Gerard Deulofeu nutmegs Tomkins and he’s away;¬† his finish is too casual, beating Guaita but not the woodwork.¬† Impossibly, when the ball rebounds kindly into Bobby Pereyra’s path he finds the same woodwork when it seemed much easier not to.¬† Aggravated by his failure, Pereyra drives in from the left flank and is felled on the very edge of the area but gradually the fury recedes from our start.

Palace aren’t an easy side to play against.¬† They are, famously, blunt; there’s no cutting edge at all.¬† The side is slightly imbalanced, all the attacking threat coming down the flanks.¬† However they’re sound enough defensively, and with Milivojevic, Kouyat√© and McArthur in the centre of midfield they’re difficult to play through.¬† One imagines that they’ve had a few dull games of late, it’s very easy to look stodgy and uninspired against them, the more so if you make the mistake of falling behind.

The home side have gone on to enjoy the majority of possession in the first half without doing an awful lot with it.¬† They’re switching the ball from flank to flank, probing, but don’t look like scoring;¬† nor, in all honesty, do we after the early excitement.¬† Will Hughes, the only survivor from the cup win at Woking, hasn’t survived for long having apparently been battered in a challenge and taken off with concussion.¬† Ken Sema is on to acclaim, but it’s the scampering Deulofeu who provides such threat as we offer.

When Palace score it’s almost by default, a pitiful apology for a goal that arrives via attrition.¬† Not unsurprisingly it’s an own goal coming after repeated failures to clear conclude with Abdoulaye Doucour√© clearing against Cathcart and the ball rebounding in.¬† The memory of the visit here two years’ ago, won by Palace via an own goal after they registered no shots on target by their own steam, looms large.

4- The home stands wake up for the first time.¬† As the half ends and the second begins Palace respond and suddenly look confident and assertive.¬† Arron Win-Bissaka, comfortably the best player on the pitch, bombs down the right as the half closes and sends a ball across which just needs a touch but doesn’t get one.¬† ¬†This theme continues in the second period; it’s not that we’re hanging on, it’s not that one-sided, but we’re doing little more than holding our own.

To which end it’s worth recognising the defensive efforts of those involved. Both fullbacks are forced backwards by Palace’s wingplay but both are diligent, and Femen√≠a in particular, and against all expectation, does a fine and comprehensive job of subduing the notorious Zaha (who will later fashion an appalling miss all of his own at the far end, and get told to get the hell up by referee Tierney to the acclaim of the away end).¬† ¬†Ben Foster, meanwhile, is alert when Zaha capitalises on some sloppy possession as he grows into the game, and later produces a fine stop to deny Milivojevic.

Nonetheless, we’re second best at this stage, don’t look like equalising let alone turning it around, and are anticipating yet another miserable trip back through London after yet another congested, clunky game here which we’ve again managed to lose.¬† We’ve been here before, let’s face it, we’ve seen this game many times.

5- Until, midway through the half, we go off script.¬† Jose Holebas lines up a corner;¬† this is not a great source of excitement, we’ve had half a dozen of these without coming terribly close to scoring although in fairness to Holebas a couple of his crosses had hit fine spaces with nobody in them rather than merely being underhit.¬† On this occasion however a deep, deep delivery tempts out Wayne Hennessey, introduced from the bench following an injury to Guaita, and Cathcart redeems himself with a fine, fine header at the far post.

A bubble bursts.¬† Everything has suddenly changed, changed irrevocably, and everyone in the stadium knows it.¬† Every football fan knows the dangers inherent in giving it large too early, the risks in counting your chickens, and the home stands are very, very subdued as the taunts they’d been lobbing over come back with interest.¬† On the pitch we’ve grabbed the match by the throat and aren’t about to let go.¬† This is fuelled by the equaliser, but re-enforced by the introduction of Tom Cleverley who gives us a control in midfield that we never look like relinquishing.¬† We’d called this substitution five minutes earlier, but to be fair there are few circumstances in which introducing Tom Cleverley off the bench¬†wouldn’t¬†be a sensible thing to do.

And of course,¬†of course, there’s a crowning moment.¬† A glorious crescendo, a sucker punch.¬† It’s been coming;¬† Palace have been applying frantic and fairly aimless pressure, we’ve been screaming out at them.¬† An inhuman tackle from the covering Win-Bissaka has halted our progress on the right as we broke;¬† later Troy, who is back in beast mode, throwing himself at every aerial challenge, is denied by a last ditch block from the same player.¬† But there’s no denying Tom Cleverley.¬† A Holebas throw comes in, isn’t cleared, drops towards Tom on the edge of the area and is suddenly flying towards the top corner.¬† Cleverley, sent off in the dying minutes of this fixture last season and starting in the League for the first time since last January, heads for the corner flag followed by every one of his teammates.¬† In the stands, our support floods down the stairways to the detriment of anyone in their way;¬† ¬†the home stands have never looked more disconsolate.

6- It’s tempting to say that we would have lost this last season.¬† In fact we DID lose this last season.¬† And the season before.¬† And coulda, shoulda this time too.¬† But there’s more to us now…¬† good enough that our bad days aren’t¬†that¬†bad, good enough that when we flame on we’re irresistible, plenty enough to blow Palace, albeit a blunt, stunted Palace, right out of the sky.

The walk back to East Croydon is not unpleasant.¬† We grab a tea and as we arrive on the platform a delayed Bedford train is pulling in.¬† We don’t need to break stride as the doors open.¬† We’re seventh in the Premier League, in poll position for the Everton Cup, and today has been a very good day.


Foster 4, *Femenía 4*, Holebas 4, Mariappa 4, Cathcart 3, Hughes 3, Doucouré 3, Capoue 3, Pereyra 3, Deulofeu 3, Deeney 3
Subs: Sema (for Hughes, 19) 2, Cleverley (for Sema, 67) 4, Masina (for Pereyra, 87) 0, Britos, Quina, Success, Gomes