jump to navigation

Watford 2 Leicester City 1 (03/03/2019) 03/03/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
trackback

1- I was tempted to begin at the end.

That’s what we’ll remember, after all. Those of us that were here today. For all that there was plenty of backstory, for all that this was a potentially significant game, for all that there was plenty to enjoy in what was a throbbing, vital, bass drum of a contest. All the detail is lost in the flailing limbs.

But I won’t start at the end. Else why would you read the rest of it?

And the beginning, strictly speaking, is Tuesday’s management announcement in Leicestershire which confirmed that for the third home game in a row we would be facing a former boss. The third of the three home games this calendar year incidentally versus nine away of which only two defeats, a figure distorted by cup draws and Spurs’ stadium nonsense… but these statistics which highlight how well the present incumbent is doing and how the identity and history of the Other Bloke only matters up to a point.

Nonetheless. Brendan Rodgers. Much-travelled since his nine months or so here, nine months that pale into a footnote versus what’s happened to both parties since. Nonetheless, we remember. And for what it’s worth, a slightly half-arsed boo to the invitation to greet our former boss, followed by some gently mocking chants when we remembered feels about right. Ten years is too long ago for the Silva treatment and anyway that was never really comparable. Rodgers did a fine job when he was here, much of the reaction on his departure was fuelled by disappointment, much of the rest by his preponderance for putting his foot in his mouth, his almost total lack of self-awareness, the David Brent/Alan Partridge thing. But we know what a basket case the club was then. It isn’t now. Neither of these things are/were down to Rodgers. For what it’s worth, his greatest crime in my book remains boasting about Tommy Smith wanting to join him at Reading despite not having permission to talk to the player; that Smith chose to leave him, and his unveiling press conference, in the lurch and join Pompey only slightly assuaged the dejection of seeing the twice Player of the Season move on. Oh, and being the first Watford manager younger than me. By ten days. Nobody should have to deal with that at the age of only 35.

2- It’s cold. And wet. On the plus side, at least it feels like March, in contrast to much of February feeling like June. Whatever other crazy shit is going down in the world and despite my lack of a scarf the weather has, at least for a moment, got back on track.

It’s tempting, of course, to read too much into the Rodgers thing… he’s only been there a matter of days. Nonetheless, thinking back ten years or so and remembering his uncompromising, ideological, some might say ambitious, others might say fundamentalist to the point of stupid attempts to turn Aidy Boothroyd’s rather spartan approach upside down overnight it’s interesting to note that he’s moved to a back three straight away. Every time Wes Morgan is wheeled out against us it feels like surely, surely the last time.

So, we don’t know how Rodgers will turn out for City. But beyond dispute that this probably isn’t a bad time to being playing them, all things considered and the potential for post-Puel bounce notwithstanding. Actually I’d half expected a more venomous single-minded early assault that we actually delivered; from the far end it looked rather as if Leicester’s defence seemed to cave in on itself under minimal pressure. By the time Troy put us ahead on five minutes, a fine header to a whipped Deulofeu cross, City were already visibly tentative. Mariappa forced Schmeichel into a block, Deulofeu’s follow-up was also deflected away as Morgan, Evans and Maguire started giving out hand-written invitations to come and have a go. Twice free kicks were conceded needlessly in threatening wide positions, the second of which yielding the goal.

3- But that’s an experienced bunch of centre-halves and however optimistic the ask of them City pulled themselves together and started stringing passes along. I was slightly disappointed at our failure to hold on to the initiative, to pin City back and not let them settle, but then again City haven’t changed enough over a week to have forgotten how to be a counterattacking side and Jamie Vardy will always, as we’ll see, love big open spaces to run into. There is, in short, a reason that Javi Gracia is Watford coach and I’m just waffling into a blog.

It says something that the three on-target efforts of the first half all came in the first five minutes. That’s a slightly misleading statistic, since both sides threatened more than this suggests; balls across the box that just needed a touch, that sort of thing. Nonetheless, City had a five man midfield against Watford’s four (which is effectively a five given the Doucouré/Capoue engine in the centre, to steal City’s N’Golo Kanté trope) and it all got rather congested. Much of City’s play was in classic death-by-football territory, passing the ball around until somebody gave the ball away (often Ben Chilwell, source of plenty of both good and bad things but often subdued by a monumental first half from Will Hughes).

However the threat was growing. If there’s an argument in favour of VAR (and I remain unconvinced on balance) it’s the existence of the likes of Jamie Vardy… so quick and so direct that he will always provoke situations which require officials to make a decision that they almost certainly aren’t in a position to make. Whether and how often Vardy exploits this to his advantage is almost moot – at that speed all it takes is a touch. The referee was fooled at their place in December, I was fooled here as Mariappa tripped Vardy. I saw no contact, I was wrong.

Harry Maguire endeared himself here by ludicrously demanding a red card of the official despite Vardy being half a mile from the goal and heading towards the corner flag when felled. Shortly afterwards Mapps redeemed himself in part by vanquishing Maguire’s threat decisively at the far post to loud cheers all round, and then propelled himself well into credit with a superhuman goal-saving defensive header, clearing a vicious left wing cross off of the forehead of Jonny Evans. With five or ten minutes to the break the visitors were threatening for perhaps the only sustained spell in the game; by the time the whistle went everything had calmed down. It being lunchtime I went and queued for food in the concourse for ten minutes, made minimal progress and returned to my seat for the second half empty handed.

4- That City only managed that one spell of sustained pressure until they briefly kitchen sinked it at the end says an awful lot for the defensive shape of our side. Many have said that Mariappa’s failings, particularly in possession, make him a position to upgrade in this team. This may be true but without doubt you’d always choose to have him around as an option, since this was a disciplined defensive team performance that wasn’t high on weak links for City to exploit. Yes, they over-elaborated. No, they rarely looked terribly like scoring despite their second half possession. But passing like that will find chinks in the end if you don’t concentrate.

The wild card in the second half was the refereeing of Jonathan Moss. It should be emphasised that the standard of refereeing in the Premier League is extremely high. We’ve been victim and beneficiary of some bizarre decisions but very few poor performances in stark contrast to, for example, the 1999-2000 season (Rob Harris, Uriah Rennie, Andy D’Urso and co. Shudder). However Moss, on repeated occasions, seems to be a bit of a throwback; the sort of overweight short-sighted buffoon cartoon depiction of a referee you used to see in Shoot! cartoons when I were a lad. Here, as previously, his tendency to tie himself to the centre-spot and linger behind the play was peppered with an absolute refusal to give Troy anything, no matter where Harry Maguire stuck his arms or what he did with them reached a crescendo in the middle of the half. Troy himself was booked for a challenge on Schmeichel that seemed, on one look, to owe rather more to Schmeichel being a goalkeeper than to the severity of the challenge, whereas both Doucouré and Deulofeu had been crudely taken out in unsuccessful attempts to curtail the attack that had broken to that point in challenges that went uncensored.

Our own attacks fizzed briefly, but with greater threat. A bewildering move down the left resulted in City’s now more resolute defence once again at sixes and sevens as Doucouré slugged a shot that Schmeichel beat away. Holebas embarked on an heroic, buccaneering charge down the left that ended with a cutback that didn’t quite have enough on it to reach Troy but earned a grinning salute from the skipper anyway.

And then, as yet another appeal from Troy as Maguire climbed all over him was waved away, it happened. The excellent Tielemans picked out a pass, Vardy was off, Mariappa was on a card but wasn’t catching him anyway. One all. Difficult to argue, much as it felt as if Moss’ officiating neutered our attempts to dominate City’s backline.

5- Even without what followed, Troy was the Man of the Match. This is his sort of thing of course, a physical contest against foes that aren’t quite as superhuman as Virgil Van Dyk. He would go on to cement his position by conducting a post-match interview, often his most testing opponent, in which he dismissed Moss as a buffoon implicitly whilst explicitly praising his performance. A work of art. He’d earlier garnished his afternoon by cheerfully acknowledging the visiting support’s predictable and perhaps understandable greeting.

But otherwise, and his lack of support from the officials notwithstanding, this was Troy in full effect. A monstrous beast of a performance. For all the “you fat bastard” chants he looks lighter this year, lither and more mobile. But he’s still unplayable on this form, his form since the start of the calendar year. A fine afternoon’s entertainment despite perhaps limited quality was afforded new lustre as Kaspar Schmeichel’s careless throw was intercepted by Doucouré who fed Deeney. With his back to the goal inside City’s half, with a marker in close attendance and without looking he played a through-ball over his shoulder to the onrushing Andre Gray. A big scrapper yes, but a delicate footballer too, deceptively so, still. Gray, who hadn’t quite tuned in up to this point, raced away and scored a Vardy goal, slipping the ball under the goalkeeper.

And there you are. There you have it. You’d watch a whole season worth of shit for moments like this, moments where the world explodes in joy and bodies fly past in happy abandon and your vision is obscured by twinkly lights and disorientation. The backstory, the context, the level of football make no difference. If you’re invested in a team there’s nothing like an injury time winner, and even in that context this explosion of everything was a belter.

And it upholds a proud tradition, of course. There are many sides I’d wish ill on above Leicester, but we don’t half enjoy a late winner against the Foxes. There’s this one, obviously. But this one was decent too. Oh and this one. And remember this one…?

Andre Gray’s name was yelled from the Rookery post-match, not before time. A huge result this, absolutely monstrous. In the context of “The Everton Cup”… our next two League games are at City and United. Any points a bonus really, going into them off two defeats – Cup Quarter Final in between or otherwise – not great. But now? We go into those games four points ahead of West Ham. Six ahead of Everton, Seven ahead of City, Nine ahead of Bournemouth, Ten ahead of Palace. And after those two games? Five of our remaining seven games at home, and plausibly winnable.

What a time to be alive.

Yoorns.

Foster 3, Janmaat 3, Holebas 4, Cathcart 4, Mariappa 4. Hughes 4, Capoue 3, Doucouré 4, Pereyra 2, *Deeney 5*, Deulofeu 3
Subs: Gray (for Deulofeu, 69) 3, Cleverley (for Hughes, 90) 0, Masina, Kabasele, Quina, Success, Gomes

Comments»

1. ukmalc - 03/03/2019

And many kudos to the PA team for trolling Rodgers by playing Depeche Mode!

sptemple - 04/03/2019

I’ve seen a couple of comments along this line on Twitter. We always play that Depeche Mode track when we win – it’s a coincidence that Celtic play it too.

2. NickB - 03/03/2019

Great report; the paragraph starting ‘And there you are’ encapsulates perfectly why we all persist in bothering.
I’d argue, though, that the overall standard of refereeing in the PL is anything but excellent. Moss is far from alone in stinking the place out, with the likes of Mason, Friend and Probert snapping at his heels.

3. Magyhorn - 04/03/2019

We will have our fourth manager returning for the cup game, albeit as coach.
At times, I thought the treatment of Deeney was a milder form of the defensive tactics of Stoke, WBA and Leicester of a few yeas ago.

4. Joe Richardson - 04/03/2019

Great report as always. My only minor gripe is your 3 rating for Gray – he comes on with 20 minutes to go, gets 1 chance in injury time and takes it…surely warrants a 4 given the context?

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2019

Fair comment. But… had he not scored what would you have given him? If he’d not gotten that chance? Can’t ask more than clinically holding his nerve when it mattered true and perhaps a 3 is harsh. But I don’t think it’s clear cut.

5. Old Git - 04/03/2019

Before Sir Troy had even hooked the ball forward, Gray had already pressed the ‘boost the meson power’* button and was accelerating towards goal with astonishing pace, anticipating what Deeney would do and eliminating all possibility of a defenders challenge. It’s a cliché I know, but the mark of a goal scorer is that he gets into the positions where the chance will come. Its not that Gray simply held his nerve. He used his pace and enthusiasm and was already anticipating the chance before it had presented itself. So yes, it’s a 4. clear cut.

*meson power: an advanced acceleration device fitted on Galasphere 347 of the United Galactic Organisation.

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2019

I stand corrected…

6. MG99 - 04/03/2019

As always, a brilliant report, always a highlight for me post match day (almost regardless of result). However, nothing quite sums up the experience of the Vic quite like… “It being lunchtime I went and queued for food in the concourse for ten minutes, made minimal progress and returned to my seat for the second half empty handed.”

7. Old Git - 04/03/2019

Talking of which, this season’s sausage rolls are dreadful. How they can be both burnt AND tepid at the same time, baffles me. I’ve given up with them and have switched to having a hot dog. But they come without onions! Holy Jeez, hot dogs without onions, who thought that was a good idea?.
I used to quite enjoy the pasties of a few seasons back, but this current lot of ‘caterers’ does not provide them.

8. simmos - 04/03/2019

Are there three better words in the English language than “Injury Time Winner”? I think not.

9. John Smith - 04/03/2019

Another excellent report Matt. My only query would be the 3 marks
for Capoue. Thought he was exceptional especially in the first half.

Matt Rowson - 04/03/2019

oh don’t you start…

Actually that’s a fairer criticism than the 3 for Gray I think. It was me thinking “would I have given a load of 4s if we hadn’t scored a last minute winner”. But still wrong. Hey ho.

10. Harefield Hornet - 04/03/2019

Great win great report but……. What the hell was wrong with Bobby P yesterday? His body language for the whole game was unbelievable. I know there’s been periods before after he’s missed games through injury etc when he’s been subdued but yesterday was a different level of lethargy altogether? I’m one of his biggest fans but I had to agree with those around me who moan about him on a regular basis. Any ideas?

Old Git - 04/03/2019

Yes. He can’t get any onions on his hot dog. It upsets me, too.

11. Harefield Hornet - 07/03/2019

Apart from that!

Royston RoF - 08/03/2019

From where I was he did an awful amount of backtracking and defensive work due to the possible danger from Ricard their only true winger…look backwards as well as forwards…and because the left side was filled more with players the ball went to the right and allowed Hughes and Janmatt to take advantage of the spaces Chilwell was leaving by going forward


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: