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End of Term Report – Part 1 27/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Heurelho Gomes

Heurelho Gomes, baby.

I enjoy the routine of the twice-weekly general football podcasts.  The tendency of the one to cover the same anecdotes and curios as the other can get a bit wearing, but they pass the time.

Aggravating, though, how little attention they pay.  Really.  Shouldn’t be a surprise perhaps but… you know.  We’ve been in the top flight for four years, you’d hope that we’re worth more than a cursory glance.  One of the two managed to preview the Cup Final for a good ten minutes whilst mentioning the team that weren’t City only once.

So Heurelho Gomes still wears the mantle awarded during the tail end of his first team career at Spurs nearly eight years ago, still a slight intake of breath before mentioning his name.  This despite his since being part of a promotion-winning side, a squad that is about to go into its fifth season in the top flight, winning Player of the Season in that first, unlikeliest mid-table campaign. All of this in the shadow of his White Hart Lane career.

Whatever.  Gomes has been tremendous during his time at Vicarage Road, even if not enough people have been paying attention.  What looks likely to prove his final season has seen him step backwards into a backup/cup ties role.  It speaks volumes for him that not only has he done so with good grace, but he has clearly been hugely supportive of the man signed to take his place in what has been a tightly-knit goalkeeping sub-team of three.

Next Season:  It would be a shame if Gomes’ career was concluded with a 6-0 mauling in the Cup Final, and the club clearly hope to persuade him to stay on… even if the number of goalkeepers in The List suggests that we’re not counting on succeeding.

2- Daryl Janmaat

It seems slightly peculiar that not so long ago right back was deemed a problem position.  That we were convinced that Daryl was a wingback, that he wasn’t solid enough to be a proper defender.

Now… you might consider right back as a position where we could realistically upgrade but nonetheless, the real question is how we’ve managed to get away with keeping Daryl and Kiko in tandem for so long. Both probably better going forward, Daryl’s approach is the rhinoceros to Kiko’s fleet sidewinder… but similarly capable options in defence, the days when Daryl wasn’t solid enough all but forgotten.

Nonetheless, it’s been clear as the season has progressed that Daryl is the second in line of the two as it stands. Unreasonable to expect him to be happy at much especially since, like his teammate on the other side of the defence, he rarely looks happy about anything much.

Next Season:  Stories throughout the season have had Daryl first suggesting that he’d want to return to Feyenoord “at some stage”, and then that he’d be heading back this summer.  The cup final, in which he was confined to the sub’s bench, may have been a tipping point.

3- Miguel Britos

The funny thing about Miguel is that he’s always been on the way out.  Sent off on his debut against Preston three and a half years ago, a Uruguayan centre half is certainly a reputation to play down…  then the violent assault on Anthony Knockaert, the absolute skinning he took at Anfield in the stuffing-before-last up there.  Those are probably the things that stand out if you saw them live.

The latter particularly harsh of course.  Plenty of defenders have been skinned at Anfield without going into the game on the back of four months out of the side.  And yet if opinion didn’t turn against Britos he was certainly relegated to the role of backup pretty damn sharpish, despite what had been a solid enough career as a left-sided option to that point.

To the extent that Miguel’s thoroughly competent performances in his outings this season were viewed with some surprise… and indeed, made you wonder whether he’d perhaps been too quickly discarded.  Injuries have contributed, but he has made only three League starts since getting injured in the 3-0 win at Newcastle in November 2017: away to Liverpool, City and United, which is hardly an easy brief.  Otherwise he excelled in three away trips in the cup, each of which yielding a clean sheet and reminded you how brutally but unflashily effective he has been for much of his senior Watford career.

Next Season:  Which would now seem to be over, with Miguel’s contract about to end and him having been quoted as expressing a desire to return to Uruguay for family barbecues.  Which paints a picture of a regular down-to-earth guy;  best of luck to him.  It’s probably the right time, but we’re still the weaker for his departure.

5- Sebastian Prödl

Completing the opening quartet is another who could conceivably be on his way out.  It’s not his age – Seb will turn 32 over the summer.  It’s probably not the knee injury either, much as that seems to have kept him out for most of the season (or not, depending on who you believe) – his senior outings this term the win at Reading, plus 13 aborted minutes at Molineux, this in October his last action of any kind.

The real problem with Seb is that, much as he’s a strong centre-half he’s not much bloody use to you unless he’s a first choice.  Whilst he’s had some very strong spells at Vicarage Road – indeed, a very strong 2016/17 that saw him named Player of the Season – these very strong spells have exclusively been when he’s established in the side.  Almost without exception he’s looked a cumbersome mess coming off the bench, or stepping in after a long spell out.  As such, and pending any changes over the summer, it seems unlikely that he’ll work his way back into contention.

Next Season:  Not difficult to see Seb returning either to Austria or the Bundesliga over the summer.

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Helping Hands 2018/2019 23/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
6 comments

In the wake of Saturday it doesn’t hurt to look back on what has been a very decent season by any reasonable standards.  As in the previous eleven years of this article it’s an entirely selfish pursuit;  I enjoy watching all the goals again and compiling it, you probably know this stuff already if it’s your Sort Of Thing.  Nonetheless…  pausing only briefly to reiterate the generous definitions that I apply to an “assist” (the last pass, obviously, but also the shot that was parried for a follow-up, being taken down for a penalty, both the flick-on to a cross AND the cross itself, and so on) we continue….

The first name to pick out is of course the one at the top of the table, the magificent José Holebas.  Whilst the quality of our set piece deliveries is occasionally grumbled about there’s little doubt that a left back who can provide seven assists, “proper” assists mind… crosses and that…  not to mention three goals, a lot of charging up and down the flank like a loon and a whole load of yellow cards at the age of 34 is a fine, fine thing.

Just behind him Abdoulaye Doucouré is at a healthy 6, up from only 3 last season.  Significant, perhaps, that last season’s 3 came at the very end of the campaign under Javi Gracia, who has tended to field Capoue rather than Doucouré as the deeper sitting of the two central midfielders.

Gerard Deulofeu comes in at 5 having missed the first two and a half months of the season, despite which three of the five came before the turn of the year. Also on five Roberto Pereyra; all but one of his assists (and all of his goals) came in 2018 but while his goals were largely at Vicarage Road, all but one of his assists came away from home.

Further down the list, Étienne Capoue had his best assist tally of his four seasons at Vicarage Road despite holding down a deeper midfield role; his three assists compare to four in his first three seasons here.  Kiko Femenía meanwhile yielded a slightly disappointing two after none last year, a slightly disappointing return for his furious overlapping.

Otherwise, most notable are curios in the appearance list.  It astonishes me that Stefano Okaka made as many as three sub appearances before his return to Italy.  Tom Cleverley had his injury problems, but it’s still a little startling that he made fewer starts than Domingos Quina, similarly that backup left back Adam Masina managed practically as many starts as first teamer Andre Gray.

Will return soon with the End of Term Report.  Enjoy the summer…

 

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Holebas 7 31+1 3 BHA (H), BHA (H), TOT (H), TOT (H), CHE (H), CPA (A), TOT (A)
Doucouré 6 37+3 5 BUR (A), MAU (H), WOL (A), WOL (A), CAR (H), CAR (A)
Deulofeu 5 28+5 12 SOT (A), MAC (H), CAR (H), CAR (A), LEI (H)
Pereyra 5 36+0 6 EVE (A), EVE (A), WHU (A), WHU (A), CPA (H – FAC)
Hughes 5 37+3 3 FUL (A), NEW (A – FAC), EVE (H), CAR (A), FUL (H)
Deeney 4 32+5 11 BUR (A), CAR (A), LEI (H), MAC (A)
Sema 3 12+10 1 CAR (H), BOU (A), WOK (A – FAC)
Masina 3 15+5 0 REA (A – LC), HUD (H), WOK (A – FAC)
Gray 3 16+18 9 FUL (H), FUL (H), WOL (N – FAC)
Capoue 3 37+2 4 CPA (H), HUD (H), CAR (A)
Janmaat 2 20+2 0 CPA (H), SOU (H)
Femenía 2 27+7 1 TOT (A – LC), HUD (H)
Cleverley 1 6+11 1 QPR (A – FAC)
Quina 1 7+6 2 NEW (A – FAC)
Success 1 13+22 4 MAU (A)
Mariappa 1 25+7 0 TOT (A – LC)
Cathcart 1 40+1 3 CP (H – FAC)
Okaka 0 0+3 0
Peñaranda 0 1+1 0
Prödl 0 1+1 0
Navarro 0 3+2 0
Wilmot 0 4+2 0
Britos 0 5+1 0
Chalobah 0 7+6 0
Gomes 0 8 0
Kabasele 0 20+3 0
Foster 0 38 0

Check out the 2017-18, 2016-172015-162014-152013-142012-132011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents by clicking on the links.

The List 2019. 21/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
2 comments

The List.  Your summer record of players linked with the Hornets since the close of the January window, a list that will be kept up to date throughout the summer so bookmark if you Like This Sort Of Thing.  A very low bar of credibility is employed, but a mere “I think Watford should sign…” falls below it.  Previous windows’ lists linked at foot of article.

* Indicates player linked in previous windows

Running Total: 35

IN

Yacine Brahimi (Porto)*
Marcus Thuram (Guingamp)*
Enock Kwateng (Nantes)
Gustavo (Corinthians)
Lincoln (Flamengo)
Martinelli (Ituaro)                                                 – joined Arsenal
Goncalo Cardoso (Boavista)
Robert Skov (Copenhagen)
Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)
Noel Törnqvist (Halmia)
Josh King (Bournemouth)
Robin Olsen (Roma)
Harvey White (QPR)
Vincenzo Grifo (Hoffenheim)
Marko Malenica (Osijek)
Joe Allen (Stoke)
Pawel Bochniewicz (Udinese)
Birger Verstraete (Gent)
Mady Camara (Olympiacos)
Sergi Enrich (Eibar)
Jack Butland (Stoke City)
Pape Gueye (Le Havre)
Joe Lolley (Nottingham Forest)
Gian Marco Ferrari (Sassuolo)
Pedro Rebocho (Guingamp)
Kenny Lala (Strasbourg)
Remi Oudin (Reims)
Victor Osimhen (Wolfsburg)
Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield)
Cristian Zapata (Milan)*
Matt Clarke (Portsmouth)*
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Juanpe Ramírez (Girona)
Dorukhan Toköz (Beşiktaş)
Cristian Pavón (Boca Juniors)

OUT
Roberto Pereyra (Torino*, Milan)
Gerard Deulofeu (Milan*, Dortmund)
Tommie Hoban (Aberdeen)
Daniel Bachmann (Rangers, VfB Stuttgart, Hannover 96)
Jerome Sinclair (Oxford United)
Andre Gray (Rangers)
Dodi Lukebakio (Schalke, RB Leipzig, Lyon, Düsseldorf, Lille)
Alex Jakubiak (Bristol Rovers)
Tom Leighton (Celtic)
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Arsenal*)
Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord)

 

2019 January
2018 Summer January
2017 Summer January
2016 Summer January
2015 Summer

 

Manchester City 6 Watford 0 (18/05/2019) 19/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
39 comments

1- Amongst the early morning deluge of excited messages, my brother’s resonated the most.  9:30 am, “I’m here!  Erm… would anyone like a drink? (Got a bit excited and left Leeds at 4)”.  The rest of us weren’t due to be at the Railway in West Hampstead for another three and a half hours.

By which time it was rammed and unlike on our previous visit a month ago spillage onto surrounding pavements was not permitted, the first sign that Things Might Not Go Well.  It was cramped and uncomfortable, consistent with the prevailing nervous anxiety borne of anticipation of what could happen and fear of what might a few hours later.

But there’s people.  Some in sky blue, most in yellow. Strangers to share a snatched conversation, familiar people, people you’ve not seen for a while, for years, looming out of the past and sharing a word, smiling and pumping fists and then disappearing again.  Wembley Way (strictly, “The Olympic Way”), when we get there, is the same but more so.

The evangelical gentleman who looks like something from the Life of Brian, is still there hanging optimistically over a railing as he was prior to the semi final.  There’s more security here too;  more safety cordons, checks of tickets and bags that hadn’t been a complication last time and are rendered problematic by both the dissipation of our party (with me still in nervous custody of many tickets) and the Cup Final Ice Creams that Daughters 1 and 2 have demanded and which are still occupying hand space as we try to turn a carrier bag full of waterproofs into something not involving a carrier bag. Also, there’s Fuzz…

…who has dressed for the occasion and made relatively slow progress in consequence with multiple requests for selfies and media intrusion.  Next time Fuzz, get an agent.

As we make our way around the right hand side of the stadium, there’s no escaping that this is becoming rather familiar.  In part down to our (still) newly elevated status, in part due to Spurs, and in very large part due to the fact that the semi was played here too…  an exploitative nonsense that has almost become accepted and slipped behind other exploitative nonsense in the grand scheme of things.  On the subject of which, and whilst recognising that it can be painfully, lazily, stupidly easy to blame the woes of the world on a remote and intangible power-wielding entity (heaven knows…), it would be remiss not to acknowledge the disgraceful ticket prices.  Shameful.  It’s the Cup Final… it’s supposed to be a big deal, fine.  Demand is high, fine.  But that the girls’ season tickets cost a comparable amount to their cup final tickets for very decent but far from top priced seats speaks volumes about the organisational body’s sense of priorities (and that of our club, fair play to them).

2-  Abide with Me.  Anthem.  We’re at the front of the top tier, at “right back” in the first half.  As an aside, I’m advised that Z-cars got a couple of airings – during which time I was attending to assorted requirements including £2.50 for a half-litre bottle of water poured into a flimsy plastic pint glass, twice – but hurrah for that (Z-cars, not the exorbitant water).

And then, the football.

We knew it was a tall order.  No, we didn’t need to be better than Manchester City (budgets, payroll, blah blah), just to beat them on the day.  Nonetheless a tall order which, were it to be realised would need the little things to go for us.  So… most obviously, Pereyra’s chance.  We’ve started 4-5-1 and we look concentrated and organised…  yes, City are coming at us like a wave from the off but their attacks are breaking on the rocks of our defence, particularly the excellent Mariappa, and they begin to look a bit stodgy and immobile.  And then suddenly we get a break and Gerry’s off, and City are scrambling and – let’s not lose sight of this in the cloud of what’s to follow – we may not be in the same league as City but we’re still a bloody good side.  This is a devastating counter-attack, supremely executed as Pereyra has found space in the middle and Deulofeu finds him superbly.  And… there’s Ederson, out like a train.  We needed him to be asleep.  Or… we needed Pereyra to somehow flick the ball over the advancing keeper – that he didn’t is no failing, not really… it was a chance denied, not wasted, but we were going to need that to go for us.  We knew it at the time, much more so later as Guardiola would candidly acknowledge.  We score that, it’s a different game.

Then the penalty shout.  No, I don’t think it was a penalty either but it could have been, VAR or no VAR.  Kompany’s turning away from the ball but it’s not quite ball to hand.  It could plausibly have been given.  It wasn’t.  That’s another one we needed to go for us.  Doucs knows and reacts accordingly, you wonder whether this train of thought is going through the players’ heads too.

And then the opening goal.  No, not offside.  Felt it, felt like it might have been, wasn’t.  Yet another example of City’s merciless timing… right on the edge, pushing it to the limit, but onside.  And there’s a little push by Silva on Kiko – who should already have done better in an aerial contest – but nonetheless, a little push.  It’s critical, Kiko’s off balance briefly and doesn’t have time to recover.  But you don’t get those, certainly not today.

3- The first possible criticism is the apparent lack of aggression.  If you’re the underdog, if you’re in this situation then you surely want to give it some welly.  To get stuck in, to win the 50/50s.  Lack of physical competitiveness has rarely been a criticism levelled at this Watford side but… it is here.  As we rock on our heels at a second goal, expertly crafted and cruelly on top of the first it’s only Gerard Deulofeu of all people who’s getting stuck in… and briefly you’d really rather he didn’t as his waspish energy is frustrated, badly directed and precarious.

In balance, however…  that criticism has to come with caveats.  There was a clear game plan for one thing, a good one.  Sit deep, keep your shape, smother.  Jumping into tackles looks good but players with feet this quick will exploit the holes you leave behind when the challenge is dodged by a quick pass or slight of foot.  Hell, look at what happens later in the game when we push on a bit.  So…  yes.  You’d have hoped for more bullying.  More doing something to upset City.  But let’s not pretend that this was a magic bullet, that but for this everything would have been different.  There was a reason for us setting up as we did – good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes, least of all against this lot.  The half ends with a show of defiance from the wonderful Holebas, who is robbed when trying to play an inswinging cross from the right and briefly we’re in trouble again… until he snarls into a challenge to critically reclaim possession having hared a third of the length of the pitch.  We’re rallied by this.  In my pocket however, misplaced during the cordon complications described earlier, the lucky chocolate has all melted.

4- The other possible criticism is that we played it too open in the second period.  That by moving from 4-5-1 to, effectively, 4-3-3 we surrendered the initiative to City, that we made it too easy for them to rip us apart on the counterattack which they promptly did.

Again, I’ve got some sympathy with the decision.  Yes, it was high risk and no, it patently didn’t work.  But for fifteen minutes of the second half we were on top, the more assertive side.  Will Hughes is scurrying everywhere, Gerry is making great sweeping runs from right to left across the face of the defence who scatter like ninepins, Troy is suddenly winning every aerial challenge.  Slightly dazed, someone whispers that City’s defence really isn’t very good, is it?  You know, good at defending?  Which sounds perverse, but… frankly they don’t need to be very good.  You’ve got to get the ball first for one thing, then you’ve got to hold onto it under the manic midfield pressing.  But if you get past that lot… they’re fallible.  Genuinely fallible.  And this is why going on the front foot is the only option.  Against perhaps any other side you’d say “look, 2-0 and we’re not out of it.  Keep it tight, grab a goal, game on”.  Here, though… you rather fancy that it was a choice between losing 3-0 and the outside possibility of tipping the balance with a high risk of things going very wrong.  And we know what happened.  But I’m pretty comfortable with the decision, still…  it’s still 2-0 after an hour and we’ve made City look uncomfortable.

4- And then they score again.  And it’s de Bruyne, out of nothing, on the break.  And it’s cruel, and what follows feels kind of inevitable, so we’ll draw a curtain over it.

Except.  Except.  Except that at 5-0, something remarkable happens.  We’ve been loud, in general, and in defiance of the scoreline.  Louder than a month ago, louder than City, the grim memory of the Palace play off now surely dismissed.  Because at 5-0 the songs start to thunder and the flags start to wave  and suddenly the away end is a torrent of yellow and red as flags get frantically waved.  I destroy two, the second of which floats down to the posh seats below as it detaches from its pole. It’s breathtaking and emotional.  All clubs boast that they have “the best support”… I’ve got a Sheffield Wednesday supporting mate who genuinely believes that the Owls’ nineteen-year absence from the top flight is the result of a conspiracy borne of the establishment’s fear of the insurmountable advantage offered by the Hillsborough crowd.

But this isn’t about “best”.  This isn’t about anyone else.  This is about pride in who and what we are, pride in what the team has achieved relative to precedent and expectation, and – most of all – about the fact that the result of one game doesn’t affect that.  As per the preview piece winning is important, but it’s very far from everything.  It’s not even the most important thing.

Digressing slightly, the same goes for Manchester City.  Better informed people than me have written extensively on the questionable source of City’s largesse.  The morality of it, the cleanliness of it, the within-the-rulesness of it.  And it’s clear that many City supporters have reacted incredibly defensively to this which… is wrong, in itself.  You should at least be able to question things objectively.  But the critical detail is in what it is that you actually support.  If some malevolent psychotic took over Watford in the future… not a Bassini, someone far far worse…  you would be uncomfortable with it, you would withdraw your custom in extremis.  But…  you’d still believe in that thing, that whatever-it-is that you support which remains unsullied by association with idiots or crooks.  The same goes for City, irrespective of what you believe of their ownership.  Their fans might revel in the magnificence of the team, but independent of that they believe in a Thing, their Thing.  Quite right too.  It transpires (see below) that the defiance in the Watford end, which continues unabated throughout the sixth goal, is met with a standing ovation from the Sky Blue end.  Well done everyone, the 1881 not least.

5- It takes bloody ages to get out.  I miss our medals, and the trophy, as daughter 2 has an urgent requirement… karma has long since left the building, but nonetheless she’s pretty desperate.  A fair old slog later we’re getting on a Thameslink train at West Hampstead in need of somewhere for a quiet, brief sulk.

So being greeted by loud cheers from three beered-up fifty-something Luton fans on the adjacent table was something that we could have done without.  In the event it could have gone far worse… one of them even passed on the Cup Final programme that he’d acquired from somewhere to daughter 2, whilst awkwardly warning me to erase the expletives that adorned the yellow-and-black side of the cover.  They exited at Luton Airport Parkway, and we finally got our quiet sulk.

But really…  is there that much to sulk about?  Being Watford’s a fine thing, even if we did get humped in the Cup Final.  We’re stable, secure.  Mid-table in the top flight of all things, going into our fifth consecutive season at the top table.

And “another 35 years”?  That kind of logic only holds any water if you believe this to be a random process.  Like… the roll of a dice, the toss of a coin.  A chance event determined only by probability.  That’s not reality, our relative success, undoubted success compared to our historical peers, isn’t random… it’s based on the decisions and the actions of all sorts of very good, very competent people.  All of these things change the odds, affect the outcome.

We didn’t win this time.  Next time might be different, and it might be soon.

Enjoy the summer.

Yooorns.

Gomes 2, Femenía 3, Holebas 3, Cathcart 3, Mariappa 4, *Hughes 4*, Doucouré 3, Capoue 3, Pereyra 2, Deulofeu 3, Deeney 3
Subs: Success (for Pereyra, 66) 3, Gray (for Deulofeu, 66) 2, Cleverley (for Hughes, 73) 2, Janmaat, Masina, Kabasele, Foster

Something for the Weekend 16/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

1- No, I didn’t do one for bloody West Ham.  Partly because it was Sunday and then Monday and stuff.  Partly because, well, you know.  Because it was a miserable end to the League season, a League season that deserved rather better than for us to slip into the bottom half at the death having spent most of it comfortably in the top.  One point ahead of Crystal Palace, I ask you.

I’d made two crucial errors beforehand, incidentally.  One was to venture the opinion that Chris Kavanagh was one of the best refs in the top flight, based on a handful of games’ exposure so far (I think I’d still stand by that, shoot me).  The other, when an ever more curious Daughter 1 enquired who the worst ref I’d ever seen was was to explain Roger Milford to her without a moment’s self consciousness or apprehension.

Goes without saying, largely because you’ve surely already said it, that the lifting of José’s suspension was the moment the mood turned.  That it suddenly felt as if fate wasn’t loading the bases against us. That’s great, that José can play, the mad bastard. Whatever happens. Then when the Tube strike was cancelled the stars really began to align.  Now we all believe again, wholeheartedly.

2- So, 1984 then.  I remember some stuff.  Granddad queuing up for tickets while we waited in Germany.  Some lads pushing in in front of him, he missed out.  Don’t know whether I remember that, or whether I remember remembering it.  Anyway… Tom Walley called round to apologise on behalf of the club.  Granddad stayed affronted.  Don’t know what happened to that stubborn gene by the way.

We got tickets in the end, I was with my mate Andrew behind one goal.  Eating very salty crisps that had been mashed to smithereens in transit.  On the way, the tube had been yellow, obviously.  Then an Everton fan, a lone Everton fan, got on somewhere and in self-deprecating fashion started an Everton chant to predictable but good-natured response.  No twitter in those days to polarise opinions, no keyboard warriors.  If you had a barney with someone you didn’t send him a pithy or abusive message, you punched him in the face.  Probably.

There was some very odd pre-match entertainment that involved two remote controlled planes, one yellow, one blue, each trying to knock the aerial off the other.  The blue plane won.  And I remember both goals being down in front of us but…  that can’t be right…

And since?  Well.  Mum and Dad would use the day’s starting eleven as a gauge of quite how bad my diabetic hypoglycemia was.  Not sure why.  I could get as far as Paul Atkinson (on for Price, 58 minutes) while my arms shook and my legs gave way.  And the digits “1984” have been in stock use as go-to components of low security passwords and access codes since, well, 1984 I guess.

But not any more, I guess.  The day after tomorrow.  Blimey.

3- The quite magnificent From the Rookery End pondered this week what would happen if we, you know, actually win? What is there left to play for, to aim at, once you’ve realised perhaps the peak of your ambition… Cup winners, Europe?

There’s the midweek trip to Cluj or Helsingborgs or Salzburg of course. There’s that. But beyond that… and here’s the thing, and I’ve banged on about this before so please indulge me… I think the old chestnut, the Radio 5 favourite, “fans just want to watch their team win” is utter nonsense. Fans do want to watch their teams win, of course they do, but more than that…

Fans just want to watch their team. Period.  Has watching Watford suffered from the fact that we’ve not won a major trophy?  Sure, we all want that but… if it was all about the winning we’d have packed this in long ago.  If watching football was all about the football, well…   a lot of it has been crap, frankly.  Less so over the last few years, sure.  But…  folk watch lower division football, non-league football.  There are fewer of them per team, in general, sure.  But they don’t care any less.

So the things that we cherish about Watford will still be there (“including Z-cars, hopefully”, he mutters under his breath).  People, places, smells, sights, sounds.  Feelings, memories. “Watfordness”…  Dad relates how, stranded at university in 1970 he wrote to Ron Rollitt pleading poverty and asking for help in getting to the Semi against Chelsea.  Rollitt sent him a ticket.  “Pay me back when you can, son”. That. That’s what we return to, win or lose.  Hurrah for that.

4- Manchester City, though.  They’re a bit good.  Having said all of the above, my word of course we want to win, of course the very possibility is thrilling.  But, you know, Manchester City.  Retained the league title with a stupid number of points.  An almost balletic team at times, so in sync that their goals are calibrated to be on the very edge of offside, timed to perfection.

Here’s one thing.  There have always been good teams, and there have always been teams that have had more money than other teams.  No, not always this good.  No, not always this much money.  But in general terms it was ever thus.  City are the 1980s Liverpool, the 1990s United.  And, you know.  Wimbledon.  Southampton, grey kits and that.

Here’s another thing.  In life there’s stuff you can do something about.  There’s stuff you can’t do something about.  So…  and here’s the trick….  the things you can’t do anything about, you don’t worry about.  So City are good.  Fine, whatever.  The things you can affect, you affect, and then you stop worrying.  Back to Troy’s maxim in this magnificent club compilation – and yes it really is worth half an hour of your time, even if it’s got Dave in it – that what upset him about Palace 2013 was not the losing, not really.  It was the not turning up.

So let’s turn up.

5- Because, you know.  What if we win?  Yes, we’re underdogs.  But at least we’re that.  Any club in the country would love to be that right now, certainly Wolves who, whatever your attitude after three eventful games will be watching on nervously, telling themselves that this is something they can’t affect, because they can’t affect it, but worrying anyway.

It’s in our hands.  We can affect it. And if we win.  If we win.  Where will you be?  Me?  Near the front of the top tier.  With daughters 1 and 2.  Dad.  My brother Will.  ig, Loz, Paul, the Irish mob.  Bacon, Sarah, John, Lowenna, Fuzz.

Going absolutely mental.  Shouting my head off.  Making new memories.

Bring it on.

 

 

Chelsea 3 Watford 0 (05/05/2019) 06/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
9 comments

1- This is going to sound absurd… but I’m beginning to wonder whether a lifetime’s worth of accumulated superstition has really got very much going for it.

I know, I know.  I’ve been turning the rational arguments over and over inside my head…  “It would have been so much worse if I hadn’t…” and so forth.  And logic dictates that this must true.  Nonetheless…  when a day’s dutiful parentage on Saturday in deliberate avoidance of football scores is rewarded by watching Wolves and bloody West Ham win on Match of the Day in an abandoned, darkened living room at midnight.  When the carefully measured decision to walk from Blackfriars to Stamford Bridge on the south bank of the Thames for the most part (the north bank walk having been unrewarded by our FA Cup defeat four years ago) is met with such a disappointing outcome.  Ditto lucky hornet socks, lucky Pretenders t-shirt.

When lucky half-time lucky chocolate, that most dependable of precautions, is rewarded by an unheralded burst of both energy and goals from our hosts at the onset of the second half…  well.  You have to begin to wonder how much influence one has on the outcome of a football match after all.

I’m sure I’ll regain some perspective by next week.

2- To be fair, and as was reflected by a venerable Chelsea panel in the tube afterwards, we started the game as unlike a side preoccupied with the Cup Final as it’s possible to imagine.  We were lively, assertive and direct, pinning the home side back with some verve and energy.

Troy helps, of course.  Troy always helps.  Pre-match speculation considered the possibility that he’d been kept in a cage for a fortnight, fed on raw meat and forced to ponder the consequences of his reckless if harshly punished forearm swing.  Either he was going to pummel Chelsea’s threadbare defence into the ground or get himself sent off (again).

Actually he did neither, but this was still a dominant 45 minutes for the centre forward.  The first chance, his flick on to Deulofeu who drove wide, was painfully easy against a flabby, dozy Chelsea and he had the beating of Christensen in the air for most of the game and certainly the half.  The footnote, as ever, is that we didn’t capitalise on our early superiority, as you’ll have noticed… a recurring theme against the top sides.  Set aside that spanking at Anfield and the win over Spurs and you have ten games (ten!) that to varying degrees has seen us compete in a close game that we’ve lost anyway.  Certainly Stamford Bridge regulars will have enjoyed our visits in recent years… everybody likes a plucky loser, this the third game on the trot here that we’ve worn that mantle.

Troy’s best attempt was the closest we came to altering that narrative, a short corner routine working the ball back to the lurking Holebas, whose near-post missile found Deeney’s forehead.  It wasn’t just top corner it was past the goalkeeper, until he athletically clawed it onto the post by, unconventionally, reaching up to it with his “furthest” left arm from underneath it.  A fine stop.

3- Meanwhile, Nathaniel Chalobah has finally engineered a start and fittingly it’s at Stamford Bridge whose denizens greet him almost as appreciatively as we do and applaud him off on his substitution an hour or so later (but see “plucky loser” note above).  It’s easy to forget that the Doucouré/Chalobah midfield partnership was the foundation of our fine start under Marco Silva last season (Caps managed only half an hour off the bench before Nate’s knee injury) and here, finally, it was resurrected.

And not quite to the same devastating effect.  Nate is more than adequate on the ball… tidy, efficient, and with an ability to take a touch and launch a quick and wrong-footing pass that only he had spotted that is unparalleled in our squad.  Off the ball however…  Capoue is a daunting benchmark to measure him against, but too often he was found chasing an escaping opponent as the home side gradually came into the match in the last fifteen minutes of the half.  Marco Silva’s early midfield had the ferreting Tom Cleverley at its apex too of course; Nate’s been out a while but the pairing looked less robust than we have of late.

Chelsea had provided threat on the break earlier in the half.  Mapps capped a strong 45 minutes with a sturdy challenge to deny the rotund Argentine, his near-post block even denying a corner.  As the home side asserted more control it was Ruben Loftus-Cheek, an early sub for the injured Kanté, who drove them on but although your heart was in your mouth whenever Hazard picked the ball up we were largely comfortable.  Only Pedro’s late sledgehammer of a shot caused palpitations;  we were buoyant at half-time after good halves from the bubbly Hughes and the assertive Femenía in particular.

4- I tempted fate at the break by tweeting about how much fun we were all having.  Five minutes in and we weren’t having fun at all;  a visibly more energised, vigorous Chelsea side engineered a couple of set pieces and suddenly the game was disappearing over the horizon.  So unwarranted and so frustrating.  Unwarranted… not because you don’t deserve to concede goals when you don’t pick people up at set pieces but more because this miserably indolent Chelsea side and similarly dozy support had done so little to earn it whilst our best efforts went unrewarded.  No, I know that’s not how it works.

Again, there’s an angle which says “so we binned it.  At 2-0 down we shrugged and let our minds drift forward a couple of weeks”.  I didn’t see that. No lack of effort anyway, no lack of commitment on or off the pitch; a couple of minutes of sulking and we were back at it.  Certainly Abdoulaye Doucouré has had better games, games that didn’t involve him being quite so slack with possession.  Certainly Will Hughes was less impactful in the second half than the first; that’s a recurring theme though, one that pre-dates the semi final and that doesn’t generally include a running spat with Marcos Alonso that a lesser referee than the excellent and unfussy Tierney might have penalised.

But no lack of effort.  Just effectiveness.  And frankly nothing we didn’t already know here… our midfield, shorn of its most effective component, still looks excellent, our full backs are tremendous, our attacking play has lots of nice things going for it but a clinical touch isn’t one of them… Deulofeu shoots narrowly wide, Jose Holebas bundles across the area before slugging over with his weaker right foot.  And certainly we could do with strengthening at centre half, where the dependable Craig Cathcart is suddenly less so for the first time this season;  giving Higuain the half-hour’s head start required to get beyond you takes some doing, his finish was exemplary and then, yes, our heads did drop.  When the mercurial Pereyra slung a cross in only for our own man to block it inadvertently on the line and subs Success and Gray contrive to get an offside call out of turning in the rebound, you knew it wasn’t our day.

5- I’m minded to think back to Sven-Göran Eriksson’s World Cup campaigns in 2002 and 2006.  Not that, in the grand scheme of things I cared all that much… I mean, give me the choice between an England World Cup win and the consequent witless nationalistic outpouring and, you know, Watford winning a throw-in in a pre-season friendly and the throw-in is in strong contention.

Nonetheless.  Both campaigns saw England knocked out in the quarter finals and thus having come somewhere between fifth and eighth in the World, and both were presented and reported as failures, at least in the immediate aftermath.  Patently nonsense.  Patently grotesequely oversimplified nonsense, as if there really is nothing but winning and (anything less than winning equals) losing.  Quarter Final defeat was not what had been hoped from a strong squad but it was no worse than par.

The same is true here.  It was already clear before today that we weren’t going to finish seventh, but seventh was merely the peak of our ambitions in the League this season and not making it doesn’t make it a failure.  Even ignoring that May 18th thing, mid-table in the Premier League and all the fun we’ve had on the way isn’t a bad place to be.

Which doesn’t mean it’s enough.  Doesn’t mean we’re bashfully appreciating our seat at the big table, still grateful for the crumbs being thrown our way. But there’s space for recognising progress.  After all, to get too het up about losing seventh place, let alone losing to Chelsea, would suggest that we believed that this was an isolated opportunity.  That our club’s presence in the top half all season is as anomalous and inexplicable as much of those commenting with their fingers up their backsides believe it to be.

That the club isn’t being run by people who will continue to build and nurture it along its current trajectory.

Ha.

Yooorns.

Foster 3, *Femenía 4*, Holebas 3, Cathcart 2, Mariappa 3, Hughes 3, Doucouré 3, Chalobah 3, Pereyra 2, Deulofeu 3, Deeney 4
Subs: Cleverley (for Chalobah, 67) 2, Gray (for Deeney, 83) 0, Success (for Deulofeu, 83) 0, Janmaat, Kabasele, Masina, Gomes