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Watford 1 West Ham United 3 (24/08/2019) 25/08/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- It’s two’o’clock in the afternoon and the sun is shining.  Properly shining.  The girls have grabbed ice creams in addition to their lucky chocolate, well drilled now…  to say “straight in, straight out” would be stretching it, but it’s certainly a focused operation.  This is what the first day of the season should have been like…. so perhaps this is effectively where the season starts.  Brighton was soporific but there were distinct signs of life last weekend and nowbelatedly we’re going to get going.  Routines had been experimented with.  Different choice for lunch.  New away shirt sported for the first time. Here we go.

Three hours later and things look very much grimmer. The heat is now oppressive, sticky, lethargic.  We’ve played indisputably the best football we’ve played this season, and we’ve lost by two clear goals.  For the first time since promotion, we’re in trouble.

2- As an aside, it’s a tremendously entertaining game of football.  Wide, wide open from the start.  Too open, perhaps.  But very watchable.  In another situation, mid-table half-way through a season say we might even take some pleasure even from a 3-1 home defeat.  Not here.

It’s a poor challenge, the challenge that gives a penalty away three minutes in.  Lanzini isn’t going anywhere, Doucouré is clumsy and stupid but that wasn’t the half of it. An unremarkable West Ham attack had already pulled the defence around, people in the wrong place and suddenly scurrying to cover and hoping someone’s doing the job they should have been doing. Noble sent Foster the wrong way. An awful start, you can look at the skies and curse our luck but this didn’t have a lot to do with luck.

3- There’s resilience at least. The 1881 lead a show of defiance, and whatever our other failings on the pitch (we’ll come to those) we don’t slink into our shells. Deulofeu is suddenly clean through after a long pass clears an attempt at a clearing header. He’s attentive enough to anticipate the error but hesitates in pulling the trigger permitting a recovering challenge.

We’re level within fifteen minutes though, a rapier of a goal. Deulofeu has been scurrying all over the pitch and will continue to be the instigator of much of what we do well at the top end… he feeds Hughes who plays in one of his lovely round-the-corner passes and Gray’s strike is vicious and precise.

From there we improve in that we become increasingly assertive, winning the territorial battle. The scores are level, in fact, for half of the game and as we launch into the second half there are echoes of our most irrepressible form of last season, swarming over our visitors and occasionally threatening to overwhelm them. Deulofeu, the dynamic Cleverley and Gray all have chances but perhaps the best, early in the second half comes when Deulofeu (again) feeds Gray who does well to drive across goal. Hughes is attacking the far post… he’s there, nobody else is, it’s not a trivial chance with the ball flying across him. But he should have scored.

4- If that goes in we win the game, I think, and probably go on and score more goals given the weapons on the bench.  So in essence, we do a lot of things quite well. The problem is with the rest of it. The finishing is oft mentioned in dispatches and its beyond question that the amount of attacking possession we engineer is poorly rewarded by very few attempts on target. For me this is a lack of confidence more than a fundamental problem with personnel or their abilities. The hesitancy, the not quite wanting to be the one who takes the shot is symptomatic of that.

The defensive vulnerability is a far bigger problem. And it is a problem, since even through our better periods of the game we look horribly vulnerable to a counter-attack that provides West Ham with good chances based on less possession in dangerous areas.  Our midfield is famously narrow, but here it’s an exaggerated version of itself.  Perversely, those four – Doucouré, Capoue, Cleverley, Hughes – are a tough old bunch.  You’d fancy them to provide a defence with cover.  The flipside is that Kiko and Holebas are asked to do everything down the flanks.  A recurring theme is for Kiko to be caught upfield, Dawson to charge across to cover and the whole defence to be pulled apart.

It’s tempting to point the finger at Dawson, the new face, or at his fledgling partnership with Cathcart but in truth neither play particularly badly as individuals.  Dawson may not be the significant trade up on Kabasele or Mariappa that we’d been hoping for, he’s certainly less mobile than either but he’s not a bad defender;  Holebas and Foster may be getting older, but this isn’t a defence that’s markedly worse than a defence that almost got us into Europe last season.

Perhaps there’s an element of teams working out how to combat our narrow midfield.  Perhaps there’s an element of doubt… certainly the body language is unconvinced and unconvincing, the camp doesn’t look happy within itself as much as with results.  Perhaps a forward line with more of its big hitters available and fit would take the pressure off the back line a bit.  Perhaps all of these things.

But you fear for Javi as it stands.  An eminently likeable man, he looks a little bit lost at the moment for all that there’s been sliding doors incidents that mighta coulda turned either of the last two games.  Opponents know that they can get at us and that the resilience, the belief, isn’t there to resist it, and that our narrowness is increasingly being exploited.

5- So West Ham score.  And it’s one of those, a break down West Ham’s left, flimsy defending, Haller taps in.  There’s more anger this time, anger because whatever the Hammers attacking capabilities we’ve given away yet another avoidable goal.

Meanwhile, an aside, Jose has picked up his first booking of the season for what looks rather like payback on Michail Antonio.  Two home games ago the same referee sent off the same player for a challenge on the same opponent at the same end of the pitch, a challenge that was so much less consequential than this one as to have been non-existent.  Mercifully the red was rescinded, Holebas played in the final and this bit of retribution passed almost without comment as if expected and accepted.

Kavanagh was getting all kinds of stick from the frustrated stands by now, for trivial inconsequential nonsense like not forcing subbed players off at the nearest juncture.  Actually his most significant error was probably to miss the clear handball by a Watford player that should, given latest zero-tolerance interpretation of the handball role (if not by any sane one), have given the Hammers a second penalty shortly before we’d equalised.

Our superiority prior to going behind again had almost pleaded for the introduction of Sarr;  raw pace (we understand) to test tiring legs, full back being the Hammers’ weakest position. The caveat being “subject to fitness”…  and it’s 20/20 hindsight to make that judgement on Javi’s behalf, to say “he should have been on earlier”.  In any event, Sarr and Welbeck are soon stripped off and ready to come on, their introduction only delayed by a series of corners providing the only breaks in play, during the course of which West Ham conclude the game.

Sarr’s first touch in a Watford shirt is even worse than Welbeck’s at Everton last week, his first shot crashes into the ample target that is Declan Rice at close range but otherwise he looks lively; clever, strong, confident.  Welbeck struggles to get involved but is alert, alive, moving all the time.  Dom Quina comes on against his former club and gets hold of the ball, a bright cameo but the game is already up.

It’s not all bad.  A lot of it’s good. But the things that are bad are pretty bad.  Against Coventry and Newcastle we need a result, by any means necessary because the confidence and the polishing of the edges will follow.  Javi needs this more than most.


Foster 3, Femenía 2, Holebas 2, Cathcart 3, Dawson 3, *Capoue 4*, Doucouré 3, Cleverley 3, Hughes 3, Deulofeu 4, Gray 3
Subs: Welbeck (for Deulofeu, 74) 3, Sarr (for Hughes, 74) 3, Quina (for Cleverley, 87) 0, Janmaat, Kabasele, Chalobah, Gomes


1. Robert Hill - 25/08/2019

It seems to me that West Ham love coming to the Vic. Last season it was 4-1, and now 3-1. And yet we have had some favoured results at the London Stadium. I thought we played well, created good opportunities, but we could not find the net. We need to get some consistency, especially at home. I would say we have not played badly in our 3 fixtures, yet got done. I can’t put my finger on it at the moment. We have not defended too well this season at home, but thought we did ok at Everton. I feel something is not right but I can’t put a finger on it. Time will tell I guess, but we do need to put some points on the Board quickly.

2. Harefield Hornet - 25/08/2019

The most worrying aspect is the fixtures we have coming up in September . And getting anything at Newcastle isn’t guaranteed. As I write this they’re 1-0 up at Spurs. Don’t usually like singling people out but I thought Femenia was particularly poor yesterday. The Defence needs reorganising and quickly – perhaps reverting to a 5 may buy us some stability?

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2019

I think Femenía was exposed repeatedly, but as in the report it’s a function of how much you’re asking him to do also. He was all of our width down the right hand side, he was always going to get caught behind.

3. PEDantic - 25/08/2019

I would argue that Dawson and especially Cathcart did play “particularly badly” in defending against the second goal. However the form of both full-backs has been significantly worse than last season. Maybe this could be rectified by a change of formation, I don’t know.
Making substitutions when defending a corner is not in fashion but, having let West Ham off the hook when we were on top at 1-1, the subs should have come on as soon as we went behind, if only to boost morale and slow West Ham’s momentum.
Sarr and Welbeck must play a significant part of the Cup game on Tuesday and be ready to start at Newcastle.

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2019

As above, a function of how much you’re expecting them to do. The full backs are asked to do a lot, often get caught and Dawson/Cathcart are asked to do all the tidying up.

And the subs thing really is 20/20 hindsight. I agree that I’d have wanted Sarr in particular on earlier but we don’t know how fit he was. Presume the mooted Janmaat sub was to allow Femenía to push up, but maybe it’s a question of Janmaat early or Sarr late and he ummed and aahed. Agree about Tuesday.

PEDantic - 25/08/2019

I’ve always been of the view that, if a player is not fit to play as long as is required, he shouldn’t be on the bench at all.

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2019

Chicken, egg. How do Sarr and Welbeck reach match fitness?

4. NickB - 25/08/2019

Very succinctly put; in the tme-honoured phrase, we’ll play worse and win, but for all our clever movement we looked horribly naive at the back and couldn’t match West Ham’s threat around the eighteen yard box.
One thing that properly drove me mad was the ear-splitting half-time adverts; give it a rest, chaps.

5. Andy - 25/08/2019

The managers inept decision at substitutions is a real concern, he was bringing on Janmaat when they scored there second. Too late. It’s not all his fault, the boards lack of backing in the transfer market is gonna bite us on the arse. Welbeck was a free agent from the 1st
July and yet he is not signed along with Sarr to the last couple of days of the transfer market. We all knew they needed to invest in a defence and yet they bring in only Dawson! I would like to see Girraldi (apology if spelt wrong) held accountable along the elusive Pozzo who can only speak through Duxbury….

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2019

Lack of backing? We smashed our transfer record, and are in our fifth season in the Premier League having not had any kind of relegation scrap (until now). If we’re “holding Giraldi accountable” then I think he’ll be coming out of that reckoning OK.

6. David - 25/08/2019

I’m still not ready to believe we won’t get 40 points but it is clear that we have been “found out” on double selling our full backs as both defenders and attackers. I thought Cleverly added to an sense of urgency missing 2 weeks ago and the movement up front was dynamic.

I just hope Javi is seen to be the man to lead us out of this current malaise.

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2019

I agree about Cleverley. I hope Javi IS the man. Whether he’s seen as such I’m not sure. I fear that “something” was wrong pre Brighton, our body language has been pretty dreadful in all three games so far.

7. MartinG - 25/08/2019

The second drinks break (when do they decide they need these?) came at a bad time as we were building some momentum. Good game to watch, bar the result, but our shooting throughout was wild when we had time to set ourselves. Horribly exposed on the counter attack too.

I thought Newcastle would get tanked today, but their result makes next weekend an even more interesting challenge now. COYH.

8. crispticker - 25/08/2019

My first viewing of the season and instantly thought our defence was very shaky, and never really improved. But it was a fabulously entertaining game, for 60 minutes at least. We looked very threatening and pegged West Ham back for long periods. Shame we couldn’t capitalise on the dominance. I read it as a cavalier diamond in midfield with just Capoue at the bottom, a sluggish Doucoure often out left (and not helping Holebas much), an impressive Hughes on the right (but not helping Feminia much) and a rusty, but busy Cleverley in the hole supporting the front two. Sadly with little protection, and allowing the impressive Lanzini and Anderson so much time and space, our disconnected central defenders were too often at sixes and sevens. After their third goal we looked pooped and any cohesion melted away.

Matt Rowson - 25/08/2019

Don’t disagree with any of that

9. Richard - 27/08/2019

As much as you can question the recruitment and organisation defensively, I feel we have reached the stage that has faced many middle ranking premier league teams. As eluded to above, Saturday didn’t lack in entertainment for the most part, but our approach to me seemed far too gung-ho. Managing the transition from the doggedness that achieved initial survival to a more expansive brand of football is an incredibly difficult balance to achieve and ultimately eluded the likes of Stoke & West Brom, among others. Would supporters be prepared to accept a reversion to a QSF type approach? That also characterised the early part of Javi’s tenure Which is maybe what it will take to stop the rot, whether Javi stays (as I hope) or we bring in a new voice on the training ground.

10. Mark - 28/08/2019

I dint see the game so wont comment on it BUT speaking to a relation who is a West Brom supporter, he was VERY pleased to see Dawson go..too slow was the reason. I hope he proves us wrong and that the Coventry win will give us a boost. Could do with a couple of dull 0-0 draws. A win would be nice to stop the meaningless statistics about this and last season’s win/loss record..

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