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Wolves 2 Watford 0 (28/09/2019) 29/09/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- Forgive me if this doesn’t go on too long. Not in the mood, frankly. Not in the mood at all.

Last week was bad. Profound insight, of course… that’s what you’re here for after all. OK, very bad. A maelstrom of circumstances conspired and we were nothing like robust or confident enough to deal with them. If there was a straw to clutch at it was that Man City away isn’t an expensive place to have a bad day, not in terms of the league table and so forth. That’s not a fixture you’re banking on after all so… even an 8-0 defeat need not be disastrous if you can consign it to history, convince yourself that a bad day against City is always going to look a very bad day. And shuffle along first to a tentative but adequate League Cup win over Swansea and then onwards to the next two League fixtures. League fixtures that could define the rest of the season.

2- The team news that reached us as we received long awaited pub food in a hostelry in the town centre looked great. Despite everything, bottom of the league with no wins and so forth, it’s difficult not to look at our squad and wonder at the depth of talent. And yes, yes, the defence, we’ll get to that. But for today… Janmaat in at right back was probably overdue, Craig Cathart’s return in the centre more than welcome and Sarr and Welbeck up front had been anticipated all season. So why didn’t it work? More generally, why isn’t it working?

It’s natural to blame the defence, heaven knows many have. Harsh, I think, to blame Craig Dawson for not being the commanding defender that we’d been hoping for, or to single him out by virtue of being the new component that has no credit in the bank. He was solid enough in this one, as he has been since those first few games. Much as I wouldn’t venture this opinion to the hysterical young man a couple of rows in front who was vocally challenging everyone in earshot to oppose his particular views on the subject. Digressing further, how easy would it be to construct a skit like the one below based on the regular voices behind you in a football crowd? An entertaining diversion if you haven’t seen it, goodness knows we need one.

So. We could do with better defenders, yes. But the defenders aren’t the problem – and haven’t been all season – as much as, you know, the actual defending. A subtle difference but a significant one. Wolves threatened before they took the lead, and invariably did so by doubling up on a full back. That’s not Janmaat and Holebas’ fault. And when the goal came… defenders were culpable, but the whole team was culpable – Tom Cleverley not least – for not being attentive, not doing their jobs.

3- And so we are once again stuck in an unfortunate maelstrom of coincidental circumstance. Wolves have the away goal, and so are even more at liberty to sit back and break on us. Much easier to do that at home when you’ve got a lead, obvs. Which means we need to play through them, somehow… the lack of Troy as a more direct option painfully evident; even Isaac Success (yes, really) who was extremely effective in this encounter last year, would have helped us navigate this – much more effective as a lone forward than a wide man for me.

Competing with this was an evident instruction to be careful with possession, part of the “defending comes first” mantra. And this we were, hence our very high possession stats, but the combination of the circumstances – Wolves sitting deep with a lead, us with nobody to hit, careful with possession – meant passing it around on the halfway line as much as not. Add to this an understandable tentativeness… understandable, but hugely frustrating… and little wonder that we found it so hard to create (decent) chances.

4- Wolves, truth be told, were little better. More effective, certainly, and deserving of the win but… also tentative, also fallible. Precarious. There are similarities between the two clubs’ situations in that both performed to a very high level last season and both, for different reasons perhaps and in different ways, haven’t been able to sustain that level. There can be an awful lot of air, as we’re seeing, between a half-decent side and a half-decent side off the boil, borne not least of the psychological impact of suddenly not winning football matches any more.

Missing throughout was a bit of bloody-mindedness. A bit of fight. There was more of that at the start of the second half of course, and if José Holebas connecting well with Roberto Pereyra’s cross (albeit he headed it into the ground taking the pace off it) was scant to show in the way of decent chances at least it was something. In Troy’s absence what little belligerence there was on show came from Daryl Janmaat, who does a good line in bloody-minded rampages when such are needed. Of the two right-backs, neither of which stands dramatically over the other in general, you’d rather have the Dutchman’s strength of character when the chips are down. Unfortunate that it was his forehead that deflected the second in, not his fault – perhaps he’s more robust to these things than others might have been. That’s the sort of goal that goes in when things are going badly.

5- Elsewhere, the fortunes of those introduced contrasted somewhat. Cathcart, like Dawson, didn’t do an awful lot wrong – Wolves’ threat came down the flanks rather than the centre and the previously formidable Jiménez was quiet. Welbeck worked hard and showed well – still rusty, but a good line in runs down the outside of the outer of Wolves three defenders in the second half and a decent shot carved out that was pushed wide by Patricio. More positive than not. Sadly, the same not true of Sarr who only opened his legs occasionally and was frequently at fault for not putting his foot in where needed. A 21 year-old winger not speaking the language needs time and a bit of patience, but a £30m price tag denies him much of that, unfairly or otherwise.

Wolves’ second took any fight out of us, and there was no praying for minutes as the board goes up, no suggestion of a fightback. Maybe all it would have taken was a goal, home fans suddenly nervous in the closing minutes, we’ll never know. In the same way there are several ways to interpret this game… given this vantage point, given last week, given no wins and such little fight it’s difficult not to be negative. On the other hand… a defeat away at Wolves, even this Wolves, isn’t an embarrassment out of context. Nobody likes to lose but… it’s a tough fixture, albeit one we won last year. Maybe the cautious possession will build towards a greater solidity – arguably only a perhaps four point deficit across Brighton and West Ham is below a moderate “par” so far. As has been mentioned elsewhere, this game buried in the middle of last season might not have raised an eyebrow. If we beat Sheffield United we’re likely to be up with the struggling pack again, it really isn’t very far gone yet and only two weeks since an utterly convincing and convinced draw with Arsenal after which recovery seemed a probability.

That win really needs to come soon though.


Foster 3, *Janmaat 3*, Holebas 2, Cathcart 3, Dawson 3, Capoue 2, Doucouré 2, Cleverley 2, Sarr 2, Deulofeu 2, Welbeck 3
Subs: Pereyra (for Deulofeu, 45) 3, Gray (for Sarr, 71) 2, Kabasele, Femenía, Chalobah, Quina, Gomes


1. Harefield Hornet - 29/09/2019

The most depressing aspect is the gleeful comments of our many detractors during this awful start to the season. They’re so beside themselves with joy that our modus operandi is finally – finally! starting to look flawed after all that they can hardly contain themselves. “Soulless”- “in free fall” – etc etc etc. Please Please let’s hope ( no pray!) we can prove them all wrong (again) or we’ll never hear the bloody end of it!

David - 29/09/2019

Agreed HH; we will get relegated one year, I believe now that we are 5 years in, we are owed some credit. Teenage scribbles they may be but the invective from our own fans on the Watford Observer site shows that the establishment is not alone in their anger of our “third way”.

Thank you for the report Matt, I too have sympathy for our defence and our twice sold full backs. As for Sarr, I have a lot of sympathy with Javi’s apparent view to introduce him slowly. go’s

I hope the crowd stay with team in Saturday for 90 minutes…..

2. Andy710 - 29/09/2019

So true, it’s like the hate brigade have gone in to overtime. Defending starts with the strikers and I have only witnessed solo displays, No Team performance. I know it’s early and wrong to compare, but the amount we paid for Sarr versus what we paid for Richardson just dose not make sense to me.

Matt Rowson - 29/09/2019

Early days is right 😊

3. Ray Knight - 30/09/2019

The collective defending is the issue at the moment, rather than individual errors. Jaanmat was good against Swansea and Kiko’s confidence is shot after the Man Citee mauling so he was a shoo-in for this game. We look shocking in defending the flanks and lack a creative spark going forward. We do need to persist with Welbeck and Sarr. Pereyra is in better form than Del Boy at the moment and Quina has looked very good in the cup matches. We really do need to beat Sheffield Utd but me must compete better if we are not to be cut adrift, keeping Newcastle company for the rest of the season.

4. MartinG - 30/09/2019

Sarr didn’t have any room to run into on Sat with Wolves sitting back as they do, so I don’t think it’s a game to judge him on. Pereyra was good when he came on.
I don’t think it’s just Kiko whose confidence is shot unfortunately but that can turn on a couple of good results.

5. drdavewatford - 30/09/2019

You’re right that it’s early days yet, but the Wolves display, coming off the City hammering which we hoped would provoke an indignant response, was so limp that it currently feels like we could play forever without a clean sheet or a win so it’s little consolation.

It’s no coincidence that neither Javi nor Quique fancied starting Sarr form the off – unlike Richarlison he’s clearly going to need time (perhaps a whole season) to settle, and we unfortunately don’t have the luxury of time so he’ll have to warm the bench at best. No room for passengers at the best of times, particularly right now.

We desperately need Troy back to show his teammates the way. A bit of fight and bloody-mindedness to lift the fans, inspire the team and provide a bit of optimism is badly needed now. The bite of Quina might be worth considering too. Agree that Success would be a decent option in the absence of Troy but as usual he’s injured – the guy is never available when needed.

6. PEDantic - 30/09/2019

As confidence subsides we look increasingly like a team that needs to score first to have a chance of victory. To do this we need to be on the front foot right from the first kick-off and this just didn’t happen on Saturday. It was highlighted on MotD how there was no pressure on the ball in the 2nd minute when Jimenez was put through and shot into the side netting.
To say this was a ‘difficult game’ sounds like giving the players an excuse to be too careful and, once the goal was conceded, getting an equaliser was all the more difficult. In truth, if we want to win some away games this season, it’s hard to think of many fixtures less difficult than this one, given the circumstances facing Wolves.

7. Reg - 30/09/2019

We’re in a relegation battle and they are difficult because of the fear factor, when you’re comfortably in mid-table which we were pretty much for 4 seasons in the Premier League before this one you can absorb a couple of defeats without too much concern. The position we are in now and each defeat will add to the increasing feeling of doom. It’s a very difficult spiral to come out of, of course it can be done but it requires mental strength and strength of character. We know that our players have ability because of their achievements in the previous 4 seasons. Whether they have the bottle to get us out of our current situation in a Premier League where I see only Newcastle and Brighton as obvious relegation candidates remains to be seen. It will be interesting particularly as our main driving force Deeney is unlikely to be back much before Christmas. We will find out over the next few months whether the others individually and collectively have what it takes. Let’s hope that they do.

8. Joseph - 30/09/2019

Thanks for the report Matt, I always look out for and enjoy reading them. Next week is a big game for sure, and there’s nothing like a win to help get out of this horrible spiral. But the international break afterwards is looking increasingly important – as a mini pre-season for QSF to tune the players into how we wants them to play. I didn’t see the game, but I thought his post-match comments were interesting, as if he felt the players aren’t quite ‘getting it’. Either they don’t understand fully his way of playing yet, or aren’t responding to his instructions. I really hope its a case of the former, and a bit more time (and a win) can make the difference. As you say, it’s still early days.

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