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Tottenham Hotspur 1 Watford 1 (19/10/2019) 20/10/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- The thing about things is that they change. Important things, significant things, and mundane incidental things. For instance, I first moved to Bedford 25 years ago; the stumble from the main concourse at Kings Cross down Pentonville Road to the Thameslink station was quickly a familiar one.

Since the station closed and the Thameslink rerouted to St Pancras I don’t need to step outside to connect to the tube and on to wherever. Today, with a bit of time to kill, I did so for the first time in years and years. And didn’t recognise it. The Google office, for goodness’ sake, looks like it’s been dropped into Kings Cross from outer space, and all the swish boutiques and cafes that surround it have spewed from either side of it like a bacterial growth. This isn’t what Kings Cross looks like!

An hour later we’re walking in the sunshine from Seven Sisters towards the venue, which Kieron labels “one of the new Death Star stadiums”, not inaccurately.

It’s pretty smart, as Death Stars go. Well designed to accommodate cordons of stewards manning access to the “turnstiles”, vast numbers of eateries with minimal queuing in the concourse. The stands are pleasingly steep, and if the seats are narrow it becomes clear that they’re not going to be in use very much. There are lean bars – presumably with an eye on safe standing – across the front of each seat and these are a fine, fine thing. Too good for Tottenham this, quite obviously.

2- No football supporter should need reminding that Things Change, Watford supporters less than most. A couple of months ago we had a different head coach, a different means of playing, a different shape. A couple of personnel changes today but… it’s clear enough that this is The Plan for the moment, not merely a solution for last week’s problem. Three at the back, wing-backs, two sitting midfielders. Sitting deep, ceding possession but looking for opportunities to mug the opposition and scramble into the empty spaces behind them.

And frankly there are few more suitable test cases for this approach than this opponent at this time. Spurs away, yes yes. I was at White Hart Lane the last time, the 5-1 win in 1985, “one Danny Thomas” and so on. Not a point in a league tie at Spurs in 34 years. But we were better off playing this Spurs today than a perhaps more limited but single-minded opponent like Burnley. Spurs are precarious, uncertain, suddenly introspective. Badly needing to win this but unable to prioritise with a Champions League game in the week and Liverpool next weekend. Get-attable, flaky in defence, tentative in attack. Perversely given the League table, we have a shout here.

3- Although Danny Welbeck collapsing with a hamstring strain after a couple of minutes we could probably have done without. He’d already been getting the bird for his Arsenal connections; “Danny Welbeck, he’s won more than you…” was the retort. On comes Gerard Deulofeu to form a diminutive false-forward line with Bobby Pereyra, perhaps the player least obviously suited to the QSF approach.

And within five minutes we’re ahead. We’d already tried this trick once and weren’t to try it again, either because the imperative wasn’t there or because Spurs were wise to it… Kabasele’s raking ball from right to left had already dropped over Aurier’s head but the move was curtailed. This time it was Cathcart isolating Danny Rose to find Daryl Janmaat rampaging down the right. His perfect ball was tucked neatly in at the far post by Abdoulaye Doucouré, incongruously clinical in this least clinical of seasons. Celebrations were tempered by surprise, and by trying to remember what this was like.

4- The remainder of the game followed a steady pattern of largely impotent Tottenham possession in front of our disciplined and aggressive rearguard. To our left came frantic, anxious shouts of “keep your shape, keep your shape”, but in stark contrast to our defensive calamities of earlier in the season there was little evidence of us doing otherwise. All three centrebacks put their bodies on the line, Holebas and the inhuman Janmaat were focused as Spurs shuffled the ball awkwardly from side to side, unconvinced and unconvincing.

And when we broke we broke with purpose and no less discipline. This was much more incisive than the scruffier breaks carved out against the Blades, this was spinning and turning and attacking the space but not compromising possession and it formed the basis for the best team performance since the Cup Semi Final. Deulofeu and Pereyra aren’t the most obvious forward line but they spun and twisted and found their men and frustrated Spurs at every turn (geddit?). The impatience in the home end took 20 minutes to surface, the half ended with the home side recording only one shot on target and booed off the pitch. All going very well so far.

5- The second half started with a bang that suited the home side rather better than it suited us; Spurs abandoned their three at the back and brought on Son who crashed a shot against the bar via Ben Foster’s probably irrelevant fingertips in an ominous clarion call. From the rebound we rattled forward; Pereyra released Deulofeu, the Spaniard produced a perfectly weighted cut back of all things and an excellent block from Aurier denied Pereyra’s finish. It wasn’t the last breakaway chance we were to enjoy – the otherwise magnificent Doucouré should have punished some extraordinarily pedestrian defending but sliced wide. Janmaat had one good chance on his weaker foot but opted to retain possession, an inevitable choice under QSF. Janmaat again, revelling in his freer wingback role, lead a charge down Spurs throat but dallied and was crowded out; his shot hit Alderweireld’s hand, but that’s not a penalty on moral grounds whatever version of the handball rule we’re using this week.

Spurs’ best chance of an equaliser seemed to be through attrition and persistence, so lacking in cutting edge was their forward line despite Kane, Moura, Son. A succession of home corners came to nothing (the observation that only 2% of corners result in goals takes the edge off the pre-corner “oooooh” at either end), the lively Winks went off to be replaced by the monstrous Ndombele. We defended incredibly well, but maintaining that level of concentration is difficult and the equaliser came, cruelly, harshly. Not harsh in that Spurs didn’t deserve a point, but harsh in its timing, in not rewarding a performance that so deserved a three point reward. Harsh, too, in taunting the away end with an apparently favourable VAR review – such was the verdict suggested by the live screens, denied by the referee.

And here’s the VAR bit. Two big calls. A penalty shout for Deulofeu in the first half, not given. Alli’s goal, not denied despite a handball in the build-up and a shove on Christian Kabasele. No view of either at the time, both at the far end… Deulofeu’s penalty looks nailed on, Alli’s “handball” at least plausibly interpretable as shoulder rather than arm. We didn’t get either decision, it was ever thus away at a big club, these things matter more because we’re so desperate for the points. On balance wringing our hands too much about the equaliser is misguided; Ben Foster should have cleaned it out, Kiko could have been more decisive, and however inspiring our performance and well-judged the strategy if you spend most of the game defending your penalty area you increase the opportunity for such a decision to go against you.

The question isn’t really whether VAR got them wrong, got them right, whatever. Teething problems, yes yes, time to learn, yes yes. Wrong or right, difficult to imagine that in a world without VAR anything other would have happened than both going against us, we lose nothing. Except… except. The momentum. The pace. The intensity of a game that now doesn’t rumble on with a head of steam but slows down and waits, and watches. A game already distorted beyond recognition by television now becomes a parody of itself… from the point where people watched football on TV with cameras positioned to capture the crowd atmosphere, we now watch a game in the stadium ruled by television assessment that in itself destroys the thing that it purports to police. Ludicrous. I can cope with bad refereeing calls, but not this.

6- Extraordinary that a point at Spurs can feel like anything other than a great result. That’s what conceding a late equaliser will do for you. It IS a great result. But it doesn’t feel like one at the final whistle, less still the morning after.

Some problems that were problems are still there. Maybe they will change it time but… we had the better chances, despite only 30% possession and we were profligate – cautious perhaps, and imbalanced to praise our use of the ball and then complain when we choose to keep possession over going for goal. You can’t have it both ways. Nonetheless… we have a finisher, we win the game.

What has changed is that for the first time this season we have belief. This was a million miles from the listless nothing at Wolves. This was orders of magnitude better than the doughty draw against the Blades, more disciplined, more organised, more potent.

Not there yet. But we’re not half getting there. This was tremendous.

Things are changing.



Foster 3, Janmaat 5, Holebas 4, Cathcart 4, Dawson 4, Kabasele 4, Chalobah 4, *Doucouré 5*, Cleverley 4, Pereyra 4, Welbeck NA
Subs: Deulofeu (for Welbeck, 4) 4, Femenía (for Janmaat, 71) 3, Hughes (for Pereyra, 84) NA, Masina, Sarr, Gray, Gomes


1. sptemple - 20/10/2019

Have a look at Chris Woods’ goal for Burnley get ruled out by VAR deciding that a tiny clip on Evans heel was a foul. Have a look at Doherty’s blatant dive to gain a penalty for Wolves in their game. Then compare those with Kane’s push on Kabasele just before Spurs equaliser and Ali’s handball.

VAR is shit. It hasn’t improved any consistency in decisions, and if it’s not fixed by the end of the season then I’ll quite easily walk away from the game.

PEDantic - 20/10/2019

I would argue that VAR is consistent when it comes to penalty decisions: we are up to 89 matches now and NONE have been overturned. Yet the most minuscule transgression can get a goal disallowed. Nowhere else in the world is VAR applied like this; it is sheer arrogance on the part of our refereeing authority and/or the Premier League.

2. Ray Knight - 20/10/2019

Another great report full of atmosphere. I will gloss over the fact you moved to Beds. Poor Kiko needs to be taken out of the firing line including as a sub. His confidence is shot. Rather Mapps or a youngster. Gaining an advantage when the ball hits the upper arm/ shoulder is now always handball. VAR is only being used to vet referees performance an not make the right decisions. Lineos’ are instructed not to flag for offside if marginal. It is a complete and utter farce. Just look at the Wolves game as well yesterday. But the soap box, yesterday was hugely encouraging but the pressure is now on for a win if we are not to cut adrift. We should already be on eight rather than four points so is VAR and a poor conversion rate going to define our season?

3. Dugald Wylie - 20/10/2019

Deflated though I was by the result I enjoyed reading this analysis. Thanks.

4. Fez - 20/10/2019

Great write up as ever, but there does seem to be a lot of misunderstanding as to where the potential for handball ends.
During my refereeing training our instructor held a football in one hand, rolling it up the other arm, and asked us to tell him when to stop when it was no longer “handball”.
That point is where the collar bone supports the arm. Visualise an amputee with the ball joint of the arms removed… he cannot be guilty of handball.
This is basic, fundamental, stuff that a 12 year old trainee should know and yet, here we are, with the elite referees failing to apply basic law. It’s an unacceptably poor decision.

5. Adam Cummings - 20/10/2019

Like Steve Temple this will be my last season if VAR isn’t dropped or considerably amended. It has turned the game into a joke and an embarrassment.
It shows the officials to be as incompetent as we always suspected and the VAR officials, some of whom have never been near a Premier League ground in their careers, are clearly under instruction not to show the refs up.
For goodness sake man up. Look at rugby. There the officials work as a team and the ref is happy to take advice because they are all equals and the man with the whistle is happy to admit he can’t see everything. And because of that they are for the most part respected.

NickB - 20/10/2019

This, in spades. What would dear GT have made of this nonsense?

6. Ray Knight - 20/10/2019

The Del Boy penalty shout was a clear and obvious error on any reckoning. Most referees consulting a pitch side monitor would have changed the decision. If the ball hits the upper arm where the EPL badge is that is handball as an advantage has been gained and the goal should be ruled out. Again consulting the VAR monitor MIGHT have made a difference. If gives the ref full control as in the World Cup and Europe most weekends. It has to change in England otherwise it will ruin the game I love. It is not just us at Watford who are affected but it’s really hard for us to take at the moment.

7. heftiehornet - 21/10/2019

To reinforce Adam’s point, in Rugby, all officials are treated as equals, hence reasoned decisions and player respect. Football has a lot to learn but, in my opinion, this requires humility on their behalf.

8. David Franklin - 23/10/2019

Good report Matt and it seems we are slowly turning the ship around…..With regard to the thorny issue of VAR (which I, like many others, dislike) one way of at least improving the hand ball controversies would be as follows.
All players shirt sleeves would have a distinct band woven into the shirt just below the shoulder. If any hand ball VAR incident is required then the ball impacting above the line of the band would be ruled as not handball , below the line would be deemed handball (and maybe on the band itself could be determined as the equivalent of crickets umpires call). This way at least the handball becomes a forensic decision and not a subjective call…..

9. Mike Smith - 23/10/2019

Another good report Matt. VAR, well you know it’s not being worked correctly when the mighty Shearer slags it off on MOTD & sympathises with us. Friends watching in a bar in Turkey couldn’t believe GD didn’t get a pen.
The defender had 3 goes at him was the quote on TV!
As regards the “equaliser” my friend Dr. Hamilton told me that Foster called for it & Kiko either didn’t here him or understand him!
On the positive side. We’ve played the 2 norf Lundun giants & they were both lucky to get a point.
An after thought. Does anyone think VAR favours the so called big 6?

NickB - 23/10/2019

Whilst being firmly in the anti-VAR camp ahead of its introduction, the only consoling factor appeared to be the likelihood that the days of big six favouritism would be at an end. The reality is that referees continue (consciously or not) to make calls in their favour, whilst the mob in Stockley Park, no doubt encouraged by the odious Mike Riley, simply ignore the evidence before them and back them up. The worse of both worlds.

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