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Watford 1 Chelsea 2 (02/11/2019) 03/11/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.

1- Tick tock, tick tock.

Ten now then, ten now and limited prospect of it not being eleven despite Dave’s bravado in the concourse where we take early refuge from the deluge, in as soon as the stadium opens to share a beer at the back of the GT stand. A bit of space in the concourse really does make a difference by the way, the back of the GT is quite a nice place to be, unlike the claustrophobic Rookery or (shudder) the Vic Road rat run remembered from 20 years ago.

Tick tock. The girls have opted out… the attractions of hanging out with their mates watching fireworks up here in Bedfordshire too great. Suspect the fact that they’ve each seen us score once this season might have subconsciously weighed in also. Not that us being rubbish would stop them coming per se, not that it would put them off entirely but, you know, when there’s fireworks. Hard to blame them really.

Tick tock.

2- The longer this goes on the greater the pressure of course. There’s a pressure in each game and the fact that it’s Chelsea and it’s a game that we’d never quite expect to win at the best of times doesn’t make the pressure any less.

So when we give away a stupid goal after five reasonably positive minutes, albeit a goal carved by a remarkable through ball you can feel the stadium deflate. “Well, that’s that then”, which it sort of was and sort of wasn’t. But what a half-witted way to concede, no wonder Ben Foster screamed with frustration. When you can’t score goals keeping it tight, particularly against an opponent like this one, one that revels in playing away from home, is everything.

For the next ten or fifteen minutes it didn’t feel tight at all. Chelsea had an embarrassment of space to wander into and if the rearguard, marshalled by Craig Dawson’s most authoritative outing in yellow-and-black halves or whatever we’re calling it, gradually regained shape and denied many options in the final third simply by marshalling the space we were nonetheless in our goalkeeper’s debt on more than one occasion. Craig Cathcart limping off didn’t improve the mood.

3- So the first of the positives to be taken from this is that it didn’t go south from there. We didn’t collapse, the Blues didn’t run away with it. We hung in there. And gradually we lifted our chin from our chests to note that it was still only 1-0. That if we were still looking blunt and aimless we were at least getting the ball up the pitch often enough to register the bluntness and aimlessness. Before we knew it there was even a dash of bravado, some challenges going in and some defiance from the stands and it makes a world of difference to the mood if not to our forward line, ultimately.

But it takes some character, that. To stand up against a buoyant, confident opponent in a situation like ours and not simply shrug and let it slip away. It’s not enough, wasn’t enough, sure. But it wasn’t nothing.

4- Second half, Chelsea score again. It’s pretty dreadful from our point of view albeit the only time that this vibrant, inappropriately likeable Chelsea side cut through us. And this time we sink properly and the defiance disappears altogether. The whining inane voices emerge like meerkats around us and the crowd’s restlessness, kept at bay to this point by the single-mindedness of the 1881, begins to find a voice.

Nathaniel Chalobah was significant in our more assertive spell at the end of the first half, snappy first time passes that were at least brave enough to carry the possibility of turning Chelsea around rather than “merely” retaining possession. But now he loses his composure altogether and from snapping one touch balls to Watford feet he’s anxiously, tentatively giving the ball away too often. Minus Tom Cleverley, even Étienne Capoue we are short a bit of bloody-mindedness in that part of the pitch and it shows. Elsewhere Adam Masina is more resilient of character but lacks the brains to take advantage; assertive and aggressive he’s nonetheless painfully unaware of what’s going on around him, simultaneously significant in our winning and giving away possession.

5- Throughout all of this the patent lack of threat is unmissable. There’s no kitchen-sinking here, no bombardment of the Chelsea goal, not even a spell of the game where you think we might nick something. It’s thoroughly demoralising to watch.

But against that you’ve got to hold the fact that we’re playing one of the most effective attacking sides in the division. A side who have won all four of their previous away league games this season against, you know, teams higher up in the League than us scoring 16 goals in aggregate and at least three in each of these four games. We rode our luck a bit, but Chelsea were excellent and we kept them down to two without being exposed terribly often. You can argue that this reflected in part our approach; Chelsea didn’t score more than two partly because we denied them the opportunity but also because in focusing on shape and defence as Quique is always going to do Chelsea were unlikely to need more than two.

The carping about the approach, let alone the championing of the messainic virtues of assorted young strikers who their proponents have never seen play, is cowardly and unhelpful. Quique wasn’t brought in to turn us into the Harlem Globetrotters. He came in because his predecessor’s more liberated Watford side had regressed to a point where even the most freewheeling of performances was effortlessly subdued by the rate at which we were giving chances away to even the most mundane opponents. Watch the West Ham highlights or read the report again if you need reminding.

Quique was brought in to tighten things up and that he is done so is beyond dispute. It is far easier to generate wins, points, from a mean but goal-shy team than from a side that can’t stop shipping goals long enough for its potency to matter. Thing is, there’s little joy to be gleaned from a side playing this way unsuccessfully. But while it’s impossible to disentangle cause from effect in our extraordinary injury list it’s surely the case that this team with a Troy Deeney in it, or even an Isaac Success, is orders of magnitude more potent than what we’re watching at the moment. This is hard to watch, but it isn’t nothing.

6- Which isn’t to say that the 75th minute substitution of Daryl Janmaat in favour of Kiko Femenía was easy to digest. Dispassionately, Janmaat has been one of few players to put in a solid shift today and previously; on a yellow card against Pulisic with a wing-back’s miles in his legs and with opportunities to win games more obvious than this from two down coming up, there’s a logic to the change.

But my god, with Andre Gray being asked to do a very un-Andre Gray job, with a target man finally available on the bench, a like-for-like swap was never going to be popular. Perhaps most damagingly the substitution lead to the fragile Femenía being greeted with boos as he entered the fray… directed at the substitution rather than the substitute for the most part, but nonetheless. Not good.

The thing about having very good players on the pitch though, even very good players playing ineffectively, is that there’s always the chance of something. And something came in the shape of Gerard Deulofeu, the fizzing firework who you can never quite be sure isn’t still harbouring a spark somewhere and so you stand well back from just in case. And so he’s cutting into the area and going down under a challenge.

VAR is very like Brexit in that everyone has a strong opinion that is of very little interest to anyone else by virtue of overexposure. Whatever. It took a long time. It was a foul. It was a foul that we might not have gotten something for but we did and heaven knows we’re due the rub of the green. Of far greater controversy was Deulofeu’s decision to hang onto the ball in the face of accomplished and appointed penalty taker Roberto Pereyra’s enquiry. Good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes, the reverse is true also. We’re grateful that Deulofeu’s “twenty million shots without scoring” monkey is off his back, but more that Pereyra’s judgement in not taking too much issue with his childish colleague proved sound. This could have been a disaster.

7- And so there is a bit of gentle kitchen sinking, and when there’s only one goal in it there’s always the possibility, all the more tantalising in the mugging it would represent, of an equaliser. In the event it’s Ben Foster of all people that comes closest, up for Deulofeu’s late free kick and spearing a header bottom corner that Kepa excels to keep out. This, too, is being used as a stick to beat the side with, that the closest we came to a point was by virtue of our goalkeeper rather than a striker. Nobody was complaining when Foster tried a scissor kick in identical circumstances in last season’s fixture on Boxing Day.

Not enough, obviously, and no points is no points whether you’re playing Chelsea, Norwich or Manchester City. We need to turn this around sooner rather than later since however close the nearest flounderers are – and had we won this game we’d have been a point and a place from safety – we will need to sustain good form for longer to pull clear the longer we leave it.

But we’re not done yet. Norwich away next, then home to Burnley (no wins away) and away at Saints (no wins at home).

Now or never, one suspects. Tick tock.


*Foster 4*, Janmaat 3, Masina 3, Cathcart NA, Dawson 3, Kabasele 3, Doucouré 3, Chalobah 2, Pereyra 2, Deulofeu 3, Gray 2
Subs: Mariappa (for Cathcart, 13) 3, Hughes (for Chalobah, 67) 2, Femenía (for Janmaat, 75) 2, Holebas, Foulquier, Success, Gomes


1. John Parslow - 03/11/2019

Oh Matt. so well written and reflects my own POV.
From about 25 mins in to first 15 of 2nd half we were playing well but toothless.

But at 2-0 it was deflating to see us just dissolve. Some players went AWOL and there was one significant moment when Foster has the ball in his hands with Gray and Deulofeu 2 on 2 …. but because the 8 defenders were static around him he didn’t release for ages and then pumped it upfield anyway as no one wanted the ball.

Whilst happy to see Chalobah back he is the shadow of his old self … clearly lost that yard of pace. On the turn that kept him In control.

I am mr optimistic in our crowd . And I am struggling to hold onto that clock hand as it swings towards doomsday. Tick tock indeed.

2. Tim Turner - 03/11/2019

Thank you for the measured comments on Quique and what we can reasonably expect from him. I leave Vicarage Road every Saturday more depressed by the exaggerated pessimism of my fellow ‘fans’ than the performance of the team. I sorely needed someone to confirm that it’s not quite that bad.

Midway through the second half yesterday, the bloke behind me (a glass-half-empty supporter at the best of times) had us not relegated this season, but next season as well, by which time the Pozzos will have abandoned us and all our good players will have left, because none of them care about the club.

Like John, I’m still optimistic. I will be less so, admittedly, if we keep up the current rate of losing players to injury during games. That’s four in a row now. Apart from depleting the squad, it also gives Quique less flexibility with substitutions; I’m sure he was planning to give Success a runout yesterday, but having used up a sub replacing Cathcart, he decided it was more important to preserve Janmaat for Norwich. I’m not going to argue with that.

3. Harefield Hornet - 03/11/2019

Totally agree with all of the above , particularly the point about Success not coming on because of the Cathcart injury. The next three fixtures will define our season one way or another but my goodness we need our captain back ASAP – if there is anyone you would want alongside you in a scrap – Troy Mathew Deeney is that person.

4. Jeff Lloyd - 03/11/2019

I’m fairly alone on this in the wider world but you might just agree with me: I think we’ll be out of the bottom 3 by the end of November. There, I’ve said it.

5. Ray Knight - 04/11/2019

Your best report this season Matt, measured and realistic. The next 3x games will undoubtedly define our season. We have to do it ourselves. Del Boy clearly tripped on VAR, but MoTD imply it is a wrong decision. Revisionists will airbrush the perverse penalty decision at Spuds by the end of the season. Falling out of love with the game week by week and not because of our current woes. But there is still time to lift some of the gloom. That largely depends I feel on how quickly we get players back on the pitch.

Lincoln Hornet - 04/11/2019

Falling out of love with the game week by week sums it up perfectly for me, I feel exactly the same and it’s not all down to the fact we are where we are. VAR is a shambles and players continually go down looking for penalties and feigning injury etc. Having watched some of the rugby lately and the cricket in the summer just reinforces how bad our game has become and how much better and more honest other sports are.

crisb - 04/11/2019

I feel like the penalty was harsh, and would definitely never have been given in pre-VAR times. I would have been very annoyed if it was Dawson on the receiving end of that decision. It is not much different to the Mane one against Villa, which seems to have caused controversy in the other direction (fuelled by the Pepster)

VAR to me just takes the humanity out of decisions. A lot of things in life require discretion rather than absolutes. Instead of offside, think being 5 minutes late back to your car in the car park – is that worth a £70 fine? Most would say no – if you make it an hour most people say yes, but where is the line? Technically both are just as wrong, but that is not how most would see it. And that is how humans think, they don’t think like computers – its frustrating to be told to think like one and its a source of a lot of frustrations in modern life I think.

As you say Matt, everyone has a brexit rant…

6. smark392@aol.com - 04/11/2019

So it seems that last season was a one off in terms of injuries ( or lack of ).We are not even half way through the season and we are picking up an unreasonable amount which is not so bad when you are mid-table, but when you are rock bottom and playing so badly its a recipe for disaster.I cannot see where a win is going to come and that includes Norwich away.Without any strikers who can play the lone role we are doomed.

Matt Rowson - 04/11/2019

As in my report, I wonder what is chicken and what is egg. Are we poor because of injuries, or are injuries worse because we are poor? (Less of an urgency to get back on the part of players, tension leading to muscle injuries etc). Maybe a bit of both.

Simon - 04/11/2019

Not sure you can discount the impact of change of manager either. I’ve always suspected that changes in training routine etc… etc… that come with a managerial change have the potential to increase soft muscle injuries in particular.

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