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Watford 3 Tranmere Rovers 3 (04/01/2020) 05/01/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- So.  The FA Cup again, then.  Given the mental scars inflicted in Wembley in May you may have considered whether this is all worth it, whether being tanked in a high profile game on global TV is much to aspire to.  Which… just goes to show that thinking about any of this too much doesn’t do any good. If we judged the value of this pursuit in our trophy haul rather than in the enjoyment of the journey, say, (Troy’s penalty in the semi anyone?) neither Watford nor Tranmere would have the followings that they do.

Winning the cup, or getting into Europe via our League position last season would have been particularly timely, mind.  Yesterday saw me reach 25 years with my employer (I celebrated the end of my first week with a trip to a notorious cup tie at Scarborough), and reaching this milestone comes with a significant financial windfall which could justifiably have been spent on frivolous trips to Norway, Lithuania or Belgium.  Ho hum.

Said employment sees me make regular trips to the Wirral… past Prenton Park and Birkenhead on the Mersey Rail. A vast horde have made loosely the reverse journey today, filling the “normal” away section and a significant proportion of the overspill of the Vicarage Road end afforded by FA Cup away allocation rules.  Thought number one is to ponder why Watford away is such a big pull for the support of a side struggling at the foot of League One, big respect in any case.  Thought number two is to ponder that most of those in the away end, even those over the age of 30, are probably completely oblivious of the significance afforded to what, to them, was probably a mundane away defeat here in 1999.  My god.  Thought number three is to wonder how many of our matchday squad weren’t even born in April 1999.  Answer:  eight.  Eight!  With Sarr and Callum Whelan babes in arms.  Thought number four is to Stop Thinking.

2- Nige isn’t messing about as far as the team’s concerned.  It’s the sort of side that many of us would have picked I think, given the desperate need to rest legs that have achieved high intensity wins with ten men twice over the last week but the limited options available in defensive positions in particular.  It looks fun.

Bachmann and Spencer-Adams make debuts and Dele-Bashiru a full debut, with the bench populated with kids of whom Sarr at 21 is both the veteran and the only one with League experience in the UK.  Bayli Spencer-Adams is perhaps the least anticipated; the former Arsenal youngster makes a nervous start, rushed into a sloppy clearance when charged down from the kick-off but settles down and does well.

It’s an untidy opening.  Proper untidy, piles of year-old discarded takeaway cartons and Channel 5 reality-TV shows untidy rather than the odd forgotten tea cup untidy.  But gradually we start to dominate possession and there seems to be a concerted effort to move the ball around, to get Tranmere running.

Tom Dele-Bashiru has already caught the eye.  His tight control is pretty extraordinary, he seems to roll around challenges with the ball in implausibly close proximity to his feet.  Twelve minutes in he’s afforded far too much space on the edge of the box and capitalises, a beautiful strike across the crowded penalty area.  He’s a long way down the pecking order and linked with a loan this window but doesn’t do himself any harm in this first half.

Two minutes later it’s two-nil as Nate Chalobah, who bosses the first half, capitalises on some sloppy Rovers defending to crash home.  Game over.  Fifteen minutes of comfortable possession later it’s three;  Isaac, who is slightly frustratingly fielded out wide rather than straight down the centre, has had a stinking first twenty minutes but gets the ball down here, drops a shoulder to fool his marker and surges goalwards.  He feeds Gray with a precise pass, the ball reaches Bobby Pereyra and it’s three-nil.

3- It’s easy to blame complacency, but there wasn’t a Watford supporter in the stadium who wasn’t wondering how many we might get at this stage.  Admittedly we’re not the ones being paid to do a professional job, we’re the ones paying for the right to come in and get all cocky about games against lower division opposition if such is our preference.  Nonetheless…  we were looking sharp and in control, and cutting through Rovers relatively easily.  We thought the job was done.  We all thought the job was done.

As it stood, the job was done.  So a couple of things changed.  Significantly we lost Nathaniel Chalobah at the break; a groin injury it transpired, one can only hope a precautionary move given that he didn’t obviously suffer during the half. Nate is probably the most vital of the starting eleven to the first team at the moment so we’d thought he was withdrawn to protect him with the match apparently safe.

The great cost was to the physicality of our midfield, so rarely an issue in the normal way with Caps and Doucs involved.  When Dom Quina, erratic with his distribution but combative and adept at burying into challenges, went off too we were left with a lightweight trio of the rather too dainty Dele-Bashiru, the busy but slight Callum Whelan and a rather passive Roberto Pereyra.

The other big change was the visitors’ demeanour.  Any number of flavours of capitulation would have been predictable at this stage;  instead they took advantage of a less focused, less ruthless approach from the Hornets and seemed to figure that they had nothing to lose.  In the first half it was clear that they were better at going forward than defending;  more fool us for allowing the game to gravitate towards the areas of the pitch that they were good at.

That first half had seen veteran centre back Peter Clarke come closest, crashing a far post header narrowly wide from a set piece.  Clarke, as an aside, is one of an odd trio of players on Rovers’ books (midfielder Perkins and the injured Ishmael Miller the other) to have faced us together both for Huddersfield and for Blackpool, including the memorable 7-2 win in the promotion season.  Rovers’ midfield trio, also featuring 38 year-old Neil Danns, had an average age of 34 and I’d expected this to count against them as the second half drew on.

Instead their physicality helped them – many of their players were broad, solid and rectangular – and when the game started to trundle away from us we were unable to obstruct it sufficiently.  The youngster in Rovers’ midfield, 28 year-old Connor Jennings, grabbed a header.  Then Daniel Bachmann, who had had a decent enough debut up to this point, spilled a cross and in the mess that followed the enormous Manny Monthé, who had battered the ineffectual Andre Gray throughout and is reportedly a January target of Kenny Jackett at Pompey, turned in a second.

Our young team began to feel the effects of cramp on their untested legs – Spencer-Adams and Quina had both been withdrawn, the former replaced by another youngster, Mason Barrett.  His rash challenge on the edge of the box was, like Rovers’ first, studied at length by VAR but such was the momentum of the half that the penalty’s (correct) award, reversing the referee’s award of a corner, felt as inevitable as Paul Mullin’s conversion.  The away end went mental.

4- A sideshow in the second half was the debut of the long-awaited João Pedro, whose signing had been arranged in October 2018 and was finally completed on his turning 18 and being afforded a work permit.

I was reminded of a trip to Gresty Road in 2001; pre-match, Crewe fan Kev, when asked about 17 year-old Dean Ashton, already pulling up trees, suggested “well you’d serve him in a pub, put it that way”.  Our Brazilian isn’t quite a man mountain but he’s tall and leggy and powerful for such a young man.  Raw, certainly, but not that raw… confident enough to fly into challenges, strong enough to hold people off.  When Isaac Success, one of few to impress in the second half, roared down the centre and released him down the left, João Pedro stepped neatly inside and fired a shot towards the bottom corner that was deflected narrowly wide by a stray heel.  Quite mouthwatering skill.

Later he switched to the right and fried his Tranmere marker in the area, pushing the ball one side and running the other to the approval of the Rookery.  He’s a young lad in a new country, yes yes.  Raw and inexperienced, yes yes.  But don’t be surprised to see him on the bench regularly between now and the end of the season on this evidence.

5- The biggest frustration, pending diagnosis of Nate’s groin injury, was the red card afforded to Bobby Pereyra which is likely to rule him out for Bournemouth and Spurs as well as the replay.  Not obvious what had happened at the time, only his lack of protest calmed objections from the stands.  On replay there’s a stroppy kick at his marker – unprofessional, unnecessary.  The dismissal a bit harsh, but not harsh enough to be overturned on appeal though I don’t doubt we’ll give it a go.

The game ended with Adam Masina – who did as good a job of any of the senior players of dragging the team along by its bootstrings in the aggravating second half – putting a set piece over.

A replay, then.  Frustrating, irritating.  Sloppy and unnecessary but neither the end of the world nor a foregone conclusion. Another opportunity for fringe players to impress, one suspects, though we could do with a little more physical presence – Troy on the bench, for example, would be no great surprise at Prenton Park.

In the meantime, another massive league fixture in Dorset on Sunday.


Bachmann 3, Mariappa 3, Dawson 3, Spencer-Adams 3, Masina 4, *Chalobah 4*, Quina 3, Dele-Bashiru 3, Pereyra 2, Success 3, Gray 2
Subs: João Pedro (for Chalobah 45) 3, Whelan (for Quina, 61) 2, Barrett (for Spencer-Adams 77) NA, Sarr, Dalby, Hungbo, Parkes



1. Dougie Brimson - 05/01/2020

Normally agree with every word you write, but Success impressed? Seriously?

He was woeful throughout. When he did get involved, it usually ended up with him sitting on his arse holding his hands out in the hope of getting something he was never going to get.

Hopefully, Pearson will have seen enough to know that he has to be shipped out. Not just for our sake, but if he wants a future in the game, for his own.

Matt Rowson - 05/01/2020

I recognise the view that Isaac has had his shot… that three-and-a-half years is long enough of a go for a talent to blossom, for a young lad to get his thing together, and that he hasn’t taken that chance. That’s it’s time to shift him on. On balance I probably agree with it, though only probably. There’s a very good player in there somewhere if you can get inside his head.

But the suggestion that he was woeful throughout yesterday simply isn’t true. He made the third goal, positive and direct and clever, the pass through to Gray was well seen and well executed. In the second half he was one of very few sources of anything positive, including the chance he made for Pedro as described in the piece. You wouldn’t have blinked if Doucs had done the same thing.

Was it “enough”? No, not in isolation. And yes, he’d be an awful lot more convincing if he was a bit more bloody-minded and less prone to give up on things or turn to the referee. If he’s not learned that after however long training with Troy perhaps he’s never going to.

But “woeful throughout”? No.

Smark - 14/01/2020

He was definitely one of best players particularly in the second half.I don’t know what game you were watching.You are just one of a number of fans who have it in for him so even if he has quite a good game you will still say he was woeful.Shame.

2. Kevin Bernitz - 05/01/2020

Most frustrating thing for me was *how* disinterested Pereyra looked. Won’t be surprised to see him go in January.

Harefield Hornet - 05/01/2020

The problem with Roberto is that there is no current automatic slot for him in the first team and for a player blessed with his ability that is obviously very frustrating. I think that showed yesterday – in the sending off (albeit harsh) and a spat he had with one of the Rovers players just before half time. I am a massive fan and would love to see him involved but sadly I think you could be right?

Smark - 14/01/2020

You must be joking! Given our injury list at present no one will be allowed to leave particularly if none are due back in the near future

Harefield Hornet - 14/01/2020

Hope you’re right!!

3. Ray Knight - 06/01/2020

All the youngsters who stated did well and Pedro looked bright when he came on. Pereyra did struggle at times but don’t agree with the ‘disinterested’ tag. Overall (apart from his creating third goal) Success was awful. He can’t seem to turn, hold up or beat a defender. Second half when things started to go wrong he showed no discipline, continually bombing on and losing possession instead of bolstering midfield. The sand in his hourglass has long run out. Gray is hardly better. Pearson still right to field the side he did. The demise of the FA Cup cannot be laid at his door with the injury/ game fatigue situation.

4. John Ford - 06/01/2020

Despite avidly devouring your posts (and IG’s!) since the BSaD days, I’ve rarely commented. So thanks long overdue!
If ever there was a game of two halves… At half time we were fearing it was going to be an embarrassing rout for Tranmere and hoping that they’d at least get a consolation goal!
Full credit to their manager, team & fans for the turnaround.
Still can’t get my head around the fact that we’re now the focus for a Giant Killing act in the ‘lesser’ clubs eyes…
Oh, Success… A couple of good passes, yes, but otherwise pretty abysmal. I find myself comparing him unfavourably with Wycombe’s Akinfenwa, similar build! The difference being that he’s been an integral part of their rise to the heady heights of League 1 and came on a ‘free’ from AFC Wimbledon!
Still hoping that the local derby my Chairboys friends are looking forward to next season doesn’t materialise!

5. Peter - 07/01/2020

Late to add to the discussion pot but I agree completely Success was far more effective than Gray and has far more potential but needs to produce and consistently too. It is no excuse but I think he has suffered from being shifted from centre to wide and back again – away at Wolves last season he was like Deeney on steroids (or Baileys) again to have to bark back to that game says a lot about his inconsistency but also lots about how good he was that day. Gray in the other hand hid and should be shipped out.

Would have given Dele Bashiru a 4 as being over run was less his fragility and more the fact he had no one either side of him – Canute syndrome for me

Great read as always – congrats on the 25 years do you get a testimonial?

Matt Rowson - 14/01/2020

Thanks. I doubt it… 🙂

6. PEDantic - 07/01/2020

I won’t thank you for the reminder of that Cup tie up at Scarborough all those years ago. I’ve never returned to the town since, on the grounds that nothing ever happens there.
On the pitch, I’m desperate for something better up front than either Success or the woeful Gray. Pedro looked promising but we still could do with someone more, to coin a phrase, ‘oven-ready’.

7. Old Git - 07/01/2020

Sorry to be a pedant (it’s my age) but the word you are looking for is ‘uninterested.’
It is the referee who is ‘disinterested’.

I know I’m fighting a losing battle….

8. Smark - 14/01/2020

Success is nothing like Akinfenwa! The latter is a huge, immobile target man whereas Success is a pacy and a strong runner with the ball albeit he does tend to fall over a lot

9. John Ford - 14/01/2020

My reference to Akinfenwa was largely a ‘value for money’ comparison and also the ability to stay upright even when 3 defenders are bouncing off him!

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