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Aston Villa 2 Watford 1 (22/01/2020) 22/01/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Working in a specialist, consultative role can be a double-edged sword. On the downside, speaking for myself, I can do something really quite clever, the beauty and magnificence of which is rather lost on those around me.  To them most of what I do comes with a health warning.  “Here be dragons, Matt does this stuff”.  It can leave you feeling rather unappreciated on such days, having to pat yourself on the back.

On the other hand, one can get away with quite a lot.  Hypothetically speaking, not that I would.  That the folks you’re working with have no idea how complicated what you’re doing actually is can work for you…  a shake of the head, an inhale through gently gritted teeth are all that are needed to manage workload and expectations.  Hypothetically.

Which brings us to the fixture list, and the enduring myth that there are big brains somewhere at the Premier League devising a schedule that annually presents the absurdity of a return set of fixtures in January less than a month after the original.  BSaD’s encounters with DataCo about fourteen years ago (ulp) were full of this nonsense…  the intellectual process behind the creation of the fixture list a central plank of the argument in defence of their copyright at the time.  So much for that, my daughter puts more intellectual process into her morning Coco Pops.  This season’s “effort” sees us play West Ham, City and Arsenal in May having first crossed swords with each before mid-September, whilst we play Liverpool and United each twice within the space of two months and Villa twice in less than four weeks.

There’s no built-in bias here for or against anyone.  But surely you’re after a system that does as good a job as it can of making the final table as fair a reflection of team’s capabilities as possible, as protected as it can be from the vagaries of chance.  If, for example, Jack Grealish picks up a hamstring injury on Boxing Day then Watford have a clearer run against Villa with two games over the next month than whoever they bookend the season against, a circumstance that could have been avoided with a fixture list like the Bundesliga’s (albeit without the constraints of eg London derbies) in which the second half of the season is a perfect reflection of the first.  Somewhere in the Premier League, someone’s inhaling through their teeth, but we’ve got their number.  An A-Level maths student with a spare half hour would do a better job, I suspect.  No, not me, I’ve got better things to be doing.

2- “I’d be really interested to see how we respond to a setback”, says a club spokesman in the car on the way up.  It’s a remarkably short-sighted statement under any circumstances, not least when heading to a relegation six-pointer away from home in front of travelling companions who will be sure to remind the perpetrator of his folly when queuing to get out of Birmingham again some hours later.

Sophie, meanwhile, “has a bad feeling” about this evening.  This bad feeling isn’t assuaged by an agreeable, noisy and boisterous if chilly hour or so in the marquee on the “away” side of the Witton Arms, after which she wins the “predict the outcome” game.  Afternoons off have proven a worthwhile precaution as the M6 does for many of those unable to afford such luxuries…  we’re well supped and rested in fine seats by the time the proper business starts.

Bobby is in for Sarr, the mythical João Pedro makes a Premier League bench for the first time.  The opening spell is stodgy… Watford don’t commit forward, look almost tentative attacking. The absence of Sarr will be painfully evident throughout… if the quality of delivery has sometimes let him down, his pace, directness and aggression is about more than the end product. As a club spokesman points out with rare clarity, his threat both creates space for Deulofeu, no longer the only preoccupation for a defence, and Doucouré, with holes to thunder into, but also scares the opponent, warns them against overcommitting.

In his absence we look a little bit easier to play against;  certainly Pereyra has one of his more diffident, ineffective games, which doesn’t help at all.  Villa for their part look much more solid defensively than they had at our place; Targett isn’t as exposed for pace and there’s a third centre-back – the significant Mings – behind him and Nakamba patrolling the centre effectively.  On the plus side, Villa’s lack of focal point in the absence of a “proper” striker is painfully evident.  A generous – but not too fanciful – interpretation of proceedings is that we know that if we sit deep, defend doggedly and don’t take any risks – there’s a season’s worth of booting into the stand here – Villa will need something special from their skipper to beat us.  They don’t get it, and there are murmurs of frustration in the home stands as yet another twisty turny attack disappears with a cross to nobody or an optimistic shot from range.

3- And the approach, if such it was, is fully justified on 38 minutes when Gerry screams down the right and puts a peach of a cross onto Troy’s head.  This is the sort of stuff that Villa just aren’t equipped to do and it’s devastating…  Deeney gobbles it up and revels in his thirty-millionth goal against Villa as you’d expect.  In the stands there’s a frenzied limbs-flying celebration that is only slightly tempered by being on the front row of the top tier and will at any rate last as long in the memory as the disappointment of what’s to come.

On the pitch, Villa fall apart.  They’re perhaps fortunate that there’s relatively little time to the break since their heads have gone and we’ve demonstrated the potency that they’re lacking.  All sorts of turning points in this game but here’s the next…  the game could have been won in this interval, certainly if Gerry had chosen to square to a waiting Doucouré when clean through rather than clipping against the post.  As a footnote, Tyrone Mings goes into the book for a hack on Doucouré… an advantage is played, referee Atkinson remembers and issues the yellow at the first opportunity.  Well played ref… although a person unnamed watching a stream from a hotel room in Glasgow suggests that had Doucs gone down permitting formal review, the colour of the card might have been different.

4- To fast forward to the end, this is a criminally negligent defeat.  Not without ifs and buts, and not wishing to turn on a team and a head coach who’ve been little short of magnificent for over a month.  But we were ahead here against an opponent low on punch, low on confidence and low on anything much.  This should have been put to bed.

Not least when Troy has another golden opportunity below us, one of those instances where everything seems to slow down and the ball seems to be scarcely moving, it seems impossible that there won’t be a decisive touch somehow as Reina brilliantly denies Deeney a second and the ball hangs around for a it.  There isn’t.

But beyond that, we’re not putting our feet on their throats.  There’s a lack of energy – not of willing, but of zip and of closing down and of the arrogance that has characterised our recent wins and allowed us to look so much better than our opponents.  We don’t look much better here, much as we should have won the game anyway.  The next turning point comes when Deulofeu threatens to scamper past a high line but is denied by an instinctive handball by Mings.  Already on a yellow, there’s no decision to make here… no “hand to ball?” question to answer.  It’s textbook and cynical, but gets nothing.

You have to keep your head together in these circumstances.  It’s a bad decision, but you have to treat it like a fine shot getting an unlucky deflection or something, something to take heart from not something to disrupt you.  Instead it disrupts us, we lose our discipline and Villa, who’ve been getting not very far at all to this point, bundle down the left, Foster parries Targett’s shot and substitute Luiz drives home.  Villa Park erupts, and the game has changed again.

5-  With retrospect things were running away from us.  It didn’t feel like that.  Not that it wasn’t tense, not that for all the miserableness of the outcome every fibre of our bodies wasn’t coiled, that we weren’t sharing looks of blind desperation with strangers in the row behind as we spun away from the action in desperation simultaneously unable to either watch or avert our gaze.  There’s a magnificence in being so engrossed in something, however it turns out.

But it never really occurred to me that we’d lose, until we did.  Despite Sophie’s ominous portents, despite Grealish now prancing around the pitch probing for a weak link roared on by the home stands, despite our evident legginess, despite the fact that as Nathaniel Chalobah withdrew (with a hip injury, it transpired) our midfield again lost its balance and control.  We reshaped into a 4-4-2, first Deulofeu and then Gray up front with Pussetto on the right looking snappy and excitable and industrious but not heavyweight in the way that Chalobah as become.  Gray…  well.  Gray looks forlorn.  Clearly in the box of strikers like Danny Graham, not quite good enough at anything for the Premier League but plenty good enough at everything for the Championship, if he goes to Leeds and plays alongside a foil he’ll score loads.  Here… his alertness saw him spring past a flat-footed Villa defence but his anxiety saw him fluff an easy ball to lay in Deulofeu.  His confidence is shot.

Even then.  Villa are still poor and there’s no prospect of what’s going to happen happening, none at all, which makes the sledgehammer all the more painful when it does.  And the irrelevant detail of it sums the evening up… Konsa’s fine instinctive strike settles the tie but only after a deflection off Tyrone Mings’ arse, the arse of a player who shouldn’t have been on the pitch.

A turgid arse“, as we later reflected, a reference that only a very small number of increasingly ageing readers will understand.  (Please forgive this indulgence, having driven for a solid hour and three quarters to make my passengers’ train from Milton Keynes and crawled into bed at half twelve this morning I can be permitted that I hope).

The club spokesman gets his wish, then, as we reflected in the car park whilst the home hoards thronged past to songs about Troy Deeney.  Fair enough that really, the perfect anti-hero Troy and Villa fans are surely better qualified to give some back than the likes of Wolves or Arsenal.

Meanwhile…  good luck to those of you insane enough to brave Birkenhead tomorrow.  Sophie and the club spokesman would be glad to be rid of the cup… I rather think we could do with getting this one out of our system sooner not later, tired legs or not.  Either way.  Long way to go.  Everton, Brighton will be massive but then every game is.  That’s why this is brilliant.  Even when it’s shit.


Foster 3, Mariappa 3, Dawson 3, Cathcart 4, Masina 4, Capoue 3, Doucouré 3, *Chalobah 4*, Deulofeu 3, Pereyra 1, Deeney 3
Subs: Pussetto (for Chalobah, 75) 3, Gray (for Pereyra, 82) NA, Kabasele (for Deulofeu, 92) NA, Holebas, Quina, João Pedro, Gomes



1. Adam Cummings - 22/01/2020

Was Pereyra that bad?

2. Sidcowanslovechild - 22/01/2020

Bit of a strange write up, we (Villa) weren’t great but we were still much better than Watford. If we hadn’t gifted you a goal and a couple of chances you would have had nothing.

Still we’ve all got our points of view I guess

Good luck to Watford (not at Viila’s expense of course) and let’s hope we both manage to stay up in what is looking like a many team tight relegation battle

Matt Rowson - 22/01/2020

As you say, we all have our points of view.

Harefield Hornet - 23/01/2020

Had more of the ball and ran around a lot perhaps – but better side – don’t think so – just got lucky at the end – shit happens!

3. SteveG - 22/01/2020

Sitting a few rows behind you, Matt and we saw it (both literally and metaphorically) very much as you did. I know hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time it felt that we were sitting back too much and handing Villa the initiative and giving them the confidence to come and attack us. The time-wasting and ‘game management’ is a bit tedious at the best of times, but you can justify it if it works and this time it didn’t.

Peyreyra’s 1? I thought he had a very anonymous game and then if you factor in what we know he can do and the inevitable comparison with what Sarr has done recently (yes, I know that probably isn’t ‘fair’ when awarding scores, but it’s a human reaction) the low score is reasonable.

Again, hindsight is wonderful, but perhaps a swap of Quina for Chalobah (and Pussetto for Peyreyra) would have allowed us to keep both our shape and our threat better.

On the positive side, it’s wonderful to see that we appear to have got Chalobah back to his best, that if Masina continues to play as well as this the clamour for another left back will subside and the ever-faithful Mariappa continuing to look rather less like a square peg in a round hole than in previous seasons when he’s been deployed as an ’emergency’ RB.

In reality, that final substitution in the 92nd minute probably didn’t affect the outcome massively, but as a symbolic gesture it announced that we’d given up on any interest in winning the match. Deulofeu can be maddening at times and, as you say, there were a few of those on the night, but he remained our most likely chance of conjuring up a moment of magic on the break. Psychologically, that declaration of (lack of) intent was a boost to Villa in the last two minutes and they grabbed it wholeheartedly.

We really shouldn’t have lost this one.

4. davidfishermusic - 22/01/2020

Very little to disagree with here.

Nigel Pearson has done a great job but his tactics were off last night. Too willing to sit on a lead – and then, even worse, too willing to sit on a 1-1 draw against a side who looked poor throughout.

A frustrating result/performance in a match that neither side really deserved to win – a summary that various Villa fans agreed with on our way out (a little more cheerfully than me of course)

On the plus side, as a resident of Birmingham, this was a nice easy one to get to and gave my dad, a former resident of Birmingham, a chance to have a trip down memory lane visiting a couple of his old watering holes, including an impromptu folk music singaround in the peerless Wellington pub. I’ll have fonder memories of the evening itself than of the match.

Also… Grealish may be a phenomenally irritating man, but he is good isn’t he? Would love to see him irritating everyone at the Euros in an England shirt.

5. Harefield Hornet - 22/01/2020

As you’ve mentioned above the loss of Sarr was crucial because as well as being a threat in his own right he gives the opposition nightmares that benefits our other players . We simply don’t have anyone else like him – let’s hope he’s not missing for too long.

6. thehornet35 - 22/01/2020

I have to agree that it’s brilliant. I have regained the ‘edge of the seat’ position that I’m used to as a Watford fan. I don’t like the thought of relegation, that will not be a fun feeling, but I’ll sheepishly admit I’m loving that fact that every game has a hitherto lost importance, the anxiety is horrible, amazing, stressful and exhilarating in equal measure. Makes you realise just how boring it must be to be a City or Liverpool fan. Football eh?

Harefield Hornet - 23/01/2020

Don’t agree – they win stuff!! More like boring supporting Arsenal and Spurs !!!

7. John Ford - 23/01/2020

I do hope we don’t return to Boothroyd’s mantra of ‘Managing the game’ including instructions to ballboys… Even when it didn’t deservedly come back to bite us, I hated it.

8. david - 23/01/2020

Im not sure Pearson had the players to carry out another high octane pressing game. I thought Doucs and Capoue were both shot in the game against spurs.

better to sit back than to try and fail to defend in the oppositions half.

for the avoidance of doubt, this is no criticism of any watford player, just a recognition that they are not machines.

9. Ross - 24/01/2020

Always enjoy a read to a throwback BSAD report. Keep it up! In keeping with the theme of Dave Perahia’s 1998 report of his admiration of the opposition’s protagonist, I am sure I have local paper photographic evidence that Dom Ludden played in that game (Ed?) Marco went on to become a local hotelier in the city. How nostalgic it seems now York described as solid and resilient, hard to break down and plying their trade in the third tier, now hoping to claw their way back out of 6th tier regional football, turgid arse indeed. Believe it or not Dave, at that level Bootham Crescent is regarded as visiting Wembley by teams from their local recs where four-sided open terraces would be a luxury. Here’s hoping York will be back and may one day meet the Hornets again in a cup tie at their new 8,000 LNER Community Stadium! Once the bulldozers roll in the rotten stable doors to the open away end will be missed. Enjoy the final days of a traditional football ground https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irlFMbRi1RM

Matt Rowson - 24/01/2020

Ludden starred in the 2-1 Wayne Andrews fuelled win the previous season (http://bsad.org/9697/reports/yorka.html). His last game for us was March 1997.

Bobby Mimms was (accused to be) the owner of the turgid arse, incidentally.

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