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Watford 1 Southampton 3 (28/06/2020) 28/06/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1 – Of the reasons that it’s good that football is back (and how you weight these up against the negatives is your business), escapism is high on the list.  The opportunity to think about something else other than the obvious.  I’ve followed the COVID news as loosely as I can get away with whilst making sure I know what I’m supposed to be doing and not doing but even if you’re following developments more assiduously than I am you haven’t come here to read more about the coronavirus.

So let’s make this brief.  We’re coming through / in the middle of / suffering a very difficult period collectively.  You all know, you don’t need me explaining it.  People have been ill.  People have died.  People have isolated and not been able to see loved ones, even say goodbye to them properly.  People haven’t been able to go to work.  People have gone to work despite huge risks, for the greater good.  The club have done a stunning job of supporting the community and the hospital in particular, as reflected a week ago.

So for Andre Gray, Domingos Quina and Nathaniel Chalobah to host/join a big party is pathetic.  Irresponsible for one thing, though they’re far from the only ones as the moron magnets along the coast have demonstrated.  Selfish and unprofessional given the potential impact on the squad of anyone contracting the virus. But stupid on another level.  These guys are professional footballers, and one of the costs of this profession at this level is a high profile.  It was only ever going to take a stray photo.  Such appalling decision-making doesn’t recommend Chalobah or Quina for a midfield slot, whilst Gray has comprehensively undone all his good work in support of BLM.  Depressing, and entirely appropriate that they were omitted from today’s squad.

2- If, like me, you’ve spent far longer than is strictly healthy in front of televised kind-of-football over the last twelve days (yes, it’s really only been twelve days) you’ll almost certainly have come to the reassuring conclusion that our “rivals” in the musical chairs mini-league at the bottom really aren’t very good. Perhaps this should be no surprise, that teams in a relegation scrap are a bit crap. No doubt it was ever thus, we’ve just never studied a relegation battle quite so forensically. Never been able to, not actually needed to for some time…. the last time we were involved in anything resembling a relegation scrap was Malky’s first season ten years ago, a season that Tom Cleverley, Aidy Mariappa and Craig Cathcart all featured in.

Anyway, reassuring that Villa, Bournemouth, West Ham, Norwich all look poor.  Brighton have pulled away to what is being treated as an insurmountable distance, rightly, by virtue of having actually won a game of football.  Personally this doesn’t upset me, I’d be quite happy to see the Seagulls stay up and it looks quite likely that if we do catch them at least three others won’t.  The thing is though, the “but”… is that we suddenly look pretty terrible too.  And this is new, at least new under Nige since whilst we’ve been aware of limitations throughout, and whilst we’ve had to suffer no end of expensive late capitulations that have cost us what look increasingly precious points we’ve not actually been playing badly for the most part.

Suddenly, we’re playing badly.

3- Southampton started off at a hundred miles an hour.  This was different, very different to the one-paced pre-season friendlies that we’ve been weaned back onto football with for at least the first quarter of each game…  talk of Watford needing to start boldly and take the game to the Saints’ flaky defence went out the window.

It takes some recalling now, but that opening spell was a mess.  It was a mess largely of Southampton’s design, but they weren’t looking any more threatening than we were, no more likely to create something from the crashing around, the hurtling bodies, the pouring rain.  Indeed it was the Hornets that showed first, Pereyra playing in Sarr before his cutback from the byline avoided the yellow shirts in the box.    The thing is though, as we’ve reflected before, being solid with a bit of magic dust is a decent recipe at any level – we thrived off such a set-up in our first season up with Iggy firing in 2015/16, and in the second half of Sean Dyche’s season during Sean Murray’s brief sparkle four years earlier.  Southampton were better than that, as it turns out, but they owed their breakthrough to Danny Ings who scored a goal of supreme confidence from nowhere just as I was scribbling “Ings looks lively” onto my notepad.  The goal is a bad one defensively, but it’s hard to pare apart where Ings’ boldness ends and our failings begin.  Dawson, Cathcart and perhaps even Foster look iffy on the replay, but Ings picked at a seam and ripped it apart before anyone had steeled themselves.

That’s a theme for the game actually.  Certainly, Southampton were excellent…  aggressive and energetic which is always great but looks all the more so when everyone else has been in training mode.  But potent too, and more resilient than we’d been led to believe.  The other side of the coin though is that we really didn’t make the most of our weaponry, didn’t do enough to test what was supposed to be the visitors’ achilles heel.  Less than the sum of our parts, less than we know that this side is capable of being.  Such threat as we had was too rarely the result of our set-up working an opening, and more often the result of individual endeavour, such as when Sarr went on a brief rampage across the edge of Saints’ box five minutes after Ings’ goal. Deeney was isolated, and looked heavy.  Doucouré was anonymous.  Sarr was willing but is young and makes a young man’s decisions; however much he cost you feel that these are immature shoulders to be loading up with such responsibility.  He’s certainly no leader, not yet anyway, and badly misses the relief of the twin threat of Deulofeu on the left flank;  along with our loss of energy levels the biggest miss versus pre-lockdown.

4- The other big miss is the support of course.  And yes, this affects everyone, yes we’ve been lamentable in front of crowds before too, yes we have a crowd that’s smaller than most in the top flight and, no, lack of fans didn’t seem to hinder Southampton.  But there is a greater cost for sides like us than for sides with better players I think.  This applies less today… but in general we have a side that has ability but also a certain venom to it on a good day that feeds off a crowd, that builds a momentum.

We were still in the game at the start of the second half and as at Burnley found a vigour and a focus that had escaped us in the first period in which Saints, once ahead, had largely kept us at arms length.  Not so after the break…  if it still felt slightly laboured, unconvinced and a little unconvincing at least we were asking questions, and a roar of a crowd would have built up a head of steam.  Many of those questions were asked by Will Hughes, who seemed to decide that our best chance of progress was to take out the visitors’ backline like coconuts at a fairground stall by thumping in a series of strikes from the edge of the congested area.  Ryan Bertrand bore the brunt of the likeliest of these to actually find the net – as an aside, “no shots on target” is a bit harsh if it neglects such a vital block.  We didn’t get the break with the deflection there, on another day it wrong-foots the keeper,  and indeed we didn’t get breaks with a “coulda” penalty call in the first half when Bertrand took an ill-judged tug at Sarr once the six-of-ones had finished, and a “shoulda” in the second half when Walker-Peters grappled with Craig Dawson.  Michael Oliver yawned. Very much not our day, in any respect.

5- The second Saints goal was horrible too, but had a nice kind of symmetry about it.  The early days of Ben Foster’s Watford career in 2005 were peppered with incidents like these, when his eagerness to hurl a ball into the escaping feet of Ashley Young or Marlon King got the better of him more than once.  Of all the things to criticise Watford for today this is low on the list, a bit of ambition that backfired.  Not great, but we have bigger fish to fry, or something.  It still required yet more bullishness from Ings and an unlucky deflection off Dawson.

That should have been that.  If there’s a silver lining to today’s horror show it’s that the Nigel Pearson’s subs, criticised in the last couple of games, all improved us (whilst accepting that this wasn’t very difficult).  Three of them combined to force our goal;  the willowy, near-mythical João Pedro produced a neat lay-off to release the galloping Holebas, who sent an evil cross into the box where Danny Welbeck was attacking the near post of all things, forcing Bednarek into an error that saw the ball in the back of the net.

I vaguely remember being stirred at this point, but the stirring didn’t last very long.  Three minutes between our goal and their third, much less than that before the jig was up.  Ward-Prowse has a habit of scoring against us of course, four of his 22 for Saints and counting;  I wouldn’t have been the only Hornet who anticipated what was about to happen as soon as the free kick was awarded and slumped back in my seat with a choice of words permitted by the fact that daughter 2 was wisely plugged into her phone next to me and oblivious.

After which we fell apart, and Saints should have scored more.  To whatever extent they won this game vs us losing it, beyond dispute is that we responded dreadfully to the blows that the afternoon landed and ended the afternoon a thoroughly beaten side.

6- In the normal way I try to avoid written accounts and opinions of the game before I write this piece.  Regurgitating other people’s thoughts doesn’t add much, after all.  I’d rather represent what I saw, even if I got it wrong.

When you’re watching on TV in isolation, daughter 1 absent and daughter 2 barely present plugged in on the sofa as described,  let alone in the current set-up where I’ve been working at home for however many months it’s harder to be disciplined.  And so I read my co-editor’s reflections, incisive as ever, and was unable to un-read them.  “Being taken apart by a better side is something that happens… and because it happens, you can’t afford oddly passive, leaden non-performances in utterly winnable games like Thursday’s.  Or Leicester.  Or Brighton.  I imagine the list goes on…”.  Indeed.

Having blown two opportunities to put some daylight between ourselves and the rest, our biggest hope of salvation remains the fact that only three teams get relegated, and the others are awful too.  You don’t need to be good to stay up, you just need to be less rubbish than three other teams.

But having been so lamentable at Burnley, you’d have really hoped for more vigour from this one.  Worrying times.  Going to be a very long month.

Yooorns.

Foster 2, Femenía 2, Masina 2, Cathcart 1, Dawson 1, Capoue 2, Doucouré 1, Hughes 2, Pereyra 2, Sarr 2, Deeney 1
Subs: Holebas (for Masina, 74) 3, João Pedro (for Pereyra, 74) 3, Welbeck (for Hughes, 74) 3, Pussetto (for Femenía, 79) NA, Peñaranda, Mariappa, Cleverley, Kabasele, Gomes

Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 28/06/2020

I feel thoroughly depressed after witnessing that – not just the defeat, but the manner of it. As well as Southampton played and deserved the credit, they’re a bang average side. We just seem to have lost all of our cohesion and spirit. I don’t think it’s such an obvious coincidence that all the relegation threatened sides are the same at the moment. They need inspiration from
their die-hard fans – getting behind them and making them
Feel they’re not alone in this fight. An empty stadium is the last thing they need. As you say – a hard month ahead.

2. David - 28/06/2020

I feel desperately down after 2 very poor performances. A cliche I know, but whilst good performance do not guarantee 3 points, bad performances almost never do.

I have decided that these performances are a “regression to the mean” and this collection of players are not good enough. I really hope I am wrong but I wait for two teams beneath us to eventually win and overtake us.

3. paullbaxter - 28/06/2020

I try to bring perspective of 50 years watching Watford. These aren’t the worst performances but they are very depressing. We looked a lot less fit than Southampton and really can’t cope with a side that presses. We end up pumping aimless long balls towards Deeney who today was an aerial contest he couldn’t win. We are in a contest where pretty rubbish is probably good enough. I hope we can attain that.

4. JohnF - 29/06/2020

Very disappointing from the start. I thought Femenia was worth a 3 and I have to applaud his hard work and running himself into the ground. The problems seemed to lie in a nervous/terrified central defense (was this the same Dawson who did so well against Leicester?) and a mid-field who were simply not playing in the same team. Our crossing as well as passing was frequently poor and when a good cross came in nobody was anticipating it. Too many touches reflects a lack of confidence, which is reinforced by playing badly. Chelsea away next, not that home and away means anything any more, but that could really destroy our already poor goal difference. Worrying times and the actions of the unprofessional three make me so angry. So it was Gray’s birthday, so couldn’t they have just delayed it for a couple of weeks because sometimes work and career come first. I hope the club fine them the maximum.

5. Ray Knight - 29/06/2020

After Lester I thought we played well and a draw was a fair result. Burnley was awful in that we had no cohesion, game plan and fell for a sucker punch. Saints played to their strengths and have an in-form striker whereas we were slow to move the ball and no creativity. Convinced we will now race Bournemouth to the bottom unless we beat Newcastle and Norwich. Somehow think Spam and Villa will edge up. Very disappointed that our fate is no longer in our hands as we will do well to get a point out of half of our final 6 games.

6. SteveG - 29/06/2020

Bizarrely, of course, and despite being very poor since the return from lockdown, we’ve actually gone up one place in the table, precarious though that position is.

Matt, being the knowledgeable statistician that you are, you will no doubt have at your fingertips the lowest number of points that a team has achieved and still stayed up in the Premiership.

Is that a record that may be under threat this year?

Matt Rowson - 29/06/2020

34 points would have kept you up in 2017/18. That’s the lowest in the last five years, don’t know about further back. This suggests that we’ll be close to that this season: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/soccer-predictions/premier-league/

paullbaxter - 29/06/2020

It is 34 points according to the PL site. WBA also stayed up with that total on 04/05.
https://www.premierleague.com/news/1174821

7. Old Git - 29/06/2020

It looked clear to me that Southampton (cliché alert) ‘wanted it more’. And that’s the first time I feel I can say that about a WFC side since those last lamentable weeks of the Vialli season.

In his post-match interview, Pearson looked shell-shocked. He spoke emphatically about the need for everyone to stick together, an ideal that now looks very difficult to achieve when, one day after a gutless performance at Burnley and two days before yesterday’s match, three players decided to go partying during the lockdown, showing two metaphorical fingers to their team mates, to the fans, to the club that employs them and, perhaps most distressingly, to the NHS workers that the club has so brilliantly supported, many of whose annual salary is probably less than what Andre Gray ‘earns’ in a week.

As Matt says, Gray has spoken passionately and convincingly in support of BLM but now we realise he’s just an idiot. If the reports are true that various Championship clubs have shown an interest in him, then its time to get rid.

Quina we can forgive on account of his relative youth. We’ve all been 20 years old at some stage in our lives and prone to being influenced by older figures. But I thought Chalobah had more brains than that. Apparently not.

Old Git - 30/06/2020

Apparently it now transpires that Chalobah was not at the lockdown party but was dropped on account of having been in close contact with those who were. I’m glad to learn that but really, I do feel the club should have made that immediately clear, rather than allowing his name to be wrongly impugned.
And I’d love to see the Chalobah-Doucoure axis that we enjoyed far too briefly, restored to the midfield.

Matt Rowson - 30/06/2020

i agree that this is heartening. to be fair the club refrained from further comment before investigating; that cuts both ways (exonerating and blaming)


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