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Watford 2 Newcastle United 1 (11/07/2020) 12/07/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- It’s eighteen years since the financial calamities that provoked the formation of the Supporters’ Trust.  Eighteen years.  That’s the same amount of time as passed between winning the Fourth Division title in 1978 and GT’s second return as manager…  which demonstrates the long-established fact that time moves faster as you get older.

What that perilous period underlined was the extent to which simply having Watford matters.  Winning matters, of course, not being rubbish matters.  But both dwindle into insignificance compared with the prospect of the club not being there at all.  That’s a different level of matters altogether.  If you’re reading this then the chances are that you won’t need that explaining.  If you support a club, if you follow a club it’s part of who you are and the prospect of that part disappearing is horrific, like losing a limb.

The proposed takeover of United by the Saudi Public Investment Fund seems to be up in the air as I write;  at any rate, dragging on suspiciously.  Being taken over by this body, should it come to pass, will provoke mixed feelings amongst at least some supporters.  On the plus side you’ve got, finally, the departure of the odious, contemptuous Mike Ashley, and the promise of riches to invest in a revamp of the squad.  On the down…  all manner of reservations concerning your side being owned by a foreign government body, any foreign government body.  That this should be happening to Newcastle, a side relatively rare in the top flight in the strength of its local identity, makes this particularly troublesome.  Beyond that…. this foreign government body with all the moral quandaries that implies (for example this and this).  It’s not quite the prospect of losing your club, no.  But it’s the prospect of your club being something quite different, something that you weren’t asked permission about, something you never chose and something that will change the identity of the club irrevocably.

Some Mags will worry about this, not all.  But you don’t envy them.  You don’t envy any suggestion that the club you invest so much in is anything other than a force for good.  You can hold on to  what it is you support of course.  The place, the people, the community.  But still… a reminder of how lucky we are.

2- One story that sticks in my mind from eighteen years ago comes from my Dad, who would often be amongst those shaking buckets raising money for the Trust at the top of Occupation Road, or on Vicarage Road itself.  He reported that the attitude of supporters, both in their generosity of pocket in chucking coins or notes into buckets and their generosity of spirit in their attitude towards collectors was heavily dependent on the afternoon’s events on the pitch.  Win the game and the money and the smiles flow.  Lose the game and the buckets are sparse, and folk channel their frustration at the collectors.

Perverse behaviour.  But the extremes of emotion all too easy to sympathise with after this one.  A first half, a performance limp, passive and inadequate, not reflecting a situation which, despite three very welcome points against Norwich remains urgent.  Football was rubbish, pathetic.  To hell with this rubbish, why bother. Then a second in stark contrast in which the vigour, spark, verve, dynamism of the side inspired for the first time since lockdown.  Football was brilliant.  Obviously.

3- It was an underwhelming first half though.  Newcastle have been a curiosity this season…  I’d had them nailed on for relegation, not nearly enough in the squad, very short on goals.  They continued to play according to this assessment, dreary and limited, for most of the campaign but picked up points anyway, confusingly.  Since lockdown they’ve looked bright and exciting too, and had the decency to beat Bournemouth and take points off Villa and West Ham.

The hope was that after a chasing by Manchester City in the week they’d get all self-conscious and remember that they weren’t actually very good but there was little evidence of this in a first half in which we were very much second best.  Newcastle played pretty much exactly like a side on a decent run with the pressure of necessity of points removed.  Saint-Maximin and Almirón had been rested for the Man City game which was both completely understandable and thoroughly irritating; Saint-Maximin in particular would have a relatively quiet game, quickly smothered when he gained possession but he did well early on, sending a wicked cross across the face of goal that just needed a touch. Almirón had the first attempt on target, getting on the end of a left wing cross to drive at Foster who had done well to get across to his near post.

We’d actually started to get back into it when United scored, pushing back at United with Will Hughes at the vanguard snapping into things in midfield but we fell asleep at a set piece and Dwight Gayle gobbled up a tap-in.

I went and hung out the washing in a very grumpy, sulky fashion. Definitely no coins going into collection pots at half-time. There had been the odd sign of life… Kiko got a ball in from the right, Danny Welbeck scuffed an effort that almost snuck over the line, but the visitors looked fluent and confident, and could have been further ahead.

4- So the second half was a joy. We looked like Watford again, for the first time since lockdown. The good Watford, the Watford that rattles and hums and finds great big spaces to gallop into, too fast and too strong to be contained.  This is what we’d missed, both on the pitch and off it, taking the game to a Newcastle United who suddenly looked like a side on a decent run with the pressure of necessity of points removed but who really can’t be arsed with this.  Not with Troy charging around knocking things over, not with Craig Dawson thumping into challenges, not with Adam Masina bottling up Saint-Maximin.  Most of all, they really couldn’t cope with Ismaïla Sarr who seemed to have been unshackled from the right wing and ran amok across the forward line.  I’ve given him 3 out of 5 as a rating but this was never apt at any point, not in the first half when he couldn’t do a thing right, not in the second when he caused no end of havoc in the United half.  Like the man who sticks his head in the oven and his feet in the freezer and feels fine “on average”.

Sarr was involved in the build up to both penalties, first freeing the galloping Kiko Femenía who dodged one lunge in the penalty area but was caught by the second from Ritchie, knee to knee.  The second Sarr made himself, Manquillo getting in tight and allowing him to do that wonderful, unstoppable bar-of-soap thing, rolling around the defender with enough physicality to hold him off but not quite enough to commit a foul and forcing his marker, compelling his marker to hold him back.  Steve Bruce, entertainingly, dismissed both as “very harsh” post match with a knowing look to the interviewer that might of swayed the opinion of anyone who hadn’t actually seen either incident, or heard notorious geordie-basher Alan Shearer’s endorsement of both decisions.

And then Troy.  Much discussion of his role and performance since the restart, spanning his need to play himself back into fitness, how easy it is for a lone striker to do a job without bodies around him, how many defenders he occupies and so on and so on.  Beyond dispute as that he’s been relatively ineffective up to now, heavy and immobile.  Also beyond dispute that there’s nobody you’d rather have taking a pressure penalty.  His all-round play had been better in any case, more effective in this second half… what’s chicken and what’s egg, as ever, but the increased movement around him fuelled and was fuelled by him getting his body in the way, repeatedly ramming in a crampon to turn a ball forward into sustained possession high up the pitch.

The build up to both penalties was agonising.  Not having showered yet as I write this on Sunday morning my hair is still bent in the twisted contortions my fingers forced it into in the interminable build up, exacerbated by the TV director’s fondness for dramatic close-ups at the expense of following what and when was happening on the pitch.   Both penalties were dispatched with exactly the bloody-mindedness, venom and decisiveness that you’d been praying for, that you’d seen in your mind’s eye, like something out of a Marvel movie.  The first bang down the middle, the second high to the keeper’s right, both were pressure shots.  Taking a kick like that in front of a full stadium is one thing, taking it in front of an empty stadium with the responsibility undiminished but without the will of the crowd behind you something else.  Goes without saying, this took cojones (thanks Pete).  Dubravka would have needed to be right behind either to stand a chance.  He wasn’t.

5- Probably and Definitely aren’t the same thing, as has been discussed previously.  A neutral looking on would probably call us “safe”, given what needs to happen to overturn our buffer and given the form, fixtures and capabilities of the protagonists.  A neutral doesn’t require the same level of absoluteness demanded by those of us with a vested interest however so let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it’s done quite yet.

I’ve been keeping a perhaps unhealthily close eye on this site over the past few weeks.  No tool is perfect (all models are wrong but some are useful etc), there are all sorts of wriggles that such an approach can’t hope to accommodate but in terms of the way it comes up and presents its predictions it’s as good as I’ve seen.  It has our probability of relegation down at 7%, which is a small number but isn’t zero.  1 in 14, more or less (and a more reliable guide than bookies’ odds incidentally, these being driven in part by what gamblers do and think and bearing in mind that gamblers are people and therefore mostly idiots).  Anyway,  “Probably”, not “Definitely”.

Nonetheless.  We have momentum.  We have guts and character, as demonstrated by coming from behind twice over the last week…  once can be put down to the ball bouncing your way, twice not so much.  We also have ability, ability that really shouldn’t have seen us down with the dead men in the first place but which was reawakened and given oxygen in a second half for which the management must take no small credit.

Bournemouth and Villa play twice before we play again.  For now the pressure is all on them. By next Friday we’ll know what we have to do.


Foster 4, Femenía 4, Masina 4, Kabasele 3, Dawson 4, *Hughes 4*, Capoue 3, Doucouré 3, Sarr 3, Welbeck 3, Deeney 4
Subs: Cleverley (for Deeney, 85) NA, Gray (for Welbeck, 92) NA, Cathcart, Mariappa, Chalobah, Pereyra, Pussetto, João Pedro, Gomes


1. Sam - 12/07/2020

Thanks Matt, as always. Watford are always a side that embraces uncertainty (see “just beat Sheffield Wednesday at home”) but I suppose that’s what makes it interesting. I am also unhealthily checking Nate Silver’s site for predictions, but Mark Lawrenson’s prediction that we would win (itself very rare) gave me more pause for hope. Any credit to Pearson for what he said at half time? Thanks for the writing – two belters with this write up and Ian’s last week…

2. Harefield Hornet - 12/07/2020

I have to say I was a bit surprised with the revelation after match that Troy has been nursing a dodgy knee. Given the propensity for teams to exaggerate injuries for their benefit a la Almiron and Maximin during the week, this one was certainly kept very quiet. Most of the dramatic moments in our recent history have involved Troy Deeney. Those 2 penalties could turn out to be his greatest contribution yet!

3. David - 12/07/2020

Assuming Wikipedia has been up-dated, Troy has scored 122 goals for Watford. Goals that include the first at Brighton the day we were promoted, the penalty against wolves and that goal against Leicester. Even if I discount by 50% the impact of yesterday’s goals due to their immediacy I still can not think of many goals in my 34 years as a STH that were more important; (Wilkinson V Oxford in ’91’ Hessy v Portsmouth in ’93?).

PEDantic - 13/07/2020

It was 1994, but surely Dennis Bailey’s winner at Peterborough was the crucial one?

4. Stuart Sharkey - 12/07/2020

A interesting fact made on TV yesterday was that we have collected more points since Nige arrived than Villa & Bournemouth combined.I really hope that he is offered a new contract. I was totally underwhelmed when he was appointed but boy have he and Shaky made a difference, like GT he recognises the need to get the players ‘heads’ right. Great report as usual. I have been following Watford for just under 50 years it’s been an amazing ride and we never do things the easy way! So like you I’m not saying it’s over yet.

5. ramsgate horn - 13/07/2020

Same here saw my first game V Oxford in April 71.. So many ups and downs never would have believed at some times that we would come as far as we have. now with Villa and Bournemouth winning yesterday the pressure is on again. Somehow if we are going to cling to our prem status, we are going to need to keep our nerve and take this momentum forward. The games are torture because the results are all important. All have hard fixtures us probably most difficult . but if the worst happens and we go down . we have to hope the pozzos stick with us regroup and claw our way back. Matt is right at the end of the day having a club to support what ever division you end up in is the most important thing

6. SteveG - 14/07/2020

Probably not definitely… given the way that results have gone since lockdown (ours and theirs) it didn’t seem unreasonable to breathe a huge sigh of relief after the final whistle both at the result and the feeling that we were ‘almost’ safe. At that moment, what I don’t think anyone would have factored in was that we’d have ended this round of fixtures in a marginally worse position than we started. So it’s definitely not over yet and even a superior goal difference is potentially a flaky advantage when you factor Man City into the equation. Still, who wanted it to be a dull boring end of season with meaningless games anyway?

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