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Watford 1 Middlesbrough 0 (11/09/2020) 12/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- “Heidi’s climbing on my head.  She’s just got back.  She says she won at ballet”.

This was always going to be a season like none that went before it, and the pre-match conference with my brother is fittingly unusual.  By this time we’d seen the team, and blinked several times.  The Spurs eleven was already sparse but never felt consciously experimental… this is where we are, at least for now.  But from that side we lost Estupiñan, Dawson, Dele-Bashiru and hamstring victim Gray with Perica also missing despite his signing having been confirmed in the week.  Jerome Sinclair is on the bench for goodness sake, which is something that none of us thought we’d see again.  As of maybe three years ago.

The official justifications for our many, many absences – 17, reportedly… that it’s hard to keep track tells you everything – range from injured to ill to unfit, often vague and understandably so.  There’s injured and there’s “injured”, one suspects. Twitter rumour claims that Craig Dawson has refused to play, which if true given his miserable half-arsed effort against Spurs is comparable to Andy Cole’s notorious retirement from international duty.

As for whoever has had their agent whining to the Daily Mail about having to work too hard in training….  underperforming last season, being part of a relegated side is a stain on anyone’s reputation but far from beyond redemption.  Not at the very least being prepared to put a shift in whilst you’re still at the club, risking undermining the rebuilding of the side in the process by publicly clutching at your pearls at the prospect of hard work?  Weak.  Shut the door on your way out.

2- Back on the pitch, if the cast has changed then the set-up is unrecognisable from last season.  A back three, wing-backs, two sitting midfielders and two attacking midfielders loosely either side of the forward.

And we look OK.  We look get-attable certainly, at least initially…  Assombalonga and Fletcher have scruffy half-chances but too many of them, and scruffy half-chances can become scruffy goals if you concede too many of them.  Nonetheless… when Wilmot strides forward or Femenía screams down the left we attack like sandsnakes, wriggling into space and opening Boro up during this opening period.  From one of a number of corners Quina changes the angle by laying off to the dynamic Sema who is quickly closed down, but not quickly enough to prevent a beast of a cross. Cathcart thunders in, brutally exposing and ripping open a moment’s lack of concentration.  The merciless precision of the move made Hall’s transgression look worse than it was.

3- We’re going to be quite good at being a goal up, I suspect.  Here we are after the most chaotic of pre-seasons with a squad spinning like a mobile in the breeze, with a new boss running his first training sessions in a new language without his assistants in tow just yet.   And for the rest of the game… no, we don’t look significantly better than a tough, dogged Boro side but we don’t look significantly better whilst being one-nil up and rarely looking like being anything else.  That’s a hell of an achievement on the part of the new boss.

The second half sees us sit much deeper.  The occasional rapier runs are much less frequent, but so is any suggestion that Boro will equalise.  It’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility…  Hall sends a volley over, there are a couple of awkward bounces in the box and probably more set pieces than you’d like to be facing but Cathcart, Kabasele and Wilmot keep the visitors at arms length for the most part.  We concede a single yellow card when Britt Assomablonga tussles his way past Ben Wilmot via a grip on the most delicate of leverage.  You can’t unsee that, approach replays with caution. Rather that than being on the receiving end though, an understandable transgression on the young defender’s part.

4- Looking at individual performances, there’s a lot to like from the new(ish) faces.  Wilmot, as above, digs in and is much more robust than his 20 years and slim frame suggest.  Ngakia’s passing is wayward but his energy is tremendous, and he’s involved at both ends of the pitch.  Quina is mobile but gets smothered too easily, too often the point at which attacks break down.

But João Pedro is the surprise package.  Sort of, and not really, obviously… he’s been in our minds since long before he was allowed to sign, long before Liverpool and Barcelona were sniffing around but we got him anyway.  Just a surprise in that…  such prodigies haven’t always quite become the superstars that they were going to be in our heads.  The Brazilian still might not, but this wasn’t half a promising full league debut.  Eighteen and slim but somehow spinning and holding the ball up and battling and sweeping through balls and getting kicked but lasting ninety minutes.  If by some miracle we hang onto Sarr – and reports today suggest that Liverpool will have to save all their pocket money in order to sign him in January – then my word.  Sarr running off the Brazilian?  Yes please.

5- Whilst there are other strong performances from experienced players – Chalobah has his best game for what, given the last six months, pretty much equates to living memory, Tom Cleverley is again every inch a captain alongside him – the collective whole only works up to a point.  Defensively, as above, we look as good as could possibly be expected in the circumstances.  Going forward, the good bits – and there are good bits – don’t quite fit together.  Don’t all quite lock in place.

But good god.  This is the very definition of work in progress. We needed a win any which way today, a win with so much to admire about it is more than good enough in the circumstances.  We have a list of absentees that is, perhaps goalkeepers aside, vastly superior to the squad we were able to put out. We won the game anyway.  A team, playing a game, under a manager that was completely unfamiliar.  We won at ballet. For the timebeing, that will more than do.

Bring on the next one.


Foster 4, *Cathcart 4*, Kabasele 4, Wilmot 4, Ngakia 3, Cleverley 4, Chalobah 4, Femenía 3, Quina 2, Sema 3, João Pedro 4
Subs: Murray (for Sema, 66) 3, Navarro (for Femenía, 76) NA, Phillips (for Quina, 89) NA, Sierralta, Pussetto, Sinclair, Bachmann


1. ukmalc - 12/09/2020

But harsh on Quina. Cautiously optimistic and great that so many fringe players are getting a chance. Clearly there will be tougher days and we were way too deep in the second half but given a chance to gel and get one or two of the 17 to return to action then it could be a great season ahead. Interesting comments from Foster in the grauniad about chance to clear out some dead wood – relegation has a silver lining if that happens and we return to the prem in one or two years. BTW Didn’t realise Sinclair was still there!

Matt Rowson - 12/09/2020

I like Quina a lot but thought he got lost yesterday. Sinclair was on loan in the Netherlands last season.

Pete - 12/09/2020

Agree completely about Quina – he looked like a player who thought he had to win the game for us and was crushed under the weight of trying to do something “special” every time. Trying to do too much saw him surrender possession very cheaply and he never really got going.

In did a coaching course with John Moncur who was West Ham (97 I think) at the time and I remember him saying that at the start of games he wanted the ball lots just get and give an easy pass to self consciously build up his own confidence before trying anything outlandish as a bad first touch in a game can be hard to recover from and am think Quina had a bit of that last night. Less is more for the first ten or fifteen minutes and then start to play a it more in the attacking areas rather than giving it away on the half way line from the start.

Pedro given a season of strength and speed development could eclipse Sarr – I though he looked more capable of playing a Fermino style role the longer the game went and the more knocks he took only to get back off the ground more resilient and determined.

The fact that Ivic post match seemed more mindful of what needs Fixing than basking in the result was very encouraging.

Well done on the ballet win – I always thought you had the legs for it

2. Harefield Hornet - 12/09/2020

Under the circumstances and given the players available the new coach should take credit from this battling and winning performance. Thought Murray offered something when he came in. Question – who was the last academy debutant in a league match before last night?

Matt Rowson - 12/09/2020

Eleftheriou, strictly speaking, in the Man City game at the end of Mazzarri’s season. Brandon Mason was the last to make a full league debut in the same game (but 39 mins earlier…)

Harefield Hornet - 12/09/2020

Thanks Matt – looked up that match and also saw that Dion Pereira also came on late in that game !

Matt Rowson - 12/09/2020

Yep. Not his debut tho

3. Ray Knight - 12/09/2020

That line-up proved to me that Ivic is imposing his will on this squad. He doesn’t want passengers. It will be uncomfortable at times but the players out on the pitch work hard and show discipline. Great learning there for Quina, Wilmot and JP. Kiko was good until got his knock. Chalobah and Kaba got better as the game wore on. We definitely rode our luck in the second half but we only lost our shape briefly a couple of times. Dawson could get frozen out if we play 3 at the back. All in all this must be viewed as encouraging. COYHs.

4. Leggatts 'orn - 12/09/2020

Enjoyed the match. Good to see some of the names we have heard so much about over the years, some pretty decent raw talent there, good opportunity for them. If the manager trusts them, no crowd getting on their case if they have a rough game or two… but, and it’s a big but, how on this good earth is Mick McCarthy still earning a crust as a summariser, what a plank, ruined the commentary for me.

Top report Matt !

Duncan H - 14/09/2020

Completely agree, Mick McCarthy was driving me nuts!

If only we knew somebody who was good at statistics, that person could compile a table of how long it takes during each match for commentators/summarisers/pundits to pass comment on/make a highly amusing joke about Watford having lots of managers.

I didn’t time it on Friday but I think it was about 14 minutes.

5. David - 12/09/2020

The Pozzo’s will need to keep 3-4 from Sarr, Delafeou, Deeney, Welbeck, Hughes, Capoue, Suarez or find suitable replacements if they want a top 6 finish, I doubt last nights starting XI can finish that high.

BUT, my overwhelming emotion is one of pleasure, pride and respect at how our new head coach managed to secure a solid performance against a backdrop of change, uncertainty and negative energy following relegation.

6. Vaughn Smith - 12/09/2020

17 players ‘ill or injured’…really? more like 3 or 4 ill or injured and 13 or 14 that have refused to play in Division 2 (as per their contracts and/or as per their over inflated opinions of their selves). A dreadful game only saved by the excellence of Watford’s back 3, and the ever excellent Foz. I can’t see more than 1 or 2 of the 13/14 mentioned previously being up for anything other than running their contracts down – who’d want to sign them (other than perhaps Sarr/Troy) into the league they think they’re entitled to play? However, fair play to the boys who turned out – great commitment and a bow to Christian Kabasele – he’s far, far, far too good for Division 2 – those 13/14 should be ashamed of themselves.

7. Tim wells - 14/09/2020

Yes hope the rumour about Dawson is just talk. The side battled hard good defensive performances and Pedro looked excitng it shows that the coach is giving all a chance and anyone whos willing to try and be professional deserves opportunities
We will need to strenghthen hopefully some of those 17 absentees come back and we can get replacements for those that leave. Tough job for the manager and it would be daft to expect too much with lots of change about to happen hopefully we will be left with a squad that knuckles down Sema played well and hes been out for a while on loan likewise Navarro lgod knows who plays v Oxford bring it on

Matt Rowson - 14/09/2020

Oxford. We should all be digging our boots out of storage I suspect. Just in case, like.

Sequel - 14/09/2020

I hope it takes an AstroTurf moulded stud, coz that’s all I have. Oh, and my preferred position is (or was, 40 years ago) left back. Wing back’s too much like hard work.

RS - 15/09/2020

@seqel; left-footed? You’re in 🙂

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