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Oxford United 1 Watford 1 (0-3 on pens) (15/09/2020) 16/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- I’m starting thunks at 22:08.  This is not going to be in-depth analysis…

2- So the thing is, the point at which I stop dwelling upon how weird it is and how different it is and how, you know, we wish things were the way they ought to be is the point at which the current state of affairs becomes normalised.  On the other hand, repeating these themes may become a little dull.  It’s a fine line, I tell you…

Pausing only briefly, then, to wonder what manner of Hornet lives in a Hive, Live or otherwise, it’s worth noting the pretty stunning job that the club have done of pulling this together.  No it’s not perfect and yes it helps to have terrific commentators and presenters on hand, not to mention the excellent Tommy Mooney…. and yes of course we’d rather be watching it in an actual stadium (or even a tree…great work lads…)

But to turn around an effort like this, even if not from a standing start, over a six week break or so is tremendous.  However inadequate watching a stream is vs, you know, actually being there not watching it would be far worse. On researching the season preview it was impossible to miss that the vast majority of Championship messageboards contain a thread entitled “iFollow” containing the same complaints about the standard provider that many clubs employ rather than doing it in house.  We’re not badly off I don’t think.

3- Some might question the wisdom of forking out a tenner for a stream to watch a single-camera view of the early stages of the League Cup.  Those same people would probably leave early at the end of a 6-0 pasting, or opt against long drives across the country to watch irrelevant end of season dead-rubbers in the rain.  This is a fundamental part of the process.  To skip it would be like skipping puberty.

Aside from which, those who didn’t fork out missed the spectacle of both sides apparently materialising onto an erstwhile empty pitch during Jon Marks’ intro, as if beamed down from the Starship Enterprise.  The Hornets were in the Sevilla-like all-white-with-red-trim away kit for the first time due to Oxford’s yellow and (dark) blue colours, which confused my instinctive desire to propel the yellows forward for the first half hour or so.  The side featured a predictable mix of youngsters, newbies and fringe players, in as much as these definitions mean a lot at the moment.

And we started OK.  Jerome Sinclair’s bullishness down the right set up a chance for Perica, his neat touch repelled by Oxford keeper Jack Stevens. Shortly afterwards a bomb of a cross from Toby Stevenson on the left, signed earlier in the day having been released from Charlton and perhaps with half an eye on Masina’s injury, again found Perica, who got slightly underneath it and crashed a header off the top of the bar.

This was a recurring pattern with Perica, incredibly tall without being ungainly but perhaps less of a bully than you’d like him to be.  Playing as we’re playing the width is generally coming from the wing backs and therefore the crosses often come from deeper.  Which isn’t easy for a target man, let alone one who’s not played competitively for months.

4- Defensively we looked wobbly, which was hardly surprising with three debutants and the other three of the back six boasting ten starts for the ‘orns between them before tonight.  Oxford, fielding a less-than-full-strength side themselves, were a good mix of tough and tidy, but there was all sorts wrong with their goal from our point of view… Sierralta, who had a shaky first half, Phillips and Chalobah could all have done better but Rob Hall surged onto his chance and thumped past Bachmann from range.

At which point we fell apart.  We had become a little apathetic anyway… standing off Oxford, not chasing down but without the resilience to allow the home side to run themselves into the ground.  Such a strategy is far less credible when you fall behind and we struggled for a foothold…  Quina continued his rather desperate flailing from Friday, Perica failed to hold the ball up and defensively we were a bit of a shambles.  Oxford went for the kill and weren’t very far at all from getting it, denied on one occasion by the post, on others by unkind bounces and more than once by the custodian, but we’ll get to him.

5- The half-time switch of Sema for Chalobah may have been pre-planned, but bringing Kabasele in for the Dutch youngster Derek Agyakwa was emergency surgery.  Agyakwa was no more culpable than anyone else in that first half and had put in one stout challenge to stem an early attack, but we needed someone in there who knew what they were doing and whilst acknowledging that Oxford already had the lead and that we didn’t exactly deny them any opportunities in the second half the Belgian’s impact was nonetheless pretty immediate and we looked an awful lot more solid.

And aggressive, thank heavens.  A game and a half in you’re wondering how we ever coped without Ken Sema, whose broad hunched shoulders are very un-wingery but yet who looks a pretty vital cog in this season’s squad.  Dom Quina got hold of the ball a bit and started to exert some control.  We pushed back on Oxford and Stevenson provided another superb arcing cross.  João Pedro came off the bench and is half-a-second here and a metre-or-so there away from being completely brilliant.  We looked better.  Credible.

But when Marc Navarro pulled first a shirt and then a hamstring in trying to snuff an Oxford attack it really did look like the jig was up.  Instead we seemed to get stronger… Sierralta became a very lanky but reasonably effective right-winger.  João Pedro sent an impossible pass through that didn’t quite find it’s target.  The biggest criticism was…  a lack of goal threat, despite Perica’s very obvious prominence and threat in the air.  You kinda feel that will come…  he got his head to everything.

And in the end, that’s how the goal arrived, another good ball from Stevenson and this time Perica’s cuhsioning it down at the far post, João Pedro should probably score himself but scuffs his shot to Sema who tucks home in the last minute of the 90.

6- And the rest is all about Daniel Bachmann.  He was already Watford’s man of the match before the penalty shoot-out, a number of saves ranging from an instinctive block with the legs to athletic stretched blocks to a quite impossible save to deny Hall a fine headed goal.


But the penalty shoot-out was ridiculous.  You hope we’ve not spent our perfect penalty shoot-out at too inauspicious a time but it was a perfect penalty shoot-out.  That vibe, that sense you get of which way it’s going to go as the first spot kick is lined up was screaming in his favour before the first kick after the game he’d had.  He made three saves, two to his right and one to his left, meaning that after Kenzema and Quina had converted confidently Stipe Perica was able to slide us into the third round and a trip to Newport.  Bachmann, undisputedly, the hero of the hour.  If there were any question regarding his ability to step into Heurelho Gomes’ shoes (and the rather desperate, unbecoming conduct of Robin Olsen’s agent notwithstanding) that question remains no longer.

As for the bigger piece…  after the first couple of games, if this were the end point you probably wouldn’t be banking on promotion.  But this isn’t the endpoint, or anything close to it.  We’re fumbling our way towards mid-October by which point, one way or another, we are likely to be significantly stronger and picking up results along the way.

So far so good.

Yooorns.

*Bachmann 5*, Navarro 2, Stevenson 3, Sierralta 3, Agyakwa 2, Wilmot 3, Chalobah 3, Phillips 3, Quina 3, Sinclair 3, Perica 3
Subs: Sema (for Chalobah, 45) 3, Kabasele (for Agyakwa, 45) 3, João Pedro (for Sinclair, 60) 3, Pussetto, Ngakia, Murray, Parkes

Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 16/09/2020

Bachmann turn it over dive! You ain’t seen nothing yet! Let’s Rock! 😀

2. JohnF - 16/09/2020

At the beginning of the first half (apart from instinctively supporting the wrong side) we looked good but after 5 to 10 minutes I thought that we were likely to be dumped out of the cup ignominiously by a lower league side yet again. In the second I couldn’t see us scoring we were so toothless and then it all happened. I see you scored Navarro a 2 and I would agree with that. We are certainly short of cover there if Kiko is going to play on the left with Stevenson as reasonable cover. Navarro ought to be concerned that when he went off we actually improved. I thought Sinclair did OK in the first half with little support but I was disappointed with Chalobah who ought to be dominating at this level and didn’t seem to respond to being made captain. However, as you say, onward and upward and let’s see what the squad looks like in a couple of weeks.

3. Thanet horn - 16/09/2020

Yes mate absolutely pentastic

4. Peter - 17/09/2020

We’re Watford FC, we’re in puberty – another brilliant metaphor I wish I hadn’t got in my head!

5. John Ford - 17/09/2020

The one upside of all this business is that we get a Bhappy report for every match… Thanks Matt… and maybe the odd one from Ian’s sofa?
P.S. Just in case anyone’s unawares, there is now live non-league football and it’s fun. To quote just two examples, 300 allowed in for Holmer Green matches and 600 for Chesham Utd. Great value for money, too – cost me £4 (concession) for an FA Cup match!
It may not be the Hornets, but it’s the lifeblood of the game and well worth supporting until we can get back to Vicarage Road…

Matt Rowson - 17/09/2020

That’s two red rags to Ian, who doesn’t go for match reports of the telly but very much goes for Hastings games. Which will he bite at first? Rushden & Diamonds is my local team, their season starts Saturday…

Matt Lovett - 18/09/2020

St Albans City for me – when WFC home/’do-able’ away games permit of course, I’ve been at Clarence Park since 1982 when it was 30p to get in – it’s £15 now, but still worth every penny (pound). As a statistician Matt, how does that sort of price inflation compare to the ‘national average’ over the years? More context – my first game at Watford in 1978 – FA Cup 1st round Watford 3 – 0 Dagenham – Ross Jenkins hat-trick – was 50p for a ticket…and 10p for a plastic carton of red flavoured water at half time! Happy days…

Matt Rowson - 21/09/2020

Economics not my thing… but a google suggests that £1 was worth roughly three to three and a half times as much then as now. So purely in monetary terms you’re not getting a great deal. There are philosphical and economic ratholes down which one could disappear regarding how to judge “worth” and so forth…

JohnF - 18/09/2020

Went to a Chesham pre-season friendly the other week in the sunshine. Great entertainment while helping local clubs to survive.

6. Harefield Hornet - 18/09/2020

Watched Harefield United in the FA cup against Leighton Town last Saturday. Biggest crowd I personally I have seen there for many years. Every cloud I suppose?


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