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Derby County 0 Watford 1 (16/10/2020) 17/10/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- The boredom’s bloody awful.

Most specifically, the lack of excitement.  The lack of adrenaline.  Working in isolation, bingeing on TV series, cooking curries, Zoom calls with friends, all fine.  Enjoyable, to varying degrees.  Not exciting though for the most part, not really.

Walking’s good.  That’s not exciting either, but living rurally it’s something I can do without reservation whatever the state of lockdown is, whatever the R number is.  In the fields out the back I can walk for miles with a good few hundred metres warning of anyone approaching and as Billy Connolly amongst others has noted there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong type of clothes.  Normally I’ll have a podcast in my ears, but last week I went for music instead on a ten mile loop up to there, across to there through a wood full of indignant muntjac and back home again.  I prescribed myself a diet of stuff that I haven’t listened to for ages…  Blondie, Cinerama, the Wonder Stuff.  All live albums…  listening to a live album isn’t the same as being there, as feeling your ribcage vibrating as PJ Harvey launches into “Dress”, but it’s not without value as a substitute.  The Pretenders were rejected as soon as it became clear that their live acts involved playing everything at half the usual speed, the opposite of what a live performance is supposed to be.  Soon I had a spring in my step, a little burst of adrenaline borne of losing myself in the music.  Half an hour later I was in tears as the wrong lyrics tripped me up.  A high risk strategy, evidently.

2- Speaking of excitement, the transfer window’s just slammed shut.  Long enough this one, I think, and I’m speaking as someone who finds the ludicrous toing and froing and speculation relatively enjoyable as you might have gathered (and see above, anything approaching excitement…).  In truth it’s long been a landmark that we’ve been desperate to see pass, not just because it means the portcullis dropping on the possibility of losing the likes of Sarr and Hughes, at least until January, but just in that it might finally show our hand (whatever that might be).  As it turned out it passed relatively uneventfully, the “no news” being good news in that we retain everyone we were desperate to keep (not you, Craig).  If their heads are in the right place the guys who’ve stayed when they might not have are huge assets.  Quite how big a caveat that is only time will tell, but the suspicion that not all of those who were slated as likely exits would leave proved well-founded.

Nonetheless, the announcement of the starting eleven was underwhelming.  No Troy, no Hughes, we knew that, but no Sarr either.  The club may have been aware that he wouldn’t realistically be back in time (despite Senegal’s Tuesday game with Mauritania having been scratched, so a little difficult to reconcile) but we didn’t.  And no Capoue, despite the suggestion that his return was a possibility.  The first eleven, certainly the attacking side of it, looked a bit botched together and the bench, flimsy. Vladimir Ivić had picked a side based on what he had available, but it was a side that looked even more focused on defensive solidity, asking an awful lot of two young attacking players in João Pedro and Domingos Quina.

Little surprise then that the first half was pretty turgid.  The midfield was ferociously congested, any possession hared down by whoever didn’t have the ball meaning that either side stringing more than a couple of passes together felt a little anomalous.  Defensively we looked solid, as ever, William Troost-Ekong having a relatively inconspicuous debut (save for a slightly alarming sliced attempt at a clearance that Foster had to be attentive to) but was also talking constantly and from the opening minutes.  Good.  Going forward though very little was sticking up front. There were occasional glimpses of life, João Pedro demonstrating surprising strength to hold off a defender here, Sema breaking from his constrained central position to get wide and get a ball over there, but these sparks didn’t ignite anything too often let down by a bad pass or a bad decision forced by the lack of time and space.

The biggest threat to either goal in the first half was Wayne Rooney, whose decline I had greatly exaggerated in my head having viewed only from a distanced and labelled Derby a bit of a basket case – also an exaggeration.  Whilst his mobility has reduced his physicality and awareness gave the home side’s attacks some cohesion and his set piece delivery their biggest threat.  Also the best demonstration of our defensive resilience since we stood up to it well.

3- The thing is, solid is a very decent start.  Easy to be smart with hindsight of course… this game could certainly have finished nil nil, we’d have a different view if more generally we’d had a few more unlucky but decisive breaks such as the deflection on Pușcaș’ shot two weeks ago in our generally tight games to this point.  But it didn’t and we haven’t…  and so it’s not unreasonable to credit a head coach who has looked at the bit that’s stable and works, and looked at the bit where the sands have been shifting most unpredictably and prioritised accordingly.

It was argued after the game that we’ve not played anyone decent yet, but that’s not strictly true by the standards of the division.  Three of the five teams we’ve played are top half as I write and another would be, just about, but for their points deduction despite us taking points off most of them. It is difficult for a side to look good against our suffocating defending.  You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of good chances we’ve allowed opponents across the five league games, and whilst we’ve made mistakes – Cleverley passing carelessly across the box, Wilmot making a rash challenge later in the game – they’re isolated incidents, we’re solid enough to ride them and the Championship isn’t merciless enough to punish them most of the time.  We have a strong first four from which to perm three (or two) at the back, and Sierralta getting good reviews for Chile in the week makes a fifth.  Sean Dyche’s Watford side did a good job of being solid with a bit of magic dust eight years ago, this – without the absentees – is the same formula with vastly better players.

There’s a lot to admire and enjoy and – digressing slightly – it seems worthwhile dwelling on the fact that this stuff is quite enjoyable and has value in it’s own right. It might suit the big six to pretend that it’s their bit that’s important, certainly suits them to build in anticompetitive barriers to protect themselves from upstarts like Leicester and Wolves in the same way that the Premier League’s creation guarded against the Wimbledons and the Champions’ League’s inception guarded against the Steaua Bucharests, but it doesn’t suit anyone else.  And yes, Things Being What They Are something needs to be done but further closing a shop, further tilting the unlevel playing field isn’t it.  Delighted that the thing was voted down, some kind of deal that recognises the symbiosis of the football pyramid and involves, you know, the big six giving something up rather than making concessions that don’t cost them an awful lot whilst clawing away at any risk to their dominance hopefully the end game.  It has been argued that this was merely an opening salvo, that the proposal was so ludicrous that it can only have been a negotiating position to row back from to the actual objective but I don’t buy the implied inevitability of it.  Match 39 was, eventually, beaten off after all.

4- Back on the pitch and as so often we got better in the second half.  And, yes, it would be nice if we were great for ninety minutes but evidence of a manager smart enough  to know what to change is encouraging.  It was still not quite there, the ball was still not sticking enough but fifteen minutes in we were undeniably on top for the first time.  Ken Sema rolled Evans, the weak link of the Derby backline.  João Pedro got yet another exquisite touch to tee up Chalobah who slammed the ball goalwards…  Evans blocked with his hands but a coulda rather than a shoulda penalty for me.  Cleverley put an outrageous ball across the pitch, well cleared.  Kabasele met a Quina corner well but a deflection killed the momentum of the header.  Derby were all hands on deck now, not least the excellent Matt Clarke, a frequent appearance on The List in recent years.

And then it happened.  And Ben Wilmot had a big role in it tp crown what was already perhaps his strongest performance in a yellow shirt;  the surge on the ball from the left that disrupted Derby’s shape was worthy of a Holebas or a Doucouré, not a 20-year-old centre back playing on his weaker side.  He continued his run pulling Shinnie away from João Pedro and…. well.  You’ve surely watched it a dozen times by now, you don’t need me to describe it.  There was a bit of Deulofeu at Wembley about it but rather than dislocating his ankle to achieve a ridiculous curl the Brazilian did his thing where he makes himself space not by touching the ball but by stepping away from it and then stroking an impossible shot arcing through the eye of the needle and into the top corner.  Completely outrageous.  João Pedro has arrived.

And THAT is what excitement feels like.  Our third winner of the season, fourth if you count Perica’s penalty against Oxford, but the first bellow.  The first roar, eyes closed limbs extended ungracefully from my starting position on my stomach in front of the TV on the living room floor, making a degree of noise that didn’t go down well with all members of the family.  Get.  In.

5- I started emptying out the garage today. the morning after the night before, the first stage of an overdue project that is having a week off devoted to it, at least in part.  No, not exciting, but I got my excitement in last night in that hugely cathartic moment.  I finally emptied the last of the boxes from our move from Watford, umm, eleven and a half years ago.  Yes, I should have just binned it, but I found this…


Which is a good thing.

As for the game…  yes, it could easily have been nil-nil although Philippe Cocu, whose Derby side were limited and imbalanced rather than awful – had a touch of the Viallis about him in his fanciful post-match assessment that his side had been dominant and deserved “at least” a point.  No mate.  Both sides were solid, made it difficult.  We had some angel dust, and scored a goal, you didn’t.

A goal with our first shot on target admittedly, but as above Vlada is playing his hand and playing it well.  There’s an array of attacking talent missing that will give us an awful lot more than just angel dust.  Indeed, a line-up of Bachmann, Navarro, Masina, Cathcart, Sierralta, Capoue, Hughes, Garner, Sarr, Deeney, Gray gives today’s starting eleven a hell of a game and doesn’t feature Perica, Murray, Success or the criminally injured Dele-Bashiru.  Indeed, to requote an earlier statistic… if the Premier League couldn’t cope with a forward line of Sarr, Deeney, Deulofeu (L2, D3, W5 inc Liverpool, United, Wolves when starting together) then the Championship might struggle with Sarr, Deeney, João Pedro.

This game wasn’t a thriller, but was the stuff that promotions are made of.  We look a bit good, boys and girls.

This could be quite exciting.


Foster 3, Ngakia 3, Femenía 3, Kabasele 4, Troost-Ekong 3, Wilmot 4, Chalobah 3, Cleverley 3, Sema 3, Quina 3, *João Pedro 4*
Subs:   Cathcart (for Troost-Ekong, 72) 3, Murray (for João Pedro, 86) NA, Garner (for Quina, 89) NA, Stevenson, Phillips, Hungbo, Bachmann


1. Martin Coupe - 17/10/2020

Always bang on the money, Matt. Can’t quite understand the negativity on social media so far this season. Whisper it, but I am quite excited with what may follow, especially now the proverbial window has slammed shut…

2. Ray Knight - 17/10/2020

Hi Matt – I am sure many of us can relate to the new world of working from home, improving one’s curry creations and the football is not that exciting. However defensively we are solid, Ivic knows how to squeeze the best from current assets and there is more to come. Closure of the window slanted to support the EPL clubs to pillage clubs like us was not exciting, but it was tinged with humour. Palarse’s bid for Sarr and the Brentford boy to Wet Spam in a strange deal. No LB but Femmy was our only real threat in the first half. Agree Wilmot is getting better and JP is building confidence with a top drawer goal. We have to be pleased with our quiet start.

3. PEDantic - 17/10/2020

Muntjacs. They’re Chinese. Like that virus.
(What a goal, by the way.)

Old man Dave - 19/10/2020

Strange comment, Are you a Trump supporter by any chance?
Thanks Matt, always fair assessments of a game. Non-biased …

4. Andrew Maslen - 18/10/2020

Again, always spot on. That little bit of magic goal made my bum cheeks leave the sofa and l let out loud “YESSSS” to the street’s of Bradford on Avon. My lady had just returned from teaching kids ballet all day and was having a shower when she heard the roar, ten minutes later…. “So you scored?”

I miss getting the train up from Bath for the games. Since my mate died a couple of years ago I have been traveling up with a few non Watford fans, two of which I went out for dinner with tonight, they support ‘big’ teams, but both watched the game on sky, all of it, and I felt like I should have paid for their pudding tonight, I didn’t.

Matt Rowson - 18/10/2020

Quite right. They’re Premier League they can afford their own puddings.

5. Harefield Hornet - 18/10/2020

The prospect of this solid foundation being augmented by those returning from
Injury and elsewhere is mouth watering indeed! – Enjoyed the lock down article in Yellow Black and Red edition 2 by the way!

Matt Rowson - 18/10/2020

Thanks, I enjoyed writing it

6. Harefield Hornet - 18/10/2020

Wonderful return of Gladys Protheroe too – Since I was young article. Certainly resonated with me and recalling the times when as 16/17 year olds we used to try sneaking into the old social club for a drink! Wonderful memories ! Roger Flemming
And the travel club etc!

7. Kris - 18/10/2020

Great results both of the transfer window and the match. How we can come out of it with Capoue, Sarr, Deeney, Hughes and Gray still at the club I don’t know. The challenge will be to keep everyobe happy and wanting to play. Succeed in that and we will be contenders for sure.

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