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Watford 3 Blackburn Rovers 1 (21/10/2020) 22/10/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- I have recently discovered Marie Kondo.

At a time when, for various reasons, it’s difficult to do anything extravagant with time off and having plenty of it still to use I’m spending the week sorting out the garage.  That’s living, kids.  And so I’ve been directed towards Marie Kondo’s Netflix show by a friend who knows me rather too well.  The ferociously prescriptive and attractively bonkers how-to-tidy-and-organise-stuff methodology is right up my street and has had a fine impact on my garage, at the cost only of the collateral damage of an unforeseen extra day to be spent emptying my wardrobe and saying goodbye and thank you to, I suspect, a large number of clothes.

Marie Kondo herself is a small Japanese woman high on smiles, energy and personality.  One of the mantras is to only keep stuff that gives you joy, and the character she portrays is consistent with that.  She’s joyful.

Only a visit to her Wikipedia page lifts the veil.  Her Wikipedia pic is…  cold.  Focused.  Severe.  Businesslike.  The illusion is shattered, her on-screen persona is mere performance.  This doesn’t make the approach any less effective it’s just…  harder to trust her.

So it was reassuring to see Vladimir Ivic staying on brand during a largely vanilla fans’ forum on Monday.  “Would you prefer to win 4-3 or 1-0”.  “1-0”, with a twitch of the shoulder that implied that the answer should have been obvious (it was).  It’s not the fun answer, but you know it’s an honest one.  Nobody should be surprised.   What he made of this evening’s fare we can only speculate.

2- Much of the blame for the  thrilling, captivating nature of the evening lies at the feet of the visitors, who were bold, enterprising and very capable.  Comfortably the most potent attacking force we’ve faced so far, their activity at the end of the transfer window suggested a side who’d had a glance around the division, decided they fancied it and told the dealer to twist accordingly.  Of the four deadline day arrivals only the precocious Harvey Elliott started and it may be that we played Rovers at a good time, before the signings have settled, but this was nonetheless a stern test of our back line.

Which isn’t to say that the visitors were infallible.  The prognosis from previews by People Who Know was of a soft underbelly and even as Rovers pushed forward, dominated possession and denied us any control in the early stages a peculiar defensive set up that saw centre-backs Ayala and Lenihan staying back. goalkeeper Kaminski pushing up, but a chasm between themselves and the rest of their side with both full backs attacking aggressively seemed ripe for exploitation.

The early exchanges only served to whet the appetite for what was to come.  As we finally managed to string a couple of passes together six minutes in, Sarr was released and disappeared into the sunset leaving Amari’i Bell in pieces behind him.  Rather than rein in Rovers’ ambition this only seemed to spur them on…  a quick free kick forced Cathcart to concede a corner, the excellent Nyambe fed Armstrong who tested Foster for the first time, the keeper making light of a fierce shot.

It was an engrossing battle, which seemed to take a decisive turn in a five minute period a quarter of an hour in.  The first goal was a rapier thrust;  Sarr fed Garner who played in Kiko on a galloping overlap.  He squared for João Pedro to sidefoot calmly home.  It was a goal savage in its precision, but the follow-up four minutes later was simply savage, Rovers momentarily startled by the turn of events opened up by a ball from Garner and Sarr’s merciless strength and speed.  His shot at an angle was always a big ask, but Kaminski could only palm it away and it dropped kindly for Tom Cleverley, albeit his forehead was where anyone else’s could have been if they’d been paying attention.

3- Very briefly that felt like “it”, so clinical had been our finishing, so keen had Rovers been to push forward and so vulnerable had they seemed to be to the counter-attack.  Going away and being so positive is fine until you fall behind, let alone two goals behind, and it was difficult to see anything other than us scoring more on the break.

To their credit Rovers’ resolve didn’t waver at all and they kept at us.  We had a bit of a break five minutes later as Kabasele was given a yellow as he brought down the lively Armstrong.  The striker had run across Kaba’s path to draw the foul and with Cathcart covering a yellow was the right decision, but not so right that you haven’t seen a red given in those circumstances.  From the resultant free kick Lenihan tested Ben Foster with a header – he should have done better in truth, having been let go by his marker Sema in a slightly concerning echo of the game at Hillsborough.

Another five minutes of pressure on and Rovers had a goal back.  It was a tremendous chest and volley from more than twenty yards, albeit Brereton had more space than you’d have liked, but Ben Foster was deceived by a late bounce and beaten at his near post.

Digressing slightly, it’s an overlooked detail that we didn’t award a Player of the Season last year.  Completely understandable in the circumstances, Things being what they are/were and so on even if it presents something of an unreachable itch for statistical completists like me.  In any event, had such an award been made it seems likely that Foster would have achieved the rare feat of two such trophies in relegation seasons thirteen years apart, for his stoic performances and irrepressible good-blokeness on and off the pitch.  And this despite, it is easy to forget, a rather wobbly start to last season where being beaten at his near post was in danger of becoming a Thing.  He overcame that wobble and here, too, whilst at least jointly culpable for letting Rovers back into the game he recovered to pull off a quite startling performance.

4- Any concerns that the second half would calm down a bit were allayed within five minutes of the restart.  An underhit Chalobah pass towards Sema was cut out, and Wilmot was caught slightly flat footed as Brereton escaped only to be pulled back by a welcome offside flag.  That could have been a different second half.

As it was, and with so much of our threat in the first half having come via the burning pace of Sarr and Femenía on the right, Blackburn telegraphed what was to come by giving Ken Sema all sorts of space to put a cross in on the left.  He’s already demonstrated that he needs no space at all to cause damage from wide positions, so it was little surprise that a minute later his vicious cross was turned in by Lenihan.  Unfortunate for Rovers, but only up to a point – this wasn’t a freak turn of events, a gift… Sarr was attacking the space behind Lenihan forcing the Irish defender to (try to) deal and would have converted if he hadn’t.

Back to a two goal cushion, but still not game over.  Foster saved brilliantly from a Corey Evans volley, then again when another underhit pass towards Sema, this time from Sarr, saw Rovers escape. Armstrong beat the offside this time only to be denied by Foster’s extendable fingertips, a save he had no right to make.  Only, finally, when Holtby won himself a penalty with a well-timed tumble and Foster went the right way to deny Armstrong yet again were we able to relax.  For all Rovers, potency, this was clearly our night.

And for all Rovers’ potency, for all that they dominated possession and made so many chances, the scoreline doesn’t flatter us in the slightest.  Having a tremendous goalkeeper isn’t “lucky”, having defensive players doing what’s necessary to make those chances difficult for the most part isn’t fortunate.  Instead the main concern from the evening was that we didn’t win more comfortably given the unreasonable pace in our attack and the great big spaces that were afforded behind Rovers’ backline.  For all that the visitors were impressive and huge fun – “everyone likes a plucky loser”, as my Dad would say – there were echoes of the dying days of Javi’s reign here at the start of last season (about twenty years ago).  Rovers were attacking and enterprising, but carved open far too easily.

5- For the remaining twenty minutes or so the visitors were kept at arm’s length and it looked more likely that we’d extend our lead than that we’d concede again, João Pedro and Sarr both coming close in blistering breaks.  Key in this, the cherry on the icing on an already very respectable cake this evening was a swaggering half hour from the quite brilliant Étienne Capoue.

And here’s the thing.  If we were perhaps catching Rovers on a good day, a few players missing and new signings not bedded in, then every side that plays us at the moment is playing us on  a good day.  We are only going to get better. All of our midfielders played well in isolation today…  Chalobah does some silly things sometimes but only because he does so much destructively and creatively.  James Garner looked absolutely fabulous again, dynamic and energetic and ferocious and still absolute class with the ball at his feet.  Cleverley is leading the team, and for me far, far more effective in an attacking role.

And yet Capoue will take that midfield to a whole new level, a Rolls Royce of a midfielder in this or any division.  Will Hughes still to return.  Wow.  At the back, if we looked less comfortable, more tested and stretched today it’s in part due to the fact that we were facing a much more potent opponent – conceding one goal here as impressive as some of the clean sheets that preceded it.  And up front…  the two young forward players are both extraordinary and if they’re not quite in tandem yet then you kinda feel that with a tweak in formation, attacking from slightly deeper either side of a Perica or a Gray, (let alone a Deeney, at his freewheeling Russian Roulette best in the Hornet Hive studio) they’re going to cause no end of havoc.

Most of all, there’s the head coach’s ferociously prescriptive method.  Marie Kondo would approve, I suspect. A long way to go, but we look well set-up, well stocked and well prepared for this.

Another big test Saturday.  Bring it on.

Yooorns.

*Foster 4*, Femenía 4,  Sema 3, Cathcart 3, Kabasele 4, Wilmot 3, Chalobah 4, Cleverley 4, Garner 4, Sarr 4, João Pedro 3
Subs:   Capoue (for Cleverley, 61) 4, Ngakia (for Femenía, 71) 3, Quina (for Sarr, 89) NA, Troost-Ekong, Perica, Murray, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Ray Knight - 22/10/2020

Hi Matt – masterly journalism again and love link to Marie Kondo. So much insightful detail in your accounts not seen elsewhere. A very encouraging, exciting but slightly unsettling display. Blackburn gave us a proper workout from start to finish exposing our strengths and weaknesses. If one looks at the stats we played the role of the enterprising away team. Ivic must have learnt a lot and clearly by our late return at HT had plenty to say in the dressing room. This man means business, no laid back, except one’s fate nonchalance. Things are looking very promising. Muff will be another test, but clear that hurdle with something to show by way of points I sense ripping into a few teams are that. Can’t wait for Saturday. COYHs!

Matt Rowson - 22/10/2020

Thanks Ray. “in football everything is complicated by the presence of an opponent “. Our working over and the pattern of play down to them as well as us. As above I think the fact that they were good and enterprising but that we cooked with it is hugely encouraging.

Graham French - 22/10/2020

Great write up. This is shaping up to be quite a season, with Hughes, Deeney, Gray to come back, our youthful sextet of Pedro, Sarr, Ngakia, Wilmott, Quina – & Garner – to gel & improve even more. Add Capoue & Foster, possibly best goalkeeper & midfielder in the division. What a prospect. And not forgetting the improved Chalobah, rejuvenated Ceverley, Ken, Kiko. I need to stop as I’m at risk of listing the entire squad, but the talent at our disposal is remarkable

2. Harefield Hornet - 22/10/2020

Great report. This Division is wide open and ripe for picking from what I’ve seen so for. Reading, the early leaders, really struggled to overturn Wycombe on Tuesday, and they have conceded 12 and are still looking for their first point! A long hard season in front of us yes, but with the squad we have we must be in with a good shout. Chalobah is emerging as the Player that seems to divide opinion the most at the moment – I am very much in the for camp but it will be interesting to see if he stays in when others are fit to return. I was a bit surprised to see us start again without a recognised striker when at last one was available – but Sarr and Pedro are wonderful to watch. Garner the next Scholes anyone – no pressure son!

3. David Allen - 22/10/2020

As usual, a fair and forthright, sensible and sensitive, insightful and informative appraisal. Many thanks, Matt, for an entertaining read.
How many times have we heard “there are no easy games in the Championship”? And this certainly was not easy against a Rovers who are a solid and experienced Championship side. Were I a Rover’s fan I would be both heartened and sickened by my team’s performance last night, but there again how many times last season did we completely outplay the opposition and still come away with naught?
Bournemouth, however, will be a different type of match altogether as we are still both playing in a semi-Premiership way. It’ll be interesting.

4. Simoninoz - 23/10/2020

It’s wonderful to be keeping the likely ‘high-earners’ like Deeney, Capou and Hughes. However I am also scared that we might be gambling it all on red. Does anyone have any intel as to whether these fine players are taking a relegation pay cut? Gino is a smart man, and I hope he is cutting his cloth so that a failure to bounce-back straight away will not cause financial problems.


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