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Barnsley 1 Watford 0 (31/10/2020) 01/11/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- I didn’t want us to get relegated.

I know that there’s lots to dislike about the top flight, lots to dislike about football generally I suppose, and a train of thought which might lead a supporter of a moderately sized club to wonder what the point is if you think too hard about the likely ceiling to any ambition of such a club in the Premier League.

The trick is not to think about that too much and to enjoy the journey, a journey that was a lot of fun in the Premier League, every game a big event so no, didn’t want to get relegated.  But… there were silver linings to the development, albeit silver linings that would have been more pronounced had Stuff been Normal.  More games, for instance.  And more midweek games under the lights.

And the chance to revisit old haunts like Barnsley.  One of the places that we’ve all been to a thousand times, but not for at least five years (seven in Barnsley’s case) that would have been good to see again.  Remembering that time when Paul Furlong dragged Gerry Taggart half the length of the pitch in the dying minutes to win a precious three points in 1994.  Or the time when we froze our nuts off in the name of a 1-0 win in 2000. Or the time when Pete Fincham…  well, if you were there you don’t need reminding.  And, well, many more less memorable jaunts that sort of blend into one in your mind’s eye.  That’s what the Championship’s like, that’s what you get.

What you also get is shitty 1-0 away defeats that make you want to chew your arm off in frustration.

2- Barnsley opened at a blistering pace.  We’ve seen some aggressive pressing this season but this was something else altogether, rabid and ferocious.  William Troost-Ekong’s third-minute booking was a bit harsh, but it reflected the degree to which we were already rattled.  The home side capitalised… a slack pass from Wilmot didn’t reach Capoue, Alex Mowatt seized it and pinged a tremendous shot into the top corner.  It wasn’t that far away from Ben Foster in truth as his reaction betrayed but it was a hell of a strike.

The game changed immediately.  It seemed unlikely that the Tykes could maintain that level of pressing and it stopped straight away, either because it was physically unsustainable or because the goal changed the requirement or a bit of both.  The game settled into a pattern in which Watford had most of the possession and more of the chances but impotently, lobbing missiles from a distance rather that getting down and dirty where the fists were flying.  Once again, jabbing with quick counterattacks that never quite came off but rarely applying concerted pressure.

It would be tempting to praise Barnsley’s strategy, a strategy that after all earned them three points and that such praise is justified in the sense that a limited team played the hand it had to the best of it’s ability.  They were a bit rubbish though;  on the few occasions when we were able to sustain possession in the final third the backline was quickly rattled.  They were lucky, too…  our delivery from wide was manifestly inadequate, but when deflections came they were kind to the home side, generally helping rather than fooling the goalkeeper.

But that’s not good enough.  Being a bit unlucky to lose to a poor side, albeit given the challenge of going behind early to a game underdog, not good enough.  Not laying much of a punch on them, not good enough.  At all.

3- The announcement of the first team came with it the welcome news that Will Hughes and Andre Gray were both deemed ready enough to be named on the bench.  As we’ve progressed steadily at the start of this season there’s been the knowledge that we have so much more to come, and up front in particular but Étienne Capoue’s performance served as a reminder that it won’t maybe be as simple as that.  He’s been out a while, sure, his head must have been all over the place, this was very different to the Premier League fare that he’s been more than a match for for the last five years.

But he looked like a footballer with amnesia operating on muscle memory.  He had a ragged opening half hour, not so much misplacing passes as swinging them wildly into touch (albeit with the aid of a blustery wind) and then standing still, blinking, with the confusion of someone who’d had a mental block and forgotten which key he should have been pressing.  As he got into the groove he improved a bit, slinging countless long-range passes from deep over a congested midfield looking for Sarr galloping down the right.  Always from deep though, and here was part of the problem.

The quandary was reminiscent of a home game against Southampton, the Shane Long after however many seconds game (only 18 months ago, kids) in which, minus the suspended Deeney we had the same challenge of going behind early, having nothing to hit long and a stodgy midfield that could suck the ball up for ten minutes at a time if you let it.  Here our attacks weren’t without threat, but it was a hypothetical threat too often.  Sarr and João Pedro are both tremendous but they’re both forwards rather than strikers.  In the first half all of our threat comes down the right again with Kiko, god love him, bombing on and he and Sarr swipping and swapping and overlapping before putting in crosses of variable quality to nobody in particular.  That’s the problem with Sarr playing up front, he’s always going to be drawn to the wing and if he’s putting the ball in, who’s going to get on the end of it?  It should be João Pedro of course, but we’re asking a lot of a youngster, effectively to be the striker he isn’t, the lone striker which isn’t an easy thing to be and he’s proving not terribly adept at it.  Meanwhile whilst Tom Cleverley does a decent job of providing bodily support in the middle but you’ve still got a formation in which you rarely get more than three or four players into the attacking third because the support isn’t quick enough and the ball doesn’t stick enough.

4- We start the second half at a much higher tempo.  If we’d sustained that we might have got the break and the point that we probably deserved; as above, it doesn’t take much for Barnsley to wobble.  Capoue and João Pedro combine and Sema is caught by what must have been a tight offside.  Kiko overlaps on the right again, his cross is deflected into the keeper’s arms.  As an aside… Valérien Ismaël offered enough to encourage Barnsley fans about their new coach (who despite a few surprising “Valérien who?” retorts had a long playing career at a high level and also played for Crystal Palace).  The introduction of Clark Odour on the left flank bottled Kiko up and shut down our most reliable threat.

Nonetheless… Cleverley should have scored when getting onto the end of a move on the left side of the box and opting to go with his right foot as the ball came to him quickly.  Ben Wilmot got onto the end of two corners and should have scored on the second attempt but the ball bounced over the bar…  partly at fault for the goal and culpable here, Wilmot was nonetheless the most impressive of the back three, assertive and proactive.  A difficult afternoon, but no doubt we have a player here.

5- It will get better.  Ivic continues to encourage both with his candid assessment of where we are and with his tactical flexibility.  The switch that saw us change formation to go with three up top as Gray came on to replace Troost-Ekong was ineffective on this occasion, Gray needs minutes in his legs to get up to speed, but feels like a much more sustainable long-term bet with Sarr and João Pedro either side of a proper striker.  We’re not very far away from being effective, there are bits that are really good being scuppered by the bits that aren’t.  We’re making chances, we have a threat and we’re pretty solid.  It’ll come.

But it needs to.  This wasn’t good enough.


Foster 3, *Femenía 3*,  Sema 3, Cathcart 3, Troost-Ekong 3, Wilmot 3, Capoue 2, Chalobah 2, Cleverley 3, Sarr 3, João Pedro 2
Subs:   Garner (for Chalobah, 66) 2, Gray (for Troost-Ekong, 76) NA, Hughes (for Cleverley 82) NA, Ngakia, Kabasele, Quina, Bachmann


1. Harefield Hornet - 01/11/2020

Correct about frustrating – that match absolutely did my head in yesterday! We need a focal point up front as has been said a million times already this season but what was so annoying was the amount of times we needlessly gave away the ball or knocked it into touch. A dreadful afternoon – bring on Stoke !!

2. M - 01/11/2020

Interesting interpretation of a match befitting of championship football and not by any means premiership, yet Watford with multi-million pound players are obviously not upto the task. In contrast, Barnsley, a championship side of many terms showed their metal against a poor ex-premiership side that clearly showed why they were relegated – money wasted !

Matt Rowson - 01/11/2020

Thanks for that. Come again.

Harefield Hornet - 02/11/2020


3. John parslow - 01/11/2020

Can we do it on a wet watford Wednesday evening vs Stoke?
Only with a complete change of approach and attitude.

I think Capoue is a problem as the chalobah impact has been lost to accommodate him and 40 yard balls to Sarr time and time again became both predictable and a waste of time as even when Sarr got possession his next product was wasteful.

Overall I’d like a change to 4-3-3 and just attack more . Our defence with Ben can hold out most chances – but we need to be more purposeful in the opposition box.

NickB - 02/11/2020

What a Chalobah (autocorrected to ‘ballbag’…) impact would that be?

Matt Rowson - 02/11/2020

Harsh. Destructively he’s been very effective. He was tremendous against Bournemouth, but with him AND Capoue sitting deep we’ve got an issue.

4. Ray Knight - 01/11/2020

Thanks Matt. Yes, very frustrating, especially the first half. Another slow, nervous start, this time punished. Capoue left his range finder back in the EPL and Wilmot could only get better after that horror pass. The ‘interception’ stats were 3:1 in Barnsley’s favour, but this was us giving the ball away constantly not really anything they did. No shots on target tells it’s own story. Ivic has to do something radical. We need a number 9 and 3 at the back is a luxury we can’t afford when the midfield/ attack is struggling so badly.Two easy matches at home up, so all will be fine!

5. Richard Steeden - 01/11/2020

I was reminded of early days Brendan Rodgers and more ominously, full season Vialli. Regardless of personnel, you’re reduced to relying on worldies if you’re getting so few players around the opposition penalty area, the whole team needs to get further up the pitch. Felt that up to this week, we’d done ok given the off field uncertainty, but now having nagging doubts. Can only hope that VI will adapt the approach sooner rather than later.

6. David - 02/11/2020

I have been very positive about Vlad but it was a bad result following the Wycombe flop. I thought we were better than the Wycombe match but as that bar is so low it’s not much comfort.

Nothing more to add from those above but I do cringe when the ball is played out to Wilmot on the touch line. Please please stop that.

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