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Queens Park Rangers 1 Watford 1 (21/11/2020) 22/11/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Back in school we played something resembling basketball.  I say “something resembling” because whilst I’m no aficionado my understanding has always been that basketball is supposed to be a non-contact sport.  A quick google clarifies that there’s plenty of technically illegal contact which is only pulled up when it affects the game.

Which still paints a picture of scant resemblance to whatever it was that we were playing at school, particularly during periods where Mr Green got bored and wandered off to the adjoining gym.  The version of basketball that we played was amongst the more violent pursuits of my school career (though obviously not a patch on the impromptu game of murderball that decimated the village green at Finchingfield, Essex when coaches A and C made the ill-advised decision to coincide there for a lunch break on a geography field trip in 1986).

Other than the violence, the enduring memory of these (loosely) basketball sessions is Mr Green’s limited but persistent attempts to coach a bit of tactical awareness into his charges. On any changeover of possession (frequent), the subsequent charge down the court was given fuel by his bellow of “fast breeeeaaaaak” (this being the extent of the tactical input);  on arrival at the other end of the court of course having bypassed the utterly irrelevant central third entirely, neither attacking nor defending side knew what the hell to do or where to stand, and so looked for someone to collide with accordingly.

If you watched the first half today, you’ll know where this is going.

2- There’s been a degree of reflection and stock taking of the season so far during the international break.  My own view for what it’s worth, as these reports have probably reflected, is that us getting to where we’ve got to without being particularly convincing is a Good Thing.  If Vlad was giving the impression of thinking we were sorted there’d be a concern.  This isn’t the case at all, and as such woe betide the division when we get our shit together.

And part of that getting together of our shit involves sorting the attacking shape on which score it was difficult to be anything other than positive at the outset today.  The unwelcome absences through unspecified knocks of both Christian Kabasele and Tom Cleverley was offset by a much anticipated switch in formation that saw an out-and-out striker, Andre Gray in this case, inserted between the two forwards, Sarr and João Pedro, who’ve spearheaded the side for much of the season.  This at the cost of a midfielder…  it says something for the strength of our squad that we can carry injuries to Hughes, Cleverley and Dele-Bashiru and still have options in the centre, but it may be that Cleverley’s injury accelerated the switch in formation.

This optimism was only fuelled by an opening two minutes which saw the Hornets win a corner and Ben Wilmot fly in unchallenged to flick home.  For all that this was his first senior goal for the ‘orns, Ben Wilmot attacking the box from a set piece is becoming a trademark Thing, witness two chances at Barnsley, his celebrated winner for Swansea against Cardiff and his goal for England’s U21 side on his full debut over the international break.  I slumped back into my seat to enjoy the happy inevitability of a comfortable victory.

3-  A state of calm which lasted about as long as it took for the home side to make their way back up the pitch to find the lively Bright Osayi-Samuel free on the right of the box, Cathcart interceding urgently to concede a corner.  From this the ball bounced around in our box alarmingly, a clean-shaven Étienne Capoue cleared off the line before a pass meandered its way across the face of goal oblivious to the anxiety it was provoking in Hertfordshire and beyond.

Quicker than you could shout “Fast breeeeeak” Kiko, in miles of space on our right throughout the first half, was winning a free kick from which Gray glanced a header wide.  Two minutes later a tremendous ball from deep from Wilmot found Kiko again; he was felled by Wallace near the corner flag, and Troost-Ekong repeated Wilmot’s trick of thundering into the box unimpeded but sent his header carelessly wide.

Such was the tone of the first half.  Chaotic, haphazard, both sides making chances but not quite having the quality to convert them.  You’d put it down to luck if this wasn’t a recurring pattern but Sarr in particular seemed hesitant in front of goal, his decisiveness not on par with the rest of his game in another, more concerning emerging trend.

And the shape wasn’t really working either.  Removing a midfielder was always going to ask a lot of Capoue and Chalobah and while Nate hurtled around manfully to varying effect Caps was passive.  We’ve seen him do this before, earlier in his Watford career… retreat into himself and let the game happen to him rather than running it as he could and should.  There was, perhaps inevitably, a big gap between the deep-sitting midfield and the forward line, and whilst it never stopped us making stuff (and indeed the preponderance of long balls may have been a deliberate strategy aimed at turning around a rearguard low on concentration) it both prevented us from overwhelming our opposition and laid ourselves open to counterattack.  Dominic Ball, a punchy Rangers midfielder whose aggressive display may have been fuelled by his release from the Vic as a youngster, charged through the centre of the pitch unchallenged on the half hour before earning a soft free kick from the diligent but often outnumbered Sema which Barbet put narrowly wide.

It was huge fun, and there was a sense that the next goal would be significant, that if we could grab it then we really could overwhelm our opposition, something we’re capable of but haven’t managed to achieve in any game this season.  Instead the half ended with João Pedro doing his thing of floating in off the left flank and bisecting QPR’s defence with a perfect through ball (for Sarr this time, for Ngakia against Boro).  Sarr should have scored, but his shot was parried at the near post.

4- There’s a reason that cancer screening in general is confined to a limited number of types of cancer.  Cancer screening is reasonably successful in that the tests themselves are reliable.  The probability of a false positive, a diagnosis of cancer in the absence of cancer, is low.

But the vast majority of positive diagnoses, in general, would be false.  This is the false positive paradox….  the test is good, but the vast majority of positive screens are misleading (“false positives”) because of the people being screened, the vast majority don’t have cancer.  A small proportion of a very big number is still a big number in absolute terms (more stuff here if this is more interesting than my report).

This is at the root of why Ivić had to change something at half time.  It’s tempting to look at a first half that, if chaotic, we came out of at the very least level on points and ahead on goals and then a second which was pretty bloody awful and ask “why didn’t he just stick with it?”.  Easy in hindsight.  We had to change something because for all that our defence tightened up a good deal in the first half and kept Rangers at bay for the most part, a small probability of failure is still significant if you’re rolling the dice a large number of times.

In hindsight (again), maybe Garner over Quina.  Maybe.  Given Garner’s delivery from set pieces in particular and QPR’s evident vulnerability in that regard.  But competing here is the need to sustain the attacking impetus, to find a combination that exploits our undoubted attacking potential, to make us more than the sum of our parts.  GT often said that you have to try things sometimes and Quina could be that spark, but was sadly lacking again here.  I’d expected him to drop into midfield with Troy and Sarr operating more as a pair, but Quina seemed based on the left where the slightly unfortunate João Pedro had been.  He looked horribly anxious, too often giving the ball away under no pressure and then charging after it in an attempt to redeem himself.  Troy, meanwhile, held the ball up ok and executed a number of tidy touches and lay offs, but wasn’t involved enough and wasn’t assertive enough.  Perversely.  Not all his fault but we needed a bully, we didn’t get one.

5- It wasn’t one-way traffic, not completely.  Looking for more control there were good signs early in the half as Ken, Troy and Quina worked it down the left only for Sarr to finish poorly.  Wilmot yet again got himself free in the box to meet a corner but headed wide on the hour.  Sema rolled a ball across the edge of the box, too far in front of Troy, Sarr fired over.

But what had looked like control retreated into a passive, stodgy performance without much threat at all.  Some of this is on us, but QPR grabbed hold of the game and kept coming and kept coming.  Substitute Dykes provided a physical presence and demanded some fine defending from Troost-Ekong from a corner.  From a deep right wing free kick Masterton headed across the box and off the bar.  Whereas we’d achieved composure at the back for much of the first half we were increasingly being pulled apart…  a ball in from the left demanded more fine defending from Cathcart, belying three games and a knock with Northern Ireland with a fine display here.

But it was coming and it came with around 15 minutes to go, some decent passing and movement freeing Chair on the left to roll the ball inside Ben Foster’s far post, a precise finish.  What threat of a winner there was then came from the home side… Foster clawed impossibly from underneath his bar, Troy cleared.  Dykes propelled the ball in with his hand after a fine cross from Watfordian Tom Carroll… clear handball, but they were there to execute it.  Chalobah could have been penalised for a tangle with Barbet in the box. We wouldn’t have had much to argue about had they found the winner.

They didn’t, and there are positives to take from this.  A point at Loftus Road might look like a much better point in a month or so’s time than it does now, and our centre-backs in particular stood up well to a varied attacking threat.  We’re still less than the sum of our parts though, it still looks wonky and botched together.  This isn’t a well-oiled machine that pieces slip in and out of, not yet.

But given that there’s no sense in criticising Ivić for trying different things.  It didn’t work today, we got an away point anyway just about, but we made a load of chances.  It’s not like there’s nothing there.  And while Ivić keeps trying to find a way to fit the pieces together we need to be patient if we don’t want to morph into the triggerhappy fanbase that lazy assessment of the Pozzo approach to head coaches paints the club as.

Yoorns.

Foster 4, Femenía 3,  Sema 3, Wilmot 4, Troost-Ekong 4, *Cathcart 4*, Capoue 2, Chalobah 3, Sarr 2, Gray 3, João Pedro 3
Subs:   Deeney (for Gray, 45) 2, Quina (for João Pedro, 45) 1, Garner, Sierralta, Ngakia, Murray, Navarro, Crichlow, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 22/11/2020

Hugely frustrating. This squad is like a jigsaw puzzle that the recipient hasn’t quite managed to assemble yet. Partly due to injuries, which we’re starting to put behind us,
and a few other irritating issues such as the disturbance in rhythm caused by the international breaks. As you’ve said above the other mitigating factor is that he still
hasn’t worked out who to play where? Or managed to implement his preferred formation. Patience required, yes, but for how long! – I fear if we don’t get back up this season we could be in for a long wait until we do. Currently we’re still in a pretty good position in the table – any chance of that slipping away will no doubt mark the
End of Ivic. For better or for worse.

2. PEDantic - 22/11/2020

The half-time substitutions would have looked fine if we had gone on to win the game with an increased level of control. But the opposite happened and the lack of any further changes, despite the new five sub rule, smacked of the manager punishing the players for their poor performance. Either way, surely everyone now knows Sarr shouldn’t play in a strike partnership, especially when he is not having his best day. Will Ivic ever try his supposedly favoured 4-3-3?

3. johnsamways - 22/11/2020

Once again you describe the match I saw, Matt, in your typically creative, analytical way. Your final sentence is perhaps the most important ‘takeaway’ – as ever, thank you for a perspective which serves to raise anticipation for Wednesday!

Matt Rowson - 22/11/2020

Thanks John 😊

4. John - 22/11/2020

Excellent report as usual Matt. I think the lack of a left back extremely limits the choices for Ivic. He is stuck with a back three until that problem is resolved. Yesterday whilst we had the better of the 1st half and should have had another goal or two QPR were playing through the midfield and good sense in changing that. Quina didn’t solve the issue and by losing Pedro and QPR strengthening at left back to restrict Kiko we lost a service to Deeney. We lost control of the game and were fortunate to hang on for a point.
Dislike the comments on Ivic on social media really are some folk with no idea of what is going on.

5. Steve G - 22/11/2020

When we first had sight of Quina I thought he was a really exciting prospect – raw, certainly, but an energetic player who looked really promising. But he just hasn’t managed to hit his stride at all this season – I hope that Ivic can find some way of rebuilding his confidence as it just isn’t happening at the moment.

I can see the merits of 4-3-3 in principle, but at the moment in the absence of Masina, who would we play at LB? Neither Sema nor Femenia would seem a good fit and it you use one of the existing CB it’s barely a change from what we’re doing at the moment. Also, given that the four central defenders have arguably been some of our consistently best performers (along with the two wing backs) it would seem perverse to leave two of them out.

3-5-3 would probably be out best bet at the moment, but the ref and the opposition might notice…

6. David - 24/11/2020

One of the negatives of 5 years in the prem is the problem of reasonable expectation. During the Wycombe game the commentator said their operational budget was £5M per annum; Andre Grey alone allegedly earns 75% of this on his own. It is not completely unreasonable therefore to merge most expensive players into the best players into the best team. Thankfully it does not work like that. Many of my favourite teams watford XI’s were greater than the sum of their parts because the combination of pace, Hameur Bouazza, technical ability, Neal Ardley and power, Helguson spread across 3 players can be as effective as 3 individuals supposedly blessed with each trait.

On the positive side, Cathcart’s is much more comfortable on the left of the back 3 than Wilmot is and kiko had another 8/10 game.

7. John Ford - 26/11/2020

Although Heidar’s penalties were definitely guile rather than power!


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