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Watford 0 Cardiff City 1 (05/12/2020) 06/12/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- “You’ve got cash ?!?  But we’ve got a new card machine, and nobody is letting us use it!”

It’s a day for taking things carefully.  There’s a lot of retreading of familiar steps for the first time since February but some of the normal routines aren’t going to be feasible and nobody wants to take any risks.  The mobile phone, carrying the precious tickets on the club app, has had its battery charged to within an inch of its life on the way down and a comfortable time cushion has been allowed to accommodate the possibilities that either the ring road is snarled up by Christmas shoppers finally released from lockdown (it isn’t) or that the Girls Grammar isn’t open for football parking (it is).  Given which, little surprise that the girls on duty at the gate have had no chance to use their new toy; folk are thinking ahead.  We stopped en route to grab the necessary £10 from a cashpoint, the first time I’ve used a cashpoint since forever.  We won’t have been the only ones.

The thing about lockdown though is that everyone’s had to develop their own code.  Their own normal, their own definition of what is or isn’t acceptable.  To what extent you blame the inevitable uncertainties of a (relatively) New Problem and to what extent you blame the coherence or otherwise of official guidelines, it’s difficult to know exactly what The Right Thing (or least wrong thing) to do is with any great certainty.  Circumstances have dictated these behaviours to an extent;  my rules are very different to my parents’, and different again to my in-laws.  I’m relatively lucky though – I live rurally, I’ve not had to go into work since March, it’s boring as hell but I CAN work anywhere with a WiFi connection. So that’s what I’ve done.  I’ve not seen many people in the same place in eight or nine months.

So Watford town centre is a bit of a shock to the system.  There are queues outside all of the restaurants, and evidence again of rules and norms in operation that are very different from mine.  We retreat, startled, towards the stadium and after pausing in Fry Days quickly agree where we’ll eat our lunch.

2- Getting in takes a while.  Our bags are checked and tagged, we queue up for orderly access to turnstiles.  There’s a one-way system marked out in the Rookery concourse but with all the vendors closed up and at well before 2 it’s mostly empty.  Food is consumed in our Rookery seats.

Other things have changed since we were last sitting in the Rookery for that debacle against Everton in February.  Daughter 2, for instance, has started secondary school as betrayed by her ripped jeans, a reckless fashion choice for early December, and her declaration of “mad respect” for whoever’s job it was to paint the pitch markings.

These pitch markings are more prominent from our temporary position, further right than our regular seats and only ten or so rows back from the pitch.  We watch the Rookery… if not fill up around us then at least become less empty, small groups dotted on diagonals, socially distanced.  Confusingly we’re asked to don our masks by an amiable enough steward despite the club’s own Code of Behaviour suggesting this not being necessary in seats.  I sit there feeling a bit awkward for five minutes in my mask, until it becomes evident that the vast majority around me are maskless and unchallenged and I slightly self-consciously de-mask, allowing my specs to demist again.

Unfortunately this means I can see the match, which we’ll get to when we have to.  As for the steward… his norms were more severe than mine, and of the majority of his colleagues.  Like everyone else, he’s running to catch up with changing circumstances;  the club have done as good a job of this as anyone, reacting to the lifting of the supporter ban at short notice, undertaking the thankless task of determining who the lucky 2000 might be and overcoming the challenges presented by systems that really weren’t supposed to be relied upon this quickly and this absolutely.

Jesus.  I’m going to have to talk about the football now.

3- With the benefit of hindsight there’s an inevitability about a miserable 1-0 defeat on the day on which supporters are first let back in.  Our home form has held steady up to now despite variable performances, but the torpor of our away games finally infected Vicarage Road rather – as one might have hoped – than our admirable home form radiating into our away performances.

As ever, this wasn’t dreadful.  There was a semblance of a decent football team out there…  resilient enough defensively, even if Ben Foster was a little too casual disposing of the ball early on.  Reasonably successful at retaining possession, of which we had a fair bit.

But it’s all.  So.

Slow.

There’s no urgency to get behind Cardiff’s defence before it’s set, and not nearly enough ingenuity to penetrate it once its in place.  We look impotent, suddenly incapable of generating any stock goals, no “Ardley dumps it far post onto Helguson’s head” goals in stark contrast to the fluid fun of the Preston game only a week ago.

Cardiff didn’t let us get our noses in front though.  The visitors are a rugged, physical side which has Neil Warnock’s fingerprints all over it even before Sol Bamba trundles off the bench in the second half.  They’re confident and aggressive, but largely unremarkable and that’s the big concern;  making life difficult for us by dropping back and watching us pass our way politely around the edge of the box isn’t much of an ask for a halfway competent Championship side, as several have demonstrated.

Where Cardiff excel is in their threat from set pieces.  Sean Morrison has been attacking the far post at Cardiff City corners since glacial movement formed the Brecon Beacons, and in Kieffer Moore they have a startling centre forward.  He’s 6’5″, but there’s nothing either lanky or lumbering about him.  He looks like a normal bloke, but bigger, as if someone’s ordered an XXL by mistake for a kid who’s collecting the regular-sized models.  And we can’t cope with him at all.  The balance is tipping towards the end of the half well before the visitors take the lead;  a fearless diving header by William Troost-Ekong to block a goalbound shot, of which we have a close-quarters view, is the wide-eyed open-mouthed highlight of Daughter 2’s afternoon.  Only a few minutes later City’s thirty-seventh corner isn’t cleared and Moore takes advantage of some negligent scruffiness in the box to finish neatly.

For half a second we expect the delayed cheer from the away fans in the Vicarage Road End before remembering that the distant blobs of individuals are as pissed off as we are.  They don’t have to suffer Moore and friends briefly giving it large though – to daughter 2’s prolonged disdain – before the half ends with a grand total of one effort on target.

4- The third quarter of the game isn’t much better.  Kiko is on for Ngakia at the break and a need for urgency and for a bit of improvisation has clearly been communicated but it doesn’t last terribly long.  James Garner isn’t having a great afternoon and is the focus of The Bloke Behind Me’s irritation throughout, not entirely unreasonably although the relentless complaint of lack of variety from the same source, delivered at intervals of no more than two minutes for the first hour of the contest, appears to be entirely free of irony.

The introduction of Quina and particularly Hughes midway through the half, however, gives us a bit of oomph.  Suddenly Hughes is forcing the ball forwards rather than sideways and Cardiff’s defenders are having to turn around and don’t like it.  On the left Quina’s success rate is more variable but at least it’s positive, something, if in a sort of “agent of chaos” kinda way.  Suddenly there’s a bit of movement and we look dangerous, Sarr is pulling people around, João Pedro is alive again.  The Brazilian records our only on target effort, a decent flicked header from a corner, but we’re threatening beyond that… Hughes firing wide at the far post, Perica getting underneath Sarr’s chipped cross to head over at the death.  The Croat is also booked for diving in the box, one of a series of odd decisions by a pompously insipid referee;  Perica was never getting a pen, but there was more physical contact in the challenge he suffered than in more obvious dives by both Mark Roberts and Moore in the first half, the latter altering the course of his run to fall over whilst traversing the corner of the box.  The whistle goes, there are grumbles.  Nobody really wants to be booing on today of all days.  Disappointingly, it’s only the usual suspects – plus Perica, significantly – who take the opportunity to acknowledge the supporters that they’ve been denied since March.

5- Obviously though, it’s brilliant.  It’s football after all, and miserable, frustrating 1-0 defeats are as much part of the tapestry as free-flowing eviscerations.  2000 supporters (1973, officially) can make quite a racket, it turns out, even when only afforded fare like this.  A goal would have made all the difference, the chance to release some of the stresses of 2020 with a good old bellow would have made us feel a lot better.  But it was still brilliant.

Neil Harris was widely quoted as protesting the unfairness of the current situation which sees supporters at some ground and not at others.  He’s right, of course.  He’d probably also concede – given that the context of his comment wasn’t as peevish as the headlining made it sound – that there’s quite a lot about football and the world that’s not fair at the moment.  In the grand scheme of things this is fairly small potatoes and in any case The Right Thing To Do.  As many supporters who can safely be admitted to football matches should be safely admitted to football matches.  This, and the unfairness thing, can both be true.  They’re not mutually exclusive.

If you’re lucky enough to have a Rotherham ticket, enjoy.  Give it some welly.  And don’t worry about having cash ready if you’re parking at the Grammar school.

Yooorns.

Foster 3, Ngakia 2, Wilmot 3,  Cathcart 3, Kabasele 3, Sarr 3, Garner 2, Cleverley 3, Sema 2, João Pedro 2, Deeney 2
Subs:  Femenía (for Ngakia, 45) 3, *Hughes (for Cleverley, 66) 3*, Quina (for Sema, 66) 3, Perica (for Wilmot, 81) NA, Capoue, Navarro, Sierralta, Phillips, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 06/12/2020

Great Matt and interesting to hear your thoughts on the lock-down match day experience. I wasn’t successful for Cardiff or Rotherham but still have fingers crossed for the other two. As for the match and result – bit of a deja View from when they officially named the EJ or GT stand with either present! Can’t recall which. Ivic is approaching the first rung of the disposal ladder if performances like that continue.

2. Alan Ahern - 06/12/2020

Cathcart? wishful thinking maybe!
Despite not falling for the much quoted enthusiasm at the start of the season due to us having “the best squad in the league” which “will tear this league new one”, my initial postitive feelings of a successful campaign are fading rapidly.
Ivic appeared to have the correct credentials to take this squad by the scruff of the neck and form it into a potent force, however, since a reasonably promising start during which any hiccups were put down to settling in and uncertantity about which players would be staying after the window closed, he seems to have slowly sucked the life out of the team. We are now playing a slow, predictable and turgid brand of football that is only enlivened on occassions due to the quality of certain players.
I’m sorry, but we are only heading in one direction, and its not towards the promised land.
Time for the club to ignore the inevitable scorn and derision that will be poured on us about sacking “yet another” head coach, and replace Ivic – but with who?
If the club are serious about returning to the premiership and reigniting “the project” which aims to make us a leading force outside of the top six, then they must get a proven, successful, experienced and ambitious manager/head coach. Difficult – yes: Expensive – yes: Risky – yes: But, another barely heard of foreign coach with a sketchy record (I don’t count success in Greece and Israel as major benefits), and we are going nowhere, and will gradually fade and join the gang of ex premiership clubs, many with far more illustrious histories than our own, spending years in the Championship, or worse, attempting to gain promotion.

3. PEDantic - 06/12/2020

I’m sorry, Matt. It was dreadful.
My wife and I were part of the ‘lucky’ 2,000 and, while the experience of going back to the ground was better than expected, it was criminal that the team gave us almost literally nothing to cheer.
It will also be criminal if this squad doesn’t achieve at least a play-off place because they obviously can do so much more than they have shown so far.
I don’t buy in to the Mourinho-inspired cult of the manager that we have to endure these days – I believe the players are far more important – so I’m not normally one to call for a change, but there’s something wrong at the moment. I’m sure Ivic is not telling the players not to have any goal attempts, or even attacks, or to play so slowly, so he’s either not getting his message across, or the players are ignoring him. Either way, it’s his job to inspire them and he’s not. So it looks like he was the wrong man for the job and needs to go.
Good luck to anyone going on Tuesday. Try and enjoy it, but perhaps be more prepared to show your dissatisfaction than we were if things are no better.

Matt Rowson - 06/12/2020

It was dreadful vs what they ought to be capable of. It was slow, dull and uninspiring. Free of the context of expectation and the quality in the squad it was just a bit crap.

4. Old Git - 06/12/2020

51 minutes gone and Sema wins a corner. Yet inexplicably a free kick is given to Cardiff after the defender took a tumble with clearly no contact. The camera pans to the Rookery and there’s Matt, out of his seat, bellowing his opinions at the ‘insipid’ referee.
So you got your bellow, Matt, but obviously the wrong sort.

Matt Rowson - 06/12/2020

Indeed. Bizarre decision. Good to have something to shout at tho.

5. Reg Sport - 06/12/2020

In his post-match press conference Ivic didn’t seem to address the central point which is the lack of a goal threat and shots on target.

He says that the players are adapting to a different style of play but my query is what is the objective of that style of play… surely it must be to score goals and win matches, if we’re not having shots on target we’re not going to do that however much passion and energy we have. If I was in Ivic’s position I would have a mantra which I would drum into the players all day every day “shots on target, shots on target”.

6. JohnF - 06/12/2020

Very frustrating but exactly what Cardiff set out to do. Tough on those in the ground. We can’t expect sides to make it easy but it would be nice to have a bit of stability so we can look less like a group of individuals and more like a team. Calling for the coache’s head is easy but actually much of what we have seen is not dissimilar from the way they have played since the tail end of the season before last. I believe that is 5 coaches worth. There seems to be a lack of real leadership on the field, important with so many young players that we were calling for. Troy defended well but he is supposed to be striker.

There does look to be a lack of confidence and some of the tactics seem to be about accommodating players in the system or otherwise not having the players to quite suit ant system. The criticism of Sarr seems a bit misplaced. When he does go past his full back nobody is up with him and yesterday Cardiff put 3 men on him. The worry is that the rest of the team couldn’t utilise the space created but that requires quicker (and more accurate) passing and midfielders being willing to move the ball to those in space along with willingness to get into space.

7. wotfud - 06/12/2020

I agree that the blame lies with the manager. The team looks disciplined and organised. The trouble is that the creativity has been lost and we are very predictable, cautious and risk averse; a team of terrified mask-wearers – like the rogue steward.

I think Ivic can see the problem (as evidence – the substitutions worked) and should be given time and support. I have dipped the first two ballots but I’ll do my bit, come what may.

8. John Ford - 06/12/2020

“Sean Morrison has been attacking the far post since glacial movement formed the Brecon Beacons.”
Love it! Who needs poetry with prose like that… and from a statistician!


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