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Swansea City 2 Watford 1 (02/01/2021) 03/01/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  There’s a difference between boring and mundane.

Boring is always a Bad Thing.  It’s an active state, something which achieves disengagement, leaves you worse off than you were before.  Mundane is passive.  Everyday.  “Failing to excite”, I suppose.  Not the same thing, it depends on context.  It can be positive.

Marko Kloos does mundane very well.  His series of sci-fi novels are entertaining fantasies, but their brilliance is in the layer upon layer of mundane detail.  That’s what allows you to lift the veil of disbelief.  Yes, OK, it’s 2120 and I’m in a distant point in space fighting 30-foot aliens.  But the food’s shit, my feet hurt and this guy’s being a bit of an idiot.  Not plot devices beyond creating a world that you can lower yourself into, however extraordinary the critical detail.  Tolkien was very good at that too.

Nobody’s missing boring, there’s plenty of boring.  But there’s not enough mundane.  Not enough variety in the mundane.  Not enough of the incidental stuff that you take for granted.   Someone cycled past me on my walk yesterday morning and saluted my loyalties, betrayed by my hat.  Rare to see another Watford supporter at the northern tip of Bedfordshire.  Quite rare to see anyone at all on the muddy walks between the local villages.  It was a nice thing.  It shouldn’t have been the highlight of my day.  Particularly not when there’s a game on in the afternoon.

2- There are some things that, it could be argued, the club ownership can be criticised for.  You’ll have your own opinions, I think it’s beyond reasonable dispute that they’re well in credit over the eight years whatever the debate in the detail.

But there are some things that they, we, are indisputably outstanding at.  Philip Zinckernagel might not work out.  He might struggle to step up, not be able to adapt, whatever.   Good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes.  But what a triumph of smoke and mirrors in any case.  I’ve been keeping a list of every name that comes up in The List  postings over the last few years, plausible well-sourced or otherwise.  Not a sniff.  And whilst there are no guarantees that his extraordinary record in Norway will translate, it seems that plenty of others were willing to take that gamble.  For us to be so on top of the game that we can line him up on a free transfer and have him purchase a house in the UK three months ago to help navigate the new reality is tremendous.

Ken Sema, whose unprecedented success with Östersunds in Sweden mirrors that of Zinckernagel with traditionally unremarkable Bodø/Glimt in Norway, is another example.  His first season with us no better or worse than OK.  His second on loan at Udinese saw him get enough football to suggest that we’d not seen the best of him.  This season, whilst he didn’t have his best game in Swansea, he’s arguably been our most reliable performer.  The Pozzos, Duxbury, can pick a player and can get them in.  Not every one’s a success, but we’re not half bad.

Étienne Capoue is another.  He wasn’t an obvious signing five-and-a-half years ago.  Not obvious that he’d want to slum it with the likes of Watford, not obvious that he’d be effective if he did so having been kind of so so at Spurs as part of their post-Bale splurge.  And yet he gave us many years of increasingly dependable service, simultaneously a tremendous defensive midfielder (interceptions, tackles higher than anyone in the top leagues in Europe whenever and whatever and so on) and an attacking weapon, pinging balls from side to side of the pitch, steering patterns of attack from mission control.  One of the best players to play for the club in recent years, perhaps ever in as much as it’s possible to judge.

Not a hero though.  Not a “legend”, not for me.   The “how” is as important as the what in that regard.  Even at his best, his weaker performances betrayed an arrogance and a laziness;  the arrogance is a great thing when channelled positively, not when it generates bad performances in itself.  Dad has often pointed out his tendency to dangle a leg limply at a tackle he can’t really be bothered with;  that’s faded a little over the years but the personality  that generated it is still there, cast into stark relief with his contribution this season.  He’s allowed not to want to play in the Championship, heaven knows he’s good enough to do better.  What he’s not allowed to do is to take a salary whilst clearly not giving a damn.  That’s not how a club legend behaves.  Tommy Mooney’s not terribly veiled references to Capoue’s departure improving the mood of the dressing room impossible to miss on Hornet Hive.

3- Compare and contrast with Kiko Femenía.  Not the same calibre of player as Capoue at all, but nonetheless perfectly able to hold his own in the top division, here, Spain, anywhere.  Another player who, it was widely reported, wanted to head out in the summer for professional and personal reasons.

But you wouldn’t know it.  One of our stars against Norwich, he’s again impressive from the off here.  Against a side who are organised, who keep the ball well and on a newly laid pitch that’s impossibly slippery and treacherous the ability to thunder forward with possession is invaluable and Kiko’s at it again at the start of a hugely engaging first half in which blows are traded freely, both metaphorically and literally as tackles rattle in with increasing aggression.

Kiko’s surge ends with a threaded through ball that doesn’t quite find Sarr but the intent and the threat is clear.  A minute later however and Swansea embark on their crusade to isolate and expose Jeremy Ngakia at left back;  they do so repeatedly and painfully easily, Christian Roberts sending a wicked ball across the face of goal that Korey Smith is an inch away from converting.

Then we’re back at them, Ben Wilmot doggedly chasing down possession after a free kick is cleared towards the corner flag, bullying Jamal Lowe out of position and flinging in an instant cross with his left foot.  Gray attacks the near post well but both defender and goalkeeper are alert and he can’t smuggle the ball in.  Tremendous bullishness and urgency from Wilmot, no coincidence that the speed of action and thought creates one of our better openings of the afternoon.

We begin to edge it.  Only edge it, and only briefly.  Swansea suggest a susceptibility at set pieces when Nathaniel Chalobah is permitted a standing header from a corner;  this vulnerability is evident later in the game when Sierralta repeatedly threatens from near post corners and we pick up cheap possession in and around the box but don’t do enough to expose or exploit this.

But almost immediately we’re ahead, and it’s a fine, fine strike from Cleverley from just outside the area, fizzing low and straight at a height that will take the very tips of the newly sown blades of grass and into the bottom corner.

Blows continue to be traded, and a rapid warning to stay on our guard comes when Roberts goes down under challenge from Ngakia within minutes.  Certainly not a deliberate foul but the befuddled Ngakia clipped him – the extent to which created by Roberts himself not clear – and “you’ve seen them given”.  We retaliate, a super touch from Gray releases Sarr who had sprung just too early.  Swansea build concerted pressure, Foster saves well from Ayew’s clubbed drive that shouldn’t have given him a chance, too close to the keeper.

It’s increasingly harum scarum stuff, all the players losing their footing now adding to the ragged urgency of the spectacle.  Sarr is back defending, diligently, his covering with a far post header prevents Manning from getting in.  Manning was widely tipped as one of our left back targets in the summer;  he’s a gobby pain in the arse here, he could have been our pain in the arse.  A minute later Chalobah clobbers Matt Grimes, another supposed summer target who is the focus of much of our attention.  Smith forces another save from Foster.  And then the pressure tells, another fine finish from Jamal Lowe whose curling left footer ends up right in the far bottom corner, agonisingly pulling out of Foster’s reach.

4- Conceding before half time never good, but a fair reflection of the half and we’d have taken a draw from this one happily, particularly on the back of the win against Norwich.

We’re after more of the same in the second half and we get it, but not in a good way.  Swansea continue to look assertive and don’t give us a sniff for fifteen minutes. Jake Bidwell heads in ten minutes in, it’s rightly chalked off for Lowe being offside, but that’s more luck than judgement on our part.  Chalobah does some more stout defensive work, blocking Korey Smith’s effort but is then replaced on the hour by a tentative James Garner before he completes his widely advertised journey to a red card.

We start to get back into it, Kiko twice releasing Sarr, the ball bobbling around the box.  It’s something to claw our way back in on, but then Swansea get a delivery spot on, we’re exposed defensively as Foster is stranded and the charmlessly effective Lowe heads in at the far post.  It’s been coming.

Which is more than can be said for our attacking threat for the rest of the game.  No lack of attitude here, no lack of effort, but a lack of effectiveness.  All of our threat is down the flanks, principally through Sarr and Kiko though Sema does feed Troy late in the game, the captain shoots over.  Our centre forwards and central midfield aren’t nearly threatening enough;  Deeney has a few good touches but looks immobile and never looks like bullying a young an inexperienced backline deprived of it’s senior figure in Ryan Bennett and of his deputy in the warm up.  Gray is lively and industrious, but largely to little effect.  In the midfield Cleverley does well in the first half but fades, and is more destructive than creative for the most part, Chalobah sturdy enough until replaced but he’s also become a destroyer, no longer the metronome that ticked away at the back of Gianfranco Zola’s midfield.  It’s tempting to suggest that we’re missing Capoue’s ability to change the play but we’ve been missing that for most of the season in truth.

We bang on the door wholeheartedly enough in the final minutes, but without ever threatening to overwhelm our hosts who deserve the win and look a tidy side.  The returning Morgan Gibbs-White gives them something extra in the final minutes as they effectively kill the game, Grimes coming closer to extending the scoring than we do with a low drive that Foster just about holds on to.  Masina, who has a decent second half off the bench, blots his record slightly with a stupid, if understandably frustrated, late booking.  The last word I write on my notepad is “Arse”.

5- This isn’t a disaster.  It’s hugely frustrating, the illusory suggestion that Xisco would arrive with his smiles and energy and we’d suddenly canter away the biggest casualty of the afternoon.  But losing a fairly tight game away to one of our principal rivals is not the same as chucking points away through carelessness, or by not being brave or bold enough.  We suffered today really through not being good enough on the day;  in Hughes, João Pedro, Quina, potentially Zinckernagel and in the longer term Dele-Bashiru we have creativity in our squad.   There were very few options for Xisco on the bench in that regard, young Sam Dalby being added to the list of benchwarmers.  In Perica, Success, Kabasele, Cathcart we have plenty of experience to come back.

It does need to be better.  Perhaps it will be, against less accomplished opponents.  But it’s the accomplished ones that we have to catch.

Not boring, is it?

Yoorns.

Foster 3, Femeníá 3, Ngakia 2, Sierralta 3, *Wilmot 4*, Sarr 3, Chalobah 3, Cleverley 3, Sema 2, Deeney 2, Gray 2
Subs:  Masina (for Ngakia, 45) 3, Garner (for Chalobah, 60) 2, Hughes (for Cleverley, 90) NA, Navarro, Troost-Ekong, Hungbo, Crichlow, Dalby, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Olly - 03/01/2021

Top stuff as ever, Matt. Great to read such a positive thunk about Kiko. He’s deserved that, so hopefully he’ll stay and be motivated by competition with Ngakia now that Masina is back.

Lots being tweeted about our attack, but the one thing that struck me is with Deeney dropping deep to get the ball (or track Grimes yesterday) he doesn’t have a hope of catching up when we break with any kind of pace. Too often about 10-20 yards away from being a goal threat. And without wanting to pile more criticism on Gray, he does at least look threatening/interested when running without the ball – just a shame his control/passing/shooting then lets him down all too often.

Harefield Hornet - 03/01/2021

Spot on re Gray!

2. John Smith - 03/01/2021

Another excellent report Matt and very well written. You capture my Sunday feelings. There is still the basis of a very good team, but all of the parts never seem to be able to gel at the same time. Thanks Matt

3. Harefield Hornet - 03/01/2021

As you correctly point out – not a disaster but very frustrating. I think I can remember travelling to Swansea midweek the year we got promoted from the old 3rd Division under GT and we lost a very similar game 2-3 at the old Vetch Field. There was no segregation to speak of and it turned quite nasty! -The reaction on some of the chat sites has been extraordinary – possibly generated by false assumptions after we defeated Norwich. Xisco had very options on the bench yesterday -let’s hope that changes quickly.

4. Stuart Campbell - 03/01/2021

Swansea really exposed the thinness of our squad yesterday, especially in the second half. Putting Hughes on much earlier may have helped but it will take more than him alone to bring the creativity and forward threat we need in midfield. Perica would surely have been better than either Deeney or Gray who were both ineffective and looked as if they had never met before. I thought that, although Swansea are a decent, well-organised side, they looked potentially vulnerable in central defence. But we never really put that theory to the test.
Let’s hope that some of the missing names reappear very soon. Seven games in a month is a big challenge right now – and could shape our season.

5. Mark S - 03/01/2021

It is very evident that we lack creativity in midfield.There is no link between midfield and attack.I would prefer if we played 4231 rather than 442 especially now we don’t have Doucoure and Capoue in centre midfield.In my opinion, none of the others are strong enough to carry us.Then of course there is our so called attack.How Gray keeps getting picked is beyond me and Deeney is not much better.Signing an established Championship goalscorer like Vydra
would give us half a chance

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2021

Umm. Proven Championship strikers. Deeney, 61 in last three seasons at this level. Gray, 40 in two seasons at this level. Glenn Murray, 60+ in last three and a half… clearly it’s not working. But let’s not pretend that we don’t have strikers with a track record.

Olly - 03/01/2021

Yes but I don’t quite buy that Matt. All 3 scored those goals many seasons ago (almost ancient history for Troy/Andre) and are past their peak, plus now lacking confidence. Would Andre even get in Brentford’s team now? Can Troy ever re-discover that form after last season’s injury? Lots of questions. Might need somebody else to provide the answers, although hopefully some of that could come from Perica or Pedro.

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2021

I was being slightly pedantic but only slightly. We DO have a lot of proven strikers, Deeney and Gray 30ish not 35ish. We have younger options in Perica and João Pedro. We’re not THAT badly off. I fancy Isaac in the Championship too, tho I might need in a minority of one there.

Olly - 03/01/2021

Make that two. Would love to see Isaac charging around the Vic again.

Mark Scholfield - 05/01/2021

Murray is clearly past it.Why was he not even on the bench ahead of Dalby? Why did Ilic drop him? Deeney and Gray clearly does not work and both have been truly woeful in virtually every match apart from PNE.Gray has been given SO many chances and not delivered.Deeney is in his 33rd year.Both are on over £60k a week.No wonder so many fans are extremely unhappy at our current predicament!

Matt Rowson - 05/01/2021

Murray hasn’t worked on the pitch, and I can only presume he was missing because he’s on his way back to Brighton. Past it, maybe, but he was almost certainly signed as a positive evidence on the dressing room also which none of us can reasonably judge.

As for Gray/Deeney you’re dramatically oversimplifying it. They’ve started three games together this season, Preston, Norwich, Swansea. So “clearly does not work” is bullshit. Didn’t work on Saturday, sure. Gray… disappointing, yes, in lots of ways. But even if you wanted to write both off (and Deeney is being dismissed far too readily by many keyboard warriors) you’ve got to find someone to take their salaries. The Murray signing did suggest that the expectation was that Deeney would go in the summer. Lots of circumstances will have contributed to that not happening.

And I couldn’t give less of a toss what “so many fans” are extremely unhappy about. A degree of perspective and balance is required, I think. There’s a lot of grey space between great and terrible. We’re not THAT bad.

6. Peter - 03/01/2021

A thought I had when Wilmot got the better of Lowe, seemingly through force of will alone, and then delivered that left footed cross in the first half – was that this was the sort of moment we used to be able to depend on Troy for! The leading by example catalyst moment that says to the rest of the team that the performance thus far is not good enough.

This moment for me felt like a changing of the guard. Troy for all his heroics is really now starting to live off past triumphs and penalties. I don’t care if he doesn’t score if he provides more to the team than he is doing now but it feels that all his ‘moments’ now happen in front of microphone. Wilmot on the other hand picking up the mantle would be a good thing – a young player determined to build a career in the game rather than one seemingly eeking out a contract until sky give him a contract to replace Don Goodman! As a massive supporter of Troy this saddens me greatly and I will be glad to be proved wrong.

Great piece as always

7. Harefield Hornet - 03/01/2021

Speaking of forwards – was wondering if Gerry is injured again? Not in starting line up or on bench for Udinese v Juventus?

Matt Rowson - 03/01/2021

I think so. Can’t remember the detail.

Harefield Hornet - 04/01/2021

Doubtful for next match too apparently. Okaka also injured again – some things never change !

Harefield Hornet - 04/01/2021

And Pussetto now too!

8. Graham French - 03/01/2021

Thanks for the ( as ever) balanced write up Matt. Some comments on Other Forums really are remarkably unbalanced. Getting more so with each year, it seems. Frustrating, but not a disaster. It’s all been said about Troy & Andre but maybe Joao Pedro will provide some of what we need, & maybe our new signing too. Though an out & out striker to get on the end of those crosses is clearly needed. Might that be Stipe , given more game time?
Can’t agree about Isaac Success though, much as I’d like to. I saw him play for Malaga 2 or 3 times when he was on loan there, & I really don’t think he’s the answer. I’d be delighted to be wrong .

Matt Rowson - 04/01/2021

I know it feels a longish shot. But his best form for us came as a lone striker early in Javi’s full season.

Pete - 05/01/2021

Away at Wolves he was unbelievable upfront but never hid those giddy heights again (other than with the aid of a bottle of baileys and some ladies of ill repute I’m sure)

9. David - 03/01/2021

It’s Sunday night, the tree has been taken down, my holiday is over and work starts tomorrow. I find it hard to be positive about anything right now but your report is, as always, very balanced.

From the TV view offered I could not tell if the front 2 or wide 2 were not looking for space but the 3 central midfielders seem incapable of making forward passes, the worst culprit being Garner even though it was time for the kitchen sink.

Positives, Wilmot and Kiko, ( I tried).

10. Ray Knight - 04/01/2021

Thanks Matt again for stimulating a lively debate. Agree entirely regarding with most of the comments about the players. Positives regarding Kiko, wilmot and the big negatives regarding Gray and Deeney. But we are now missing our midfield engine of Doucoure and Capoue in their pomp. Cleverley works his socks off but now runs out of steam and Chalobah is a shadow of the 17 year old playmaker we first saw many moons ago. Have to say Munoz put Hughes and Garner on too late. For the first time the latter looked disinterested. All too frequently we break then slow it down by passing backwards. Kiko being the exception always trying to release Sarr. 4-4-2 is not the answer unless we get the midfield/ attack in sync. My only hope now is Zinckernagel who could give us a plan B or extra dimension as we are predictable and lack any cutting edge aside from Sarr. Happy new year!

Matt Rowson - 04/01/2021

Thanks Ray. Bit harsh on Hughes I think, who only came on on 90 minutes. A lot needed from him though… funny that not so long ago centre-mid was a position of strength.

11. Steve G - 04/01/2021

I suppose the positive at the moment is that despite not playing well for much of the season we’re still in the playoff positions and there is no other team that we’ve played that have looked a class apart – Swansea and Brentford probably the best so far. If the team does start to click (OK – so that’s a big if) then we should be well placed by the end of the season.

Deeney – for all of his great service to the club and what he can bring in terms of motivation and leadership, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to expect his name to be on the scoresheet from open play. Dropping down a division hasn’t made much of a difference.

Gray – another striker who we’ve stopped expecting to score, but the fact that he is fluffing chances with some regularity reflects the fact that he’s at least making some of the runs intelligently to be in the right place to be able to cock it up when he gets there.

Hughes – while I understand the need to bring someone back gradually after a period of injury, there doesn’t seem to be much urgency to get him back, which I’m finding puzzling. Given that he was getting regular starts when we also had Capoue and Doucoure available, it would be baffling to me if he had now slipped behind Cleverley, Chalobah and Garner in the pecking order. The last minute substitution on Saturday made little sense to me.

Kiko – while I agree that he has a huge amount of credit in the bank this season, there’s still that nagging anxiety whenever he’s trying to defend those crosses to the back post. But a real source of positivity going forward and works well with Sarr.

Matt Rowson - 04/01/2021

Kiko – yes indeed. Brings back horrible memories of several games against Manchester City.

12. Old Git - 04/01/2021

We know Kiko’s limitations and he probably does too, but your comparison with Capoue is a telling one. Managers – whoops, there I go again, I mean Head Coaches – need to understand what to expect from him and what not to expect from him. For me, he exemplifies a kind of sleeves-rolled-up honesty. He’ll never try to hide and he’ll never stop running. I’m a fan.

My biggest concern is that Sarr is less than half the player we saw last season and he’s playing in a lower division, to boot. Do we blame Ivic? It’s difficult not to conclude that he was instructed to play in a certain way, to aim to keep possession, rather than to run at his full back and risk losing the ball. The biggest disappointment from Saturday was that in the second half Swansea’s back line had two yellow cards against them and yet we never pressed them effectively. Was this an Ivic-era hangover?

Also interesting, Matt, is the idea of what makes a ‘legend’ and I agree that Capoue, although often magnificent, does not qualify in the way that less gifted players have done. The much missed Angryman Holebas, for example. Rodney Green. Tommy Mooney, obviously. And for me, even Albert McClenaghan qualifies, despite having made only two appearances but this is possibly because I was situated right behind him when he took that epic throw-in against Southport.

Other clubs also have their legends of course, including our friends up the M1 and I note that one of the contributors to this site goes by the name of Graham French. Put the gun down slowly and walk away please….

Finally, I completely agree with the plaudits given to young Wilmot, always looking to make things happen. Or, to quote our new Head Coach, always giving ‘the massimum’.


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