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Watford 2 Huddersfield Town 0 (16/01/2021) 17/01/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Daughter 2 does incredulous very well.   Something enhanced by secondary school I think, such as her experience of it has been allowed to be, but it was always in her armoury.

Her dalliance with League Ladders in around 2015 corresponded with Leicester being bottom of the Premier League… no City fan has told the story of their transformation the following year with such wide-eyed, open-palmed, head-cocked disbelief, or as frequently.  This tendency surfaced again this week.

“Four years?  Seriously?“.

Well, yes.  And spirited as Hornet Hive’s efforts to do justice to the anniversary are, here’s the latest example of something that really needs the stands full.  The annual heartfelt, uncomplicated acknowledgement of the great man is a fine thing, the scarf display emotional and spectacular and as an aside permitting the more wised-up elements of whichever visiting support to join in whilst the empty vessels’ noise is drowned out.  Every club thinks that their club is special, different.  Graham Taylor is a big part of why we’re the ones that are right.

2- Meanwhile, the fixture that represented perhaps the low point of GT’s final season as manager.  More than 20 years on (yes…) it feels like an opportunity for Xisco’s new dawn to get going after a three match intro that was both unforgiving in the stiffness of the challenge and kind in that dropped points might be more obviously forgivable.

Three points and honourable exit from the FA Cup with some encouraging signs represented no worse than par for that little run, but after three weeks without midweek games we kick off a run of five fixtures in 15 days where a decent haul of points will be required.

All sorts of talking points in the starting line-up as the new man starts to settle on things and both new and returning faces get shuffled around.  Daniel Bachmann retains his place for now and the foreseeable as Ben Foster has broken a finger, it transpires.  Kiko and Masina would seem to end the season’s game of musical chairs in the full back positions for the moment, WTE and Sierralta are paired in what immediately looks sensible at centre-back (though we have plenty of combinations that qualify for that label).  No Will Hughes – migraines late this week it is later suggested – but no Zinckernagel in the starting eleven either, dampening the unreasonable expectation that he’s the guy who’ll come in and change everything rather than, for instance, the guy who might actually change things by not coming in and providing competitive threat to the incumbent attacking players.  The net total of all of this is that for the first time in ages we have a bench full of senior options.

3- The suggestion that we’re nudging in a favourable direction is backed up by a vigorous first half in which hurlyburly closing down limits the capacity of either side to create very much simply because by the time any player of either side has the ball under control there’s someone flying at them at high speed and evasive action needs to be taken.

It has to be said that our own attacking threat survives this frenzy better than Huddersfield’s – Daniel Bachmann might have spent the first half in my seat a third of the way up the Rookery for all I know – but we’re not exactly flowing either and it’s the destructive players that get themselves most brownie points from the first half.  Nate Chalobah is prominent here, stomping on things that need stomping on and kicking things that need kicking.

We do spark into life occasionally though.  Ten minutes in, Sarr receives an awkward ball from João Pedro and puts in a cross. Sema competes well and cushions back to the Brazilian whose snap-shot forces Schofield into a decent stop low to his left.  Midway through the half Chalobah slips Kiko in with a lovely through ball, he wastes the opportunity.  As the half closes an assertive run by Cleverley ends with him finding Sarr in a central position, cutting inside and curling a shot that demands another intervention from Schofield.  No goals is no goals, but there’s positive intent and sparks of life here.  Upbeat at the break.

4- Having said which, and before we get to the damburst in the second half, up front is clearly where the biggest problems are.  Deeney is more mobile and assertive here than he has been in a while – indeed too assertive half an hour in when his frustrated challenge on Bacuna, late and unnecessary, might have earned him a red and indeed probably merited a yellow each for thuggery and stupidity. Losing your rag like that is exasperating in a young kid, much more than that in your 32 year-old captain who, given his willingness to pass judgement on others on a variety of platforms is fair game for such criticism here.

But despite his otherwise good work and despite a lively outing from João Pedro there isn’t the connection up front that was suggested by a promising open exchange.  Our attack is still good bits that do their own thing rather than a machine that has a way of playing and functions as a collective.  For the moment, anyway.

The other wonky cog is Ismaïla Sarr who is also far more aggressive here than he has been and yet still isn’t as effective as you want him to be.  Nonetheless, he’s being wielded with some creativity with Xisco, swapping wings with Sema and later Zinckernagel more than once and often popping up in a central position where he displays a bullishness that hasn’t always been evident.  There’s an argument for deploying him alongside Deeney given his aptitude for attacking the ball in the box and questionable decision making when he has time to think about it.

More frustrating is his rather sulky tendency to whine and bleat about the treatment he receives.  The first grumble in the direction of the officials comes about three minutes in, doing himself no favours by both alienating said officials early on and (therefore) affording licence to his markers to keep bullying him.  There’s a bit of Wilfried Zaha about Sarr, but if he’s less nimble than Zaha he’s physically better able to withstand such treatment and needs to get his head around battering his way through this stuff sooner rather than later.

5- Nonetheless.  The trajectory is positive, even up front, and we’re too good here for a Huddersfield side that, albeit with a stronger eleven themselves and the help of us shooting ourselves in the foot twice, beat us comfortably only a month ago.  Only four surivivors from our starting eleven that day incidentally.

Energy aside, Huddersfield offer little.  Particularly hapless is left winger Rolando cousin of Max Aarons, who marks his full debut for the Terriers after signing ten days ago by mis-controlling into touch at least half a dozen times, whilst on the right Aaron Rowe is a sneering ball of attitude but little else.

The first time I saw Watford lose was on my ninth birthday, a 3-2 defeat to Newcastle 39 years ago today.  Huddersfield are more generous with their birthday gifts, but Tom Cleverley is forceful in his encouragement – hurtling first at midfield possession and then, without breaking stride or needing to deviate, pursuing Álex Vallejo into an underhit backpass towards his goalkeeper.  Schofield has proven himself an excellent shot-stopper over the two fixtures but freezes here long enough for Cleverley to thunder onto the loose ball with ferocious glee.  All that was missing was the roar of the Rookery to flatten what was left of Huddersfield’s resolve.

But it didn’t take much flattening.  By the time João Pedro got onto the end of Kiko’s terrific, precision cross to seal the deal Ismaïla Sarr had spurned a chance to capitalise on more nervous goalkeeping, unaware of Schofield’s suicidal and completely futile charge off his line as Troost-Ekong’s fine through-ball arrived until the moment had passed.

At two down the visitors put some kids on and started to push on a bit.  They immediately looked more convincing, Scott High sending in a low drive to force the most stretching save of the afternoon out of the nonetheless impressively assertive Bachmann.  What threat they offered however crumbled on the twin barriers of Troost-Ekong and Sierralta, who have the making of a “leader/doer” combination the match of a Galli/Brown, a Roeder/Holdsworth or a Cox/Demerit.  Will Hughes comes off the bench and is immediately the best player on the pitch.  Zinckernagel, Garner, Navarro all suggest options and even Andre Gray is less worrying as an impact sub than a starter.

“I can take Luton winning if it’s at Bournemouth” is Daughter 2’s final thoughtful footnote to proceedings, quite reasonably.  And all in all it’s been a quite reasonable day.  We’re not there yet.  But we’re heading in the right direction.


Bachmann 3, Femenía 3, Masina 3, Troost-Ekong 4, Sierralta 4, Sarr 4, Cleverley 4, *Chalobah 4*, Sema 3, João Pedro 4, Deeney 3
Subs:  Hughes (for Chalobah, 68) 4, Gray (for Deeney, 68) 2, Zinckernagel (for Sema, 80) NA, Garner (for Cleverley, 80) NA, Navarro (for Femeníá, 85) NA, Cathcart, Wilmot, Ngakia, Parkes


1. John Parslow - 17/01/2021

You could have stopped at point 1 Matt.
And yes the Hornetlive tribute was good – the emotion in the voices of Mooney and Gifton had me crumbling. But it also made me remember as I watched the game feeling that this (again) is hardly exciting – why I go to games rather than watch on TV … it’s because 50%+ of the excitement is just about being there . How many 1-0 wins have we come home from buzzing but if you’d watched it in tv it was a bore !!

On Pedros goal – I do think it has to be reanalysed as a contender for goal of the season ! He picked the ball up on the halfway line and launched a Capoue 35 yard zinger out to the speedy Kiko to take in his stride and somehow managed to sprint 50 yards in about 5 seconds to get on the end of the 1-2 !! I had to keep checking it WAS him who passed to Kiko. Great goal !

David - 17/01/2021

100% agree John, Pedro’s goal was like Paul Robinson’s goal against Charlton in the league cup, “how did he get there?”

2. JC - 17/01/2021

Er….surely if you’re comparing Paul Robinson goals with yesterday’s, you can’t fail to mention Wimbledon (h) in 2001/02, scored with a tackle…http://www.bsad.org/0102/reports/wimbledon/hr1.html

3. Harefield Hornet - 17/01/2021

On Sarr – Tommy Mooney summed it up perfectly when he pointed out he’s going down in situations when the passage of play would benefit far more from him
staying on his feet. Troy’s challenge reminded me of the one in the defeat against Leeds which scuppered our automatic promotion hopes under Zola! – Only this time it was yellow – Due to a bit of lenient refereeing and the absence of VAR. A thankfully rare throw back to his younger persona! Only midway through the season but Norwich’s 10 point lead is going to take some overhauling and Swansea are grinding out the results. I suspect Tuesday night will be another very tough game but at least we’re looking like a team again now as opposed to a bunch of individuals loosely strung together.
Yesterday was the only time in my life I can ever remember being grateful for a positive Luton result!

4. Andy C - 17/01/2021

Gifton’s story about him becoming a father at age 16 and GT’s reaction was one I’ve never heard before. I had to hold the tears back. My admiration for the great man’s people skills were sky high already but this example of his remarkable humanity took it to another level. RIP GT

5. St.John, globe-trotting Hornet - 17/01/2021

As ever, a missive that is both informative and moving. But a question, if I may. Why does Chalobah divide opinion so much? He is your standout performer, but panned in the ‘other ratings’ published in the local rag. Is it just an inability to understand the oeuvre of the defensive midfielder, as Deschamps found out?

Matt Rowson - 17/01/2021

Thanks St.John. Don’t know about Chalobah. He’s certainly wildly inconsistent which can be frustrating, but thought he did well yesterday.

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