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Watford 6 Bristol City 0 (13/02/2021) 14/02/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- I promise you, I’d been determined to be a bit more cheerful, whatever happened.

The thing about everything being shit is that you’ve really only got one way to go.  In such circumstances, as long as you cling on, keep putting one foot in front of the other, something will have to come along to improve things sooner or later.  A bit of sunshine for goodness’ sake, even if it’s still bloody freezing, had already lifted the spirits.

And once that pebble started rolling all sorts of other stuff rumbled along too to the point where you almost wished that the good news could have been spread out a little bit rather than overwhelming you all at once.  I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 45 years ago today;  turns out there was a silver lining to that particular development even if I had to wait a long time for it.  In that intervening period I’ve had well over 50,000 injections of insulin but I’ll be getting another injection, a different one, on Wednesday it transpires so hurrah for that.

Then there was the team news.  Your first thought was “brilliant!”, your second “crap, what if this doesn’t work either?”.  But really, so much to like.  Firstly, least controversially, the addition of new arrivals Gosling and Lazaar to the bench which now looks strong and competitive even with nine berths on it to the point where it’s conceivable that Jeremy Ngakia was actually squeezed out (even if three strikers plus Zinc felt a little bit cavalier).

But on top of that…. Kiko’s back on the right.  Will Hughes is in in midfield.  João Pedro starts in what looks like a 4-3-3.  We will go on to record our fourteenth clean sheet in 29 this season, our sixth in nine under Xisco.  Assuming Lazaar is halfway competent we have a perfectly serviceable back five (or six) not starting today, defence really isn’t and has rarely been an issue.  Finding a shape that works going forwards has been the problem.  This felt right.  As long as it worked.

2- Everything did fall for us though.  I mean, yes, brilliant, wonderful.  6-0, biggest league win since that day in September 1982 when my sister and I spent the evening using up our felt tips on posters depicting the boat sinking on the old Sunderland badge to greet Dad when he got home (Paolo’s first game, he never had a chance….).  But, you know.  If you’re not going to record a comfortable win in these circumstances…

Bristol were terrible, obviously, ultimately.  Terrible in the context of, like many others, serious injury depletion not helped by Alfie Mawson’s red card at Bramall Lane on Wednesday, their fifth defeat on the hop, rookie manager in charge of a losing dressing room for the first time and so on.  What they didn’t need was to go behind in the opening minutes courtesy of a kind deflection to an Ismaïla Sarr cross that looped over any defensive attention and dropped off the crossbar into the lap of Ken Sema either before or after it crossed the line.

We’d earned a bit of a break though, already.  Two minutes in and we already looked vastly more mobile for the change in personnel.  I remember describing the terrifying movement of Jota and Jiménez at Wembley as akin to sandsnakes; we were a bit like that and very quickly.  Chalobah’s deft ball down the right hand side of the defence saw Sarr put the burners on, this was no aimless ball that got a fluky break.  He was away, the Robins were panicking, and Ken was where he should have been.

Blows were being traded in those opening minutes.  City didn’t just roll over, not at first.  William Troost-Ekong made a thunderous challenge to stop a Robins attack dead, Hughes scythed a pass to Sarr on the right flank who drew a yellow card from an already frazzled Moore.  Had we been in the ground we’d have been on our feet making “rarrrrr” noises.

3- Other than the mobility of the forward line the other big plus was the extra oomph of the three man midfield.  There have been two classics of the type in recent Watford history;  the Abdi/Hogg/Chalobah under Zola, each component precision engineered to suit that system, and then briefly Cleverley/Doucouré/Chalobah under Marco Silva.

Clear then that Nate likes playing in a three, and he has a strong 45 minutes here before being withdrawn to protect him from the consequences of a  “you’d have gotten away with that 20 years ago” yellow card, ferociously robbing Semenyo of the ball and cleaning him out with his trailing leg.

Tom Cleverley revels in the freedom to charge around like a lunatic with the security of two men covering him.  He doesn’t have the guile and the craft of Abdi, but he doesn’t need it when he’s capable of hurtling after the ball with a relentless vigour, awareness and discipline that is directly responsible for a second goal at Vicarage Road within the space of a month. Bristol look merely slightly tentative as they attempt to tidy up possession at the back following a good Watford break down the left; then Tom is snarling onto the first slack touch and in a single movement twisting, adjusting his balance and squaring for Sarr to touch the ball past the onrushing Bentley.  Your mate at work who used to say “I don’t rate Tom Cleverley, he doesn’t do anything” based on watching Match of the Day highlights with his finger up his backside was an idiot then and he’s an idiot now.  No apologies for getting this one out again…

animated-tasmanian-devil-image-0012

Will Hughes meanwhile is having the game that he’s been having in our heads every week that he’s missed since the start of the season.  Silk and steel, a ninja’s sidestep and turn one minute, a snarling challenge the next.  His goal gets a big dose of luck too with a deflection off Moore whose thirty minute tally now reads two own goals, probably, and a yellow card…  but it feels right that if anyone’s going to profit from a massive deflection that sends a wayward shot ballooning over a wrong-footed goalkeeper it should be Will. As an aside, Daniel Bentley may deserve a degree of sympathy for getting precious little protection, for being very unlucky with at least two big deflections and having to sport that monstrosity.  Against this, I’m pretty sure I remember him being an idiot in goal for Southend in a play-off final penalty shoot-out.  I don’t care enough to check, perhaps I’m being unfair, but in any case our need is too great to waste time with opposition goalkeepers.

Ten seconds before Will’s strike my cup runs over as Daughter 2, who as previously reported has shown no interest in watching televised football in lockdown, enters the room to be earnestly enthusiastic about the latest chapter of The Hunger Games but is distracted, pulls up a chair and stays for the duration.  “What are you doing?” is her considered verdict on City’s high defensive line, “You can’t do that!” her protest at Jack Hunt’s foul on Sema.

4- The star of the show is Sarr.  For all that everything clicks, for all that Bristol are having a very bad day, for all that João Pedro dances and spins and chases, and Sema bundles his way relentlessly down the left.  That guy, the guy who doesn’t rate Tom Cleverley, he’ll tell you that Sarr is brilliant because, you know, Liverpool and that.  This is the game that happens in his head.  Sarr is absolutely uncontainable, quick, aggressive, direct.  In the second half he’s up against Aidy Mariappa, who will be hoping that his long playing career at Vicarage Road doesn’t end on this ignominious note.  Sarr howls at City’s defence, every inch the cheat card that we’ve all wanted him to be.  Before the break he bullies his way down the byline and pulls back to set up Sema for a tidy fourth, ten minutes into the second he’s whistling in for a precise fifth, rolled into the bottom corner.

All of the subs are sensible too.  Gosling’s signing seems far more vital in the context of a three man midfield and he slots in just fine, smuggling the ball off a surprised Semenyo five minutes into his debut.  Zinckernagel still needs to find a home but delivers a wicked corner and once again saves a team-mate, João Pedro, from worse than a yellow card after a late confrontation.  Gray is brought in to get that goal against a bedraggled opponent… it doesn’t happen, good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes.  Finally we wrap our full backs in cotton wool by bringing on Ben Wilmot and Achraf Lazaar, almost certainly the first time one Moroccan-born left back has replaced another at Vicarage Road.

There’s still time for the game’s crowning moment, a wonderful, brutal, merciless arrogant sixth that is valuable simply through turning a well-yes-but-the-second-half-was-a-bit-you-know into a thrashing.  It comes from Bristol’s attack, Wilmot wins a header and the second ball finds its way via Lazaar to Sarr, Sarr finds Gray, Gray turns well and returns to Sarr who is on a hat-trick and through on goal but rolls Zinckernagel in instead with the effortless cool of a master of his art.  The days when we couldn’t beat an offside trap despite all that pace (last weekend, right?) seem a long time ago.  It’s close to being offside but Zinc is behind the ball, and we’re getting all the tight decisions today.

5-  I’m prepared to accept us not winning every game between now and the end of the season 6-0 as a theoretical possibility.  But my word what a difference one 6-0 win makes.  We won’t be playing teams as accommodating and as vulnerable as today’s Robins every week.  But tell me that you’re not looking forward to Preston like you’ve not looked forward to a game in you can’t remember how long and I’ll call you a liar.

Heaven help the division now we’ve got our shit together.

Yoorns.

Bachmann 3, Femenía 4, Masina 4, Troost-Ekong 5, Sierralta 4, Cleverley 5, Chalobah 4, Hughes 5, *Sarr 5*, João Pedro 4, Sema 4
Subs:  Gosling (for Chalobah, 45) 4, Zinckernagel (for Cleverley, 60) 3, Gray (for Sema, 60) 3, Wimot (for Femenía, 76) NA, Lazaar (for Masina, 76) NA, Cathcart, Deeney, Perica, Elliot

Comments»

1. sptemple - 14/02/2021

Well that was a relief. You’re right about the starting line up. I wasn’t going to bother watching today until I saw the line up at about 2.30pm whereupon I promptly handed over my £10.

For me the most impressive thing was that we continued to push for more. We didn’t sit back at 3-0.

If we can back this up with similar performances on Tuesday and Friday, the season will look a whole lot rosier.

2. ballantine70 - 14/02/2021

Such a relief. It’s felt like such a long time since we’ve seen such a commanding performance despite all the talk of “strongest squad in the league”.

Good to hear you’re getting your jabs soon too!

3. Harefield Hornet - 14/02/2021

Certainly an afternoon to lift the spirits and the shackles well and truly came off. The elephant in the room which you haven’t mentioned is could this work if Troy played in the centre of the three instead of Pedro – or have we just witnessed the beginning of the end?

Crisb - 14/02/2021

My gut feeling says we’ll need, and be tha kful to have, Troy at least once before the seasons end. Whether that should be as a starter is less certain. He’s only 33 this summer, but seems physically +2/3 that unfortunately.

Old Git - 14/02/2021

Yes, I’m also looking forward with eager anticipation to next Tuesday but I am also remembering what happened in the next match after that brilliant performance against Liverpool this time last year.
Sorry, it’s in my nature, I just can’t help myself. And I’m preparing myself for that sinking feeling when it is announced that Xisco is sticking with the Pedro-Gray rotation. Surely he won’t….?

4. Simoninoz - 14/02/2021

Living in Australia. Wake up 6am. Look at phone. 6:0. Oh my God! But expected. But then, like 50 weeks ago v Liverpool, I realise we are the home side. We are 6 (or 3) nil victors. Oh, me of little faith! Let this continue…

5. Steve G - 14/02/2021

Well that all feels a lot better, doesn’t it? A long time coming, but hopefully worth the wait and a pointer towards better things to come. I made the point a few weeks ago about our problems when playing Chalobah, Hughes and Cleverley together – I checked back to see if I’d made the qualifying statement that this wasn’t going to work if we were committed to 4-4-2. This was in my head, but didn’t quite make it to the page. Feel free to add Captain Hindsight comments as appropriate!

But if we start with the premise that Hughes is going to be the beating heart in central midfield and that gives more freedom to Cleverley going forwards and you build the team around that triumvirate in central midfield, there is the potential for a much better outcome, and that potential was absolutely realised yesterday. Of course as has been mentioned above, the elephant in the room is that you can’t then play all of Sarr, Sema, Joao Pedro and Deeney, so whether it was a brave call or a fortuitous knock that led to the team selection yesterday, this has opened up the door to the view of a different future. None of this is to take away from all that Troy has given the club over the years, but his days as an automatic first choice around whom we build the team are surely over.

The only downside was that my internet chose to throw a fit at 65 minutes and so I spent most of the rest of the game staring at frozen screens, 10 second pixelated clips or switching to audio, so missed the 6th goal entirely until I caught it on the highlights this morning.

But it’s great to have that feeling of looking forward to the next game with real anticipation rather than a sense of foreboding.

6. jtbodbo - 14/02/2021

Unbelievable ! not the score , we’ve had the potential for that all season. Just needed a gullible team whose plan assumed we would be no different than the last few weeks. No, all I saw for £10 was a series of still photographs, each showing a different score. I’ve complained, but I assume WFC will say it was my problem. Interesting, several others have had the same experience.
Anyway, good to see that Munoz HAS got them fizzing. For me that is the best part of yesterday !

7. Stuart Campbell - 14/02/2021

Excellent report crowned bu inspired choice of visual element. Whirling Tasmanian Devil sums the game up perfectly!

8. Harefield Hornet - 14/02/2021

I had similar connection problems during the first half yesterday and my WiFi connection was absolutely fine? I managed to get back on each occasion by shutting down completely and re-logging onto the website . 2nd half was then uninterrupted .

9. Ray Knight - 15/02/2021

Thanks as usual Matt. What a tonic to see the team play so fluently. Sarr amazing, Hughes 197 touches of the ball with Cleverley having a 97% pass success rate. But they all played as a unit, didn’t take their foot off the gas and the confidence flowed back. More of the same please! COYHs


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