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Rotherham United 1 Watford 4 (16/03/2021) 17/03/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Some days are just good days.

Some days the sunshine is just that little bit warmer.  Some days you’re perpetually humming along to whichever tune is in your head.  Some days the words just come and everything flows without stress, without those bits where you stare blankly at the screen, or keep going back and deleting and rewording and prevaricating. Some days little things going wrong are precisely as irrelevant as they ought to be. Some days your daughter knocks on your study door and comes in and gives you a hug, just because.  Some days things are rolling for you.

It feels as if we haven’t had enough of them recently.  Today was one of those days.

2- It speaks volumes that we’re not going into this little run of fixtures looking for banana skins.  Three games, two of which at home, against three of the bottom four…  from the outside it’s an opportunity, from the inside you might imagine that we’d be saying, “I bet we stuff this up”.  But none of us believe that.  It’s just not on the cards.

Least of all here, against a Rotherham side emerging from the challenges of  a period in which the players and staff have been isolating following a COVID outbreak, prohibiting training and the rehabilitation of those returning from injury.  Forget the fact that the Millers are at the wrong end of the table, we’ve seen the sluggish returns of our own players returning from individual periods of isolation following positive tests.  This would have been a big ask for Rotherham at the best of times.  This wasn’t the best of times.

This was Rotherham’s second outbreak of the season, and you have to wonder whether their safety protocols have been quite all they should have been.  Nonetheless, it was impossible not to sympathise with the very balanced, honest, compelling words of manager Paul Warne as he reflected on the challenges his side faced going into the game.  Their outstanding fixtures will see them having to play twice in the same midweek at least once before the season closes.  In that time they’ve got to get players fit and energised en masse.  Not easy.  The Football League, Warne acknowledged, were never going to give them the leeway they needed in order to clear the decks.

3- If spirit, single-mindedness and giving it a good old go is worth anything you’d give Rotherham a chance on this evidence.  On the other hand – and not being familiar enough with the Millers’ squad to assess missing numbers – if this is the best defending they’re going to manage between now and the end of the campaign you’d fear for them.  No room for mercy here, nor sympathy, nor not just getting the job done.  We didn’t need any.

That said, Rotherham got off the the sharper start.  Thinking about it in retrospect, based on what is now 12 months of working away from the office, I guess that if there’s one aspect of a footballer’s training that works over Zoom it’s planning set pieces.  Shouldn’t have been a surprise, perhaps, to see a couple of innovative efforts from the home side, the first to a corner in the opening exchanges.  A couple of minutes later Francisco Sierralta got an important header in to clear a right wing cross.

But if Rotherham asked questions of us as they attacked they had no answer whatsoever to our attacking play, tumbling like skittles as we flew forwards. The opening goal on nine minutes was painfully straightforward, and we flooded into every open crevice for the rest of the half.

At the centre of much of it, and critical to all three of the first half goals, was Philip Zinckernagel.  The Dane’s startling record in Norway came with the caveat that, you know, it was in Norway;  a slight concern that he’d left Denmark at the age of 24 without having pulling up any trees.  He’s shown flashes of quality before now, but this was a startling performance… for the first, he cut back onto his right foot and dropped a cross onto Sierralta’s head.  The Chilean held off his marker to dump the ball past Blackman, stranded on his line, spent a couple of seconds recovering his senses and then rose with what is becoming a trademark two-fisted bellow.

Fifteen minutes later, Zinckernagel escaped his marker to cut inside again and dip a lower ball into the box.  We had a vast number of bodies in the danger zone but dodged the offside, Chalobah flicked a neat shot which Blackman did well to parry but Sarr artfully nicked the ball into the top corner. Five minutes before the break, the Dane sent an arcing, precise right wing corner directly into the orbit of Ken Sema in the penalty area who flicked and juggled and mercilessly slung his shot past the keeper.  I compared Zinc’s assist for Gray against Wycombe to an Almen Abdi pass.  Still early days, and a different sort of player for sure, but he’s already offering us similar devilment in the final third.  Long may that continue.

4-  The rest of the first half, after and between, was a coconut shy.  Any scoreline was feasible from this point;  the Millers continued to suggest unshakable resolve when attacking but were eminently shakeable defending and this forward line will rattle every defence in the division.  One fast break saw João Pedro turn neatly and release Kiko for an outrageous sprint to the touchline.  He screamed onto the ball and pulled back, a desperate lunge conceded a corner.  Hughes, always in space, found Sema on the right, he cut inside, another corner.  Every attack looked dangerous;  Sema, back on the left, pulled back for Chalobah to carve a shot towards the top corner.  It would have been a worthy partner to his strike at Cardiff, but Blackman pulled out a terrific stop.  Masina tried a scissor kick, Femenía flung in another wicked cross, another corner.  Chalobah played João Pedro through, Blackman got a crucial toe in first to prevent a fourth.  We were rampant.

5- The second half didn’t quite continue in the same vein, partly because we removed key protagonists with the game ostensibly won – Zinckernagel and Chalobah had both received heavy knocks, Ismaïla Sarr most concerningly had pre-empted his replacement by sitting down on the pitch but was at least able to walk off.  Fingers crossed.

The other impediment to the continuation of the flood after the break was Rotherham’s bloody minded attacking, perhaps pursued in the awareness that falling back would have been no good at all in the absence of much of a defence.  The BBC correspondent who suggested that “on another day Rotherham might have got something from this” on their website feed was presumably either referring to a day next week when Rotherham weren’t playing Watford, or was on hallucinogenic drugs.

Nonetheless, the Millers were still throwing punches.  We had started the half with the irrepressible Sarr roaring down the centre of the pitch with options either side, opting for João Pedro with a precise pass, the Brazilian’s good touch negated by a thunderous last-ditch tackle from Wood.  There was briefly a suggestion of sloppiness as Troost-Ekong conceded a penalty.  It was unlucky, perhaps, but definitely a pen as the Nigerian kicked the underside of Smith’s foot… a good call from the referee in a decent performance that saw him offer some slack to Shaun McDonald rather than booking him early on for kicking the ball away, but refuse to give free kicks simply for Rotherham players falling over.  Smith took the penalty fairly weakly, Bachmann did his thing and the scraps were eventually cleared.

Eight minutes later Ladapo capitalised upon Carlos Sánchez’s poor first touch of the game – his only poor touch of the game – to swipe an arrogant shot beyond Bachmann’s reach to give the Miller’s a foothold.  Infuriatingly for the home side he started to pull out the tricks rather than apply himself to recovering the situation but by then the jig was up in any case.  As on Saturday we responded brilliantly to a set-back, Troost-Ekong’s screaming pass through the centre of the pitch touched on brilliantly by Gray to Sema, Sema back to Gray, Gray’s shot blocked but Dan Gosling was galloping on to turn the ball into an empty net.

There could, should have been more.  Sierralta, oddly, and Gray were both guilty of not finishing off chances more than once, the latter late on after some welcome and effective barging around from another Isaac Success cameo, but this is a much sprightlier more positive Andre Gray, a force for good this evening.

Job done.  Results elsewhere mean we pull clear for the first time…  today, as discussed, was a good day.  As also discussed, Swansea, Brentford, are mere detail.  This is all about us, and anyone who tries standing in our way won’t be standing for very long.

Yooorns.

Bachmann 5, Femenía 5, Troost-Ekong 4, Sierralta 5, Masina 5, Hughes 5, Chalobah 5, *Zinckernagel 5*, Sarr 5, João Pedro 4, Sema 5
Subs: Gray (for Sarr, 53) 4, Ngakia (for Femenía, 53) 4, Gosling (for Chalobah, 67) 4, Sánchez (for Zinckernagel) 4, Success (for Hughes, 80) NA, Lazaar, Cathcart, Hungbo, Foster

Yet more thanks to those who have donated to Prostate Cancer UK over the last couple of weeks, a bit of a rush in the happy afterglow of Saturday’s win.  The donations list is dominated by ‘orns, and our tally is past £1500 plus Gift Aid, utterly brilliant. You can still sponsor here if you’re so inclined.

Comments»

1. Stuart Phillips - 17/03/2021

Glad you picked up on that comment in the BBC feed Matt! Thought it was a baffling one. Probably my bias kicking in, but I thought they were downplaying Watford all evening on there.

Matt Rowson - 17/03/2021

that’s the only one I noticed… I was using it late on to keep track of other scores. Not that they matter, obvs.

2. Ray Knight - 17/03/2021

Just a brilliant night Matt. Entirely agree that PZ was wonderful but everyone played their part. The hornets are buzzing!

3. Andy Stocks - 17/03/2021

An enjoyable read. I almost felt sorry for Rotherham at HT, they had battled but we were ruthless. Job done.

Zinkernagel has steadily improved as his involvement has increased. He is looking like a very astute acquisition. He’s still learning the pace of the game IMO and is prone to the odd dither, but his positive influence is growing rapidly.

A strange season, we’ve gone from being a side that’s difficult to like to being a team that’s a joy to watch (at times) , the smiles are infectious.

4. Graham French - 17/03/2021

We have been transformed from a joyless negative set up to a side that’s a joy to watch. Long may it continue. I also felt just a bit sorry for Rotheram. It was probably quite kind to them to bring on Isaac & Andre ( much as I’d like both to come good)

Matt Rowson - 17/03/2021

I don’t know about “kind”. We needed to rest players, Gray and Isaac need to find form and fitness respectively. I thought both did well, albeit we obviously lost momentum with the change in personnel.

And thank you for your donation Graham, extraordinarily generous and much appreciated.

Graham French - 17/03/2021

Pleasure. Important cause.
“Kind” was tongue in cheek, but for all that Andre had one or two good touches, & the pass & shot, some of his other play was woeful. I’d have given Hungbo another run out, rather than Success, even though he has less physical presence.

Matt Rowson - 17/03/2021

Gray’s role in the second goal – the linking pass to Sema – was astonishing. Isaac wasn’t on for long but he did very well to bully open that chance (which Gray stuffed up). Hungbo looks a load of fun, I agree, but I think Isaac could be of real value in the run in – offers physicality AND mobility.

5. Kristoffer Vad - 17/03/2021

The other results on the day make this win so much more important. I wish I could share your confidence regarding the next fixture coming up. With Birmingham fighting for survival and with a new manager – I am worried. Dropping points here would be such a Watford thing to do. Any point dropped could be the one that costs us in the end. What perks me up is the seemingly fantastic team spirit in the squad. Keep that up and I think we will go all the way.

On Zinc – I am Danish and have a decent knowledge of Norwegian football as well. When he was signed, I was less than confident. He comes from one of the best academies in Denmark, but spent much of his career in Denmark in the second tier, playing in the top tier for less than two seasons. Moving to Norway is not normally a step up and while he did end up leading Bodø/Glimt to the championship and was named player of the year, I never expected him to be anything more than a bit part player. I am very happy to see him evolve and improve as he gets used to the tempo and physicality of Championship football. Long may it continue.

Matt Rowson - 17/03/2021

Thanks for that Kris… good insight.

But I’m not having “such a Watford thing to do”. You’re far from the only one guilty of this but… it’s a bit like when a contest on a game show says “I’m a Manchester United fan… for my sins”. What the hell are you talking about, “for your sins”. Everyone finds supporting their team stressful because you don’t always win when you want to and not winning isn’t nice. But I don’t think we’ve a particularly bad record in such games, indeed we were developing a reputation as “flat track bullies” in the Cup Final season.

At the moment, nothing about the way we’re playng, the attitude or depth of the squad gives me any cause for concern. At all. That’s not being arrogant or complacent. It’s based on evaluating available data.

6. James Marshall - 17/03/2021

A great read as always Matt. This game presented different problems to solve and I am so impressed with the way this team can navigate itself During a game to the correct path. Defo PZs best game, nit just the assists but winning the ball, tracking back and some deft touches. I wouldnt be a Watford fan of 50years+ without worrying about Brum’s new manager bounce – but I do have the confidence in XM and the team to get the job done

7. steven fewster - 17/03/2021

I had trouble explaining to people why we moved on from Ivic: “[watford] are in the playoff places, who do they think they are?”

I watched so many of those games, and I know there were many extenuating circumstances, but it’s been like chalk and cheese since the team found their stride under X. Genuinely a joy to watch and it’s really hard to pick a favourite player right now. (It’s Ken).

Matt Rowson - 17/03/2021

🙂 Other people are idiots Steven, this should not be a surprise.

Thanks to you also for your donation, very much appreciated.


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