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Watford 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0 (02/04/2021) 03/04/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  Game of Thrones did lots of things rather well.

Gratuitous nudity, yes yes.  Dragons and that, obviously.   But also a quite wonderful palette of shades of grey; no “good guys” and “bad guys”, not really, just a load of people more or less in it for themselves with varying degrees of moral compass.  This may in part have been borne of the storylines being ripped from history (including the War of the Roses) and of course who the good and the bad guys are in history largely depends on your point of view.  As with all the best fantasy work, once you suspended your disbelief and accepted the Dragons and that (see above) it was all utterly believable in the conduct of its protagonists.

There’s a satisfying consistency to it also.  As with Tolkien’s Middle Earth, you rather felt that Westeros was the point… it wasn’t that the author had a story that he wanted to tell and expanded the world he’d invented as he went along to accommodate the narrative…  the world came first.  The window you’re looking through lets you see a small proportion of the stuff that was going on anyway, or that’s the illusion.

But most of all, Game of Thrones – the TV adaptation now, rather than the novels which wander off in a different direction in the end and now seem to have been abandoned – do spectacle.  Set Pieces.  The terrifying magnificence of a battle is allowed to breathe for its own sake – the storyline, the destination is important, the journey just as much so.  You can feel the anxiety, the fear.  You can hear the mud squelching beneath your feet.  You can smell the horses.  You can sense the cold air on your face as the two armies face off before conflict is met.  The tension reaches out of the screen and grabs you around the throat.

2- That’s where we’ve been for the last fortnight or so, right there.  Waiting for it all to restart, trying to manage our nerves, eager for it to kick off again if only to relieve the tension (though if you’re smelling a horsey smell I’d suggest you assess your personal lockdown hygiene).

International breaks were a pain in the arse in what used to be the normal way.  With less to do and despite the fact that we’re not actually at the games a two week hiatus feels like an added insult, the faffing around of national teams an aggravating rotation of traffic lights.  By far the biggest focus was the fortunes of our own players with their respective national sides and we seem to have gotten away without any casualties, Ken Sema’s 90 minutes in a friendly for Sweden a frustrating two days prior to this one our biggest issue.

Against that we have the returns of Ismaïla Sarr and Philip Zinckernagel;  Sarr in particular is one of very few individuals in the squad whose absence in isolation would be significant.  As he dropped to the floor in the closing minutes at Rotherham Watford hearts were in Watford mouths;  we’d have taken him missing the Birmingham game (and a trip to Senegal) at that point I think.

But the start of the game is not altogether encouraging.  It’s fair to say that nine wins in ten has left us bullish but it’s only natural for concerns to bubble under when given time to do so.  One…  we’re going to be off the pace after a two week hiatus, we’ll have lost our momentum.  Practically from the kick-off Philip Zinckernagel, who for all his game-to-game improvement would have been high on the list of candidates for this, gives the ball away with a piece of slack play, a lack of awareness.  Two…  Ismaïla Sarr is going to be whacked.  Julian Börner does the honours with a bad foul, far from the first time that someone’s put an early reducer in on the winger and again we’re nervous as he limps mournfully away but he’s made of tough stuff, Chris Kavanagh is uncompromising with his yellow cards and in fairness this is the only nasty foul of the game.

And then, as so often of late, we take an early lead.  Sarr’s rapid recovery had already seen him play a ball in towards Isaac Success which was smuggled out of play by the attentions of two Wednesday defenders.  The goal itself will prove to be the one truly exquisite move of the game;  Adam Masina had made a pig’s ear of a crossfield ball less than a minute earlier but his second go is magnificent, a searing pass from left to right dropping into the feet of Sarr.  Sarr’s cross does Masina’s work justice, it’s completely undefendable scything between the defence and the goalkeeper;  we get a break, on another day Chris Kavanagh sympathises with Wednesday claims that Isaac Success, lurking on Tom Lees’ shoulder, is offside and interfering with play.  This time he doesn’t, Lees propels the ball past his goalkeeper and the ‘orns are ahead.

3- “Game over” comes the message from Owls fan Ade.  Slightly premature, probably, even if that proves to be the end of the goalscoring. Wednesday look like what they are – a relegation-threatened side, but a relegation-threatened side under a new manager who’ve just had an encouraging win followed by two weeks in which to be encouraged.  Less than five minutes in a certain single-mindedness had been evident as the visitors restarted sharply when given a free kick, a trait that persisted throughout whether motivated by hoping to exploit a perceived slackness of concentration on the part of the Hornets or merely to instil a positive mindset.

Our goal is followed by a period of Wednesday possession, and if it sets a tone by not ultimately resulting in very much – Daniel Bachmann once again doesn’t have a shot to save – then the possibility is always there.  Much of the mischief comes from the feet of Barry Bannan who is lively around the edge of the box, playing in Josh Windass on 24 minutes for Bachmann to charge out and smother, and is a threat with his set piece delivery.  Wednesday, perhaps conscious of their limited threat otherwise, seem keen to pursue this avenue by going down whenever the chance presents itself (Tommy Mooney at once point confusingly describes Jordan Rhodes as having gone down like a packet of biscuits) but we’re daft enough to offer them too many opportunities to do so.

Ultimately however it’s a largely theoretical threat and you fear for Wednesday, the widening gap to safety will need a steadier supply of goals to be bridged you suspect.  The closest they come is when Sierralta and (in the second half) Hughes take yellows to snuff out two of the Owls’ more threatening breaks.  The Hornets’ attacks look much more potent, at least in the opening half:  Isaac Success’s second start builds on the good bits of his display against Birmingham with some bullish hold-up play, but encapsulates his game neatly midway through the half when he sweeps a ball majestically wide to João Pedro to set up an attack but then concludes the same move with a ponderous touch after a neat pass from the bubbly Zinckernagel.  Again on the half hour he holds the ball up well to release Sarr but when it comes back via a fortunate deflection he shoots tamely wide.  We push before the interval;  Isaac (again) tees up Zinckernagel who takes a touch too many.  A minute later Isaac (again) drops a header into João Pedro’s path, the forward shoots across the face with Zinckernagel waiting for a tap-in.  On balance Success comes out well in credit, a target man option when we might need one.

4- A slightly darker shade of grey in the second half.  Kind of the same game, but with a bit less of the fun stuff and a bit more of the iffy stuff.  Our chances are fewer and further between than before the break, and if Wednesday are still largely kept at arm’s length they don’t ever get, you know, two or three arms’ lengths away and whilst neither side creates very much the visitors now look as likely as we do to add to the scoreline.  William Troost-Ekong needs to get himself between the ball and Rhodes early in the second half to block his route to a Windass cross.  Ten minutes later Sierralta’s rare slack header under pressure drops to Rhodes inside the box.  He shovels wastefully over and that’s as close as Wednesday are going to get, but we’re not to know this at the time.

As the game progresses we bring on a succession of substitutes, playing a strength-in-depth card that our visitors really can’t match.  Dan Gosling and Carlos Sánchez both jeopardise that theory by respectively giving away a free kick on the edge of the box (Bannan, fortunately, respects Vicarage Road’s traditions by thumping it into the wall) and by being slightly too composed in possession when a bit of urgency, not to say welly, was called for.

Ultimately we end the game on top again, albeit the game is tilted in our favour to a degree that would only be discernible using precision measuring equipment, like a really fancy spirit level.  Sarr holds off two fouls by Börner who injures himself in the process, sets up Sema whose shot against Wildsmith’s shins; Kavanagh halts play with Masina in space for the Wednesday defender to get treatment.  In the final knockings we look comfortable, Gosling and Gray back in the groove enough to help us see out the final minutes.

5- Ten wins in eleven, six on the trot, Tom Lees the only opposition player to score at the Vic in over two months.  This one won’t be the one that we look back on should we confirm promotion… none of the drama of Cardiff, none of the crushing dominance of Bristol City.  This win was scruffy and unspectacular and scarcely deserved beyond the detail that we scored a goal and the other lot didn’t.  But it’s an essential part of the backdrop that allows the story to play out in front of it.  Most particularly it’s three points at the start of the final chapter, three points that puts Swansea and Brentford on the back foot before they’ve even rejoined the fray (and as I write, Swansea have stumbled on their way back to the battlefield losing to – get this – a soft late penalty.  Not that they matter).

A massive victory.

Yooorns.

Bachmann 3, Femenía 3, Troost-Ekong 3, Sierralta 3, Masina 4, *Hughes 4*, Chalobah 3, Zinckernagel 3, Sarr 3, Success 3, João Pedro 3
Subs:  Gray (for Success, 61) 3, Gosling (for Zinckernagel, 61) 3, Sema (for João Pedro, 71) 2, Sánchez (for Chalobah, 84) NA, Ngakia, Lazaar, Kabasele, Hungbo, Foster

A final thanks to the many of you who were kind enough to sponsor me for walking an awful lot during March raising money for Prostate Cancer UK. The tally currently stands at over £3,000 including Gift Aid, well over half of which appears to have come from the BHaPPY readership. You are all wonderful people.  I finished at 13,018 steps per day on average, and with hurty legs. You can still sponsor here if you’re so inclined.

Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 03/04/2021

This was one we just had to get out of the way – with the break having threatened to scupper our momentum. That we did so and collected the 3 points is to our enormous credit and I thought the defence and Will Hughes were terrific yesterday. That said there were some lacklustre performances yesterday, perhaps understandable under the circumstances, but we’ll need to up our game on Monday evening to bring anything back from the Riverside. The injury to Pedro is worrying and while I as much as anyone want to see Success succeed , I thought he was poor again yesterday. I would much rather see Gray start, or Perica – who wasn’t even on the bench yesterday ?

straightnochaser - 03/04/2021

Monday lunchtime, Harefield, not evening (lest you miss it!)

2. Antony Beale - 03/04/2021

Having problems logging in separately, so am slipstreaming Harefield Hornet (apologies). The momentum of this current Watford team is mightily impressive and augurs well. We have come unstuck in previous Easter campaigns, so let’s see if the football gods are on our side (last minute Birmingham penalty vs Swansea a good omen).
Very happy to help out with the Prostate Cancer UK fundraising, Matt. This awful disease puts everything else into perspective. March is a very poignant month in our family…
Happy Easter everyone for all of us far-flung overseas Hornets fans. Let’s hope 2021 has something to celebrate come next month. In the meantime, your match reports are a joy to read Matt and so well crafted, thank you so much.

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2021

Thanks for your donation (and kind words) Tony. Very much appreciated.

3. David - 03/04/2021

Brentford still 20% of their season to go so I’m keeping myself in check.

I personally think we were lucky to get away with the goal, it’s amazingly how these things appear to go your way when you’re on a run.

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2021

We could very well not have gotten away with it. But it must have been marginal even if he was “interfering”, and the officials had a good old chat on that point. Plus he was hardly gaining an advantage by being offside… which doesn’t affect the offsideness or otherwise but not going to lose sleep over it

Harefield Hornet - 03/04/2021

I checked the FA rules about what is deemed to be interfering with play. It’s either playing the ball or obstructing an opponent from doing so. Success did neither do the ref got it spot on by the letter of the law. No argument whatsover!

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2021

Good work

David - 03/04/2021

Thank you HH.

The below political polling website has started predicting sporting outcomes. post the Brentford draw we are, according to the site, 85% likely to go up. I should warn that after the Newcastle and Norwich wins at the end of last season we were shown as 15% to get relegated and yet……

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/soccer-predictions/championship/

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2021

🙂 It’s a probability. One in seven shots come up one time in seven… probably and definitely aren’t the same thing.

4. Alan Ahern - 03/04/2021

Swansea love a late penalty – or did, and now Huddersfield have added to our overall joyous mood this Easter.
As has been previously said, we need another performance on Monday afternoon, then it’s totally in our hands. Beat the likes of Reading, Brentford and, if we can get a result at Norwich, who knows, we could be playing Swansea as champions!! The only game that worries me is away to you know who – they’d love to derail us!!

5. Nick Barclay - 04/04/2021

“if you’re smelling a horsey smell I’d suggest you assess your personal lockdown hygiene” *spits out tea.
Thanks for a great read, and a great GOT metaphor.

Matt Rowson - 04/04/2021

Cheers Nick

6. Weymouth 'Orn - 04/04/2021

Alan Ahern refers to the upcoming game against that lot up the road. I hope somebody briefs XM on the likelihood of there being more than a little needle creeping into this fixture. I feel he wasn’t fully aware of that in the recent match down here at Dean Court (old money) – maybe something that cost us!

Matt Rowson - 04/04/2021

Yes… interesting that the only dropped points were in that game. Will be interesting as you imply


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