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Middlesbrough 1 Watford 1 (05/04/2021) 06/04/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Daughter 1 has become a vegetarian.

This is of course not only her prerogative but also kind of par for the course with a teenage daughter.  She has also discovered Nirvana and socialism in recent months.

But Nirvana and socialism require less effort from me.  It’s always been true, of course, that as soon as you get used to whatever stage children are at everything changes;  whilst the early years were exciting I’m not sure I could have coped with that rate of exciting new discovery and challenge indefinitely.  So the shifts are fewer and further between…  but providing food for the girls has never been terribly challenging until now.  Now I need to stop and think about it.  I’m not a great cook… my wife can open a fridge and improvise with whatever’s inside; I need a recipe.  And now I need new recipes.

2- Very difficult not to get carried away, what with ten wins in eleven, Swansea capsizing, Brentford dropping points and so on.  Plus, as discussed, we’re brilliant and nobody else is.  Nonetheless, Michael Kurn, Tommy Mooney and Allan Smart talking promotion campaigns in Hornet Hive’s well intended but rather billy-no-mates pre-match-without-a-match show felt a little premature.

Amongst the squad there’s been no evidence of any such presumptuousness.  Xisco has spoken guardedly about securing a play-off place before we worry about anything else. William Troost-Ekong’s stock rose still further with his weekend Extra Time interview over the weekend.  Troy Deeney has made the journey to Middlesbrough to sit in an empty stadium in the cold (and, you know, in Middlesbrough) to “ensure that standards don’t drop”.  As the teams come out and Francisco Sierralta’s approach to the freezing sunshine that is cold enough to put condensation on your breath whilst watching in the warmth of your own home is to douse himself in water; you kind of feel that there’s not much wrong in terms of attitude.

3- But “in football, everything is complicated by the presence of an opponent”.  In this case Neil Warnock, who Sky informs us has faced the Hornets more than he has any other side.  Complicated also, in this case, by the absence of supporters.  Questionable whether Boro would have gotten away with what Warnock freely admits was an away game strategy had there been edgy supporters in the stadium.

So Boro are sturdy and disciplined, if relatively unambitious for a home side.  They hold their defensive shape, and whilst Djed Spence in particular makes occasional sorties down the flanks it’s a defiant strategy unashamedly prioritising containment with a view to breaking on us if and when we start to overcommit.

It works fairly well until it doesn’t. Not very much happens for long periods;  Sarr and Hughes both start slowly, a couple of slack moments from each. Occasionally we burst into life… a move wanders across the box until it finds Zinckernagel, whose shot is deflected over.  Sarr and Kiko swap passes (no, really) allowing Kiko to pass to Ken whose shot might have been deflected wide but isn’t credited as such.

It’s laborious though.  Boro’s diligence and physical superiority mean that we can’t build pressure;  a successful attack would require a precision rapier thrust.  We’re more than capable of it, but it’s difficult and those rapier thrusts aren’t going to come very frequently, they ask a lot.  In an attempt to up the urgency of the game, captain Chalobah courts disaster with a thunderous challenge on the unfortunate Sam Morsy.  The tackle goes across the Boro midfielder rather than into him but the ferocious lack of control earns Nate an eleventh yellow of the season and the pressure of the contact through the ball does Morsy’s medial ligaments.

So when the goal comes, it’s slightly perverse that it owes a lot to defensive slackness on Boro’s part;  Sema’s shot is deflected, it drops for Zinckernagel, his shot clatters in off Sarr with Boro’s defence appealing for offside and/or handball.  Never offside since two Boro players had been criminally lazy pushing out, the handball a coulda rather than a shoulda.  Would have been harsh.  The goal stands, and maybe we’ve done the hard bit.

4- I’d have had Isaac on much earlier.  With the clarity of hindsight, given low impact performances from both Ken Sema and João Pedro, I’d have started with him.  Certainly, anyone doubtful at the wisdom of the latest last chance offered to the Nigerian in recent weeks should be clearer after his cameo seven minutes plus injury time from the end.  Within a minute he’d achieved something that we’d struggled to do in attacking positions throughout;  held off a challenge that bounced off him, two in fact, before contemptuously stepping past the debris and moving the play on.  Before the end he’d play the pass of the game, an arcing ball with the outside of his left foot to find Chalobah galloping down the left flank.  He’s something different, a different sort of weapon offering something of Troy’s physicality with an awful lot more mobility than he’s been capable of recently.  We could have done with more of that here.

As it was the first half concluded in much the same vein as it had progressed prior to our goal, save for a brief flurry of bad tempered challenges late in the half.  We defended well ourselves (95 shots on target against us before today, another Sky stat, some way clear of second place Swansea on 115), ushering Boro attacks into less threatening wide positions, no target to hit themselves.  Going forward we were still asking a lot of ourselves but came close to delivering it once or twice… Chalobah pirouetted into space to find Zinckernagel, his pass into João Pedro well cut out.  The second half proceeded in the same way… João Pedro shot over after a neat move down the left, Sarr wriggled down the goal line and laid back to the Brazilian who shot wide.

We asked questions, Boro answered them when they needed to, just about.  Meanwhile… if they were being kept at arms length more or less, Friday’s narrative was being repeated.  A single goal lead felt kinda comfortable, but it would only take a goal.  A moment.  This time, that moment came… Sema gave away a cheap free kick, McNair’s delivery was tremendous and Bolasie scored an annoying header to match his effort in the 2016 Cup Semi.

5- In any context other than the back of a stupid run of wins this was a decent point.  Actually it’s a decent point in these circumstances as well even if it doesn’t feel it, a tough away game against a wily opponent three days after the last match and the weekend after several international trips.  It’s certainly not anything to get stressed about, irrespective of Swansea and Brentford’s fortunes or lack of them (it doesn’t matter what they do).

But it will be interested to see how we proceed, how Xisco responds.  This is all about us.  If we keep our heads together and go again we’ll be ok, but Xisco might find more opponents doing what Boro did.  He doesn’t need to rip it all up, but he might need a few new recipes to add to his repertoire. He’s not really had a setback until now, not since the bedding in period (and not here either, not really).  If we go up and he ends up managing us in the Premier League setbacks are likely to happen more often, he’ll need to be able to respond as positively as he has to victories.

I calmed myself down after this one by cooking an aubergine curry.  Ending the winning run is a shame, but four points from the Easter weekend is probably fair enough.  We’re still in poll position.

Yooorns.

Bachmann 3, Femenía 4, Troost-Ekong 4, Sierralta 3, Masina 3, Hughes 4, *Chalobah 4*, Zinckernagel 3, Sarr 3, João Pedro 2, Sema 2
Subs: Gosling (for Zinckernagel, 77) NA, Success (for Sema, 83) NA, Ngakia, Lazaar, Cathcart, Kabasele, Sánchez, Gray Foster

Comments»

1. Deezzaa - 06/04/2021

Good summary, Matt.
It seems to me like we’ve just had a couple of games against opposition who were playing not to lose at any cost. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next ones where the teams will be playing to win at all cost.

2. Tadcaster Hornet - 06/04/2021

Definitely a good point. Also, no idea if this came out on commentary, but we were out for Easter family walk about 20 miles south of the Riverside and as well as the cold, the wind was a bit of a beast to add into the challenging mix.

Matt Rowson - 06/04/2021

Don’t remember it being mentioned.

JohnF - 06/04/2021

Yes I think they did mention the wind swirling and you could see that occasionally. Slightly disappointing but that shows where we’ve got to. Agree about bringing Success on earlier to allow a different outball.

3. Ray Knight - 06/04/2021

Thanks Matt for your take on the match and I also sympathise with catering for vegetarians in the family. My wife and daughter now have a totally different cuisine from the rest of us. Wish I shared your faith in Success coming good. His cameo aside, his last two appearances and poor touch/ lack of shooting made me long for Gray being recalled. I just hope the lack of a clinical striker does not cost us in the last 6 games. We only have JP and four injured/ out of favour strkers. Its a miracle that we are in such a wonderful position and that is the only thing I worry about at the moment. At least Reading will want to play football so hoping we can match that with our A game. A win on Friday and the momentum could carry us to glory. COYHs!

4. PEDantic - 06/04/2021

For the first time since the change of formation, I was somewhat irked by Watford’s performance yesterday. Right from the start the intent to impose ourselves on the opposition and create chances didn’t seem to be there. It was more reminiscent of the showings we agonised over earlier in the season. Even against Wednesday I felt that intent was still there, even though the extra goals didn’t materialise. So what was different? Maybe it was down to Boro – if so, well done to them – but I just hope it wasn’t something to do with an unconscious cautiousness due to the finishing line getting closer.

Anyway, aubergine curry: yum!

5. Harefield Hornet - 06/04/2021

Much was made after the game of the man to man marking system employed by boro and the fact it stifled us and we found it difficult. It’s obviously not that simple but if it’s that effective against us let’s hope our remaining opponents haven’t taken not of that!

Matt Rowson - 06/04/2021

They would be negligent not to have. Hence “wider repertoire of recipes to suit new situations “. Against that tho we weren’t very far from beating Boro anyway, we have a range of different ingredients in the pantry and Reading, for instance, will need a win on Friday.

6. David - 06/04/2021

I have seen more games this season than ever before but it is tough to tell on TV what is going on. Like PEDantic I find it hard to apportion blame or credit to Boro. I think this is the first time we have missed cleverly’s energy although I thought Chalobah made great efforts to get forward.

7. Paultheshrink - 07/04/2021

I’m always intrigued to see how the opening comments will lead into your summing up Matt. I must say I didn’t see that one coming; and I really should have. If your daughter has discovered the Nirvana that us Buddhists are searching for; eternal happiness etc., could you get her to PM me? I need some help. Not interested if it’s the rock band. If I was a Brentford or Swansea fan, I’d be more worried about loss of form heading into the playoffs than expecting to catch us up.

8. An Athleticzale Holds Forth - 07/04/2021

Interesting that our dullest, and most negative performance, since adopting 433, took place under the watchful eye of the talksport pundit.
Hopefully he’ll return to the studio until we’re over the promotion line.

Matt Rowson - 07/04/2021

Suspect he’s watched most of them in fairness but don’t let that stop you

9. Graham French - 09/04/2021

Great write up as ever, Matt. Although I didn’t appreciate this when watching, I think you’re right that the game was more about Middlesbrough effectively stifling us for chunks of the game, rather than deficiencies on our part, though we did seem to have lost a bit of our cutting edge too. Hopefully tonight Reading will attack more, & that’ll give us more opportunities. The Manager of the month news is obviously a worry, though…


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