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Watford 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 (11/09/2021) 12/09/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- I was back in work this week.

I’m one of those desk jockeys fortunate enough to have been able to push on from home during the pandemic and various stages of lockdown, pretty much without breaking stride.  It’s been a bit rubbish, obviously, but in the grand scheme of things you’ll take “a bit rubbish”.  I’ve had a laptop, I’ve had an internet connection and Zoom-y kind of tools to talk to people through so…  fine.  Critically, I’ve still got paid.

My employer has been cautious as far as folk coming back to the “office” is concerned.  Not an office really, strictly speaking;  a research laboratory.  650-odd people are employed there, nominally, so it’s a big place.  Some folk have needed to be back more than me, some of the proper scientists need laboratories and that.  But this week, with controls and ifs and buts and with no coercion whatsoever the great unwashed were permitted in as well.  Many didn’t, but I don’t have a commute to speak of.  I was in every day.

It was kind of the same, but kind of different.  No surprise of course… buildings are still in the same place, most of them.  The site still looks brilliant in the sunshine.  It takes me the same amount of time to walk home.  But after everything that’s happened, it’s unreasonable to expect everything to have been left how it was, to be as I remember it and to work right away.  Rooms have been rearranged and refurbished for one thing, much more easily achieved when the place is empty.  Repurposed for “hybrid” working, whatever that turns out to be.  The people are different…  folk have come and gone,  some of the newbies have been back on site for months, I’m the newbie in their eyes.  It’s still very empty compared to what normal used to be.

Kind of the same, but kind of different.

2- You’ll have guessed where this is going.

We’re sort of, kind of, almost getting back into the swing now with the football.  Not really…  it’ll take longer, too much has happened… but kind of, almost, getting there.  Daughters 1 and 2 are both here today; Daughter 1 also has Kate with her, an occasional if enthusiastic visitor over the years and possibly the last person to bemoan the demise of Chimichanga on Market Street, part of the ritual she remembers.  Daughter 2 has slightly less catching up to do, but nonetheless hasn’t been here since the ghostly game against Cardiff last season, Daughter 1 not since we lasted hosted Wolves (which was only New Year’s Day last year, though it could equally be a decade ago).  Only Isma, of our starting eleven, was involved that day which tells a story.  In contrast seven of Wolves’ starters today were in that matchday squad.

This highlights again the challenge inherent in the colossal overhaul of the squad not just over the last transfer window but since supporters were last regularly in the ground.  We could do with a few more Aston Villas to build those fledgling emotional investments as much as our points tally.

3- The head coach, at least, has built a rapid connection with supporters – a ready smile and a promotion don’t hurt of course – but his request for a barrage of noise to fuel an early assault on the visitors never looks remotely like coming to pass as Wolves dominate possession for the opening ten or fifteen minutes.  Jeremy Ngakia is one of two new faces in the starting eleven…  I’ve never quite decided in my head whether he’s destined for great things or somewhat less great things, and the same conflicting evidence is on show here.  In the opening minutes Traoré, ostensibly the greatest threat (Jiménez, a shadow of his former self, is regaining fitness and confidence), twice loses Ngakia on the Wolves left before slipping a simple pass to a team-mate presumably deemed to boast more reliable end product.  It’s all very sensible but rather underwhelming, like hiring a michelin-starred chef to pour you some corn flakes.

Thereafter however Ngakia gets to grips with his opponent to such an extent that the interval will see Traoré and the rather dainty Trincão switch wings.  On the evidence presented thus far it looks as if maybe Connor Roberts was the aberration, with Zaha/Traoré suggesting that the young full-back has enough about him to bottle up challenging opponents.  His success mirrors our own, as we more or less succeed once again in keeping our opponents at arm’s length despite their almost complete possession.

When we do retaliate it’s swift, aggressive and startling…  Sarr’s poise and awareness on the right allow him to slip a ball inside to Sissoko; his effort is all power and no precision and from a wide angle at a comfortable height José Sá is never seriously troubled but it was on target, a lapse of concentration and it would have been in.  From the subsequent corner Etebo lamps the first of a couple of long shots high, wide and handsome.

We’re physically much more powerful than Wolves, and begin to bully them all over the park.  Sissoko manages to combine power with balance, and more than once wrong foots one opponent whilst holding off another.  He combines with Sarr again for the winger to roll a ball across the face of goal and narrowly beyond King’s toe.  Danny Rose, the other newcomer, is no less prominent than Ngakia.  He does the Robbo thing of not settling for a neat, clean tackle when there’s energy spare to make sure that the opponent feels it….  if he’s less of a threat hurtling up and down the flank than in his heyday and despite looking pretty fed up throughout he does more than enough to justify his selection.  Etebo once again patrols behind the midfield despite the challenge of an early card.

4- Thing is though, whilst we do well to reclaim a foothold in the first half and can make a case for being level on points as well as on goals at the interval, and whilst there are good individual things and a very enjoyable amount of bootering, we’re not nearly coherent enough in attack.  There’s some good stuff there, some good bits but there’s no whole.  No shape, no pattern, no cheap stock goals, not yet.  We’re like a lion cub with teeth and claws that we don’t quite know what to do with, needing to work it all out before the law of the jungle tears us apart.  Not that lions live in jungles…

When King (of the jungle) hobbles off shortly into the second half any sense of a focal point disappears altogether.  This is Emmanuel Dennis’ weakest game so far… he keeps running, but to little effect.  Cucho is a box of tricks and wins a couple of decent aerial balls against taller opponents but he surely needs to be the decoration on a more solid structure whilst Sarr has all the ability and acceleration but isn’t Troy Deeney, isn’t ever going to be the leader.

This lack of shape and purpose – for now at any rate – has two consequences.  Firstly, our attacking falters in the second half… not a lack of effort for me as much of a lack of conviction, a resignation to the futility of the exercise which is probably worse.  Secondly, and partly as a consequence, by not realising your threat you give your opponent no reason to moderate their attacking ambitions.  This was already evident at the end of the first half when right wing-back Semedo was put through at the death with the Hornets busy claiming for a foul on the subdued Kucka at the other end of the pitch.  Bachmann denied him on this occasion, but the same player was put through early in the second half and shot wide.  Jiménez found space in the box and headed narrowly off target.

Tickets, raffles, and we were selling too many tickets.  It’s a bit of a shame that it was Sierralta, up to that point the head on the end of any optimistic high ball that Wolves had lobbed into the box;  as two Watford bodies went up in front of him, reaching for a left wing cross, he can only have been unsighted and slightly disorientated in deflecting the ball home under minimal pressure.  It was no more than Wolves deserved by that point, and Bachmann was unable to prevent a scruffy second ten minutes later.

5- Kind of the same, kind of different.  And because it’s different, all different, it’s unreasonable to expect it all to gel straight away.  There are good bits.  Even the bits that don’t work as a collective have things about them that offer encouragement.  Thing is, we don’t have a huge amount of time to develop those patterns given the unforgiving nature of the Premier League and the circumstances of our fixture list.  We need points out of our next couple of games, on the back of not really having looked much like scoring since Villa.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back in work next week for all that it’s weird, for all that it’s kind of the same but kind of different.  I can only remember one comparable instance in what have been many years working at this place, one time when everything seemed to change and you wanted to drop to the floor to regain your balance.  That was in September 2001;  we’d just gotten back from our honeymoon in New York and Boston.  We’d been on top of the World Trade Center as England were putting five goals past Germany in Munich.   One of the best things about football, as we’ve suggested before, is how it can matter so much whilst not mattering at all.  But it doesn’t matter at all, not really.


Bachmann 3, Ngakia 4, *Rose 4*, Troost-Ekong 3, Sierralta 3, Etebo 3, Sissoko 4, Kucka 2, Sarr 3, King 3, Dennis 2
Subs: Hernández (for King, 53) 3, Sema (for Etebo, 77) NA, Louza, Cleverley, Masina, Cathcart, Tufan, Kabasele, Elliot


1. Dave Sambrook - 12/09/2021

That was how I saw it too. We’re seriously lacking in traditional centre forwards of either the target man or ‘fox in the box’ type.

2. sptemple - 12/09/2021

I found it sobering to realise that this was my first Watford game since we beat Liverpool. And the contrast between the two games was stark.

Understandably, given all the changes in the squad since last season, we didn’t look like a team, with most players having to take extra time on the ball before making a pass, and so getting caught in possession or misplacing a pass.

We ended up relying on long balls to King (who struggled) and then to Dennis (who also struggled) and to Cucho (who showed some nice flashes).

The midfield 3 of Etebo, Kucka and Sissoko looks too similar to me. One of them will need to make way for a more inventive player (presumably Tufan or Louza?).

My biggest concern is that early season is one of the best times for promoted clubs to pick up points as they have momentum from the previous seasons success. We’ve thrown away a lot of that by making so many changes to the squad. As a result, Munoz has a really tough job.

Matt Rowson - 12/09/2021

“Thrown that away” is slightly pointed. I’m not sure there was much sensible alternative to refreshing the squad and today’s was the first genuinely problematic result. But yes the number of new faces presents a challenge.

Harefield Hornet - 12/09/2021

Empathise with the back to work theme above – I’ve just returned – but to a different building in Central London . The packed underground with about 40% of people not bothering to wear masks is a bit of a shock to the system! – I’m not too worried about yesterday in isolation – as you’ve said Wolves have a fairly established line up which they’re comfortable with while we are obviously still work in progress. The issues will come if the losing run continues for too long with the inevitable resulting unease regarding the coach’s position surfacing I suspect ?

Matt Rowson - 12/09/2021

Suspect the next two are critical just because of how the fixture list falls.

3. Ben Thornhill - 12/09/2021

Nice similes

4. Richard Steeden - 12/09/2021

I’m not sure King hobbled off; judging by his reaction, he was hooked and as soon as he’d gone, what was until then a fairly even contest became very one sided. And the same equally ineffective substitution was also made v Spurs. That I’m afraid is on the coach.

5. Ray Knight - 13/09/2021

Thanks Matt for another excellent write-up. Can identify entirely with working from home on the laptop syndrome. Also, sobering thoughts on 9/11 – is it really that long ago, still so vivid and shocking. My son attended this one in my stead and he was also pretty sober regarding our performance. Wolves were always punching below their weight however so I was less surprised. This squad needs time to gel, but unfortunately the EPL does not allow any rhythm to be developed. 3 or 4 points the minimum now required over next two games and is achievable. We need to hang in there for now.

6. Lincoln Hornet - 13/09/2021

Your report is a lot better read than most of the normal social media rants where people seem to have Xisco gone already, such is the expectancy levels of some.less understanding individuals who all think they could do better!! You summed up my feelings pretty well and whilst we weren’t brilliant I didn’t think we were much worse than Wolves or Spurs for that matter. I would like to see set pieces improve and for Batman to command his area a bit more positively, being a Superhero and all that!! I think we all need to remain behind the squad for now, who knows a couple of results and confidence could quickly grow.

Matt Rowson - 13/09/2021

Thanks, agree with all of that.

7. jtbodbo - 14/09/2021

Small margins! 2 of our goals against Villa were a bit fortunate. On Sat we were unlucky not to score at least 2 in the first half. We weren’t worse than Wolves by any stretch. I usually wait for 5 games at least before making any judgment. This season I’m waiting 10 games, as there have been so many changes. However, Sissoko is an upgrade on Capoue, Kucka is at least as good as Cleverley, and with Etebo/Tufan will give us a very solid midfield. Once King/Dennis/Fletcher/Cucho/Pedro get on Sarr’s radar I think we’ll be fine.

Matt Rowson - 14/09/2021

I think that’s a very positive spin… Sarr’s goal against Villa was lucky, Dennis’ snapped up a rebound that no Villa defender was there to block. Sissoko may be a great signing, but an upgrade on the Capoue of our Premier League years is stretching it. I think Wolves WERE better than us.

But we’re overdue a positive take and I agree with your general point. My concern is that if we don’t improve quickly the impact of results on the team mentality will be significant.

Jeff Lloyd - 14/09/2021

I’m in agreement with Matt on Sissoko. He’s not really the same sort of player. And although Capoue was up and down early on he was the beating heart in by the time he left (and then won a European trophy!).
Kucka looks decent but is already 34 years old…Etebo has been the surprise for me and Tufan might be anything.
I’d love to see JP10 back soon, though.

Matt Rowson - 14/09/2021

Agree on Joao Pedro. Conscious of the “law of other”, a few defeats always reflects well on a player who’s missed them. But he gives us something we don’t currently have in the side.

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