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Watford 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (01/01/2022) 02/01/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- I’m very conscious that writing and talking about football professionally (rather than writing about it in my spare time and talking about it at work when I’m being paid, in theory, to do something else) wouldn’t bestow the gift of extra hours in the week.  One wouldn’t have the capacity to watch all of the Premier League games and keep up with the Football League and the European Leagues, and everything else.  And do a job.  Wouldn’t happen.

Nonetheless.  If you’re being paid to talk about football you kind of owe it to the world to do more than recycle pub bore level clichés.  You’re being paid to provide insight, no?  To add something, even if it’s just your opinion.  Watford aren’t going to be many neutrals’ priority when it comes to Premier League coverage… but there’s been astonishing laziness available in this week’s podcasts, not for the first time.  Read off statistics… “Claudio Ranieri’s lost eight of his ten games in charge…   so he’s really struggling…  Fulham…  he’s 70 you know….” before falling back on “Watford, they sack managers don’t they… hur hur… is it your turn next week Dave…”.  And so on.

I’d argue that there have only been four bad defeats under Claudio, and two of those were in his opening three games where some leeway has to be given.  Unfortunately the other two were our two most recent fixtures.  So there was a sense of trepidation before this one amongst those more invested and informed than those pundits.  Vicky’s face darkened at the prospect, her partner a Spurs fan.  Dad cited his 94 year old mother’s temporary presence in the household as a reason to opt out given associated risks.  Will decided against ferrying his two young herberts down the M1 from Leeds.  All completely understandable.  This was not a fixture that screamed “here’s where we turn the corner”.

Those of us who made it went in with zero expectations, which can be a liberating experience.  Nothing to be lost when you’re presuming nothing and who knows?  Perhaps we’d pull something out of the bag.

2- We didn’t pull anything out of the bag,  but this was destined to be a great deal better than advertised. The availability randomiser dealt William Troost-Ekong back into the mix with Clevs and Jeremy Ngakia fit enough to be back on the bench but Kiko slipping out of the reckoning; the headline news however was a very evident change in emphasis.

Attack pretty good, defence very bad.  In fact, on Tuesday defence very very bad.  So here comes 4-4-2 with the availability of one senior full back countered by, effectively, casting two full backs on each side with Ken Sema and Juraj Kucka doubling up in front of Masina and Cathcart respectively.  “Come and have a go if you think you’re imaginative enough”.

It felt like a big ask, sacrificing as it did any semblance of attacking threat in the first half. That, it appeared, was the trade-off…  but we’d have taken it for a point.  Nonetheless, the crowd was subdued despite the approach’s early successes.  Spurs had almost all of the ball of course but we looked a far more stubborn outfit all round with Kucka in particular, who had been a passable deputy at right back against West Ham, revelling in his role as Senior Assistant to the Right Back in perhaps his best 45 minutes in yellow since the opening day.  Ken Sema did a similar job on the left, but Ken’s a nice bloke whilst Juraj is a bastard.  This was a time for bastards.

Spurs were to fashion chances.  Reguilón shot from outside the box and forced a smart save by Bachmann to his left.  Kane shot straight at the keeper.  But these were the increasingly impatient efforts from a side that couldn’t penetrate because there was no space to penetrate. Any crosses that did find their way into the box were met by the head of Francisco Sierralta, so much more convincing today with WTE next to him telling him when to do what.

There was one proper chance for Spurs in the first half, this created by the combination of us making a rare sortie upfield and the visitors undertaking some rare pressing.  Daniel Bachmann underhit a pass to Louza, Skipp seized on the lack of control and fed Kane who, in keeping with a largely tranquilised performance, slid his shot wide of Bachmann’s post to the relief of the Rookery, fingers embedded in scalps.

3- The big caveat was that we hadn’t looked remotely effective as an attacking unit.  Reduced from a three to a two and with only the rampaging Sissoko offering any suggestion of bodily support Joshua King and Emmanuel Dennis had been chasing scraps and rarely doing as much as holding the ball up.  Dennis was particularly subdued and ineffective – this wasn’t his game at all, and whilst he is capable of being many things a target man is not one of them.  Nonetheless, it was difficult not to view his performance through the prism of the week’s surprise development, the capitalising on the Nigerian FA’s seemingly sloppy admin in calling him up late.  A bold call, understandable if his destiny would have been warming a bench for Nigeria given our next two League fixtures but counterproductive if the player’s not on board.

In any event, forty five minutes of that was already an achievement.  Another forty five of the same with a limited number of strong, fully fit options on the bench, tiring legs and minds and no ability to give the defence a breather felt horribly ambitious despite the small victory of half time parity.   Interesting, then, that we chose to spend one of those options at the break, bringing João Pedro on for Dennis.

This heralded a much more open second half…  as the brakes came off the breaks were on and the crowd ignited.  In the context of 13 points and however-many-it-is-now defeats we’ve had more than our fair share of fun this season, and bellowing “gowooooooooooooon!!!” or similar as we scream forward on the break is right up there, even when (as in this game) it ultimately comes to nothing.  In the first half the one instance of lack of togetherness had come when Bachmann collected in a congested penalty area and looked for an escaping runner to throw to, bellowing in frustration on seeing only the triple-marked Dennis on the move.  Here we’re more potent from the off, Joshua King the first to threaten with a smart low shot across the face from left to right that forced Lloris into a fine save.

4- Spurs  have a bit more space to move in too, of course, and come close when Moura lifts a ball through for Son to volley across goal prompting the stop of the game from Bachmann.  Kane swings his left foot at a dipping shot that forces a push over.  They’re still not getting much of a sight on goal however, in stark contrast to Tuesday when any West Ham amble towards the penalty area seemed to provoke a parting of the waves.

The biggest change in the second half is the ambition and swagger in our attack, infused in no small part by the arrival of João Pedro.  Dennis, it seems, may have picked up a knock – but either way the Brazilian’s deceptive physicality as much as his touch gave us a threat that hadn’t been there before.  One buccaneering run saw him zigzag across the pitch, twice emerging from apparently hopelessly crowded out positions with the ball at his feet.  On the second of these occasions the official had been as duped as anybody, believing that the Brazilian had lost control under illegal pressure and blowing up just as the forward burrowed out of the tangle of legs.  Unfortunate, and an error from the official.

Referee Robert Jones was to attract the irritation of the home stands in the second half as he had from the away end in the first but in truth he had a decent enough game for the most part.  Most of the criticism resulted from what was perceived as leniency but we’d benefitted from this in the opening period as we had, in general, from the same official’s approach at Carrow Road in September.  I’ve got no problem with a referee erring on the side of letting the game flow, particularly when it spares us two soft but “you’ve seen them given” penalties in the first 45 and discourages Harry Kane from looking for more.

The two biggest Watford bones of contention were a ferocious challenge from Davies on Louza midway into our half (and replayed instantly and irresponsibly on the big screen) where the defender appeared to go over the ball under the nose of the referee, and a later Watford break that saw King feed João Pedro through on goal.  Lloris reacted quickly and came out to meet the attack – the arrival of both parties at the ball was simultaneous enough to justify a loud penalty appeal but in truth, on viewing the replay, it was neither a penalty nor a dive.  Contact of both players with the ball at the same moment sent the ball wide and the striker onto the deck, the frustration in the away stands at the reaction speed of the goalkeeper that denied us an improbable win.  A point and a first clean sheet, however, would still have been a positive outcome.

5- It wasn’t to be.  And you can focus on Kucka’s ill-judged foul as Spurs once again tried to find a way into our penalty area, or Sierralta being outjumped by Sánchez, or Bachmann flying out and getting nowhere near the cross.  There was always a chance of this happening…  tickets, raffles.  The strategy of ceding possession and blocking space relied on absolute concentration and a bit of luck and in the 96th minute, after an interlude for a fan to receive treatment, both failed us.  The defeat also owes a lot, in fairness, to the relentless focus of the visitors – something not always associated with Spurs teams in the past.  Very few histrionics here, very few tantrums as the frustration at lack of progress must have built, not much in the way of testing the referee after he’d set a tone in the first half.  Just a concentrated belief in what they were doing, something that was true of both sides.

The outcome was a punch in the guts, the despair evident on all our players’ faces at the final whistle.  By this time Cucho had achieved the rare feat of coming on as a sub in the 100th minute;  Aasha and Sammy were in attendance for the first time since the opening day, but the Colombian wasn’t able to pull a scorcher out on this occasion.

Six defeats on the hop then, and maybe Claudio is in trouble but I don’t think we’re very far away from being a much more effective side.  What the head coach has achieved is to fashion a credible midfield despite the rotating pieces, to deal with limited defensive options that are themselves hit by injuries and to cope without Ismaïla Sarr since his first few games in charge.  Sarr is good enough to change the balance of a game either by his contribution or by the theoretical threat that dissuades opponents from overcommitting…  but his absence is so forgotten that those same pundits refer to Emmanuel Dennis as our “one hope”.

Whether Sarr is genuinely a hope depends on quite how bad this injury is, but a forward line boasting Sarr, Dennis and King with João Pedro and Cucho as options is huge fun.  A midfield marshalled by the tremendous Sissoko with Louza pinging balls around and delivering quality from set pieces is more than credible.  We know that there will be surgery to the defence – indeed for a number of reasons the side that travels to St James Park in a fortnight will bear little resemblance to this one.

But we’re past the stage where encouraging performances are enough.  We’d all take a spawny win at Newcastle earned by a dodgy penalty over another honourable defeat.  Get yourself up there if you possibly can, it’s a mission but a fabulous experience.  Daughters 1 and 2 have a back seat covered in duvets already booked.

Hang in there.

Yoorns.

Bachmann 4, Cathcart 3, Masina 3, Troost-Ekong 4, Sierralta 4, Kucka 4, *Sissoko 4*, Louza 4, Sema 3, Dennis 2, King 3
Subs: João Pedro (for Dennis, 45) 4, Cleverley (for Louza, 91) NA, Hernández (for Sema, 100) NA, Gosling, Fletcher, Morris, Ngakia, Angelini

Comments»

1. Ants - 02/01/2022

Hi Matt, excellent piece as usual. Re the Tottenham goal, one thing that has not been mentioned anywhere is the sheer height of Sánchez‘ leap for his header. It wasn’t a one-off either, there were a couple of other moments around the pitch where he achieved similar altitudes. Anyway, my point is that he may well have got that goal had there been no defensive errors under the free kick. Even so: bum.

2. Adam Cummings - 02/01/2022

Both the radio and TV “experts” were very critical of Mr Jones when he blew up for the foul on Joao Pedro so I was expecting to see a clear goal scoring chance but in fact he had three defenders ahead of him and it was by no means a clear cut chance even if he could have let it go for another second or two.

Likewise the (non) penalty. Despite Terry Butcher claiming otherwise, a second viewing shows that Lloris touched the ball away from Joao Pedro.

However Butcher did score bonus points from me for coming up with “Bachman turned over drive” as the goalie palmed a shot over the bar to safety.

Sequel - 03/01/2022

And Bachman replied: “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

3. Harefield Hornet - 02/01/2022

Hi Matt and Happy New Year – great report as always and wasn’t expecting much yesterday – which for me made the last minute nature of the defeat pretty hard to stomach. Looks today as though the recruitment drive is gathering momentum – Vida would an interesting acquisition if rumours are true . Bit surprised by the lack of of comments after your WHUFC report, although I submitted a couple that didn’t appear ? Wondered if there was a digital admin glitch ?

4. David - 02/01/2022

The Dyche, Gracia and Pearson departures all hurt but CR leaving now would eclipse them all. I thought we were great yesterday, getting those 4 defenders to block out a very good spurs side for 90 minutes with the efforts of a disciplined midfield gives me a glimmer of hope.

I will spend some time considering the ideal result from Leeds vs. Burnley…..

5. Fez - 02/01/2022

A couple of things about the lead up to the goal: multi ball was not in effect and; the match ball was on the pitch in front of the GT Stand when the throw in was taken.
I’m not sure but I’d put money on one of the Spurs backroom staff grabbed one of the spare balls and gave it to their player to quickly throw in.
The actual match ball was kicked off the pitch by a Spurs player with the illegal ball in play. The game continues, Kucka doesn’t get away with the rash challenge and it’s game over.

MotD, of course, didn’t show this, did not deem this worthy of discussion. It was a gross technical error, not an ITOOTR error (like the challenge on Louza, the pull back on JP, and -for my money- the two not given penalties, one each), the sort of thing that “The Blazers” do not let lower league referees get away with. For PMGO’s to miss this is completely unacceptable.

We’ve been properly mugged by poor officiating yet again.

6. Ben - 05/01/2022

Only a 40% bad defeat percentage! 40% good defeat percentage. 80% of games..
0 points


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