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Helping Hands 2021/2022 25/05/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
29 comments

The thing about assists is… there isn’t really an unique definition.  No “official list”, no panel of ex-players formalising decisions as there is with goalscorers.  So… my definition is on the generous side, hence the numbers of assists below are higher than you’ll find elsewhere.  I would include a critical pass even if it were deflected, a shot which is saved and the rebound converted.  I’d also include being fouled for a converted penalty (unless the penalty were converted by the same player – you can’t assist your own goal!).   Other folks use meaner definitions.  They’re allowed to be wrong.

There’s a danger here of this article basically reflecting… “it was a bit rubbish, wasn’t it?”.  But it was a bit rubbish, wasn’t it?  Half as many goalscorers as last year and eleven providers of assists to last year’s seventeen.  Anyone would think that relegation was less fun than relegation.  They’d be right…

Last year’s article described Sarr’s contribution as ridiculous. No less so this season;  even allowing for injury interruptions and so forth, five goals and three assists was pathetic… the more so when two of those assists came on the opening day.  Relevant comparators are Cucho and Dennis – Cucho managed comparable figures from similarly spasmodic game time but with more moderate expectations, whilst Dennis may have tailed off – two goals and one assist since the turn of the year – but was hotter in his hot streaks, albeit he played half as many games again.

He wasn’t the only disappointment.  Imrân Louza was a relatively bright spot in a miserable season and tended to operate from deep – nonetheless, he was often on set pieces and so no assists (or goals) is disappointing.  Hassane Kamara was the only defender to score but didn’t manage an assist despite his positive play (albeit his figures are distorted by his only being signed in time for the even-more-miserable second half of the season) whilst João Pedro, for all that he is touted as a number 10 to build the team around, managed one assist, and that at a crumbling Everton.

Silver linings are few and far between, but Kiko’s six from only 26 starts is healthy from right back, a contribution to bear in mind before we start taking to much for granted, whilst Adam Masina managed his first assists in three seasons despite being restricted by the Danny Rose experiment and the more successful Kamara signing to 14 starts.

Vaguely planning to do both the End of Term report and a season preview, but with a narrower window and Stuff and Things restricting time it may boil down to one or t’other.  Any preferences welcome…

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Dennis 7 30+5 10 AV (h), Ev (a), Ev (a), MU (h), MU (h), LC (a), MC (a)
Femenía 6 26+2 0 NC (a), MU (h), MC (h), NU (a), CP (h), Ar (h)
Hernández 4 14+14 5 CP (h – LC), StC (h – LC), Ev (a), Ar (h)
King 4 28+5 5 NC (a), NC (a), NU (h), WH (h)
Sarr 3 21+1 5 AV (h), AV (a), Br (h)
Masina 2 14+2 0 Ev (a), Ch (a)
Kucka 2 22+5 1 So (a), Bu (h)
Cleverley 2 29+1 0 AV (h), Br (a)
Sissoko 2 37+1 2 Ch (h), Br (h)
Fletcher 1 3+3 2 LC (a-FAC)
Rose 1 8+1 0 NU (h)
João Pedro 1 16+13 4 Ev (a)
Foster 1 27 0 MU (h)
Cathcart 1 28+4 0 Ev (a)
Conteh 0 0+1 0
Forde 0 0+1 0
Deeney 0 0+2 0
Elliot 0 1 0
Morris 0 1 0
Nkoulou 0 2+1 0
Kalu 0 2+2 0
Gosling 0 3+3 1
Etebo 0 5+5 0
Tufan 0 6+3 0
Sierralta 0 8 0
Kayembe 0 9+4 0
Sema 0 9+12 0
Bachmann 0 13 0
Kabasele 0 13+4 0
Troost-Ekong 0 16+2 0
Kamara 0 18+1 1
Samir 0 19 0
Louza 0 19+3 0

Check out the 2020-21, 2019-20, 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-172015-162014-152013-142012-132011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents by clicking on the links.

The List 2022. 24/05/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5 comments

The List.  Every player to have been linked with moves in or out since the closure of the January window. To be kept up to date until the closure of the window so bookmark if you Like This Sort Of Thing.  A very low bar of credibility is employed, but a mere “I think Watford should sign…” falls below it.  Previous windows’ lists linked at foot of article.  Similar number of outs to ins as I write.  Ho hum…

* Indicates player linked in previous windows

Running Total: 51

IN

Thomas Strakosha (Lazio)*                   joined Brentford
Ahmed Touba (Waalwijk)                         joined Istanbul Basaksehir
Antoine Semenyo (Bristol C)* 
Xavier Simons (Chelsea)           joined Hull City on loan
Jed Wallace (Millwall)*                                        joined West Brom
Ludovic Blas (Nantes)* 
Festy Ebosele (Derby/Udinese
Michael Obafemi (Swansea
Jean-Paul Boëtius (Mainz)                                joined Hertha Berlin
Nya Kirby (Crystal Palace
Cyrus Christie (Fulham)                  joined Hull City
Sean Longstaff (Newcastle)                                     signed new contract
Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolves)                joined Nottm Forest
Dwight Gayle (Newcastle)                            joined Stoke
Thanasis Androutsos (Olympiacos)
Tom Lawrence (Derby County)*                       joined Rangers
Will Keane (Wigan Athletic)
Lucas João (Reading)
Thomas Henry (Venezia)*                              joined Hellas Verona
Kane Wilson (Forest Green Rovers)                       joined Bristol City
Cameron Archer (Aston Villa)
Keinan Davis (Aston Villa)                             SIGNED ON LOAN
Benik Afobe (Stoke City)*                                   joined Millwall
Pape Abou Cissé (Olympiacos)
Vakoun Bayo (Gent/Charleroi)                                SIGNED
Joël Piroe (Swansea City)
Keane Lewis-Potter (Hull City)                joined Brentford
Adam Armstrong (Southampton)*
Morgan Rogers (Manchester City)
Danilo (Palmeiras)*
Pape Habib Gueye (KV Kortrijk)*
Shaq Moore (Tenerife)                 joined Nashville
Ashley Young (Aston Villa)*                          signed new contract
Nahitan Nández (Cagliari)*
Rey Manaj (Barcelona)                                    SIGNED
Jonson Clarke-Harris (Peterborough United)
Lewis Ferguson (Aberdeen)*                     joined Bologna
Mario Gaspar (Villarreal)                         SIGNED
Matt Clarke (Brighton)                     joined Middlesbrough
Krystian Bielik (Derby County)            joined Birmingham on loan
Jacob Greaves (Hull City)
Ethan Laird (Manchester United)        joined QPR on loan
Hamza Choudhury (Leicester City)*              SIGNED ON LOAN
Sepp van den Berg (Liverpool)          joined Schalke on loan
Matheus Martins (Fluminense)
Jack Stephens (Southampton)         joined Bournemouth on loan
Kortney Hause (Aston Villa)                  SIGNED ON LOAN
Jamal Lowe (Bournemouth)
Josh Bowler (Blackpool)
Ayoub Assal (AFC Wimbledon)
Callum Lang (Wigan Athletic)
Chris Wood (Newcastle)

OUT

Juergen Elitim (Deportivo la Coruña)
.                                         
                          joined Racing Santander on loan
Ismaïla Sarr (Liverpool*, Newcastle*, Everton, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Leeds, Aston Villa)
Nicolas Nkoulou (Lazio)                        joined Aris
Emmanuel Dennis (Villarreal, Leeds, West Ham, Arsenal, Newcastle, Galatasaray, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Brentford, Udinese, Fulham, Southampton, Everton, Nottm Forest)
.                                                                       joined Nottingham Forest

William Troost-Ekong (LA Galaxy, Trabzonspor, Galatasaray, Bologna, Fenerbahçe, Cremonese)
Moussa Sissoko (Lyon, Fulham, Nantes)                               joined Nantes
Philip Zinckernagel (Nottingham Forest*, Olympiacos)
.                                                                                 joined Olympiacos

Andre Gray (Preston, Birmingham, Cardiff, Reading, Aris)     joined Aris
Hassane Kamara (West Ham, Lyon)         joined Udinese and, um, came back
João Pedro (Red Bull Bragantino, Benfica, Liverpool*, Newcastle, West Ham, Udinese, Porto, Leeds, Everton, Nottingham Forest, Wolves, Leicester)
Daniel Bachmann (Manchester United)
Tiago Çukur (Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe)                        joined Fenerbahçe
Kiko Femenía (Valladolid*, Getafe*, Almería, Elche, Villarreal*)      joined Villarreal
Samir (Udinese, Flamengo, Monza, Tigres)                     joined Tigres
Ben Foster (Leeds United, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough)
Francisco Sierralta (Maccabi Tel Aviv)
Cucho Hernández  (Columbus Crew)                         joined Columbus Crew
Ignacio Pussetto (Sampdoria,Salernitana, Spezia, Parma)
Joshua King (Fenerbahçe)                          joined Fenerbahçe
Adam Masina (Udinese)                      joined Udinese
Kwadwo Baah (Fortuna Düsseldorf)   joined Fortuna Düsseldorf on loan
Jeremy Ngakia (Hull City)
Ashley Fletcher (Wigan Athletic)          joined Wigan Athletic on loan
Adalberto Peñaranda (Boavista)

2022   January
2021 Summer January
2020 Summer January
2019 Summer January
2018 Summer January
2017 Summer January
2016 Summer January
2015 Summer  

Watford 1 Leicester City 5 (15/05/2022) 16/05/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
39 comments

1-  Pigeons are rubbish.

“Rats with wings”, but more stupid.  Our old place in Woodside had an uncapped chimney, a pigeon was stupid enough to fall down it at one point as we discovered when the living room filled with bluebottles an unknowable time later.  I was at Vicarage Road when I got the “I’m going to stay with my sister…” message.  The bloke who came round to check out the chimney said he’d happily charge me for capping it but he recommended not to bother, I’d been very unlucky the first time.  He was wrong.

I live more rurally now.  No chimney though, critically.  There are still pigeons – wood pigeons, two huge bastards that nest out the back.  The main difference that I’ve been able to discern between wood pigeons and feral pigeons is their size, and thus critically the capacity of their backsides.  This was capably demonstrated at some point this morning prior to our 11am departure with sizeable deposits all over the car and, critically, decorating the passenger side window.  Daughter 2 approached said door, gave me a look, and nestled into the back seat with her ears plugged in.

This may have been a sign.

2- The portents continue at the ground, which is emptier even than it was on Wednesday,  great swathes of empty seats stain the stands.  Dave is here, to glumly observe that even the weather isn’t right… it should be sunny for the final home game of the season.  Kick-off is preceded by the awarding of Player of the Season to an enthusiastic but error-prone full back who arrived in January.   I voted for Hassane Kamara too, but that his award was so widely expected is an indictment in itself.  The victor, confined to the bench on this occasion, looked suitably awkward.

This was followed by the introduction of Rob Edwards, presenting the Supporter of the Season award to Shay Murray.  So far so good…  if waving at the crowd and looking pleased to be here was all there was to it he’d be smashing it already.

But he’ll need to blow a gale through the corridors of Vicarage Road. This was the game that we’d feared on Wednesday.  A scratch side, made up of the scattered debris of a squad that has proven incapable of staying in the Premier League when at full strength…  fringe players, along with the few senior players neither injured nor “injured”.  We were lucky to get away with it once, but a second time against a side both luxuriating in mid-table gentleness and with the sharpness on the break to expose our (many) anxious slips and tumbles was not going to be as accommodating.

3- The one positive from a miserable afternoon was João Pedro, who led the line with a single-mindedness and maturity that was all the more impressive for the paucity of leadership around him and (particularly) further afield.  He was at the heart of a decent enough opening to the game which featured one effort off the bar, a decent save from Danny Ward and an opening goal after Leicester did their panicky bumbling around at the back thing in response to Samuel Kalu’s first corner and the Brazilian drove home via a deflection.

For a while, all was well.  Indeed, Leicester’s defence looked accommodating whenever presented with a problem too complex for Wesley Fofana to sweep up one-on-one but we didn’t capitalise… whereas every Leicester attack caused us palpitations.  Despite having the better of the opening ten minutes or so we’d already looked vulnerable and we ushered in the rest of the game with the opening goal.  Felix would later wonder what the results of the week said about Everton, but the Toffees were never gifted opportunities like this.

The first was the worst, Adam Masina inexplicably charging across the penalty area to contest a ball that wasn’t his with Craig Cathcart, taking his teammate out in the process without clearing the ball and leaving City three on one with the inevitable conclusion.  James Maddison tapped into an empty net completing a full house having also netted in our other similarly inglorious encounters this season.

Within five minutes we were behind.  Edo Kayembe was to dig in later in the game but endured a cumbersome start to the game, culminating in passing straight to James Maddison when trying to release Sema down the left.  Maddison dropped a ball to the edge of the box which Foster came charging out to completely miss as Vardy headed the ball miserably over him and into an empty net.

Having held out adequately on Wednesday, here we had handed the visitors a lead from a winning position.

4- And City, fuelled with the confidence gleaned from putting the ball in the net, were much more impressive in the second half, mercilessly converting the chances we offered them on the break.  This – attacking on the break – is something we might have been good at…. witness the pace of Sarr and Dennis, witness also the big wins over United and Everton.  We’ve not been ahead often enough, not demanded enough concerted pressure of opponents over the course of the season to exploit that hypothetical but irrelevant strength.

We switched to 3-5-2 at the start of the second half with Kamara replacing Dan Gosling in a midfield that had been galloped through too often in the first, Gosling himself only interrupting City’s progress with a series of fouls that should have earned him a card.  The shift should have put more bodies in the middle of the park with Ngakia and Kamara pushing up as wing backs.

Before that theory could be tested, City were further ahead  as Barnes converted a sweeping pass from half time sub Marc Albrighton.  The game was over.  We made some nice attacking moves later in the game, João Pedro again at the centre of things and Sissoko plugging away providing threat from the flanks.

Not enough.  Not nearly enough.  There followed two further sharply taken goals from City as the Vicarage Road campaign concluded with a fitting lack of anything enjoyable whatsoever.

5- “Part of the ups and downs” consoled Dave and Rob sagely as Daughter 2’s face betrayed the afternoon’s ordeal on the way up Occupation Road.  That logic holding, we’re owed a hell of an “up” at some point soon.  It’s questionable whether we’ve had a more miserable season in the 40+ that I’ve been following the club, certainly none as ungrateful to the home support, a home support that have been treated to one point and nine goals (with 34 against) in 13 games since that United win.

There are few of the consolations of previous bad relegations;  in 2000 and 2007 we had teams punching above their weight who ran out of luck.  1988 was awful, but the bitterest pills had been the previous summer and a rebuild was already suggested.  1996 was miserable, but offset by a tragically magnificent late charge and the promise of what was to come.

This season has been charmless and shambolic.  The challenge of being promoted out of a pandemic shouldn’t be discounted… we were always up against it, a newly promoted Watford (rather than a Villa or a Newcastle) is always going to be running uphill.  But a challenge can be steep and the response utterly miserable.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

As we returned to the car we found the drizzle had begun to sort the pigeons’ gifts out, their memory slowly washing away.  That’s the best hope for this season, as neither it nor the wilfully charmless manager who presided over it’s conclusion will be missed.

If you’re braving Chelsea, good luck – I’ll be at a wedding in Snowdonia, but will be back for all the usual summer stuff.  Enjoy the break, we’ve all earned one.

Yoorns.

Foster 1, Ngakia 2, Masina 1, Cathcart 1, Kabasele 2, Kayembe 2, Sissoko 3, Gosling 1, Kalu 1, Sema 2, *João Pedro 4*
Subs: Kamara (for Gosling, 45) 2, Etebo (for Sema, 81) NA, Cukur, Baah, Morris, Sierralta, Troost-Ekong, Bachmann

Watford 0 Everton 0 (12/05/2022) 12/05/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
9 comments

1-  There aren’t many things that I genuinely hate about following Watford.

Even the rubbish things are OK really, much as you wouldn’t always choose them outright.  The Cup Final becomes part of the rich and varied landscape as it disappears ever further behind us in the rear-view mirror (and in common with everything pre-pandemic, might as well have been 20 years ago).  The grimness of of the catering in the away end at Stamford Bridge has to be suffered once a season at worst.  The crime against humanity that was the gents toilets at Fellows Park, Walsall is now the stuff of legend.

Ditto Scarborough away, and countless other stupid trips to watch ridiculously bad football.  If you’re in it just for the football itself you’re going to have a very miserable existence, as others have observed.  Don’t like some of these things, wouldn’t choose these things, fine.  But “hate” is a strong word.

I hate moments of conflict within Watford’s support.  Not… dispute about a particular player.  Or Paul getting all silly about black shorts again.  That’s fine, that’s normal.  But I don’t like conflict, I’m not very good at it… and at times when the sentiment towards the club is hostile, justified or otherwise and whether or not there’s confrontation between supporters…   it shatters the illusion that we’re in this together.  That for two hours on a Saturday afternoon we’re all the same, we are the club as much as anything is.  I like that illusion, it’s a big part of why I’m here.  To be part of a tribe of like-minded well-raised people.

2- I wasn’t looking forward to this evening.  This is rare, for any game whatever the circumstances; my seat in the Rookery has been My Seat for 23 years now and is a happy place, even if Daughter 2 thinks that she owns it now (she’s wrong).

But whatever your position on where we are and whose fault it is…  surely nobody was looking forward to this one.  The confirmation of our relegation at Selhurst Park was followed immediately by Roy Hodgson’s unusual behaviour post-match, and then the revelation of our sudden and suspicious injury list.

For all of it there’s mitigation if you want to look for it.  Gino/Scott… yes, another terrible season but, you know, ten years of which six in the top flight plus two promotions plus one more play-off final, a cup final, a semi-final.  Not bad is it?  Sheffield Wednesday were relegated with us in 2000, much bigger City, much bigger fanbase, not been to the top flight since, they’d kill for that.  I don’t doubt Roy’s assertion that he believes he’s here to manage the team not to perform for supporters – and after all, he left Palace during a pandemic, natural that he’d want to take an opportunity to say his farewells.  Far classier than coming back during Patrick Vieira’s opening months and watching on, passing judgement like a lingering houseguest.  And the team availability…  I don’t want to see Sarr and Dennis ambling around again if their heads aren’t in the game.  I don’t want them to get injured either if our financial stability is reliant on getting the best we can for them.  I can quite believe that Kucka, Cleverley, Kiko have been playing whilst held together with sellotape, a sacrifice no longer justifiable.

The above isn’t quite fair, either.  Gino and Scott HAVE presided over a miserable failure.  Roy’s conduct might have seemed quaint if he’d been doing it as someone else’s manager but was crass, arrogant and insensitive as ours.  Sarr and Dennis owe us something, they’re being well played by Watford (yes, “us”) to play football when we say so not when they can get themselves up for it.

But there’s got to be some balance.  Based on social media before the game I’d expected pitchforks, banners, and angry mobs. I don’t want that.  Mere incompetence doesn’t deserve that, there’s all sorts going on elsewhere that does.  The fear was that this was only going one way, and all it would take would be for us to fall behind.

3- Which, mercifully, doesn’t happen.  There are occasional gentle suggestions that some folk are ready to spring into action at the first set-back, but on a pleasant, warm evening with the mid-May sun catching the Rookery in a manner that the football calendar rarely permits it to do it’s a pleasant surprise to find that five minutes in we’re not three goals behind and nobody has been tarred or feathered.  Erica from New Mexico is here – no Daughters 1 or 2 on a school night – and feels rather short changed after my glum build-up.  There’s not even any evidence of the Mr Angry who was a source of fascination on her previous away trips.

It’s a patched-up team with back-ups in at full-back, in midfield and in the wide attacking positions.  The bench features three centre-backs and three academy forwards all making their debuts in a matchday squads.  (“Those guys are the seat-warmers, right?”.  “Bench warmers, Erica”).  Burnley and Leeds might feel justified in being peeved, but only for as long as it takes them to remember our supine collapses against both here with our first team.

Everton feature both Richarlíson and Abdoulaye Doucouré, who receive contrasting receptions, as well as Fabian Delph, sent off here on the Toffees’ last visit shortly before the pandemic lockdown in what felt like a critically expensive defeat.  They are roared on by an impossibly boisterous following who seem, from this distance, to have done an extraordinary job of mobilising behind their team in an hour of urgency (you know, “supporting” and such like – it’ll never catch on).

There’s a stoicism about our play.  Not much more than stoicism, admittedly, but let’s be realistic… we’ve been falling quickly and any kind of foothold, anything to stay the momentum is welcome. On WhatsApp, my co-editor asks why the League Cup first round is being played in May – and there’s something of that annual landmark’s curiosity about the return to view of some fringe players.  Former Evertonian Dan Gosling – whose ability to time runs into the box must surely owe something to having spent two years playing with Tim Cahill – does an inconspicuously disciplined job… scrapping, scraping, getting a foot in.  For someone who’s not played all season he’s straight back on his game.  So too is Jeremy Ngakia, who is bold and assertive while Samuel Kalu is far more convincing than during his most recent cameo at Molineux.  The world doesn’t collapse.  We’re doing OK.

4- It is, however, a monumentally terrible game.  Quite epically banal stuff, the 1970s supermarket own brand corn flakes of Premier League football. If you’re here for entertainment you’re going to be sorely disappointed;  the visitors stir themselves occasionally, Richarlíson brings a fabulous save from Foster, Demarai Gray’s game flickers in keeping with his entire career – rolling a ball so nearly , nearly… but wide across the face of goal before he completely disappears again.  Watford don’t manage a shot on target, and don’t even pretend to get a shot on target.

Fortunately, nobody’s here for entertainment.  Everton’s need is purely practical, and if there’s an edge to their anxiety it’s abated by Leeds capsizing once again elsewhere.  The Toffees could still go down, but they’ll need to try harder than this to achieve that goal in the face of some pretty stiff competition.  Watford, meanwhile, have progressed beyond the cheap, commercial sphere dictated by points and goal difference and now operate on a purely spiritual level.  Those who haven’t achieved this state of zen won’t have been quite as enamoured with what might, on the face of it and to the untrained eye, appear to be nothing more than eleven blokes passing the ball around reasonably competently, not terribly progressively but at least putting on a show of giving a shit.  To those in the know it’s a stark, nihilistic art exhibit.  Even Erica, who still doesn’t know quite what to expect, declares herself happy with a cod and chips from Fry Days and a brief, furious and wonderfully irrational tirade at the linesman on the nearside who she threatens with physical violence.  A born football (soccer) fan.

That Watford’s lack of ambition is shamelessly straight out of Roy Hodgson’s playbook evades nobody.  He was brought in to keep us up and has failed to do so… but he has made us more robust and more organised, our away form since he arrived would have been good enough to keep us up if paired with a halfway sensible home record; this was the fourth clean sheet of his tenure when none proceeded it (and the first of the season at home).  Our attack has been increasingly non-existent though, and as Will later grins as we rendezvous outside the Hornet Shop, the late replacement of Kalu with Cathcart is pure trolling on Roy’s behalf for all that it was undertaken to surgically maintain the kicking up the arse of Richarlíson, hitherto undertaken by Samir and Kabasele before his move to the left.  It’s designed to protect a point and does so.

5- That this perversely on-brand substitution provokes barely a clenched fist is symbolic of the transition that the support has made during the final quarter.  The beautifully inane “we’ve got the ball / we’ve lost the ball / we’ll win it back” commentary is a cult-like mantra that lasts twenty minutes solid and stifles even the away end who now know that their side are a short distance from utter humiliation, however theoretical.  The chant will become dull very very quickly on a par with “we’re the right side / we’re the left side” if overused, but it suits the evening down to the ground.  The lesser of two monkeys is off our back as a nil-nil draw against a relegation-threatened side at home is greeted with joy.

The relatively painless transition from looking backwards to looking forwards has been helped by the announcement of Rob Edwards’ appointment earlier in the day, the timing of which transparently with a view to precisely this objective.  Personally… I’m gutted that it wasn’t John Eustace but that’s a sentimental judgement.  Both appear to be the sort of young, positive, British coach that everybody seems to agree is needed with a view to defining a future that isn’t purely reactive and I’ve got no more profound insight than that to offer.  John Eustace is also John Eustace, which is a fine thing in itself but being Rob Edwards might turn out to be pretty cool too.

Let’s see.

Yoorns.

Foster 3, *Ngakia 3*, Masina 3, Samir 3, Kabasele 3, Kayembe 2, Sissoko 3, Gosling 3, Kalu 3, Sema 2, João Pedro 3
Subs: Cathcart (for Kalu, 86) NA, Etebo (for Kayembe, 89) NA, Cukur, Blake, Grieves, Morris, Sierralta, Troost-Ekong, Bachmann

Watford 1 Burnley 2 (30/04/2022) 01/05/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
23 comments

1- Big Data.

It’s not the new thing any more, not really, but your definition of “new” isn’t quite the same when you’re 50-ish as what it was when you were 15.  Anyway, that’s not the point.  Point is…  if your job is drawing conclusions from numbers, Big Data turns everything on its head.

Traditionally, lack of data was the challenge.  Data needed to be generated, typically, via a survey or a trial or an experiment and that can be slow and expensive.  Now…  we’ve got data coming out of our ears.  Sensors measuring data continuously, social media streams, purchase data, there’s no end of it.  It’s an opportunity, it’s a playground.  Naively, you might imagine that this precludes the need to generate data at all.  Why go to all that trouble when you can simply take a load of stuff that’s already there, stick it in a pot and stir it, see what comes out?

One of the many challenges that Big Data presents is in establishing cause and effect.  If I’m planning a series of experiments I can carefully choose what is manipulated such that I can unequivocally estimate, quantify and assess what happens when I do this or do that.  Big Data is, almost exclusively, uncontrolled.  You can filter your data if you’re lucky – make the people whose behaviour or opinions you are studying as relevant or representative as possible but it’s not a structured environment in the way that an experiment is.  When one thing is changing here, 27 other things are changing as well.  Everything is correlated, and many of these potential factors are hidden from you.

So for example.  The detail of Watford’s miserable home run, as extensive as its been, doesn’t constitute Big Data.  Not yet, not quite.  But the confusion of cause and effect is there.  Most simply, to what degree is the fact that we keep losing games down to the fact that we keep losing games?  “Not at all, we’re just rubbish” might be the kneejerk response but…  if we’re on the back of a good run do we concede a second goal against Burnley?  To what extent does our form influence the opponent’s expectations – does Burnley’s (informed) belief that we will crumble influence their approach and make that outcome more likely?  Does the weight of ten (before today) home defeats on the hop distort the home crowd meaning that any momentum from that direction s harder earned?

Most of all…  identifying what is cause and what is effect is difficult.  Which is which?  (To what degree) are we losing games because we’re shit, or are we shit because we keep losing games?

2- It had all started so well.

Hope may have been extinguished – if not mathematically then realistically – by the defeat to Leeds.  For me, without being too theatrical, everything changes if Sarr’s chance goes in to equalise at 1-0, a sliding doors moment.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a target to aim at and these two home games, if no longer as decisive for us as we’d hoped they might be, still give us proper matches to play rather than dead rubbers.  They matter to Burnley and Everton.

It’s sunny and proper warm, my coat is redundant and draped over the barrier in front of my seat that looks down the steps towards the bottom of the Rookery.  The tannoy’s already on the beach… but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear a Season Ticket holder is taking the final reading of the Watford team.  I’m all for this, all sorts of comedy potential – hope it continues.

And on the pitch, for the first half at least, it’s as if the dwindling of hope has released the shackles.  If the level of quality is variable then the pace of the game, the suggestion of impending violence and the  level of commitment are relentless.  We’re direct from the kick-off, Dennis and Kamara combine down the left; the Clarets are immediately rattled and will stay rattled for a good twenty minutes.

In that time, we take the lead.  The foot has been on the gas since the start but on seven minutes Kiko sends in a deep cross, Samir can’t quite get his head on it but Kucka is lurking at the far post.  What transpires is only clear from the replay – the Slovak takes a touch and then clubs the ball against the bar; it deserves a goal and gets it with a helpful rebound off Tarkowski.  Conveniently a minute’s recognition in memory of young Jasper Cook follows within 30 seconds – rarely has such a tribute been echoed so forcefully.

Minutes later Kucka nearly adds a second from a similar position after some neat interplay; Tarkowski deflects the shot to safety on this occasion but we keep coming, and Kucka in particular will rampage across the midfield throughout the half.  On one occasion he creatively inflicts two casualties in a single movement, leaving the gently welcomed Matěj Vydra hobbling but being penalised for the second.

Two strategies are apparent. Firstly, to capitalise on what seems to have been identified as Nick Pope’s tendency to get caught at his near post:  Kiko’s corners this season don’t suggest such deliberate precision, but he forces the keeper into a flustered save from his first and hits the post in the same general area with his second.  Later, Louza will similarly test Pope at his near top corner with a free kick from the opposite flank.  Secondly, to exploit Burnley’s defence’s lack of pace on the turn… most obviously when Ben Foster hammers a bomb of a pass down the spine of the pitch and into the path of João Pedro who can’t quite get the ball in front of him and eventually takes the shot earlier and higher than he would have liked, thumping it over.  Gloriously route one, ingloriously imperfect in its execution.

3- We should have capitalised on the first half to a greater degree, with or without the benefit of hindsight.  Burnley claw themselves a foothold midway through the half and for all their limitations cause problems more readily than we’d like; Brownhill hits a sweet drive that’s deflected wide, a ball from the left is a touch away from the back of the net.  On the half-hour (ish) Dwight McNeil, who mirrors Sarr in his combination of ability and anxiety, motors into the area and catches a careless leg from Sissoko.  Craig Pawson, who will officiate a volatile game extremely effectively, points to the spot but VAR gives us a reprieve;  a free kick on the edge of the box comes to nothing.  At half time there are grins in the Rookery.  “I remember this….”.  We might even watch Match of the Day tonight.

But the change in tone at the start of the second half is portentous.  It’s about attitude more than strategy… Burnley are limited but focused and aggressive, and in their position their failure to roll over should have been no surprise.  We know from experience how irritating cursory opinions from a media focused on our more glamorous contemporaries are so should be cautious about passing judgment on Sean Dyche’s departure given our limited exposure to his team this season.  No doubt there are manifold intercorrelated factors that contribute to Burnley’s disappointing season as there are in ours.  Beyond question however is that this side has a belief that wasn’t evident in the Clarets side we faced at Turf Moor in Roy’s first game in January and our defending is immediately nervous as the visitors attack at the start of the half.

This nervousness isn’t abetted by the introduction of one-man pub brawl Ashley Barnes on the hour, who plays his pantomime villain role to the max.  How much of the turnaround is down to him is impossible to say (see “Big Data” above) but his aggression gives the Burnley attack a focal point that the much more intimidating and celebrated Wout Weghorst hadn’t provided.   Aaron Lennon warms Ben Foster’s gloves before Barnes interrupts his attempts to start a fight in the area to head at goal from a set piece.  Foster pulls off an impossible stop, the ball spins away off the crossbar and we clear but “it’s coming” and everyone in the ground knows it.

4- Two big issues.

The first is the forward line, which is a bigger issue than just this afternoon…  and accepting all of the above cause and effect stuff…  impossibly frustrating that so much ability is proving so impotent, buckets of embellishment to so little end product.  For all that we were so dominant, particularly early in the first half we recorded two shots on target in the entire game against a poor side.  Surprising in particular that this comes under the guidance of Ray Lewington, whose Watford team of twenty years ago was heavily reliant on a stock goal.  He must have considered, presuming space in the 25-man squad (which I’ve lost track of), contacting Neal Ardley and Heidar Helguson, even at 49 and 44 respectively.  Ardley never had any pace anyway, Helguson surely held together with gaffer tape but presuming his ability to propel himself vertically at the goal that’s exactly what this team needs?  Isn’t it?

The other issue you won’t need highlighting.  I’m going to play devil’s advocate a little bit, because the criticisms of the decision not to employ any substitutes as the visitors had Lennon and McNeil hugging the touchlines to stretch the play and tire our chasing midfielders further are painfully obvious and have been made adequately elsewhere.  First, Roy clearly has a preferred line-up and this is it, barring the absent Cucho, as Daughter 2 observes before kick-off.  This is based on, at least behind the forwards, players disciplined and intelligent enough to do their jobs in his system.  In the first half they were doing so pretty effectively, with Samir in particular marshalling the defence and Burnley’s forwards well.  Secondly the decisions reflect paucity of options on the bench, particularly in the midfield.  The entire team was waning visibly long before the final minutes but on the replay Juraj Kucka, so heroic in the first half, is so clearly dead on his feet, unable to even offer a challenge to Charlie Taylor’s cross which former Hornet Jack Cork meets decisively at the far post.   Had Tom Cleverley been on the bench then surely that change would have been made – given that he wasn’t, perhaps Kayembe and Sema’s limited mobility was seen as restrictive but I struggle to understand why Gosling or even Ngakia couldn’t be employed as a purely disruptive influence.  With the greatest respect we were playing Burnley, not Manchester City – ability to retain possession wasn’t as vital as getting around the pitch at all at this stage.  The lack of replacements was utterly incomprehensible.

5- Matěj Vydra at 30 is not the speed demon that he was almost a decade ago when he arrived at Vicarage Road.  Instead he has re-invented himself as a sort of Mark Hughes, using his backside as a weapon in holding up the ball.  He it was who retained possession in the box before laying off for Brownhill to stroke past an unsighted Foster.  The lack of backbone here, the inevitability of the second following on the first, will have been news to nobody.

The away end exploded in delight;  Michael Jackson would later comment on the visitors’ expectation that the crowd might be nervous but only as the stadium emptied in response to the second goal was a lack of support evident.  Vicarage Road was boisterous in the first half, and anxious rather than hostile in the second.

Burnley look more likely to stay up than not now, given fixtures remaining and good luck to them, hope for as long as they last that you don’t need an oligarch or an arab state’s backing to survive in the top flight.  Their extensive list of out of contract players and questionable finances mean that from a purely selfish point of view we could probably have done with them coming down with us. Everton’s relegation would be hugely entertaining, but will surely use up a promotion place next season since they can’t afford not to put everything on black and spend enough to guarantee a return.

But for us to be in the promotion equation at all we’ve got a lot of work to do.  The need for a rebuild is clear and acknowledged, but we also need to have this horrible, embarrassing, disgraceful home record put to bed before the summer such that it’s not hanging over whatever team we are watching next season.

Yoorns.

Foster 4, Femenía 3, Kamara 3, *Samir 4*, Kabasele 3, Louza 3, Sissoko 3, Kucka 4, Sarr 3, Dennis 3, João Pedro 4
Subs: King, Kalu, Sema, Gosling, Kayembe, Troost-Ekong, Masina, Ngakia, Bachmann