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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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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

Comments»

1. Tim Turner - 01/05/2022

I agree that the lack of substitutions (the first time Watford have done that in a PL game since 2006, apparently) was baffling.

I can only assume Roy’n’Ray were trying to make some kind of statement – either to the board (‘The squad you’ve given us to work with is so poor that there is literally no one on the bench who can make a difference to this game’) or the players (‘You got yourselves into this mess, you can get us out of it’).

2. iamthesunking - 01/05/2022

I so wanted you to win this one!

Matt Rowson - 01/05/2022

You and me both

3. crisb - 01/05/2022

I liken this years incarnation of Watford to the smashed up starship Enterprise that Kirk nicks in Star Trek III and Scotty frigs so that they can fly it with just four people (pick your 4 from 11). And then just as they seem to be getting away with it (“I didney expect to take us into a relegation scrap!” wails Scotty) a flippin great Klingon Bird Of Prey (possibly the entire membership of the Premier League) turns up. Gamefully they give it a go, succeed in blowing up the dog of one of the bad guys (possibly Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) before realising the only way to salvage anything is to blow the whole bloody ship up.

So possibly what we need to find is that Deeney mind melded with I dont know, Craig Cathcart before he departed, and that there’s a younger version of him on some far flung planet (Lincoln) with a missing mind but a totally up for a Championship scrap body. Then get Luther Blisset to do the business and get the ka’tra (sp?!) back in the body. Before the pre-season trip to san francisco.

Or something like that……

4. Ray Knight - 01/05/2022

Thanks Matt for as usual your intelligent write-up. Can’t wait for this dysfunctional season to end. Not just because of the football, but I have to move seat for when we go again. The 6 foot plus hairy viking I sit next to gives a constant running commentary to his teenage son. It mainly centres on being entirely negative, getting on Sarr’s back and spotting foul throws. Admittedly he has a bit of a point about Sarr no longer being the force of nature we know he can be. However, there was very little feed to him most of yesterday. More annoying was continuing to persist with JP as a centre-forward who the Burnley backline had shackled for most of the game. The lack of substitutions was baffling with Kucka visibly struggling after doing so well for 70 minutes. Most consistent player recently – Kamara. Two great saves from Foster, showing he does care. The two games we had to win were Burnley and Everton at home and our failure to do that means we are definitely down. And now it looks odds on for Everton to join us despite recently showing some fight. Burley and Leeds probably only need a further 4 points each to be home and hosed. We need the team to now show less fear as Lewington put it, to restore a modicum of pride for the run-in. Then there is a huge amount of re-building to be done over the summer. Happy for us to go with a more youthful refresh with a progressive coach. Enjoy the rest of the long weekend.

5. Edmund - 01/05/2022

1. Maybe it’s just one factor amongst several, but I see the turning point of the season as being when Dennis wasn’t allowed to go to the African Cup of Nations. Not only demotivating him and quite possibly others in the squad, but making us a less likeable club, less of a club to be proud of.
2. I was really impressed by Gosling last season, and surprised he hasn’t had a look-in this season.

6. PEDantic - 01/05/2022

Ashley Barnes must be the nastiest player in the league, playing as he does with a permanent snarl on his face. But at least he’s brazen about it, rather than sly.
As for Watford, for me their greatest failing across the season has been the passing, both out of defence gifting possession to the opponents, and in attack causing so many missed opportunities.

Matt Rowson - 01/05/2022

Barnes… brilliant. Cartoon character.

Sequel - 01/05/2022

I could easily warm to Barnes if he played for us. He would certainly add an entertaining sparkle to our challenge next season.

Matt Rowson - 01/05/2022

Not sure sparkle is the right word…

7. Ray Knight - 01/05/2022

There could be several turning points we could mull over, like our poor performance at Leeds, being thrashed by Norwich at home, throwing away the lead at Brentford or yesterday. But quite rightly its hard to fathom why some players like Gosling haven’t even got a sniff of a chance. Or why we got so many African [particularly Nigerian] players in when we knew AFCON and World Cup qualifiers were on the cards. And again why we have suffered so many players long-term injured [again] or entirely unavailable like Rose. Definitely a lack of foresight or planning the Board need to address. We have had too well-proven coaches on top of Munoz, tried different formations but have never produced two consecutive performances of note. Nor have we been able to grind out draws like Burnley, when not scoring. The list goes on and on as will any inquest or history of this season. In the words of the song…things can only get better.

Matt Rowson - 01/05/2022

Lots in there Ray… but three different coaches have failed to use Gosling.

8. Kevin Shanahan - 01/05/2022

Rather like the ITV wrestling on a Saturday afternoon in the 60s and 70s. You know the villain like Mick McManus would go a Fall down, feign injury and a couple of forearm jabs he wins 2-1.

As soon as Watford played deep in their own half it was same old same old.

We knew the wrestling was fixed – but this was self inflicted.

9. Harefield Hornet - 02/05/2022

Perhaps we should adopt the new Everton strategy of letting off fireworks outside the opposition teams hotel the night before the match?, or hurling flares about in the streets before the game and in the ground during the game – or stealing the ball every time it goes out of play? – desperate measures but they seemed to work yesterday. Trouble is we’re too nice and charitable at Watford and always have been 😇

10. George B. - 02/05/2022

One man pour brawl. LOL lurking in the report that sends us down.

Thanks as ever from someone who appreciates your coverage of the Golden Boys through a season of thin and non-existent. I hope the girls and you get to see win upon win next year especially at the Vic.

Matt Rowson - 03/05/2022

Cheers George

11. Ray Knight - 03/05/2022

Richard Keys has apparently said he is glad Norwich and Watford are going down. Yo-Yo clubs that don’t deserve to be in the EPL. Constructs an argument as to why parachute payments should be stopped. The elitest mentality of the British sports media is something to behold. I love their way of glossing over the ethical issues of club ownership when it doesn’t suit their argument. More interested in salivating over what players Newcastle might acquire in the summer or what’s happening at Chelsea. Really hope Everton do fall through the trapdoor, to see if a ‘deserving big club’ should be baled out from a disastrous financial situation.

Matt Rowson - 03/05/2022

I agree with your specific points, but I don’t think that Richard Keys is representative of anything worth getting upset about.

Harefield Hornet - 03/05/2022

The Sycophantic BBC commentary during the Everton match on MOTD2 was a case in point.

Wrighty - 03/05/2022

I think you’ll find he has rebranded himself as ‘Controversial Richard Keys’ in a desperate attempt to say relevant, or just employed, and saying stuff for clickbait makes it as worthy as a government denial

12. Harefield Hornet - 03/05/2022

I usually avoid tabloid journalism but there’s a very thoughtful balanced piece on our current situation by Mike Walters from the Mirror online. Worth a read ?

Wrighty - 03/05/2022

I thought it was a well written/researched piece which showed a knowledge of what we have been doing and made some good points. Completely threw me

13. Kevin Shanahan - 03/05/2022

Re Richard Keys – if they do anything remake of Dads Army he would be Pike – stupid boy.

Watford and Norwich can only be YoYo clubs if they get relegated. So false logic to say he is glad they are going down as YoYo clubs.


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