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Watford 1 Sheffield United 0 (01/08/2022) 02/08/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- I was in a band at school.

There were many bands…  an ever-evolving morass of entities with rotating membership and varying levels of competence, musicianship and ambition.  The Rosslyns were lead by Kieron, who wrote the lyrics, sang the songs and played guitar, abetted by Howard’s musical genius.  I played bass guitar, functionally, dutifully.  We recorded stuff mostly in Kieron’s bedroom on the best equipment we could afford aged 16, which wasn’t much.  I remember it as being both tremendously intense, and intensely tremendous.  (Both Howard and Kieron wrote for BSaD occasionally, incidentally, sometimes together).

Some 32 years later, we got a record deal.

2- It feels like longer than 32 years since Watford won at home.  Actually it’s only been eight months or so, but there’s clearly something in the warm, sticky air this evening, discernible above the familiar and welcome hubbub of  Vicarage Road on match day.  There’s so much that’s normal and gladly so…  the queue snaking out of Fry Days, groups of both denominations stopping and chatting in this odd social environment, like a local that stretches the length of the street, all the foot-traffic gently rolling in the same direction.

And yet. Like an episode of Doctor Who when something passes quickly in front of the camera to distort an otherwise tranquil scene to let you know that Something’s Up… we emerge from Wiggenhall Road and cross towards the newsagent for the first lucky chocolate of the season.  Emerging around the corner from Fearnley Street, shrew-like, awkward, nervous and stilted in his movement is Dave Bassett, the ghost of Christmas past… he shuffles past unnoticed and ostensibly unharassed.  Weird.  Then there’s the clamminess of the evening… yes it’s the first day of the season and sunshine is traditional but this is sticky.  This doesn’t feel right at all.

Rob Edwards’ first competitive team selection is confirmed before we’re in the ground, and there’s no mistaking the oddness now.  Both Sarr and Dennis in the starting eleven is…  certainly unexpected.  We didn’t think they’d both still be here by this stage, let alone starting together.  And the subsequent thought process is slow and careful…  we know that high on our long list of failings last season was not realising, not capitalising upon the strengths of our forwards.  We know that both want to leave and that the club probably need/want to sell even if they won’t scupper their long term business model by accepting less than they’ve deemed appropriate and thus appearing bulliable.  We also know that this is a forward line that should have been strong in the Premier League but that Rob Edwards would be insane to contaminate the start of his tenure by fielding uncommitted players with all the repercussions that would have on and off the pitch.  He doesn’t come across as insane.

Jesus, we might actually win this…

3- An albeit understrength United side represent the first of three strong challenges at the start of the season, all to be faced on Sky and under floodlights.  (This one, incidentally, will be the only one BHaPPY reports on, since West Brom and Burnley will be viewed, with any luck, from a bar in Greece).  There’s plenty of experience in the side, and whilst their attacking threat is largely contained they will end the first half level in score and in merit having fashioned three attempts on target…  a low drive from Berge whose deflection could have caused a bigger problem for Bachmann than it did on a less favourable day, a cute shot from Jebbison that Bachmann, if never really troubled by, has to push over and a weak shot from Ndiaye after he was played through on the left. “In the Premier League that would have been a goal”, murmurs a voice behind me.  He’s right, but we’re not in Kansas any more. (As an aside, I’m disappointed to find no evidence of Ndiaye being related to one-time Southend forward Sada Ndiaye, who the Roots Hall announcer awarded man of the match to in the 3-0 win in 1997 in which Peter Kennedy scored a hat-trick).

At the other end… there are occasional whispers of last seasons concerns.  Sarr’s diffidence, Dennis’ selfishness.  More evident however are the tricks and flicks that contributed to that ridiculous “most nutmegs in the world ever” statistic, a stain on our miserable season but far more acceptable in an effective side.  And here we are effective, since for however long it lasts a front three of Sarr, Dennis and João Pedro is completely unreasonable in the Championship. An early clarion call is sounded as Dennis humiliates his marker on our left, spinning onto the escaping ball and leaving his opponent for dead before releasing Sarr to drive into the side netting under attention from a United defender.  From then on the trio attack like sand snakes and if we only manage one on-target attempt ourselves in the first half, a header low into the corner from João Pedro after some good work on the left from Ken Sema which Foderingham makes look easier than it probably was, then it’s clear that United are very aware of the threat and taking precautions.  Paul Heckingbottom will later complain of his side’s lack of risk-taking, but you can understand that tendency faced with this forward line.

4- If the first half wasn’t high on goalmouth action it throbbed with energy and commitment.  No half-hearted feel-your-way-into-the-season, a point’s probably ok fannying from either side.  There was a bubbling volatility throughout, which spilled over when a Cleverley foul provoked some handbags in the United half after which Sierralta and John Fleck were both booked.  Referee Josh Smith has been waving yellow cards around freely and inconsistently without ever being terribly in control of anything, and seemed to have agreed a peculiar throw-in amnesty on the east side of the ground where both Enda Stevens (in the first half) and Ken Sema (in the second) get away with a series of very iffy looking throw-ins.

We start the second half assertively, and United are properly rocking for the first time.  In what appears to be a deliberate strategy in being out of kilter with the rest of the game, the visitors up the shithousery significantly…  balls are being kicked away, niggly provocative little fouls are suddenly in order.  Ndiaye stands on Daniel Bachmann’s toes as a corner lines up, referee Smith delays the kick to warn him and when he proceeds in kind anyway the official shrugs, blows, and runs upfield without feeling the need to explain further.

United’s approach is justified by the tipping of the balance of the game, and by the perfectly accurate suspicion that João Pedro in particular is prone to reacting to such provocation – indeed he’s already on a yellow having foolishly exacted revenge on Enda Stevens for an unpunished hack a minute earlier.  But he’s also United’s tormentor in chief, fuelling the expectation that he’s our likeliest difference maker this season in the long run.  Simultaneously balletic, bold, delicate and hard as nails, he’s the best player on the pitch by some distance.

The Blades’ strategy backfires badly.  Their niggling aggravates the crowd and lights a fire under the Watford team who are now attacking with fervour.  When the goal comes it is nonetheless, almost inevitably, a break at speed as a United attack breaks down – Heckingbottom will fatuously get booked for protesting that referee Smith didn’t anticipate their set play and facilitate it by getting out of the way.  Instead we rattle towards the Rookery;  Kamara has been toiling away on his weaker side but seems to have a freer role in the second half and here pops up left of centre.  He holds off a challenge which leads to his crossfield ball dropping behind Dennis, but the Nigerian reignites the attack and both his pass to Sarr and Sarr’s measured pass into the path of João Pedro are perfect.  The Brazilian slams the ball underneath the advancing goalkeeper and the stadium erupts in relief.

5- Sheffield briefly lose their heads after the goal.  You’d rather have seen a foot on the neck and a second goal than the slick showboating and hurrahing since the visitors are never sufficiently out of it to render this a done deal, coming closest when an Egan header from a set piece is neither fish nor fowl, passing between perhaps inattentive attackers and the far post.  They outnumber us in midfield, effectively, leaving Cleverley and Kayembe, who has perhaps his best game to date in a yellow shirt, to firefight manfully against Norwood, Fleck and Berge – never quite overrun, though the threat is there.  Meanwhile Rey Manaj comes on for an entertaining cameo… built like a building site foreman, he combines a good touch and awareness with an endearing brutality – one box quickly ticked in the quest to be a credible custodian of the number 9 shirt at any rate.

After six largely untroubled added minutes the game ends.  Not without concerns… this is surely the dying embers of last year’s model, what could have been, and yet we only managed one goal for all that.  But a first win for Rob Edwards, getting that monkey off our backs at the earliest opportunity, was priceless and a jammy one-nil would have been just fine.  This wasn’t jammy; we fully deserved it, even if we might not have gotten away with it with an unfavourable wind.

Adding weight to the suggestion of wiser men than me that everything will be alright in the end.  And if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.

Yoorns.

Bachmann 3, Kamara 3, Sema 3, Kabasele 4, Sierralta 3, Cathcart 3, Kayembe 4, Cleverley 4, *João Pedro 4*, Sarr 3, Dennis 4
Subs: Manaj (for Sarr, 81) NA, Gosling (for  João Pedro, 87) NA, Bayo, Asprilla, Troost-Ekong, Ngakia, Hamer

Comments»

1. Jeremy Ward - 02/08/2022

Thanks Matt. The season has officially started now you’ve posted. Beautiful final paragraph. Happy holidays.

Matt Rowson - 02/08/2022

Thanks Jeremy 😊

2. Duncan H - 02/08/2022

Hello to Jason Isaacs!

Matt Rowson - 02/08/2022

And down with the nazis.

3. Ray Knight - 02/08/2022

Many thanks Matt, nice write up to kick-off the season. Last night proved to me that the front end was not the main problem. Kayembe did well in midfield last night, but even with Louza coming back, will we have enough in the middle of the park in a two? Looking forward again in a positive way.COYHs.

4. Harefield Hornet - 02/08/2022

Good to see you albeit briefly on the way into the Vic last night . Have a good time in Greece – I’m on my way there myself currently ! (Skiathos) Like you I’ll be searching for a suitable bar to watch the games if possible ! Really enjoyed last night – for a work in progress that was a great start !

Matt Rowson - 02/08/2022

Cheers Harefield, enjoy

5. StevenFewster - 02/08/2022

Your report had me chuckling as always, lovely turn of phrase “built like a building site foreman” – so evocative.

Would like to take a moment to nod to Ken Sema, one lousy corner apart, putting in a solid shift despite being on the periphery of the squad for so long. He does that one thing: head down, down the wing, dig out a cross – so very well. This division might be his limit, but he’s an asset to this team in that role alone, and while I’m sure he’ll be rotated in and out, can’t fault his attitude.

Matt Rowson - 02/08/2022

Quite right. Played a significant role last time, plenty good enough to be a useful sub this and his attitude is great.

6. David - 02/08/2022

Thank you Matt,

A reset is required and recognised by the club and that also includes the fans. A couple of blokes behind spent 30 minutes before the game bemoaning the inclusion of at least 5 players because they are not good enough for the Premier league. Whilst this may be true (is true), it is absolutely irrelevant.

As an above poster mentioned, what a lovely statement to end on.

Matt Rowson - 02/08/2022

I can’t claim credit for it. It’s a regularly voiced mantra on the wonderful Kermode and Mayo movie review show/podcast. I think Tom Hanks might have been the origin of it (when interviewed on the show)

7. Fez - 02/08/2022

Much more comfortable than I was expecting. Yeah, they had a couple of chances but we’ll always have that in a game against genuine promotion hopefuls and contenders. Seemed to me the TC and Kayembe were playing generally behind Sema and Kamara which might leave us a bit short in the middle but flexible enough to switch things about. Master tactician that I am…. not!!
Refereeing I do know about and for somebody who hasn’t refereed at The Vic before he certainly fitted right in with poor application of the law, superficial and uneven handed cautions, and pointless “lectures”! Unimpressed.

All in all, a solid enough start. More of the same against WBA would be just the ticket.

8. iamthesunking - 02/08/2022

Well done, Hornets! The table says 7th but you’re basically joint 2nd. 🐝

9. Tony Benham - 02/08/2022

Great report Matt,

Great result and I thought Tom our Skipper was outstanding, I’ve not been a massive fan of Tom over previous years but credit to the manager and Clevs last night 👍

10. Moralee Reprehensible - 03/08/2022

What struck me was that all 11 on the pitch had been part of a dismal relegation season. But they were all up for it and looked a coherent side. That speaks well of all of them and of course Rob Edwards and the coaching team. The fans were supportive and noisy too. It was a real pleasure to be there.

11. Antony Beale - 07/08/2022

Super report Matt, lovedanto the anecdotes and analysis. Managed to see the game before flying back to Abu Dhabi. Real sense of togetherness and purpose – great to see Rob Edwards hugging the players and acknowledging the the impact of the crowd – augurs well!

Matt Rowson - 07/08/2022

Cheers Antony, agree

12. Mark Scholfield - 17/08/2022

Everything alright? Are there going to be reports for WBA, Burnley and Birmingham City?

Matt Rowson - 17/08/2022

Hi Mark. Was on holiday last week, so “no” for the first two. Brum up now – was inexcusably busy at lunchtime, so had to write this evening.


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