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Preston North End 0 Watford 0 (20/08/2022) 21/08/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  It often strikes me curious that “what the fans think” is treated as something that can be concisely summed up, or even represented as is too often implied both by interviewers and interviewees.  One glance at social media confirms that there are almost as many distinct opinions as there are supporters, any suggestion of consensus is illusory in all but the most straightforward circumstances.

But I think we can agree that last season was pretty horrible.  Not fun at all, even by the standards of relegation from the Premier League at which we, at least those of us of a certain age, are practised.  As for the “why”…  there were lots of factors of course.  Some of which outwith the control of anyone at Vicarage Road;  the environment is ever less forgiving for a less monied club… not impossible, no, Brentford and so forth.  But the fact that there are Brentfords with the temerity to do the job well despite relatively limited resources  AS WELL AS a growing number of opponents with funds that vastly outstrip our own makes it even harder to sustain yourself in the top flight.

The trick, then, might have been not to have gotten relegated in the first place back in 2020.  Again, a rare point of consensus perhaps except… nobody did it on purpose and the criticism of the decisions that contributed to that outcome are simplistic and unforgiving.  The reality is that people who do things make mistakes and – with the exception of the Mogi Bayat story which makes me uncomfortable despite my lack of experience or insight to understand that world – I’ve not seen much evidence that the motivation of the decision makers is somehow inappropriate or undesirable.

That doesn’t make the hierarchy exempt from criticism of course, we wouldn’t be comfortable with a bunch of well-meaning incompetents in charge of the club. Not much evidence of that though really; player recruitment never comes with a 100% success rate and the number of players sold on at a healthy profit suggests that something’s going OK.  The managerial appointments have been less successful, but nobody was complaining about the high turnover when we were doing OK by it. Ten years under the Pozzos has seen six years in the Premier League, two promotions and a late play-off final defeat.  “Above par”.

A lot of the criticism on social media from those without the pressure of having to follow through on decisions that are presented as obvious alternatives to “the same old mistakes”, is profoundly tedious.  Particularly from those whose instinctive, relentless cynicism of many years is suddenly earning them a misplaced celebrity, negativity misconstrued as insight.  I’m conscious that I have a (deliberate) preference for a positive interpretation, glass half full, a “happy clapper”, and will sometimes look daft as a consequence.  But rather that way than the other. 

pne

2- Deepdale is bright and breezy.  The “how to dress” dilemma is normally reserved for the changing of seasons, there shouldn’t be any mystery in August (or February) but the vague portents of heavy rainfall had lead to careful provision for such an outcome.  Totally unnecessary… a relentless sun seemed to hover directly above the centre circle like a drone, pouring itself into every stand and certainly offering little mercy to those sat four rows from the front of the Bill Shankly Kop.  We are grateful for the occasional incursions of the picture book clouds that skitter across the fiercely blue sky.

The team selection betrays a dilemma that would have been difficult to anticipate at the start of last season when, after promotion on the back of a solid defensive record we attempted to re-arm the attack.  Things didn’t go well for Ashley Fletcher, whose recruitment was surely with half an eye on the possibility that we wouldn’t get promoted in 2021, but if he’s the sixth cab off the rank for a newly promoted side (and without the benefit of “less than the sum of our parts” hindsight) you’re surely doing OK.

But all six are unavailable for today’s game.  So too Keinan Davis, deemed “not ready” despite his cameo on Tuesday night and the relative paucity of options.  Cucho, Joshua King, Dennis have all gone, Fletcher’s out on loan and Sarr and João Pedro both injured/”injured”.  It later becomes clear that Sarr is, despite vague hopes that we might hang on until January in the absence of an acceptable offer, definitely on his way and probably to Villa.  Difficult to begrudge him that given his lack of tantrums and significant role two years ago, a fee comparable to what we paid is disappointing given the buy low/sell high model but no more than could be expected in the circumstances.  JP…  we’ll see how that shakes out, but I’d be surprised and disappointed if, having already brought in a good £60-70m in player sales including Sarr but not including clauses and with the Brazilian having five years on his contract we settled for anything less than an extraordinary offer – far north of the figures mentioned – and to hell with what the player wants.  Whatever your thoughts on “the model”, it falls apart completely if we allow gems to bully their way out of long contracts.

So instead we have Rey Manaj and his 1970s banker hair parting making a full debut alongside Vakoun Bayo with Yáser Asprilla dancing around behind them.  Daughter 2, who in fairness has a better idea than me of what a twelve year old actually looks like, rolls her eyes at my suggestion…  but physically intimidating he is not.

3- Preston seem to do a decent line in genial gentlemen of a certain age.  Several are employed on the stewarding staff, several more seem to be having a dry run with a stretcher with another cheerfully strapped to said stretcher.  Preston are the definition of a Proper Club with Proper Supporters, but any bonhomie disappears with the note that they boast a few Proper Idiots, as do everyone else, singing the same songs as everyone else does at the travelling support sizzling in the sun.  “Our support is what you say, my good man?  Why, that’s a new one.  Well done you!”.

“You’re just a sh!t Ben Foster” gets another airing too – maybe it’s a Lancashire thing.  Either way it has the same effect on Daniel Bachmann as it did against Burnley;  the keeper is exemplary from the moment his quick reactions keep out Alan Browne’s alarming early chance.  If the midfielder’s impressive acrobatics had extended to putting his shot either side of the keeper it might have had a different outcome;  Browne is also the source of Bachmann’s most testing moment in the second half, another point blank save which asked rather more of the keeper.  Otherwise the saves that he has to make tend to be from efforts from further out as the home side are kept at arm’s length.

One of those genial gentleman of a certain age has the referee’s whistle, and is at pains to avoid booking anyone for much of the game despite considerable provocation.  Quite how Brad Potts stays uncensored is a bit of a mystery – Ken Sema comes out on top in a scuffle on the halfway line but referee Bond blows for a foul on him as he emerges with the ball.  Potts dives in and takes the Swede out after the whistle has gone but escapes without censure – as does Sema, who despite being the most mild-mannered of the men in yellow blue bounces furiously off the turf and confronts his assailant with a hard stare.  Meanwhile Francisco Sierralta twice kicks Troy Parrott up the arse in the centre circle to similar finger-wagging…  the much vaunted Parrott will have a quiet game, there’s something there about Sierralta looking like a pirate and Parrott disappearing into his pocket/onto his shoulder but I can’t quite get the words right.  Meanwhile I read something on Twitter this week about anger being a secondary emotion;  you’re never just angry, anger is a reaction to something else.  The proponent of this argument has never watched Francisco Sierralta play football.

4- Both sides are better at defending than attacking.  That the game will end without a goal is a racing certainty from the moment I notice that Pete has made that assertion on Twitter early in the first half (thanks Pete) but it’s no worse than a 6 or 7 out of 10 for entertainment as nil-nil draws go.  The limitations of our centre-backs within the desired system has been much discussed but it’s less of an issue here than it might be at home when teams sit deep – Preston aren’t a defensive side, they’re just good at defending.  Cathcart, Kabasele and Sierralta are the equal of most of what’s chucked at them though, and with the relentlessly boisterous Choudhury and the enigmatic Kayembe, who edges closer to the Good Thing side of the line with every pendulum-like game, sitting in front of them we look very solid indeed.

Indeed, for all that the trio that combined so mercilessly for the winning goal against Sheffield United on the opening day are at various stages of being on their way out of the building we look well set up to hit teams on the break, particularly away from home.  The 18 year-old Asprilla – providing yet more evidence of that broken transfer policy – is blossoming before our eyes, spinning like a top through the midfield and pausing only to flick a cross-field pass or to play a one-two.  Preston resort to kicking him up in the air less quickly than others will – the sooner we get him onto João Pedro’s diet the better.

Louza will load bullets as soon as he’s back, and our wingbacks are decent again.  Ken Sema, who has been involved in two of our four goals to date after all, continues to be a perfectly decent option at this level despite his vocal detractors behind us in the stand, but I’m not as convinced as Rob Edwards sounds that playing Hassane Kamara on the right is a viable solution to what looks like a two-from-three problem.  We still get his tenacity, his energy, his saving tackles and his telescopic legs on the right but as he rattles into the box in front of us and is unable to get a cross in with his weaker foot his look of frustration as the jeers ring out is telling.  His positivity is the biggest of his many assets, we should be a little careful with it.

5- So the “problem” is clearly the forwards, suddenly.  It’s not that neither Bayo nor Manaj offer anything – both are good at certain things, but being a reliable finisher isn’t one of them in either instance.  We have no view of our first half attacks from pitch level at the opposite end, but TV replays confirm that Bayo is at least getting into good positions – he’s lively and mobile, and determined enough to bully himself a late chance which he fires into the side netting from an unforgiving angle.  A lot of the time though he’s skipping around rather ineffectually… late to whatever party is going on after the drinks have finished.  Meanwhile Manaj is a decent weapon to have, a good foil perhaps for a more reliable goalscorer with his strength and awareness…  but he should have won the game when an extraordinary Asprilla pass from the left put him through in the second half, to lean back and miss the target altogether when one-on-one unforgivable. 

Both are new, both trying to lay foundations in shifting sands and both will have a role to play but we’ll need more than is on offer here come the end of the window, one way or another.  It’s good to see the likes of Pollock and Forde on the bench, but you’d feel more comfortable if they were there purely on merit rather than out of necessity.  Neither makes an appearance; instead Joe Hungbo gets another cameo.  I love everything I’ve seen of Joe, including incredibly level-headed interviews, but he responds to my gushing enthusiasm to Daughter 2 at his introduction with a pretty forlorn few minutes.  These are salvaged to a degree when, having lost the ball once more he chases back down our right, retrieves possession tigerishly, snaps a quick one-two that will release him into space only for Greg Cunningham to, sensibly enough, take a yellow for his team.

Stuff to do, clearly, on and off the pitch.  For the moment though we’re doing OK…  in a league in which everyone takes points off each other as a rule of engagement unbeaten after five games, three of which away from home and three of which against the division’s more fancied teams, is a very decent place to be.  Any away point is decent, and there’s something to be said for having made (and missed) a couple of clear-cut chances against a side yet to concede a goal.

But maybe I’m just being overly positive.

Yoooorns.

*Bachmann 4*, Kamara 4, Sema 3, Kabasele 3, Sierralta 3, Cathcart 3, Choudhury 4, Kayembe 3, Asprilla 4, Bayo 2, Manaj 2
Subs: Gosling (for Asprilla, 80) NA, Hungbo (for Manaj, 84) NA, Forde, Pollock, Troost-Ekong, Mario Gaspar, Okoye

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Comments»

1. iamthesunking - 21/08/2022

Manaj! I watched his two missed opportunities and winced. At least you came away with a point this weekend, though. It’s more than we did! 😬

Matt Rowson - 21/08/2022

The second one was tougher. The first… well.

iamthesunking - 21/08/2022

I’m not trying to say I could do any better. But when you’re a number 9 that’s, like, your one job!

Matt Rowson - 21/08/2022

I don’t suppose you’ve gotten bored of Ivan Toney or anything?

iamthesunking - 21/08/2022

You’d have to fight off the likes of Chelsea and, erm, Man United first!

2. Nick Barclay - 21/08/2022

Thoroughly entertaining read as always. “Negativity misconstrued as insight” is absolutely spot on. Respect, Mr Rowson from a fellow “happy clapper”.

Matt Rowson - 21/08/2022

Thank you Sir

3. Tadcaster Hornets - 21/08/2022

Birmingham and Preston our first two games of the season and already more fun than last year. No VAR timewasting and the consequent ongoing feistiness of unpunished challenges (hello PNE), trips to towns and grounds not seen for a good many years, the underblown press hype, paying cash for a programme. It also helps thinking we won’t get spanked every weekend of course….

Matt Rowson - 21/08/2022

Think you were just in front of us? Unless I’m wrong… front leftish…?

Tadcaster Hornets - 21/08/2022

Yup, that was us. Should really have remembered about lack of sun cover as we’ve broiled there in the past. Come and say hi next time 👍

4. Harefield Hornet - 21/08/2022

Looking inevitable now that Sarr is going to Villa – holding on to one or even two of our prized assets was key to us being in the mix for automatic promotion but now it’s looking likely all three will be gone by the end of August and that’s quite depressing. I don’t think we have much chance of replacing them with anyone decent either at this late stage??

Matt Rowson - 21/08/2022

Another reason not to sell JP. But you’d imagine there are options lined up… it’s not as if this will be a surprise…

5. Tom - 22/08/2022

You’ve captured my own thoughts far more eloquently than I’ve been able to with this line:

“Particularly from those whose instinctive, relentless cynicism of many years is suddenly earning them a misplaced celebrity, negativity misconstrued as insight.”

There are many, many benefits to the internet but unfortunately the social medification (I made that up, I guess) of football isn’t one of them. Everyone seems to be trying to commercialize or gamify their hobbies and opinions. Far too many people are pitching themselves as the voice of the fans (including some ‘reputable’ podcasts) and increasing numbers see themselves as the ‘critical thinkers’ of the fan base. It’s tiring and self-serving.

For what it’s worth – I come to this site because it offers rational, intelligent, and self-aware takes on what’s happening both on and off the pitch. I never get the impression that it’s telling (screaming at) me what to think or how much to be outraged. Thanks for being one of the only options left, especially as someone now in exile (1000 miles away, roughly). If you believe one particularly bilious fan online this week, that makes me a fake fan…oh well.

Matt Rowson - 22/08/2022

🙂 Cheers Tom. Happy to help and thanks for the compliments. I think Twitter in particular does some very good things and some very bad things. Football is catharsis to many and than can manifest itself negatively, particularly as there’s no barrier to a kneejerk reaction and no face to look at as you vent. I’ve known one of the key negative protagonists for a long time, tho I haven’t seen him in years. Have a very happy memory of getting completely wasted with him in the Slug and Lettuce on Fulham Broadway before the critical game at the end of 97/98, starting all the Ronny Rosenthal songs. It’s the environment, more than the people, that is unhealthy. People have always thought different stuff.

Crisb - 23/08/2022

But I think it’s the slightly desparate, at times almost obsessively negative interpretation of anything the club does which I don’t understand.

The gleeful ‘I told you so’ carping and the chirping satisfaction of taking others along on the ride. Its totally unbalanced and quite pernicious, so much so that I can’t quite believe it’s not just done for show.

Fez - 23/08/2022

I always wait for Matt to say his piece. I’m a vociferous fan both at home, and especially away where I am a “face” perhaps. But I, too, need a little perspective, that little: was it really like that? before I spout off on line. I like to think I’m always behind the players for 90+ minutes and usually only spout off at referees (cos I was one for 20+ years). Here I find balance: a ying to my yang, as it were. I’m always grateful to Matt and to IG, when he chips in, for providing that. Cheers! Or as they say where I am in the world: Dzo!

Matt Rowson - 23/08/2022

cheers Fez

6. jtbodbo - 23/08/2022

I thought most of the negativity came from the Wobby contributors. But last Sat – deary me. Not many rows back we ( myself, son and 10 yo grandson) had to endure a continuous stream of foul-mouthed ignorant invective from a supposed WFC ‘supporter’ . An enjoyable 0-0 was spoilt by this twerp.
Sanity returns in reading your take on matters. Thanks !

Matt Rowson - 23/08/2022

😊


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