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Watford 2 Queens Park Rangers 3 (27/08/2022) 28/08/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Hassane Kamara, then.  Whoever he is.  Sold by Watford to Udinese for £16 million, loaned back for the season.  That’s, like, a fiddle isn’t it?  “How do they keep getting away with this?”.

We’re getting away with whatever we’re getting away with because we’re not breaking any rules, self-evidently.  Else, given the brazen chutzpah of the exercise, the flare that it sends up to alert the readily outraged, we wouldn’t be getting away with it.

You’d sympathise, nonetheless.  Because it does feel…  wrong.  Odd.  Uncomfortable that it’s needed, maybe, perhaps, but that aside uncomfortable that we are getting away with it, or even trying to.

But you don’t sympathise, because fairness and moral rectitude is the last thing that such complaints are actually about.  If such was the focus, the priority, then you wouldn’t be hearing about our convoluted accounting practices at all…  we’d be far back in the queue behind the fact that nation states and oligarchs own (some of) our football clubs. Behind the colossal fiddle that is the Champions (sic) League for all that this battle has long since been lost. Hell, we’d be a long way behind the day’s events in any regular week at the hand of this disgusting government.

What this is actually about is Watford’s ongoing failure to know our place. To get back in our box.  A small club is allowed success, perhaps, for a time, if they qualify as “plucky”.  But not if they struggle against the tide, not if they dig their heels in and certainly not if they try creative means of navigating the odds stacked against them.  Such failure to respect one’s centre of gravity is depriving some properly deserving big city club with, like, a big stadium more deserving success.

2- Though admittedly a quiet, inconspicuous box somewhere seems quite attractive as a prospect now and then, not that you’d admit it.  The wake of an aggravating defeat against Queens Park Rangers being one such occasion.  Losing’s fine of course… well, not fine but certainly part of the tapestry, and a part that we’ve been all too familiar with over the past couple of years that we’ve been able to “enjoy” at Vicarage Road.

This is different though, a different flavour of defeat to last season’s regular diet of inadequacy and helplessness.  This is stomp around scowling and looking for someone to argue with, nobody talk to me for a month frustration.  This is outrage at the unjustness and the AAAAARRRRGHHHH of it all.

Because we are unlucky.  Somewhere in the back of your consciousness there’s a voice saying “yes, but, well we’ve done rather better out of things so far than we’ve deserved, in general, haven’t we?  Gotten a few more points than our performances have merited?  And, you know, if things even themselves out over a season then you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth….”.

Needless to say that if this voice had had a mouth, face and body attached to it as Ilias Chair’s speculative shot took a helpful deflection to take it beyond a wrong-footed (but maybe shoulda, coulda done better anyway if we’re honest?) Daniel Bachmann, it would’ve gotten a punch in the head.   Actually that’s not quite true, first it would have been asked what the hell had happened – so theoretical and abstract was the threat that I was checking out the early scores elsewhere on my phone and needed things explaining to me by suitably glum debutant Ryan – and then it would have been punched in the head.

More misfortune was to follow.  João Pedro was back in the eleven – as was fellow will-he-wont-he soap opera star Ismaïla Sarr – and in a deeper midfield role in an adventurous-looking team selection. Despite the setback he was floating and flitting to marvellous effect early on…  trying a little too hard occasionally, perhaps, but certainly not hiding, certainly not sulking.  His acrobatic response to goalkeeper Dieng’s excitable headed clearance was magnificent, a reflex volley under pressure that cleared the stopper from some distance out and landed between the posts but bounced unfavourably onto the crossbar.

An injury to Manaj had already pushed JP further forward by this stage to accommodate substitute Asprilla;  the Colombian was lively again but we look less effective, our most dominant period of the game stifled.  Manaj’s combative lumpiness had looked a lot more effective with more acute threats dotted around him to profit from it. Later still as we were chasing the game at 3-2 Kayembe’s thunderous equaliser was denied by the cruellest of offside calls – not inaccurate, as was only revealed by later TV replays, but (that word again) unlucky since Sarr had only strayed briefly and irrelevantly offside at precisely the moment that the ball was sent in from the left.  A pedantically good spot from the lino – Sarr can’t not be interfering when standing in front of the keeper.  Minutes later the officials deserved less sympathy as Kamara threw himself at another cross only to be blocked off and bounce onto the turf.  It looked a penalty all day long but all appeals were rejected.

3- So we were unlucky;  for the first time this season significant things went against us leaving us feeling short-changed from a game that we deserved more from.  But it’s not all about luck, nor should we be needing to rely on it.  The visitors were excellent, particularly up front where Ilias Chair, for all his fortune with the opener, was a constant irritant.  QPR’s set-up, one suspects, is one that we’ll face from visitors for as long as we struggle to overcome it:  sit deep, stay in the game, counter-attack.  The first bit is the more challenging, certainly with JP conducting goings on from deep.  By the time Manaj went off two ridiculous passes from the Brazilian had peeled Rangers’ defence apart, first to release the Albanian who belted a shot too close to Dieng, and secondly to find the indefatigable Sema who bundled into space before turning and passing the ball across the face of goal and in at the far post to equalise.

Asprilla caused problems too, and heaven knows the 18 year-old’s trajectory at this early stage looks extraordinary.  But for all that, and for all that QPR’s defence had an excitable element to it – the chaos that preceded the scruffy second equaliser was inelegant, the protests at what can only have been the slightest of contact in Rob Dickie’s back before he fell (and briefly attempted to claw the ball away) embarrassed and desperate – we’re making attacking look rather more difficult than it should.  There is evidence of development – the passing the ball deliberately and carefully across the back was here often interrupted by swinging back the way the ball had come… so, left to middle and a turn and back to left again where players were waiting rather than the endless predictable pendulum from side to side of previous games.  Nonetheless, we look easier to play against than we really should – and watching Ethan Laird gallop forwards on the overlap for the visitors, you rather wonder what the plan is that he was deemed inferior to.  Mario Gaspar surely has many qualities borne of his long experience, but a like-for-like replacement for Kiko he is not.

Meanwhile we looked eminently vulnerable to Rangers’ counter-attack, sharp and incisive as it was.  It wasn’t simply a case of us falling apart – Chair, Willock and the others asked the questions that we weren’t alert enough, disciplined enough to respond to and for all and for all that we didn’t get the rub of the green (see above), Rangers “only” squeezed a one-goal win.  But our promotion two years ago owed a lot to us batting away most of what came at us meaning that our relatively dull goalscoring threat was just about enough.  At the moment we don’t look reliable enough at either end of the pitch.

4- Which doesn’t mean that everything is wrong either.  We have a coach building a side on shifting sands, a number of new signings and bits that don’t quite fit together yet.  We’re missing a key forward, a key midfield and what is likely to be a key defender, all of whom surely close to being available, and if this defeat leaves us in a position that’s more reflective of our performances this season we’re nonetheless only three points off the summit.

Daniel Bachmann has exceeded all expectations so far.  Kayembe and Choudhury might not be the long term midfield but the Leicester man is clearly a ferocious asset whilst Kayembe has shown himself capable as a continuity player.  Not a high bar, but one that we’d have questioned last season – he was decent today, robust and willing to spread the ball around.  For the moment we have JP and Sarr – if either leaves it’ll be for good money with, one presumes, replacements lined up if needed.  It’s not as if we won’t have seen these losses coming.

It would have been nice to go top and nice to thump someone, it’s been a while.  It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility here – on both equalisers we expected to run away with the game.  That we didn’t achieve either merely reflects that there’s work to do.  But a rebuild demands patience, so throwing toys out of prams at the first defeat – however galling – isn’t a terribly productive way forward.

Yoorns.

Bachmann 3, Mario Gaspar 2, Kamara 3, Sierralta 3, Kabasele 2, Kayembe 4, Choudhury 3, *João Pedro 4*, Sarr 2, Sema 4, Manaj 3
Subs: Asprilla (for Manaj, 31) 3, Bayo (for  Mario Gaspar, 82) NA, Gosling, Hungbo, Hause, Cathcart, Hamer

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Comments»

1. Crisb - 28/08/2022

Great report as always.

For me Kayemebe is growing into the side with every game. Puts in a shift every week and we even saw some nice balls out to the wing this time! Was gutted for him that the goal was disallowed.

Manaj also looked like he enjoyed being the one up top so was also unfortunate he went off so early and we had no alternative. Bayo seems terribly slight, to the point that 18 year old asprilla is a bouncer by comparison.

I think with Davis and a Rwb and sierralta never to venture from the most central of centre defensive positions again we will be a much better prospect.

2. Tim Turner - 28/08/2022

A balanced report as ever, and one I’m in full agreement with. There were plenty of moments of brilliance yesterday, but we struggled to string them together. There was a classic example in the second half: Joao Pedro did that shimmy he does to break free of two opponents and create space to drive forward – and then passed the ball straight to a defender. It’s so frustrating.

The key thing for me yesterday was the switch to four at the back, rather than the five that kept Sheffield United and Burnley at bay. It meant QPR only had to beat Gaspar to be able to deliver a cross from the touchline, which happened distressingly often.

3. Graham French - 28/08/2022

Excellent & measured report as ever , Matt. Thank you.
This was my first game of the season . There were many good moments but it all felt a bit disjointed to me. Too many hopeful long passes & no one to play the Kiko role to link up with Ismaela & bring out the best in him. Gaspar looks to be a skilful player but painfully slow. 3-3 would have felt like a fairer result , but I thought QPR were pretty decent.
Hopefully we will gel better in the next few games – & bringing in Davies & Hause should make a difference . I wonder whether unexpectedly retaining both Sarr & Joao Pedro causes RE a bit of a problem formation – wise? Though it should be a good problem to have!
Boro next – fingers crossed for 3 points at that one . Good that the games come around quickly.

NickB - 28/08/2022

I think the comment about Kiko is rather letting Sarr off the hook. Isolated moments like the WBA goal aside, it’s been a long time since he produced much of note, irrespective of who has been playing behind him.

4. David. - 28/08/2022

Thank you Matt, I agree that QPR were individually and collectively very good. They held a very high line which was not infalable but points to some adroit scouting identifying a lack of guile in our centre 2 midfielders.

As for us, I would rather be watching a close 2:3 than a 0.9 red wash……

5. PEDantic - 28/08/2022

I thought yesterday the team was crying out for a quarterback style creative midfielder of the type we used to have in Will Hughes. Unfortunately, with two deep-lying defensive midfielders in place, both Pedro and then Asprilla had to play too far forward to really dictate and provide passes to the forwards.

It feels like we are still waiting to form a definite identity and playing pattern. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long after Sept 1 for that to happen.

Matt Rowson - 28/08/2022

I thought JP was causing them problems from his starting role. But Louza should make a big difference

6. Richard Steeden - 28/08/2022

I really don’t want to sound like ‘uncle Ron’ but it does seem inexplicable that five days from the close of the transfer window and having sold Femenia, we still haven’t given Edwards a right wing back. Not a criticism of Gaspar who has a fine pedigree as a top flight footballer but he’s never been the type of player you’d think Edwards would expect to deploy in that role. Feels like a repeat of what happened when Ivic was forced to play Femenia on the left and the team inevitably looked disjointed. And fixing this surely can’t depend on whether Sarr / Pedro stay or go

Crisb - 29/08/2022

I think what this window shows is the Pozzos really don’t have any eyes on potential domestic talent at all, whatever the level. We’ve barely been linked with anyone all summer let alone got further in negotiations.

I really hope a rwb can be added but it’s being left awfully late.

Matt Rowson - 29/08/2022

To be fair Cris we’ve been linked to around 50 people many of whom right wing backs (see The List) and we have no idea what negotiations have gone on?

7. Ben - 29/08/2022

The failure to sign Laird is rather annoying. I’d thought we’d signed Gaspar to play as a right centre but doesn’t look like that is the case. Looking like a strange signing now while we clearly missed out on Laird who looks every inch a promising wing back.

8. Harefield Hornet - 29/08/2022

Agree with all your comments bar the offside decision. Irrelevant now of course but having freeze framed the incident and moved forward slowly many times it’s apparent that although Sarr was briefly offside he had moved back into an onside position when the cross went over. In real time this would be incredibly difficult to spot but I’m pretty confident the officials got that one badly wrong.

Matt Rowson - 29/08/2022

I think in general tight offside calls OUGHT to favour the attacking team. The offside rule wasn’t devised as a defensive tool, it was to prevent goalhanging. Nonetheless, with such tight margins it’s difficult to be too harsh on the officials.


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