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Watford 2 Sunderland 2 (17/09/2022) 18/09/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Being relegated is difficult.

Which is a ludicrous thing to say in one sense of course.  Getting relegated is very easy – just go out there and play like turkeys.  Hell, you or I could do it – I think I could do a good turn as the befuddled and slightly out of shape centre-back who turns around looking for someone to blame as the third goal trundles in. And for less money than, say, Patrick Blondeau was on. Even last season, when we did have to work quite hard to achieve what we achieved in the wake of stiff competition from Leeds and Everton in particular…  getting relegated didn’t require any great strategy.

Being relegated is different.  For all the complaints about yo-yo clubs from those barely paying attention there are all sorts of challenges facing teams relegated from the top flight.  Our own history betrays this truth…  1988 was my first relegation and perhaps the exception that proves the rule since I vaguely remember simply the relief at Bassett no longer being in charge as the dominant sentiment.  But… even then, finishing fourth was a little bit disappointing I think, though I was younger then than Daughter 1 is now so I forgive myself for not quite remembering.  2000/01 though was utterly miserable…  a distractingly good start rapidly collapsing in the face of miserable performances by Christmas.  2006/07  virtually a carbon copy, except that we improbably clung on to a play-off place thanks in part to the lack of consistent challenge from elsewhere.  And as many have pointed out… for all that we were promoted two years ago it was anything but easy.  It was pretty miserable for quite a lot of the season.

The challenges are manifold.  It’s rare for a happy camp to be relegated for one thing, there will always be problems in need of resolution.  Sands will shift as it becomes clear that the straws you cling to are the ones that others want to whisk away, whilst nobody wants your dead weights for some reason.  Planning with any certainty is difficult since you don’t know quite when or whether your asking prices will be met, as this summer has shown, and the cost of holding anything other than a firm negotiating position will scupper “the model” going forward, whether you still have faith in it or not.  You’re not going to get very far buying low and selling high if you make it clear that you can be bullied.

And then there’s the whole “fan expectation” thing which clearly is a thing.  But that’s not a criticism to be levelled at the support either, at least not all of them.  If you were ten years old and developing some kind of consciousness in 2012 when the Pozzos took over then you’re now 20, your world consists of six seasons in the Premier League, two promotions and one late defeat in a play-off final, a cup final, a semi-final and the insane catharsis of Troy’s penalty against Wolves.  Of course you’ve got high standards.

2- So, it’s difficult.  The margins are fine, and much as there’s loose consensus on the decision not to refresh the squad in 2019 as The Root of All The Problems it’s a mistake that many of us would have made in that position.  Signing Sarr likewise.  Subsequent badly-timed injuries, the pandemic and its consequences both on our relegation and our ability to move players on when we wanted to, all of that adds mass to the avalanche that’s outside of anyone’s control.

There’s still no justification for a situation that sees Craig Cathcart trundling out again at right back at the age of 33 on the back of one related injury of course.  It’s transparently the correct decision from Rob Edwards too, since we benefit hugely from Hassane Kamara being back on the left, rattling up and down the wing joyfully for much of the game while there are few mourning the absence of Mario Gaspar from the matchday squad (other, perhaps, than the chap who went early with the Spaniard’s name on his shirt, spotted at Blackburn).  But no excuse for us getting ourselves into this position.  With an international break looming, let alone with Xisco Muñoz loitering for selfies outside the ground after the game, you’d worry about the manager’s future but for the eye-catching Giaretta situation.  The sacking/refocusing of the sporting director suggests a change in approach.  We’ll see.

The mood music is playing loudly from the kick off;  every time the ball rolls lethargically across the backline the grumbles rise like an echo.  Vicky’s not been exposed to much of this…. “why are they moaning already?” she asks, but is chewing her knuckles with frustration before half time.

In reality though this is already much better than Blackburn.  The return of Kortney Hause and particularly the employment from the off of Keinan Davis up front give us a physical heft that we didn’t have before and the latter suggests an out-ball that, if unimaginative is nonetheless more than we’ve had to this point.  We are creating a bit more too… whether through Davis occupying opponents or through Kamara’s willingness down the left or through a little bit more imagination from our midfielders (and bearing in mind that with the best will in the world Edo Kayembe isn’t going to become Andrea Pirlo or even Almen Abdi any time soon) we suggest the possibility of a breakthrough before it actually happens.  Glimpses amongst our laboured stodge, light breaking through the clouds as JP fires at the keeper from an offside position, as Davis almost thunders his way through.  But as so often, it takes a moment of brilliance to actually get the ball into the net – an outrageous, scorching pass on the turn by Asprilla to release Kamara howling up the left flank, his perfect cross allows Davis to plant the ball into an empty net.  It’s irresistible, a Manchester City goal that is so brutally effective that it leaves the opposition wondering quite what they did wrong.  It’s a glimpse of what we might mutate into with a prevailing wind.

3- In the meantime we’re stuck with this midfield, albeit with the knowledge that any one of Cleverley, Dele-Bashiru or Louza being available could be transformative through adding either dynamism or guile, or both.

Sunderland are our inverse in some respects.  We have a potent looking forward line that is underserviced by a pedestrian midfield short on numbers and options;  our visitors have a nimble, dynamic, mobile midfield that moves the ball around well but only two senior strikers, both of whom absent today leaving diminutive midfield nearly-was Alex Pritchard to lead the line for the most part.

Their lack of physicality up front might suggest that sitting deeper to challenge them to prize us open should be productive.  Unfortunately we never look less organised than when the latest central combination of Troost-Ekong and Hause have their lack of relationship placed under a microscope.  Sunderland don’t have to do very much to provoke scruffy carnage in the box in front of the Rookery, at the height of which Alese stabs at goal and Choudhury scrapes the ball away.  It must have been a tight call but my instinct had been “oh shit” for all that the game continued, and the referee’s watch removed any doubt.  The ball had crossed the line and the visitors were level shortly before the interval.

As an aside, Sunderland were also an inversion of Watford in the attitude of their support.  If a miserable relegation (indeed, two successive relegations as far as the in-stadium support is concerned) lends itself to an overly negative take then long-awaited promotion sees Sunderland fans riding a giddy wave.  We rode the same wave all the way to a successive promotion behind Sunderland in 1999 of course…  but there was an absurd level of triumphalism on display outside the ground afterwards.  There’s nothing not to enjoy about nicking a late point away from home of course – the more so when, unlike here, it’s completely unmerited.  But exaltation of Sunderland’s large but not terribly noisy away support and citation of the visitors’ two “cast iron” penalties were fanciful – certainly the tumble in the first half was laughable, and the apparent handball in the second was matched by an identical shout in Watford’s favour at the Rookery end.

4- Watford started the second half much more aggressively with Hamza Choudhury punching into tackles and some concerted pressing for the first time.  Keinan Davis continued to be the focal point of the attack and began to link up nicely with João Pedro, who had been ploughing a slightly uncomfortable furrow on the right flank.  Twice he played the ball into Davis’s feet for him to hold it up and with a single touch allow JP to continue his run across him and open up the play.  Less productive was Davis’ relationship with Ken Sema – time might suggest whether the striker’s furious impatience when things didn’t quite come off was directed at the left winger or at himself, Vicky and I disagreed on this point.

Where the two sides did bear comparison was in defensive vulnerability. For all that in Danny Batth Sunderland boated the sort of big old unit that we’d been craving in the transfer window (until Hause’s arrival at any rate) they looked vulnerable at set pieces and there was no huge surprise when Luke O’Nien, having admirably made up his seven inch deficit on Kortney Hause to get his head to Troost-Ekong’s excellent far post headed knock-back, inadvertently sent the ball past his own keeper.  Not the return that the former Watford youngster would have chosen, one suspects.

Briefly a more comfortable win looked likely.  Sunderland looked overwhelmed for the first time as we swarmed forward;  Kayembe lurched into space and sent a fierce, curling shot narrowly wide.  João Pedro appeared on the left and flung a shot across the face of goal.  Three points, whether merited or not, would have been a valuable thing to go into the international fortnight with.

5- Instead the game ended with Sunderland banging on the door, having spurned a good chance breaking on the left and had a Jack Clarke goal ruled out for a tight offside call before Jewison Bennette snapped up the equaliser from a ridiculous amount of space on the right of the box as we defended it.

During the 25 minute interval between the two goals 8 (eight) substitutions had taken place, from which the visitors undoubtedly did the better.  Much grumbling in Rob Edwards’ direction on Occupation (for the moment) Road after the game – in truth the fault lies with the paucity of options on the bench.  Davis and Kamara were the expensive sacrifices, but the latter had been touch and go for the game and the former, about whom “as long as they can keep him fit” has been a qualifier in all informed reviews, is yet to complete 90 minutes and had a bruising hour at Blackburn on Tuesday.  Rey Manaj’s injury (remember him?) perhaps expensive here.

Sunderland meanwhile injected much more energy and dynamism into their offering with their own subs, though any envy of their young options should perhaps be tempered with the knowledge that on-loan Amad Diallo has already cost Manchester United more than we paid for Ismaïla Sarr.  Not that it matters, but “local lad come good” he isn’t.

And so we go into the international break downwardly mobile and grumbling.  Rob Edwards will probably be glad of the break – the team, as has been widely acknowledged – looks tired and the urgent need for more options in the middle of the park will hopefully help address this as much as the week’s break that many of the squad will enjoy.

As for his job security, to repeat, words are cheap.  We can’t implore the club to exercise more patience on the one hand and then turn on a young manager in a challenging position if things look a bit tricksy after ten games.  We await clarification on Giaretta with interest.

Hang in there.


Bachmann 3, Cathcart 3, Kamara 4, Troost-Ekong 3, Hause 3, Kayembe 3, Choudhury 3, Sema 3, Asprilla 3, João Pedro 3, *Davis 4*
Subs: Bayo (for Kamara, 73) 2, Gosling (for Davis, 81) NA, Kabasele (for Cathcart, 84) NA, Kalu, Hungbo, Sierralta, Okoye


Blackburn Rovers 2 Watford 0 (13/09/2022) 14/09/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.


Oh, it’s opening time down on Fascination Street

So let’s cut the conversation and get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling and I’m begging

To drag you down with me, to kick the last nail in.

Fascination Street, The Cure

“I can’t believe that Joe f***ing McLaughlin played for us 53 times”.

This is my first trip to Ewood Park since watching a young Alan Shearer quickly dismantle Steve Perryman’s side in front of a noisy away end in 1992.  I’m not sure why it’s been that long, it’s just how it’s happened.  Other Matt is an Ewood Park virgin, prioritising the midweek trip to tick a ground off.   Dave was last here to witness Jean-Alain Fanchone’s 74-minute Watford career in 2012; this nugget provokes a conversation that takes us most of the way from our rendez-vous at Corley services to Blackburn.  “A memorable short Watford careers” eleven, which rapidly bisects into a “Brief but beautiful Watford careers” eleven and a parallel “Brief for a reason Watford careers” eleven (euphemistically.  these may not have been the words used).

Dave polices nominations. Joe McLaughlin doesn’t qualify, having played more than ten times. Xavier Gravelaine inevitably spearheads the former eleven, while Collins John and Kerry Dixon form a fearsome forward line for the latter in the face of, as you’ll appreciate, stiff competition.

This sort of trip, stupidly long midweek drive facilitated by gratuitous use of holiday from work meaning a leisurely drive up and a late thunder back down an empty(ish) motorway, has become an annual tradition decided on fixtures day in June and fuelled by Red Bull (other revolting rocket fuel is available), snacks and “banter”.  Amanda joins us in the Fernhurst where we half-watch Tottenham lollop around against Sporting for a bit whilst eating enjoyably greasy pub fare.  

Yes, this is necessarily going to be an “enjoy the journey” report.  Without giving ages away (but see below), we’ve all been doing this for decades.  Long enough to know that sometimes a good day out can be marred by what is nominally the focal point of the trip.

2- There aren’t many here to witness this.  There was a smaller crowd at Rotherham, but that felt busier in a ground with lower capacity.  Ewood Park, as Other Matt observes, “always looked bigger on the telly”…  it’s a likeably straightforward, unmodern collection of four subbuteo stands, but it’s hardly bulging at the seams.  This goes for the away end as much as anywhere… independent of how the team is going, it’s surely to be expected that long-distance midweek support will be impacted by the relentlessness of the midweek programme in this season more than any other.  Sometimes a small away crowd can characterise the most memorable of games – those who braved the fuel blockades to travel up here in 2000 would surely agree.  This will not be one of those times.   Half a dozen gormless locals exchange the predictable chants about paying benefits, empty stands and bunches of whatevers with like-minded travelling orns, and whilst I must confess to never having heard the one about double glazing before, it’s a ritual grimly befitting of the evening.

A minute’s silence in tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth is impeccably observed, as you’d hope and expect.  A rendition of the national anthem is perhaps less unanimously engaged in, but you are nonetheless left with the impression that those wishing to pay tribute to the monarch might have had their best opportunity to do so by performing the same ritual before the Reading game rather than by doing whatever people did on Saturday afternoon instead.  Watch the cricket, perhaps.  Admittedly when faced with an unprecedented situation of such gravitas, bad decisions are going to happen and perhaps some leeway should be given but “not being bloody stupid” would seem to be a good guideline.  I suspect I’m not alone in finding that being told how I’m supposed to think and behave tends to incline me to the opposite course of action.

3- Here we go then.

It’s bloody awful.  Or at least, we’re bloody awful… Blackburn do a reasonable job of looking like a competent football team.  So we’re bloody awful.  Or rather…   we’re not completely awful, but the bits that are awful are so awful that they render the less problematic bits sort of obsolete.  For instance, I don’t really think there’s much wrong with our defence as far as actual defending goes.  Nothing that something more cohesive going forward to release the pressure wouldn’t relegate to merely something to work on in the goodness of time, for all Christian Kabasele’s generosity with possession.  Kortney Hause’s number has come up on the “who’s missing today?” spinning dial – a worryingly non-specific sprained ankle depriving us of the option of his surges out of defence and swinging crossfield balls.

So we’re back to Cathcart – Sierralta – Kabasele.  Which… as above, is kind of ok defensively.  Certainly for all that Rovers are the most up for it from the off and put Daniel Bachmann to work immediately these weren’t clear cut chances and we weren’t being played through… Brereton-Diáz, involved in a Chile-off against Francisco Sierralta, finds space for a bobbling shot from outside the area – a deflection might have caused a problem, but as it is Bachmann fields comfortably.  The lively Dolan snaps in a shot from an acute angle and does exceptionally well to direct his fierce effort on target, but Bachmann is equal to it.

The problem, the main problem, perhaps the problem that if resolved would see everything else fall into place, is the midfield.  Not so much the individuals themselves, for all that both Choudhury and Kayembe have had better games, but the inadequacy of the shape when both of them sit.  No evidence here of Kayembe trundling forwards with possession as against Boro which is something.  The lack of movement makes us horribly easy to defend against… sitting back and saying “come on then” is currently pretty much enough to watch the ball swing across the back line until someone loses it, or some individual brilliance (or perhaps some doggedness from Sema on the left touchline) fashions a chance.  You’d take those odds, and Blackburn do.  There is no pattern.  There’s little evidence of anyone carrying the ball. We don’t know how to score goals, indeed how to create chances despite our attacking riches and this demoralises team and fans alike.  We’re suffering from missing the mobility of Cleverley and Dele-Bashiru, missing Louza in a different way.  But we need to find a way to play football with the assets we have available.

JP doesn’t hide, for all that he too has had better days, days when flicks and spins have come off.  He looks ever more a leader, even at 20.  Not so Sarr, who is invisible until injury forces him off after half an hour, meaning that we get an hour of Keinan Davis…  the ball suddenly sticks, defenders with sore limbs left trailing in his wake (tho no matching the three at Rotherham, two his best tally here).  Something like a threat begins to suggest itself, but within ten minutes Blackburn finally play through us (Kabasele, for the second game running, contributing through inattention) and Hedges tucks away a Dolan cross from the right.

4- To be one down at half time was more than fair enough;  we’d scarcely threatened, for all that Davis had given us some oomph and 1-0 might have been considered “getting away with it”.

And indisputably things improved in the second half, if from a low bar.  This was abetted in part by Rob Edwards changing the shape (again)… switching out Sierralta and bringing Dan Gosling in to add a body and some snapping and sniping to that midfield.   Vakoun Bayo, who had run a willing but fruitless path skipping around chasing not very much, was surprised to find a Sema cross reach him at the far post… his header was well directed, downwards towards the bottom corner, but lacked the power to trouble Kaminski.

Davis remains our most overt threat, occupying and engaging multiple opponents at a time (if being treated less generously by the officials than he had at Rotherham).  As at Rotherham he pulls off the Sema-like trick of holding off and leaning into  a number of markers with his right shoulder and rolling around to his right in a wide arc to facilitate a shooting opportunity on his left foot, firing across the face of goal. Minutes later João Pedro clips across a corner, Davis gets his head to it and Kabasele bundles home only to be denied by the linesman’s flag.  The replay looks tight – only Davis is at risk of being offside – but we still hadn’t earned any luck, no more than we had with Ayala’s clumsy challenge on Davis in the box in the first half.

Rovers meanwhile were being pressed back, but catching us on the break.   Brereton-Diáz thundered away down the left but was forced wider than he would have liked and Bachmann blocked well.  Then a second break lead to a corner and Rovers did get the break, as the impressive Hyam hooked a flick-on home acrobatically from another borderline offside position.  If you make ten chances instead of two you can kinda expect to get these breaks with one of them.

5-  The visiting support, such as it was, flooded out.  The mood in the away end was combustible, that unhappy mix of those who want to vent their frustration and those who really would rather maintain a happy ambiance, a sense of togetherness.  Each group would have pejorative ways of describing the other’s stance and such opinions began to be shared openly as flashpoints sparkled in the stand.

One particularly agitated individual had been loudly and stridently expressing his frustration in a series of exclamations and ultimatums halfway up the left side of the stand throughout.  At the whistle he was down the front, pointing angrily at the Watford players who appeared to both recognise the efforts of those who had made their way up and their own inadequacy in rewarding it during the game.  Rob Edwards approached but didn’t engage directly, though visibly apologising to the crowd in general.  Daniel Bachmann, bravely but perhaps ill-advisedly and possibly thinking that his own faultless display might earn him a bit of restraint appeared to submit to discussion with calming gestures.  We were too far off to hear the exchange, but it was clear that no common ground was found.

As luck would have it my route down to the exit saw me arrive at the same time as the aggressor in chief, whose unbound anger was attracting more vocal criticism.  Joining in was stupid;  he was never likely to respond positively to being  told that he didn’t have to come to the games if he didn’t enjoy it as was obvious when his response was a shove of frustration that saw me topple backwards.  I fear I flattened whoever was behind me – there’s a lot of me – but any potential for deterioration doused quickly as we both seemed to recognise our own stupidity.  The surrounding supporters reacted angrily to the violent turn of events – “you’ve just hit an old man” was one shout.  It took me a few seconds to realise that the old man in question was, in fact, me, by which time the source of the shout was indiscernible and an even uglier flashpoint was avoided.  

As an aside, if there’s anything more stupid than engaging in such a conversation it’s doing so the day before your wedding.  Let’s say 20-odd years ago, arbitrarily.  Not that anyone would be that daft.

Unfortunately, Dave and Other Matt had heard the “you’ve just hit an old man” shout, the last two words of which were the focus of discussion during much of the queue to escape the car park.  Pointing out that Dave is a full three weeks older than me proved of little help (and neither of us 50 just yet… “old” indeed).

People get wound up by the oddest things.  I don’t mind disagreeing with people, or people seeing things differently in general.  I don’t really mind us being a bit rubbish – I mean I’d rather we weren’t, but, you know.  Comes with the territory.  I do hate conflict though, anything that challenges the illusion that we’re all pulling the same way.  Not very good at that.

People get cheered up by the oddest things too.  A McDonalds break in the early hours amidst the inevitable M6 lane closures was brightened up by realising that Spurs had lost after all.  We’ve just driven the length of the country and back to watch us lose and be rubbish, and Spurs losing is still capable of raising a snigger.

Later, post Corley, I undertook the solo hour-long final stretch with music at ear-bleeding volume.  Another Ewood Park curio – I bought the Cure’s “Disintegration” album the day before our trip to Blackburn for the play-off in 1989.  Astonishingly, Dad let me play it in its entirety on the drive up.  We didn’t score that day, either.  “Fascination Street” screams down the A14.  “Drag you down with me, Kick the last nail in”. 

No, I’ll be miserable as, when, if and how I choose.  Thanks anyway.


*Bachmann 3*, Ngakia 2, Sema 3, Cathcart 3, Sierralta 3, Kabasele 1, Choudhury 2, Kayembe 2, João Pedro  3, Sarr 1, Bayo 2
Subs: Davis (for Sarr, 30) 3, Gosling (for Sierralta, 45) 3, Mario Gaspar (for Ngakia, 74) 2, Asprilla (for Choudhury, 74) 3, Hungbo, Troost-Ekong, Okoye

Rotherham United 1 Watford 1 (03/09/2022) 04/09/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- As every travelling fan is aware, the real litmus test of an away stadium is the approach taken to bottle top policing at kiosks.  The removal of bottle tops from purchased bottles of water or pop is aggravating, but par for the course.  If it’s done with a half-apology then it’s shrug-offable.  

The red light starts flashing when bottles are decanted into plastic pint pots, normally ultra-cheap pint pots of Jamie Moralee levels of flimsiness that look like something designed to lose liquid, something left over from “It’s a Knockout”.  This screams “we really don’t give a crap about you and would rather you’d just stayed at home.  What do you mean you’ve paid for a ticket?  You’ll be expecting leg room next…”.

So it’s reassuring to be sold, as here, bottles of water replete with lids as they were intended to be.  The trust that it implies, the hope that if you treat people like adults they’ll behave like adults may sometimes be misplaced (see below) but you’d rather that way than the other.

Not much of a litmus test on reflection really, since by the time you’ve got to this stage of proceedings you’re likely to be in a position to predict with reasonable accuracy what the outcome of the test will be.  Certainly, here, Will had already managed to bring his ample box of snacks for his young herberts through unchallenged, and a couple outside the ground who had arrived with one ticket too few for their (very young) infants were told that the babe in arms would be welcome nonetheless – but only on someone’s lap, as the end was sold out.  Not every ground is as accommodating.

Meanwhile as our circumference of the stadium was briefly obstructed by the arrival of the Watford team, a steward affably asked us if we’d seen “the exhibition”, which was available for free behind an incongruous gap in the stadium’s wall and boasted a decent number of Millers artefacts, bits, bobs and newspaper cuttings.  And a loo, for those in need.  Most significantly perhaps a timeline, or rather three timelines… one picking out significant Rotherham United events as you might expect, another in parallel picking out developments in the women’s game and a third reflecting milestones for black and asian footballers.  All very “Woke”, and hurrah for that – Luther’s hat-trick against Luxembourg and John Barnes’ Player of the year award, plus their Watford connections, all prominent.

2- Establishing that Rotherham were Good Sorts didn’t help in any way once the game started and we reprised Tuesday’s tactic of lulling our opponents into a sense of security early doors with a startlingly similar outcome.  Daniel Bachmann less obviously at fault here on review, Wes Harding’s snappy cross from the right dropping over Christian Kabasele’s head in a way that, one suspects, Francisco Sierralata wouldn’t have accommodated – as an aside, however wobbly his recent form you had to question – as Will did – the decision to withdraw the Chilean and his forehead against this opponent in particular.

Veteran Rotherham skipper Richard Wood, a 37 year-old centre-half, was loitering in a way that suggested that the Millers had been watching videos of Tuesday night’s game or something, the cads, and stuffed away his fourth goal of the season.  The afternoon threatened to go seriously downhill, not abetted by a brief and tedious confrontation in at the front of the stand.  I’m all for a liberal approach to standing at football games, but when you’ve got a bunch of folks remaining seated in the front rows of the stand,  several of whom are of Ken Furphy vintage and several of whom scarcely remember Javi Gracia, remaining stoically standing in front of them as four or five individuals in the front row chose to do really isn’t “sticking it to the man”.  A bored looking steward who presumably has this sort of conversation with visiting numbskulls every week, ambled over and suggested either moving further back where everyone was standing or sitting down if they didn’t want to be evicted.  The chief protagonist turned arms open to those behind him and declared “he’s threatening to throw me out” in apparent astonishment, to which he got an unsympathetic “you’d better sit down then”.  Undeterred, he asked one more experienced gentleman behind him whether he minded him standing, to which the reply was “well yes I do actually”.  “See!!!”, our hero declared to the still bored looking steward.  In fairness an insulin pump on his arm revealed a medical condition which I know from bitter experience can encourage you to behave like a dick in the wrong circumstances.  In any case, mercifully, everything settled down a bit.

As on Tuesday we were able to recover from our early sleepiness if less dramatically and absolutely.  A gradual improvement was signalled by a spring in the step of Vakoun Bayo, whose goal on Tuesday is fuelling a case being made for him being at least a capable deputy for the first time.  His head was on the end of our earliest forays which, if they didn’t lead anywhere at first at least signalled intent.  Rotherham meanwhile were hounding possession a long way up the pitch and threatening to counter, though in honesty for the rest of the game even their better chances were from distance.  Craig Cathcart in particular had probably his best outing of the season on the right hand side of the back three and was significant in cutting off the threat.

Eventually the equaliser came… Ken slung in a cross from the left, Bayo repositioned himself and took advantage of a half-hearted Rotherham attempt to intercept the cross by volleying expertly home.  Big jumpyaroundness in the away end, even amongst those of us who hadn’t seen it properly.

3- The other significant contributor to the first half was Kortney Hause, making his full debut on the left side of the defence in front of us… indeed, so tall and broad is Hause that he blocked our view of much of the rest of the pitch during the first half from our position three rows back in the corner. 

With the anxiety of the closing days of the window, the focus on the retention of JP and Sarr and the failure to bring in a right wing-back, it was easy to forget that we’d already done some business the effects of which were yet to be realised.  Hause looks every bit what the doctor ordered on the left side of the back three…  an absolute monster, he saw off every physical challenge with a shrug and was equally sanguine when decisions went against him, trotting back into position without argument.  Both Wes Harding and Arsenal loanee Brooke Norton-Cuffy will be nursing bruises this morning.

But Hause also looked comfortable bringing the ball forward.  The biggest problem with playing Hassane Kamara on the right is that it limits his attacking threat, and in a team that’s struggling to progress the ball from back to front that’s a significant loss, arguably a waste of a key weapon.  Imrân Louza may sort that issue when he returns (no pressure, son) but in the meantime it was heartening to see Hause lurching forward down the left in a manner that our existing centre-backs haven’t been able to do.  I was reminded of Colin Foster, although Colin Foster for all his majesty seemed perpetually on the verge of falling over, whilst you suspect Hause would still be standing after a nuclear explosion.

In the final knockings Hause even suggested a long overdue replacement for the “Neal Ardley dumping the ball on the far post for Helguson” stock move, swinging a succession of diagonal crosses from deep left to right as we pressed for a decider. 

4- Arguably for the first time in our four away games this season we looked like overwhelming our opponents in the final quarter of the game.  Paul Warne highlighted the difference between playing on a Wednesday as the Millers had and a Tuesday but if this was a factor it was only one of a number as the balance of the game shifted in our favour.

Yáser Asprilla, as Will pointed out, had barely contributed for a game and a half, but sparkled again in the second half, ferreting out possession and playing his part in attacks.  Most dramatically as a sharp counter attack ran out of space and Bayo conservatively retained possession and fed João Pedro; the Brazilian displayed a terrifying indifference to the massed ranks in front of him on the left of the box, stopped dead, cut toward the by line and clipped a ball back for Asprilla to volley fiercely at goal bringing a fine stop from Johansson diving to his left, the rebound not falling kindly for Bayo.

Later Asprilla surged forward from midfield and João Pedro (a veteran at 20, two years Asprilla’s senior), occupied his marker to pull open space for the Colombian in a very Danny Graham kinda way; Asprilla fired over in a manner that would be unforgivable of an older player.  I remain concerned that we’re having to use him too much, that Louza’s injury and injuries to forwards (Sarr – a knock – and long term absentee Manaj missing today) prohibiting fielding JP deeper are meaning that we play Yáser more than is ideal.  But my goodness, what potential.

JP is a weapon wherever you play him, but he doesn’t half look dangerous from deeper positions.  An impossibly languid swipe of the right boot from out on the left dropped a cross to the far post which seemed to brush the forheads of both Bayo and sub Mario Gaspar before hitting the woodwork and, impossibly, avoiding both protagonists on the way out.

5- Another away point then.  Two points dropped on this occasion.  But I was surprised by the dejected tones of two sage observers on the walk back into Rotherham after the game.  We missed chances.  We didn’t get the three points we should have, and in a division that remains horribly competitive we can’t let these go cheaply.

But the appearance of Keinan Davis for Asprilla midway through the half will surely have warmed the hearts of even the most cynical of Watford observers.  As with Hause, you almost forgot that we haven’t really seen him yet, this is a gift that remained unwrapped…  as an aside you also wonder quite how many other Big Old Units Villa have got on the fringes of their squad, and whether getting both out of the building was simply a necessity borne of freeing up some physical space.

Because Davis, too, is massive.  Shorter than Hause, but as broad as he is tall… he announced himself in the game by effortlessly holding off a suddenly overpowered Rotherham defence and laying off crisply with a single touch.  Later he was barrelling through opponents on the left of the box and slinging a shot goalwards requiring a fine block but leaving defenders grounded in his wake.  Later still he contested a high ball in the box and left both Johansson and Wood prostrate on the turf – no elbows, no nastiness, just sheer physical presence.  Catcalls at perceived timewasting from behind the goal as the two were sellotaped back together were ludicrously misplaced, both had tried to tackle a tank and were suffering the consequences.

That any one of Sarr, JP and Davis is spending another season in the Championship is a little ludicrous.  That all three are playing for us should be mouthwatering, whatever concerns we have elsewhere in the side.  I’m reminded of Sarr-Deeney-Deulofeu in 2019/20…. and yes I know we got relegated and I know that I use this stat too often so two years on this is the last time and then it’s officially retired:  in games when those three started we won 5, drew 5, lost 2 (Liverpool and Leicester away, the latter under caretaker stewardship).

Having too many places to look makes a side very difficult to defend against.  Each of these three is strong, quick and clever but Davis is ridiculously strong, Sarr is outrageously quick and JP audaciously clever.  Each would be double-marked if they were the only threat.  What on earth are opponents supposed to do against all three of them?

And yes, yes, injuries.  And yes, here we fielded two of the trio (if briefly) and only came away with a point.  Whatever, it’s a long season.  But given what the retention of our two headline acts is likely to be costing us financially, it would be rude not to enjoy the upside.


Bachmann 3, Kamara 3, Sema 3, Cathcart 4, Kabasele 2, *Hause 4*, Choudhury 3, Kayembe 3, Asprilla 3, Bayo 3, João Pedro 4
Subs: Mario Gaspar (for Kamara, 63) 3, Davis (for Asprilla, 67) 4, Hungbo (for Sema, 89) NA, Gosling, Troost-Ekong, Sierralta, Hamer