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

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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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.

Yoooorns.

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

Comments»

1. iamthesunking - 04/09/2022

(Whispers:) Sometimes I take a spare bottle top. My heart did skip a beat when they swapped Coke for Pepsi at the Gtech, but it turns out that a Coke lid still fits a Pepsi bottle!

Matt Rowson - 04/09/2022

yeah, good call. I do that when I remember.

2. Simoninoz - 04/09/2022

I strongly suspect that Monday training may start with Rob sending King Ken and the defense to one end and asking Ken to swing ’em in for an hour or two so Dan and the central defenders can sort themselves out. I’m coming over in October for Norwich (h) so I think they can sort it out by then

3. Chris Thomson - 04/09/2022

Hi Matt. I always enjoy reading your reports but have up to now never commented. I would be interested in your views regarding long throw-ins where the ball can be launched in a parabolic curve or worse be rifled into the goalmouth. Maybe this subject has been raised already so apologies if that is the case. I have for some time (certainly since José Holebas left us) thought they are unfair. Also, where towels are put in strategic places there is wasted time whilst the player guilty of being able to propel the ball, further than a hammer thrower can throw a hammer, dries the ball. It is after all called football. Rotherham employ this legal tactic as do other clubs of course. I think Manchester City have dealt with this by having a slope up onto the pitch. My feeling is that throwing a ball directly into the penalty area without it touching another player should be regarded as a foul throw. How do you feel about it Matt and if you are of the same opinion as me what can be done about it? PS I have used a pseudonym to avoid friends and family laughing at me!!!

Matt Rowson - 04/09/2022

Hi Chris. Umm. Don’t agree, think it’s fair enough… no different from a well delivered corner. Spurs have slopes, presumably for similar reasons – think that’s a safety hazard and should be banned. Bigger concern re throw ins is Ken’s technique… finally pulled up for a foul throw yesterday after pushing his luck all season.

4. Old Git (of Furphy vintage) - 04/09/2022

I don’t think ‘Chris Thomson’ will remember Simmo. If a towel wasn’t available to dry the ball before he lobbed it into the box, he would use an adjacent linesman.

Hazza - 05/09/2022

I recall that. Simms was shear class.

5. Jeff - 05/09/2022

Absolutely spot on with the Davis assessment. I watched the whole game and once he came on we were all over them and their celebration at a point told you everything.

RWB/RB will continue to be a talking point all season I imagine. If Mario Gaspar is the answer I don’t know what the question was. He must have some class as 500+ Villarreal apps shows but we lack down that side with HK playing on the wrong side.


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