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Watford 0 Coventry City 1 (05/11/2022) 06/11/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- I love the World Cup.

I mean…. surely everyone loves the World Cup, right?  The finals tournament, I mean.  Every four years I immerse myself in it utterly, indulgently frittering holiday from work where needed to be able to fully focus on, I don’t know, Ecuador against Belgium or something.  Every tournament is special… even if my advancing years mean that I don’t remember the last one as clearly as I do the first one that I really watched – España 82.  Marco Tardelli, Schumacher and that insane semi-final, Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick against a tragically fabulous Brazil, László Kiss, Gerry Armstrong.  The France-Kuwait pitch invasions.

I can mark out my life according to World Cups.  I’d just finished my finals prior to USA 1994, and came home from Leeds to celebrate Bulgaria beating Germany (in defiance of Dad, predictably, remembering his German heritage once England had failed to qualify in the way that I kinda do today).  Daughter 1 was born during Germany 2006 – she blinked in astonishment at Oliver Neuville’s winning goal for Germany against Poland in Dortmund within a couple of hours of being born (I couldn’t believe the Polish defending, either).  Four years later and I was getting up early to watch the games from Japan and Korea, often watching with friends in Watford and with a short-lived obsession with squeezing fresh oranges for a morning juice.

There’s a certain purity, honesty and inclusiveness about it, for all the commercialism.  Everybody gets it, even if they don’t like football, even if they don’t watch it.  It’s a joy that everyone shares.

So not watching Qatar 2022 will be really difficult, and I bitterly resent the circumstances that lead me to making that decision.  Not that… anyone who decides otherwise is wrong, or should feel guilty.  But…  I found myself looking at the shamelessly corrupt awarding of the tournament, the “can we stop pretending now” acknowledgment that a tournament in the middle of the Qatari summer really wasn’t going to work after all, the grotesque inappropriateness of the venue from the medieval attitudes to LGBTQ (no, it’s not a local cultural set of beliefs it’s oppression and it’s repulsive) to the lack of facility to accommodate supporters to the flagrant sportswashing, the pitiful recruitment of rent-a-fans to be paid to Behave Appropriately and most of all the 6000 (official figures – unofficially much higher) migrant workers who died in the construction of the stadia having reportedly had their passports confiscated and been kept in slave conditions.  I found myself looking at all of this and thinking “how do the f***ers get away with this?” and realising it was because people would watch the thing anyway.

So I won’t.  Not any of it. But no worries if you think differently, it’s a tough call.

2- Before that starts we’ve got three more games and on the back of three wins on the hop are in danger of generating something called “momentum”, which I think I remember from a dim and distant past.  The return of Davis to fitness and Choudhury from suspension allows us to name the same starting eleven that demolished Luton in our last game here. Fuelled perhaps by that recent run this is officially our largest home gate of the season (though admittedly the variance in a lot of crowds of “about 20,000” isn’t huge).

Unofficially the stadium looks much more sparsely filled than that, a point which a noisy away end makes early and repeatedly.  Andrew French asked Slaven Bilić in the week about the danger of arrogance; his reply was on the lines of “a bit of arrogance is a good thing”, but there’s a thin line between arrogance and complacency and there’s some evidence of the home stands wandering over it which is ludicrous given some of the hair-pulling of the last few months but there we are.  Perhaps, rather than complacency, the fervour in the stands of two weeks ago has been doused by the persistent drizzle here.  Either way it’s inappropriately and unhelpfully quiet.

There is little evidence of complacency on the pitch, mercifully.  Coventry are setting up defensively from the off, but there’s none of the lack-of-direction-masquerading-as-patience that have characterised many of our previous experiences with this approach.  We’re purposeful and aggressive…  particularly significant is the performance of Sarr who, whilst he has his frustrations and will have more effective afternoons is at least struggling, when he does struggle, in an active, involved way.  Chasing, fighting, running at people.  Much more likeable than his more passive performances.  Davis, too, is back with a bang rolling around up front and dragging markers in his wake.  We’re not creating an awful lot but we’re dominating possession…  Coventry are coping, but barely.  Vicky’s sitting next to me – and as an aside claims not to have caught a win since the Liverpool game before the pandemic and so must bear some responsibility for what follows – and murmurs that we just need to zip the ball a little quicker.  She’s right, we’re not very far away.

3- Whilst the game’s outcome is hugely frustrating, any disappointment should by mitigated by the fact that whilst Coventry’s template is very much The Way To Play Against Watford, none have executed it as effectively as this.  We know that without Imrân Louza we are short of a lock-picker;  here Coventry are disciplined and focused in the face of what, for the first half hour or so, is a purposeful attack.  Come the second half they’ll be stretched, we could easily have come away with this with something so – annoying, but maybe a blessing in disguise.  We’re better, but not better enough to take anything for granted.

Those who remember Sean Dyche’s Watford side will be able to testify that a solid side with a little bit of magic dust is a decent recipe for success in this division.  Sean Murray was the magic dust in that team, but Cov more resemble Quque Sánchez Flores’ 2015/16 vintage that survived comfortably in the top flight based on two walls of stuff and the assumption – accurate as it turned out – that Troy and Ighalo would nick enough goals between them.

Coventry’s magic dust is Viktor Gyökeres; for all of Brighton’s reputation for wheeling and dealing you wonder quite how a side that has famously struggled to turn good possession into goals let this kid go.  He looks extraordinary…  his movement as City break for the first time is good but let down by a finish, shanked into the Rookery.  “That’s OK then” we think, relaxing a bit.  But the second break sees him cut inside William Troost-Ekong and force a tremendous reflex stop from Daniel Bachmann which the striker quietly congratulates his adversary for beneath us as the subsequent corner lines up.

The third such break also sees him cut in from the left past an errant but nonetheless seriously examined Troost-Ekong who is saved by a tremendous block by Sierralta, at his stompy, angry, shouty best.  Soon after this we manage a rare counter-break and look briefly devastating for the first time.. JP sending Sarr free on the left, Sarr setting up Davis to fire neatly past Wilson.  Celebrations are arrested by the linesman’s flag for an offside we were completely unable to judge from directly behind the play.  Replays confirm however that Davis had a handful of Kyle McFadzean’s shirt that abetted his route to goal.

It seems reasonable to hope that this development will scare Cov into tempering their attacking ambitions and certainly they seem rattled, briefly.  Sarr is brought down midway through an ambitious run and Ken Sema sees Ben Wilson push a decent curling free kick  away from his bottom right hand corner reasonably comfortably.  Ultimately though we’re grateful for half time;  we’ve looked less convincing on the whole as the half has gone on and need to regroup.

4- Any hope of a change in the narrative disappears early in the second half;  Coventry break once again and seem to have the freedom of their right flank, from where a cross is provided for and converted by Gyökeres.

The inevitability of the game’s conclusion sits miserably in front of us, though in fairness it doesn’t actually turn out to be as pathetic and hapless as what was panning out in my head as the visitors went ahead even if it amounts to much the same thing.  We pepper City for much of the second half, doing a much better job of breaking them down than in the first and the cracks begin to show;  Josh Eccles has impressed on the right flank but is finally booked after a gazillion warnings and is withdrawn from his thankless task against Sarr.  The winger fools his marker with a quick turn and tees up Ken Sema, who steers a shot narrowly wide of Ben Turner’s post.

Kenzema then sends a wicked near-post cross in from the left, Sarr’s diving header diverts the ball across the face of goal and Davis can’t quite stretch.  Asprilla replaces JP and dawdles in possession before finding Kamara’s run with a delicious pass.  Kamara squares it for Sarr to bundle over from no distance at all.  Being kind to him, the ball across his face was at knee height rather than along the ground but it’s still a tragic miss, as Sarr’s forlorn demeanour lying in the back of the net betrays.

Joe Hungbo comes off the bench, which is never a bad thing.  He’s once again immediately entrusted with set piece responsibilities and Daniel Bachmann is twice up at the death – Hungbo’s corners are on point, but we can’t get a touch.  Our best late chance comes when Hungbo cuts in from the right and fires a left foot shot low and firm.  A deflection sends it towards the bottom corner but also kills the pace on it and permits Wilson to make a decent save.  The last chance also goes to Hungbo and he provokes the frustration of the crowd with an ill-judged shot over when a crossing opportunity had presented itself – a blemish that his latest punchy cameo didn’t deserve.

5- In the context of having just won three games this is a disappointment but not a disaster.  Coventry’s long tenure at the foot of the table probably contributes to the frustration but this was always a false position borne of their inability to play home fixtures early in the season after the Commonwealth Games’ rugby sevens knackered their pitch.  City recorded their eighth clean sheet in their last eleven games here and won’t be anyone’s pushover on this evidence.

Meanwhile Bilić is suitably philosophical afterwards.  Not a disaster unless it gets into our heads.  Tellingly however he used the “tiredness” word again, and whilst every club is struggling with a busy timetable there’s no denying that there was a lack of energy about today’s performance;  JP was a shadow, Davis started strongly but faded badly, we didn’t have afterburners to push City as hard as we needed to in the first half.  The forthcoming break, however questionably conceived, might do us some favours but Bilić’s words weren’t carelessly chosen whether an appeal for squad depth or a criticism of training intensity.

See you Tuesday.

Yoorns.

*Bachmann 4*, Gosling 2, Kamara 3, Troost-Ekong 3, Sierralta 4, Kayembe 3, Choudhury 3, João Pedro 2, Sarr 3, Sema 3, Davis 3
Subs: Mario Gaspar (for Gosling, 64) 3, Asprilla (for João Pedro, 64) 3, Bayo (for Sema, 72) 2, Hungbo (for Davis, 80) NA, Morris, Okoye

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Comments»

1. Who Deeney? - 06/11/2022

My first World Cup was, sadly, USA ’94. Had to support Nigeria.

Matt Rowson - 06/11/2022

Good tournament to “choose” otherwise tho…

2. Mike Smith - 06/11/2022

Completely agree with your World Cup thoughts and of course England not at their best contributes to the World Cup negativity. Money again!!
As for our attendances I wasn’t at the game yesterday (involved in a matinee performance of Blackadder Goes Forth), my son and 2 other friends weren’t there for differing reasons so yes the attendance figures are a bit “false” although we all have ST’s and get counted in.

Matt Rowson - 06/11/2022

You and plenty others I think Mike. Hope Blackadder went well. I played Redbeard Rum on stage once (“you have a woman’s hands my lord”, and so forth)

Duncan H - 08/11/2022

Saw you in the evening performance, Mike, jawohl! I spent six hours getting there and back on buses. Matt’s right that the performance wasn’t that bad, but I predicted at half time that Coventry were going to beat us 1-0 and I sadly wasn’t wrong – would rather have seen the matinee of Blackadder as well!

3. Harefield Hornet - 06/11/2022

Think I spotted You in the Upper GT before the game but you were deep in conversation so I didn’t interrupt ! – Two things from Saturday – you mentioned the home attendances and I was thinking how well they’ve stood up this season following relegation and a somewhat erratic early season . The other thing is shirt pulling – I didn’t see it in the build up to the disallowed goal but it’s one of the refereeing inconsistencies that drives me absolutely mad ! So often you see it go unpunished just in and outside the 18 yard box – and all over the pitch for that matter – it’s something that referees seem to be miles apart on with their decision making ?

Matt Rowson - 06/11/2022

I was in the upper GT pre match so quite possible that was me. Shirt pulling… yes absolutely, but there are degrees of these things and difficult to dispute that yanking McFadzean backwards from behind, a centre back that’s as big as Davis, is the wrong side of the line.

4. David - 06/11/2022

My first memory of watching wall to wall world cup football co-incided with my mum and dad renting a colour TV from Rumbelows in the spring of 78. The whole thing was magical.

I had considered my boycott a rather pointless exercise but there is a small but significant proportion of the public choosing the same option.

Matt Rowson - 06/11/2022

I don’t believe for a minute that FIFA will miss my patronage. It’s more that I can’t really stew about how much it’s been disgraced whilst still lapping it up. I’d be kind of saying “yea, you CAN get away with anything I guess”

5. Roger Smith - 06/11/2022

If the team is tired, rotate the squad. I wouldn’t argue with any of the subs, but they could have been made at the start rather than in the final quarter, leaving the “better” players champing at the bit to come on for a cameo.,

6. Gary Davis - 06/11/2022

For me Spain 82 was between finishing A Levels and starting at Leeds uni. Think I watched every game. Recall a great French team who were cheated in the semi. Although think they might have lost to Eng early on. Also recall some some appalling ‘tackles’ that were completely ignored by the refs.

During Italia 1990 I was living in NZ so had lots of 5am starts to watch games with a group of kiwi work friends. We would watch the match over breakfast and then head into work. Extra time and penalties in the Eng v Germany semi meant we were all late for work that day.

Don’t think I’ve ever commented on here before so also taking this opportunity to say how much I enjoy reading bhappy (and bsad before it). Thanks.

Matt Rowson - 06/11/2022

Thanks Gary. Yeah… England beat France 3-1 in our opening game. Bryan Robson scored after not many seconds.

Matt Lovett - 06/11/2022

27 seconds if my memory recalls it – a nice semi-overhead effort too. Not sure if it’s been beaten since.

Rob Mellor - 07/11/2022

27 seconds – Robbo was my hero back then- My old man is from Wythenshawe dragged me up a United fan but my sister was a Nurse a Watford General and I was sold. Funnily enough I was explaining to my wife that I took my young lad with Dad to that FA Cup Semi at Villa Park against United (2006?), took the old man and Kiddo, who was kitted up with his Watford gear- anyway- the old man said to my boy “Whatever happens boy you keep supporting them” We got whacked! Not surprising though they had Giggs, Scholes, Ronaldo, Ferdinand etc. But Bouazza’s goal was wonderful!

Matt Rowson - 07/11/2022

2007. But yeah… a small victory in being ahead for a bit after that extraordinary goal.

7. iamthesunking - 06/11/2022

The husband is also boycotting the World Cup and wants me to join him. It’s going to be VERY hard indeed.

8. Vaughn Smith - 06/11/2022

A very disappointing game after 3 wins on the bounce. There just seemed to be a lack of imagination about how to break down a very well organised and disciplined team of journeymen. As you stated Matt, a team that had been well drilled in how to play against Watford. Hats off to Robins – a smart manager/coach. I think we ultimately got what we deserved on this occasion, but in this division with every team capable of beating every other on their day, I’m looking forward to Tuesday night.

grahamsmith - 07/11/2022

Agree completely Vaughan. Tactically Bilic appeared to change nothing at halftime to break down their deep lying defensive block and instead seemed to just rely on substitutions. I thought watching the game that Robins did Bilic like a kipper and left him standing like a deer in the headlights. Watford did have chances but didn’t take them obviously and never created nearly enough having close to 70% possession, much of it pointless. While I agree with the thinking behind playing Sarr and Sema wide on what are their ‘reverse’ flanks I’d like to see the two of them swap over throughout the game to put more uncertainty into their defence and also give both players a chance to get some crosses into the box on their preferred respective feet. Bring on Reading.

9. Rob Mellor - 07/11/2022

You want to own a pub in Texas, be married to an American- this could get ugly lads ! Up the Watford!

10. Sequel - 07/11/2022

I’m with you on the World Cup boycott Matt, and hearing the likes of Beckham and Neville trying to justify their support for it turns my stomach.

Matt Rowson - 07/11/2022

More sympathy with Neville than Beckham. He might think “this is wrong”, but now has a career to pursue that Beckham doesn’t. He doesn’t even have the leeway to offer this as an explanation, since it’s a tacit criticism of the exercise that it’s his job to promote (I he can’t even say “I know this is wrong, but to not go unilaterally would be to torpedo my punditry career). Me choosing not to watch it is one thing, me risking my job by doing so would be another.

Sequel - 07/11/2022

Fair point, Matt. Thankfully, we don’t have to make that decision.

11. jtbodbo - 07/11/2022

Sarr’s miss was painful to watch. Although we lost, I really enjoyed the game – rather like old times when the performance mattered before the result.
However, following your lead, I have decided not to watch the World Cup – a decision which has quite surprised me. There’s a lot wrong with football, from the top down , so I am happy to keep my sights lowered.
Thankyou Matt -for a noble example.

Matt Rowson - 07/11/2022

My decision surprised me too. Part of the motivation for announcing it to the world was to prevent me from being able to buckle…

12. PEDantic - 07/11/2022

Fascinating to read your comments about the World Cup, Matt and good on you for your decision. My memories go all the way back to Mexico ‘70 and I’m yet to decide what to do about this tournament. Just watching the England games is one possibility, but for some time now I’ve been really hoping that this is not the one where England put it all together and win it. It’s an odd feeling, but how tainted would that victory seem? When it was awarded to Qatar all those years ago I didn’t believe it would actually happen but, despite the changes at the top of FIFA here we are. So sad.

13. MJRW12345 - 07/11/2022

I’m also figuring out the how to avoid the World Cup question, having decided I wasn’t going to watch a couple of years ago.
Tend to watch mostly non-league football these days and that’s carrying on as normal so guess I’ll just focus on that and try and ignore the rest!

14. Weymouth 'Orn - 07/11/2022

You youngsters never saw the 1966 England/Portugal semi final. Now that was a game…..
However, if we’d have had VAR in the final it would have shown that the ball never crossed the line! In those days Russian linesman were friends of ours.

Mike Smith - 08/11/2022

I was at the semi and remember Eusebio’s sporting handshake during the game!


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