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Watford 1 Rotherham United 1 (21/01/2023) 22/01/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-   As well as being a shameless footballing statto, as this week’s announcement of the rebooted Watford FC Archive might emphasise, I’m also employed as a statistician in “real life”.

Part of my role, loosely, involves assessing (or helping scientists to assess) evidence.  Does this prove that?  Can we be confident that we’ve solved a problem, improved something, found something new…  or could we just have gotten lucky/unlucky?  We think that this improves that by this much…  can we put a margin of error around that?  What’s the worst case scenario?  

The inputs to that number crunching are context dependent, but the basis for the conclusion is the same.  The clearer cut the evidence, the easier it is to draw a firm conclusion.  The more reproducible the finding, the greater the volume of evidence you have and the more consistent it is, the more likely it is that even an inherently cautious, reflective, yes-but-on-the-other-hand statistician is to put their hands up and say “OK, well that’s clear then”.

2- A week on from Blackpool and despite Sheffield United and Burnley both winning on Friday night and prising the chasm between themselves and the play-offs still wider, despite the fact that our position at the head of a hugely congested… not so much chasing pack as pack that encompasses two-thirds of the division is rather precarious, despite both of these things my head is very much in the “right, we’re chasing them down” mode.  How much would they need to stuff up, how many games do they need to lose.  Last week we played an obstinate opponent and found a way to win despite crippling absences to we’re clearly All Sorted.  Onwards and upwards, injured players coming back, an impressive array of new signings coming in with, we’re assured, more to come.  The rest of  the season will surely be an avalanche of victories – maybe it won’t be enough for automatic but it’ll be a lot of fun as teams are trampled below our irresistible advance.  That’s recency bias for you.

Nonetheless.  Hamza Choudhury is already re-installed and ready, we have been informed, for 90 minutes.  Leandro Bacuna is back on the bench and whilst you’d rather have Davis or Louza or JP, say, he’s at least an experienced body.  Hassane Kamara is both back and also restricted to being a substitute, such is deemed the balance of letting your teammates down and, maybe, being a little too sure of your position vs making the most of a four game window of opportunity on the part of James Morris.  This is a Good Thing.  João Ferreira and Matheus Martins are both given their first starts in a more aggressive starting eleven than we saw against Blackpool, and that game’s hero Adeyemo is on the bench along with Michael Adu Poku, named in the League for the first time.  Despite the injury list, it’s a feel-good selection.

3- And yet.  The outcome, or more specifically the inherent challenge in facing a side like Rotherham will have been a surprise to few, not even those of us getting a bit carried away with recent developments and certainly nobody who saw either of the Millwall games, a number which includes referee David Webb who oversaw the away fixture.

Rotherham aren’t dirty or particularly defensive, but they are strong and organised and, frankly, bigger than us.  With new, young signings and promising youngsters and that we are relatively lightweight…  Choudhury, stamping all over the midfield once again, and Sierralta stand out for their ability to give some back but Koné, whilst he has a good touch and the nous to spot and execute a long range pass isn’t nearly robust enough.  We get bullied once again, as we have far too often this season;  there’s a lack of physical presence up front in particular, where we simply don’t have a target for a direct ball and aren’t clever enough in trying to play through, but also in midfield despite Hamza’s best efforts.

The first half is uninspiring.  Mario Gaspar, despite being a full back masquerading as a midfielder, will attack the box well throughout;  his is the first effort, our only one of any quality in the first half when Sarr clips a ball through and he pirouettes onto a volley that flicks the outside of the post on it’s way out.  It’s a decent effort, but such are our opportunities without the heft or the speed of thought to pull Rotherham apart – it’s going to require precision, and a bit of luck.

The visitors however, whilst generally ceding possession and territory, hit us hard and fast when they do break.  New signing Tariqe Fosu looks lively, and there’s aggression and movement in their forward line.  One concerted push ends with Barlaser hammering a shot through a crowd for Bachmann to push away.  This is followed shortly after – and after a decent minute’s applause on the 18th  for Millers fan Henry Evans who had died aged 18 on Friday following a car accident – by the visitors taking the lead after more forceful pressure sees Shane Ferguson picking up a rebound to finish well from the right side of the box in front of the Rookery.

Your heart sinks, as going behind feels as if it pushes the game more than a goal away.  Nicking an away goal like this suits Rotherham, any away side, down to the ground.  Bayo flicks a shot from a Martins free kick, Sarr goes down in the box with a defender’s arm in his back – definitely seen them given – there’s another loud grumble regarding a challenge in the box not visible from the far end of the ground and the half ends to catcalls for the referee.  In reality though we’ve not imposed ourselves nearly enough and that’s a bigger issue than the officiating on this occasion.

4- James Morris hasn’t had a bad half – though he might have done more to deter goalscorer Ferguson – but Bilić chooses to introduce Kamara at the break.  He will hammer up and down the flank for much of the half and we look livelier for it;  Matheus Martins is on the end of a move from the left and is composed enough to take a touch before angling a shot off the bar.  Martins will disappear for much of the half, a concern given that he went very quiet for a spell last week too, and despite our greater vim we don’t look much more likely to unsettle the visitors.  

The equaliser, when it comes, is an odd one…  Ferreira looks rather callow, spindly and (that word again) lightweight, but this belies a positive and aggressive  instinct, one that sees him anticipate a loose Rotherham pass and canter towards goal from wide on the right on the halfway line.  He’s perfectly happy to eat up the space that he’s afforded and takes advantage of not being terribly attentively closed down by stroking a shot into the bottom corner whilst on the run from well outside the box. I’m reminded of Marco Cassetti’s assist for Vydra in the Leicester play-off game in 2013, executed with the finesse and brush stroke of an artist… at first viewing goalkeeper Johansson looked culpable, but the shot was inside the side netting and could scarcely have been placed better.

5- We’re buoyed by the goal, but don’t start applying proper pressure until positive substitutions tip the balance still further.  In the meantime Rotherham raise their voices again as Ogbene shoots from wide and Bachmann blocks awkwardly.  Later Fosu will have a better chance, seeming to ponder in indecision when presented with a clear shot at goal allowing Bachmann to steal the opportunity back from him.

But after the introductions of Asprilla and Adeyemo in particular we look much more convincing, the better side on the pitch for the first time in the game.  Asprilla is a reliable source of mischief, but much of the improvement comes from Adeyemo’s physicality giving Rotherham’s defence, which suddenly looks far less watertight, something else to think about.  Mario Gaspar twice comes close, on one occasion just slightly underneath a cross that dips painfully over the bar.  Sarr drives into the box from the right but the ball won’t fall to the right shirt.  Asprilla canters onto a chance – it’s bouncing and awkward, but he should have done better than to steer it at the keeper.  The game ends in a degree of frustration.

Keinan Davis is the most obvious miss.  Adeyemo’s impact, and the memory of Davis dragging opponents around the pitch in the away fixture, suggest that we’d have had a more straightforward time of it with the centre forward available.  Louza, JP, even Cleverley’s nous will be significant additions to a side short on leaders.  

Speaking of which, William Troost-Ekong emerges from the bench at the whistle to make unmistakeable wavy gestures to the stands amidst rumours of a move back to Italy.  He’s not our best defender but probably our best talker so a loss, I think. Bilić has implied that he’ll be replaced, and is also after a midfielder and a winger in a January window that has been busy, even by Pozzo standards.  If that midfielder has thighs the size of tree trunks, shoulders like medicine balls, and a look in his eyes that permits no shit from either opponents or officials, so much the better.  We’re beyond the need for further evidence of a need for ballast.

I’ll be at Middlesbrough, but won’t be able to report.  Back on the game for Reading.  Have fun in the meantime.

Yoorns.

Bachmann 3, Ferreira 3, Morris 3, Sierralta 3, Cathcart 3, *Choudhury 4*, Mario Gaspar 3, Koné 2, Martins 2, Sarr 3, Bayo 2
Subs: Kamara (for Morris, 45) 4, Asprilla (for Koné, 65) 3, Adeyemo (for Bayo, 73) 3, Adu Poku (for Martins, 79) NA,  Bacuna,  Troost-Ekong, Okoye

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Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 22/01/2023

Very frustrating result agreed- but I thought Rotherham executed rather an odd game plan. Seemingly better going forward than defending they played well until they scored then seemed to switch into time wasting and shithousery mode – until we equalised ? Then they played well again without creating too much of note , only looking vulnerable towards the end when Tobi and Asprilla came on. I couldn’t help feeling that if they’d continued playing as they were until they scored they might have beaten us fairly comfortably ?

2. Joe R - 22/01/2023

Hi Matt, if you’re looking for evidence of Watford’s successes, might I submit that I was able to take my son to his first game since he was a baby, thanks to the existence of the sensory room. It’s a marvellous thing, and the 4 families in there were able to take in the game, calm and relaxed, which would not have been possible in the main stands.

Prior to the game we popped into the family zone opposite the Ann Swanson stand (itself representative of something quite special), where my kids got to meet Tom Cleverley, hanging out by the table football (he says he’s back next week). The result of the game itself is the anomaly, this is a club that’s winning at the important stuff.

Matt Rowson - 22/01/2023

That’s tremendous to read Joe, many thanks.

RS - 24/01/2023

Less successful was the communication of the (apparent) recent change to the ground entry regulations denying access to any hot food or drinks. Ok I’ve missed a few games but was not allowed in with my can of pop and drinks. Apparently flasks, also on the list of banned material and an A4 sized bag is the maximum… (I’m assuming plan size not thickness…)

Matt Rowson - 24/01/2023

Crass and unnecessary. Antagonistic. The cans thing isn’t new… I’ve certainly always brought a bottle for that reason. Also seems inconsistently enforced. Treat people like grown ups they’ll behave accordingly, ditto idiots.

3. RS - 24/01/2023

Have to agree with your very appropriate language Matt. Frustration piled on frustration as I then sat in front of a guy “armed” with full tea making facilities from survival rucksack; flask envy I guess?

4. Harefield Hornet - 24/01/2023

At least they’ve abandoned the ridiculous policy of not letting us carry real ale from the UTG Tring Brewery outlet into the V Bar to drink when we meet our fellow HH. Cannot stomach paying nearly £7 for that awful B******er and Cam*** P*** rubbish!

Sequel - 25/01/2023

I wasn’t challenged on Saturday (LGT Stand), but my son in law was, outside the EJ Stand. After creating a fuss, a supervisor was called, and he was eventually allowed to take his flask in.
Unless I hear directly from the club, I’ll be taking a flask with me for the next game. If I’m not allowed in with it, they won’t be seeing me again. As you say, Matt, this is crass, antagonistic, and totally unnecessary.

5. JohnF - 25/01/2023

How much of this is specifically Watford rather than a league thing I don’t know. What we do need is some transparency as to who has advised and why. I know there is a reported increase in disturbances at football but if this is what it’s about then it is antagonising and punishing the well-behaved majority and not the small minority.

greywhistler - 25/01/2023

It takes some digging but the “Ground Regulations” can be found on the WFC website. They claim to be published by the EFL so therefore, in theory, standard for all Championship clubs. However, they are worded in the usual legalese so plenty of opportunities for different interpretations (e.g. “any article which may be used as a weapon”). I was challenged twice earlier in the season over my flask of coffee. When I asked why, having never heard of flasks being used as a weapon, I was advised by the steward to buy a plastic (rather than metal) flask and so far this has not been seen as a ballistic threat. Judging by the number of comments on here and elsewhere (Watford Observer), there clearly has been an instruction to stewards from higher up, so the sooner this ridiculous farago is rescinded, the better.


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