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Watford 1 Blackburn Rovers 1 (11/02/2023) 12/02/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-   “Never say ‘no’.  Always say, ‘yes, but…’.”

These words, ten years or so ago, came from someone who understood and negotiated the politics of life in a large company far better than I do.  The logic was that as soon as you say ‘no’ people stop listening.  The explanation, the qualification never gets heard even if it follows on immediately.  ‘Yes, but…’ gives you a chance.  

This sits quite comfortably as a stock phrase with a statistician, whose role is to be precise about imprecision.  There are when you’re talking probability, few blacks and whites.  Just varying shades of grey, and arbitrary lines in the sand.  Every statement comes with three caveats and half a dozen qualifications.  “Yes, but” is high in the armoury.

And the “ontheotherhand-ness” implied is a good fit with this blog too, I think.  We try to be balanced, or to reflect the ying and yang of a situation, probably at the expense of a clear-cut judgment too much of the time.

Yes, but.

2- It’s a hell of a bench, for starters.  The accelerating return of the injured thousands along with our recent recruitment means that suddenly it feels less like a botched together squad and more like a side with quality to match its ambitions.  Keinan Davis, forced to a backup position by options more than fitness.  Sema, Kabasele, Louza, Cleverley all returning from injury.  

As significant is who isn’t there.  Leandro Bacuna, official stop gap.  Thanks Leandro, job done.  The kids, bright and sparkly as they are – including Yáser Asprilla, so often – perhaps too often – the magic dust sprinkled on a game that need some.  You’d always choose to have him as an option but he also needs a break and it’s good to not have to use him.

As for the team itself, Ismaël Koné returns to the side at the back of the midfield but it’s João Pedro whose name stands out on his first start since Boxing Day.  And captain, no less, at the age of 21…  the youngest that I can remember;  Robert Page was nearly 23 when GT gave him the permanent captaincy, and I don’t remember him skippering the side the previous season.   

As an aside, it says a lot about the youth and/or recent arrival of much of the side that he’s not a controversial pick… and with Tom Cleverley on the bench and Craig Cathcart only missing with a short-term groin problem it seems unlikely that this is a long-term appointment.  Nonetheless it’s a fine one and a statement.  He’s long been a leader on the pitch, despite his tender years.

3- The opening sparring is engrossing.  Blackburn’s record this season has been slightly odd…  until three weeks ago they hadn’t drawn a League game, nor had they surrendered a lead nor come from behind.  This will prove to be their third League draw on the trot and the second time that they’ve lost a lead in that period…  but they’re definitely punchy and aggressive.  When they win possession there’s an immediate purpose, a high press and quick, snappy passing maximising the possibility of a quick goal from nowhere.

But there’s no avoiding the game’s star turn. João Pedro doesn’t so much run as skate around the pitch;   he’s the first to draw blood, breaking on the right after a one-two with Martins and sliding an evil low ball in towards Araújo that absolutely needs to be cut out  at the near post and is, on the slide, by a Rovers centre back.   Later, both Daughters will reply “João Pedro” with an unspoken “obviously” subtext when their Grandad asks them who their current favourite player is at the top of Occupation Road.  Daughter 1 will be sullen at her ongoing unwanted record of (thanks to two relegation seasons and unfortunate match selection) not having seen a win since New Years Day 2020 – she’d been excitedly incredulous (“really???”) when I recklessly suggested at kick off that today could be the day.

But her eyes are still glowing when she talks about João Pedro.  Quite right too.  I remember John Barnes’ Watford career, just about – I was 14 when he left. I remember the best bits, some innocuous bits, the rare combination of skill, speed and strength that made him all but unstoppable.  JP is the most talented young player we’ve enjoyed since Barnes, quite literally a once-in-a-generation (-or-two?) talent for a club like Watford.  It’s surely foolish not to bleed as much enjoyment from him as possible… whilst bearing in mind that, yes, Barnes had off days as well, and was part of teams that occasionally went through difficult periods or underperformed.

For all of which, and despite that we keep Rovers’ attack at arm’s length for the most part, it’s the visitors that take the lead. The ball works its way from our right flank to left, Rankin-Costello steps around a cumbersome challenge from Hoedt too easily and forces a save from Bachmann but the block is towards the area rather than away from it.  Bradley Dack receives the ball and is composed enough to make a fool of Mario Gaspar before rolling the shot home.

4- Hoedt’s error is an aberration in an otherwise encouraging display.  Certainly the problem of progressing the ball up the pitch which saw too much passing along backline waiting for a miracle earlier in the season seems to have been decisively addressed by the arrival of Hoedt and his sidekick in the-however-manyth-centre-back-partnership-it-is-now Ryan Porteous.  Hoedt is slinging balls around from the first minute, and whilst they don’t all reach their destination there’s a confidence and a lack of ceremony about them that opens up a whole world of possibilities.

Porteous meanwhile punctuated another aggressive display with a couple of disruptive bundles forward, one of which sees him play in Mario Gaspar with a slide-rule pass and the other draws the free kick from which we ultimately equalise, Hoedt volleying in fiercely but with fine technique after Sema’s cross was headed imperfectly clear.

In truth we were the better side for much of the second half, abetted in no small part by Keinan Davis whose ability to hold the ball up made him far more effective that Araújo, who continues to look like the right man in the wrong place.  Nonetheless, and for all that there’s occasional suggestions of the surge of excitement that used to great Doucs or Capoue hammering towards a scattering defence with runners either side, we’re not creating enough.  Sarr and Kamara both hammer in decent efforts from distance that just need a nick or a turn.  Mario Gaspar feeds Davis who cuts in from the right and draws another save, neither Mario Gaspar nor Sarr able to follow up effectively.  Most dramatically of all, Martins’ fine cross from the left misses Davis at the near post and finds Koné who somehow manages to deflect across goal rather than in.  As with Hoedt it’s a blot on an otherwise impressive copybook for Koné who enjoys his best outing so far combining an awareness and ability to hoik the play in different directions with an aggressive attentiveness that had created two chances for his captain in the first half.

5- When the final whistle goes, perhaps unhelpfully just after Daniel Bachmann had dumped a last chance saloon free kick straight into Pears’ arms, there are grumbles and even some boos of frustration.  These reflect another difficult afternoon, a game that we could have won but didn’t, and the precarious dogfight we find ourselves in.

Yes, but.  If we accept that automatic has gone (seeds of which were sown long before this afternoon) then it’s all about picking up momentum, getting a play off place and then hammering through them.  That’s the objective.  Time will tell whether this is a stepping stone or just another meh performance, but my money’s on the former.

Compare this line-up with the team that won so gutsily at Norwich at the start of the year.  Only three of that eleven (Bachmann, Sarr, Mario Gaspar) started today, two more (Kabasele, Davis) made the bench.  Of the bench at Norwich four have left the club permanently or otherwise (Troost-Ekong, Pollock, Bayo, Hungbo) whilst only backup keeper Hamer made the squad today.

Today we had Tom Cleverley ratting around by the end of the game.  Ken Sema off the bench for a pugnacious half hour.  The much missed Imrân Louza too…  his scurrying around was punctuated with a couple of rusty if inconsequential errors…  but that’s going to happen.  And with so many of our players either returning from injury or settling in after recent arrivals the team is going to be a bit wonky for a bit.  If any one of these players were returning from long-term injury we’d be saying “they need a game or two”.  They ALL need a game or two.  

Add to that the composure of the side in the wake of a period of shithousery from Rovers that was brief and focused, as if it were a conscious and deliberate attempt to poke us in ways to which we’ve overreacted and perhaps have a reputation for doing so.  None of that, not when Rankin-Costello went in high and hard on Kamara, not when the odious Dolan grabbed the ankle of a departing ?Porteous?, not when Sema was caught by a flailing elbow near the touchline, not when Travis went in hard on Koné.  Discipline.  Focus.  Not enough on its own, but better.

It’s not done.  It’s not finished.  We’re getting there.  Yes but nothing.

Won’t be at Burnley, enjoy the cricket club if you are.


Bachmann 3, Mario Gaspar 3, Kamara 3, Porteous 4, Hoedt 4, Choudhury 2, Koné 4, Martins 3, Sarr 3, *João Pedro 4*, Araújo 2
Subs: Davis (for Araújo, 45) 4, Sema (for Martins, 61) 3, Cleverley (for Choudhury, 71) 3, Louza (for Koné, 79) NA,  Assombalonga (for João Pedro, 79) NA,  Kabasele, Hamer



1. David Wheatley - 12/02/2023

On a similar theme, the result means everything but like the Reading game, what a lot of fun this was. The enjoyment coupled with the two centre half’s, returning players and a hint of day light for the journey back to Clapham left me feeling very positive.

2. Jeff Lloyd - 12/02/2023

I still think a relentless run could give a few teams the jitters but it needs to start SOON!
Centre half pairing was the best double performance in recent memory. Porteous has ‘Red Card incoming’ writ large on him but his fire and brimstone is infectious. If he’d ‘done a Britos’ on Dolan I think we’d have forgiven any ban. Hoedt certainly looked right up for it when he scored. I have a feeling the crowd will enjoy bellowing “Hooooooedt” every game.
I wasn’t as convinced by Kone as you were, I thought his inclination was always backwards and never on the half turn.
Araujo would benefit from Davis alongside him and it might well be Martins who makes way, who is still the diluted Pereyra for me at the moment.
Blackburn must have LOVED that point as they hardly threatened.

Matt Rowson - 12/02/2023

I do seem to be in the minority on Koné but I try to avoid other reports and comments before I’ve done mine. I stand by the comments above tho… brave enough to put his foot on the ball at 20, and diligent and aggressive enough to force those two chances for JP. Agree about Araújo, tho there’s a lot of competition up front suddenly.

JohnF - 13/02/2023

I’m with you Matt. He will only get better by playing and as you say he is only 20. Young players coming into this league for the first time need a bit of time but he is already contributing skill to midfield. Young players are by definition inexperienced. I can remember lots of people complaining about Pedro in a similar vein. If he hadn’t continued to play he wouldn’t be the star he is now. Patience is also needed with Asprilla who is only 18 (granted he looks five years younger than that).

3. Ben - 12/02/2023

Agree on the stepping stone. This squad has to start to perform sooner or later. I really hope it’s at Burnley but any win from the next 3 could spark it, fingers-crossed.

Also, what are the criteria to make a pass “slide-rule”?

Matt Rowson - 12/02/2023

Ha. Good question. I’ll get back to you…

Ben - 12/02/2023

One of those. You know it when you see it but I couldn’t put my finger of its essence.

4. Simon - 12/02/2023

In my mind’s eye, “slide-rule” is a very precise (both in direction and weight) pass forward that is played through a narrow gap (usually the channel between full-back am centre back). It generally has to be played parallel to the touch line (or close to it – essentially straight up and down) and must result in either a crossing or shooting opportunity.

Matt Rowson - 13/02/2023

It’s certainly straight. No bend on it for sure. Not sure about parallel to touch line tho… an angled pass can still be slide rule. Implication is the precision required to achieve it necessitating a piece of kit?

Steve G - 13/02/2023

I was sitting next to a bloke who seemed determined to slag off Hoedt on the occasions when his ambitious forward passes didn’t quite reach their intended destination. At the time I thought this was just a very ungenerous reaction to what was clearly very positive intent. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that a key component of the slide rule is the cursor.

Matt Rowson - 13/02/2023

Oh dear.

5. Harefield Hornet - 13/02/2023

The most frustrating aspect was the way Rovers managed the extra 5 minutes that were added on – we’d looked the more likely to win it up to that point ? They had players all over the pitch who could break
Up play and we’ve got Choudry. Porteous looks a hell of a player – great touch for a big lad and the heart of a lion .

6. heftiehornet - 14/02/2023

Matt, being a fan who prefers performance above the result, I left the game with a smile for a change as we looked more like a team that wanted the victory and played some scintillating football at times. I share your view about Kone who seemed to raise his game after his missed attempt. Let’s hope we time our resurgence to peak for the play-offs.

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