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End of Term Report Part 5 12/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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21 – M’Baye Niang

The first thing to acknowledge is that this was ultimately a very successful loan. Niang impressed on his debut, that magnificent win at Arsenal, but was absolutely fundamental in two other big wins against Burnley and West Brom. Games that might very easily have been lost but for his vital, eye-catching contributions, a fine goal and a fine assist in each. So… he played a massive role in two crucial wins, and maybe that was the difference. Maybe, without those six points, we’d have been a more catchable target for Hull, say. We’ll never know.

The other regard in which the loan was successful is that both parties probably recognised that this wasn’t destined to be a long term partnership. Not that this was necessarily an option in January but… we could have bought him after all. Perhaps his attitude would have been… more convincing, more wholehearted had he made that commitment but as it was he never looked like he was sure he wanted to be here. The ability that he occasionally betrayed to shift up a gear and simply sizzle past a hapless marker, or whip in a vicious shot having cut inside only made his louche diffidence for the rest of the time more aggravating. Perhaps his heart was never in it, but media reports that he didn’t intend to stay came hot on the heels of those that suggested that we were only interested in a deal more favourable than the terms of the right-to-buy stipulated in the loan deal. Maybe we’re both better off out of it.

Next Season: Some reports link him to Premier League clubs, others suggest he doesn’t want to stay in England. At his best he is a top player, the sort of player who might play for Milan. But you’ve got to earn the right to do so, and its hard to see him recapturing those heights without a change in attitude.

22 – Daryl Janmaat

Daryl Janmaat was an exciting signing. Daryl Janmaat was a proper Premier League footballer. Yes, he’d been part of a relegated Newcastle side but no matter, he’d been a stand-out player. And he’d played in the World Cup and everything for, like, Holland. Big time.

He can’t defend for toffee, obviously. Had we stuck to the wing-back thing he’d have been absolutely fine; as a full-back, less convincing. And he seems incredibly brittle… not elastic popping hamstrings or anything concerning, just a creative ability to pick up different injuries… falling on his shoulder against Manchester United, colliding with Mapps in training.

But going forward he’s great. Bullish, direct, puts a decent ball in. Versatile enough to play right, left, even in a midfield role. I think he was always winning, and pretty comfortably, in that everyone saw the problems but wanted him in the side anyway. It was that goal at Stamford Bridge that sealed the deal for me. Brave, bloody minded and theatrical, a goal scored by force of personality. He’ll do.

Next Season: Would be good to see him injury free and a fixture in the side. But maybe not at full-back.

23 – Ben Watson

It started as it was to continue for Ben Watson. Ten minutes off the bench at Saints on the opening day curtailed by a last minute red card. Then… three more sub appearances in the League (one of which the hammering at Anfield), plus the cup humiliations against Gillingham and Millwall. Add a long spell injured – and being injured and having to work your way back to (merely) the sidelines would test anyone’s mettle – and you have a season to forget for Ben Watson.

Thing is, you’d still have him down as one of the strongest personalities in the squad. Solid, focused, professional. A player that makes other players play better, who keeps everything going. A stalwart under Quique Flores, will he get the chance to show us whether he’s still got it?

Next Season: You’ve got to fancy not. Home-grown or not, Ben is going to need to fight his way back in the context of a squad that’s constantly churning. A big ask.

24 – Odion Ighalo

Another one who seems so long ago simply because he spent so long leaving, on and off the pitch. The contrast is still extraordinary, between the Ighalo who looked so vivid and comfortable in his skin in the first half of last season and the tentative figure who spent far longer in the Watford side than his form might have warranted.

It’s not difficult to understand why we persevered. That ridiculous Ian Wright goal against Liverpool, the 15 goals in a first Premier League season and 20 in the blink of an eye the season before, the big offers from China unpursued last summer and the most mobile weapon in our attacking armoury was someone to be patient with as we waited for the goals to return.

It was a forlorn hope. His form this season seemed to desert him completely, his one goal in fourteen League starts a deflected effort at West Ham. The twisty turny run that preceded it suggested that this would kick things off for Iggy but that hope dissipated and accepting a £20m offer from China was a no-brainer in January.

Next Season: Iggy’s farewell was heartbreaking, his contribution massive; now at Changchun Yatai, struggling in the Chinese Super League, that goal and that song seem an awfully long way away.

End of Term Report Part 4 07/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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17 – Adlène Guedioura

It’s easily forgotten but Adlène was heavily involved in the first half of the campaign, in every matchday squad until the turn of the year before moving to Boro at the end of January. Easily forgotten partly because of the speed with which the narrative moves on and the recent past is consigned to history; also because throughout his involvement this season he felt like a stopgap, filling in until someone else came along (or regained fitness). He was already on his way out, in our heads.

Guedioura’s career is revealing in this regard. A first choice at Forest and at Vicarage Road during his Championship loan spells, he was only ever a bit part at Wolves, Palace or at Watford in the Premier League. The reality is that, as discussed before, his propensity to give the ball away is too expensive at the top level; in the Championship possession is traded more freely, Guedioura’s verve and elegance a rarer commodity. Stonking goals in Cup quarter-finals notwithstanding his career at Watford since signing permanently had never been convincing… passable as cover, a good agitator off the bench, but never looking like nailing down a starting berth by right.

Next Season: Due to a combination of inherent conservatism and, perhaps, trusting established defensive midfield options more Boro have restricted Adlène’s subsequent career to five cameos from the bench since January. Next season, as above, you’d fancy he could do rather better.

18 – Juan Camilo Zúñiga

There’s not much to say here, really. Zúñiga arrived on loan, ostensibly as a trusted lieutenant of Walter Mazzarri; experienced and versatile, clearly an asset. And I guess he was… certainly there’s a lot to be said for a player who can play in a wide range of positions reasonably diligently.

However I’m probably not the only one a little bit underwhelmed. It was quickly apparent that Zúñiga was going to struggle with 90 minutes of Premier League football, something he managed only twice during his year at the club. His busy scurrying might have been more valuable if sustainable for the duration of a match, the wing back role that he seemed to have been signed to compete for became a non starter; instead the Colombian became a regular substitute – 16 of his 22 appearances came from the bench – and was used infrequently after the turn of the year as injuries further limited his involvement.

There was that goal against United of course, probably the finest few seconds of the season, as part of a brief cameo that also saw him win the penalty that sealed the victory. Those minutes are what his Watford career will be remembered for.

Next Season: An option to buy was included in the loan; you’d be surprised if this was taken up.

19 – Jerome Sinclair

When I were a lad, and so forth. I don’t doubt that it’s always been the case that things was better in the old days when money wasn’t the heart of everything. Still. In 1999, less than 20 years ago, we broke our transfer record by spending £950,000 on Nordin Wooter. Now we’re punting £4 million on a maybe, a kid who might develop and might not.

None of which is Jerome Sinclair’s fault, but as yet he’s still a maybe. There’s clearly something there… quick feet, a turn of pace. But despite a lack of such attributes in the senior squad he never threatened to make an impact; perhaps more alarmingly he didn’t make any waves in the Championship either, albeit during a bizarre period at Birmingham City which probably wouldn’t have been chosen again in retrospect. He looks lightweight, and it would be a surprise if he featured significantly in this campaign.

Next Season: Another loan. And a red meat and Guinness diet.

20 – Mauro Zárate

Here’s another nagging voice. Yes, Mauro did well before his injury. Yes, he was the dominant figure on the pitch during that West Ham game and yes, his season-ending injury was a pain in the arse disaster in a season of pain in the arse disasters.

But the fact remains that he only started three games, none of which he finished. They were decent enough – a win, a defeat and a win that became a draw – but they’re not a basis on which to judge a fledgling Watford career. Zárate looks useful enough, he’s got pedigree but we honestly don’t know yet. He’s an older player in a squad of older players, it will be interesting to see what role he plays in a fully fit squad.

Next Season: We get a longer chance to see what we got.

End of Term Report Part 3 05/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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10 – Isaac Success

You don’t have to like someone to learn from them. Dad told me that after the thirty seventh GP I’d seen during my highly mobile childhood poured scorn on how I managed my diabetes, just like the others had done before changing everything. Dr King was a patronising scumbag, but I can’t remember what his advice was so I obviously didn’t take Dad’s wisdom to heart.

There’s a little voice reciting the line at the back of my mind now though. No, I didn’t like Mazzarri (we’ll get to him…), but that doesn’t mean he was wrong. Not about everything, not necessarily. And whilst it’s convenient to pick and choose the bits to trust, the criticisms levelled by Mazzarri at the unprofessionalism of Success’ approach aren’t something we’re in much of a position to judge.

He looks tremendously exciting, of course. Raw, sure. But powerful and quick and elegant and clever and unpredictable. In as much as I understand – or tolerate – minority sports I might compare him to Jonah Lomu. And yet… the player who cost either our highest or second highest transfer outlay, depending on which source you trust, has only been awarded two starts.  So what to believe?  Is he the precocious, extraordinary talent who executed any number of sparkling cameos, particularly earlier in the season, and so nearly scored Goal of the Ever late at Arsenal?  Or is he the slacker that Mazzarri implies, an unfavourable possibility fed fuel by rumours (stirred by an agent?) of moves to Palace or West Ham?  And if he’s both, which side wins?

Next Season:  We find out.

11 – Valon Behrami

It’s in the eyes.  That’s how you know.  Before he joined Watford, before we were able to judge for ourselves, I always felt that there was something not quite right.  Misinterpreting what lingered at the back of his leer as cockiness, modern-day-footballer-mercenary arrogance, I bemoaned his recruitment two years ago.  I was wrong.

I love the way that his legend is fuelled by titbits from the club, I almost don’t care whether it’s deliberate fabrication by the media team.  Robert Pereyra : “I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m afraid of Valon Behrami“; the excellent UCL diary series relating stories of youngsters being booted around. He’s simultaneously the archetypal modern footballer, playing in Italy, Germany, England, three World Cups… and a throwback.

One of rather few fond memories of Watford around 1990 came in a game against Port Vale when a forgotten visiting midfielder was putting the boot in with abandon, unhindered by the officials.  As the crowd bawled its frustration in the way that supporters of a poor team tend to do, Steve Perryman leaned across the bench and Gary Williams stood up and unzipped his tracksuit top like a superhero.  The rest was inevitable.  I’d like to think that Valon will always have that role, if he wants it.

Next Season:  But the suggestion has been that “only” 32 or otherwise, Valon’s legs aren’t going to permit him to sustain a Prem career for much longer.  He’s been sellotaped together for much of this season, and links to Sion aren’t the stuff that idle speculation is made of.  Hope I’m wrong, natch.

15 – Craig Cathcart

Ah.  Yes.  Craig Cathcart.

Easily overlooked in a season defined by everyone getting injured that Craig was injured more than most.  Three months out at the end of 2016, another six weeks at the tail of the campaign and all of this after a summer which had seen Craig’s stock rise even higher as Northern Ireland’s defence in particular did a sterling job in the Euros.

We shouldn’t forget about Craig, or write him off.  He’s a very fine defender and if it’s unreasonable to draw a cause-and-effect link between Craig’s availability and our record it nonetheless reflects well upon him that we won more games with him in the side (7) than we lost (6), those six including Spurs (twice), Chelsea and Manchester United.  Elegant, unfussy, not particularly flattered by being asked to play right back but a better stand-in than some, he would have been so helpful at many stages during his absence this season.

Next Season:  Hopefully a season free of injury to remind us what a gem we have.

16 – Abdoulaye Doucouré

And here’s an argument in Isaac Success’ favour.  Here’s the benefit of the doubt.

Having been signed in January 2016, a signing deemed such a catch that it was worth buying him even if we couldn’t use him and then loaning him out for half a season, an impressive half season by all accounts, Abdoulaye Doucouré was famously on his way out of the club in August before having kicked a ball for us in competitive action.  Except the paperwork didn’t quite get through.

Misjudging a player isn’t a criminal offence.  Even one deemed such an asset by others.  Maybe he wasn’t all he’d appeared.  Maybe he wasn’t going to “work” the way Mazzarri wanted to play.  Maybe he was a bad egg, maybe England wasn’t for him.  But Mazzarri was wrong.  Forced, ultimately, by the rampaging injury list to bring Doucouré in for more than just a second-string cup run out for the New Year’s Day hammering by Tottenham Doucouré took his chance and quite literally ran with it.

From that point on he never looked like dropping out again.  Strong, calm, elegant, his impact was such that he was afforded serious discussion when the Player of the Season vote came up despite not playing in the first half of the campaign (as an aside, it would have been interesting to see quite how close he came; the failure to publish the traditional breakdown disappointing).  Nor was there any evidence of him being restless – an interview published on the Official Site showed him to be settled and keen to stay, the family man who wouldn’t join the Hornets with his wife pregnant in the summer of 2015 hardly comes across as a disruptive influence.

Next Season:  One for Marco Silva to build his team around.

End of Term Report Part 2 01/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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6 – Adrian Mariappa

What an peculiarly orthdodox career Adrian Mariappa has had.  Growing from captaining our youth team to the point where he was manifestly too good for the Championship, he has since been in the grey area of not quite being good enough to establish himself in a Premier League side. A first choice understudy, versatile enough to do a number of jobs pretty well, professional enough to apply himself to that role.  A jobbing Premier League footballer, if there is such a thing.

Confirmation that we’d re-signed Mapps was one of my favourite moments of last summer.  The game against West Brom was one of the highlights once the football got under way.  An hour in, Miguel gets a red card and Mapps is off the bench after two thirds of a season of being largely neglected on the sidelines, last cab off the rank.  And he was completely brilliant.  In any season, the guy kept in cold storage and wheeled on when all other options had been expended and down to ten men playing a blinder would have been cause for celebration.  In the context of this man being a Watford youth product and ex-Captain returned to the squad… his performance for that last half hour was the cherry on the evening’s cake.

Next Season:  Mapps’ half a dozen starts thereafter weren’t flawless, but he demonstrated that he’s a very capable defender, a great option to have.  He’s also home-grown, one of us.  As long as he’s happy with his lot, what’s not to like?  A bona fide Watford hero.

7 – Nordin Amrabat

A funny thing happened at Leicester.  In the context of a defeat that was simultaneously not reflective of our contribution to the game and yet utterly deserved, the frustrations of our impotence and trajectory boiled over in the stands.  We were then treated to a throwback that would have bestowed a warm nostalgic glow on a par with reviving a long-forgotten chant or seeing a former hero trot off the bench for the other lot except that we were too grumpy, and actually watching the crowd isolate a boo-boy was never much fun in the first place, a bit like that “we’re the riiiight side” chant but more so.  So after a few years with nobody particularly in the chair Amrabat briefly joined the likes of Dominic Foley, Bruce Dyer and Devon White on that uncelebrated list.

The boo-boy thing has always irked me, but Amrabat’s isolation seemed particularly harsh.  It’s not that he’s not inadequate…  last summer he was almost out of the door and now, eighteen months into his time at the club, we’re still not really sure what he’s for.  And yet… he’s never hidden.  He’s put a shift in at wing-back, as a winger, as a midfielder, as a wide attacker.  No, there’s nothing like enough end product and yes he has become incredibly frustrating as his dropping confidence has reduced the likelihood of him taking someone on from small to very small.  But he’s never hidden.  He’s always been there.  And at times of the season he was our most aggressive attacking threat.

Next Season:  Would be a huge surprise if Nordin used up one of our non-homegrown slots next season, as it was this.  He should leave with our best wishes.

8 – Tom Cleverley

In what was an unusually productive and successful January transfer window, one piece of activity stood out.  Such a sensible signing on so many levels…  experienced, good enough to have won England caps – and, therefore, contributing to the homegrown quota – and a popular former Player of the Season whilst on loan as a bonus.  Yet another indication that the club management know what the hell they’re doing… harder to judge based on less familiar names from abroad but few, if any, Watford fans would have doubted the value of this loan-with-an-option. A no-brainer.

We’ve all followed Tom’s career since his magnificent loan season under Malky Mackay.  The surprise, perhaps, is that his success has been so relatively limited.  That, and that the goalscoring, goal creating attacking midfielder that we witnessed has never really spread his wings in the Premier League, not even during a loan at Villa under Tim Sherwood who cited that loan as evidence of the sort of player Cleverley could be.  Eleven of his 27 senior goals to date came during that loan.

His loan this season started incredibly strongly.  He was busy and energetic, attracting and retaining possession in dangerous areas around the penalty box and providing dynamism to our attacking play.  In his second debut against Boro he got a touch to a long throw and was incredibly unlucky to hit the post… this was the player we remembered, bold and assertive.  Significant, then, that since an early flurry Tom’s form has been rather less consistent…  he’s still busy, still energetic, but his willingness to attack the box has receded.  He’s not looking for the ball in such positions any more.  It’s odd…  it’s as if the biggest obstacle to Tom’s success is in his head.

Next Season:  A lynchpin of the side, without doubt.  Would be wonderful to see that attacking verve back in his game too.

9 – Troy Deeney

We’ll get to Walter later on, but it’s unavoidable at this stage to observe that if you want to make yourself terminally unpopular with the Watford support, pissing off and ultimately alienating Troy is a good place to start. Forget the stuff about no player’s bigger than the club and so forth, that’s all true, obviously, but not relevant here. You have a captain who should be the easiest person in the world to keep on side. Someone who is so utterly focused and motivated by the success of the team, so honest and yet considered in every public utterance. Someone who doesn’t like being rested – who would – but who would surely have responded positively if, for example, being dropped from the starting eleven at Spurs, just after a monstrous performance against West Brom and on a run of six goals in eight starts had been accompanied by a proper conversation. You can only imagine that it wasn’t.

Troy has had more imposing seasons on the pitch, rattled in more goals, but can cite plenty of mitigation. The almost total lack of creativity that stymied the side for much of the season can’t have been any fun to play under. The frequency with which a side bereft of confidence or strategy resorted to hitting long balls towards their isolated totem. That he still got into double figures for the sixth season running, the first Watford player ever to achieve that in League games, that he was still our most reliable head on the ball defending set pieces, that he was still every inch the leader off the pitch, candid enough to say what we’re thinking, brave enough to front up to the crowd at Hull, smart enough to steer Dion Pereira towards his ovation at Leicester. We’re very very lucky. In the absence of an outstanding candidate and without detracting from Seb or Heurelho he was my vote for POTS. There are clubs sniffing around again, as every summer, and a few Watford fans have been heard to speculate that maybe it’s right, maybe this should be the time. They’re wrong.

Next Season: Watford’s totem gives us so much. He will move on at some point, he can’t continue indefinitely, but the confidence with which he’s been awarded long contracts as the club’s highest earner every summer are testimony to his importance.

End of Term Report Part 1 29/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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You know the form by now.  A trot through the season’s roster, most of it.  Some will still be here next season, some will go over the summer, some will leave at the end of August…  those that did so this year tend to not feature in this write-up, much as the likes of Almen Abdi, Ikechi Anya and Matěj Vydra all merited more than just slipping out of the door.  They all feel like characters from a story half-remembered, and we watch on in puzzlement at their different flavours of underachievement in the championship.  Anyway…

1 – Heurelho Gomes

It’s been mentioned at this stage before, but in recruiting Gomes from a long way down Spurs’ pecking order three years ago we were working from a tried and tested template.  Manuel Almunia had been similarly discarded at Arsenal, similarly unreasonably tainted in the eyes of the watching public.  As with Almunia, Gomes reminded everyone straight away why he’d been such a prized asset in the first place, that he’s a very fine goalkeeper.

But Gomes has moved beyond that now.  Beyond simply a goalkeeper who proved to be a better player, with more left to offer than many had lazily concluded.  He’s a leader, and suddenly in our hugely transient squad he’s a stalwart, three years in.  You wouldn’t have it any other way.  Throughout all of our ups and downs in form this season Gomes has been a constant; he started every League fixture and at the times when things were getting a bit edgy, when the side was at its less convincing the sight of Heurelho between the sticks exhorting teammates and fans to further efforts was hugely reassuring.  Like Tommy Smith in the Vialli season, a reason to believe that Everything Will Be Alright In The End.  At the end of games, whatever the result, Troy and Heurelho saluting the crowd; in interviews manifestly evident that he gets it, fully professional and a thoroughly decent bloke.

Next Season:   This season has seen Heurelho make more errors than in his previous seasons, which merely means more than one; he was nonetheless indisputably one of the stars of the campaign. With Big Pants seemingly out of favour it seems reasonable to expect stiffer competition to be brought in over the summer, but Gomes remains our number 1. Hurrah.

3 – Miguel Britos

At the end of last summer I took my daughters to the club’s Open Day at the Fullerians rugby club. Long queues had formed by the meet-the-player tents in the sunshine by the time we arrived, queues formed of children and parents more experienced in these events than I was. Foolishly I decided that our time queuing was better spent collecting and printing new home shirts; by the time we decided to join the back of the meet-the-players queues, we’d missed the boat and harried looking club staff were fending people off.

Feeling guilty at making such a gross strategic error and wondering whether an ice cream would quite cut it as compensation I eventually took the girls back towards the big tent to pick up our name-printed shirts and ran into Miguel Britos. The coach was leaving, and Miguel would have been forgiven for apologising politely after an afternoon of relentless autographs and selfies but he was as accommodating as could be. He didn’t know that the girls had been let down by their inept father, that he was the only player they were destined to meet; he gave us his time anyway. The photo is amazing… Daughter 1 retains a semblance of almost-a-teenager cool, betrayed by a giveaway smile. Daughter 2 makes no such pretence, her eyes are about to pop out.

Being a good bloke doesn’t qualify you for playing centre back in the Premier League, but it helps in my book. Or at least, it helps to want to root for someone. Miguel has looked nervy at times this season but there’s context… regularly switching from a three to a four, injuries meaning that the make up of the central defence changed from game to game. Miguel was generally picked when available though, only once slipping to the bench when available. Still a solid option.

Next Season: Left-sided defenders aren’t easy to come by. Might be high on some fans’ hit-lists, but I can see him still being around in August. Good job too.

4 – Younès Kaboul

The signing of Younès Kaboul was a fine thing for a number of reasons. Firstly, signing Younès Kaboul announces you as an established mid-table Premier League club as well as anything I can think of. We Have Arrived, and are here to stay. Second, the reaction on Wearside – nothing against Sunderland, but the ex-club’s messageboards are a pretty reliable indicator. (It can work the other way too… my excitement at Lewis McGugan’s signing lasted as long as it took for me to glance at the Forest reaction. I was expecting hysteria. There wasn’t any).

Thirdly, because big, bootery defenders, particularly big bootery defenders who look pretty scarey, are something that you can’t really have enough of. I’m all for them.

And if Kaboul hasn’t been an unqualified success – whilst he’s terrifying in a back four he’s looked vulnerable as part of a three, particularly in a wide position – he’s still a Good Thing. He’s got a big personality, more than a decade’s worth of Premier League experience and he kicks the ball really hard. What’s not to like?

Next Season: As above, quite how vital Kaboul will be rather depends on how Marco Silva plans to line us up – significantly, his Hull teams appear to have switched between defensive formations too. Difficult to imagine a world in which Kaboul won’t be at the very least a Useful Thing to Have, tho.

5 – Sebastian Prödl

Here’s a strange thing: Seb Prödl isn’t thirty yet.

Pausing only briefly to acknowledge that “getting on” for a footballer really isn’t very old at all and that I should really get on with doing “things that I’ll do when I grow up” rather than vaguely thinking about them… it remains a fact that Prödl isn’t very old, even by a footballer’s standards.

Why, then, does he seem older? Maybe in part because he came to us an established international defender; he’d captained Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, and was a senior player in the Austrian side. He plays like a veteran, with the absolute assurance of someone who’s been there, done that, dealt with anything you can throw at him before.

But there’s something else, I think. Because the fact is that whilst Seb narrowly, deservedly walked off with the Player of the Season award (and named after GT or not I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable at the unexplained sidelining of the Watford Observer) he was actually looking like winning the award by a country mile halfway through the season, based on that monstrous performance against Manchester United and others like it.

Then we switched to a back four, which rather exposed the bits that Seb isn’t quite so good at. He’s not the quickest on the turn… in the middle of the three he’s in his element, furiously and defiantly in control with quicker legs doing the running either side of him. In a four… well, he’s almost the ying to Kaboul’s yang. He moves like an older man.

A very fine season nonetheless, and another player you instinctively warm to.

Next Season: He did seem to be waving goodbye when he went off at Stamford Bridge didn’t he? You hope not… and, you know, three years on his contract and everything. But still…

Helping Hands 2016/2017 25/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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I don’t care, I enjoy it.

(insert the standard bit about what qualifies as an assist on this here site)… the last pass, obviously, but also the shot that was parried for a follow-up, being taken down for a penalty, both the flick-on to a cross AND the cross itself, and so on.

Amongst the stories the table tells is that of the contrast between this season and last. Last year Troy and Iggy dominated the charts, being involved in the vast majority of our goals one way or another. This year 18 players provided assists as compared to 13 last season, but whilst Troy tops the table for the third season running his five assists is an unprecedented low to top the table. To set this in context, Mark Yeates got eleven in 2011/12, admittedly from a larger number of games.

This rather sets into context that Nordin Amrabat comes in second with four, albeit four rather challenges the “no end product” theory. Miguel Britos’ three puts him perversely high in the table but three for a centre-back is decent in any season; it rather puts our central midfield to shame, whilst highlighting the lack of creativity that has been a central theme to the season. Abdoulaye Doucouré is yet to contribute in this regard (but he’s ace, so we let him off), ditto Valon Behrami in both respects, whilst Tom Cleverley’s set pieces yield a disappointing one and Etienne Capoue’s tally is three in two seasons, all away from home.

Meanwhile the absent Roberto Pereyra’s rate was a pretty healthy one every four games, which would have put him clearly top if sustained over a season. M’baye Niang’s rate wasn’t much worse, albeit there was less to enjoy in between.

Elsewhere, Juan Camillo Zuñiga’s spasmodic season yielded one goal and one assist, each occurring within twelve minutes in mid-September, whilst the Gillingham League Cup game and the number of kids rotated in later in the season contributed to an extraordinary eleven players turning out for the Hornets but starting no more than once across the campaign.

Will return soon with the End of Term Report.  Enjoy the summer…

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Deeney 5 33+7 10 Sot (A), Gil (H-LC), Lei (H), WBA (A), WBA (H)
Amrabat 4 25+4 0 Sot (A), Bou (H), Liv (A), Eve (A)
Holebas 4 33+0 2 Bou (H), Eve (H), Eve (H), Bur (H)
Pereyra 3 12+1 2 WHU (A), MaU (H), Lei (H)
Niang 3 15+1 2 Bur (H), WBA (H), Che (A)
Britos 3 29+0 1 BuA (H-FAC), Bou (A), Sot (H)
Janmaat 2 18+10 2 MaU (H), Hul (H)
Prödl 2 32+2 1 Lei (H), CrP (H)
Capoue 2 38+1 7 WHU (A), Ars (A)
Success 1 2+17 1 Sot (H)
Zárate 1 3 0 WHU (H)
Mason 1 3+1 0 BuA (H-FAC)
Zuñiga 1 6+16 1 MaU (H)
Guedioura 1 11+3 0 Che (H)
Okaka 1 11+9 4 Sot (H)
Cathcart 1 14+2 0  Sun (H)
Ighalo 1 15+5 2 WHU (A)
Cleverley 1 16+1 0 Bou (A)
Eleftheriou 0 0+1 0
Folivi 0 0+1 0
Kenedy 0 0+1 0
Stewart 0 0+1 0
Pereira 0 0+2 0
Hoban 0 1 0
Nyom 0 1 0
Paredes 0 1 0
Anya 0 1+1 0
Dja Djédjé 0 1+1 0
Vydra 0 1+1 0
Watson 0 2+4 0
Pantilimon 0 3+2 0
Sinclair 0 3+4 1
Mariappa 0 7+1 0
Kabasele 0 9+9 2
Doucouré 0 17+6 1
Kaboul 0 24 2
Behrami 0 26+1 0
Gomes 0 38+1 0

Check out the 2015-162014-152013-142012-132011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents by clicking on the links.

 

The List 2017. 22/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

Let it not be said that we’re glad that’s all over…  but here’s your summer list of players linked with the Hornets since the close of the January window, a list that will be kept up to date throughout the summer so bookmark if you Like This Sort Of Thing.  A very low bar of credibility is employed, but a mere “I think Watford should sign…” falls below it.

* Indicates player linked in previous windows

January 2017 List / Summer 2016 List / January 2016 List / Summer 2015 List

Running Total: 115

IN

Elias Kachunga (Huddersfield)
Alban Lafont (Toulouse)
Tom Cleverley (Everton)*                                                               – SIGNED
M’Baye Niang (Milan)*
Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea)*                                                     – SIGNED
Allan (Napoli)
Mario Lemina (Juventus)*                                           – joined Southampton
Stephan el Shaarawy (Roma)
Kiko Femenía (Alaves)                                                                     – SIGNED
Jorge Segura (Envigado)                                                                 – SIGNED
Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon)
Fred Onyedinma (Millwall)
Hamza Mendyl (Lille)
Patrik Schick (Sampdoria)
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)*
Tom King (Millwall)
Khouma Babacar (Fiorentina)*
Andrea Ranocchia (Inter)*
Marten de Roon (Middlesbrough)                                         – joined Atalanta
Vito Mannone (Sunderland)                                                    – joined Reading
Sofyan Amrabat (Utrecht)                                                   – joined Feyenoord
Steve Cook (Bournemouth)
Eldin Jakupović (Hull City)                                                   – joined Leicester
Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo)
Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ67)
Mattia Destro (Bologna)*
Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona)
David Stockdale (Brighton)                                       – joined Birmingham City
Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht)*                      – joined Tianjin Teda on loan
Lee Grant (Stoke City)
Mirko Valdifiori (Torino)
Orestis Karnezis (Udinese)
Jeison Murillo (Inter)                                             – joined Valencia on loan
Marcel Tisserand (Ingolstadt)*
James McCarthy (Everton)
Alexandre Mendy (Guingamp)                                             – joined Bordeaux
Nicolas Pépé (Angers)*                                                                   – joined Lille
Omar Colley (Genk)
Florin Andone (Deportivo La Coruña)
Kamil Grosicki (Hull City)
Omar Elabdellaoui (Olympiacos)*
Martin Cáceres (Unattached)                                                     -joined Lazio
Marcel Heller (Darmstadt)                                                   – joined Augsburg
Mamadou Coulibaly (Pescara)                                             – joined Udinese
Ferland Mendy (Le Havre)                                                         – joined Lyon
Ismaïla Sarr (Metz)                                                                    -joined Rennes
Sam Johnstone (Manchester United)                    – joined Aston Villa on loan
Rekeil Pyke (Huddersfield Town)                            – joined Port Vale on loan
Steve Mounié (Montpellier)                                           – joined Huddersfield
Davide Santon (Inter)*
Duván Zapata (Napoli)
Dennis Aogo (Schalke)                                                           – joined Stuttgart
Rajiv van la Parra (Huddersfield)
Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht)
Giovanni Simeone (Genoa)                                                – joined Fiorentina
Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)
Fernando Forestieri (Sheff Wednesday)
Yannis Sourdis (Panathinaikos)
Tom Huddlestone (Hull City)                                      – joined Derby County
Will Hughes (Derby County)                                                             – SIGNED
Norberto Neto (Juventus)                                                    – joined Valencia
Saphir Taïder (Bologna)*
Adrien Silva (Sporting Lisbon)
Josh Tymon (Hull City)                                                      – joined Stoke City
Juan Camilo Zuñiga (Napoli)*
Lazar Marković (Liverpool)*
Kenedy (Chelsea)*
Joshua Brenet (PSV)
Sebá (Olympiacos)
Sébastien Corchia (Lille)                                                          – joined Sevilla
George Friend (Middlesbrough)
Andy Robertson (Hull City)                                                 -joined Liverpool
Daniel Bachmann (Unattached)                                                         – SIGNED
Rodrigo Aguirre (Udinese)
Hernán Pérez (Espanyol)
Joe Hart (Manchester City)                                – joined West Ham on loan
Vicente Iborra (Sevilla)*                                                      – joined Leicester
Lorenzo Crisetig (Bologna)
Rafael Toloi (Atalanta)
Ashley Fletcher (West Ham United)                         – joined Middlesbrough
Pepe Reina (Napoli)
Ryan Fredericks (Fulham)
Ivan Strinić (Napoli)
Grégoire Defrel (Sassuolo)                                             – joined Roma on loan
Randell Williams (Unattached)                                                           – SIGNED
Britt Assombalonga (Nottingham Forest)                 – joined Middlesbrough
Christian Cueva (São Paulo)
Andre Carrillo (Benfica)
Jordan Ferri (Lyon)
Lucas Tousart (Lyon)
Max Gradel (Bournemouth)*                                     – joined Toulouse on loan
Maxwell Cornet (Lyon)
Rachid Ghezzal (Lyon)                                                          – joined Monaco
Gabriel Kunda Jr (Unattached)
Aymen Abennour (Valencia)
Adam Phillips (Unattached)                                            – joined Norwich City
Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal)*
Karl Toko Ekambi (Angers)
Aaron Lennon (Everton)
Serdar Tasci (Spartak Moscow)
Richarlison (Fluminense)                                                                    – SIGNED
Bacary Sagna (Unattached)
Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Manchester United)                  – joined Palace on loan
Andre Gray (Burnley)                                                                           – SIGNED
Alberto Moreno (Liverpool)
Emre Mor (Borussia Dortmund)
Christopher Rocchia (Marseille)
Ashley Young (Manchester United)*
Miquel Nelom (Feyenoord)
Olarenwaju Kayode (Austria Vienna)                            – joined Manchester City
Héctor Herrera (Porto)
Lovre Kalinić (Gent)
Islam Slimani (Leicester City)
Jeroen Zoet (PSV)
Guido Carrillo (Monaco)

OUT
Valon Behrami (Sion, Udinese*)                                          – joined Udinese
Troy Deeney (West Brom, Everton*, West Ham*, Newcastle, Leicester*)
Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord)*                                             – joined Feyenoord
Christian Kabasele (Anderlecht)*
Stefano Okaka (Udinese. Olympiacos, Shanghai Shenhua)
Isaac Success (West Ham, Crystal Palace)
Sven Kums (Anderlecht)                                                      – joined Anderlecht
Dion Pereira (Newcastle, West Ham, Brighton, Reading)
Costel Pantilimon (Anderlecht)
Tommie Hoban (QPR, Bolton, Sheffield United)
Obbi Oularé (Beşiktaş*, Anderlecht, Royal Antwerp)
.                                                                               – joined Antwerp on loan
Nordin Amrabat (Galatasaray, Deportivo La Coruña)
José Holebas (Fenerbahçe)*
Adalberto Peñaranda (Deportivo La Coruña, Roma, Leganes)
Ben Watson (Sunderland, Cardiff City, Nottingham Forest)
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Toulouse)
Miguel Britos (Sparta Prague)
Sebastian Prödl (Fenerbahçe)
Giedrius Arlauskis (CFR Cluj)                                             – joined CFR Cluj
Étienne Capoue (Milan)
Mauro Zárate (Vélez Sarsfield)

Watford 0 Manchester City 5 (21/05/2017) 22/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
12 comments

1- “Bit quiet, isn’t it?” noted Daz as we ambled down Occupation Road in the sunshine, daughter 1 polishing off the Magnum that she’d negotiated. And so it was, but there had been little surprise in the observation… nobody was under any illusions and a goodly number had clearly opted out. Those of us in attendance approached the game with a mixture of apprehension, obligation and morbid fascination… Manchester City are a tough opponent at the best of times, in other circumstances this might have been an exciting game, an opportunity to bloody a nose in a nothing-to-lose encounter. Nobody harboured such expectations today. That we had little material to play for that City (as it turned out) needed a result to confirm Champions (sic) League qualification, that we’d lost all semblance of form whilst City had rediscovered theirs were challenges in themselves.

But our perverse injury problems turned the contest into a farce from the off. It has become increasingly difficult to sympathise with Walter Mazzarri’s bizarre prognoses as time has gone on, but there can be no disputing the gist of his parting shot. Nobody survives against Man City with their six (six!) senior central defenders unavailable. A thankless task for Mazzarri, whose meagre stock has dropped so low in the last fortnight that it was difficult for any to look at the back four of Janmaat and full Prem debutant Mason either side of midfielder Behrami and full-back-cum-powderkeg Holebas and acknowledge that this was probably as good as he could manage.

Which, as so often, was partly his own fault. If you could look at that defensive “solution” and say “yes, OK” there was no defending his bench. In such circumstances, when backs are likely to be not so much up against the wall as pummelled halfway through it, you need your leaders, you need senior players to cajole and organise and pull the side along. Our leader, in a final peevish move by his manager, was on the bench (and it’s arguable that in the admittedly ring-rusty Ben Watson, another to have been discarded cheaply by Mazzarri, we had another wise head underemployed). And, of course, we named two goalkeepers… much as we all love Rene Gilmartin this was no tribute to a departing hero (notably, no fawning 26th minute intro/outro for Rene who isn’t nearly a vain enough peacock to have suggested one) but a pathetically self-indulgent sulky statement by the outgoing coach. “Look what I’m left with”. A Charlie Rowan, a Carl Stewart or an Ogo Obi could have filled that space and garnered Mazzarri more sympathy and options.

2- If nobody expected a result then I think we hoped for a bit of defiance before the inevitable, a bit of “hey, we’re still in this, come on lads”. Alas. Indeed, all plans seemed to go astray on a day that confirmed the suspicion that we’re better off with this season ending and never being mentioned again. I’d gone as far as to order a mixed grill at Middletons with the intent of extracting what pleasure there was to be extracted from the afternoon, only to delay everyone else’s food as a result to quite reasonable scowls and sarcasm from friends and family young and old. So much for that. So much for our show of defiance also; four minutes in and Vincent Kompany was afforded space to pitch a tent, time to heat a barbecue in our penalty area and directed a corner inside the postage stamp. Worst fears realised, and not for the first time this season we progressed down a slope at any stage of which we’d have taken the scoreline and no questions asked. Whilst reflecting, again, on our complete inability to defend corners (no height and no defenders didn’t actually make that failing any more complete).

3- Actually there was some defiance.  There was a contrast between the play at the two ends of the pitch;  City were dominant in each, but at least as we attacked it looked less of an unfair contest.  M’Baye Niang nearly scored that goal he scores, cutting in from the left on his right foot but shovelling the shot narrowly over.  Doucouré and Capoue moved the ball quickly and fiercely, Nordin Amrabat found space on the right. And then, inevitably, City broke on us like water and it was men against boys.  Brandon Mason dug in and stuck his chin out, piling Gabriel Jesus into the advertising hoardings.  Valon Behrami, bless his snarling fangs, dived in to deny Agüero but it was all last ditch and desperate.  It wasn’t, in short, a fair fight… City spun and swung and sliced through us, a match for anyone on this form let alone our botched together defence.  And so we draw a veil over the detail of the rest of the half, except to mention that we lost Daryl Janmaat to the three hundred and seventy sixth hamstring strain of the season (nothing to do with our training methods though, naturally) allowing Andrew Eleftheriou to make the debut he probably wouldn’t have chosen.  And that some chose to boo at the half time whistle as if these circumstances compared to Hull or Palace, because “me sad, me boo” is as close to reason as some get.  Oh, and that City scored three more goals.

4- After more brief defiance – principally from Stefano Okaka, who provided much of what was left in that department for the rest of the half and opened the second period by barging himself a space and forcing a fine save from Caballero – City scored again.  And then more or less stopped, for which we could only be grateful.  There was some muted gallows humour, some attempts to recruit both Thierry Henry, pitchside for Sky Sports, and fifties centre-back Bill Shipwright who performed the half-time draw.  The most attention afforded to Mazzarri came when Jon Moss spoke to him on the touchline and the ground exhorted him to send the coach to the stands, but in vain.

The real question for me is why Mazzarri was in the ground at all.  By all accounts his departure was a mutual decision rather than “yet another” Pozzo sacking (the second, I make it?) and so perhaps the end of the season felt more natural… but this has never felt like a respectful, best-thing-for-everyone, no-hard-feelings kind of deal.  There’s bitterness and discomfort on both sides, and the line-up itself betrayed the questionable nature of the decision to retain him for the final game.

5- And so the season ends on six defeats with the Hornets one place above relegated Hull City and as intimated we’re probably best of all round to put the season behind us.  Despite the poor form, despite the miserable low on which we finish, despite the portents of the witless Pleat on 5 Live, and others, who refused to make allowances for the unprecedented circumstances of this game… it really isn’t that bad.  The reality is that we’re in the morass in the middle of the division between which there’s little to choose;  despite our recent tumble we’re as close to eighth place Saints as we are to Hull.  The summer will see a new coach, a new training regime, and undoubtedly another turnover of players… Nordin Amrabat, like Seb Prödl on Monday, seemed to be saying goodbye when he approached the Rookery before the lap of honour.  He’s looked nervous and been thoroughly ineffective since returning to the side… but he’s a trier, and it was good that the waiting crowd responded to his efforts and his own acknowledgement of them warmly.  For all the team’s struggles, the club is still in a good place and we shouldn’t need Daily Express headlines to remind us how lucky we are.

The List, Helping Hands and the Squad Review will follow in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, have a good summer.

Yoorns….

Chelsea 4 Watford 3 (15/05/2017) 16/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
13 comments

1- This kind of doesn’t need an intro does it?  Whether you’ve been experiencing the last few months by attending games or watching on from greater distance you can’t have been looking forward to this.  Chelsea’s title having been confirmed on Friday didn’t help matters at all… it removed the final straw to be clung to, the one where there might be a nagging nervousness in the home stands, something that still needed sorting if we could just hold out for 20 minutes or so.

So much for that.  Now it was going to be a party.  The Underground screwing around didn’t improve our mood, nor did the drizzle.  Gallows humour was in full flow by the time we got to Stamford Gate; we navigated a bizarrely well-manned but porous corridor of stewards that seemed to have been planned by the guy who designed games for Gladiators.  Analogies about our defence’s capabilities immediately presented themselves, one thunk sorted before kick-off.  Any lingering good humour was extinguished once inside by news of our starting line-up.  Shackles off, Premier League status finally definitively secured, and no proper striker.  Bloody hell.

2- An aside here to discuss Chelsea’s catering.  You’ll appreciate that as a travelling football fan with a healthy appetite one’s bar of acceptability is necessarily quite low.  Given a captive audience the food is invariably pricey, and the quality hugely variable.  Genuinely, variable… some places get it right, but we’ve generally been trained to accept anything edible albeit at prices that no sensible person in any other environment would ever contemplate.

But this was spectacular.  Will, first to the counter whilst the rest of us addressed other priorities, quickly and darkly warned us off the pasties.  “Inedible.  Genuinely inedible,” he exclaimed whilst brandishing something that looked like an old shoe containing an insole of dry mud.  Forewarned, I went instead for an object advertised as a tandoori chicken roll.  An inner layer of foil wrapping guaranteed that the contents remained hotter than the sun, but absolutely devoid of either flavour or texture.  The closest comparison I can draw is of strands of soggy, watery lettuce and lumps of soft chalk wrapped in baking paper and heated to a point that would strip the plaster off your walls. And I paid six pounds for it.  Naturally, this improved our mood still further.   It was going to be a terrible evening.

3- Which just goes to show how wrong you can be.  The first surprise was quite how warm May suddenly was… we located our seats and removed several obsolete layers until we were in t-shirts.  The home side, as anticipated, were in party mood;  their side contained a vast number of changes as anticipated, but retained a core of the senior side in Kanté, Hazard and Azpilicueta.  It’s tempting to view what follows through that prism of course… “we lost to Chelsea’s reserves”, but that would be misguided.  These are still excellent players, and we were missing a large number of players ourselves, injuries depriving us of four centre backs and two of our more creative weapons.  Chelsea made changes, but had the luxury of picking them voluntarily rather than botching a side together.

Meanwhile, further insight into our trajectory and some of that Modern Football stuff in the fact that the Chelsea line-up contained no less than three former Watford loanees of varying vintage, two of whom have seen significantly more action in yellow than in the blue of their parent club.  Nathaniel Chalobah was making his first Premier League start for Chelsea, four seasons after looking so elegant at the back of Gianfranco Zola’s midfield.  He was the pick of the three on the night, looking far from out of place in his surroundings.  Nathan Aké is a more recent Hornet of course;  his performance was decent enough though not flawless,  a fair précis of his loan spell last season.  Kenedy, the most recent of the three, was afforded an inconsequential fifteen minutes at Turf Moor in his Watford career and did little here to suggest that we’d underutilised his talent.  In contrast, Adrian Mariappa demonstrated that he’s come full circle since the days when he captained Sean Dyche’s necessarily pragmatic Watford side in the second tier.  Via Reading and Palace he’s back at Watford and now “Adrián” Mariappa, with a hispanic flourish, according to the tannoy announcer’s proclamation bellowed mercilessly into the away end.

4- So, that no-strikers thing.  Strictly speaking we weren’t playing with no forwards;  Niang was nominally employed in a lone striker role, albeit he’s rarely suggested that he’s suited to such a job.  He provided no compelling support for the decision here either;  our attacks, such as they were, frequently foundered on no target presenting itself in the box as the Frenchman too often chased involvement and the ball rather than providing that option.

That aside, the formation worked rather well for the most part which once again demonstrates how little I know.  It wasn’t just the formation though, albeit that might have provided a platform.  More remarkable, more rewarding, was the fight.  The guts. The spirit.  There’s been a suggestion, not entirely unreasonably, that whining about being mere also-rans in the top flight is a bit rich.  I can cope with the relatively mundane target of mid-table obscurity if it comes with a bit of welly like this, rather than the soporific acceptance we saw at Hull.  The opening 20 minutes or so were Chelsea’s but we were scrapping and fighting.  Seb Prödl kicked off an eventful evening by decisively winning the opening rounds in a heavyweight battle with Batshuayi, dismissively brutal in extracting the ball from the striker’s feet.  No less aggressive was Mariappa, who flew in with a laser-guided tackle on the briefly bewildered Hazard. Defiance on the pitch bred the same in the away end.

5- All of which could have been rather undone by our complete failure to defend a corner.  Scrapping as we were, Chelsea were nonetheless creating chances when they got the ball wide and from their first corner Mariappa bounced unconvincingly under the ball, others stood around looking lost and John Terry took advantage at the second attempt.  Of course it was Terry.  The inevitable procession suddenly stretched tediously in front of us; fortunately Chelsea’s skipper, who occasionally seemed to be depending on his more nimble minders either side, himself afforded us an immediate route back in.  Capoue was the grateful recipient, it’s quite conceivable that the game wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun if he hadn’t done so.  It was our first attempt of any description, and it was a gift.

Nonetheless we were behind by half time.  A corner, again, after we’d defended slicker, less formulaic threats more competently.  A near post corner this time, Janmaat flicked an inadequate header across the face of goal to where Azpilicueta waited to drive the ball home.  Down, then.  But not disgraced.  We’d probably have taken that.

6- So when Chelsea got a bit of a lucky break and went 3-1 up early in the second half we were once again lurching towards the humiliation we’d feared.  Lucky in the sense that they got a kind deflection from a long-range shot that set up Aké, no luck in him taking advantage and teeing up the finish.  It felt as if we were in danger of being overwhelmed again.

And this is where this stopped being just another game, a game in which we put up a bit of a fight but got dicked anyway, and entered the sphere of games that just need to be enjoyed independent of context.  Stuff the result, if you can’t enjoy nonsense like this just go home.  It turns out that Chelsea didn’t touch the ball in the two minutes between their goal and Daryl Janmaat bundling through to skim the ball into the net but that detail didn’t register at the time.  What registered was that we weren’t rolling over.  This is what Watford have been about, what we’ve missed.  Not bloody giving up.  Janmaat has had ups and downs and bumps and bruises over the season, he’s manifestly a better attacking wing-back than he is a defender, but with this one we passed the point where we give much of a toss about what he’s good at or not.  This was bloody-minded take that you bastards.  We rose from our resigned stupor as he progressed into the area and as the ball hit the net we were screaming again.  More of this. More of this.

7- At this point detail becomes fuzzy since we re-entered what was always the traditional away-day mindset, the anything’s a bonus determination to enjoy ourselves.  So the stuff on the pitch was incidental, although I suspect that this was the bit where Heurelho Gomes excelled himself.  Eventually, we brought on a proper target man…. Stefano Okaka and Troy had staged a particularly half-arsed warm-up on pitch during the interval but there was nothing half-arsed about the Italian’s approach to his twenty-odd minutes.  The game had descended into that very British high-speed wide-open frenzy; within a minute GT was getting his minute’s ovation (with significant Chelsea acknowledgement), within another Okaka was thumping a neglected ball low past Begovic. In the stands, all hell broke loose.  On the pitch, it all got a bit narky… Pedro added himself to the list of people you’d like to kick up the arse, given half a chance.  Batshuayi got off without censure when Prödl opted against collapsing in a heap on getting the Belgian’s forehead in his face.  The Austrian eventually saw red, cruelly if not undeservedly.  His was a Trojan’s performance in a side suddenly short on muscle;  he waved as his season ended, what flavour of goodbye we’ll find out in time.  It’s Mapps, Holebas and Walter Mazzarri at the back for Man City.

8- By which time Cesc Fabregas had struck the decisive goal.  Cesc Fabregas is a dick.  Not because he struck this fine and deserved winner, painful as it was.  Not because there’s any question about his playing ability.  But because he’s a dick.  Stop by on Sunday and I’ll explain why, and my daughters will think I’ve got a load of mates’n’that.

9- Not a lot to be drawn from this.  A unique game in unique circumstances.  A feather in Walter’s cap in this most bewildering of seasons, despite the result.  A decent showing, we’re still capable of it.  But most of all, this was fun.  That’s what I want from a night out.  A good bellow and a sore throat.  Give me a proper pie next time and I’ll be well happy.

Yoorns.

 

Leicester City 3 Watford 0 (06/05/2017) 07/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
27 comments

1- There are days when it’s just a bad idea all round.  The great empty swathes of seats in the away end for what should be a popular trip – local-ish, easy to get to, against the League Champions to boot – suggested that plenty had had the same thought.  Dad nearly didn’t make it, Daughter 1 pondered whether she should forego the afternoon in favour of preparation for her forthcoming SATs.  Meanwhile the pre-match pub turned out to be closed;  we opted for an alternative next to the station, but beat a disorientated path from the pub in entirely the wrong direction until we sorted ourselves out.  Sometimes the world is trying to tell you something.

2- Whilst appreciating that survival in itself is an achievement, and the injuries, and the fact that winning away in the Premier League is a very difficult thing to do I can’t tell you how bored I am of this.  Of games like this.  Our season has been an extension and elaboration of Niang’s loan spell…  occasional sparks of brilliance with quite a lot of drab, shapeless nothingness in between.  You have to imagine that the rest of the Premier League wouldn’t really have missed us had we gone down, for all that everyone likes a routine home win against a toothless opponent. Why on earth would you spend time, money watching such miserable, spiritless inevitability?  (On the money front, incidentally… East Midland Trains.  Good God. I can get the three of us to London and back for under £20.  Three times that for a shorter distance to Leicester.  Criminal. Bastards.)

3- Actually the first half wasn’t that bad for the most part.  For much of the season our midfield hasn’t ever seemed quite right and it still doesn’t, but nonetheless it’s the bit that kinda looks closest to fully functional at the moment.  Doucouré, again, was majestic and looks like the engine of a much better side.  Tom Cleverley’s form has wandered off of late but this was his most dynamic outing for a while… and we were well in the game, having more of the possession.  It was scruffy and untidy and the final pass was inevitably missing but we were holding our own.

The thing is, an opponent competent enough to dominate possession but too blunt to do anything with it is pretty much exactly what this Leicester side, defined by their ability to counter-attack, would choose to play against.  Stefano Okaka, restored to the side in eye-catching fashion in place of Troy, worked hard in displaying a willingness to take on all comers but in similar fashion to Deeney against Liverpool was too isolated, the flickering Niang always happier pulling wide.  When we got bodies into the box we looked vaguely threatening but our best chance of recording our first away goal since January came when Cleverley latched onto a ball and thundered a rising drive goalwards.  Had it been a bit further from Schmeichel it would have caused problems.

Instead, the breakthrough came at the other end where Leicester’s attacks were already looking more venomous than our own. So they didn’t really need the helping hand of a silly free kick conceded by Prödl on bar-of-soap Okazaki, nor of an inexplicable leaden touch by Capoue to the resulting corner that teed up Ndidi.  All he had to do was swing a leg at it.

4- In the stands, we entered a sort of Twilight Zone.  Our afternoon had already taken another downward turn in the discovery that our seats located us behind an explosively angry, foul-mouthed gentleman who persisted in berating both teams and all officials loudly and crassly and, in the absence of a companion with whom to share his opinions, turning and elaborating in our direction.  We relocated in stages and watched as successive groups took up temporary residence in the same seats.

As the game progressed there were more and more angry men dotted around the stands, if none as spectacularly unpleasant.  Mariappa was having the first poor game of his second wind in the side, albeit he was slightly unfortunate that the beneficiary of his error was the elegant Mahrez;  he might have gotten away with it with half a second more to recover.  Gomes, also, bore no small responsibility having been beaten at his near post.  But the core problem was the lack of spirit, of ideas, of fight in the Watford ranks.  It wasn’t as stark or miserable as Hull but it was the same narrative.  Out for the first time came the “Quique Sanchez Flores” chant (and, more arbitrarily, odes to Aidy Boothroyd and Al Bangura), ostensibly provoking angry disputes within the stand. Nordin Amrabat – whose second half performance showcased the frustrating contradictions of his Watford career, willing running combined with hesitancy and hugely variable end product – became the focus for the boo-boys, the first in a few years.  Calls for his removal – and the introduction of the underused Success – were ignored as Niang was withdrawn for debutant Dion Pereira.  His first contribution was an instant, arcing left footed cross from the right that Okaka couldn’t quite get over.  He got a raucous reception in response, but there was never a suggestion that we’d get back into the game.  Instead Leicester got another fine goal on the break.  The stand emptied.

5- If the treatment of Amrabat, however inadequate his performance, seemed harsh – he was a potential player of the season before his injury – the resurrection of the Flores chant is revealing.  Looking back, Flores’ departure could not be justified based on our league performance;  45 points and 13th place absolutely more than fine.  What did for Flores, ultimately if not exclusively, was the trajectory of the season.  29 points in the first half, 16 in the second with performances that didn’t suggest that we’d merited any more.  There’s been no such schism this time (22/18 as we stand) but the recent performances have been poor, the defeats more absolute than the victories with few exceptions.  The trajectory argument still holds, I think… I’m certainly very happy that we’ve already got 40 points; if we had as few as 38 at this stage I think we’d be in serious trouble.  That’s not beating Swansea, for example, in particular.  Fine margins.

But that doesn’t justify chanting Flores’ name in itself.  You can argue that both sides nosedived, but what makes Flores a more attractive prospect?

The answer, beyond the grass-is-greener argument that always holds, is that Flores was manifestly a nice bloke.  Mazzarri may be a nice bloke but we just don’t know, we have no relationship with him and therefore no instinct to side with him.  A big element of supporting a team is being part of it, feeling you’re on the same side.  Mazzarri simply hasn’t prioritised that, it’s not important enough to him.  You can argue that it’s not his job to be everyone’s mate, but a consequence of the path he’s chosen is that nobody instinctively sides with him when the going gets tough.

6- And critically that appears to include the team.  These recent performances haven’t been as poisonous as the notorious Huddersfield game under Sannino in 2014 but there’s a manifest lack of team spirit, lack of belief, lack of evidence of everyone singing from the same sheet.  The discord is most evident in the relationship between head coach and captain in particular…  it seems inconceivable that both Troy and Mazzarri will be at the club next season, and for all that Troy has had a few of his less effective games recently, he was still there at the end of the game ushering Dion Pereira towards an ovation that completely changed the tone in the away end where boos had been echoing again.  The point is, Troy gets it…  he’s a great captain but a better diplomat than Mazzarri.  I want to root for him, I’d rather support a team captained by Troy than one managed by Mazzarri if that’s the choice.

Either way, it seems quite possible that we’ll end the season with six straight defeats.  Something needs to fundamentally change over the summer… it’ll be fascinating to see what decisions Pozzo and Duxbury make.

Yoorns.