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Kalsarikänni - Watford vs Preston North End Review (Jack Foster)

The title of this piece is a Finnish word which refers to the act of sitting in your house, alone, in your underpants, drinking. After watching the horrendous 0-0 draw between Watford and Preston North End, that is what I felt like doing, and I imagine many Watford fans share my exasperation with the club at present. What makes the result all the more painful is the optimism with which the day began. When Watford released their starting lineup, many fans were thrilled to see that João Pedro and Imran Louza would be starting together in midfield for the first time since the latter suffered a leg injury. This pairing coupled with a first start for exciting new striker Henrique Araújo created the expectation that the Hornets might be able to break through a sturdy Preston defense (though, as Tommy Mooney mentioned, their defensive record is inflated by the seven consecutive clean sheets to start the season). However, the hopes of Watford fans would descend into frustration over the course of the afternoon. We are now left in a familiar spot, wondering where the club will turn as the end of the season looms ever closer.

The first fifteen minutes showed that Watford have the talent, and occasionally the intention, to play an exciting attack-minded style of football. Though it was somewhat haphazard, some wonderful passing between Louza and Araújo created a header chance for Pedro which just fell within the keeper's reach. After that brief spell, Watford fell into a frequent trap of theirs. They have an infuriating tendency to with almost no conviction. At best, the ball will arrive at its target in the nick of time, forcing the recipient into close quarters with a defender. At worst, the ball will find open grass, and the opposition spring a counterattack. Hamza Choudhury, for all of the praise we give him regarding his stalwart leadership, was a prime culprit in this. His lateral passes frequently fell directly to a Preston attacker, and the Watford backline would have to scramble backward. Somehow, Preston’s attacks were never clinical enough to score. The game became one of messy survival, as though everyone in the stadium couldn’t wait to leave and get on with their lives. The final whistle was merciful, if nothing else.

Certain players have been gathering ire from Watford fans as the season has progressed, perhaps none more so than Ismaila Sarr. He is among our top scorers this season, and clearly has a wealth of talent, but week after week he seems to refuse to use it. Whenever Sarr found himself in the 18-yard box, his strategy seemed to only involve falling down in hopes of drawing a penalty. Not only are those wasted chances that he might have converted with a bit of effort, but it detracts from the integrity of the game. It seems quite obvious that there is a very talented player somewhere in there, but what will it take to bring that player out consistently?

The other player who should receive criticism is Daniel Bachmann. Though he did not allow a goal in this game, his command of the 6-yard box was non-existent, as has been the case for the entire season. He was frequently reluctant to come forth and claim crosses, and completely allowed one to skid across the box unimpeded near the end of the game. The only reason that ball didn’t get tapped in was the lack of a Preston attacker to finish the job. Bachmann’s hesitation to do some of the basic aspects of his job is only going to cost us in more crucial games down the road.

This brings me to the eternal Watford question of manager security. We have lamented for several seasons the strange ruthlessness of the Pozzo regime in terms of chewing through managers. This has led to a squad which has little faith that their manager will be around for any length of time. Bilic, as with so many managers before him, inspired a brief uptick in results before regressing to his current run of plodding pointlessness. Given Gino Pozzo’s itchy trigger finger, I’m surprised that Bilic has been given this much time. However, I think that this points to a new approach from Ben Manga and Helena Costa. They likely have advised Gino to let Bilic stay until the end of the season for the sake of stability. If the season were well and truly lost, this would make sense. Although Watford are 9th in the table, they sit just four points out of a playoff spot. A managerial change at this point in the season is a massive roll of the dice, but surely that would be preferable to accepting defeat by keeping Bilic on. If Manga and Costa are worth their salt, they will have been planning for Bilic’s replacement and have a new manager in mind. No one know how exactly the players would respond to a change now, but trying to solve problem and failing is more admirable than doing nothing. The ship has not sunk yet, and replacing the absent-minded captain should be an immediate order of business.

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