There is no point on dressing it up but since we have been allowed back in Vicarage Road after the pandemic the football we are serving up has been a dirge. I can probably count the time on one hand that I have walked away from the Vic and felt that we had played really well or that I had been entertained. Taking a step back probably the one thing all those occasions have in common is we managed to string a 90 minute performance together.
Yet again yesterday the first half performance in front of our own fans was slow and ponderous and allowed the visiting team to get a foot-hold in the game, score and let them drop into a defensive shape that we have struggled to break down. This has resulted in the Head Coach (whoever it is) having to throw the shackles off in tactics/shape and we actually have a go.
I am sure we are all at a loss to find the answers to why this consistently happens, perhaps it’s a combination of the pre-match routine and the lack of real characters in the dressing room? I made a point of watching the team come out yesterday and the difference between the two teams was quite stark. After the initial line up our guys remove their (very smart) travel jackets and sort of meander around. Rovers on the other hand sprinted off, saluted their travelling fans and chest bumped/fist pumped each other to get themselves fired up. Our casual, lackadaisical demeanour is carried into the match and we never really get out of our metaphorical shells. The passing is far too safe, there is very little risk taking & there is no pace or tempo to our approach play, its all too predictable.
Using yesterday as an example despite having the majority of the ball in the first quarter of the match our first attempt (a very loose term) was a shot from Mario Gaspar into row Z to really show for our work. Joao forced their keeper into getting his hands warmed on the twenty minute mark but this was not much to show for our dominance in possession. Almost inevitably we fell behind to an incisive attack from Rovers that had points we could have cleared but ended up with Dan Bachmann making a point-blank stop from a fairly tame effort, the ball was spilled out and there was no reaction from those in front of him leaving Rovers Dack to poke home.
Now, once again, we are chasing the game despite having the large portion of the ball. As I say the progression from our defence to attack is way too slow and ponderous. Chief culprit in this is Hamza Choudhury who for all his excellent defensive work is not able or often willing to progress the ball quickly. He does like to return the ball back from where it came from, he very rarely turns on the ball or travels with the ball and this does push us into this trap of being very slow. I just want to say I really like Hamza Choudhury and I do hope we can turn his loan to a permanent transfer in the summer however if he is going to play he needs someone far more progressive to play next to him and if everyone is fit I don’t think we need to play him in home games against the likes of Rovers or Rotherham that are just going to drop deep and let us have the ball. Yesterday he had Ismael Kone as a partner and the Canadian International once again struggle to impose himself on the game which is a shame because I really like him and he clearly has potential but perhaps he needs to go into the “Only ready for substitution cameos” along with the likes of Asprilla, Adeyemo & Mateus Martins. Now we seem to be getting more bodies back, with both Cleverley & Louza making second half substitute appearances, young Kone will possibly be able to acclimatise to the hurley, burley of the Championship from the bench.
Speaking of passing I want to mention the real positive of the afternoon which was the performance and indeed distribution of our two centre halves, Porteous and Hoedt who were both excellent. How refreshing it was to see centre halves willing to carry the ball forward and actually pick a forward pass to a team-mate. It certainly help in that Hoedt (in for his debut at the expense of the groin stricken Cathcart) is naturally left footed and was able to pass directly to both Kamara & Sarr on the left hand side of our attack. We have all been bitten in the past by putting players on a pedestal after a strong debut however it really was very strong home debuts for the pair of them and going through my memory bank I can only think of the pair of Colin Foster & Keith Millen whose debuts were as impressive at the heart of our defence. First things first I hope the pair of them stay fit which lets be honest and with our injury record seems to be the minimum requirement but if they can build up a good understanding then they could be some foundations to build on.
So we went into the break still behind although Joao Pedro had missed a glorious chance to equalise when capitalising on a forced error in the Rovers defence but he shot wide. Changes were needed and it was obvious from the warm ups that Keinan Davis was coming on, personally I had hoped it would be for Martins who does flatter to deceive but instead he was brought on for young Portuguese forward Araujo who had been largely isolated on his own as the lone striker. I had hoped Bilic would play two up front but instead it was a like for like change albeit for the more physical approach of Davis.
We started the second half on the front foot with both Kamara and Sarr stinging the palms of the keeper with long distance efforts. Somehow Ismael Kone did not open his Watford account when he missed a chance at the far post after a decent ball in from Martins had evaded everyone & it seemed to take the young Canadian by surprise that it had reached him.
Eventually it was left to centre half Hoedt to cap his impressive debut with the equaliser with a fine left footed volley from the edge of the box after a free kick had been headed clear to him. You felt it might set up a grandstand finish however apart from a headed chance for Sarr who flicked his effort just over the bar we in truth created very little. I actually felt it was probably more likely we would concede again as we would score a winner, to their credit Rovers did not sit on their point and the match had a very open feel right to the final whistle.
This was definitely two points dropped but given the poor first half you could also argue it was a point gained. We have to find a way to win these tight games otherwise we will slip further down the table for sure. The table is still so congested that it is not beyond the realms of possibility we could end up the month 12th or 13th, if we do it would not shock me at all if there is a change in the dug-out. Personally I would give Bilic until the end of the season but the football is so pragmatic and frankly boring coupled with a lack of results that you get the feeling Gino’s trigger finger may be getting itchy.
Probably realistically Bilic needs to win two of the next three matches to not only cement our place in the play offs but to keep his job until the summer however when you consider two of those games are away to the runaway top 2 teams in the league it does seem quite unlikely. He may not make it to Wednesday training if we get a stuffing on Valentine’s Night but then maybe it’s a match that our “big game players” might relish and thrive in. On the other hand it might be a night for the photo of the corner flag on social media.
Before I go I just want to pay a little tribute to Oliver Phillips the former Watford writer at the Watford Observer who passed recently. Growing up my Dad would buy the WO every Friday and paw over every word that Oli wrote looking for anything written “between the lines” about the line-up for the next day;s match or any transfer activity. The way Oli wrote his match reports is something that has inspired the way I write these very poor relations in that he would not necessarily give a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow account of the match but he would dive into the match from a different tact, looking at individuals and tactics. As I grew up I started reading his columns myself and I found his style of reporting so refreshing and being Watford-centric it always looked at us rather than the national newspapers that gave a broad brush approach and in fact seemed to be written by someone who hadn’t even been there! Of course Oli’s contacts within the club particularly his relationship with GT meant the WO was a must read for any supporter in his time at the paper. Clearly GT’s father being a local reporter in Scunthorpe had shown him the importance of how the local media can play in the community. In Oli we had a gem who seemed to instinctively know what us supporters wanted to read and it was very rare that his MOTM choice did not fit in with yours. It was Oli’s reporting that inspired the teenage Jason Rose to write a letter to the WO looking for a job as a trainee sports writer (I got a nice but firm no in reply from the then-Editor) and its because of him my reporting style is the way it is. Although he was never officially employed by the club he leaves an indelible mark on the club and indeed the town and it is fitting the media centre has been named after him. He was as bigger part as GT, Reg, Luther, Big Ross etc etc to why I love the club the way I do and I hope he rests well, thanks Oli.
Take care and stay safe