If I was to sum up our first game of the season in two words, it would be ‘good effort’. A hardworking, and generally encouraging performance against a team who I strongly believe will get automatic promotion this season.
It was a case of the masters against the students of the 3-5-2 formation, and I think that needs to be taken into account. Watford have a team jam packed with exotic talent, some of whom will have been taught to play in a 3 at the back system, and most of the side had had a year to play together last season.
So Watford have got better quality players who have had a year to integrate. We’ve got a team of English loans and lower league freebies cobbled up, and they’ve played together for 6 games. It would be obvious to anyone who watched 5 minutes of our game against them last season, that Watford are the better footballing side.
That’s why I initially thought Lee Clark was a little bit naïve with his selection choice, and tactical approach. He fielded 2 strikers in Green and Novak, and encouraged a high pressing game. This, to me, was risky. Would it have been better to play two attacking midfielders rather than another striker, to pack the middle?
We started the game positively, put Watford under a lot of pressure, and had a number of corners. But I had that horrible feeling that it was a bit too good to be true, and that with the quality in that Watford team, it needed to be us who scored the first goal. It wasn’t.
Troy Deeney played a delicate one-two with Fernando Foriestieri, who was to become very much the villain of the piece, and slotted in an impeccably timed first touch finish into the bottom corner. Blues fan Deeney had an excellent game, and it looks like he’ll be a key man for Watford this season, as the target man spearheading their pacey attacks. Unfortunately, his 11th minute strike coincided with the minute fans were hoping to applaud Christian Benitez, but the goal became a diversion.
People near me were criticizing our defensive positioning for Deeney’s goal, but I completely disagreed. It was just a very well-taken goal, and the ball went from Deeney’s feet, to Forestieri’s, back to Deeney’s in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, and was in the net in a flash. It was simply a moment of brilliance from Watford’s point of view, not a moment of poor focus from our’s.
But that wasn’t the only thing Forestieri did to anger Blues fans, as on a couple of occasions, he would fall over without even being touched. When the Argentine was taken off by Zola, he drew an understandably hostile response from Blues fans.
Watford then settled on the ball, and spent long spells effectively saying: “we don’t need to attack, come and get the ball off us.” They knocked the ball around the park so well, but impressively they could vary their passing style. If teams don’t close them down, they can pass it short and patiently, if teams do, they can exploit the gaps created with quick counterattacks. They countered particularly in the second half, when although we were on top, Watford had a few moments when they looked threatening.
Towards the end of the first half, we improved and began to get a foothold of the game, with Wade Elliott becoming more effective in the centre. There were a number of times when either Ferguson or Shinnie would swing in a cross, but the ball wouldn’t quite fall for us in the box, and Watford were able to clear. Although, it took a solid Randolph save from Lewis McGugan’s free-kick to keep us only one goal behind at the interval.
In the second half, we peppered their goal and were more than deserving of a goal. Wade Elliott slipped a ball down the right for Matt Green, who cut inwards and squared it across for Elliott, who’s firm shot was blocked by Lloyd Doyley. It was Elliott again minutes later, who fired a pop shot from long range which was deflected, but just looped over the crossbar. From the resultant corner, Shinnie’s mishit shot found it’s way into the path of Dan Burn, who hit the ball on the turn, and drew a reflex save from ex-Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia.
Whilst we were unlucky not to score, there were moments when we were lucky not to concede in the second half. Because we were forced to continue to push men forward in search of a goal, Watford saw their opportunities on the counter, and attacked us at speed. Our defence did well to keep them at bay, and remained firm. In fact our defence was another positive to take from today’s game. The way Watford play, encourages defenders to man mark and get drawn out of position to create space in behind, but we stuck to our zones and didn’t give Watford many goalscoring opportunities.
Dan Burn, in particular, had an excellent game and was fully deserving of the man of the match award. I was disappointed with his performances in most of pre-season, because he seemed to heavily lack in pace and agility, which was made me worried about the speed of Watford’s attacks. But his performance against the Hornets, and last week against Hull, suggests that was just a match fitness issue. He was brilliant in defence for us today, winning every header I can remember and always being first to the ball.
And it was Burn again in the closing stages who unfortunately headed just past the near post from Ferguson’s corner, which meant Blues would open the season empty-handed. It’s always disappointing to lose a game, particularly the first of the season, but I’m not at all disheartened. I didn’t expect us to win this game, and because it’s very unlikely that we could get promoted, our season won’t be defined by games against better quality teams than us. If we continue to put in performances like that, most week’s we’ll get a good result, because the team we had couldn’t have done anything more in terms of commitment.The negative from the game, I would say, was our lack of quality in the final third. Novak and Green work very hard, but will they get the goals for us? Novak doesn’t have a great scoring record at Huddersfield, and Green has only the experience of scoring in the lower leagues. There were times when the ball wouldn’t fall to us in the box, partly because of misfortune, perhaps partly because we lacked in quality movement. Neither Green nor Novak seemed to create a clear-cut chance for themselves in the game, and if this issue persisted, I would find it difficult to cite bad luck as the reason. I do have a niggling worry about where our goals are going to come from this season. Marlon King, anyone?!
By Gabriel Sutton