This was another important result for the Rams but a victory was never a certainty. We were second best for a significant proportion of the 2nd half & Watford, with all the attacking quality they have, could have quite easily snatched a win. But they didn’t & the quality, depth & sheer resilience of our squad shone through in the end.
You could say I was a bit apprehensive about this one. We needed to keep up the momentum after that brilliant victory against Wolves but Watford’s forward line, frankly, scared me to death. Aside from that, watching a match with the other half & your best mate sitting in the opposition end, always adds a bit of frisson to things. I wasn’t on my own, though. My fellow Gordon Guthrie Stand ST holder, Spicy Kev, was with me for this. It was also great to meet Radio Derby media celebrity & fellow podcaster, Chris Joyce, before kick off.
Quite unbelievably I managed to correctly predict the Rams starting line up, possibly for the first time since McClaren came back. Dawkins rested after his international games, replaced by Ibe. Again, it was nice to see Shotton retaining his place next to Keogh. The team is becoming more settled, more consistent & that can only be a good thing.
As for Watford’s team selection, I thought they were a mess. Perhaps their two most dangerous players, Munari & Vydra, on the bench. Serial clogger, Keith Andrews & serial moaner Lloyd Dyer in midfield. Well, I think Dyer was in midfield as, not for the first time this season, I had no idea what formation Watford were playing. Possibly two in midfield & four up front but, who knows!
We started with a good tempo & knocked the ball around well. Hughes, Mascarell & Hendrick were all prominent & Russell & Ibe were having a lot of joy against the Watford full backs. Jeff had a pop at goal from 20 yards out after only 5 mins, which Bond pushed onto the post. At the other end, Butland was making a couple of fine saves, from Deeney & then Forestieri. Then, after half an hour, a real heart stopping moment for the 2,000 Rams fans in the Vicarage Road end – Forestieri clean through on the right before Fozzy somehow managed to get of foot in to nick it off him. Part of me thought the ref was going to award a penalty but thankfully nothing happened. Things were looking a bit ropy in the Derby defence around this time, a couple of errors by Keogh added to the nerves.
Forestieri then had a significant role in Derby going ahead via Ibe, near the end of the first half.Why he was in the right back position, I don’t know, but he slipped over, giving Ibe acres of space to line up a great curling strike past Bond. Watford’s “proper” right back, Paredes, was nowhere near. A Glen Johnson style weak link in Watford’s defence, if ever there was one.
Anyway, we were bouncing in the Derby end. Ibe’s a mercurial one. He can score goals (4 in 15 appearances isn’t bad), for sure, but he loses possession easily & drifts in & out of games. But he’s a good option to have. As I think someone has said, Liverpool have loaned him here to make mistakes. And learn from them, with the help of the best coach in the country.
Time for a half time debrief as we had a well earned, middle aged man’s, sit down. We’d not completely dominated but we’d certainly had by far the best of the first half. We should have been more than one goal to the good, though. Watford had looked dangerous & we all knew they would probably come out & have a real go at us. We needed to keep our tempo & be more focused in defence, not let them get at us. Well, they obviously weren’t listening to me & Kev at half time. As McClaren has said, we lost our moment & let Watford back in.
Bringing Vydra on helped Watford immensely, all pace, skill & mobility but the whole team had more aggression & energy about them. We started to look a bit ragged & lethargic. Whereas Hughes was at his tenacious, creative best in the first half, there was no sign of him in the second. Jeff also faded away & Mascarell began to lose possession & make mistakes. Martin missed a gilt edged chance when he tried to round Bond rather than shooting. He wasn’t happy with himself after that. Which I suppose is a nice change from him being continually unhappy with his team mates.
We had to do something. A bit more solidity in midfield? The Eust? Couttsy? Watford added to the pressure by bringing on Munari just after the hour mark. Deeney & Forestieri both had chances. Then me & Kev spotted McClaren dashing down the stairs in the new East Stand to bark orders at the team. He knew we were struggling. Time for a substitution & on came Bryson. Not the change I expected or one that I felt particularly positive about, to be honest. Oh, how wrong can you be?
Munari then scored for Watford, lashing a ball high over Butland. I thought we were in trouble then but the introduction of Dawkins for Ibe gave us a bit more possession & control. Then came the screamer from Bryson, a fantastic 25 yard strike. We had a great view of him lining himself up for it &, as the cliché goes, it looked like a goal as soon as he hit it. The celebration in the stands & on the pitch demonstrated how important it was. It was man hugs all round in the Derby end.
All that was left was about ten minutes to see the game out. This was done very effectively & we even managed to frustrate a few of the Watford players enough to “encourage” them into getting yellow cards. A welcome bit of game management entering into our play there, I reckon..
So where does that leave us? I’ve made a vow to myself to forget about what the league table looks like until after Christmas, so all I’m focused on is getting results & hoping the team will keep performing consistently. This result was another big statement for us, we could have lost it but we demonstrated what quality we have throughout the squad & showed we could see a game out if necessary. If we’d come away from this with only a point it would have been a setback, in my view. We needed to keep the momentum going after that Wolves result. And we did it.