Another missed opportunity. More points thrown away. And all the pain that goes with a season of high expectations slowly dying in front of you.
I accept that sounds a bit dramatic (perhaps I’ve been reading too much Game of Thrones lately). Well, that’s how it felt at full time.
I had a quick look at the team news as we emerged from our post-Nandos taxi near the iPro. Thorne’s return was no surprise & neither was the fact that Martin wasn’t fit too start (I’d heard a whisper about that particular piece of news). The side contained a shock though.. I’ve sort of had a preference for Shotton for most of this season, but mainly because he’s not as poor as Christie at right back or as poor as Whitbread at centre half. But instead of Albentosa?! The Spaniard has added a solidity to the centre of the defence recently. Of course, we can all see he’s not blessed with blistering pace but the decision to drop him was inexplicable & remains unexplained several days after the event.
As for Watford, Ighalo, Vydra & Deeney in a front 3 was a tad intimidating to be honest. They’d scored a hatful of goals so far this season. The solid but average Ben Watson, the ineffective, lightweight, Mexican social media legend Layun & eventual man of the match Guedioura completed the midfield. The Hornets defence was pretty much as expected.
I thought we started with a good tempo. Watford didn’t get a shoe in, the atmosphere amongst another 30,000+ crowd was electrifying, Ince carved out a few chances & Bent nearly scored from one of them. You began to believe we could win this one if we just kept going.
Lo & behold, we wasted all that early pressure by letting Watford into the game after 15 minutes. The traditional giving away of possession by a full back (it was Christie’s turn this game), a few abject failures to clear the ball (courtesy of Thorne & Christie again) & Vydra was in to score with a fine finish. You can’t allow a striker of his quality that kind of opportunity. But we did.
A gloom descending over the stadium. Well, apart from the yellow-hued SE Corner. They (including, no doubt, The Witch & The Big Man) were bouncing. Things didn’t improve. Another body blow would soon follow. Thorne was subbed after 30 minutes, presumably with a recurrence of his thigh injury. He looked heartbroken as he came off, a feeling probably replicated all around the ground. He needs to rest & get fit now for whatever challenges we face next season.
We rallied a bit & equalised after Motta scythed down Russell in the area. Definitely a penalty but the red card was a bit harsh, as you could hardly say that a clear goalscoring opportunity had been prevented. Well, we probably deserved a refereeing performance in our favour after what we’ve had to put up with in the last few games.
Time for a bit of half time reflection. Russell, Hughes, Bent &, in particular, Ince had all looked lively. But we’d shown our defensive frailties yet again. Still, we had the advantage now didn’t we?
We started the second half well & within 15 minutes we were in the lead after Ince ran past 3 Watford players & superbly curled the ball low past Gomes. He’d deserved a goal, I just wish McClaren would play him on the left on his best foot.
We faced a decision after getting that lead. Sit back, defend doggedly & see the game out? Or go for it, take advantage of our man advantage & score more goals. I’m afraid we did neither & Watford, to their credit, went for it. In response, we never looked comfortable & unforgivably, our casualness in defence, particularly from Fozzy & the lumbering Shotton, let Watford back into the game. It did take an equisite pass from Guedioura & an intelligent finish from Ighalo but we were sloppy. Again.
To our credit, we threw bodies forward in search of a winner. Martin had come on as soon as the equaliser had gone in. We had a few chances & on another day one of them would have gone in. But Watford threw bodies in the way & defended with resolute determination. Perhaps we could learn from that. They deserved at least a draw from us. To be fair.
What’s to be done for the next few games? Well, the reasonably fluid emergency formation we had post-Thorne seemed to work ok. Ince was more effective playing centrally, where he’s not constrained by having to use his useless right foot. Hendrick looked like the most effective right back we’ve had all season. Keogh had a great game. Bryson worked tirelessly, although last season’s attacking, goalscoring form is clearly a thing of the past. Martin made a real difference when he came on, as you’d expect.
So where did that leave us? Automatic promotion has gone, surely, so all that’s left is a desperate attempt to stay in those play off positions. We’re barely in there now, with only a few goals separating us from 8th position.
Failure & another season in the Championship beckons while we carry on losing £7 million a year, possibly our best players & almost certainly our esteemed, in demand, Head Coach. Maybe that’ll be for the best.