Let's Always Play With Ten Men!
For the second week running WW sleep-walked through the game with eleven men (after a hectic first couple of minutes), only to buck up after they had lost a player to a red card (today, in the 24th. minute). Admittedly, Watford scored nine minutes later with (for us) a typical counter-attacking goal but really the team minus one looked reasonably comfortable in defence and they certainly created more chances in attack.
It`s all about pace and pressure. Many bloggers have commented that while we are trying to execute SS`s passing plan, we are not doing it quickly or effectively enough. It`s painfully slow and lacking in bite and momentum. Then, we go a man down and we have to up our game and play at a higher tempo.
And it`s not merely due to the need to cover gaps at the back: the urgency transmits itself to the midfield and forwards and we begin to exert pressure on the opposition. Indeed, a more vigorous start to the second half earned its reward with a trademark Sako goal from a long-range free kick in the 52nd. minute. Had Siggy not been floored six minutes later as he was driving into the box, we might even have gone ahead. Amazingly (it happened right in front of me) we did not even get a free kick.
In the final quarter of the game we further ramped up the pressure and could have scored on several occasions. In the 74th. minute Hoban felled Edwards in the box without punishment. But, not only did the referee fail to award a penalty he also booked Edwards for diving. Virtually all of the play was going through Sako, who had moved to the right wing in the second half, and he sent over a constant stream of crosses. On three occasions he found Davis in space outside the box but the latter blazed high on one occasion, shot at the goalie for another and drew out a fine save for the third. Typically, he often found it difficult to spot a free colleague.
I was able to watch Sako at close quarter during this period as I was sitting at that corner of the ground. He looks quite clumsy in possession but has amazing ball control and time and again was able to wriggle out of the tightest of spots. It was therefore ironic that his badly overhit corner led to the Watford counter-attack that resulted in their first goal.
Should both our central defenders go up to attack the corner or another dead-ball situations? We are regularly caught on the break after a badly weighted corner, a misdirected free kick or a poor pass. While our defenders are OK when defending the ball coming at them, they have trouble when they have to race back and find the ball looping over their head. It led to Berra`s dismissal.
This was bizarre. In the 23rd. minute Berra clumsily tackled a Watford player in the box without incurring a penalty only for the referee to send him off less than a minute later for a far milder offence. At the moment referees are not giving us the benefit of the doubt and at this rate we are soon going to run out of defenders. On the other hand, Watford are clearly referees` pets!
What the game showed was that if we do exert pressure on the opposition we can pin them back and we will surely score more goals. So, why don`t we kick-off at a pace that will give us the necessary momentum? In my opinion it`s because our players` minds are struggling to accommodate SS`s new ideas and tactics and they cannot do it at speed. It`s painful to watch and not very effective.
Then, when it is desperation-stakes, as they chase the game, they play instinctively and just drive forward. With Sako as the outlet, they immediately look like a potent force. We created far more chances with ten men than we ever did with a full complement on the pitch.
As for the individual players, heaven help us if Sako is not available to play. On the other wing Pennant was virtually anonymous and gave way to Batth when Berra`s dismissal forced a reshuffle. Doumbia and Edwards had their moments but were unable to dominate their opponents and Doumbia was substituted in the 72nd. minute, probably as a result of a hard tackle he had received earlier. Davis is improving and, to quote SS in relation to the Frimpong saga, deserves a chance.We can manage without Henry.
Batth had a reasonable game: he started nervously, slipping when turned in the 44th. minute but also made some timely blocks and tackles. He grew in confidence as the game wore on and Berra's absence offers him the chance to prove himself. Johnson put in a competent performance, as did Ward and Stearman as full backs. For all their bluster Watford were themselves luke-warm in attack and miscued many shots from good positions. They are not a good side and we should be beating such teams with the quality (at this level) we have in our squad.
Upfront, Siggurdarson got the nod over SEB, who has looked sluggish and ineffective in recent games. He , too, is improving and showed one or two good touches. In the 58th. minute he neatly controlled the ball before beating his man on the by-line and was only stopped from bearing down on the goal by an unpunished foul. He'll start on Saturday. As ever, Doyle ran himself ragged without really threatening the Watford goal.
Clearly, the SS revolution is not yet succeeding and I suspect that we are going to go backwards before we improve. Indeed, with our limp performances from the off we are no longer dominating the first half, let alone scoring goals. Ironically, we only do better at the moment when we throw out his precepts and just go for it. It gained us a point at home to Brighton and it could have given us another one today.
On the bright side, we are exhibiting a great deal of spirit in adversity and have shown that we can pressurize the opposition when we have to. What we need to do is display the same aggression from the start but to do it in a more controlled, SS-inspired way. I still have faith in our manager but evidently the project is still work in progress.
The problem is if we don't pick up the pace and apply greater pressure, we are not going to score enough goals to win points. This will affect players' confidence in the system and in their ability to adapt to it and will lead to a further slide down the table. SS has already let it be known that he intends bringing in players who can execute his plans ... but who will want to come to a team in disarray? This is to leave aside the attitude of our fickle fans and the impact that this will have on performances on the pitch. To be fair, they were brilliant today.