Sequels are rubbish. Jaws 2 was a stinker, the second and third Matrixes besmirched the good name of a classic and even the best film ever made – Anaconda – wasn’t safe from the clutches of a crap follow-up. Reboots are better: a chance to use the broad confines of a fictional world, but develop new paradigms, new character arcs and a whole new vibe. Most importantly, they don’t try to completely replicate success, to improve on something that is often as good as it’s going to get (I mean, Anaconda was glorious).
‘Watford Three Leicester One’, a production that left us all captivated back in May, was the pinnacle. Never will you find a jumbling of paths and situations leading to such a perfect and satisfying climax (forget the epilogue); but it seemed the prerogative of club and fans alike to live off these glories and make today’s meeting with the Foxes a continuation of the story. We couldn’t let it alone.
At ten past twelve this afternoon, we were treated to two clips on the big screen. The first, Jon Marks’ splendid commentary over the Sky footage from that Sunday in May brought cheers from the home fans and understanding jeers from the visitors. The second, Jonny Phillips’ Soccer Special account of the goal left the pudding over-egged. Five minutes before a team struggling to find their feet welcomed a side that had built on their impressive previous season and that was full of attacking talent and in good form, we were laughing at them. We were invoking the gods. ‘We are Watford, and we win! Look! This is us, with everything going against us, winning!’ Hubris like that doesn’t go unnoticed, and boy did we pay for it.
I talked last time (after the 3-2 defeat to Derby) about our shortcomings, and these all remain. So I won’t read that old ground again, but this game, this awful, depressing and hopeless game, showed that there are big problems at Watford.
The Watford Observer printed an interview with Head of Medical Marco Cesarini on Friday that struck a pessimistic tone regarding Almen Abdi’s return from injury. Reading between the lines, it seems it may be some months before we see the influential (if ever there was an understatement) midfielder back on the pitch. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is terrible news.
It goes without saying that the Swiss man is missed, but without him in the team, it’s going to be unbelievably hard for Watford to get anywhere near the form that they showed at the turn of the year last season. In Josh McEachran and Lewis McGugan, the midfield three has two players who are fine enough at certain elements of football, and may well thrive in one marshalled by Abdi, but are not broadly talented enough to carry a midfield lacking Abdi’s touch, vision and drive.
Today, the defenders would stall on the ball, with nobody moving into space to receive it. McGugan is only interested if he’s twenty yards from goal with a clear shooting opportunity and McEachran is far too peripheral, not keen enough to get involved or stamp his authority on a game. The defenders had to go long, or play ambitious diagonal balls that squandered possession and put themselves under pressure.
Cristian Battocchio would be an improvement. His keenness to get on the ball and move it on quickly would, one feels, do wonders for our attacking play. He would also bring a bite that is completely absent from the midfield corps. McEachran is apparently now a holding midfielder, but the thought of him putting a tackle in is insane, and Murray, for all of his industry, can’t do much to help.
But it’s becoming startlingly apparent how much of a loss Jonathan Hogg was. The powers that be must be wishing that instead of shelling out for Iriney they’d paid to relocate Middlesbrough, brick-for-brick, to the Heartwood site in an effort to keep him at the club.
Though Halloween was two days ago, one of the Watford players was still donning his costume, and it was one he’d been working on for the last month or so. Troy the occasionally friendly ghost.
I love Troy Deeney. Love him. When he’s good, he’s great. Remember when he was missing for the first leg of the playoffs? When Wes Morgan shut up shop and Matej Vydra and Alex Geijo didn’t get a sniff? Remember the second leg, when Troy came back and pummelled the massive centre back into submission, dragged him this way and that and capped it all off with a last minute winner? Of course you do, you’ve been watching videos of it all week.
But this Troy Deeney is not that one. He’s a world away. At times today and against Brighton on Monday it was easy for long periods to forget he was on the pitch. I don’t know why he’s off the pace, why he’s not getting into games at all at the moment, but it needs to change. When the midfield is as disjointed as it is at present you need a target man who can lead the line and make the most of the ball.
We may be crying out for a Vydra at the moment: game-changing pace that can return us to the counter-attacking brilliance we saw last year, but we also need a number nine that’s on his game. As Ikechi Anya found space down the right and put in another uninspiring cross today, I longed for a Danny Graham – someone who can find an inch of space in the box and squeeze the ball in. We can look at our ideal game-play and bemoan the lack of a metronomic playmaker or a difference-making speedster up front, but with the present bunched-up scrappiness we need a fighter who can win the game of inches.
That, I feel, was the problem today. Our much-maligned recent defensive displays were improved after Zola – for once – left his back line unchanged. The three goals were all anomalies. It was the complete lack of an answer to these unfortunate events that was the problem. The midfield was poor, Deeney and Forestieri absent and the substitutions didn’t help.
Diego Fabbrini is a showman. He’s not a particularly entertaining one, but that is definitely the pigeon-hole in which he seems intent on stuffing himself. But, to be frank, I’d much prefer him to be sunning himself on the Copacabana than gloved up at Vicarage Road. If a Harlem Globetrotter started turning out for the Chicago Bulls, it wouldn’t be long before his teammates told him to put away the sodding ladder and get involved in a half-court press.
It’s not immediately obvious what Fabbrini wants to get out of this whole football thing, but being part of a team clearly isn’t one of his incentives. His first touches after coming on at half time for Sean Murray, one of the only players who broke out of a jog in the first half, saw him completely ignore a wide-open (and when I say ‘wide’ I mean ‘nobody within 30 yards’) Ikechi Anya and instead run into a mass of blue shirts – if you can believe it.
Much like Lewis McGugan – who was again utterly deplorable but is not worth the effort of elaboration – he will occasionally do something good, but his general play is so sloppy, so completely ineffective – nay counter-effective – that bringing him onto the pitch actively makes the team worse.
The choices of Faraoni and Cassetti as subs was also puzzling. Why not, when chasing the game, Battocchio or Acuña?
There are severe problems, and, to be honest, I’m not sure how to solve some of them. But Gianfranco Zola is now under pressure. You may not like it, I don’t, but with the resources and squad that he and the rest of the management team has, things have got to improve soon.