After an early twenty minute spell of sustained Reading pressure that produced one goal for the Royals and about three or four Watford touches of the ball, the rest of the game was spent dominating possession, having the rule of three-quarters of the pitch, and finding new ways to not score.
It’s been a common story this season. Watford have now failed to score in six of their last seven home games; and in the five of those games that have resulted in defeats, the inability to cancel out a first half goal despite considerable pressure has cost Watford points.
The chances are now flowing more than they did at the beginning of that run, but goals are still not particularly forthcoming. Fernando Forestieri hit the post to the left, Gabriele Angella skewed wide to the right and Troy Deeney missed at various heights straight down the middle. Watford can not score from every angle.
Yet again it wasn’t bad. The first half was ponderous, but not worth the boos that greeted the half time whistle. There were no particularly poor performances: Sean Murray was wasteful with the ball but at least showed for it, Deeney was in the mood but was unable to make stuff happen and Alexander Merkel – the first German ever to play for Watford– was tidy but occasionally profligate until he became the first German ever to get sent off for Watford. We just can’t score.
Reading’s early dominance could also be blamed partly on the lack of an attacking threat. With the back line not having to worry about anyone running in behind them they were free to push up and help suffocate the Watford midfield three. The visitors intensely pressed from the off and forced any possession we had to be deep and hurried. Once they got their goal through a Kaspars Gorkss header (though I’m still sure it was a McGugan own goal) they were free to lay off a bit and defend their lead, safe in the knowledge it was unlikely we would do anything to trouble it.
It’s the perfect way to play us at home at the moment, and one that has worked for all teams that have attempted it.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant that seems to have taken up residence in the corner of this great big room we call the internet. Diego Fabbrini.
There was no little consternation following last week’s comparison of Joe Garner and Fabbrini. That’s partly my fault, first because I didn’t elaborate on the statement and secondly because never in a million years would I usually use such hyperbole. Joe Garner is not ten times the player that Diego Fabbrini is. I’d much rather have him in our team, but the gulf isn’t that big. Five times, maybe.
The point is this. Fabbrini doesn’t do anything, he couldn’t see a pass if it was windmilling a yard in front of his face. But he has, of late, seemed to realise what he can do, and that is win free kicks. Whether it’s because he’s too tricky by half for these neanderthalic Championship defenders or whether it’s because he hasn’t got the pace or ability to get away from trailing opposition, the Italian is extremely adept at finding a foul.
You may well have purged Garner’s 24 outings in a yellow shirt from your memory, but he shared a similar skill. In his case, there was no doubt that it was nothing to do with a surfeit of skill, but when he got on the ball you just knew a Mark Yeates drive into a wall wasn’t far off. Garner also had a drive and a snarl that may not have produced anything but a two-yard toe-poke at Millwall but is sorely missing in Fabbrini.
Let me pay him his due, Fabb was far from his worst against Reading, and even threatened to do some good things at times. His ball retention was far improved on previous showings and he even managed to belatedly play in Daniel Pudil a few times, but even in adequateness he doesn’t fit into the team.
I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he could be an alright player elsewhere, but I just can’t see it being here. And that is perhaps a wider problem in the side. Javi Acuña in isolation looks like a good player – smart movement, a good shot and an ability to out-jump defenders twice his size. In practice, however, he hasn’t fit in to the extent that he’s had to downgrade to La Liga to play his football.
The link-up with the Pozzos gives us access to a talented cadre of players, but the ready availability of good players perhaps stops us from getting the right players.
Udinese are like that box of shortbread that you’ve still got sitting around after Christmas. You’re hungry, and although you know that if you took a bit of time, went to the fridge and put a few choice ingredients together you could be happily munching on a sandwich in a couple of minutes, that pile of sugary biscuits just sitting there is too enticing. So you take the easy option. But you’re still hungry, so you take another. Soon, you’ve glutted yourself on all the quick and tasty snacks, but are still feeling that gap that could’ve been sorted with a bit of patient preparation.
To extend the metaphor, what happens when your mum comes home and realises you’ve polished off all of her good biscuits with nothing to show for it?
Against Reading both Fabbrini and Deeney were adequate. Troy’s finishing left a bit to be desired – though Alex McCarthy’s reflex save of his opportunistic flick should have been much more praised than it has been – and Fabbrini tried and succeeded not to be crap, but they might as well not be on the same pitch. The two seem to have very little desire to play with each other and link-up is non-existent. It’s a problem that percolates through the team.
In Sean Dyche’s year at the club we got by on the will of a close-knit group of not-quite-good-enough players. Last year that sort of attitude remained and resonated around the club despite the changes that brought a more talented cytoplasm to engulf the old hard-working nucleus. There doesn’t seem to be that vibe around the place now: it’s very much a group of individuals rather than a team.
The idea that we bypassed the transition year that was expected of last season and could go on ahead of schedule was wrong. In an attempt to give the squad that little bit extra to get us over the Premier League hump, we have brought on another – unplanned – year of conversion. Just four of the side that started that playoff game against Leicester played yesterday.
But not only have the fans got ahead of themselves, but it seems the club may have too. These new players need the chance to build chemistry and to bed themselves in, which is something we were more than willing to allow last year. But it seems that with every failure on the pitch, we have to throw another player at the problem to sort it out. Transfer windows bring with them all sorts of unsubstantiated talk, but it seems that in the near future both Derek Boateng and Facundo Piriz will be bolstering our swollen midfield ranks.
There are holes in the squad that need to be filled (that elusive pacy striker, mainly), but we really need to be setting aside the shortbread and making more sandwiches.