Watford 1-0 Hull City
The days of going away in this division, defending as stubbornly as possibly, getting in the boots of the opposition and praying for a draw are over. Despite being weakened without Ashbee, Okocha, Pedersen, Folan and Windass in the starting line up, we now have the confidence to play against good sides and we played pretty well today. The only difference between the sides was Marlon King, a superb weapon at this level, tall, strong, quick and intelligent - everything we hope Caleb Folan might turn out to be. Elsewhere, Watford are workmen-like with pace in wide areas and two dumper trucks at centre back. We matched them for effort and determination and passed well too.
Unfortunately, our good play fell apart a little bit in the last third. Despite creating good opportunities, we didn't translate them into too many goalscoring opportunities. The absence of Okocha is the obvious excuse, but there was enough quality on the pitch for us to have done quite a bit better. Hughes and Ricketts crossed tamely from wide areas. In the first half, Hughes appeared to be giving Richard Lee catching practice. The one exception lead to McPhee stooping to head wide. Our other half chances generally came from balls into McPhee or Campbell with their back to goal. Only twice did Marney or Hughes get beyond the strikers, the first ended with Hughes hitting the side netting and the second with Marney pulling a great cross across the face of goal. None of our players had gambled at the far post and a glorious chance went begging. To rub salt into the wounds, Watford's clearance found Marlon King, who skipped past Turner, a tad fortunately, and finished into the bottom left hand corner. Watford rarely looked like adding to the lead. O'Toole hit over from close range and forced a great save from Boaz in the second half. That apart, we lived comfortably. Livermore competed in midfield and Turner and Brown took control of most situations. We still struggled up front. Windass came on for Garcia and Hughes moved inside to make 4-3-3. Despite plenty of willing running, particularly from McPhee and Campbell, we couldn't open any doors. Our best opportunities came from outside the box. We tended to over play a bit and Hughes and Windass passed up opportunities to shoot from range. Following Elliott's introduction, a great move involving McPhee and Windass lead to a shooting opportunity for Stuey on the edge of the box. He skied it when you expected him to score. That was just about our last chance as Watford closed the game out professionally.
We started with a 4-4-2. The gaffer, perhaps feeling the Barnsley game is the better opportunity to take 3 points, left out Windass and Okocha. McPhee has earned his starting chance and Campbell and McPhee looked a mobile combination who might get in behind their centre backs. We never quite found the service to make that possible. For all his effort, McPhee didn't look bright enough to beat their defence. Campbell on the other hand was sharp and skillful and looked like a real prospect. It's quite a mouthwatering prospect, imagining Campbell getting on the end of Okocha's passes. He did a decent job in the air too.
The four who started in midfield worked hard. Garcia shut down the threat from Jordan Stewart and as a result, there wasn't a great threat from Watford's left. Livermore and Marney matched up to them in midfield and used the ball quite well in the first half. Bryan Hughes was disappointing. He spent the first half an hour drifting inside, cluttering up the middle and removing any threat from our left. He eventually got the message from PB to stick a bit wider, but failed to deliver anything penetrating. The switch to 4-3-3 suited him most and he got on the ball more in the second half, but still struggled to create anything. Garcia also failed to threaten them from wide. He carried the ball out well, but Ricketts was unable to join in and he generally offers the best attacking option from the right. Going forward, Marney looked a threat early on, forcing 2 comfortable saves, but rarely hit the area between the half way line and the 'D' where his pace causes a problem. The game passed him by for the first 20 minutes of the second half. Same old criticisms, I suppose, but now his work rate makes up for it a bit.
We defended pretty well. Michael Turner, "Mr Dependable", was as good as ever. He was generally calm and strong, and when he did misjudge the ball, he was quick to get back into position. Brown did a decent job too. He's not the best defender himself, he's 2 inches and a yard of pace short of being a top defender, but he brings a great serenity to those around him. Henderson and King are a great front pairing, but we kept them wrapped up close to goal. King got away twice, once to score and a second time when Ricketts' pace forced him wide of goal. Henderson, who's been in great form, rarely saw the goal. Delaney and Ricketts had decent defensive games. Neither got forward as much as we'd like, although Delaney overlapped well in the first half, but Hughes used him as a decoy every time. Boaz was solid, dealt with most high balls and made a decent save when it was called for.
We fell foul of another poor referee. He didn't make game-changing decisions, but he gave every 50/50 decision the way of the home team. He also booked four City players but none from the home team, despite similar offences. Gavin Mahon committed 6 or 7 fouls, including pulling down Marney on the half way line to prevent a break away and a late tackle on the same player later on and yet avoided a booking. We are too honest. McPhee stayed on his feet twice in the area when Watford arms were all over him. Watford meanwhile, went down at the slightest contact. The funniest incident saw Danny Shittu collapse under the heavy breathing of Frazier Campbell. It was the equivalent of a Mini Cooper knocking over the Humber Bridge.
On one hand, it's comforting that we played well against a fancied side away from home, despite missing several key players from the starting line-up, but on the other it's another game that we should've taken more from. We had good possession and positions and with a better final ball, or a calmer head in the box, we'd have at least one point. The 'should have' points column is mounting up, which worries the pessimist in me. We've got 2 home games next and we need to be looking to take 4-6 points. We're good enough; I don't think there's any doubting that. If JJ is back to pull the strings, we've got a team who will worry the opposition from several angles, defend stubbornly and hold on to the ball well.
Ratings: Myhill 7, Ricketts 6, Delaney 6, Turner 7, Brown 6, Garcia 6 (Windass), Hughes 6, Livermore 7 (Featherstone), Marney 6, McPhee 6, Campbell 7 (Elliott).