Watford are no great shakes but three times this season they have been too good for us.
Why, how, what the f***?
After enjoying/enduring an excellent view of the most recent defeat from the upper tier of the Vicarage Road stand I had to conclude that their big players, such as Ighalo, Deeney and Behrami, were better than our big players, such as Sissoko, Wijnaldum and Mitrovic.
Theirs were quicker in thought and deed, more prepared to support the man in possession, faster/stronger to the second ball and, most importantly, efficient when chances were made. Our two efforts on target from 11 attempts is simply not good enough. Two out of 11 is not good enough to win matches, because we rarely keep a clean sheet; not good enough to justify picking the same offensive players week after week; not good enough to save us from relegation.
The fans were spot-on (and far more accurate than those almost laughable headers in the second half by Gouffran, Perez and Riviere) when they chanted: “Sign a f***ing striker!” once Watford had gone two-up. Support was lively, loud and occasionally ludicrous. One guy next to me clearly fancied himself as McClaren’s tactical sidekick: whenever an aerial challenge was imminent he shouted “win”; and whenever we ventured near the Watford area he shouted “dive”. Simple game, football.
We should, of course, have been ahead by half-time. The best opening fell to Mitrovic but, clean through and with Gomes diving full length, our centre-forward managed to hit the ball against the keeper’s foot and could only watch the deflection loop agonisingly over the bar. He will have few clearer chances this season.
Mitrovic was lauded for his all-round play against West Ham, yet at Watford he looked isolated, off the pace and lacking a striker’s essential quality of anticipation. If he was fully fit he was either having “one of those days” or he is a long, long way from being the No9 we desperately need. Wijnaldum and Aarons also spurned decent chances before the break while offering little support or supply to Mitrovic, an accusation that should also be levelled at Sissoko.
The defence looked, to my eyes, no better or worse with three centre-backs than with two. The tweaked formation allowed Janmaat, freed of some defensive responsibility, to start and augment plenty of attacks. By the end, having done more than his share down the right flank, he was running on empty. If this is his final season in black-and-white he can leave with his head held high.
I wish the same could be said for all his teammates. Sissoko is apparently desperate to parade his skills in the Champions League. Not desperate enough to bust a gut for his current employer, on the latest evidence. And, sadly, that has been the case almost every time I’ve seen him. The unbelievable home debut against Chelsea nearly three years ago was too good to be true.
Our new engine room of Saivet and Shelvey was far better in the first half than the second. By the hour the former had been substituted, while by the end the latter was reduced to hopeful, aimless punts in the general direction of Watford’s 18-yard box. Shelvey’s shortage of matches in recent months has clearly hindered his fitness. Ditto for Aarons, though that should not dissuade McClaren from picking him again at wing-back. Width is essential if Mitrovic is to flourish.
While our boys were, to a greater or lesser extent, toiling for the cause at Vicarage Road, two strikers mentioned in despatches were doing a job for new employers. Steven Naismith was excellent for Norwich and, at Old Trafford, Charlie Austin justified his £100k-a-week deal by scoring the only goal. Which, incidentally, gave me one of the biggest laughs of a fairly depressing day.
No outing to support Newcastle is without its consolations, even when “rail improvement works” lengthen the journey from and to the South Coast to six hours. On leaving my final train of the day at Hove, I started talking to a Manchester United supporter (who had the obligatory south-east accent). He had been travelling since before 6am but had not been in situ at Old Trafford when Austin struck. “I was thrown out long before he scored,” the middle-aged gent explained.
“But why do you support Manchester United?” I asked.
“Oh, you pick a team when you’re a kid and you stick with them. Mind, they were rubbish in those days. They got relegated. But you pick a team and you stick with them through thick and thin.”
If he thinks he’s got problems . . .
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