Written by Neil Dawson
Its good to be surprised in life – keeps things interesting. Heading to the match today I boldly claimed ‘well, we can’t be any more clueless than we were at West Ham so that’s a positive start’ – how wrong can one be. In the ‘we have to get up for this one lads’ crucial game of the season the squad are still in bed, phone set to silent, the alarm light flashing while sweet dreams are being had of Dubai holidays, Baby Bentleys and transfers away. Watford meanwhile are up, dressed, in a nice suit and away down the motorway with three points in a ridiculously easy 3-0 victory.
You want to know when it’s bad….Today we had the ignominy of watching a Premier League team passing a note around to work out a formation. Not only passing it around but watching as players read it in disbelief, stared at each other pointed and tried to work it out, passed it on, Smith visibly shaking his head while reading it – five players it went to all of whom had to try and work it out while a televised elite league game was happening around them. If ever you doubt that we don’t have a Premier League coaching set up – and that doesn’t change your mind – then nothing will.
The much-anticipated formation for the big month as usual raised more questions than answers. It seemed to be ‘how can we get all our best players, our club captain and Dom into a side and still play 4-4-2’ challenge. A challenge that was met by Ake displacing Rico at left-back – a move that has happened a few times before and never worked. It’s not like he is our best centre back and is coming back from a hamstring injury so can run up and down a flank easily is it? We matched a vibrant Watford midfield 3 with 2 and left Solanke in that neither Arthur nor Marthur role, presumably on the back of his scuffed goal v Luton reserves. This, in turn, left Wilson upfront and impotent against three centre backs. Ramsdale had also succumbed to a hammy so Travers was picked ahead of Boruc’s experience. Reading back that paragraph and words f***ing fail me – they really do.
The usual ‘this is a bit better’ first ten minutes happened with some huff and puff and a crowd who were up for it. It’s always a good sweepstake as to which ten minutes of the game we have our only shot on target in and it was the first ten minutes today – Harry’s free-kick was trademark excellence as was Foster’s save.
And that was it….. the shot had come and gone with no goal so we waited to see if Watford would score to win it or it would be 0-0. They were displaying a lot of fight and we were displaying a lot of giving them the ball for no reason so it looked like the former would be the case. Franno gave it away and Travers stopped smartly from Delofeu, from the resulting corner Mariappa should have scored but headed wide. This was in the middle of an amazing spell of us passing it around the back against a high press to management instructions looking bewildered, dragging the whole team backwards and then giving it away. On repeat.
Watford got their winning goal just before half time – in a comedic fashion that the Chuckle Brother’s couldn’t have out farced. The insistence on short passing from Travers to Francis to spark a panic period of possession was about to ring the death bell – Franno gave it to him back on his wrong foot, he sliced it towards Cook – it was intercepted and then Franno had vacated the middle leaving DOCOURE all the time in the world to control and look for a spot. A pub team would have been humiliated.
HT Bournemouth 0 Watford 1
The second half started with the same anaemic football as the first half/this month/this season/most of last season. The team stretched all over the pitch, no partnerships, no one-twos – just bewildered talented players knocking it sideways and backwards. Watford attacked on the break and both Delofeu and Sa should have done better with decent chances. The energy was low, the ideas were lower.
Not to worry though – the tactical nous of the bench had a masterplan. ‘Let’s leave the formation exactly as it is and replace our two best players of recent months and indeed today with two players who have been a little out of form recently’. That, ladies and gentleman, is how you go from 0-1 to 0-3 in a game with ease.
Watford shrugged and got on with the dismantling. A decent break in numbers saw Cook twice dive in unnecessarily on Sa. Travers kept his shot out well with his legs but DEENEY was the only one alert and he smashed an imperious half volley past Travers from a tight angle. It wasn’t game over ( we knew that came after the first goal) but the Watford fans started to believe it might be.
Then came the note – and a formation that, that bad it managed to make the one that started the game look like Liverpool in a groove. Solanke was the defensive midfielder – Smith on the right-wing – Surridge in the hole, Fraser at left-back. This is worth detailing in case you thought Smithy was being disloyal shaking his head when reading it. He did well to show that level of restraint – most people would have ripped it up while laughing hysterically and gone and sat in the East stand clapping.
Anyway – despite all the thought that went into the note this formation surprisingly didn’t spark a late 3-2 win. It sparked a level of giving the ball away hitherto unseen and the third goal for Watford when after a bright run Gray’s shot was cleared off the line to PEREYRA who hooked a volley home unchallenged.
FT Bournemouth 0 – Watford 3
Travers 4 – two smart saves and he shouldn’t have been given the ball that way for the goal
Smith 5 – Kept trying and the odd bright moment on the flank.
Franno 3 – A nightmare all game for the skipper. Cost one goal and nearly two more.
Cook 4 – Bullied by Deeney all game
Ake 3 – Just not a left-back. Didn’t attack. Looked injured. We will no doubt try it again though
H Wilson 4 – Some bright spots early on but very physically weak when challenged.
Lerma 6 – Was looking strong, composed and the only one close to Watford’s level.
Gosling 4 – Some bursts but his elephantine first touch was back
Fraser 5 – Kept going all game and looked bothered which was more than some.
Solanke 4 – occasional turn and hold up but totally clueless in the box and lazy in challenges
Wilson 3 – completely impotent and poor in possession.
(Cook 5 – some nice passing, Billing 4 – show pony – Surridge 5 – tried hard)
MOM – Lerma. Strong and played the games best passes. Best get him off quick then. Hope he was protecting a knock else the sports psychologist needs to work with Eddie, not the players.
There is no point giving the fans red flags if the management team of this football club have got a big white one. That was the least motivated worst team set up for a relegation battle I’ve seen at this football club and I’ve seen a few relegations. The obvious faults are so many it is beyond worrying that everyone can see them apart from the people that matter. I have always said that we should keep Eddie if we go down as he is a great championship manager and I stand by that but for the first time today I will say that he doesn’t look like the man to keep us up. That leaves me wondering if the board think like me and he should stay for next seasons re-structure or if they might need us to stay up in which case they may need to make a change.
Clearly something is very wrong on and off the pitch if you can’t get a cohesive unit out of a very talented squad. People bemoaning injuries but really only Brooks and King would start that game out of the injured players. It’s not the players who are available the blame lies firmly at the management team’s door for not spotting once again what anyone can see. There is one huge blinding truth and lots of smaller ones. The blinding one is if you want to play 4-4-2 you have to go long and quickly if you want to play out from the back you need an extra midfielder in the middle. It’s your choice but what you can’t do is try and play out from the back with one less player, you will lose it. That’s the big point…. the smaller ones:
Ake is not a left-back. Trying it once every two months doesn’t alter this.
Franno is a good back-up. When everyone is fit he doesn’t need to play.
Harry Wilson is not a winger – he shows this every week. He is good in the advanced centre for Wales and we need a player in this position. Go figure out what the answer might be….
If you play ball-winning midfielders you won’t pass the ball quickly or inventively. Cook or Surman even has to start even off form – they will be ok in a three.
If you want the gamble of playing two central strikers they need to reward that with goals (and you need to get the ball to them quickly).
There is a reason Solanke has scored 1 in 50. He isn’t very good. He is not a man to keep us up.
If you set up a team with four on the flanks with two upfront the gap in the middle of the will be exposed by any manager worth his salt time and time again.
If you played a formation that got you 4 points out of Chelsea and Arsenal and was about to get a point against Burnley until we changed it……it might just have been worth persevering with.
There are more but I can’t be arsed. I thought after trying something new, albeit, against Luton reserves, we would stick to it today. The fact that we didn’t and have failed to learn from any one of the smack in the face obvious moments in the last 18 months is shameful. None of our management team are close to earning their money at the moment. They are letting the players down. I saw effort and care from most of them today – they are just bewildered and lost.
It’s never over till the fat lady sings and she is not singing yet – but she is clearing her throat and getting ready for a few warm-up arpeggios. I keep hoping and there are games left but it’s going to take a drastic change around and everything I saw today confirmed my belief that we haven’t got us in it despite having our most talented squad. What a waste.
In Eddie’s defence, he sent out two notes ..
The player’s disbelief was more likely Jason Tindall’s writing and yeah I think you’re over-egging that part of it but it makes good drama queen reading.
Terrible performance and I can’t see it getting any better. I’m more worried for Eddie Howe’s well being that seemingly half of his team don’t appear to want to work for the club anymore. – Join the conversation, click here.