Category: Gianfranco Zola
Leicester City recorded their 14th win from 19 games this season by beating Watford at Vicarage Road. The visitors took an early lead when a clearance by Watford keeper Manuel Almunia hit Chris Wood in the face and rebounded into the net.
The build-up to the match was dominated by memories of last season’s dramatic final day clash at Vicarage Road, when Knockaert’s missed penalty proved costly as Troy Deeney netted the winner down the other end, meaning the Foxes missed out on the play-off final.
You could see this coming from several miles – and months – away. Frankly, I’d braced myself for a season’s worth of this back in August. Has there ever been a campaign in the club’s history when the current level of expectation has ended in something other than a train wreck? Certainly not in the Premier League era, when expectation has generally been accompanied by foolhardy over-spending, weighing up the cost of not getting promoted as if it were tangible on the balance sheet, and followed by a grand washing-of-hands by the supporters who demanded it. “Yeah, but we didn’t mean Nathan Ellington.”
A late penalty from Lewis McGugan brought Watford a first win in five league matches and sent them surging back into the top six, but the difficulty they had in finding a way past Doncaster offered further proof that last season’s wildly entertaining if ultimately frustrated attempt at promotion will not necessarily segue into a more irresistible upwards surge at their second attempt under Italian ownership.
Where we continue to fail, rather too obviously, is in making our possession count for anything much. We’re caught between simple ball retention, knocking it around without much purpose, and trying to penetrate opponents who’ve been afforded the time to get themselves in order. Occasionally, we stumble on what might be a way out of the cul-de-sac: here, Gabriele Angella launched a sublime, far-reaching pass to find an advancing Anya, cutting through the banks of four in an instant. But, inevitably, that simply led to repeated attempts at the same thing with diminishing results, and it wasn’t long before Angella’s missiles harked back to Jay Demerit trying to fulfil childhood dreams of being a quarterback in the Boothroyd years.
More games from 17th September at https://oldwatford.com/tag/sep17
Both are little men with big ambitions but there the similarity ends. Gianfranco Zola is urbane and mild-mannered, Billy Davies fierce and feisty. And it remains true that teams naturally reflect their managers.
Forest weathered the sort of second-half fightback that is becoming Watford’s custom and would have had maximum points again but for the high-class save, low to his right, with which Manuel Almunia kept out Ishmael Miller’s goalbound shot.
In my head, we always draw one-all with Forest. It’s kind of an unwritten rule. Not strictly true in reality of course; nonetheless a glimpse at the record books reveals ten such outcomes in the last 30 league encounters spanning almost 30 years. It feels as if I’ve seen at least that many.
More games from 25th August at https://oldwatford.com/tag/aug25/
Even for world-weary types like your correspondent, who prefer their battles hard-fought and their victories without any sense of entitlement, this is terribly hard to resist. It almost feels as if the anticlimax at Wembley didn’t happen; perhaps it was such a non-event, swimming in the spring heat haze, that any memories have simply evaporated and left little trace. What might’ve been a watershed moment just passed quietly into history, and here we are: the old gang, back together for another shot at the big time. Even for world-weary types, it’s a tantalising prospect.
If you’ve come for a calm, balanced perspective on things you’ve come to the wrong place. Surely nobody with a vested interest is capable of anything approaching objectivity this evening, in the context of the quite extraordinary last eight days… your best qualified candidate for this is in Cornwall, of all places, so you’re stuck with me. And just a few hours ago I was shuffling up a dazed Occupation Road with a bouncing six year old proclaiming that we were “definitely going to win the final. For certain. If they score a hundred goals, we’ll score a thousand….”. That result, for one, is no longer in doubt, but don’t expect cold analysis here. We’re far too far gone for that.
Troy Deeney scored Watford’s aggregate winner in an extraordinary finish to their Championship play-off semi-final against Leicester. Twenty seconds after Anthony Knockaert had a debatable penalty saved at the other end, Deeney thumped in a shot.
|English League Championship Play-Offs Semi-Final 2nd Leg|
More games from 12th May at https://oldwatford.com/tag/may12
Watford missed out on automatic promotion after losing to Leeds in a game delayed by serious injury to keeper Jonathan Bond. Dominic Poleon put Leeds in front, but Almen Abdi levelled shortly after. Watford’s Troy Deeney then saw red for two bookable offences before news of a late Cardiff equaliser at Hull left the Hornets needing a goal to go up. But Ross McCormack scored Leeds’ winner with the help of a blunder by replacement keeper Jack Bonham.
The blood on the pitch told its own story, as did 16 minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half, and it was a dereliction of duty on the part of the referee, Graham Salisbury, that he did not send Poleon off. Overall Salisbury did not cover himself in glory, having earlier missed Michael Brown denying Jonathan Hogg a clear goalscoring opportunity when he tripped the Watford midfielder in the area.
“I thought at the end that we were going to make it,” admitted Zola, now compelled to lift his men ahead of the first leg of their play-off semi-final against Leicester on Thursday night. “There were 10 minutes to go and, although we had one player fewer, I believed we had the quality. I was taking a big gamble but we had to try.”
This ought to hurt. When you turn away and distract yourself with other things, it ought to be staring you straight in the face whenever you look back. It ought to make you want to punch the wall and throw things and find some really destructive gardening to do. If I take solace in anything – and I’m struggling – then it’s in the reaction of Jonathan Hogg, whose post-match lap of honour was so reluctant and desultory that it barely took him beyond the centre circle and never, not for a moment, involved looking at anything other than his own feet. Lap of honour? Bollocks to that.
Hull remain favourites for second place, but Watford’s much superior goal difference means the Tigers will need to win at least one of their remaining fixtures to prevent a late charge from the Vicarage Road club, who have now mathematically secured at least a play-off spot.
Troy Deeney scored twice for the Championship’s third-placed team and if their hopes of hauling in Hull’s four-point cushion with two matches remaining seem far-fetched, the form of the club’s strikeforce bodes well with playoffs on the agenda. Zola left the Championship player of the year, Matej Vydra, on the bench and the 20-goal striker was hardly missed as his replacement, Fernando Forestieri, set up the first three goals.
The scoreline tells one story. The narrative of the match itself, however, is not (merely) one of us putting inadequate opponents to the sword. In fact it followed the template of several of our big wins this season; against Huddersfield in the snow in January we laboured for a bit against a side hellbent on stopping us from playing – and once we had gotten that first goal we were gone, galloping off into the sunset with the points and never looking back.
More games from 20th April at https://oldwatford.com/tag/apr20