February 2, 2016 by notjustpumpkinbread
OK, I’ll have to hold my hands up and admit this was probably my fault. It was around the 85th minute, Watford had just made a defensive substitution and I was thinking how much more entertaining this 0-0 had been compared to Tuesday’s “turgid” affair. Comparisons between the two goalless outings would abound in my write-up as a midweek trip to Watford beckoned – “bonus for me as I’m already in leafy Hertfordshire” thought I. Overall, a good display against Premier League opposition was cementing the quality of our recent run of form. Oh, damn and blast! Sorry.
Much was to be made of the myriad of changes Mr Dougie saw fit to undertake before those in the Garibaldi set foot on the pitch. Two changes to an established back line rendered some dumbfounded, while others derided the choice of Kelvin Wilson as if such a selection was tantamount to embracing the teachings of the Dark Lord. Yes it’s true, Kelvin’s had a bit of an up and down season, but his last start for us in the previous round of The Cup produced a solid display. It’s clear Mills, Mancienne and Hobbs are above him in the pecking order when it comes to playing in League fixtures, but good team performances breed a hunger within the squad to be a part of an unbeaten team. Players will work harder to be considered and any chance given is a chance to be embraced; an opportunity to show the manager what you can offer. Kelvin did that against QPR and was doing it again for 89 minutes against Watford.
To see Chris Cohen starting at left back was heartening. His road to full fitness continues, but here was an indication from the staff that he’s clearly capable of undertaking defensive duties against Premier League opposition. He didn’t advance as much during the first half, but seemed to gain confidence as the game progressed in the second period, pushing on and causing some problems. Eric and Hobbs completed the back line, with the ever-dependable Dorus between the sticks. It was a welcome return from suspension for David Vaughan, this time to be partnered by Gary Gardner and ably assisted by the young Jorge Grant. Wide duties were given over to Jamie Ward and Oliver Burke, with Dex being the target man. There were occasions when Ward would provide a second option up top with Grant moving to the left, so this particular starting 11 were able to provide a modicum of flexibility when it came to team formations.
And what of the match? Well, Watford forced Dorus to produce a couple of saves worthy of the top flight in the first half, while Deeney showed all the nous needed from a front man – bullying his way to the ball at times, while using his strength to hold play up and bring others into the game. He may not have scored, but he showed plenty of quality. He didn’t have it all his own way though, with Vaughan playing like he’d never been away and head-and-shoulders above anyone else in terms of performance. He does the unglamorous stuff extremely well. He isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty and proved to be the catalyst for most things. Gary Gardner still looks a bit short of match fitness, but didn’t disgrace himself, while Jorge Grant showed once gain why he is a genuine talent.
It was interesting to see both Jorge and Oliver at the same time, as here was a chance to “compare” their progression this season – it was a stark contrast. Jorge looked assured and unfazed whenever he was on the ball, comfortable while in possession and calm when under pressure. Oliver showed an element of naiveté to his game that confirmed his inexperience. This is by no means a criticism. Like Jorge, he is a genuine talent, but needs more game time to hone his skills and find that calmness and belief Jorge already possesses. As for Ward and Dex, well I think it’s fair to say Dex struggled and showed why he’s down the pecking order. Ward hustled and bustled as usual and provided one of the two moments that goes to show the difference between Premier League teams and Championship teams.
There couldn’t have been more defining moments that ended the first half and ended the match. It pains me to say it, but we are currently a Championship team for a reason. As the first half drew to a close and thoughts of which flavour pie would be consumed floated through the minds of many, that 0-0 scoreline against lofty opposition was looking like a fair one. Hold on! A mix up between two Watford players allowed the ever-sharp Ward to nip between them with ball at feet and bear down on goal. We stood in anticipation of celebrating a bulging net; it seemed like it would be harder to miss than…
The whistle blew and while we still went in on level terms, you couldn’t help but think how that one clear-cut chance was missed.
Forty-four minutes later and that 0-0 scoreline against lofty opposition was looking like a fair one. Dex had been missing-in-action for most of the game but Kelvin had done alright…
“Kelvin’s missed the chance to clear the ball from that cross.“
“It’s fallen to one of the Premier League’s top scorers.“
And before you can formulate an inner conversation about how well we’d done, our brief cup run was over and that one clear-cut chance was taken. Ighalo had been on the pitch for around 17 minutes – a 72nd minute replacement for Deeney – and that was (I think) his first shot. But it was enough and that’s why he’s earning the bug bucks in the top flight. Lord Nelson had come on as an 83rd minute replacement for Jorge Grant and duly drove into the box in the dying moments looking to restore parity. To my eyes, perhaps it would have been better for him to stay on his feet and shoot rather than fall over looking for a penalty, but what do I know? It’s an instinctive thing I reckon, I’m certainly not blaming him. A longer cup run would have been nice, but at least now we can…
We’re still 12 games unbeaten in the league. It’s still the longest run in all four divisions. We’re away to Leeds on Saturday and they’ve lost two of their last four games.
COME ON YOU REDS!!!