Ahead of Watford’s penultimate game this evening at Charlton, resident columnist Billy Hawkins takes an in-depth look at the Hornets’ failings at Derby and beyond
Moving from the theoretical end of the season to the mathematical end of the season was not as painful as expected. The knowledge that – as Reading achieved victory – any final play-off push was out of Watford`s hands may have created a dulling of the senses. Or maybe, after the whistle blew to bring the end to a 4-2 loss at Derby County, fans were left asking more questions about the squad than have been vocalised throughout this turbulent season.
Injuries may have forced Beppe Sannino`s hand, but the first team on show was clearly one that struggled to work together. Albert Riera once again started in the right wing-back position, and once again showed his lack of positional intelligence. Unlike the games of Ikechi Anya and Daniel Pudil – who fulfil the role of wing-back with exceptional stability – Riera is inclined to cut-in and congest the central midfield position.
Although useful in allowing Lewis McGugan and Cristian Battocchio to move into the attacking third with the knowledge that someone is covering their position – Troy Deeney`s opening goal came from a Battocchio run through the centre – Riera`s tendency to linger on the ball causes a slowing down of play, and allows the opposition to reorganise; thus making the potential to pass and create space in the midfield third almost impossible.
The loss of Gabriele Angella also had a much larger impact upon the game than people foresaw. Although his talent is always evident, there are certain parts of his game which have caused criticism from certain camps. An amazing tally of seven goals in the league may have shaded certain defensive lapses, but, judging by the defensive performance on Saturday, his absence at the back is heavily felt. Being the mainstay of an ever rotating defensive unit – he has the second highest appearance count this season with 38 starts – makes Angella the organisation fulcrum of the first team.
Although defensive lapses occur with the Italian in the starting line-up, they are generally individual errors, rather than individuality – Pudil`s headed clearance which led to Derby`s equaliser, and Marco Cassetti`s attempted Cruijff turn on the edge of the box – combined with the collective hopelessness that encapsulated this performance.
For all the defensive lapses, the one that sticks in the memory can be described in no better manner than as a shambles. After Chris Martin – running off the ball – drew the three centre-backs with him to the right side of the field, ex-Watford loanee George Thorne played a simple pass to Jamie Ward, who really should have scored past Jonathan Bond. What madness caused every defender to follow Martin, we, as viewers, will never know, but we can expect Sannino to have addressed that childlike action.
For all his talk of fixing the defensive problems which have apparently transcended the players and entered into the club psychology, Sannino`s methods seem to be backtracking. An instant improvement – as seen by the supremely impressive clean sheet record he established – has once again been removed in favour of a return to the previous problems that characterised Watford Football Club.
Although this could be down to end-of-season blues, with the players already ‘on the beach`, as the saying goes, one would have thought that Sannino would be using this time to build for next season.
Unless he intends to have a complete overhaul during the summer months – and cannot see the majority of his current squad as fitting his idealised model – competitive games are the perfect foil to test out his supposed favoured 4-4-2 pressing model that I have explained previously.
One would suspect that the squad are ready to finish the season, and move on from what has been a year of dreadful defending, inharmonious identity and an ego-grounding experience from last season.
One can forgive the players for such a mentality at this late stage of the season – with only two games left – but one also hopes that, for the final home game of the season, the team play with pride and impress the fans for one final time this season.