Journalism student Billy Hawkins dissects Watford’s 2-1 defeat by Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium on Tuesday
AFTER all the positive improvement in the last few weeks, to ruin your coach`s game plan inside 20 minutes – due to the petty act of fighting – is no way to flatter yourself in front of your travelling fans.
Mathias Ranégie`s foolish red card ruined any potential mimesis in style from the 4-0 victory over Blackpool, and, although refereeing decisions can be used as an excuse – Sam Johnstone should most certainly have been dismissed following his rugby-esque challenge on Troy Deeney – the lack of 11 men on the pitch caused a tactical collapse, and was – most likely – the cause for a dour defeat.
For all the desire to retain the belief of a continental three-man defence, Beppe Sannino – for the third game running – lined up his defensive players in his desired straight back-four.
Although the previous success of this formation has proved its usefulness, the lack of defensive cover behind Daniel Tözsér – both Cristian Battocchio and Alexander Merkel preferred to support the offensive players – created the very central defensive gap which Blackpool were guilty of last week.
Following the sending off, and Watford`s return to a lone-striker formation, the Doncaster full-backs – James Husband and James Coppinger – could push forward and play as naturalised wingers. This allowed David Cotterill and Mark Duffy – who would usually line up as the wingers – to themselves be pushed forward and play off the strikers, adding both width and an overload of numbers.
The Doncaster team – lining up in a remarkably attacking 2-4-4 following Ranégie`s dismissal – could afford to hold the ball in the middle third, knowing that they would always have a spare man available, and would not be culpable to a quick counter attack.
It was Coppinger – playing in his higher position – who assisted the opening goal; after receiving the ball just inside the Watford half, he strolled forward and – as three players backed off – played a lovely cross into the Watford penalty area for Chris Brown to get ahead of Marco Cassetti and head Doncaster into the lead.
The defensive gap was evident in the scoring of this goal; if the ball had been deflected clear, three Doncaster players were in space – either between defenders or in the space between the defensive and midfield lines – ready to attack any rebounds.
The Ottmar Hitzfeld coined “red zone” – the space between midfield and defence – was left unguarded, and it was only Doncaster`s desire to continuously attack down the wings which resulted in a closer score.
The Watford goal – a delicate chip by Fernando Forestieri finished off by Ikechi Anya – was a goal to please the purveyors of teamwork over individual skill. Although Forestieri`s undoubted talent was the catalyst for the goal, the movement of both Anya and Deeney – the latter performing the role of lone-striker admirably – is where the praise should be thrown.
Following the red card, Anya moved into the central channels and started playing in a free role behind Deeney, allowing himself to drift out wide to draw the two Doncaster defenders out of position. It was his diagonal run into the box – losing two men in the process – which created space for the outnumbered attackers.
The winning goal for Doncaster came about due to a desire to sit deep once again, with Billy Sharp finishing from close range after Mark Duffy`s shot was saved by Jonathan Bond. Much the like opening goal, Duffy could pick up the ball and work his way forward without any pressure, and place his shot before the onrushing Tözsér could reach him. And for all the men defending the goal line, it was inevitable that Sharp would get the final touch to seal victory for the home team.
Whilst many will blame refereeing decisions for another defeat, Ranégie`s rightful sending off was the real catalyst.
Following the opening goal, Watford were much improved, but completing 70 minutes with a man less than the opposition is a herculean task. It is hard to tell whether Sannino has perfected his tactical vision, as it could not be seen through whilst a man down, but going by recent performances, there is always potential.
And, maybe it was just one of those days, when everything goes against you; refereeing decisions, deflections and – maybe, just maybe – the opposing team figured you out.