The thoughts of Editor Tom Bodell following the 3-0 defeat at the hands of Yeovil Town on Saturday
VICARAGE Road has been toxic for some time and at the full-time whistle on Saturday – following a fourth straight home defeat – that escalated into a fully-blown toxic spillage, with anger hitting new highs.
Chants of ‘This is embarrassing’, following Joe Edwards’ superbly-taken third for Yeovil were the only embarrassing element on another exasperating afternoon at Vicarage Road.
We aren’t suddenly a bad team. Heck, we aren’t even a bad team, but right now there is a crisis of confidence at Vicarage Road and to give credit where it’s due, at least Gianfranco had the cojones to come out afterwards and admit that confidence had long since deserted his beleaguered players.
This has been brewing for some time, it does not take a genius to surmise that much, we’ve lost five of our last eight and haven’t put together back-to-back wins since mid-September afterall.
Had we have clung onto all three points at Middlesbrough three weeks ago, I firmly believe we would not be having the discussions that we now are as supporters.
In the kind of rut that we are in, it only takes a scrappy 1-0 victory with the ball bouncing off of a player’s arse to get the feel-good factor flowing around the Vic’ once again.
Saturday’s defeat by Yeovil was a bizarre game, and before I delve any further, congratulations to all from Yeovil; players, staff and supporters, they earned that win and regardless of what those who opined that the defeat was ’embarrassing’ say, they have earned the right to be in this division. The last time I checked, we had at no point earned the right to swat aside any opposition and march into the Premier League, simply because we came close last season.
It was the perfect away day performance from Yeovil and their manager Gary Johnson and there was a degree of inevitability to it, to the point that I had decided earlier in the week to bet on a Yeovil win.
If we are to be completely hypothetical, taking the goals out of the highlights and showing the alternate highlights to any viewer without prior knowledge of the result, one would expect that viewer to anticipate a comfortable Watford victory.
We battered Yeovil for nearly 90 minutes and whilst the stats mean absolutely nothing in the context of the result, they do at least indicate that it was Watford who were on top and equally, highlight the biggest problem for us: our inability to hit the target.
On top of our 65 per cent possession, we managed 27 attempts on goal, a pathetic two of which were on target.
The Glovers, by contrast, took only nine shots, but hit the target with five, scoring three to our none – the only stat the really matters.
That’s the power of confidence for you though.
You can’t seriously tell me that the untried Adam Morgan and the exiled Ishmael Miller are better strikers than Troy Deeney and Fernando Forestieri, but with something to prove having signed on-loan on deadline day, it was Miller who bagged the decisive second.
Forestieri on the other hand, enjoyed arguably our best chance when he got in front of his marker and darted towards goal in the first half, stalling for too long before his route to goal was blocked off.
A confident Forestieri would not have allowed himself the extra touches or sought the space to guarantee a better chance of rustling the net. A confident Forestieri would have shot first time and scored a memorable goal, much like at Huddersfield earlier in the campaign.
This is – injuries aside – the same team which took apart Bournemouth and Barnsley earlier in the season and begun the season in the fashion expected of it.
The second, like so many in this horror run, was eminently avoidable and largely down to individual errors.
Firstly Daniel Pudil meekly surrendered possession before Joel Ekstrand compounded the initial error by throwing a foot into a challenge he was unlikely to win before falling over and allowing the crosser to pick out the unmarked Miller.
Cataclysmic errors all round.
The third was us in a nutshell recently; chasing the game and exposed on the break with eight or nine of our players in the opposition’s final third as Yeovil broke with devastating effect.
All of which leads us to the inevitable questions about Gianfranco Zola’s future.
If it was me in charge, Zola would be safe for the season. He overachieved massively last season by somehow moulding his rag-tag band of loanees into the most exciting side to ever grace the hallowed turf and to that end, is in credit this season (with me).
Should Watford finish woefully short of the top six, then by all means, let him go, his contract will be up anyway.
But right now, we’re 17 games into the season. There’s 29 to play and after witnessing last season’s extraordinary run to the cusp of automatic promotion, I have every faith that Zola will turn things around this season.
Despite this horrific run – and no-one’s denying it’s not been horrific – we still sit 10th, just four points outside the Play-Offs.
Every team in the division will have a bad spell, some will last longer than others, but we can at least be hopeful that ours is now, rather than at the business end, a la last season.
And, as previously eluded to, a lot of the goals we are conceding at the moment are down to individual errors. However much work Zola and his coaching staff do with the players Monday to Friday, they cannot legislate, nor be responsible, for the amateurish errors made by the players at 3 o’clock on a Saturday.
For what it’s worth, if this run of form continues much longer, I think the Pozzos will bring a resolution to the ‘Should he, shouldn’t he’ debate and part ways with Zola anyway. They are not known for their patience if we look at Udinese and Granada as indicators.
There are undeniably issues with the side at present, issues which have been discussed time and time again in the past couple of months, but the current injury crisis somewhat limits the options available to Zola.
It has become painstakingly clear in the last couple of home defeats that without Abdi, the play naturally moves to the flanks.
Unfortunately, only one of our strikers offers any kind of physical presence in the penalty area – Deeney – and even he does not win that many duels in the air, particularly against monsters like Byron Webster and Shane Duffy.
With the side currently built around the inclusion of wing-backs, it feels like we are designed to get the ball wide, when really our strength lays in the middle of the pitch.
I’ve long been of the opinion that the problem is not the system, but I am now wondering whether or not it is time to return to the 4-3-3, particularly as it is Zola’s favoured system.
Pudil is someone who I feel is better served at left-back anyway, because despite his good delivery, he is not the quickest or most positive in possession and will not run at his opposite number.
With three up front, we are afforded the flexibility of having one man leading the line and two players coming short to receive the ball – one of which could be Diego Fabbrini, who loves to carry the ball – something which should rectify the lack of cohesion between the midfield and forwards.
And what happens if the decision is taken to sack Zola? – who comes in?
You’d have to expect that his replacement will be a free agent who buys into the current setup, which rules out a lot of British managers, one would imagine.
The name Roberto Di Matteo has optimistically been thrown around, Zola’s former Chelsea team-mate will doubtless be on the look-out for something bigger than Watford after being in the hot-seat at Stamford Bridge and touted for the Napoli job over the summer, even if he has been spotted at several games this season.
Zola’s name was thrown around before the Pozzos even took over, he was a big part of their project and – again, it’s only conjecture – but, it would be a big decision to sack someone who they were so keen to head up the playing side of things.
I’ve written about the disturbing sense of entitlement around Vicarage Road this season, but it’s more prevalent than ever now. These are tough times in the context of a season where we were hoping and expecting to be challenging from promotion, but if one thing is for certain, the players need our support more than ever at the moment.
Roll on Tuesday and keep the faith.