Saturday, 14 September 2013

Italian Job: Watford 1-1 Charlton Athletic

Charlton travelled to Italy hoping to steal three points, just as they had done in January after that 4-3 epic. The similarities to the classic 1969 film were stark as the game drew to a close - a group of English players turn up and attempt to get the better of the Italians, but whilst all had gone to plan initially, they were left feeling uncertain during a cliff-hanging finale...

Early Moan: 

I spent most of the afternoon muttering about the way Watford have transformed themselves into an Italian feeder club. Just Troy Deeney and Lewis McGugan in the starting line-up were English, with an almost endless stream of Italian (as well as the odd Spanish) names filling the rest of the team-sheet. Since the changes under Zola, I've always looked at it as a sort of betrayal of English football - the abandoning of the combination of signed players built around a core of local players produced by the academy. But Watford have just shipped in a shed-load of foreign stars thanks to a dubious rule change regarding foreign ownership and the loan system. This summer that ruling was changed, but all the Pozzo family did was transfer their players from one of their clubs to another, meaning the Italian influence is still incredibly strong. Of course, Zola still has done a good job to get his squad playing fluid football, but the disproportionate resources available to him compared to most manages really does make a mockery of things. This, of course, heightens the desire to win, or at least defy them on their quest to reach Serie A-- sorry, the Premier League.

The Match:

Chris Powell stuck with his 3-5-2 formation that had served him well against Leicester two weeks previous. Solly was again absent through injury, whilst Richard Wood came in to make his league debut in place of Leon Cort, who is out for around four weeks according to press reports. Kermorgant started up front with Church, ahead of the central midfield trio of Pritchard, Jackson and Stephens. 

Watford started off the better team, but to say it was one-way traffic would be unfair. Stephens was booked very early, after being caught in possession and cynically pulling back his opponent, preventing a counter-attack. Obviously Watford possess a lot of talent, and they put it to good effect with Deeney through the centre playing good passing football with the two outside forwards Forestieri and Fabbrini. A couple of times there were shots from an angle but the attempts to curl them inside the far post were unsuccessful. Charlton were doing a good job of showing the attackers wide, and preventing them from turning inside and having a shot from central areas. As the half progressed, Charlton grew. A clever free-kick saw Kermorgant loop round at the back post, heading across goal. Another header found Wood, and the ball was bundled into the net, but the offside flag was up. Kermorgant was often looking for a flick on to release Church, eventually this created a chance which saw Church bursting through 30 yards from goal, only to be scythed down outside the area. A booking resulted. From the free-kick, Jackson's effort was deflected for a corner.

Another magical piece of play from Yann came close to half time. A diagonal ball was played too him on the right hand side inside the box. He controlled, and then leapt to perform a mid-air scissor kick similar to that which he scored against Hartlepool in 2012. The ball cut back to Church who was unable to fully adjust and tamely skewed the ball to Almunia. Half time arrived, with the scores level. 

From the kick off, Charlton immediately worked the ball down the right hand side. Wilson passed inside to Kermrogant, who flicked it round the corner to Pritchard. He chipped the ball into the area where Wilson had continued his run, only for Belkalem to lunge in and catch Wilson, forcing him to ground. It was a clear foul and the linesman flagged for a penalty. 

Kermorgant immediately had the look of a man determined to take the spot-kick, and score it. He placed the ball down, took a few steps back and turned to face Almunia. Whilst he took his short run-up, his eyes were fixated on the Spanish goalkeeper, up until the moment he reached the ball. His powerful side-footed effort soared into the roof of the net, putting the Addicks one-up. It was a glorious strike. The power, accuracy and conviction in it was sublime. The perfect penalty, and joy in the away end.

Soon after the goal, Hamer was at full stretch to deny a powerful strike by Deeney. Soon after, McGugan fired wide from a great position. A couple of scares for Charlton, followed soon after by Kermorgant going down clutching his ankle. Often he goes to ground but hauls himself up (after treatment, of course) to carry on battling away, and whilst he did so again today, he was clearly struggling. After another five minutes, he went down again, which was a sign his afternoon was over. He was replaced by Pigott, who would have a tough job emulating the all-round performance that Kermorgant had produced.

The frantic half continued. Stephens had a dipping shot from distance saved by Almunia. Deeney almost scored at the other end soon after, his effort flying just wide of the far post. Anya had come on for Watford, and his pace at right-wing-back was a constant menace for Charlton to deal with. A break on that side resulted in Fabbrini forcing Hamer into another good save, but his rebound only fell as far as Pudil, who was able to slot coolly home and level the scores.

At this point, the momentum was all with Watford. For all my petty moaning about the make-up of their side, they played some very incisive, free-flowing, and menacing attacking football. Clinical passing across the box before looking to slot in one of the forwards meant that Charlton had to commit nine to defence, and the clearances were going straight back to Watford to set up another attack. We did extremely well not to concede again, as our defensive shape and commitment was severely tested by the flair and skill of Watford. Anya down the right wing was particularly frightening, using his speed to get to the by-line. Thankfully, the scores remained level.

Having bravely weathered the storm, Charlton had two threatening attacks in the final ten minutes. A cross from the left by Pigott was on its way to Church at the back post, but it was cleared for a corner by a sliding defender. Soon after, a Wiggins cross found Jackson free at the back-post, but his right footed effort was sliced well wide. It was the best, and last, chance we were going to get. 

Once again the busy defensive efforts were renewed. McGugan fired over once again, and an incredible run from Anya set up Deeney, who spurned a great chance to win the game. A desperate cry for a penalty went up, after a ricochet looked to have bounced up into the body of Dervite. Nothing given, and rightly so, given how it was impossible to react to the deflection. Charlton fans were in all sorts of pain, but it was soon over, as the referee blew for full time. A very determined effort saw the Charlton boys return home with a point. 

Watford's fans were irate with the referee, who refused to buy the attempts to win cheap fouls. He was consistent and sensible in the decisions he made throughout the game, despite heavy pressure from the home fans as well as the Watford players. You can't have things your own way all the time...

Performance Analysis:

Charlton were excellent as a team today - the formation requires a lot of energy from the central midfielders as well as the two wing backs, and although we seemed to tire substantially towards the end, it was a really determined effort from the whole side. 

Wood was a particular favourite of mine. He took a ball square in the face early on, but shrugged it off without flinching. He was as solid as his name suggests, making up for a lack of pace with good positioning and reliable tackling. Morrison and Dervite too coped well with the attacking threat of Watford.

Wilson had an excellent game, threatening well down the right and passing with conviction. Wiggins too was good, although Anya gave him real trouble late on. Pritchard ran everywhere once again, and linked well in midfield with Jackson and Stephens. The formation means the trio do not have to play as a line, so they were able to create triangles and link up going forward, further assisted by Kermorgant when he dropped back.

Yann had one of his Gallic Genius days. He won headers, dropped back to hold the ball up and spread the play, as well as show what a superb technique he has. Although Pigott showed good promise, he lacked the nous that Yann has, particularly in terms of when to use his strength. Pigott created a good chance, and held the ball up well, but Kermorgant showed all the attributes today, and rounded it off with a perfect penalty. It hit the roof of the net before the back, such was the precision with which is was struck.

Church ran tirelessly up front, and looked to have developed an understanding with Kermorgant, who was always looking to feed him the ball. Though sometimes it was out of reach, Church forced an opening in the first half but was brought down. His incident at the far end looked dubious, and if true that he swung a couple of punches at the defender who was holding him, he was lucky to escape with a yellow. That said, he looks a threat and will undoubtedly score goals with the service this side is providing. 

Hamer was very good today. His kicking was good, setting up Wilson a couple of times to attack down the right, but he also made a couple of excellent saves to deny Watford. Often he is criticised but today he really did help us on our way to earning that point. 

Final Thoughts:

A point was well-earned, and well deserved. Watford clearly feel aggrieved, but it certainly was not the case of the opposition parking the bus and stealing a point. 

Chris Powell spoke highly of his players, praising the efforts they all put in. "I felt my players, to a man, worked hard for that point. “They showed a lot of energy and quality at times and when they had to dig in when we were under pressure they came through. Watford were in the ascendancy and our players showed a lot of character, and a lot of passion and desire for each other to get something for the game." He does have this wonderful ability to motivate his side, the value of which was shown today. A dogged team effort which deserved a point, at least.

The formation we are playing at the minute is a good one with the players we have. One particular aspect which stands out is that the two wing-backs retain width at all times, meaning the midfield becomes slightly more stretched and space develops for the central trio to work in. It also means that play can be switched from one side to the other hastily, without the need for the flat lines of four to shift over. We passed the ball very well today, particularly when on the counter-attack, and retained possession much of the time too. Whilst Watford tested the central defenders, they largely stood up to the threat well. On another day, a couple of those shots might have gone in, but few teams rival Watford in terms of attacking potency. With a little more control in midfield, we would look very solid indeed. All credit to Powell for having the confidence to try out new tactics. Taking four points off Leicester and Watford is a great achievement. 

On to the next game - Huddersfield may be a struggle if Kermorgant is absent with injury. Apparently he only has bruising, but that may keep him out of Tuesday's away game. He is a vital component in this side, as he provides a key link between the midfield and Church, plus he is a great aerial threat, particularly when deployed at set-pieces. Also, we seem to have a knack of raising ourselves for the big games, so hopefully there is no hangover on Tuesday night, and we can continue to play some of the impressive, incisive football on show today. 

Our away form last season was excellent, and the signs today show that there is no reason for that to change any time soon. I'll be there at Huddersfield, getting right behind the boys and hoping for a good result.

Today, we might not have come away from Italy with a haul of gold, but a point will do just fine. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article and a really good report. Please remember though that over the years we have produced more English academy players than just about anyone else. Your report reads very well and does not need the unoriginal Italy references. Give us a break! Up the Addicks and I wish CAFC all the best for the season. Good luck from a Watford fan.