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Watford 0 Barnsley 3 – 9/04/08

Thursday 10 April 2008 by
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I think I’m calm enough to write something. Just about though, so please forgive me if I lose it.

It’s funny you know, I had a bad feeling about last night. It set in when I read a report on the West Ham – Portsmouth game from Tuesday night. In the report, Alan Curbishley bemoaned the poor performance form both his West Ham team and the crowd at the Boleyn Ground. He said it was “flat”.

He couldn’t understand this he went on to say, as this was an important match for the club. The team need to stay in tenth to hit their target for the season (and therefore for the players to qualify for their huge cash bonuses) and this was an important game in making sure they achieved that target.

However, despite the carrot of cementing their place in tenth and banking their additional vast wedges of bunce, they couldn’t get themselves out of first gear. This transmitted itself to the fans in the stands and the whole thing ended up as a damp squib and a forgettable home defeat.

Can you see what I’m getting at? Can you see why I was worried, and why I am now a mixture of resigned, angry and disbelieveing?  Watford had more to play for than just cementing tenth last night. They could have gone top for heaven’s sake. Yes, that’s right top of the league, with four games to go. Our destiny somehow in our own hands despite months and months of abject performances and results that would normally be associated with a team facing relegation.

They could have gone top and that was the best they could come up with.

Boothroyd said after the game that Barnsley were there for the taking. That they looked like a team that were going to get beaten. Perhaps the crowd felt this too, and as a result, just like it was at Upton Park on Tuesday, the atmosphere was virtually non existent.

It quickly became apparent that a lack of atmosphere was the very least of our worries. The lack of Tommy Smith, aruguably our most consistent, and definitely one of our hardest working players, set alarm bells ringing immediately. Jordan Stewart was his replacement on the left, a decent shout I guess considering his half-decent sub appearance on Saturday, but to cut a long story short, it didn’t really work.

Neither did Ellington and Henderson up front. The rare flick ons that were won by one of the big strikers found no-one running on to them, and Ellington in particular seemed particularly unwilling to shoot when presented with the chance.

These two issues give rise to the question – what is wrong with Ainsworth, and what is wrong with Collins John? Neither were afforded a place on what was a very uninspiring looking bench.

Admittedly Ainsworth may have flattered to deceive on his few appearances, but it is no coincidence that our results and performances began their slide to last night’s all time low when Adam Johnson left. We miss his creativity and ability, and Tommy Smith and Jobi McAnuff (occasionally) have battled manfully to fill the obvious void, but at least in Ainsworth we have something approaching an alternative for one or other of them? To replace Smith with Stewart and have no viable alternative on the bench was conservative at best, and at worst just plain weird.

As for Collins John, his place on the bench was snaffled by the enigma that is Tamas Priskin. He has been afforded more chances than most by Boothroyd, and this most recent recall must be classed as all the more suprising as we now have Colins John – a player that Boothroyd has long championed, but seems to have quickly discarded.

Can we expect to see Ainsworth and John at Watford next year? The fact that they are currently on loan and seem to be unable to break into the first team squad at a time when injuries and suspensions are abound would suggest not. (I have since been reminded that Lionel Ainsworth was of course signed permanently in January. Whether I chose to ignore this fact for the purposes of this article or just plain forgot is for you, dear reader, to decide.)

Anyway, back to the game.

Actually, let’s not. We all know what happened. Watford turned in one of the worst home performances in living memory and were comfortably beaten by a side who “looked like they were going to get beaten”. In the event, there was only one team that was going to get beat and as soon as Barnsley scored, the game was up. As with the game on Saturday, there was no response from the players, no rally, no extra urgency in the play.

Watford have never looked less of a cohesive unit, never looked so ill at ease with each other or with what they are trying to achieve. This team couldn’t be more different than the squad who swept to promotion last time, they appear to be a collection of individuals with varying degrees of talent and commitment just going throught the motions. And what is worse, they only just manage to pull that off.

Where this team goes from here, I have no idea. Upwards? On last night’s evidence almost certainly (and perhaps thankfully) not. Imagine that team playing in the Premiership if you dare. We’d make Derby look like Barcelona.

So what then? All I can suggest is a summer of consolidation. A long hard look at the squad and what it actually provides. I think Aidy made some decent acquisitions in Eustace, Saddler and Bromby, and has been unlucky with the striker situation – had Ellington managed to produce what the footballing world knows he is capable it may have been a different story. He hasn’t though, and so we find ourselves here, limping towards the end of one of the most unpleasant to watch seasons for a long, long time.

We definitely have the basis of a good squad, and it shouldn’t all be doom and gloom, but what is painfully evident is that the basis of a good squad isn’t enough, and judging from last night it is nowhere near enough.

I sincerely hope we improve for Saturday’s big game, although for now I can hardly bring myself to think about it. I have better things to do.

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