Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The morning after the night before..

OI! Zola, what are you looking so happy about?

I’ll be honest. I wouldn’t have made six changes.

That said, Gianfranco Zola and I differ in many ways. There are a lot of things that he has done that I haven’t. Among them, making 629 club appearances and picking up 31 International caps during a playing career that spanned over two decades. He’s also managed in the Premier League. It’s fair to say our footballing experiences have been slightly different. A glittering career and a (well deserved) reputation as one of the nicest men in football shouldn’t mean he is exempt from criticism of course, but I must confess to being shocked at the level of abuse headed Zola’s way in the wake of Watford’s defeat at Bristol City.

High on the list of accusations was complacency. Of not taking bottom of the table Bristol City seriously, making changes because he thought we could just turn up and win. I find that a tough notion to entertain. In twenty seasons of football, Zola will have played against bottom of the table sides at least forty times. I find it impossible to believe that he and his teammates will have left the field after any of these encounters thinking “crikey, that was easy, we should have sent out the reserves…” That’s just not how football is. With this in mind, why would Zola change his outlook now? After being involved in the professional game for 29 years, why on a wet Tuesday night In Bristol would he decide that bottom of the table teams are easy to beat?

The other main charge levelled against Zola, was one of playing a weakened team. A weakened team? A team weakened by the presence of Fitz Hall, one of our most consistent defenders, fans favourite Sean Murray, club captain John Eustace, Jonathan Hogg – who supporters had fretted about losing to Ipswich, Alex Geijo, complete with his record of almost a goal every other game in La Liga and cult hero Fernando Forestieri? I’m sure there are plenty of other clubs who would like to have those sorts of weaknesses.

Quite apart from anything else, if players aren’t good enough to feature in the first team, what are they doing on the books? Weakened team my foot. I’m not having that.

What (I hope) people were actually upset by was the changed team. I wouldn’t say I was particularly  angered by the changes, but I’ll repeat my first sentence – I wouldn’t have made six of them. If it ‘aint broke don’t fix it is on the surface of things, a fairly sound motto, but I’ll repeat my second point – Gianfranco Zola knows a lot more about football and the inner workings of this Watford team than I do.

The elephant(s) in the room are Deeney and Vydra. Two of the most feared strikers in the division left on the bench. Were they tired? Did Zola want to keep them fresh and hungry for the upcoming games? Were they carrying slight injuries?  Perhaps. We’ll never know. It was a brave move, whatever the reasoning behind it, and whilst it didn’t pay dividends in this particular game, it may benefit them and the team as the season progresses. There’s a long way to go and perhaps even hotshot strikers need a bit of looking after from time to time.

Two of our other stellar performers have been Chalobah and Cassetti, both also left on the bench, both for presumably the same reason. One is very young and playing his first season of competitive football, the other is older and is playing in what must be one of his last. Chalobah has been showing signs of needing a break, losing possession easily on occasion, whilst expecting Cassetti to play 46 games is totally unrealistic. Resting them at different times may have made more sense, but if it turns out we’ve sacrificed this game to keep those two at peak performance for the rest of the season, then it might have been worth it.

Battochio and Doyley were the others to drop out, both of whom will have been disappointed. It’s unlikely however that they’ll have been as disappointed as the 1,000 Hornets fans who had travelled to Ashton Gate and the countless others who were listening in, hoping that Watford could secure second place in the table. I count myself among that number. I hate losing, especially in what looks like a winnable game on the back of a terrific run of form.

The chances are that Zola probably made a few mistakes last night and I’m sure they won’t be his last as Watford boss. I’d be amazed if he wasn’t as frustrated as the rest of us with the result. As supporters our duty isn’t to blindly praise or defend everything that happens, we have the right to be critical, to pass judgement, to offer our opinion. It’s part of the fun, an intrinsic part of the football fan experience. If however you’re going to be critical, try and think it through. Take your arguments or observations through to their natural conclusion. Weigh up both sides before condemning. I repeat. We all have the right to criticise, but there are very few occasions, especially at this moment in time where that criticism can’t be constructive.

Come on You Horns.

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  1. Good stuff Mike.

    Wouldn't dispute any of your points, but just to add that by all accounts Bristol looked a bit flaky , got a break and then defended well. That could have happened whoever was on the pitch. Good decisions don't guarantee good outcomes.

  2. A well balanced post Mike. Nothing in the Championship is guaranteed, and I fear last night's response was less about squad rotation and more about fever pitch expectation on the back of excellent form. Watford are a squad still learning, hopefully when everyone's calmed down a bit they will see that!

    Some more thoughts here...

  3. Well put Mike. Okay so we lost a game that we could (should) have had more control of. But we remain steady, we hold 4th place and there is still half a season to go. We have time to consolidate our position and take the opportunities open to us to push up to the top 2 position. Your points are all extremely valid and I stand with you on each of them.

  4. Was the team weaker without Vydra, Deeney, Cassetti and Chalobah? One word answer, yes or no?

  5. Mike, I think it's not unreasonable to believe that the team which played v Huddersfield and v Forest would have won last night. We'll never know now of course but that's certainly what most of us felt anyway.

    As you said, 6 changes last night was too many, I would have made 2 or 3 maximum and even before last night I was thinking just the one (bringing Hogg back). I've always believed in not changing a winning side, and especially not leaving out strikers who are, without question, on fire.

    I think we all believe completely in Zola, and this season overall has been fantastic. No one questions that.

    But after travelling to Bristol and paying £25, we all have a right to voice some frustration today. We could have made a real statement last night, moved to 2nd in the table and put some pressure on other teams around us. There's just a disappointment today that we didn't put out our strongest team to make that happen.

    As for Murray for being a fan's favourite, last season yes. This season no way, I haven't seen one good performance from him this season and everyone around me wanted him subbed before half time last night.

  6. "One word answer." Good grief. What's the point of reading a lengthy and thoughtful article if you're then going to ask for it all to be condensed into true-or-false to avoid dealing with those difficult complexities? Twitter really does have a lot to answer for...

  7. The first goal. Its the deciding factor in games like this, we didn't take our chances, and to be honest didn't create enough of them to take. Had we scored first yesterday there most defiantly would be a different outcome

    1. Agree with MG - if we'd scored first yesterday, especially if we'd got the first 3 goals, I think the outcome would have been very different and people would be hailing Zola's decision to win the match.

  8. The most irritating thing about it is when someone can't admit they got it wrong. We all knew we were up against it when we heard the team and we were dreadful but Zola insists he got it right. A bit of honesty earns a lot of good will.

    I can understand resting Chalobah as he's a young lad on loan and has played a lot of games but I'm not sure the other 5 were so desperately in need of a break all of a sudden.

    Zola has done very well this season so he deserves to have us cut him some slack but that is twice now he's made the same mistake and won't hold his hands up. Thats the kind of thing that winds people up.

  9. Agree Mike Zola needs to wind his neck in and maybe head back to Udinese for another year to learn the ropes, before chancing his arm at Championship level.

  10. Like you say, it's not the individual players, this was not a weak team, though there was one i wouldn't have played, and two i wouldn't have played together but what do i know. The point is that it was far too many changes in one go. It's not the first time he's done it, and by all accounts, it won't be the last, which is disappointing, and yes, sometimes it works (Leeds) and sometimes it doesn't (Charlton and Bristol City). I'd just rather he didn't take the risk, and change 2 or 3 max at any one time. i'm sure most of us wouldn't be saying anything today if that had been the case and we'd lost. Saying that, BCFC were ready for us and we just seemed to lack imagination going forward. Whether that would have been the case with last Saturday's squad we'll never know. We can only move forward, and let Zola do what he thinks best, and hope that from here on in, we'll do as well as we have been. There's always going to be the odd blip along the way, he's only wish is that he learns from this.

  11. Mike thanks for your considered comments both in this blog and on Twitter last night. I was as annoyed I guess as the next man, concerned at the selection first of all and then of course at the outcome. I was discussing things at length with @tupgill and we both agreed that this was zola's way and he knows the squad better than anyone of us do and sees the bigger and long term picture. I think the thing that concerned me about the selection as well as the changes was the real lack of creativity in midfield that proved to be the case. Chalobah and Battochio keep the ball moving quicker than Eustace and Hogg and Chalobah has been a beast this year even when he has played badly he has dominated posession. I might have put one of Hogg or Eustace in but not both and the Murray selection was bizzare to say the least. I do agree with a lot of your comments though and thankyou for bringing your sanity to the proceedings some responses last night were all out of serious proportion. Thanks again mate.

  12. This article is so welcomingly refreshing to read and as much as I may not agree on 100% of the points made, I do agree 100% on the way the points were argued - a genuine and wholeheartedly personal take on a series of events which dares to consider other factors and the fact that there may indeed be a wider context to the decisions made by Zola - somebody, by the way, who is far more qualified to make those decisions than his average critic. Seems to be a rarity these days.

    However, I would also add that Zola mentioned the wider context (i.e. looking at more than just one result) post-Bristol City and whilst I expect he would still have been disappointed not to win, he has - as has been mentioned numerous times - done this throughout the season and I think I'd struggle to find anyone who criticised the rotations who doesn't believe that the season as a whole is going pretty damn well. The game most fans allude to as the game Zola should have 'learnt' from is of course Charlton. We rotated. We lost. We lost one game, to a team who it didn't matter if they gained 3 points on us. We then went on to win 3 on the bounce, including games against teams around us, also challenging for promotion. Who's to say we won't go on to win 3 in a row now?

    Also, the fact that the squad is rotated against weaker teams is not born from a 'lack of respect', but is just logic. If we lose to a promotion rival, we lose out on 3 points and our rival gains 3 points on us. If we lose to a team at the bottom, we lose out on 3 points. Nobody around us gains points from our loss. I know who I'd rather lose to between Bristol City and Palace.

    Finally, I don't agree with every change Zola made, as the Bristol City selection to me looked decidedly short of goals, but I do agree with him making his own choices and will understand if and when he does it again.

  13. Told us and the players not to get cocky then disrespects Bristol City by making a cocky six changes. Hopefully he will learn from this but onwards and upwards COYH!