Away From Home: All Over?
Time to accept this season as a write-off, and start building for next year. Time to understand that Watford have work to do if they intend to leave the Championship next season. But, it is also time to look forward to next season, and the hope that a fresh slate will bring the success that has been elusive since the Pozzo`s takeover.
Whilst an acceptable home victory over Ipswich Town catalysed the return of dreams and ambitions of top flight football next season, coming up against the quality of QPR certainly quelled the potential promotion party.
Considering Harry Redknapp`s squad is more rounded than certain Premier League squads, losing 2-1 at Loftus Road is not a shameful result - especially considering the performance by Beppe Sannino`s men was of very high quality. Only a sly, if not brilliant, free kick from Joey Barton, and another last-minute goal from Charlie Austin, could destroy the hopes of Hertfordshire. Whilst the gulf in quality suggests that Watford are not ready for the Premier League, and conceding another late goal suggests that lessons are still to be learnt, the overall impression of the game - including the fact that Austin`s goal resulted from high Watford attacking pressure, rather than sitting deep as has been their wont recently - once again emanates optimism.
Aside from two moments of attacking quality, Watford and QPR played an uncannily equal game; each team shared 50% possession, Watford had 80% pass completion to QPR`s 78%, and the R`s completed only one more pass and tackle than their counterparts - 412 to 411, and 23 to 22 respectively. Aside from showing that Watford can go head to head with the best team in division - although league position says otherwise apropos QPR`s quality - it also proves that Sannino is 'learning the Championship` - as the old adage goes.
Whereas, on his arrival, a similar set-up was used in the majority of games, regardless of opposition, Sannino has now started forming his team around his opposition, as well as to his ideologies. The directness which he brought with him was forsaken in search of closely-knit midfield play, with height and power added to the ball in the final third. Although Troy Deeney and Mathias Ranégie were both playing through need - with injuries once again resulting in no forwards on the bench - their physicality was to cause problems to the aging defensive live, with 34 year-old Richard Dunne only winning 50% of his aerial battles, and 35 year-old Clint Hill winning only 29% of his. It was this defensive uncertainty which lead to the opening goal, with Deeney out-jumping two defenders and heading the ball on to Ranégie, who turned Dunne and poked the ball past Robert Green.
It was very much a Championship goal, but considering Sannino has come under criticism for refusing to accept the technicalities of the division, to mould his team into a blur between English and continental methodologies is an impressive feat. The remaining weeks of the season will surely be seen as an extension to pre-season, with the competitive fixtures available the perfect environment for Sannino to work out how to approach the upcoming transfer window - and the upcoming footballing year.
Of course, as the game drew to a close with a draw the likely result, Sannino`s gameplan was discarded in favour of the search for a goal. With victory the only result to keep a play-off spot open, the all-out-attack of the final minutes of the game was an honourable decision. Although, inevitably, the loss was recorded, it was not for lack of trying.
Anyway, isn`t it better to lose searching for a winning goal, rather than sitting deep and accepting your equal fate?