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Match Report: Watford 4 Doncaster Rovers 1 (A Watford Fan's Perspective)

Sunday 1st January 2012
So to Vicarage Road for the 1pm kick-off, New Year's Eve final Championship Match of 2011. Watford's Journeymen vs Doncaster's Experimentals – a fixture to savour.

Watford's recent form has been good, unbeaten for seven games.  However, their penchant for turning winning positions into frustrating draws meant the run had yielded fewer points than fours wins & three defeats would have, and so The Orns languished 18th in the league with 27 points, eight points ahead of 23rd-placed Donny.

As the matchday programme pointed out, the Journeymen are currently augmented by Premier League loanees, Nyron Nosworthy (Sunderland) and Michael Kightly (Wolves), both of whom were making their last home appearance in Yellow.  With the transfer window about to open, there was rumour, speculation and worry among the Watford Faithful that it might be our last sight of Marvellous Marvin Sordell for the Hornets, too.  For the Blues (odd choice of away strip for Doncaster), their team was also peppered with on-loan “stars” such as Herold Goulon (on loan from Blackburn) and Habib Beye (on loan from Villa), as well as established quality players like Billy Sharp and James Coppinger, supplemented by acquired “names” Pascal Chimbonda and the infamous El-Hadji Diouf, meaning Yorkshire stalwarts such as James O'Connor and James Hayter were confined to the Away bench.

The first half hour's play was typical Championship fare.  Two average teams battling it out, looking fairly evenly matched with occasional flashes of quality to liven the proceedings.  Each time Kightly took the ball down the left, he seemed able to waltz past a couple of Blue defenders into a potentially dangerous position.  Each time El-Hadji Diouf was on the ball, he looked accomplished.  Watford had the bulk of the possession, created more half chances but little that was clear cut.

Of note was the forced substitution of injured Pascal Chimbonda, replaced by James O'Connor after just 25 minutes, followed five minutes later by a booking for Herold Goulon (late, dangerous tackle on Hodson).

With five minutes to go before half time, Sordell took up the ball in space, made a direct forward run towards the Vicarage Road End, appeared to have held the ball too long and have ignored the waving Kightly to his left (perhaps repaying MK in kind for earlier failures to release), but on nearing the box smartly buried a shot with his favoured left peg. One nil to the Golden Boys (didn't ring out around the ground).  Watford went in at half time 1-0 to the good, some of the crowd noting that if matches finished at half time Watford would be in a play-off position this season.

At half time, the crowd were entertained to traditional American razamatazz performed by the Alexis I du Pont Tiger Marching Band from Wilmington, Delaware, last seen (and heard) at The Vic for the FA Cup defeat of Scunthorpe in 2009, as well as Hornets Legend, Ross Jenkins.  There is only one Ross Jenkins.

Watford's Gaffer, ashen-faced, gravelly-voiced hardman, Sean Dyche, sent out the Golden Boys early for the 2nd half.  He had clearly impressed one thing upon them: the imperative of not conceding an early equaliser.  Watford fans just hoped we could get 10 minutes of the half under our belt – or even 5 minutes ……

Class shows.  From the off, El-Hadji Diouf picked up the ball on the left, picked his way skilfully to the by-line unimpeded by Lee Hodson and dinked a lovely floated cross to the 6 yard box.  Would Scott Loach leave his line to come and collect it?  YES – but only from the back of the net at Billy Sharp made no mistake with his header.  A quality move by two of Doncaster's best players.

47 minutes: 1-1.  Game on.  Would Watford wobble, or could they hold on for yet another draw?  Surely they couldn't score too many in front of the Rookery Faithful (we see all the goals at the Vicarage Road End!).

The next 12 minutes were fairly even, with Habib Beye picking up another Yellow Card and then, not to be outdone, on 63 minutes Herold Goulon unfairly fouled Kightly to pick up a 2nd Yellow, which meant a Red. The odds swung clearly in Watford's favour.

Sometimes, defeating 10 men in the final 25 minutes can be a tough task.  Not this time.  Within 5 minutes, Mark Yeates sent over a sub-Gerard cross from the right – a rising Sordell rose to meet it perfectly with his head and bury it out of Woods' reach in the corner of Doncaster's net.  2-1 to the Golden Boys.  As an aside, while Sordell in some ways has not progressed quite as quickly as hoped this season, his aerial ability has come on leaps and bounds.  Last season he couldn't head for toffee; this season he has passed that mantle to Deeney and heads like an accomplished centre forward.

It was one way traffic from there.  Fluid play by Watford and generally forlorn defence by Donny.  Skipper John Eustace came off the bench replacing Prince Buaben (he has no father but does have a son called PJ – Prince Junior, the Q&A in Watford's Wonderful Programme discloses) and within moments buried a third goal to kill off the game.  The wonderful Kightly got a fourth with a trademark solo run followed by a fierce shot – his topless celebration in front of the Rookery fans and the shocked young ladies of the Alexis I du Pont Tiger Marching Band showed genuine delight.  We add Kightly to the list of quality loanees we have really enjoyed at Watford in recent seasons:  Henri Lansbury, Tom Cleverley, Jordan Mutch, Ben Foster, Craig Cathcart to name but a few (spot the deliberate error – Ed).

What answer did Dean Saunders have to this onslaught?  He elected to pull a cunning stunt and deploy all his James in a last ditch effect to confuse the Hornets.  On came James Hayter to join O'Connor and Coppinger.  Pass it to James, came the cry from the Doncaster fans.  Unfortunately, as young James Baxendale had not made the Doncaster bench, Saunders found himself light of a James and could not play Four of a Kind.  Doncaster had lost this game of poker.

The match finished Watford 4 - Doncaster 1, a great way for Watford to finish 2011.  As Coventry won today, Doncaster move to bottom of the League and must be worried.  The author didn't think they were the worst side to grace the hallowed Vicarage Road turf however, but Saunders has to meld his eclectic mix of name players, loanees and Yorkshiremen into a cohesive fighting unit to stay up.

From Watford's perspective, squad spirit seems high, some good football is being played and a January 2 victory away against Portsmouth will see the Hornets comfortably mid-table, theoretically pushing for the play offs.  In addition, owner Laurence Bassini (choose your own spelling) has promised significant moves in the transfer window.  In reality, after Monday Kightly and almost certainly Nosworthy will head back to their registered clubs, while Sordell may well be plying his trade for a lower Premier League side.  Depending on Watford's financial plight and offers received, some of the more valuable and better players might also depart for pastures new (Mariappa?  Hogg?) so the second half of the season will probably be all about Championship survival as it always was this season and has been for the past few.  Especially as injured McGinn and Taylor are not quite ready to return after their long term injuries.  Still, we can dream….

This was in the end a very solid and satisfactory performance against not testing opposition.  As well as quality Nosworthy, Sordell and Kightly, mention can be made of a few others.  Hogg put in his usual excellent all action shift and has been the buy of the season.  Mariappa was sound.  Buaben played well.  Hodson seemed full of confidence, especially coming forward where can be really dangerous and a natural.  Dickinson had a good game.  Deeney missed a sitter but was a handful and is so much more mobile than certain others (big Chris anyone?) and so much fitter than last season. Yeates played with verve and made some good crosses.  No criticisms of any of our players but I remain unconfident of Mr Loach.

Bet here with the very best odds on Watford.
Marcus Shapiro

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