West Bromwich Albion 2 - Watford 2
My wife thinks I'm clairvoyant. At 2-0 I told her the final score and exact time of the last goal.
I imagine I'm not the only one who can pull off such a feat.
As I live near Cardiff, I don't visit the Hawthorns frequently and today's game was my first of the season. I did attend the same fixture last season when we lost 1-2 to quite a physical Watford side. When I can't attend games I almost always listen on the Albion webcast.
The team selection today looked quite attacking with Rondon, Rodriguez and Phillips in the starting eleven.
Watford however dominated the first twenty minutes of the game with their passing and movement. Albion eventually settled and Rondon got on the end of a good through ball from Krychowiak, finishing well to beat Gomes. Soon afterwards, a good run from Gibbs resulted in a corner. This was taken by Phillips and Evans got on the end of it. We were 2-0 up without really deserving to be I thought.
Despite this, Albion never looked comfortable and continued to play like the away team, sitting back to allow Watford plenty of possession. This pattern continued after half time and almost inevitably Watford got their first goal.
We continued to look less than secure and near the end of the game, what appeared to me to be a decent tackle by McLean was given as a foul and Watford equalised from the resulting free kick.
Although I think Tony Pulis has done a fantastic job with Albion, a few things continue to frustrate me.
We often set up very defensively with little creativity available, with the likes of Chadli and Morrison on the bench.
We deliberately waste time at goal kicks and throw ins even in the first half of home games, why?
The standard of football today was not great from Albion, we rarely managed to put a series of passes together, and second balls almost always seemed to be won by Watford.
I think we have been very very lucky to have the run of seasons that we have in the Premier League, but this has been achieved by what sometimes seems to be anti-football in terms of the formation and tactics, especially when we are at home. I had hoped that with the seemingly very good transfer window we had prior to September that we might see some more adventurous play, given the improvements in the first team squad?
I've been an Albion supporter for 50 years and do not want to be negative particularly.
Well that was a massive disappointment from a position that should have been so safe.
Full disclosure - for the first time this season Pulis picked the same side I would have in more or less the same formation.
And despite Watford having most of the play and looking threatening we did go 2 goals up.
The first was a great pass and Rondon showed everything we thought we had - 40 yard sprint, power to shrug off a brute of a defender and a great finish on his wrong foot.
I completely understand why people have got fed up with Rondon and lost faith - but this demonstrated what he can do. He should always be on the last man, on the shoulder. Just because he is built like an old style target man doesn't mean you have to play him like he is one. Ask yourself how many passes in open play has he had like that in the last 20 games? He's not a world beater for sure, but we don't have another striker who would have scored that goal.
the 2nd goal was a classic Pulis set-play. A great delivery and players lining up to finish. We may have added a 3rd soon after and things were looking good.
But I think everyone in the ground knew that being 2-0 after 20 minutes is not a position Pulis finds himself in often or indeed knows what to do. And so the great retreat began as we knew it would and one that I can't be alone in thinking that would culminate in a late equaliser.
Despite being 2 up Watford were causing us problems. They are a really good side. I would have started Dawson to deal with Watford's physical power too but he was given a torrid time by Richarlson (who was very impressive and might well be snapped up by a big side if he adds more end product) so the threat was there.
They had a couple of big chances from that side before the equaliser - Hegazi lost a big header and Dawson and Evans didn't do nearly enough.
What I found frustrating in the first half is despite Rondon scoring the first in the way that he did, rather than being left on the last man as high up as possible against a team 2 goals down that had to come at us, he was dropping into midfield with JRod and we had no outlet. This gave Watford an immediate 15 yard advantage to squeeze us.
And worst still, Pulis started to tinker more and moved Jrod out wide left and Brunt into the centre. This might have packed the midfield but it left Rondon with no supporting 'number 10' behind him and a flat midfield 5.
Rodriguez is also lost on the wing - he doesn't have the pace to play there or a waaand to hit early crosses. In fairness, Brunt's passing was better once he moved inside.
The subs and further in game decisions in the 2nd half caused us more problems than they solved.
First Jrod and Phillips switched meaning our right hand side was even more vulnerable to Richalson's pace and trickery.
Brunt for Livermore was a nothing sub - what was it designed to do? We may have gained legs but we lost quality passing and set-plays. Was it worth it overall?
Phillips then made way for McClean who gave us energy but after 10 minutes had to be moved to the right wing to cover Richarlson with his legs and pace and Dawson getting done every time. So we had Jrod left again (lost), McClean on the right (lost) and 3 centre midfielders all there to do the same job.
Finally, Rondon made way for HRK which may have given us a bit more hold up play but took away our last bit of pace.
Using every tactic in the Pulis playbook we played for time, took no chances, retreated do the deep, gave free kicks away the moment Watford broke and we nearly got away with it. Last year we may have but other teams have improved and nobody could deny Watford deserved their equaliser no matter how hard to stomach it was.
I've been as big a critic of Pulis and his style as anyone but I don't see any better options out there and he does deserve some time to try and get his best team playing consistently. The chopping and changing of players and systems isn't helping - how are players supposed to develop partnerships and understanding?
There is absolutely nothing between most teams outside the top 5 this season - it is going to be a tough old slog and Pulis is going to have to try and win points on the road to make up for these disappointing home draws. It is still within this squad to do that though.
Finally, a personal appeal if I may...
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A very un-Albion-like performance still gives a very Albion-like point.
Despite Watford having won all three away so far, Albion started with two strikers for the second game in a row and even added in two wingers on their right sides to provide support for Rondon and Rodriguez. The shape of things to come? No: probably not.
Ahead of the game we were treated to an insight into Pulis's "ultimate premier league player": a player combining the "best left foot" of Chris Brunt with the "most dominant in the air" capabilities of Ryan Shawcross, who, Pulis suggested was "stigmatised a little bit with Stoke, in respect of the way we played and what we were about". Within that dominant head Pulis put the "best footballing brain" of Salif Diou, and the temperament of his "best big game player" in Peter Crouch, with the final piece of his Frankenstinian Footballer coming from the "most skilful player", Yannik Borlasse who, we were told, was capable of doing things he didn't know he could, although perhaps being skilful, maybe it was more a case of Borlasse not being capable of doing the things he was told he should?
Around the quarter-hour mark, a breakout by Dawson ended with Rondon in on the right-hand-side of the box but his pull-back to the top of the box found no-one there, however four minutes later, a long pass from Krychowiak would see him in down the left, and this time, rather than look to pull it back, he'd use all his strength to hold off the defender before firing past the keeper at the near post, for a fine first goal of the season.
Two minutes later and a lengthy, pacey, overlapping run by Gibbs gained Albion a corner and from it Evans would get to nod home at the far post whilst under challenge from his own defender Hegazi. 2-0 to the Albion with less than a quarter of the game gone.
Just after the half-hour Rodriguez's long diagonal ball went box to box in trying to find Rondon but he just failed to catch up with it and as a result Watford then got into Albion's box and the home side got a let off when an on-rushing attacker could not get any direction onto a fast deflected ball although, shortly after, with the away side starting to make a bit more of all the possession afforded them, Dawson and Evans stood off and watched an attacker advance into their box before watching him then shoot across Foster and into the far side netting, and concede a most un-Albion-like goal.
With Albion struggling to stem the tide, and seemingly now incapable of putting together the passes they had early on which merely gave Watford an even higher tide, Pulis, eventually, reverted to the tried and tested stuff: that 451 with Rodriguez moved out left and left winger Brunt now back in the midfield three, combined with misplaced passes and aimless balls forwards in the direction of, but rarely finding, Rondon and, if it was a tactic designed to invite Watford on, then it certainly worked, although the last real action of the first half would see his "best left foot" overhitting a free kick over and above any intended targets.
The second half started as so many halves have: a brief flurry of activity, after which the usual patterns became visible, with Phillips now asked to do the second left back duties whilst Rodriguez mirrored him to the right of Dawson. Although Phillips would only get ten minutes alongside Gibbs, McClean his replacement, by the hour mark, both of the starting wingers would be watching from the bench as Brunt was removed to allow Livermore to give an even more defensive look to the midfield three.
Albion were still hanging on as stoppage time commenced, both Livermore and Evans having earlier taken a professional's yellow for the team, though they even had a corner in stoppage time that took the ball about as far from Foster's goal as it could get without being belted in to the stands but, after Barry coughed up possession inside the Watford half, they'd concede a goal from a free-kick via a header from inside the six-yard box, which any one of three Watford players, inclduing Gomez the keeper, might have got on the end of. Again, a very un-Albion like goal to concede, although conceding two un-Albion-like goals in the same game probably cancels out the most un-Albion-like start to the game and, so, given Watford's away form, a point might not be seen as all that bad a return.
In the post-match prattle, Pulis would chide the ref for not blowing up exactly on the four minutes of time allowed mark, which would have thus negated any threat from the phase of play following the awarding of the dubious free-kick, which was all rather hilarious an attempt at justification, given that Oliver had spent nearly a minute telling Foster and his captain Evans, that, if the Albion keeper continued to add to his stigmatisation, because of what Pulis's Albion are clearly about, in the delaying of every restart, he'd be in the book the next time he indulged in a spot of "game management".
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