MATCH VERDICT: Watford 2-1 Wanderers
CONSIDERING the 12 months Wanderers have had, it’s little wonder that patience is in short supply.
Dougie Freedman’s calm assuredness that relegation is not an issue to be concerned with at present may be surprising to some, especially against the backdrop of the Championship table.
Talk of play-offs has all but disappeared now. And though it would be a shock of epic proportion to see the Whites get sucked into real trouble, there are plenty of recent examples of Premier League clubs who have suffered a “double dip” and it doesn’t bear thinking about that the same could happen at the Reebok.
This defeat at Watford, however slender, leaves the club in 20th place, three points above the bottom three, with a game in hand. Those cold, hard facts can’t be disputed.
Nor can the chilling statistic that Wanderers have thrown away 24 points from winning positions this season, doing so again here as Marvin Sordell’s first-half penalty was quickly rubbed out by Matej Vydra before Amel Abdi’s 70th minute winner.
Freedman’s assertion that performances have improved is spot on. There wasn’t a lot wrong at Vicarage Road but that just makes the fact they emerged pointless all the more frustrating.
Whether or not you believe the club should be looking anxiously over their shoulder at the bottom three, the manager has to find some way of putting more points on the board, because the teams at the foot of the table appear to be rallying too.
A call for patience at this point is never going to sit well. Owen Coyle tried similar tactics last season and believed the club would stave off relegation until the final whistle at Stoke City last season. That did not end well for him, or the club.
Freedman is smart enough to know that only his players can end all the negative talk by winning football matches. Easy to write, not so easy to do.
There is some encouragement to be drawn from the fact that Wanderers look more comfortable in the system Freedman is employing, and that there are reinforcements on the way in Medo, Mark Davies, David Wheater and a fitter Stuart Holden.
For the first 20 minutes, the Whites knocked the ball around as well as they have done all season.
But, in a reoccurring theme of the afternoon, they didn’t test Manuel Almunia nearly enough while they were on top.
Indeed, it was Adam Bogdan who bailed his side out with a smart stop from Troy Deeney as Watford broke through for the first time.
Wanderers seized the lead from the spot. Sam Ricketts raided down the right side of the penalty box before being body-checked by Daniel Pudil, leaving ref James Adcock with little choice.
Marvin Sordell had been given a warm round of applause on his return to the ground where he cut his teeth in football, but did well to keep his nerve and slot home from 12 yards amidst plenty of distraction from ‘The Rookery’ stand behind the goal.
Sadly, the lead lasted just four minutes.
Cassetti’s flick towards Vydra caught Tim Ream on his heels, and the American’s stumble allowed the Watford man to turn smartly and fire past Bogdan.
That took the shine off all the good early work but after the restart Jay Spearing did his best to get the Whites firing again, driving a left-footed effort from 20 yards that had Almunia beat, but brushed against the foot of the post.
The on-loan midfielder was just as effective at the other end, getting a crucial touch to deflect Abdi’s shot wide just before the hour mark.
Wanderers rarely got behind the Watford defence but on the one occasion they did in the second half, they again found the woodwork in the way.
Chung-Yong Lee did well to beat Lloyd Doyley before cutting back for Sordell and his shot on the turn smacked against the upright.
The game was finely balanced at this point. Ream redeemed himself partially with a fine block to deny Vydra but with the Czech striker becoming more and more a problem, the home side looked the more likely winner.
And so it proved. Vydra combined well with Swiss midfielder Abdi in the penalty box, and he had rather too much time and space to pick his spot with a fine finish past Bogdan.
Freedman threw on three subs all at once – Kevin Davies, Craig Davies and new loan arrival Steve de Ridder – but it was only the Belgian winger who managed to make much impact.
The Southampton man’s hussle and determination on the ball could put him in line to start against Burnley next weekend, where changes can almost be guaranteed.
Watford’s goal deflated the Whites, who continued struggling to test Almunia.
And so another defeat on the road, one which confirms Wanderers as the worst travellers in the division, was confirmed with little late drama.
Freedman’s frustration is quite understandable. After showing up so well against Everton the previous weekend, this seemed to be the perfect stage on which to show tangible evidence that improvement was being made.
Instead, the manager was answering questions about a potential fight against the drop.
Wanderers should easily have enough in the tank to make sure relegation whispers are quickly forgotten. But, as we know only too well from the events of the last 12 months, faith can only get you so far.