Merde. All thoughts of driving ahead into the top two spots with strong momentum behind us on the backburner again. This was a bad one to lose. Suffice to say Scunthorpe are not a good team and we failed to put them away, then gave them something to cling on to. It just shouldn’t have happened. All we needed to do was score first and we probably would have won comfortably. We didn’t and paid the price.
To me the game turned on two key moments. First, early in the second half Thomas got to the byline and put in a great cross, low and hard. Gray was on hand to put the ball in the net, only for the linesman to flag for offside. I’ve no idea if it was the correct decision, but assuming it was it was criminal to have strayed offside when he could see Thomas’ run and what he needed to do. Second, a troubling cross from their right went across the goal and the danger seemed to have passed. Moutaouakil at the far post swivelled to hook the ball clear, only to make a complete hash and instead, while he was pirouetting, the ball dribbled back to around the penalty spot to their forward who duly scored.
The team showed one change from Stoke, with Varney replacing Iwelumo alongside Gray. With less need for another tall guy to defend and with Varney capable of making the runs around Gray it looked like a good selection. But on a difficult surface (Varney and Weaver were to nearly injure themselves losing their footing), with the pitch so narrow as to limit space to run into, we struggled to get a passing game going and to dominate midfield. We didn’t start quickly and failed to raise the tempo. Unlike Stoke, who were prepared to sit behind the ball, giving Holland and Zhi the space to move around and make passes, Scunthorpe harried our defenders and in midfield, with the result that there were more balls lofted forward, which gave Gray and Varney little to work with.
It all made for a dire first half which produced only one real chance: a free header in the box for them. We had a couple of shots from outside the area but nothing more. Otherwise all that was notable was the dreadful quality of the set pieces, by both sides. Scunthorpe had two free kicks in dangerous positions and wasted them. We had corners which routinely failed to get past the first defender, plus a training ground routing from a free kick which saw Ambrose pass the ball to a defender. And the referee was in keeping with the football, failing to control the game and making bad decisions. The result was an increasingly fractious game as the players realised they could con him into decisions. Not surprisingly the home team had the better of this.
Thomas replaced an ineffective Sam at half-time, with Ambrose switching to the right, and we looked more dangerous. It was in this first 15-minute spell that we should have put the game to bed. We were starting to find space and a strangely subdued home support seemed to prepare for a defeat. Instead we didn’t score. Iwelumo came on for Varney, which seemed a little strange as Gray was having a poor game and with Varney you always have the option of him going wide. Maybe he was feeling his first-half tumble. There was still the feeling that at some point we would get it together, score, and run out the game.
Instead we gifted them their goal. The return of Moutaouakil has been very welcome. But he was at least partially to blame for Watford’s goal, having gone to sleep at a key moment, and he has to carry the can for this one. And it gave Scunthorpe hope that this might be their day. They offered little in attack before and after the goal, although one of their subs caused some problems and our defence was never entirely settled. The pitch caused havoc with Weaver’s kicking, Bougherra seemed to have been elbowed in the face in the first half and was a little unsteady thereafter. But McCarthy was generally in command and Youga, having started the game by taking a throw-in and giving it straight to a Scunthorpe player, as if he had forgotten the switch, showed them what they were missing.
The sending-off didn’t really change the game. They were chasing every ball doggedly in any event and were not surprisingly ready to timewaste and disrupt any flow to the game. McLeod came on as a late gamble, with Moutaouakil giving way, and in the last five minutes we created two or three opportunities that should have been taken. It just wasn’t to be. And no, Andy Reid would not have made any difference, even if fit, except that the set-pieces would have been better (they couldn’t have been worse).
All very disappointing. It seems that away from home we’re reluctant to take the game by the scruff of the neck. The relatively cautious approach can work if we score first, but leaves us hostage to fortune, especially against teams ready to fight for everything. After our impressive away form in the first half of the season we now haven’t won in five (three draws, two defeats) and have only scored three goals. The rest of the season may be down to key home games, but not if we don’t start winning some away games.
One saving grace is that the journey was much shorter than I had anticipated. So as on Tuesday night there’s a bloody big glass of wine with my name on it. Just that this time it’s to drown the sorrows. Well, the lord giveth and the lord taketh away. I just hope he’s in a very giving mood come next Friday.
Weaver: 7/10. Difficult to rate as I don’t think he had a save to make. Kicking was strangely awry but I think that was the pitch.
Moutaouakil: 5/10. Has to take the rap for a dreadful mistake which cost us at least a point.
Youga: 8/10. Another very good game, worked well with Thomas down the left side in the second half.
McCarthy: 8/10. Commanding and effective.
Bougherra: 7/10. Unsettled by the elbowing incident and a little uncertain at times in the second half, but really Scunthorpe’s attack was kept under control.
Holland: 6/10. Less visible than against Stoke. Still worked tirelessly but was harried throughout by scrappers.
Zhi: 6/10. As with Holland, not given the time and space as he was against Stoke.
Sam: 5/10. Did little in the first half and was subbed.
Ambrose: 6/10. A little unfair, but he took the corners and free kicks and they were nearly all wasted.
Gray: 6/10. Ineffective and should have stayed onside to put us ahead. I hope he’s better than this.
Varney: 7/10. Worked hard but didn’t really look like scoring.
Subs: Thomas (8/10 – made a difference and was behind our better moments in the second half); Iwelumo (7/10 – it was his sort of game and we were more threatening after he came on); McLeod (only on for the last few minutes).