By Paul Goldsmith
I've spent this season training as a secondary school teacher. I teach business and economics to fourteen to nineteen year olds and I have a form of eleven-year olds who I see for registration. I get teaching practice in two schools, both of them inner city schools, which means my students are...for want of a better word...challenging.
Anyway, one of the more interesting facets of these students is that they haven't quite grasped the consequences of their choices. They seem not to be able to grasp that if they choose to take the law into their own hands when someone annoys them, instead of involving a teacher, then they risk a detention for fighting. They also seem baffled by the link between choosing not to do their homework and having to stay behind after school in homework detention in order to do it. Conversely, if a student chooses to stay on task for the lesson, they might get some good work done and a positive phone call home to their parents.
The point of this is that school children now seem to ignore the impact of their choices and blame the school rules for their problems. For one of the only times this season, Aidy Boothroyd made the wrong choice, his team struggled because of it, and after the game he has chosen to ignore those consequences.
For this result is not the result of the curse of 'Manager of the Month'. Despite Aidy Boothroyd's insistence of 'a point gained', this game should have been won, and wasn't. The reason it wasn't is that Boothroyd made an enforced substitution at half-time, and quite simply made the wrong choice in terms of who should come on.
I'll get to that later. Let's talk about the first half. Actually, let's not. Because quite frankly the first thirty-five minutes were the worst thirty-five minutes of the season from what I can see. If we want, we could blame Derby's formation, which left the forlorn figure of Kevin Lisbie isolated up front on his own. But really, Watford just didn't play very well at all.
In the absence of Darius Henderson, the team was the same as normal, apart from one change. Jay Demerit, man of the match last week, was on the bench, and Clarke Carlisle was back in defence. I like Clarke Carlisle – I even wrote his player profile on this site – but Demerit has been one of our best players since the turn of the year. In the absence of an official explanation from Pravda, my suggestion is that Carlisle would need some match practice having warmed the bench for two months. Perhaps Boothroyd thought this would be an easy game to give him that match practice in. I can see his point...but with hindsight he was wrong.
Derby had Tommy Smith playing for them. He was booed roundly with most touches. I liked Tommy Smith, as a player and a person. I think he should have been a little more honest with us about his wish to go so perhaps we could have got more money for him, but he just doesn't deserve the barracking he gets.
Anyway, let's get to the action. We started positively, with Bouazza having shots saved by Lee Camp after eight and twelve minutes and the Derby keeper doing even better when Young was put through in the tenth minute. Derby meanwhile looked to the long ball as we pushed up to put pressure on them, with Lisbie being caught offside more than once.
And, then, in the eighteenth minute, Lisbie wasn't caught offside. He was slipped through by Adam Bolder and sprinted clear. To Jordan Stewart's credit, he actually caught up with Lisbie, enough to clear the ball, but was brushed off the ball by Lisbie who slotted the ball past Foster into the far corner of the goal to put Derby one up. Stewart protested that he was fouled, but to be honest he was just not strong enough physically, and not for the first time this season. If we get promoted, it will be despite Jordan Stewart, and not because of him.
There then followed about twenty minutes of torpor. We looked horrendous, with passes going out of place and Darren Moore eating up anything in the air for Derby. In the middle of this, Lee Holmes got past our offside trap, but Foster was alert to the danger.
And then, out of nothing, we were level. Marlon King received a long Foster free-kick on his chest, and then started to thread his way across the top of the Derby penalty area. From where I sit in the Rookery, I could see the gap in the right side of the goal, and so did King. Next thing we knew, the ball was in the net. Magnificent.
Five minutes later, we could have been ahead, but Eagles's cross landed to the right of Hameur Bouazza, who only uses his right foot to stand on. He had a go at swinging that right foot from five yards out, and I swear that the occupants of Row Z of the Vic end were ducking the second it came off his foot.
Lucky half-time chocolate: Cadbury's Mini Roll
Reason: Mike, who I sit with, had been given them by a friend of his that morning.
Level of success: I feel that the sudden sugar rush offered by the Mini Roll impaired my ability to make the right choice of half-time drink. I chose a tea instead of a hot chocolate, and it was just a bit too defensive. Aidy Boothroyd did the same.
So we get to Aidy Boothroyd's rare error. Bouazza had to go off, and with the score at 1-1, we had a chance to maintain the attacking initiative. This we did by...replacing a fast attacking player with a defensive midfielder.
Now, people can point to what happened in injury time as justification for Al Bangura coming on. I have nothing against the boy, but he is the ideal spoiler to hold onto a lead in the last twenty minutes. He is categorically not the person you want on the pitch to try and get that lead in the first place. Especially when you have Anthony McNamee on the bench.
I suppose you could say that we played 4-3-3, with Young and Eagles and King up front, and Spring supporting up the middle. I suppose you can say that is positive. But why not have McNamee and Eagles on the wing, with Young and King up front? We basically had King by himself for a while, and that doesn't really work when we need to get the lead.
That said, after fifty-eight minutes King almost scored. Doyley's long throw was flicked on by Carlisle and King swivelled and shot across Camp towards the goal...but it hit the post.
From then until the eighty-fifth minute, all I have in my note pad are some substitutions. The odious Paul Peschisolido came on to run about up front for Derby and throw himself to the ground when touched by anybody.
And in the seventy-ninth minute, at 1-1, with us looking for that bit of magic to get us a goal, Anthony MacNamee came on for...Chris Eagles. Um...hello? Little bit of magic to get us a goal? Take Eagles off? Aidy, were you not at Brighton? Ahhh...I get it, you had tied yourself in knots by putting Bangura on too early so you couldn't really take him off again even though that would have been the obvious decision....
In desperation, we had pushed Carlisle up front to try and win the occasional ball in the air. This had been impossible against Darren Moore, not that the team hadn't stopped trying it. Moore is a massive bloke, and you sometimes cannot believe he isn't exposed for pace, but watching him you can see why he was able to hold his own in the Premiership. He's just too strong for most strikers. Maybe Carlisle would do better? Maybe Carlisle could have been an attacking option at half-time, with Demerit replacing Bouazza. That would have been a more positive option than the one we took.
Anyway, with Carlisle up front we had some gaps at the back, should Derby decide to break out from their obvious time-wasting funk and attack us. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that from one of those attacks Watford found themselves with two defenders up against about four Derby strikers. One of them was seventeen year-old Giles Barnes, who had until Sunday to finish...and finish he did.
Suddenly, from coming out after half-time looking ready to grab the initiative and chase the lead, we were one down with five minutes to go. Or at least that's what we thought. To the referee's credit, he had counted all the time-wasting, and the time spent treating spurious Derby injuries, and the interminable time they took to take corners and throws, and added six minutes.
After two of them, we equalised. I hope I've explained that my problem is not that Al Bangura is on the pitch, it is that the half-time substitution gave us a more defensive formation. After ninety-two minutes, I was positively euphoric that he was on the pitch, as he collected a cleared corner (possibly with his hand) evaded two challenges, and fired the ball into the far corner of the goal. The celebration was memorable, a shirt off run to the touchline to celebrate with his manager. Of course, he was booked, but who cares?!
Just after Derby scored their second, Mike turned to me and said, "My God, it's like we've been transported back to March last season". I felt the same way. Some inexplicable substitutions and a team that was plainly worse than ours getting a far better result than they deserved.
The trouble is that Aidy Boothroyd has raised our expectations this season. We have looked like we can score at any point sometimes. But not this time. We looked weak and short of ideas. Whether we are chasing automatic promotion or just getting into the playoffs, we need to do better. Reading next week are not the best team for getting back on track against.
We must all hope that this was an aberration. And we must hope that Aidy Boothroyd makes the right choices and accepts the consequences.
Two points lost.