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Feeling the pressure
By Matt Bunner
It's been nearly a week since the draw at home to Derby. I have read the numerous match reports available (on-line and in newspapers) and slowly, over the course of the week, I have realised that although we were favourites to win the game prior to kick-off, the result was actually a point gained rather than two lost. Why do I say this? Primarily because of the nature of our performance and tactics employed by Derby.

The overriding memory of last Saturday was our belief in saving the pitch from further harm and using the aerial route. Although this direct style can play dividends when a team is playing higher up the pitch, it falls rather squarely on its face if the team is defending deep, in large numbers and most significantly when you have some of the size of Darren Moore in opposition. I'm sure I'm not exaggerating when I state that I don't think we strung more than three passes together; mind you, when you're stuck in row FF in the Rookery and on the left hand-side, you only get a 2-D picture and that picture is a bit like seeing a Picasso at the Tate Gallery: looks great far away but the closer you get, the more you realise its just lines and squiggles. I'm not convinced that we deliberated tried to play all long-ball. Perhaps a combination of lack of space as Derby shut us down and the impatience and expectation to win?

The point is, and I don't blame Betty here, is that I felt we didn't have (on the day) the extra composure we need to win games of this stature. Derby are at the wrong end of the table (both on and off the pitch) and thus will do anything to get something from a game. We saw most of the tricks used - two banks of four, sometimes five, lone striker, attack on the break, fall over at any given opportunity when needed (Camp and Pesky), etc. Every respect to the players for their never-say-die attitude and to Baby Jesus for justice with the equaliser in "time-wasting" time added-on, but the issue is, I personally don't think we did nearly enough to warrant the win and hence a feel it was point gained. Maybe that's a measure of how far we have come or, in combination, of what extra we need to do to go further up the football ladder. I'm reasonably confident we'll come up against teams with same approach; they'll pull up the shutters and say, "Right, get past that then. We're not giving you a thing." Will we take a more measure approach or will there be a more Conference-style game of head tennis?

What I can't deny is that although last week was a poor quality game of football (not often that is said with a 2-2), the excitement was there because of our ambition and desire to get results. Turn the clock back twelve months and we were in Derby's position, pursuing a rather different form of 'excitement' ; inadvertently making the last twenty minutes of games seem exciting as we were trying to hold on to what we had, rather than break the bank to get the three points!

We have played our best football when we play in triangles and with some ability to hold the ball and play the correct (emphasis on correct and not aimless) long ball. It's a fair point that the difference between correct and aimless long ball is marginal, but what's not open to debate is to use long ball at every opportunity. There have been plenty of times where we select the right long-ball after getting it under control. Saturday past had far too many first-time lumps. Anyway, our league position shows that we get it right far more than we get it wrong, so my apparent criticism is really an observation of how we should and should not play the 'Derby-types' of games we will expect in the closing few weeks of the season. Aidy says we learn from each losing or drawn game, and so far, results have proved that. Long may it continue.

I am very hopeful that with the possible return of Darius (that seems certain given Boozer's broken foot) and Reading's preference to attack, that we can return to the time of confident and assured football and not the hurried, impatient football of the last few weeks. Personally, I'm glad we are playing Reading this week and not stuck away, say at Hull, as it seems the higher profile matches bring out the best in Watford. Bring it on, as they say in BSaD-land.

Finally, I guess this whole piece is to question (perhaps question is too strong?) whether we have the mental strength to understand how to cope with pressure and expectation that is now at the club. I'd agree that it could be a premature point, given that we have still picked up a lot points recently with the type of performances I highlight. It's only a point that can be proved or disproved over the course of a month. Still, it does no harm to raise this when there's nothing to do on a Friday afternoon....

Whatever the answer, I'd rather pose that nit-picking question whilst we're near the top of the league in preference to where we were ten months ago.