Watford 1-1 Latics
Wednesday 21st February 2007

Whilst the lack of history with Rob Styles and events in Barcelona may have ensured that his sending off of Fitz Hall hasn’t brought the same controversy as the lovely Mr Dowd’s performance at Arsenal it was one that could have mattered a hell of a lot more. At least we can rest easy that Styles isn’t the referee that has contributed £25 in support of the ‘Free Paul Jewell’ campaign. Either that or he is the guilty party and has taken exception to the fact being reported to all and sundry.

Approaching the game it was difficult to decide which of the two managers would be the happiest about this fixture being rearranged. Jewell probably breathed the bigger sigh of relief back in December but upturns in form since saw both clubs going into this game with renewed optimism. On balance, Latics had the edge. The extra edge and choice of four ‘fit’ strikers meaning that Jewell had the better options for a game that looked like it would be competitive.

The opening exchanges supported this. Both sides took a direct approach with Latics showing an edge in terms of quality in the last third as Caleb Folan justified his surprise inclusion, ahead of Camara and Aghahowa, by carrying on where he left off against Reading. The signing from League Two may not have the pedigree of the two internationals behind him, but his raw energy and willingness to get in people’s faces may pay him dividends before the season is out.

Then came the sending off. Any Latics fan with a full view of the incident will feel aggrieved by the decision, but neither Styles (who had two players between him and the tackle) nor his assistant (who was looking in the other direction) had that benefit. That later, and worse, challenges went unpunished won’t have helped Latics’ frustration but Hall’s tackle was two footed, and in this day and age that is seen as dangerous. On his part it was stupid and gave the referee an excuse to make a decision.

If we’d have waited a little longer for the first goal the game could have ended as a spectacle with the sending off. As it was Watford hit a shell shocked Latics within 5 minutes of Hall’s departure ensuring that Paul Jewell would have to keep his attacking approach if Latics were to take anything home with them.

From the goal onwards you would have struggled to guess which side had been reduced to ten men. Latics were playing the more progressive football whilst Watford’s ‘threat’ was limited to long ball that were easily dealt with by Boyce and Jackson. When it came, no one could have argued that Latics didn’t deserve their equaliser.

The build up to Caleb Folan’s first goal for the club wasn’t pretty, but the time has gone for worrying about that. A long ball over the top saw him muscle past the defence to put a deft touch past Ben Foster in the Watford goal and making Paul Jewell’s half time team talk that much easier.

The second half saw a tactical switch with Heskey moving to the right wing leaving Folan ploughing a lone furrow upfront. The move may have reduced the Latics threat but was effective in keeping the home team quiet the aim was clearly not to lose the game and from that point had to be applauded. Watford though had plenty of cause for complaint.

Faced with ten men in what was a must win game for them they showed little invention and repeatedly played into our hands. There were few attempts to spread the ball and no effort put into making our players chase the ball. A bit more football and they could have found gaps as Latics tired.

For Latics this was a hard earned point and they should be happy that they showed the spirit to get back into the game and then got the tactics right to keep it that way. We might have hoped for three points before kick off, but at least we weren’t dragged any closer to the bottom three.

With the game in hand out of the way, things now look a little clearer. Two wins in front, improving form and injured players on the verge of long awaited returns paint a much prettier picture than we had after the Everton game. We can’t say that we’re out of it yet, but a couple of good weekends and who knows?

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