Watford 0 Blues 1 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 23 April 2009 By Richard Barker

After a couple of disappointing draws that have effectively handed Wolves the title, Blues managed to win themselves as rivals dropped points to take a big step towards the Premier League.

Blues did thoroughly deserve the win, although they weren't spectacular. They were far better than Watford, however, although people shouldn't get too carried away - Watford's performance was comfortably the worst I have seen against Blues all season.

Blues had quite a few long range efforts, but didn't create a significant number of clear cut chances. Seb Larsson was denied by Scott Loach in the first half when he probably should have done better, but otherwise Blues were struggling to make their superiority count. Once Watford were chasing the game late on, with a little composure Blues could have added more, but they'll take the 1-0.

One problem for Blues was the front two selected, in Garry O'Connor and James McFadden. O'Connor was desperately poor and offered very little. McFadden on the other hand ran the channels well in the first half, but things weren't quite happening for him, partly as he was effectively playing as a lone striker given how poor O'Connor was.

McFadden was on the receiving end of the usual "lazy" jibes from some travelling fans throughout the game. As with Nicklas Bendtner, Stern John, etc, the only real laziness is from the fans making such jibes in not looking beyond the fact that a forward won't run 50 yards to chase a lost cause.

McFadden has never and will never be a workhorse - it's not his game. He was far from at his best here, but he still played his part. He's one of the most intelligent (if not the most intelligent) players that Blues have, and he provides an outlet for people. He has ability to keep hold of the ball for a period of time, and thus take a little pressure off. Yes, sometimes he holds onto the ball for too long, but then again that's better than it bouncing off Cameron Jerome or Garry O'Connor. Late on, McFadden's ability to just hold the ball and take the sting out of the game was an asset. He also always looks most likely to create something out of nothing - he's not the obvious threat that someone like Jerome is. Of course, Jerome is a threat, but if you combat his pace, he's fairly useless. McFadden, however, is able to pose a threat in various different ways. As I say, he wasn't at his best here, but those critical of him need to look beyond how many yards he covers.

Once Jerome was on, it was no surprise that Blues stretched Watford a little more, and that the goal came, not long after his introduction. The deflection on his shot was perfect, just giving the ball enough height, loop and dip to find the corner perfectly.

The goal was made by Damien Johnson, who I lavished praise upon after his performance at Charlton last week. Here he was even better. Johnson was a country mile ahead of anyone else as the best player on the pitch. His energy (given his relative lack of action this season) was tremendous, as was his tackling, interceptions, covering and reading of the game, all of which you expect.

However, these days Johnson looks more comfortable in possession of the ball. Blues signed him as a young, tricky right winger, and there's no doubt that he has ability on the ball. Sometimes though, I've felt that he's been inhibited by being seen as "a defensive midfielder", almost feeling like he has to get rid of the ball as soon as he gets it. Now though he's taking control of the ball, being clever with it, driving forward (see his run and pass for Jerome's goal) and even taking people on in the middle of the park to skip past a player and make room for himself. Twice late on in this game he was confident enough to once drop a shoulder, turn, and then skip in between two players to free himself up to go forward, and once to flick a first time pass with his left foot to Stephen Carr whilst under considerable pressure to keep the momentum going. On both occasions, had he been caught out Blues may have been in trouble, but he was comfortable, composed and overall was absolutely superb.

Stephen Carr too is someone that I haven't really mentioned in many of my reports of late, and in some ways, that highlights how well he's done for Blues. Despite the ridicule when he signed, he is clearly someone with a lot of ability - you don't play at good Premier League teams for close to a decade without that, not to mention at international level. I'm sure that he'd still ideally like to be a little fitter than he is, but his composure on the ball and his reading of the game have been crucial to Blues lately. He's also no slouch at getting forward, and I think his introduction has been key to getting Seb Larsson back to something close to his best.

There's two more unsung heroes that deserve a mention in this match. Firstly, whilst he didn't have a great deal to do, this will have been a big game and moment for Colin Doyle. He came in, did everything that he needed to well and with confidence, and will be hard to drop now. I have a feeling that he will be dropped, and I think that will be unfair, but there we go. His kicking isn't perfect, but his distribution with throws out to his defence and midfield is much better than Maik Taylor's, as is his reading of the game - he patrols his area in open play far, far better and you sense that the defenders in front of him appreciate that too. Taylor however has proven himself when it comes to shot-stopping, and as I say, Doyle didn't have a great deal to do, so under pressure it could be different.

The second mention is to Djimi Traore who had to come on for Franck Queudrue (knackered as usual) for the last few minutes. Traore's actually been at the club for a while now and barely been involved, so for him to get thrown on at the death in a game like this defending a narrow lead wasn't ideal, but he headed away and cleared everything that came his way and could prove to be a useful substitute over the next few weeks with Liam Ridgewell's leg broken and Franck Queudrue's legs unable to last more than 70 odd minutes.

I actually feel obliged to mention another unsung hero, especially given Mike Oliver's performance in the Plymouth game. The referee here (I don't even know his name, which only highlights my point) and his officials were excellent. I don't think that there was a single booking even though it was a competitive game. Fouls were given and silly little comings together that happen in contact sports were ignored. As a result, the game flowed well and players knew where they stood. When you get a set of officials who understand the game, it doesn't half help the overall experience of watching the game, so fair play to them.

So, Blues move a little closer to promotion by being professional if not spectacular. You can't really fault anyone for anything in this game though. The only question in my mind is whether Lee Carsley will be back ahead of Damien Johnson for the Preston game next weekend? I'm fairly confident that at least 99% of the fans who have seen Johnson's performances in the past three games that Carsley has missed would pick Johnson ahead of Carsley. However, I have my doubts that the manager will do the same, and if that is the case, it says a lot about the manager and will say a lot to Damien Johnson. His last three performances have been three of his best as a fine servant to this club, and if he's left out now, it'll be very, very tough on him. We shall see...