TALKING TACTICS: Has Millwall defeat ended hopes?

Jay Rodriguez scores a consolation penalty late in the game.
Jay Rodriguez scores a consolation penalty late in the game.
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SCOUT Phil Smith feels an away win is a must at Watford tomorrow.

Millwall nipped our promotion hopes in the bud last season, and the scenario may well have repeated itself once more.

It was, for me, certainly the worst performance of Eddie Howe`s tenure, and, sat in 11th place, we must now rely on results elsewhere if we are to end the season in the top six.

With just one Championship victory to their name since Boxing Day, and 17-goal hitman Darius Henderson nursing a slight hamstring strain on the bench, many were left scratching their heads as to how The Lions managed to play us off the park.

Jay Rodriguez`s late penalty was in vain, as the game was as good as over following Josh Wright`s goal of the season contender on the half-hour mark.

His sensational 30-yard volley would have graced any stadium in the world, and left us facing a two-goal deficit that we had absolutely no chance of clawing back.

Chris McCann was lost to injury before the break, a serious blow considering that we were already without the services of Dean Marney, whose wife had given birth overnight.

Martin Paterson entered the fray, as did Danny Ings and Brian Easton at the interval.

This prompted a tactical shuffle, with Trippier and Easton operating as wing-backs in a 3-5-2. I can understand the logic behind the decision, particularly against Millwall`s two-man attack. In theory, this allowed ourselves to have a free player to cover, should a defensive colleague be beaten.

However, we had to chase the game, and the formation must take a chunk of the blame for Harry Kane breaking free and slotting home the third. Our midfield was caught too high up the pitch, the three man defensive unit criminally exposed, resulting in a simple through-ball from James Henry putting the Tottenham Hotspur loanee in on goal to seal the points for the South East Londoners.

Shane Lowry`s trip on Marvin Bartley allowed Jay (pictured) to bag his 19th goal of the season from the spot, bringing an air of undeserved respectability to the scoresheet.

By then, Turf Moor was largely deserted and most supporters had to question whether the dream was over for another season.

Is it? Not quite, but a maximum haul in March is essential if the season is to remain alive past Easter.

Watford’s record at Vicarage Road provides hope, 25 points from a maximum of 51 is far from exemplary, although marginally better than our own total of 23.

Indeed, with their last home clean sheet coming in November, and an average of 1.52 goals against, I would bank on ourselves hitting the onion bag, at the very least.

If we look at the form guide, it is easy to see why Watford languish in the bottom third of the division. December was their best month of the campaign, with an average of 1.80 points per game achieved. However, they registered just 0.75 and 1.40 respectively in January and February, prompting fears that they are not immune from being sucked into the relegation battle.

Alarmingly, our own statistics point to a decline in fortune. Four wins from five in December gave us an average of 2.40, however, subsequent totals saw us pocket just 1.75 and 0.80.

Indeed, our excellent away form has tailed off of late, with six points claimed from 15, whilst Watford have won three from five on home soil.

The Hornets have won just once from a losing position at the break, a statistic that we must look to continue.