A Mauling from the Foxes to End the Home Campaign

Sema takes a corner

As always, a kick-off at an odd time on a Sunday puts my pre-match routine completely out.  I planned to get to the West Herts at about 11 and was delighted that I achieved my aim.  The streets of Watford were absolutely deserted as I walked there and I thought I would be the first to arrive, but Jacque was already at a table and there were a good few others sitting around, some of whom had arrived at 10, when they opened, “to get a table”.  I think the strange kick-off time had confused the caterers as the jerk chicken was very late in being ready, but it was delivered with a smile in the nick of time.

We arrived in the ground at our usual time, just before kick-off, which meant that we missed the introduction of the new manager and the Player and Supporter of the Season awards.  The fact that Kamara, who has only been with us since January, won the popular vote, tells you everything about this season.  I voted for Ben Foster, who came second, but it had been a close thing for me.  

Team news had been that there were no changes from the Everton game, but there was a late injury to Samir who was then replaced by Cathcart.  So, the starting XI was Foster, Ngakia, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Kayembe, Gosling, Sissoko; Kalu, Sema, João Pedro.

Celebrating Joao Pedro’s goal

The Hornets took an early lead as a Kalu corner hit Tielemans and dropped to João Pedro whose shot deflected in off Castagne to send the Watford fans wild.  Oh, it was wonderful to celebrate a goal.  The visitors looked to hit back immediately with a shot across goal from Dewsbury-Hall to which Maddison was unable to apply the finishing touch.  The Hornets could have increased their lead when a corner from Sema fell to Masina, but his effort came back off the bar.  Soon after, a cross from Ngakia was prodded goalwards by João Pedro who was denied by a great save from Ward in the Leicester goal.  At the other end, Maddison tried a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  The visitors were level on 18 minutes, a defensive header from Cathcart dropped to Tielemens who squared for Maddison to beat Foster.  Leicester’s second came from another terrible bit of defending, Kayembe played a loose ball to Maddison who played a lofted pass to Vardy, Foster came out to meet it, missed and Vardy headed it over him and into the net.  At the other end, João Pedro chipped the ball into the box, it was deflected to Gosling who shot just over the bar.  The visitors had a great chance to increase their lead, but Castagne shot well over the bar.  Then Vardy released Castagne who advanced and shot but his effort was blocked by Foster.  Leicester continued to threaten as a corner was cleared but only as far as Dewsbury-Hall who crossed for Castagne who headed wide of the target.  At the other end, João Pedro played a lovely through ball to Gosling, but Castagne made the block.  Then João Pedro tried a shot from the edge of the area that cleared the bar.  Kalu had a great chance to equalise when confusion in the Leicester defence left him in a dangerous position, but he mishit the shot and the chance went begging.

Masina on the ball

So, we went into half time 2-1 down, while Norwich were ahead against Wolves.  If the scores stayed the same, the Hornets would be bottom of the table at the end of the game.

There were a couple more awards presented during the break.  First Shaq Forde won Young Player of the Season, which was presented to him by Jimmy Gilligan.  Then Luther, who had been given a tremendous reception as he walked along the front of the Rookery, presented the Goal of the Season award to Cucho for his terrific bicycle kick against Arsenal.

At the start of the second half, Player of the Season, Kamara, replaced Gosling.  For the visitors, Mendy made way for Albrighton.  Leicester scored immediately after the restart as a deep cross from Albrighton was volleyed home by Barnes.  The Hornets looked to hit back as a free kick from Sema was met by the head of João Pedro whose effort was over the bar.  João Pedro threatened again with a shot from outside the area that was caught by Ward.  At the other end Dewsbury-Hall played a lovely through ball for Vardy who shot into the side netting.  The first booking of the game went to Tielemans for a foul on João Pedro.  Kalu took the resultant free kick, but it was an easy catch for Ward. 

Kalu takes a free kick

Just before the hour mark Rodgers made a second substitution bringing Amartey on for Evans.  The visitors then had a decent chance to score a fourth with a shot from distance by Dewsbury-Hall that flew just past the near post.   Leicester threatened again with a cross from Maddison that was met by a diving header from Barnes which flew well wide of the target.  At the other end, Sissoko played a lovely ball to João Pedro in the box, he unleashed a fierce shot that required a good save from Ward to keep it out.  Sadly, the resultant corner was terrible.  The Hornets had a half chance to pull one back with a ball into the box which was just too far in front of Kamara for him to apply the finishing touch.  Instead, the visitors broke down the other end, Cathcart missed a long ball over the top from Barnes, Vardy got in behind the defence and latched onto it to beat Foster.  The Hornets threatened to hit back with a cross from Ngakia that Ward had to be alert to push around the post.  The resultant corner was headed over by Kabasele.  Then a great cross from Ngakia was headed clear before it reached João Pedro who was lurking behind the defender.  From a short corner, João Pedro had another decent shot, this one was caught by Ward.  Then Kalu broke forward and played a lovely ball to João Pedro who unleashed another powerful shot but, again, it was met by a good save from Ward to keep it out.  The Hornets continued to threaten the Leicester goal when a corner from Sema was headed just wide by Kabasele.  With 10 minutes remaining, both sides made a change.  Etebo replaced Sema for the Hornets and Daka came on for Vardy for the visitors.  With 5 minutes to go, Leicester scored a fifth as Etebo lost the ball in the midfield, Maddison found Barnes who shot across Foster to compound the misery of the Hornet faithful.  At this point the Leicester fans started a chorus of “Watford get battered everywhere they go,” the home fans joined in, much to my displeasure, although it was difficult to argue with the sentiment.  The visitors had one last chance in time added on, as Barnes played a lovely ball to Daka whose powerful shot needed an impressive save from Foster to keep it out.  The final whistle went to boos from the home stands. 

The players did a lap of honour in front of the few that were left in the ground.  It was a very muted affair compared to the usual end of season parade.  On this occasion the players, very sensibly, kept their children out of the spotlight.  There were cheers for Ben Foster on what would be his last appearance in a Watford shirt at Vicarage Road.

Kabasele on the ball

We said goodbye to our neighbours in the Rookery, wished them all a happy Summer and trudged back to the West Herts for the post-match inquest. 

A defeat of that magnitude feels just awful, even though the scoreline flattered the visitors.  It certainly seemed that nothing dropped for the Hornets.  Ward was impressive in the Leicester goal, João Pedro certainly should have had more than just the one goal.  The youngster put in a great shift and came away with a lot of credit.  The defence on the other hand was awful.  Mistakes galore making it too easy for Leicester’s brilliant front line.  The aggregate score in the three games against Leicester this season has been 13-4, so it will be a relief not to have to face them next season. 

Our home record of W2, D2, L15 has been dreadful.  This was highlighted when Glenn pointed out that in the latter part of this season, he has driven 2600 miles to see us win a single point.  But, as the beer flowed and we started chatting to those around us, the conversation took a philosophical turn.  The fans there have all been supporting the Hornets for more years than we care to remember.  Players and managers come and go, but the fans are a constant.  We will see the same faces home and away next season, whatever is happening on the pitch.  Win or lose, we will have a good day out with lovely people and that is what makes it all worthwhile.

A Strangely Enjoyable Goalless Draw

Dan Gosling on the move

I had a horrible day at work on Wednesday but, luckily, it finished early, and it was a relief to get on the train to Watford.  I felt even better when I was sitting in the West Herts with a greatly needed pint.  I joined some of my friends from the Norfolk/East Anglian crew, who had been to the club earlier for a celebration of the life of Steve Comins, a friend of theirs from the Travelling Hornets football team days of the 70s/80s.  He was remembered very fondly and had been given a great send off.

We were then joined by Mike Bell, who had made the bizarre decision to travel down from Leeds for the game.  Even more bizarre was that fact that he had been motivated by his friend whose birthday it was.  Some people know how to celebrate!

There was some talk about the new manager, Rob Edwards, who had been announced earlier in the day.  An up-and-coming manager from the lower divisions is a new departure in the Pozzo era.  He has done a good job at Forest Green and, by all accounts, is a lovely man.  He had also been handed his professional debut by GT, which gives him a few extra brownie points.  Let us hope that he is given the time to develop a team.

MIke Dean helps out

Having arrived in Watford to miserable weather, the sun was shining as we made our way to Vicarage Road.  That had to be a good sign.

Team news was that there were a rash of injuries that meant seven changes from the Palace game.  So, the starting XI was Foster, Ngakia, Kabasele, Samir, Masina; Kayembe, Gosling, Sissoko; Kalu, Sema, João Pedro.  Doucouré and Richarlison started for Everton.

The referee was Mike Dean, on his last visit to Vicarage Road before he retires.  I was pleased to see that Mike Smart, his biggest fan, was there to say goodbye.

The game started brightly for the Hornets as Kalu put a decent cross into the box, but Gosling was unable to connect.  It was nearly a disaster for the visitors as an attempted through ball from João Pedro to Sema hit Keane and was heading for the net until Pickford reacted to keep it out.  This was followed by some nice interplay between João Pedro and Kalu who then played a one-two with Sema, but his shot was weak and straight at Pickford. 

Ngakia on the ball

The positive opening to the game was reflected in the stands as the 1881 were in good voice, although I wasn’t overly enamoured with “You’re going down with the Watford.”  It has to be said that the away end was packed, and the Everton fans were loud and proud in support of their team.  After a quarter of an hour the visitors won a corner which fell to Richarlison whose shot was blocked for another corner.  The first booking of the game went to Holgate for a foul on Sema.  The Swede took the free kick himself, Pickford punched it out, Kayembe had a shot blocked, then the ball fell to Kalu whose shot was wild.  Richarlison looked to break into the Watford box but was stopped by a magnificent tackle on the edge of the area by Sissoko who came away with the ball to cheers from the Hornet faithful.  The visitors threatened again when a cross into the box reached Gordon, but his shot was well over the bar.  Then Richarlison won a free kick on the edge of the Watford box, Gray’s delivery was headed out by Kabasele, Doucouré headed it back towards goal but Foster made the catch.  At the other end, a Kalu free kick was cleared to Gosling whose shot was well over the bar.  Kalu then won a free kick that he took himself but, again, his effort cleared the bar. 

Gathering in the Everton box

So, we reached half time goalless, but couldn’t fault the effort from the scratch team.  As I went to the concourse, I bumped into Gill Crowson, who I haven’t seen for ages and had been completely unaware that she sat a few rows behind me in the Rookery!

The Hornets had the first chance of the second half as Sissoko played a through ball for João Pedro, but Pickford came out to clear.  Sissoko then met a Sema free-kick with a header that was over the target.  There was a scare for the Hornets as a shot from Richarlison took a nasty deflection, thankfully Foster pulled off a brilliant one-handed save to keep it out.  Then a mistake from Kalu allowed the visitors to break, Iwobi played the ball to Gray who shot across goal and wide of the far post.  Soon after, an Everton corner was met by the head of Keane but it was an easy catch for Foster.  Then Delph won the ball in midfield and found Gray whose shot from distance was well over the bar.  The Watford goal was leading a charmed life as a ball from Richarlison flew across the face of goal, it was picked up by Iwobi whose shot was blocked.  The visitors made the first change of the game bringing Calvert-Lewin on in place of Gray. 

Masina takes a free kick

At this point the 1881 had started singing, “We’ve got the ball/We’ve lost the ball”, the latter being a bit on the negative side for me until they followed it up with “We’ll win it back” and, suddenly, everyone joined in and there was a really fun atmosphere.  This song went on for about 15-20 minutes.  The visitors continued to attack as Gordon tried a shot from distance, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  Then a cross from Richarlison bounced off Kalu and into the air, coming down into Foster’s arms.  Gordon won a free kick, which he took himself, but his effort was straight at Foster.  Lampard made a second substitution replacing Delph with Allan.  Doucouré really should have done better after receiving a pass from Iwobi in a dangerous position, but he hit a very soft shot straight at Foster.  I must say that it was the first time that I noticed he was playing.  Hodgson made his first change bringing Cathcart on for Kalu, who was exhausted.  The visitors threatened yet again as Mykolenko got himself into space, but his shot was straight at Foster.  The next Watford change involved a surprise appearance by Etebo, “back from injury”, who came on in place of Kayembe.  In time added on, the Hornets won a corner which was taken by Sema whose delivery was met by the head of Kabasele, but Pickford was equal to it.  Kabasele was then in action at the other end blocking a cross from Gordon.  That was the last action of note, so the game ended goalless. 

Kalu looks pained at having to take a free kick

The players were greeted with cheers from the Watford fans as they did their lap of honour.  There had been a lot of empty seats, but those who were there were appreciative of the efforts.  There had been a lot of talk on social media before the game about there being a poisonous atmosphere as “fans” let the players and management know what they thought about them.  In the end that didn’t transpire.  Maybe the change in personnel meant that the objects of their wrath were not present, or they just didn’t turn up.

The game had been strangely enjoyable for a goalless draw in which we didn’t muster a shot on target.  Even the one-way traffic in the second half didn’t provoke the expected wrath.  Despite their position in the table, Everton are a good team and the Hornets had done really well to get a point out of the game.  It was a relief to end our home losing streak and, at the end of the day, people want to enjoy their evening out. 

So, we continue to the last couple of games of the season, which we expect nothing from, so can’t be disappointed.  This Summer will be very interesting and I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting the release of the fixture list for next season.

A Defeat to the Eagles Confirms Relegation

WoW with our friends from City ‘Orns

After a busy week and a later night than was sensible on Friday, I woke with little energy and a feeling of dread about the trip to South London.  Anything but a win would confirm our relegation, and, after recent games, I wasn’t expecting a win.  It is well known that Selhurst Park is a nightmare to get to, but I have to say that our pre-match pub in East Croydon was quite easily reached via Thameslink with just a single change.  Our previous visit there was in March 2020 for the last match before the first lockdown.  The pub has a different vibe now with music and disco lights, but they did have food and beer, which I seem to remember was a problem last time.  Our small group gathered and left it later than sensible to order food, so ended up on the last train to arrive in Selhurst before kick-off.  There were a good number of Palace shirts on the same train, so I assumed that we were not too late.

Sarr, King and Cleverley with Hughes directing his team mates

On arrival at the turnstiles the steward who searched me was very thorough and equally pleasant and the presence of the sniffer dogs was really quite soothing.

Team news was that there were four changes from the Burnley game with Cleverley, Kayembe, Cathcart and King coming in for Kucka, Louza, Kabasele and João Pedro.  So, the starting XI was Foster, Femenía, Cathcart, Samir, Kamara; Sissoko, Kayembe, Cleverley; Sarr, King, Dennis.  Former Watford man, Hughes, started for the home side (sob!).

Luckily for me, kick-off was delayed by three minutes while the ground staff burst balloons that had been released onto the pitch when the players took to the field, so I only just missed the start.  The Women of Watford and City ‘Orns groups were located at the far end of the Arthur Wait stand.  I have to say that it was the best view that I have had there in years, although I could still only see about ¾ of the pitch.  The first chance for the home side came from a deflected shot from Zaha which Foster was able to gather before it fell to a Palace player. 

Cleverley takes a free kick

Olise had the next chance with a shot that flew over the bar.  Then Zaha tried a shot through the crowd, but it was an easy save for Foster.  Eze won a free kick after a trip by Femenía, he took it himself and his effort hit the wall.  At this point there was a rousing chorus of “Watford’s going down” from the travelling fans.  How very encouraging.  The first booking of the game went to Kamara for a foul on Edouard.  Twenty minutes had passed before Watford created anything remotely resembling a chance as a shot from Kayembe was blocked, the ball came out to Kamara whose cross was caught by Butland.  Then King went down in the Palace box after a tussle, but no foul had been committed so the home side broke upfield, Samir stopped their progress but hit a terrible long back pass that was nowhere near Foster so went out for a corner.  The Hornets threatened with a cross from Cleverley that dropped to a defender who chipped it to his keeper to shouts of “back pass” from the travelling Hornets.  At the other end, there were shouts for a penalty from the Holmesdale end as Kamara handled the ball in the box.  Their shouts were more persuasive as the referee pointed to the spot and VAR confirmed the decision.  Zaha stepped up and sent Foster the wrong way to put Palace a goal up and Watford facing the drop.  The Hornets tried to hit back from a free kick.  Femenía’s delivery was met by the head of Samir whose effort was deflected for a corner which came to nothing.  At the other end, a free kick from Eze was turned behind by King.  Then Kamara went on a run and unleashed a shot that was blocked.   Femenía took the resultant corner, his delivery was met by the head of Sissoko, but his effort was over the bar.  At the other end, a corner from Eze was kept out by Foster.  The home side had one more chance to increase their lead in time added on at the end of the half after a break down the left, but the shot from Olise was deflected for a corner.  So, we went into the break a goal down after a very poor half of football.

A Watford corner frustrated by the referee

At half time there was a penalty shoot-out, with two young fans of each team facing Palace’s eagle mascot.  It has to be said that the mascot was very sporting, making sure that he didn’t get in the way of any of the shots.  The two Watford lads celebrated with knee slides towards the travelling fans and it was a delight as it brought smiles to our faces and gave us something to cheer.  My sister then spotted the Palace cheerleaders waiting to start their routine.  “Is that still a thing?”  Only in Selhurst.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets.  King won possession from Eze advanced on goal and put in a low shot that was easily saved.  Hodgson was forced into an early substitution as Cleverley, who had been injured in the first half, was unable to continue.  He was replaced by Sema.  The next chance fell to the home side as Gallagher tried a shot that was well over the bar.  The home side threatened again from a corner, but Olise’s delivery was easily caught by Foster.  Palace won another corner, this time Zaha took it, but it had the same outcome with Foster making the catch.  The home side had a decent chance to increase their lead when Edouard beat the Watford defence to get a shot in but was frustrated by the post.  Viera made his first change just after the hour mark replacing Gallagher with Schlupp.  Hughes was the next to make his way into the referee’s book with a trademark foul on Dennis. 

Cathhcart, King, Samir and Sissoko gather in the box. Hughes is still pointing

The game went from bad to worse as Kamara knocked Olise over and was dismissed for a second yellow card.  Hodgson decided that the defence was more important than the attack as he reacted to the sending off by bringing Masina on for Dennis.  It was immediately obvious that not all among the travelling faithful agreed with him.  Palace also made a substitution bringing Mitchell on for Guehi.  Hodgson’s final change saw Troost-Ekong replacing Samir to loud boos from the away end.  Palace had a decent chance when Eze went on a threatening run, but Cathcart did well to block his cross.  At the other end, a Sema shot was blocked for a corner from which Femenía’s delivery was met by the head of Cathcart whose effort flew over the bar.  Viera’s final substitution saw Mateta on in place of Zaha.  The home side had a great chance to increase their lead when the substitute met an Olise free kick with a header that needed a decent save from Foster to keep it out, Mateta got his head on the rebound, but his effort was wide of the target.  A rare bright moment for the Hornets came as Sema released King who crossed for Sarr but he failed to connect.  The home side had one final chance to increase their lead when Schlupp went on a run before unleashing a shot that was stopped by Foster.  Soon after, the final whistle went, and Watford’s relegation was confirmed. 

Kayembe lines up a free kick as Sissoko looks on

At this point a group of lads behind us unfurled a bedsheet with the demand “We Want Duxbury Out”.  I am sure that the sentiment was sincere but none of them looked old enough to remember the time pre-Duxbury.  The players came over to applaud the fans and were greeted with a mixture of boos/obscene gestures and applause.  Sarr was one of the last to come over and was roundly booed, although I am not sure that he had been any worse than anyone, apart from Foster, on the day.  It had been a horrible game of football.  Palace created most of the chances and the scoreline would have been much worse if it wasn’t for the efforts of Ben Foster, but both teams had been pretty awful (as confirmed by a Palace fan on the train).

On the way out of the ground we met Colin.  He commented about how awful it had been and just needing the season to be over, but his parting shot was “We’ve seen worse.”  Sadly, for those of us of a certain age, that is very true, which makes it very difficult to sympathise with those who are berating the ownership for not keeping us in the Premier League.  A team like Watford has no divine right to be in the top division and, without very wealthy owners, that is becoming increasingly difficult.  I am still of the opinion that the Pozzos are the best owners that we have had since Elton.  They have made mistakes, but I can’t help thinking that, without them, we may no longer have had a club and we certainly wouldn’t have had one playing at the highest level.

After leaving the ground we had to walk through the streets of Selhurst listening to the home fans crowing that Zaha had sent us down and Watford fans gleefully singing about how we get battered every week.  Both of them were equally irritating.  We did see one Palace fan who said that he hoped we would come back up, which was rather lovely, but it was a relief to get on the train and out of there.  The conversation was minimal, but it was all back to Richard’s to meet up with his lovely wife, Alison, for dinner and drinks and by the end of the evening there were smiles on all of our faces.

We have three more games to go this season and I am not expecting any joy from them in the 90 minutes that we are watching the match.  But, as I said to Don on the way out of the ground, I will be eagerly anticipating the release of the fixtures on 25th June and looking forward to some fun away trips next season.  After all, this is what we do.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Gathering for a corner

Another bank holiday meant another weekend that the line from Euston to Watford was closed.  On the Met line I ended up changing twice as no Watford trains were in evidence.  Finally, after a 25 minute wait at Moor Park, the Watford train arrived and I saw Richard in the front carriage so had company for the last leg of the journey.  On arrival we were told that Rod was at the bar, so caught up with him and he kindly bought the beers.  It was a gorgeous sunny day and we were enjoying the company so much that it wasn’t until I saw some people leaving that I looked at the time and found that it was already 2:35 and we should have been on our way to the ground.  We really weren’t looking forward to this game were we?

Team news was that there were three changes from the trip to Man City with Ngakia, Cleverley and King making way for Femenía, Kucka and João Pedro.  So, the starting XI was Foster, Femenía, Kabasele, Samir, Kamara; Sissoko, Louza, Kucka; Sarr, João Pedro, Dennis.  In a late change, former Watford man Vydra joined former loanee Cork in the Burnley team.

Unfortunately, our late arrival meant that we missed Helen Ward being congratulated on her 100th cap for Wales and being presented with a signed shirt and flowers by Kenny Jackett.  What an achievement.

Celebrating Kucka’s goal

The game started with a couple of surging runs and crosses from Kamara, but both efforts were easily gathered by Pope.  The first proper sight of goal for the Hornets came when Louza played a back heel to Dennis, whose strike was wild and way off target.  The Hornets took an early lead when Kiko crossed for Kucka whose shot hit the underside of the bar and bounced off Tarkowski into the net.  A proper celebration ensued with smiles and hugs.  Maybe this would be a good day after all.  On 8 minutes the crowd rose to applaud the memory of Jasper Bryan Cook a “proud Yorkshire Hornet” who recently passed away suddenly at the age of 8.  It was a lovely gesture.  The architects of the goal combined again as a free kick from Femenía was met by the head of Kucka but, on this occasion, his effort was well over the bar.  Then João Pedro went on a run and fed Dennis who found Kucka in a dangerous position, his shot deflected off Tarkowski and almost found the net but just went out for a corner.  Femenía’s delivery was heading for the goal until Pope intervened and punched it clear.  The Hornets had a decent chance of a second when a clearance from Foster reached João Pedro, but the youngster was unable to control the ball at the first attempt and ended up shooting over the bar under pressure. 

Sarr in the wars

A quarter of an hour had elapsed before the visitors threatened the Watford goal, a free kick was headed out to Brownhill who shot wide of the target.  Soon after, a cross from Lennon flew across the goal, Weghorst was close but unable to apply the finishing touch.  The visitors then had a couple of corners, the first was headed behind by Samir, the second was caught by Foster.  The Hornets threatened again as Sarr went on a run and found Sissoko whose cross was blocked for a corner.  Femenía did well again with his delivery, this time hitting the outside of the near post.  There was almost a disaster for the Hornets when a McNeil run into the Watford box was stopped by Sissoko and the referee pointed to the spot.  Thankfully the VAR check indicated that the foul occurred outside the box.  McNeil took the free kick himself and hit a low effort into the Watford wall.  The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead when Dennis tried a shot from a narrow angle, but Pope was able to turn it into the side netting.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position when João Pedro was pushed over.  Dennis stepped up to take the set piece which he powered into the side-netting.  Just dreadful.  There were appeals for a penalty as a ball into the box from Femenía hit Tarkowski on the arm, but VAR decided that the contact wasn’t deliberate.  The visitors had a great chance to hit back when McNeil crossed for Vydra who headed wide of the target.  Vydra had another chance to grab an equaliser when he received a ball in the box and brought it down before shooting into the side netting.  Dennis fell over a defender when trying to reach a cross to the far post, but nothing was given (rightly).  Just before half time, Sarr was tripped on the right of the box.  Louza took the free kick and it was a decent effort that looked to be curling in until Pope punched it away.  The half time whistle went on what had been a decent half of football, so much better than of late.

Louza and Femenia prepare for a free kick

At half time, there was a film on the big screen highlighting the work being done by the Trust on combatting loneliness in Mental Health Awareness week.  They also took time to remember Richard Strange who had worked tirelessly on the Trust’s programmes in this and other areas. 

The second half started with a good chance for the visitors as Sarr lost the ball, allowing Lennon to go on a run before taking a shot that Foster pushed around the post.  The first booking of the game went to Tarkowski for pulling João Pedro down right in front of the referee.  Louza took the free kick, his delivery was met by the head of Kucka whose effort flew wide.  There was a promising move as Sarr found Dennis who played the ball to Kucka whose shot was blocked.  Dennis then had a decent chance when he got on the end of a cross from Sissoko and turned but shot wide of the far post.  The first substitution of the game came as Barnes replaced Weghorst, who was forced to walk along the front of the Rookery and was jeered all the way.  The Hornets had another decent chance to increase their lead as Sissoko released Sarr who found João Pedro in the box, but he was unable to fashion a shot. 

Dennis takes a free kick

At the other end, McNeil tried a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Brownhill’s delivery was met by the head of Tarkowski but his effort was high and wide of the target.  At this point there was a chorus of Super Matĕj Vydra from the Rookery.  I can’t say that I understand the adoration for Vydra who had brilliant spells but blew very hot and cold.  Although I will never forget that magnificent goal at Brighton.  Burnley should have drawn level from a corner when Barnes headed against the bar, but the ball rebounded down and was pushed clear by Foster.  There was a call for a penalty when João Pedro went down in the box under a challenge from Brownhill.  There was little sympathy from the referee as he had been tumbling all afternoon, and the decision was upheld by VAR.  The visitors threatened again through a free kick from McNeil that was punched clear by Foster.  With 10 minutes remaining, the ball fell to Kucka who was a long way from goal but decided to try a shot and there was no surprise when it flew into the crowd at the Vicarage Road end.  Then, on 83 minutes, the visitors drew level when a cross from Taylor was met by a diving header from Cork that beat Foster.  They scored a second a couple of minutes later as a free kick fell to Brownhill who beat Foster from the edge of the box.  That was the signal for the home stands to start emptying.  The Hornets tried to hit back as Sarr crossed for Kucka but, again, the shot was wild and cleared the bar.  The visitors made a second substitution bringing Lowton on for Lennon.  The Hornets caused problems for themselves when a poor clearance from Kabasele fell to Barnes but, thankfully, he shot over the bar.  There was a VAR check for a red card, but nobody in the crowd had the faintest idea who was likely to be penalised and what they had done.  The decision was that a card was not warranted so we are still none the wiser.  The final change for the visitors saw Stephens coming on in place of Vydra.  The Hornets had one last chance to salvage a point in time added on when João Pedro crossed for Louza but his shot was well over the bar and the final whistle went on yet another home defeat for the Hornets.  

The players came over to applaud the fans in the Rookery and were greeted with a mixture of boos and applause.  I think we were all a bit shell-shocked.

Foster takes a free kick

We headed back to the West Herts to drown our sorrows and try to make sense of it all (we failed).  The first half had been very good.  Full of energy and commitment and the early goal certainly raised the spirits but, as so often this season, we didn’t make the most of our chances and when the equaliser went in, we just collapsed.  It is hard to pin-point the source of the problems.  The personnel should be good enough to compete in this division, but there are too many misplaced passes and poor decisions.  I couldn’t help thinking that there was a time when Dennis used to run past people and Sarr used to run, but neither of them have been effective of late.  Is that an issue with their characters or their confidence?  The fact that most of the shots on goal for the Hornets came from Kucka highlights the problems upfront.

But, despite the fact that the football has been terrible this season, I cannot join in with the section of the crowd who are calling for the Pozzos’ heads.  Some people have very short memories.  I noted that there was a lot of mythologising this week about GT’s last home game.  There were comments on social media about that being when Watford was a “proper club”.  What people seem to have forgotten is how awful that match was both on and off the field.  The players were not playing for the manager, the crowd was angry and the cards that had been put on the seats in the Rookery for a post-match display reading “Thank you, GT” were being made into paper planes and thrown onto the pitch.  Many in the fanbase were glad to see the back of GT who had “taken us as far as he could” and were thrilled at the prospect of Vialli coming in and propelling us into the Premier League.  Be careful what you wish for.  Having been involved with the Supporters’ Trust in the late 2000s and seen how close we came to not having a club, I still believe that the Pozzos have done wonders for us and are the best owners that we have had since Elton. I was back at Vicarage Road on Sunday to see the women playing a crucial game against Coventry United.  Sadly, this was not to provide any more joy.  The visitors had the better of the play, but the Golden Girls held out until the 97th minute when a free kick from the visitors gave them a win which took them to safety and relegated the Hornets.  With the men’s side 12 points from safety with 12 points to play for, it seems that we will have a double relegation season.  But I will still be looking forward to the fixtures coming out in June and some trips to places that we haven’t visited for a while.  I have seen a lot worse than this in the 40+ years that I have been following the Hornets and will always be back for more.   

Kamara Brings a Little Joy to the Etihad

In the West Herts after the Brentford game, Jacque and I discussed why we were going to the Etihad.  We knew that the chance of getting anything from the game was very slim (non-existent) but, as for all away games, we relish the chance to catch up with mates and just have a good day out.  When I boarded the train at Euston and took my seat, there was a young couple sitting beside me who were nicely dressed and from their conversation I gathered that they were in hospitality for the game.  On arrival in Manchester, my total lack of a sense of direction meant that I took a rather circuitous route to reach the designated pre-match hostelry.  When I walked into the pub, I found Jacque at the bar with Graham’s credit card and all was right with the world.  We usually meet the Happy Valley ‘Orns there but, due to Covid and holidays, their number had been reduced to one.  We were then joined by Jane from Women of Watford and, as always, had a lovely convivial pre-match drink.

The concourse 15 minutes before kick-off

Against our better judgement, we left the pub in good time to walk to the ground.  As we approached the stadium, we heard a City fan asking if there were any Watford fans coming to the game.  We outed ourselves, but it has to be said that there were not many yellow shirts in evidence.  There was no queue to get into the ground and, as always, the City stewards were lovely, in stark contrast to those at Old Trafford.  We had seats in the upper tier and I was a little shocked to find that at 2:45 the upper concourse was deserted.  In fact, when we reached our seats we were told that we could sit wherever we liked.  On reflection, I remembered that there had been the option of safe-standing rail seats at this game and we had opted to sit, so were obviously in the minority.  It certainly appeared that there were more stewards than fans in our section.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Brentford game with Ngakia, Cleverley and King coming in for Femenía, Kucka and João Pedro.  So, the starting XI was Foster, Ngakia, Kabasele, Samir, Kamara; Sissoko, Louza, Cleverley; Sarr, King, Dennis.  The team were sporting the green third kit, which pleased me as I had forgotten to take it to the only game at which we previously wore it, so this was the first outing for my shirt.

Ben Foster waiting for a City attack

The last time that we were at the Etihad, we conceded 8 goals, 5 of them in the first 20 minutes.  We speculated at the time on whether the scoreboard could show a score in double figures.  We feared that we would find out when a cross from Cancelo reached Zinchenko who played a square ball for Jesus to hit home and open the scoring in the fourth minute.  From our vantage point in our exclusive perch which, as Becky said, felt like being in an executive box, it all felt a little disconnected, although that may have been a consequence of the pre-match beers.  The next chance for the home side fell to Fernandinho who shot straight at Foster.  There was an unexpected bright moment for the Hornets as King released Dennis, who broke forward, but he hung on to the ball for too long and was tackled by Zinchenko.  The home side threatened again through Cancelo whose shot was saved by Foster, the ball fell to Jesus whose follow-up was stopped by the keeper’s feet.  Sterling was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a chip from outside the area that was caught by Foster. 

Louza on the ball

The second goal came on 23 minutes as a cross from De Bruyne was headed home by Jesus.  There was much excitement in the away end a minute later when the Hornets won a corner.  Needless to say, it didn’t beat the first man.  But we did have something to cheer soon after when a lovely ball into the box by Dennis found Kamara who beat Edersen to provoke wild celebrations among the Watford fans.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo as I had left my camera at home and my phone was running low on battery.  The travelling Hornets then regaled the home fans with a chorus of “You’re not singing anymore.”  Normal activity resumed soon after as a corner came out to Jesus on the edge of the area, but he shot over the bar.  City restored their two-goal advantage after 34 minutes when Jesus found Rodri just outside the box from where he powered a shot past Foster.  The scoreboard at the Etihad shows extensive celebratory clips of the goal scorer posing followed by repeated replays of the goal.  I quickly found myself sick of the sight of Rodri.  The home side had a great chance to score a fourth when Jesus beat a defender before cutting the ball back to Sterling, but his effort flew over the bar.  Sterling had another decent chance when a pass from Jesus reached him in the box, but he was stopped by a great tackle.  At the other end, Sarr won a corner for the Hornets.  The delivery was initially headed clear but ended up with Sarr whose shot was disappointingly high.  So, we finished the half only two goals down which, after previous games against the same opponents, didn’t seem too bad at all.

Challenging at a corner

The Hornets had a dreadful start to the second half as Jesus broke into the box and was taken down by Foster.  The referee pointed to the spot, and it appeared to be a stonewall penalty, but the VAR check went on for an age before the referee confirmed the spot kick.  Jesus stepped up and sent Foster the wrong way to secure his hat trick.  On 53 minutes Jesus played a one-two with De Bruyne before belting the ball past Foster for his fourth and City’s fifth.  At this point the home fans had a rousing chorus of “Stand up for the champions” with all sides of the ground rising to applaud.  Meanwhile the travelling Hornets resumed fretting about the score reaching double figures.  Guardiola made his first change replacing De Bruyne with Gundogan.  The assault on the Watford box continued but Rodri could only shoot over the bar.  At the other end, Dennis got on the end of a through ball from Louza but shot straight at Ederson, although it wouldn’t have counted as the linesman’s flag was raised.  City made their second substitution with former Watford loanee Nathan Ake coming on for Laporte. 

The Women of Watford

Ben Foster was nearly caught out when a shot from Gundogan took a nasty deflection, but he reacted well and managed to make the save.  On 68 minutes there was a double substitution for the Hornets with Samir and Sarr making way for João Pedro and Cathcart.  City made a final substitution replacing Rodri with Mahrez and at times like that you just have to laugh.  Watford’s final substitution saw Kayembe come on in place of Louza.  With 8 minutes of normal time remaining, the Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position.  The delivery from Dennis was met by João Pedro whose header flew just wide of the target.  At the other end, Cancelo tried his luck with a shot from distance that went wide of the far post.  City had a great chance for a sixth when Sterling went on a run through the Watford defence before finding Grealish whose shot was saved by Foster.  Mahrez was the next to try for the sixth when he got on the end of a cross into the box, but his shot was well over the target.  Into time added on and Jesus was named as Man of the Match which prompted him to go on a surging run but, thankfully, it came to nothing and the game ended in a 5-1 defeat for the Hornets.  

Fair play to the travelling Hornets who stayed to applaud the players off the pitch, which is more than a lot of the fans of the winning team had done.  They were rewarded with a selection of shirts being handed out, although the old folk in the upper tier went home empty handed.

I had booked a train that would give me time to drown my sorrows before heading home.  So we headed back to the pub.  There was relief that there hadn’t been a totally humiliating scoreline.  Sadly, a four goal deficit against City seems quite creditable.  The fact that we scored made it even better.  But, putting a brave face on it doesn’t make up for the fact that we can no longer compete with teams like City and Liverpool, so these regular humiliations become the norm.

On arrival back at Piccadilly, I found that my train had been cancelled, which had the benefit of allowing me to travel back with Jacque, so wine and beer were purchased, and we were very jolly by the time that we arrived back in London.  We also ended up sitting next to the couple that I had seen on the way up.  It turned out that he was a Crewe fan and she was a lifelong City fan who had suffered enough in the years when City were struggling so I could not begrudge her their current success.

We have five games remaining this season and are now so far behind that relegation is an inevitability.  It will be a relief.  I do not subscribe to the notion that I want to see my team competing against the best players in the world.  I would rather see them playing in competitive games and winning on a more regular basis.  I am quite looking forward to next season and the chance to revisit some old haunts and go to grounds which are full of fans and not tourists.  Hopefully, we can start enjoying the matches again and it will no longer be only the social aspect that gives us joy. Finally, I must apologise for the photos this week, as I have not worked out how to use the camera on my phone effectively.

A Cruel Loss Made Bearable by the Petes

Heurelho Gomes Baby

Having managed to dodge it for two years, I finally succumbed to covid a couple of weeks ago.  Thankfully, I had a very mild dose, a rotten cold for a few days, but it meant the weekend in Liverpool was cancelled and I was still testing positive last Saturday, so I also missed the Leeds game and, more to the point, the opportunity for a close encounter with lovely John McClelland.  That was heartbreaking for me.

So, I finally found myself going to a match a month after the wonderful trip to Southampton.  Engineering work meant that there were no trains out of Euston, so I took a trip on the Met line, encountering plenty of Liverpool and Man City fans on their way to Wembley.  As I walked to the West Herts, I bumped into Fuzz who was just arriving at her Ma’s, so had a lovely catch up.  Following the construction work, the West Herts have finally reopened the main bar and very lovely it looks too.  But the sun was shining, so we sat outside and enjoyed our beers and jerk chicken.  The icing on the cake came when Glenn arrived with crème eggs and pork scratchings.

I arrived at the ground just in time to see Heurelho Gomes being interviewed.  It was his first chance to return to the club and say goodbye to the fans after leaving the club during lockdown.  His comments were as warm and lovely as you would expect, and it was great to remember happier times on the pitch.

Louza takes a corner

Team news was that there was one change from the Leeds game with Dennis coming in for the injured Hernández.  So, the starting XI was Foster, Femenía, Kabasele, Samir, Kamara, Sissoko, Louza, Kucka, Sarr, João Pedro, Dennis.

Prior to kick-off the announcement of Christian Eriksen’s name was greeted with a huge cheer and applause from the Watford fans.  It was the Dane who created the first chance of the game in the ninth minute with a shot from the edge of the area that curled past the far post.  The Hornets then had a half chance as a corner came out to Sissoko, his shot through the crowd found Kucka who could only turn it wide.  Kiko then played a one-two before crossing for Sarr whose header was high and wide.  It has to be said that at this stage of the game there was a great atmosphere with the Watford faithful really getting behind their team.  The mood was dampened after a quarter of an hour when a long throw was headed on by Kucka to Nørgaard who was in an acre of space when he turned it past Foster.  It was awful defending yet again and the Hornets were behind, although there was plenty of time to remedy that.  Brentford had another chance soon after with a shot from distance by Wissa that was straight at Foster. 

Challenging at a corner

The Hornets had a chance to hit back, a shot from Sarr was blocked and fell to João Pedro but his shot was disappointing flying well over the bar.  Brentford manager, Frank, was forced into an early substitution due to an injury to Pinnock who was replaced by Sørensen.  The Hornets had a chance to draw level when Dennis played the ball back to Kucka, but his shot flew well over the target.  At this point, there was some drama in the SEJ stand as an old fella had come down to pitch level to berate the players and was having some argy-bargy with the stewards who were trying to calm him down.  Clearly there was some sympathy for him from his neighbours in the stand as he was applauded as he returned to his seat near the back.  From our vantage point he looked ridiculous.  The Hornets threatened again as Dennis tried to get on the end of a decent cross from Sarr but he was blocked by the defender and Raya was able to gather the ball.  Eriksen came over to take a corner between the Rookery and GT stands and was greeted with a massive round of applause.  The Dane was the next to threaten Watford’s goal with a shot from distance that was straight at Foster.  A series of Brentford corners finished with the ball falling to Janelt on the edge of the box but he fired over the bar.  The visitors nearly did the Hornets a favour when a corner from Femenía reached Ajer who put in a decent attempt on his own goal that just flew past the post.  Into time added on Watford had their first shot on target.  A cross from Kiko was cleared to Louza whose shot was poor and easily gathered by Raya.  The half time whistle was greeted with some boos.  It had been a terrible half of football. 

Clearly it was designated goalkeeper day as the half time guest was Kevin Miller, who has the accolade of winning Player of the Season on two occasions.

Kamara on the ball

The first booking of the game went to Kamara for a challenge on Mbeumo.  The visitors had a great chance to extend their lead when a free kick from Eriksen reached Toney, but the shot was very poor rolling across in front of the goal and wide.  A minute later the Hornets were level as a cross from Sissoko was flicked on by Sarr to Dennis who powered his shot into the roof of the net.  The celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.  There was the long wait for VAR before the referee made the sign of the VAR screen and pointed to the centre circle and the celebrations resumed, although were a little more muted as the players were already lined up waiting for kick-off.  Just after the half hour mark Toney was booked for tripping Kucka just outside the box.  Louza’s free kick hit the wall, the ball eventually dropped to Sarr whose shot was mishit and easily gathered by Raya.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead when a cross from Kamara reached Samir who took it down before shooting just wide of the near post.  Brentford made a couple of substitutions around the middle of the half.  First Ghoddos replaced Wissa, then Janelt made way for Jensen.  The visitors nearly regained the lead in spectacular fashion when Toney tried a very hopeful shot from distance which wasn’t far wide.  Then Jansson met a cross with a header that almost sneaked in, but Ben Foster was able to reach it and make the catch. 

Dennis and Louza discuss a free kick

Hodgson made a couple of substitutions with King and Cleverley coming on for João Pedro and Kucka.  Watford then had a decent flurry with Cleverley and Louza both putting dangerous balls into the box, but both were cleared.  There was one final substitution as Cathcart replaced Femenía.  The Hornets had a chance to grab a winner in normal time when Sarr won a free kick in a dangerous position.  Dennis stepped up to take it and went close but Raya stretched and tipped it over.  There were cheers at the announcement of 5 minutes of added time.  The Hornets really should have taken the lead as a shot from Dennis was blocked and fell to King, his shot rebounded off the post, the ball fell to Louza whose shot was just wide.  But at the other end, Kamara gave away a free kick, Eriksen stepped up to take it and Jansson rose to head it home.  It was like a punch in the guts.  The Hornets had played really well in the second half, that end to the game was just cruel.  There were a couple of half-hearted boos at the full-time whistle, but most of those still in the ground applauded the efforts of the players who must have been as devastated as we were.  By all accounts, Louza had to be consoled as he left the pitch.

A whole load of lovely Petes

We all trudged back to the West Herts feeling downhearted.  I think that we had all accepted relegation as a certainty after the Leeds game but, after a decent performance in the second half, the last minute defeat was something that neither the players nor the fans deserved.  On our way we got chatting to Michael, who has sat a few seats along from my sister for more years than I can remember.  He told us about a man that they had meant in the West Herts before the game.  He had recently lost his wife of 60 years and the crowd in the West Herts were a godsend to him.  They had a lovely chat and resolved that he would now be part of their pre-match gathering.  This reminded me of a David Squires cartoon that had been shared during the week in which he paid tribute to Pete, someone who he sat near at A-League games.  This had struck a chord with all of us, as we have all been Petes at some time and we all have our own Petes.  In the end, the team wins and loses, and the ups are exhilarating and the downs can be devastating, but the joy is in the community of Petes who gather together and somehow make it all worthwhile.

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/ng-interactive/2022/apr/15/david-squires-on-the-death-of-a-friend-and-the-power-of-football-connections

Sunshine on the South Coast

Sculptue on Itchen Boardwalk

After the horror of Thursday evening, I wondered why I was getting up early on a Sunday morning to travel to Southampton.  But the sun was shining as I walked to the tube station and I arrived at Waterloo in plenty of time to get a coffee and croissant before boarding my train.  The station was very quiet, but I did spot a Watford shirt on the concourse so knew that I wasn’t alone.  As is often the case on South Western trains, the on train display was awry claiming that the train was going to Waterloo and the first stop was Dorchester.  I had a brief panic that I was on the wrong train, but it left at the expected time and a glance at the board when we reached Clapham Junction eased my concerns.  The usual line to Southampton was closed so it was routed through Fareham which added about an hour to the journey.

I arrived in St Denys bright and early and was not expecting the designated pub to be open, so I was delighted to find that it was, and I was soon sitting comfortably with a pint waiting for the rest of our party to arrive.  I had booked a table, as it tends to get busy, and had been looking forward to a Sunday roast until they realised that it was a matchday and put on a menu of (massive) burgers instead.

Challenging for a corner

We left the pub in good time and had a lovely walk in the sun along the side of the Itchen to the ground.  As usual there was a massive queue to get through security and we just managed to make it to our seats before kick-off.  The Women of Watford group were located just behind the Junior Hornets who were on their inaugural away trip since the relaunch of the group.  It was lovely to see so many children looking forward to seeing their team.  I only hoped that the lads would put on a good performance for them.

Team news was that there were three changes from Thursday with João Pedro back in place of King and Cleverley and Cathcart making way for Kucka and Kabasele.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Samir, Kamara; Sissoko, Louza, Kucka; Hernández, João Pedro, Dennis.

The home side had an early chance from a free kick.  My heart sank as James Ward-Prowse stepped up, and Alice expressed what I was thinking, that he always seems to score against us.  Thankfully on this occasion, Foster punched his effort clear.  The home side threatened again as Armstrong crossed for Elyounoussi whose header was headed off the line by Samir.  The first chance for the Hornets came as a Dennis cross was blocked and fell to João Pedro but his shot was also blocked. 

Celebrating the first goal, the home fans are not impressed

The Hornets took the lead in the 14th minute as João Pedro just missed out on intercepting a poor pass from Forster and was, annoyingly, prostrate on the turf, but Cucho was lurking and latched on to a terrible back pass from Salisu before rounding Forster and finding the net from a tight angle to send the travelling Hornets behind the goal into wild celebrations.  The Hornets threatened again as Kucka crossed for João Pedro, but the ball was cut out by Salisu before it reached the Watford man.  At the other end, Walker-Peters went on a run along the goal line before putting in a cross that was blocked for a corner.  Then Kamara released João Pedro who hit a shot that curled well wide of the target.  A foul by Samir on Armstrong resulted in a free kick for the home side.  The delivery from Ward-Prowse was met by the head of Salisu, but his effort cleared the bar.  The Hornets scored a second goal after 34 minutes when a lovely cross from Kucka dropped to Cucho who volleyed past Forster.  His joyous celebration was directly in front of us, so he was able to enjoy the adulation of the Junior Hornets.  At this point, the crowd was streaming out of the stand next to us.  It seemed a little early for half time refreshments but, clearly, they had seen enough.  The home side had a great chance to hit back when a ball reached Walker-Peters on the edge of the box, his shot was impressive and needed a decent save from Foster to keep it out.  The Hornets should have had a third when Sissoko played a lovely ball to Kucka, who found himself one-on-one with the keeper, but his shot was weak and Forster dropped to make the block.  The home side had a chance to pull a goal back with a shot from distance from Perraud that flew over the bar.  But they got their goal soon after, inevitably from a Ward-Prowse free kick which was flicked on by Adams to Elyounoussi who got behind the defence and turned the ball past Foster.  This was just before half time, the worst time to concede a goal, so very frustrating.  The Saints had another chance before the break as a run down the right finished with a cross that was cut out by Femenía.  The resulting corner was met by Armstrong whose shot was high and wide.  It was a relief to hear the half time whistle and to go into the break a goal to the good.

Cucho celebrating his second goal with the away fans

It had been an enjoyable half of football watched from a stand that was bathed in sunshine.  We were certainly expecting to see more goals in the second half.  The Junior Hornet group in front of us were enjoying their afternoon and it was lovely to see Ann Swanson back where she belongs wearing a coat bearing the Watford badge.

The home side made a substitution at the break replacing Smallbone with Broja.  The first incident of note in the second half was a booking for Perraud as he fouled Louza to stop him breaking forward.  The Hornets looked to restore their two-goal advantage when João Pedro went on a great run before battling his way into the box, but he went down under a challenge and the referee, rightly, waved play on.  The first chance of the half fell to the home side, a great ball found Walker-Peters at the back post, but he shot wide.  At the other end, Kucka played a lovely one-two with Louza but his cut back was cleared.  Southampton threatened again from a free kick, on this occasion the delivery from Ward-Prowse was headed over by Salisu.  The Hornets had a chance soon after when Dennis cut the ball back to João Pedro whose curling shot flew wide of the far post. 

Kamara launches a throw

The Hornets should have increased their lead when Kucka got the ball on the edge of the area and unleashed a tremendous shot that was pushed clear by Forster.  At the other end, the Hornet nerves were jangling as Broja just missed connecting with a dangerous cross into the box.  With a quarter of an hour remaining, the home side made their second change as Redmond replaced Romeu.  His appearance was greeted with Alice and I saying, in unison, “He always plays well against us.”  The Hornets should have increased their lead and Cucho should have had a hat-trick when he exchanged passes with Dennis before blasting his shot over the bar when he really should have hit the target.  The Hornets threatened again when Cucho played a crossfield ball to Dennis who advanced and took a shot from just outside the area that flew wide of the near post.  Nerves jangled among the travelling Hornets as Ward-Prowse stepped up to take a free kick in what would be considered to be “his territory”, so we were very relieved to see his delivery land on the roof of the net.  With 3 minutes left of normal time, Hodgson made his first substitution bringing King on for Dennis.  The home side had a chance to draw level when a cross from Redmond was met by the head of Adams, but Foster tipped the ball over the bar.  There were appeals for a handball from the resultant corner.  The consensus among us was that the hand involved had belonged to a Southampton player and, following the VAR check, nothing was given.  The fourth official indicated seven minutes of added time to the disbelief and horror of the Watford faithful.  Southampton won a corner and, before it was taken, Hodgson made his second change bringing Cathcart on for Femenía.  Foster punched the delivery clear but, in the process, Broja was injured and was down for a long time receiving treatment.  He was able to walk off the pitch but had to be replaced by Long.  There was a series of Southampton corners that were repelled until, finally, the Hornets took possession of the ball and launched a counterattack which finished with King crossing for Louza who tried an overhead kick that was easily caught by Forster.  Hodgson made his final change deep into injury time when he brought Sema on for Cucho.  The home side had one final chance to rescue a point with a shot from Redmond, but it was deflected into the gloves of Foster, so the final whistle went with the Hornets winning a precious three points.

Cucho and Joao Pedro celebrating the second goal

The celebrations in the away end and among the players were joyous.  Cucho and Kamara took it in turns to get the away stand cheering and many of the players came over to hand their shirts to the Junior Hornets.  Their day out had been a cracker.

We walked back to the pub bathed in glorious sunshine with our smiles as bright as the day was.  What a difference three days and two goals makes.  This performance could not have been more different from that on Thursday.  On this occasion, the lads fought for every ball, played as a team and looked as if they were enjoying themselves.  Cucho, with his brace, was obviously the man of the match but there were great performances all over the pitch.  Kucka and Louza had great afternoons, as did Kabasele.  But there wasn’t a bad performance and we all left St Mary’s loving football again.

There were mixed results at the other grounds.  We could have done without the late winner at Leeds, but we are now level on points with Everton, although they do have games in hand.  So, the despair of Thursday turns into a little kernel of hope that we may escape.  But, as we all know, it’s the hope that kills you. But the highlight of the day was the Junior Hornets away trip.  To see so many youngsters enjoying an away game in a safe environment was a delight, and the performance was one which will ensure that they are badgering their parents to let them go again.  The proud photos on social media of the kids with their heroes’ shirts were just lovely.  The next generation are being looked after and it is wonderful to see Ann Swanson as a key part of that.  Sunday was a day that made me very proud to be a Watford fan.

A Dark Evening in the Black Country

A view of the pyrotechnics

The postponement of the game on Boxing Day hadn’t been a great disappointment.  The idea of getting up at the crack of dawn to get a coach to Wolves for a lunchtime kick-off was really not that appealing.  Needless to say, I still bought a ticket, but I was going to be on my own for that one.  For the rearranged fixture I decided to take the train instead.  My ridiculously overpriced first class ticket bought me a couple of glasses of wine and an afternoon tea (scones with clotted cream are always a good idea).  I was joined on the train at Milton Keynes by Ian, who disembarked at Birmingham, as all sensible people do, as there is no pre-match establishment that I would want to visit in Wolves.  There is construction at Wolverhampton station, so I failed to find the way out to the Premier Inn and ended up taking a ridiculously long detour. 

I left for the ground at 6ish and was pleased that I remembered the way and knew where the away coaches would be parked before I spotted them.  Wolves have a good selection of food vans, so I paused to enjoy chicken tikka in a naan, which hit the spot.  When I reached the ground, I found that we had been moved from our usual spot in the lower tier along the side of the pitch to the upper tier behind the goal.  Imagine my delight on arrival to be greeted by a sign warning that it was 96 steps to the top.  Still, that would work off the afternoon’s refreshments.  When I arrived in the concourse, I spotted Don Fraser and, knowing that he was without a PA for the evening, decided to join him on the disabled platform.  It has to be said that there was a stunning view from there and we were able to observe the pyrotechnic display, rather than being singed by it.

Kamara on the ball

Team news was that there was one change from the Arsenal game with João Pedro having tested positive for COVID on Wednesday he was replaced by King.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Samir, Kamara; Sissoko, Louza, Cleverley; Hernández, Dennis, King.

The teams emerged from the tunnel together, like old times, which I rather enjoyed.  We were visited before kick-off by Laura, the Wolves SLO, who came to make sure that we were doing OK.

The home fans were vocal from the kick-off, booing Ben Foster, who will never be forgiven for his time at West Brom. 

The first action of note was a great cross into the Wolves box, Cucho went down under a challenge and the referee pointed to the spot, but changed his mind when the flag went up for offside against Dennis.  That was to prove to be one of the rare highlights of the game for the Hornets.  The home side took the lead on 13 minutes, and it was down to terrible defending by the visitors.  Hwang won the ball from a Femenía throw-in, he passed the ball through Samir’s legs to Jiménez who, despite being challenged, was able to fashion a shot and beat Foster. 

Cucho Hernandez

Watford were two down on 18 minutes as a cut back from Aït-Nouri was turned past his own keeper by Hernández, who was under no pressure as there was no Wolves player anywhere near him.  The first booking of the game went to Louza for pulling Jiménez down.  The home side scored a third after 21 minutes, a terrible back pass put Foster in trouble, his rushed clearance went straight to Podence who showed great composure to loft the ball over the stranded keeper and into the empty net.  The home fans took great delight in this and “Foster, what’s the score” rang out across the stadium.  A moment of relief for the Hornets as Sissoko went on a great run and found King in the box, but the shot was awful, flying well over the bar.  “That’s why you’re going down” rang out from the home stands and it was hard to argue.  On the half hour, Hodgson made a change bringing Kabasele on for Femenía, I can only assume that the change was due to an injury.  A lovely run through the middle by Dennis was stopped by Aït-Nouri who was booked for his trouble.  Cucho stepped up to take the resulting free kick and fired well over the target.   The next booking of the game went to Samir who, in similar fashion, tripped Jiménez in order to prevent a break.  The Hornets had a chance to break back as a series of shots were blocked in the Wolves area, the ball finally fell to Kabasele whose shot went wide.  This effort was greeted with a gleeful chant of “We’ve had a shot” from the Watford faithful.  The home side had a chance to grab a fourth before half time as Jiménez cut the ball back to Hwang in the box, but Samir was on hand to make the block.  The half time whistle went to the inevitable boos from the away end.  It had been a dreadful half of football and there were a couple of guys in the stand near me who had spent most of the half screaming their displeasure at the players.  I just felt rather numb.  Our platform was right behind Foster’s goal, so we had a grandstand view of the carnage.

Louza and Kalu prepare for a free kick

Hodgson made a change at half time bringing Kalu on for King.  A group behind us decided to cheer themselves up with a chant of “We’ve lost/got the ball,” as appropriate for the current situation as the game went on.  There was a bright start to the second half for the Hornets as Cucho took a free kick from the left touchline that needed a punch from de Sá to keep it out.  At the other end, Foster’s mare continued as another clearance reached Podence, but this time the Watford keeper was able to catch the lob.  There was more good work from Cucho as he won the ball by the corner flag and escaped from the defender before passing to Dennis who had the ball nicked off his feet.  Dennis then went on a tremendous run through the middle but was pulled down on the edge of the box by Saïss, who went into the referee’s book.  Louza took the free kick which hit the wall and deflected out.  Louza also took the resulting corner, his delivery was met by the head of Kabasele who could only direct the ball wide of the target.  Wolves made their first substitution at this point as Neto replaced Hwang.  Laura, the Wolves SLO, then reappeared to ask how we were doing.  Er, not well.  She said that she had been to a few Watford games and thought we would be all right.  It turned out that her son is a Watford fan.  I could only pity the poor lad and certainly did not share her positive view of our prospects this season. 

Preparing for a ball into the box

The home side had a chance to increase their lead as a clearance from Kabasele was blocked by Podence and the rebound flew just wide.  The group behind me tried to keep our spirits up with “Most nutmegs in Europe, you’ll never sing that.”  Wolves thought that they had scored a fourth as, from a corner, a shot was blocked and the follow-up from Neves was in the net, but the whistle had already gone for an infringement.  With about 20 minutes to go, each side made a substitution, Silva replacing Jiménez for the home side and Cleverley making way for Etebo for the visitors.  Cucho was still working hard as he went on a run down the right, but he slashed at the shot and failed to test the Wolves keeper.  At the other end, Jonny crossed for Neto whose header was caught by Foster.  Silva had a chance to increase the lead for the hosts, but his shot flew just wide of the far post.  The home side continued to threaten as, from a corner, the ball fell to Neto who shot over the target.  The Wolves fans behind the goal wouldn’t give the ball back to Foster for the goal kick until, inevitably, he already had a replacement ball lined up.  Lage made his final substitution replacing Jonny with Chiquinho.  In a move that typified our evening, Louza had a chance to release Dennis but decided to go for goal himself with a shot that was nowhere near the target just flying out for a goal kick. The inevitable fourth goal came when the ball fell to Neves on the edge of the area who lofted a gorgeous shot over Foster.  As the clock ran down, I was just wishing for the final whistle so was relieved when the fourth official indicated that there would be only two minutes of additional time.

Don applauded the players at the end, but he is a better person than I am.  That performance had been soul-destroying.  There was just nothing to redeem it.  A lack of ideas, a lack of any cohesion.  A rag-tag group of players who didn’t look like they had met before that evening and certainly couldn’t find a teammate with a pass.  The mistakes for the goals were dreadful.  In all honestly, it was a performance that was characterised by a complete lack of confidence, and I don’t know how you remedy that.  The poor performance on the pitch is met by fury from many in the crowd which, while understandable, just makes the experience worse.

On the way out of the ground, I heard a Wolves fans telling a family with him that he would have to bring them again as it’s not usually like this.  Sadly, it is for us.

So we have a trip to the south coast on Sunday, which I am not expecting to be any more fun, and then we have two weeks to recover before a trip to Liverpool.  You have to wonder if Roy will still be in charge for that one.  Relegation is looking like an inevitability.  I am just keeping everything crossed that Barnsley stay up.

An Encouraging Performance Against the Gunners

The 1881 Display in the Rookery in support of Ukraine

After 10 days away, in which I missed three matches with very mixed performances, I didn’t know what to expect from the visit of Arsenal to Vicarage Road.  The likelihood of getting anything from the game seemed low, but we do tend to play better against the top teams, and we have a history of being a bogey team for the Gunners.  Also, being out of practice, a two-o-clock kick-off on a Sunday afternoon was very confusing.  But I found myself on a train out of London full of lads drinking beer, so knew that my timing was fine.  The West Herts was quiet when I arrived, but Jacque was there and had nabbed a table, so all was good.  It was even better when Drummy arrived bearing jerk chicken baguettes and then the icing on the cake was a late appearance from Glenn with a bag of pork scratchings.  You don’t get those in Belize.

We headed for the ground and Mike stopped off to donate some books that his grandchildren have outgrown to the Children’s Book Project collection.  It was good to see that the box was rather full.  We had been warned during the week about the new turnstiles.  Thankfully they worked well, and I was greeted by name as the green light allowed me entry to the Rookery.

Lining up for the minute’s applause

Team news was that there were three changes from the Manchester United game with Femenía, João Pedro and Hernández in for Ngakia, Sarr and King.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Samir, Kamara; Sissoko, Louza, Cleverley; Hernández, Dennis, João Pedro.  A very attacking line-up.

When I got to my seat, I found a roll of yellow paper underneath it.  I also found that the guy in the seat next to me was wearing a red shirt, not a replica kit but a bit of a giveaway.  As the teams came out to Z-cars, the crowd in the Rookery held up the sheets to display the Ukrainian flag.  The players then lined up around the centre circle, with the teams alternating players, for a show of solidarity, and there was a minute’s applause while we held up our yellow sheets (my Arsenal friend applauded but clearly did not want anything to do with a yellow sheet).

Celebrating Cucho’s amazing strike

The game started really well for the Hornets as João Pedro played a lovely ball to Dennis who had the ball in the net after 17 seconds, but the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag, as helpfully pointed out by my neighbour in the stand.  But it was the visitors who took the early lead as Ødegaard played a one-two with Saka before beating Foster.  The goal was greeted with celebrations from a group of 4 sitting a few rows in front of us in the middle of the Rookery.  They were quickly ejected.  My Arsenal friend whipped his phone out to celebrate with mates but, when I commented, thought better of it.  The first chance for the Hornets to break back came as Dennis won a free kick, Hernández stepped up to take it, but his effort was straight at Ramsdale.  He soon made amends and the Hornets were level on 11 minutes through a gorgeous goal.  Dennis played a clever ball to Femenía whose cross was met by a brilliant overhead kick by Hernández that gave Ramsdale no chance.  The visitors tried to strike back as Partey tried a shot from the edge of the area that flew just wide of the target.  The Hornets then won another free kick in a decent position, this time it was Louza who took it but, again, it was straight at Ramsdale.  Watford had a chance to take the lead when Sissoko found Dennis who cut inside before shooting, Ramsdale made the block and just managed to keep the ball away from the feet of João Pedro.  The visitors immediately broke down the other end where Xhaka volleyed over the bar.  Then a clearance from Femenía found its way to Partey whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The next chance for the Hornets fell to Sissoko whose shot flew over the bar.  But it was the visitors who regained the lead when Cleverley was caught in possession just outside the Watford box, Saka nicked the ball away and exchanged passes with Lacazette before hitting a lovely shot that beat Foster.  Arsenal had the momentum now and had another decent chance as a cross from Tierney was met by the head of Lacazette and flew wide.  They threatened again with another cross that was caught by Foster under challenge from Xhaka.  The visitors finished the half strongly as a shot from Martinelli was charged down by Cathcart.  From the resulting corner, Soares crossed for Gabriel who headed over the bar.

Cleverley takes a free-kick

At half time there was a video showcasing a poem on gender equality that had won a competition from the Watford CSE Trust.  It was read by various people including players from Watford Women and a couple of stalwarts from Women of Watford, Kate and Laura, who will also feature in a piece to be released on International Women’s Day when they are interviewed by Christian Kabasele.  I am looking forward to seeing that.

There was also an interview with Robert Page who recalled being mooned as he stepped up to take his penalty in the play-off semi-final at St Andrews.  He also said that he had come to Watford because of Tom Walley, who was there to greet his protégé.

The second half started in dramatic fashion when Ramsdale came out of his area to pick up an overhit pass, his clearance went to Sissoko, he passed to Dennis who took too long to fashion a shot by which time Ramsdale was back in position.  Hernández then went down after a collision with White, it didn’t look like a deliberate contact from the Arsenal player and the referee waved play on. 

Cleverley congratulates Sissoko on his goal

The visitors increased their lead after 52 minutes, Arteta was a long way out of his technical area when he retrieved the ball and threw it to Saka to ensure that the throw-in was taken quickly, after some lovely one touch passing the ball reached Martineli who curled a great shot past Foster.  The Hornets looked to hit back almost immediately as João Pedro went on a tremendous run but, having broken into the box, he went down under what appeared to be a very soft challenge.  The referee was not impressed (nor was I).  But the move continued as the ball broke to Hernández who got into shooting position on the edge of the box, but his shot was blocked.  João Pedro then played a lovely through ball for Kamara who shot over the bar.  The Hornets had a great chance to reduce the deficit when a poor clearance by Ramsdale went straight to João Pedro, he passed to Dennis who played a lovely ball to Cleverley, but Ramsdale redeemed himself by blocking the shot.  The first booking of the game went to Soares for a foul on João Pedro.  The Hornets threatened again with a lovely move down the right, Hernández found Dennis, who got himself into scoring position, but his shot was blocked by White.  Hodgson made his first substitution on 64 minutes replacing Louza with Kayembe.  This did not go down well with the home fans as Louza had been playing well, so the announcement of the man to be replaced was greeted with loud boos and Imran was given a standing ovation as he walked past the Lower GT and Rookery on the way back to the dugout. 

New boy Kalu impressed on his debut

Dennis really should have reduced the deficit when a low cross from Femenía reached him on the far post but he somehow miscontrolled and the ball spun away from goal.  The visitors made a couple of substitutions replacing Martinelli and Lacazette with Pépé and Nketiah.  Watford had a chance to strike back when a poor pass from the visitors reached Dennis who broke into the box but his pass to Kamara was intercepted.  Arsenal then broke down the other end and the substitute, Nketiah, had a shot that hit the post.  But the next goal of the game was scored by the Hornets as Sissoko brought the ball down in the box, beat the defender and squeezed the ball under Ramsdale to reduce the deficit to a single goal.  Each side made a substitution at that point with Cleverley making way for debutant Kalu for the home side and Holding replacing Ødegaard for the visitors.  When five minutes of added time was announced, it was the Hornet faithful cheering.  Could we get a point from this game?  Kalu had a great chance to grab the equaliser when he played a one-two with Sissoko and tried a shot from distance which was caught by Ramsdale.  Kalu impressed again with a lovely ball towards Dennis that was intercepted.  But the most notable thing during added time was the timewasting from the visitors which was most irritating when Tierney was thrown the ball by Hernandez and decided to drop it.  Cucho’s follow-up throw was a little more vigorous but did not merit the Arsenal player collapsing as if he had received an upper cut and shame on the referee for booking the Watford player for his opponent’s play-acting.  The final whistle went on a defeat for the Hornets that was greeted with applause from the home fans.

On the way out of the Rookery, it was disappointing to see quite so many Arsenal fans streaming out of the home stand.

Back to the West Herts and the post-match analysis was very positive given that we had lost the game.  It had been a very encouraging performance with the players battling until the end.  João Pedro and Cucho had been very lively and the goal was superb.  Dennis seems to be suffering from a crisis of confidence, a confident Dennis would have buried at least one of his chances.  Kamara worked his socks off again and the cameo from Kalu was very impressive, I look forward to seeing a lot more from him.  But, sadly, we had only ourselves to blame for the defeat as there had been too many mistakes from the Hornets.  The goals were all excellent though and it had been an entertaining game.  But the refrain that was constantly repeated was, “Why can’t we play like that against Norwich?”  It is all very well putting in these plucky performances against the teams at the top of the division, but our current position in the league is a result of a series of abject performances against the teams that are around us in the division.  Still, at least the home fans got to see a decent performance for once.  

We now have a trio of away games, none of which will be easy.  But I will travel in the hope that we can continue our decent away form and pick up a couple of points.

A Dispiriting Display on the Pitch Remedied by the Return of a Legend

The programme cover is a thing of beauty

The performances at Burnley and West Ham had been very encouraging, so I came into this game feeling more positive than of late.  My journey to the game was a little unusual as, due to an upcoming holiday, I had to take a detour via a dive shop in Chiswick.  My purchases complete, I took the Overground from Gunnersbury via Willesden Junction to the High Street station and was in the West Herts bright and early.  Needless to say, Graham and Jacque were already there.  I was a little surprised to be joined at Willesden by a large number of Brighton fans.  My investigation of their route indicated that they had travelled via Clapham Junction (I am sure Richard would have told me that if I had asked).  The West Herts had a new beer on offer, Butty Bach, which happens to be my brother-in-law’s favourite beer and turned out to be a treat for us all.

We arrived at the ground to find ridiculously long queues to get into the SEJ stand, while we walked straight into the Rookery.  I went to buy my programme and had to take a moment to admire its beauty.  The programme covers this season have been paying tribute to “Men who made the Vic” and the designs have been gorgeous.  But this one was special as it had Luther as its cover star with the design echoing those of the programmes in the 84-85 season.  My chat with the programme seller indicated that we had a shared admiration for the programme design as that was our era.

On the way through the concourse to our seats, I heard my name and turned to see our friend from Burnley, the legendary Ross from Ayrshire.  I had to introduce him to my sister and niece.

Kiko takes a corner

Team news was that the Hornets were unchanged from the West Ham game.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Samir, Kamara; Kucka, Sissoko, Kayembe, Cleverley; Dennis, King.  Sarr, returned from injury and the AFCON win, was on the bench.

Before kick-off, the new management team were welcomed to Vicarage Road.  First Ray Lewington was welcomed back and then Roy Hodgson.  Both were given a very warm welcome by the Watford faithful.

The visitors dominated the early exchanges and forced an early save as, from a throw-in, the ball reached Moder whose powerful shot was saved by Foster.  The first chance for the Hornets came from a corner, the delivery was met by Dunk who headed it down, King connected and volleyed over the bar.  At the other end a cross from Moder reached Groß, who headed back across goal and wide of the far post.  The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring when Maupay hit a shot from distance, but Foster dived and made the save.  Then a cross from King caused issues for the Brighton keeper, Sánchez, but there was no Watford player on hand to capitalise, so he was able to gather at the second attempt. 

King and Cleverley

At last, on 25 minutes, there was a wonderful attack from the Hornets.  Cleverley won the ball on the wing and released Dennis, he should have passed to King, but held on to the ball too long and was taken down on the edge of the box by Dunk, who was booked for his trouble.  Dennis took the free kick himself and curled his effort wide.  Then a great throw from Foster released Cleverley, he fed Dennis whose shot was blocked, but the flag went up for offside anyway.  King should have done better when he got on the end of a cross into the box, but it was a bit high for him and seemed to bounce off his head and loop to Sánchez who was able to make the catch.  The sight of Sarr warming up drew applause from the Rookery.  The visitors had a chance to open the scoring as a corner was hit deep to Dunk who had a free header which landed on the roof of the net.  At this point, with five minutes to go until the break, there was an exodus for half time refreshments.  Those who headed for the concourse missed the visitors taking the lead as Lamptey crossed for Maupay to volley home.  The goal was well taken, but the Watford defence had gone missing.  The half time whistle was greeted with a few boos from the home crowd. 

Renaming the Family Stand

The match had been designated as Trust Awareness Day and the half time guest on the pitch was Ann Swanson, who has agreed to be a Patron of the newly re-launched Junior Hornets.  For those who were fans of the Hornets in the 80s, even those who were too old for the Junior Hornets at that point, Ann is remembered as a Watford legend.  She was the driving force behind the organisation of the Family Enclosure and Family Terrace as well as the Junior Hornets trips to away games.  At that time, there was a lot of violence attached to football and many people avoided going to games for that reason.  Ann, in collaboration with GT, made Vicarage Road a safe place to visit and encouraged families to attend.  Many of the young fans that attended games in those days still remember her with great fondness and they are now bringing their own children to games.  Ann said that she will be travelling to Southampton with a group of Junior Hornets, just like old times.  At the end of the interview with Tim, he told her (and us) that the Family Stand would now be known as the Ann Swanson Family Stand.  She was visibly moved and quite emotional about it, as was I.  I don’t think that there was a dry eye in the place.

Sarr back from AFCON

Roy Hodgson made two changes at the break replacing Kayembe and Kucka with Louza and Sarr.  As Tim announced Sarr, he congratulated him on his involvement with the Senegal team who won at AFCON, which was greeted with a huge roar of appreciation.  Sarr started promisingly as he went on a great run before cutting the ball back to King who found Dennis who lost the ball and committed a foul to stop a Brighton break.  The Hornets then had a decent spell of pressure.  Louza played a ball over the top to King who went down in the box, but the referee was unmoved.  Then Sarr played the ball back to Kiko, who put in a cross that was caught by Sánchez.  The next caution of the game went to Dennis who was booked for persistent fouling.  Sarr maybe should have done better when he received the ball outside the box, he turned away from a tackle to get a shot in, but his strike was wayward.  The best chance for the Hornets so far came when Dennis skipped past a couple of tackles and broke into the box, sadly his shot hit the crossbar and rebounded out.  Graham Potter made a double substitution on 64 minutes as Groß and Welbeck made way for Bissouma and Mac Allister.  The next caution of the game went to Kamara who was booked for a late challenge on Lamptey.  Mac Allister took the resulting free kick and there was a goalmouth scramble that, thankfully, finished with a shot from Moder deflecting for a corner.  This led to another scramble, but this time Foster came away with the ball. 

Kiko and Louza prepare for a free kick

With 20 minutes remaining, Hodgson made his final substitution bringing João Pedro on for Cleverley.  The next incident of note was a foul on Mac Allister by Louza that prompted a chant of “Dirty Northern B*rstards” from the away end (of course it did).  The visitors threatened again with a shot from Cucurella that was parried by Foster who gathered it at the second attempt.  Then Lamptey was booked for a late challenge on Sarr.  Watford tried to strike back from a Louza free kick, the ball bounced around the box and then out to Sarr whose shot was blocked.  Louza then played the ball into the box for Sarr but his pass ran straight to Sánchez.  At the other end the visitors launched a good passing move which finished with a cross to Moder whose shot was blocked by Femenía.  With seven minutes remaining, the visitors scored a second and it was down to poor defending again, as the Hornets failed to clear a corner, Webster took a shot that was blocked but he buried the follow-up.  At this point, the home stands at Vicarage Road started emptying.  The Hornets looked to reduce the deficit when Kiko played a ball over the top to Sarr, but Sánchez blocked the shot.  There was only two minutes of added time during which Duffy replaced Lallana for the visitors and Louza tried a shot from outside the area that was blocked.  The final whistle went to boos from the few Watford fans left in the stadium.

Ann Swanson after being told the Family Stand would be named after her

It was a very sorry group who trudged back to the West Herts.  The post-match analysis was very dispiriting.  After the very positive reactions to the Burnley and West Ham games, this performance had just been deflating.  The previously well organised defence had forgotten how to defend, and the forward line looked as though they had never met before.  There were far too many clever flicks and back heels to nobody in particular and Sánchez had not been tested.  The overwhelming impression was of a team completely lacking in confidence and that is very hard to remedy.

After the games on Sunday, we are six points adrift of safety and it is hard to see where the points are coming from.  I will be out of the country for the next three matches and, while that seems like a good thing at the moment, I know that I will really miss being at the games.  To put a positive slant on this, I have a habit of missing 6-1 away wins for the Hornets.  In the past, that has been due to trips to Tokyo, but maybe that was a coincidence.  It is hard to see us surviving this season, but I would just like to be entertained on the way down.

This report has to finish with a reflection on the highlight of the afternoon, which was the announcement about the renaming of the Family Stand in honour of Ann Swanson.  I hear a lot of nonsense about the current owners not doing things the “Watford Way”.  Then I look at Vicarage Road and see three stands named for Watford legends from the 70s/80s.  The banners and posters in the GT stand that celebrate our past under our best ever manager are a joy to see.  Even while I am hating what I see on the pitch at the moment, there is still a lot to admire and I remain proud to be a Watford fan.