An Encouraging Showing Against the Mackems

An original turnstile from Cassio Road

I left home much earlier than usual for this game.  I was surprised to see a large number of Sunderland fans on the 10:24 out of Euston.  They were all heading for the pub early doors, while I was making a return trip to see the 100 Years of the Vic exhibition at the museum before it closes next week.  It was nice and quiet when I got there, so I was able to amble around and enjoy all the exhibits at my leisure.  It really is quite fascinating, full of wonderful memories as well as history that I wasn’t aware of.  I was even given a cup of tea by Sarah before I left.  If you haven’t been, I would highly recommend a visit before it closes next Saturday.

I arrived at the West Herts to the dreadful news that there was to be no food on offer.  Thank goodness for Glenn who arrived in his Hawaiian shirt with a bag of scratchings which were even more gratefully received than is usual.

Cate and Nigel were absent as Nigel was doing a London-Brighton cycle ride for charity, so I took their seats and let Rose and Madeleine sit together.  When I decided to do this, I had no idea how much confusion this would cause among our neighbours as late arrivals suddenly questioned which row they were supposed to be in.  My neighbour in the Rookery then proudly told me that he had arrived home after the QPR game to find that he had been sent one of the treasured Centurion badges for his contribution to the book.  He was absolutely delighted and wore the badge with pride.

Rita, Karen and Luther placing the wreath

Team news was that Rob Edwards had made five changes from Tuesday.  Hause and Kamara returned from injury in place of Sierralta and Ngakia.  Troost-Ekong made his first start of the season in place of Kabasele.  Davis, making his full debut, and Asprilla started in place of Bayo and Sarr.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Hause, Troost-Ekong, Cathcart; Kamara, Kayembe, Choudhury, João Pedro; Asprilla, Sema, Davis.  Former Watford youngster O’Nien started for the visitors.

In deference to the passing of the Queen, there was no music accompanying the teams as they came out prior to kick-off.  Rita Taylor, Karen Colley, her daughter, and Luther joined the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire to lay a wreath on the pitch.  As at all games, there was then a minute’s silence and the national anthem.

The first action of the game came from a great move by the Hornets, Choudhury crossed for João Pedro who hit a lovely volley that was blocked by the keeper, Patterson, but the flag was up for offside.  The Hornets threatened again as Davis played a ball across the top of the box to João Pedro who played a through ball for Asprilla, Patterson came out to smother the shot.  Then the ball was played out to João Pedro who advanced on goal, but found himself at a narrow angle so could only find the side netting. 

Celebrating the lovely goal by Davis

It was 20 minutes into the game before the visitors created their first chance as Gooch hit a shot from the edge of the box that curled wide of the far post.  The Hornets threatened again as Davis found João Pedro whose shot was straight at Patterson.  Watford took the lead on 34 minutes, Kamara ran on to a gorgeous ball into the box from Asprilla, he crossed for Davis who finished past Patterson to provoke huge celebrations in the home stands.  The visitors tried to break back as Evans tried his luck from distance, his shot took a slight deflection but was easily caught by Bachmann.  The visitors drew level just before half time.  The Watford defence failed to deal with a ball into the box, Alese took a shot, Choudhury tried to clear it off the line but, while the crowd were still watching the action, the referee indicated that the ball had crossed the line, much to the surprise of all on the pitch and in the stands.  So we reached half time with honours even, feeling rather aggrieved as the Hornets had deserved the lead on the balance of play.

Joao Pedro takes a free kick

The second half started with a great move from the Hornets as João Pedro played the ball in to Asprilla who tried to cross, but a defender intervened to chest it down to the keeper.  The Hornets then won a free kick in a dangerous position, João Pedro took it and his effort was easily caught by Patterson.  The Hornets impressed with another lovely move as João Pedro played a one-two with Davis before finding Asprilla, but the shot was soft and straight at the keeper.  Then Sema found Davis in the box, but the Watford man was forced wide and his shot deflected for a corner.  Choudhury had a double chance to regain the lead for the Hornets, his first shot was blocked but the ball came back to him and his header was caught by Patterson.  The Hornets continued to threaten as a free kick from João Pedro was met by the head of Cathcart, his effort was blocked and the ball came out to Kamara who wellied a shot well over the target.  Then Evans was booked for a trip on João Pedro that led to some handbags.  The resultant free-kick regained the lead for the Hornets.  João Pedro took the free kick, it was headed on by Troost-Ekong and met by a defensive header from O’Nien that found the net. 

Kayembe, Sema and Hause line up for a free kick

The Hornets had an opportunity to increase their lead when João Pedro flicked a lovely ball into the box, but Asprilla just failed to connect.  On 70 minutes there was a minute’s applause for the Queen to mark her 70 years on the throne.  Soon after, the visitors appeared to have equalised when Clarke volleyed past Bachmann but, much to the relief of the home fans, the flag was up and the goal disallowed.  With 15 minutes remaining, there was a double substitution for the visitors as Dajaku and Bennette replaced Neil and Clarke.  The Hornets also made a change bringing Bayo on in place of Kamara.  Kayembe had a wonderful chance to grab a third for the Hornets as he won the ball and unleashed a powerful shot that flew just wide of the far post.  The visitors then threatened to hit back as Roberts went on a run from the half-way line before passing to Bennette whose shot flew wide of the far post.  Edwards made another change bringing Gosling on for Davis.  The visitors had a great chance to draw level when Dajaku got goal side of Troost-Ekong, Bachmann came to meet him and was relieved to see the shot fly past the far post.  The Hornets made a late change bringing Kabasele on for Cathcart.  The visitors grabbed an equaliser in time added on when a cross from Roberts fell to Bennette who shot into the far corner past Bachmann.  Disappointing as it was, it has to be said that it felt as though the goal had been coming.

Meeting Xisco

There were boos at the final whistle that were baffling to me.  This had been a hard fought game with a lot of skill shown by the Watford players.  The draw was a fair result as the Watford players had run out of steam by the end, which allowed the visitors to get back in the game, but it was not a performance that deserved to be booed.

Mike and I were going to a gig in London after the game, so I met him outside the Hornet shop.  While there I spied Xisco and was able to say thank you to him for what he had done for us.  He was full of smiles and inundated with fans wanting to shake his hand and get photos.  We have the international break next week, but I go into it feeling confident about our prospects.  This was a very encouraging performance against a decent team.  We have yet to have our full complement of players available at full fitness.  Once we do, I think that the performances will improve and we will finally have a squad of players that can compete with any team in this division.

A Bad Night in Blackburn

Lining up for the minute’s silence

I was staying in Southport over the weekend, so had a reasonably short journey to Blackburn via Wigan and Preston.  On arrival at the ticket barriers at Blackburn, there were two fellas blocking the luggage gate as they searched their phones for their tickets.  I muttered as I manoeuvred past them.  I then headed in the wrong direction to leave the station, so had to double back and ended up passing them outside and realising that I had just disrespected Xisco.  I didn’t dare speak to him after that.

At the appointed time, I headed for the pub.  I had discovered the evening before that the lens had come out of my distance glasses, so I had to make a stop on the way to buy a new pair.  When I arrived at the pub, Graham was already in place.  We were soon joined by the Happy Valley ‘Orns and then Ross from Ayrshire made an appearance as he has at most away games this season.  My marvelling at his dedication was tempered when he said that the distance that he had to travel to Blackburn was about the same as someone driving from Hemel. 

Joao Pedro being tackled

The designated pub is almost opposite the away end, so we were in the ground in very good time, although I was subjected to a rather over-enthusiastic search before I was allowed in.  We were told that we had only sold about 500 tickets, so it was to be a very small gathering.  It was a very chilly evening and I was surprised and delighted to discover that I am able to get my child-size replica shirt over a fleece.

Team news was that Hause and Kamara would miss out due to injury and were replaced by Sierralta and Ngakia, and Sarr returned in place of Asprilla.  So, the starting line-up was 0Bachmann; Kabasele, Sierralta, Cathcart; Ngakia, Kayembe, Choudhury, Sema; Sarr, Bayo, João Pedro.

In deference to the passing of the Queen, the playlist prior to kick-off consisted of patriotic/pastoral music which came to a climax when the teams came out to Jerusalem.  There was a minute’s silence which finished with the national anthem before, finally, the game kicked off.

Sierralta, Bayo and Kayembe in the box

The first chance of the game fell to the home side. From a corner the ball was crossed to Brereton Diaz just outside the box, he volleyed goalwards but Bachmann was down to make the save.  The next chance for the home side came from another corner, Bachmann came to punch the ball away, it fell to Hedges whose shot to the near post was easily dealt with by the Watford keeper.  Dolan was the next to threaten the Watford goal with a shot from wide on the right that was tipped over by Bachmann.  A free kick from the hosts was punched by Bachmann, but the ball dropped to Brereton Diaz who was at a narrow angle and could only head the ball onto the roof of the net.  Then Morton played a through ball to Brereton Diaz in the box, Bachmann was down to make the save but the flag was up anyway.  The first booking of the game went to Hyam for taking down João Pedro as he tried to escape.  Rob Edwards was forced to make a substitution on the half hour as Sarr picked up an injury so was replaced by Davis.  Over 30 minutes had passed before Watford’s first attack of note.  João Pedro played the ball to Davis in the box, he appeared to be tripped and the travelling Hornets were appealing for a penalty, but the referee was unimpressed.  The home side took the lead on 38 minutes.  Dolan crossed for Hedges and the Watford defence stood and watched as he turned it past Bachmann.  The hosts could have had a second in time added on at the end of the half as Brereton Diaz, who had been a menace all half, picked up the ball on the left and shot just wide of Bachmann’s far post.  Just before half time Ross passed me on the way to the concourse declaring that he was going to try to find something to drink that would make him blind so he wouldn’t have to watch the second half.  The last action of the half was a ball from Sierralta to Choudhury in the box, the Watford man was falling as he shot straight at the keeper. 

Mario Gaspar

The half time whistle went to boos from the travelling Hornets.  We had reached half time a goal down, although it could (and should) have been more.  Watford had offered absolutely nothing.

Edwards made a change at the break bringing Gosling on for Sierralta and switching to a flat back four.  The Hornets had the first attack of the second half as Bayo broke forward and put in a cross that was blocked.  Then a header from Gosling reached Davis whose shot was blocked at the post by Carter.  The resultant corner reached Bayo whose header was straight at the keeper.  The bright start to the second half seemed to have resulted in an equaliser after João Pedro battled well to win a corner.  He took it himself, his delivery was flicked on and turned in by Kabasele, but the celebrations in the away end were cut short by the linesman’s flag.  The hosts had a great chance to increase their lead when Brereton Diaz launched a counterattack, he looked sure to score but Bachmann deflected the shot for a corner.  Then Ngakia picked up a knock and Edwards made a double substitution replacing Ngakia and Choudhury with Gaspar and Asprilla.  Davis had a chance to grab an equaliser when he met a cross from Sema with a header but it flew wide of the target.  Then Asprilla threatened with a cross that was pushed clear by Kaminski.  At this point the home side were mostly threatening with counter attacks and another dangerous break finished with a shot from Brereton Diaz that was deflected high and wide.  The second Blackburn goal came from the resultant corner which was headed on and dropped to Hyam who finished with a clever flick of his heel.   The Hornets never looked like getting back in the game, the final chance fell to the home side as Hedges tried a shot from distance that flew over the target.

Joao Pedro lines up a free kick

The final whistle went to boos from the away end.  The players came over to applaud the travelling fans and were met by a couple of angry men who decided to give Edwards a volley of abuse.  He stood and listened to them, then Bachmann came over and had an extended conversation with them.  It was a terrible performance but I never understand that level of anger.  On a happier note, there was a girl in front of me with a Brazilian flag draped over her shoulders.  She was rewarded with João Pedro’s shirt.

Ross and I made our way back to the town centre and found a pub for our post-match analysis.  It had been a dreadful performance.  The home side had completely dominated the first half and really should have been further ahead at the break.  I had hoped for better after a bright start to the second half, but it didn’t last long and the hosts were happy to sit back and catch us on the break.  It was a deserved win for them and a troubling loss for the Hornets.  The only player who came out of it with any pride was Bachmann.  But this is a team in the process of rebuilding and that is being disrupted by a series of niggling injuries.  We definitely have the makings of a decent team, but the players need to get to know each other and start working as a team.  The fans need to show some patience.  It doesn’t do any of us any good to abuse the players whatever your level of frustration.  We have another home game on Saturday, so let us hope for better both on and off the pitch.

Two Points Lost in South Yorkshire

Kortney Hause and Kayembe

I left my job this week and was more than a little surprised to find that more than one of the comments in my leaving card mentioned my blog.  That surprise increased when I posted the report of the Middlesbrough game and found that I had gained some subscribers, who turned out to be colleagues.  I assured them that they were not obliged to read my ramblings about something that they have no interest in at all, but I was rather pleased that they did.

Saturday morning dawned and it was a lovely day, so I decided to walk to St Pancras.  I thought I had left later than was sensible but arrived in plenty of time for my train and was gratified to see the usual suspects on the concourse.  On arrival in Rotherham most of my fellow Hornets headed for the Bridge Inn just outside the station.  I had arranged to meet our party in a more central hostelry.  The centre of town around the minster was rather nice but then I turned into the road that the pub was on, and it did not appear to be the most salubrious of areas.  I arrived to find that the rest of my group were already there, and the pub turned out to be a lovely friendly place with a decent beer selection, so all was good.

Bachmann takes a free kick

It was a short walk from there to the New York Stadium.  As we walked around the ground to get to the away end, we passed a man selling team sheets.  I love a team sheet so was very happy to hand over 20p for this little gem.  We hadn’t eaten beforehand, so joined the scrum at the concessions.  I had a chicken balti pie that was very good indeed.

Team news was that Sarr was out with a minor knee injury and was replaced by Bayo.  There was also a change in the defence as Hause made his full debut in place of Sierralta.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Kabasele, Cathcart, Hause; Kamara, Kayembe, Choudhury, Sema; Asprilla; Bayo, João Pedro.  The Hornets were again wearing their black and white kit, a detail that I was delighted to find in the pre-match preview before I left home, so I didn’t have to pack three shirts in my A4 bag.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for former Miller Roy Silman who recently passed away.

We took our seats to find Ross from Ayrshire in the row in front with his daughter.  He was bemoaning the disruption on the trains that meant that they wouldn’t get home until 1:30am.  This fact had not been conveyed to his wife prior to departure.

Sema looking delighted as he celebrates with Bayo

Yet again Watford let in an early goal and the defence were to blame.  Harding looped a cross into the box, Kabasele left it, presumably he expected Bachmann to gather, and Wood headed home.  It was a disastrous start for the Hornets.  They attempted to hit back when Sema released João Pedro, the ball ended up with Bayo whose shot was blocked, the ball came out to João Pedro whose effort was also blocked.  Watford had a decent chance to strike back from a corner, Kayembe crossed for Choudhury whose powerful shot was blocked.  The home side had a great chance to increase their lead from a free kick, Bramall’s strike was awkward for Bachmann, but he managed to punch clear.  The first booking of the half went to Harding for kicking the ball away.  The hosts threatened again as Washington turned and shot from the edge of the box, but his effort flew wide.  The next player to be cautioned was Peltier after a tackle from behind on Bayo.  Hause was impressing in defence, no more so than when Norton-Cuffy went on a dangerous forward run, the Watford man kept him company before just easing him off the ball.  The Hornets were level just after the half hour as Sema crossed for Bayo who hit a lovely volley past Johansson.  The goal had come from nowhere, but the Hornets looked a lot better after they scored.  They threatened again when Bayo went on a great run and crossed for João Pedro, but he was unable to control the ball and the chance was gone.  Asprilla was the first Watford man to be booked after a foul on Ogbene.  The Hornets had a chance to take the lead in time added on at the end of the half, when João Pedro put in a decent cross, but Johansson made the catch as Bayo challenged.  So, we finished the half with the score level.  The home side had started well with almost nothing from the Hornets in the first part of the game, but they were greatly improved after the goal and finished the half very strongly.

Kabasele on the ball

We had seats in the second row of the stand.  There were a number of fans in the front row who were standing.  They were asked by the steward to sit down, and one guy got really irate about this.  He seemed aghast at the fact that he was told he would be ejected if he continued to stand.  His reaction was rather baffling to me as he was too young to have been going to matches prior to the Taylor Report.  He ended up moving to the row behind, at which point two men, a father and son, decided to move to take his place and stood directly in front of me completely blocking my view.  Thankfully, when they were told to sit down by the stewards, they went back to their seats.  I don’t mind standing at away games, but there was a family behind me who would have had no view of the goal if those in front stood.

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as a long throw into the area dropped to Peltier whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The Hornets then had a decent chance to take the lead, João Pedro showed great skill in keeping the ball under challenge in the box, he passed to Asprilla whose close-range shot was blocked by the keeper, the ball fell to Bayo whose shot cleared the bar.  The home side benefitted from a fortunate deflection and the ball fell to Barlaser who tried a shot from distance that required a good save from Bachmann to keep it out. 

Our first sight of Keinan Davis in a Watford shirt

Watford threatened again with a decent break from Asprilla who tried a shot from the edge of the box that flew over the target when maybe he should have passed to João Pedro who was in space.  Asprilla went on another run and this time he did pass to João Pedro who was pushed over in the box.  The travelling Hornets were screaming for a penalty, but the lino shook his head.  João Pedro asked him to explain himself and received no response, I would certainly have liked to hear his reasoning as it looked nailed on.  On the hour the home side made two changes bringing High and Eaves on for Barlaser and Washington.  Kamara was then replaced by Gaspar after appearing to take a knock.  The referee then blew up for for a foul on Ogbene and booked Kayembe.  This infuriated the away fans.  Our man is pushed over in the box and nothing is given.  A Rotherham player falls, they get a free kick, and a card is shown.  It appeared that worse was to come as the resultant free kick was heading for the bottom corner, but Bachmann dropped to make the save.  We finally got to see Davis as he came on in place of Asprilla.  His first couple of touches were excellent and the move led to a lovely cross by João Pedro.  Both Bayo and Gaspar rose to meet the ball, it was Bayo who connected, and his effort rebounded off the post.  The Hornets had another chance to take the lead as Davis battled into the area, his shot was blocked but the loose ball was rolling towards goal when it was finally cleared.  The Hornets threatened again as a João Pedro corner came out to Choudhury whose shot was blocked.  Then Davis made a lovely turn before playing the ball out to Sema, whose cross was sadly wayward.  The home side made another change replacing Wiles with Lindsay.  Davis was being a real nuisance and a ball in was headed on to Sema, whose cross was gathered by Johansson as Bayo challenged. 

Joao Pedro prepares for a corner

A free kick in a great position on the edge of the box came to nothing as Kayembe hit it into the wall.  Watford’s final change saw Hungbo come on for Sema.  Rotherham won a late corner that was greeted with very loud cheers from the home crowd who had had little to celebrate in the second half.  The home side made a couple of late substitutions to waste some time as McCart and Ferguson came on for Rathbone and Harding and I noticed that the substitutions were rather aptly sponsored by KCM Waste Management.  There were 5 minutes of added time which became extended when a couple of Rotherham players needed treatment.  The Hornets had a couple of chances to take the three points.  First, a header from João Pedro that was caught by the keeper.  Then a powerful cross from Choudhury that was also gathered by Johansson.  The final chance of the game came to nothing as Hause, who had got into a great position, played a terrible ball forward and the chance was gone.  So, the game finished with honours even.    

Davis, Bayo and Sema gather for a corner

We headed to the Bridge Inn for our post-match discussion.  It turned out to be an interesting place with a rather macabre décor (our table was a coffin).  In the end, while winning a point away is always a good thing, on this occasion it felt like two points lost.  While we had been poor in the first 25 minutes or so, we dominated the rest of the game and really should have been more clinical with our finishing.  Bayo has come in for a lot of criticism but has scored twice in the last two games and only the post stopped him getting the winner.  Asprilla looked very bright in the second half.  He doesn’t always make the right decisions, but he does get in some great positions and is fun to watch.  Hause is a beast and had a very impressive game indeed.  Davis also impressed in his cameo.  These guys all need some time to bed in and get to know each other’s games, but I am confident that we will soon see the best of them and will start putting in more impressive performances.

The train back to Doncaster was rammed, but Jacque and I had booked first class on the London train and were treated to a glass of wine. At around Peterborough I asked about a refill.  They eventually came back to serve a second round and, before we arrived at Stevenage, the young steward came back with the bottle and asked if we wanted to finish it off.  She clearly thought (knew) we were a couple of lushes, but it led to a very jolly journey home.

I won’t be at the Reading game, but will be cheering from afar, so my next game will be away at Blackburn who are just below us in the table but have had a difficult time of late.  It is a place that I always enjoy visiting.  Let’s just hope that the football is as good as the day out.

Last Minute Winner Marks 100 Years at the Vic

Centenary Ale

Serendipity meant that the 100th anniversary of the first game at Vicarage Road coincided with the visit of Middlesbrough.  The club have been planning for this day for a couple of years now and my dear friend, Mike, has been heavily involved.  He worked on the production of Geoff Wicken’s wonderful book and the CGI video showing the construction of the ground and the changes over the years, among other things.  The fans who had been involved in the various ventures were invited for hospitality in Horizons and to sit in the Upper GT to watch the game.  Mike kindly invited me to be his guest, so I arrived at the hospitality entrance bright and early and joined the great and good at the table.  So many familiar faces, such a lovely group of people.  Dave Messenger was hosting us and had arranged for all of the tables to have bottles of the centenary ale provided and very good it was too.  We were joined in the lounge by various players, so many heroes.  There were all catching up with each other, so I didn’t want to disturb them, but I did manage to have a good chat with Lloyd Doyley and Adrian Mariappa, who are always happy to have a natter.  Lloydy is loving life as a coach at Boreham Wood.  Aidy is just back from his year in Australia, which he loved.  He told us that he turned into a goal scoring centre half, scoring in two consecutive games and surprising himself at his disappointment when he didn’t make it three games in a row.  He is now looking for a new club, not ready to hang his boots up yet.

We had been told to be in our seats at 7:45, so duly obliged and were treated to hearing Lloydy and Mapps talk about their happy memories of Vicarage Road.  Nigel Gibbs, who was working with the Tottenham U-21s had recorded a message for the big screen.  I had joined a twitter space on Sunday where Gibbsy was a guest.  Hearing him talk about Watford as both a player and a fan was so heart-warming.  There was a wonderful video shown while “I’m Still Standing” played to accompany pyrotechnics around the ground.  Then the team came out to Z-cars, which was followed by Chariots of Fire ringing out.  I had the biggest smile on my face.  When we arrived at our seats, I saw that my friends Pam and Trevor Champ were sitting behind me.  As they don’t go to away games very often now, it is some time since I have seen them, so it was lovely to catch up.

Pre-match pyrotechnics

Team news was that there were two changes from Saturday with Cathcart and Asprilla coming in for Gaspar and Manaj.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Cathcart, Sierralta, Kabasele; Kamara, Kayembe, Choudhury, Sema; Sarr, João Pedro, Asprilla.  The Hornets lined up wearing their black and white kit, a replica of that worn in the first season at Vicarage Road.  The programme also contained a reprint of the one from the first game.  Every detail was just perfect.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for Vince McNiece, Sammy Chung and Tommy Carpenter who all passed very recently.  I was also very sad to hear that lovely Bill Wright passed away that morning.  He was a Hornet stalwart who sat a couple of rows behind me in the Rookery with his son, David.  He will be sadly missed.

There was a large and very noisy contingent from Middlesbrough and they were celebrating in the fourth minute when Giles sent over a deep cross, Bachmann failed to punch, and Muniz was on hand to head home.  Not what we wanted on a day of celebration.  The visitors continued to threaten as, following a corner, the ball was headed out to Mowatt on the edge of the box, but he could only welly it wide. 

Celebrating Sarr’s goal

The first ten minutes had all been Boro but, finally, Watford launched an attack that started with a lovely cross field ball from João Pedro to Kamara who crossed for Sarr, but a defender’s head intervened.  Then João Pedro went on a brilliant run before playing in Sarr whose shot was blocked.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position on the right of the goal.  Asprilla stepped up to take it, but it was a terrible effort that flew well over the target.  At the other end a dangerous cross from Jones was caught by Bachmann.  The Hornets were level on 24 minutes.  Kayembe found João Pedro on the left, he broke forward and played a ball to Sarr in the middle, he found space and beat Roberts to send the Vicarage Road faithful wild with celebration.  The Hornets threatened again after Sarr played a ball into the box, but nobody could get hold of it and it bounced around before falling to Choudhury outside the box from where he whacked it well over the target.  The Hornets should have been ahead before the half hour when João Pedro played a lovely through ball to Sarr who broke into the box and only had the keeper to beat but hit his shot straight at Roberts.  Then Sema battled past a couple of defenders and got a cross in, but it was headed over.  A lovely turn and pass from Kayembe deserved more than a failure to shoot by the recipient (name didn’t make it into my notebook).  At the other end, Jones got on the end of a cross from McGree but his effort cleared the bar, although the flag was up so it wouldn’t have counted.  Boro threatened again when a clearance from Cathcart fell to McGree but the shot was deflected over.  The first booking of the game went to Crooks for pulling Asprilla to the ground.  Sema took the resultant free kick which was deflected over the bar.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead just before half time when Choudhury found João Pedro in the box, he unleashed a powerful shot that was pushed away by Roberts, Asprilla picked up the ball and beat a defender to get into space but shot over the bar.

Legends all (including Pete)

At this point I was standing pitch side at the Rookery-GT corner as the fans who had worked on the Vic 100 project (and their guests) joined the players who were there to take the applause of the crowd.  The players present were John Fairbrother, Peter Walker (who had been a teammate of Holton and was a photographer), Walter Lees, Stewart Scullion, Luther Blissett, Kenny Jackett, Gary Porter, Tommy Mooney, Tommy Smith, Steve Palmer, Lloyd Doyley, Adrian Mariappa and Tom Cleverley.  Legends all of them and I was there with them just thrilled to be in the presence of such greatness.  As we returned to our seats, an exasperated Mariappa asked where Lloyd was.  As usual, he was taking the adulation of the crowd.

The visitors made a change at the break bringing Dijksteel on for Howson.  The first half chance of the second half fell to the visitors, a shot from Crooks was blocked, the follow-up from McGree flew wide of the target.  The visitors were then forced into another substitution as the injured Lenihan made way for Fry.  At this point Sarah produced the (hopefully) lucky sweets, a confection called Yellowman that a friend had brought back from Ireland.  I have to say that it was the sweetest thing that I have eaten in a long time.  I hoped it would do the trick.  Just before the hour mark, Kayembe tried his luck with a shot from distance, but his effort was blocked. 

Asprilla lines up a free kick

Sierralta was the next to find his name in the referee’s book after he fouled Carvalho.  The resultant free kick was met with a strong header from Clarke which Bachmann did very well to block.  Another Boro free kick led to a series of close-range shots which were all (thankfully) blocked.  Sarr should have done better when he received a lovely ball from João Pedro, but he held on to it for too long before shooting and the chance was gone.  The home fans were shouting for a penalty when Sarr appeared to be held back as he tried to reach a ball in the box, but the referee was having none of it.  Then Asprilla played in João Pedro whose shot was deflected for a corner.  On 72 minutes, GT’s picture appeared on the big screen and there was a minute’s applause for the great man.  At this point Edwards made his first change as Asprilla made way for Bayo.  The visitors had a chance to take the lead following a corner but the shot from Giles was over the target.  At the other end a throw-in reached João Pedro in a dangerous position, but he hit a soft shot straight at the keeper.  The Hornets then made a couple of injury enforced substitutions.  First Gaspar replaced Sema and then Hause came on to make his debut in place of Cathcart who had taken an elbow to the head. 

Huge smiles after a last minute winner

The Hornets threatened again as Kamara battled through a couple of tackles before being taken down on the edge of the box by Jones, who was booked for the foul.  João Pedro took the free kick, his shot flew just over the bar.  At the other end McGree tried a shot from outside the area that flew well over the target.  The Hornets had a decent chance to grab a winner when Kamara put in a great cross, but Bayo could only head it into the ground, and it bounced to the keeper.  This prompted a series of scathing comments from the row behind about his footballing ability.  There were four minutes of time added on.  The first action of note was a booking for Choudhury for pushing over McGree who was holding on to the ball and preventing the Hornets from taking a free kick.  McGree was also booked for time wasting.  The visitors could have grabbed a winner when Muniz tried his luck with a shot from inside his own half, attempting to catch Bachmann off his line, but the Watford keeper was back to make the stop and it was the Hornets who took the three points as Kayembe played a long pass to João Pedro who did brilliantly to chest it down and flick it to Gaspar, he tried a shot but the ball broke to Bayo who poked it past Roberts to send the home fans into delirious celebrations and make the guys behind me eat their words.

Man of the match Joao Padro takes a free kick

There really is nothing better than a last minute winner.  I was in the posh seats grinning like a Cheshire cat and dancing to “I Just Can’t Get Enough” as Rob Edwards marshalled the players ensuring that they greeted all parts of the ground starting with the top end of the SEJ stand.  I warmly applauded every one of them and couldn’t help noticing that Sarr had the biggest smile on his face, obviously happy still to be a Watford player.  I was highly amused to hear the attendance announced as 20,022.

Then it was back to Horizons for a celebratory drink and the post-match analysis.  It was an undeserved win, but no one could begrudge us the win on such a day.  João Pedro was given the man of the match award, and thoroughly deserved it, but there were some other great performances, particularly that of Kayembe who did a great job as the midfield fulcrum and started the move that led to the winning goal. But it was a day to look back on so many happy years at Vicarage Road.  Everyone there will have their own memories and all of the players who were part of that celebration will prompt happy thoughts in someone.  For a small town club, we have seen incredible success and I feel so lucky to have had the experiences that I have had following Watford.  I have met so many wonderful people over that time and I felt incredibly lucky to be part of that celebration and share it with some of them.  It was a wonderful Watford evening and Vicarage Road is a happy place again.  Here’s to another joyous 100 years.

First League Defeat After a Good Showing

The 100 Years at Vicarage Road book is a thing of beauty

Firstly, apologies for not writing a report after the game against the Franchise.  I did go and take notes but have had a very busy week which meant that the notes didn’t get written up.  Also, it was utterly dreadful, so I didn’t relish reliving it.  The highlights of the evening were the first sight of the 100 years at Vicarage Road book, which is a thing of beauty, and a rather gorgeous cloud formation above the Vicarage Road stand before kick-off.  I would rather forget the rest.

I planned to get to Watford early on Saturday to visit the museum before heading to the Hornet Shop for the book signing.  But I was messing about at home and ended up just missing the 10:53. There wasn’t another fast train until 11:27, so I had the delight of the slow journey on the overground to the High Street on which I was accompanied by a group of QPR fans, who were actually OK … for QPR fans.  Happily, I arrived at the Hornet Shop in time to get my book and join the queue for the signing.  The dignitaries at the table were Geoff Wicken, the author, Luther Blissett, Tom Cleverley and Tommy Smith.  When I reached the table, Geoff asked why I was missing the West Herts.  I assured him that I would head there as soon as my book was signed.  Luther then felt that he was missing something, especially when I mentioned the jerk chicken on offer.  He now has an open invitation to join us.  The two Toms were delightful as always.

I bumped into Richard at the shop.  He had got his centenary beer labels signed!  We then made our way to the West Herts and were soon happily sitting with a pint and a plate of the legendary jerk chicken, rice and peas.  While there we also asked Mike, who had been very involved in the production of the book, to sign our copies.

King Ken on the ball

The wonderful team news that we were not expecting to hear was that both João Pedro and Sarr were starting (in place of Asprilla and Bayo).  There was also a change to a back four as Cathcart made way for Gaspar.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Gaspar, Sierralta, Kabasele, Kamara; Kayembe, Choudhury; Sarr, João Pedro, Sema; Manaj.  When the teams were read out prior to kick-off there was a very loud cheer for Sarr.

The first half chance of the game fell to the Hornets with a cross from Kamara that was caught by Dieng before João Pedro could get his head on it.  At the other end, a cross into the Watford box was headed out by Sierralta, but only as far as Johansen whose looping shot was easily gathered by Bachmann.  Watford threatened again as a shot from distance by João Pedro was blocked.  From the resultant corner, the ball fell to Kayembe whose shot was saved by Dieng.  The visitors had a decent chance when a cross dropped to Johansen on the edge of the box, thankfully his shot flew wide of the far post.  But the Hornets were behind after 18 minutes when a shot from distance from Chair took a nasty deflection off Sierralta which completely wrongfooted Bachmann and found the opposite corner.  It was a cruel and undeserved goal. 

Choudhury on the ball, Joao Pedro looking for the pass

The Hornets tried to hit back immediately as Manaj latched on to a lovely ball over the top from João Pedro, ran into the area and hit a great shot that required a decent save from Dieng, he battled hard to reclaim the rebound but was crowded out before he could shoot.  Sarr played a cross that was a bit too long but was picked up by Kamara, his cross reached Gaspar who shot over the bar.  The equaliser came from a lovely ball by João Pedro that found Sema, who beat a defender to get into the box before shooting across the keeper and into the net.  Wonderful stuff.  The Hornets had another chance soon after as João Pedro released Manaj who broke forward and put in a cross that was blocked while Sarr lurked waiting to pounce.  On the half hour, Manaj picked up an injury so had to be replaced by Asprilla.  It was a great shame as he had been lively.  The Hornets looked positive as João Pedro won the ball in the midfield and broke forward, but his cross was cut out before it could cause any danger.  The visitors immediately launched a counterattack through Chair who fed Laird who pulled the ball back for Willock to beat Bachmann and regain the lead for Rangers.  It was a good move that cut through the Watford defence rather too easily.  The visitors threatened again as Chair shrugged off a challenge from Sierralta and put in a cross for Dykes whose header was cleared.  The Hornets almost drew level with a wonder goal, Dieng came out to deal with a long ball that Asprilla was running on to, his clearance dropped to João Pedro who hit a lovely volley over the keeper which bounced up and hit the post.  The first caution for the visitors went to Johansen who was booked for a trip on Sarr.  There was 5 minutes of added time in which there was another great chance for the Hornets to draw level as Sarr went on a battling run, beating a couple of defenders before crossing for Sema whose shot flew wide of the far post.  The last event of the half was a booking for Kayembe for a foul on Chair.  So, we reached half time with the Hornets a goal down.  It had been a battling performance and we were rather unlucky to be behind.

Sema congratulating Joao Pedro on his goal

The half time entertainment was all about the 100 years at the Vic that will be celebrated on Tuesday when Middlesbrough visit.  There was an interview with Geoff Wicken about his gorgeous book, which was a labour of love and will be a must for every Watford fan’s bookshelf.  They also showed the CGI video which documents the construction and the changes in Vicarage Road over the century.  It is a great watch.

The second half started brightly for the Hornets as Sema found Kamara whose low shot was saved at the near post.  The Hornets were level on 50 minutes when Asprilla picked up the ball in the Watford half, broke forward and tried to find João Pedro in the box.  Dickie made a mess of trying to clear, falling over and appearing to handle the ball which, eventually, fell to João Pedro who beat Dieng to send the Hornets fans wild.  Watford had a chance to take the lead when Kamara found Sema in the box, he played the ball back to Asprilla who fired over the bar when he really should have hit the target.  On the hour, the visitors made their first change bringing Adomah on for Dykes.  A drop ball following an injury to Sarr nearly proved the undoing of the visitors when Asprilla intercepted the ball, but his final pass was poor, and the threat disappeared. 

Gaspar takes a throw-in

Bachmann was called into action when he came to punch a corner, it fell to Willock whose curling shot was also met by a punch from the Watford keeper which cleared the danger.  More poor defending from the Hornets led to the third goal for the visitors when Chair broke forward and played the ball into the box it fell to Adomah who was in an acre of space when he blasted it into the roof of the net.  The visitors almost had a fourth after Kayembe gave the ball away and a lovely ball from Willock found Chair in the box, but Bachmann came out to meet him and block the shot.  At the other end João Pedro intercepted the ball and went on a run but his attempt to cut the ball back was blocked.  With ten minutes remaining, each side made a change as Armstrong replaced Chair for the visitors and Gaspar made way for Bayo for the Hornets.  At this time the QPR keeper, Dieng, was finally booked for time wasting, which he had been guilty of for most of the half.  Kamara was the next to go into the referee’s book for a high boot that Paal seemed to run into.  The Hornets thought that they had salvaged a point when the ball dropped to Kayembe outside the box and he powered home, but the flag went up.  It looked ridiculous at the time, but it seems that Sarr had been offside before the initial cross.  The visitors made a couple of late changes replacing Willock and Johansen with Kakay and Masterson.  The Hornets had another chance to draw level in time added on when Kamara was flattened in the box, it looked like a stonewall penalty, but the referee waved play on, to the fury of the Vicarage Road faithful.

King Ken lines up a free kick

So, Watford fell to their first defeat of the season, which was disappointing as we deserved at least a point on the balance of play.  It has to be said that it was a game full of incident and would have been a cracking watch for a neutral.  Finally, the forward line was more effective.  Anyone who thought that João Pedro’s head had been turned by the transfer speculation was proved wrong as he put in a really good shift and was a constant menace to the QPR defence.  Sadly, this improvement up front coincided with the Watford defence looking disappointingly fragile, having been solid in previous games.  I may be in the minority, but I am really enjoying this season so far and am really looking forward to next week’s trip to Rotherham.  My only hope is that the Voulez Vous song doesn’t need new lyrics at the end of the transfer window.

Goalless at Deepdale

Rob Edwards on the touchline at Deepdale

I bought my match ticket for Preston with no idea of how I was going to get there.  A rail strike was scheduled on matchday, so Avanti suspended selling tickets for some time while they set the timetable for this week.  There were trains scheduled for Saturday but, given the number of trains that have been cancelled over the past few weeks due to a shortage of staff, I wasn’t going to take the risk of not being able to get here on the day so, as soon as they went on sale, I booked tickets for Friday night and Sunday morning and a hotel room for two nights.  The first challenge was actually getting to Euston on Friday as there were no tube trains running.  I left home in plenty of time to get a bus only to wait for some time while full buses sailed past me.  Finally, one allowed us on, and I had no complaints about the crowding, as long as I got my train.  In the end I arrived at Euston with 20 minutes to spare only to find that the train I had booked was “delayed”.  It was a while before an estimated departure time was given but the train ended up leaving only 10 minutes late.  I had a discount code arising from problems on a previous trip, so I had used that to book a first class seat at a very reasonable cost.  Sadly, the train manager was tasked with telling us all that there was no first class service on board.  She was a star though and gave us water, cake and a pocket full of Uglies chocolates, which I love, but it has to be said that the service provided by Avanti really is appalling.  The train was also running slowly and made a couple of previously unscheduled stops, so I arrived in Preston 40 minutes later than planned, feeling very hungry.  I found a takeaway that was still open.  Mick’s Hut sounded uninspiring but turned out to have kebabs, pizza and an array of Indian food.  A friendly local youngster recommended the chicken kebab which turned out to be chicken tikka wrapped in a naan.  It really hit the spot.

Belatedly taking the knee

Saturday morning dawned rather grey and miserable.  I went out to get some breakfast and have a walk before returning to my room to have a call with a woman from the West Ham Supporters Trust who had heard about the work that WoW were doing, particularly in facilitating women going to away games.  We had a great chat and I hope that they have the success that we have had.

I have very fond memories of previous trips to Preston (the football notwithstanding) so I felt very happy walking through town reacquainting myself, although I remain devastated that the football museum is no longer there.  I cannot bring myself to visit the new venue which smacks of “Premier League” to me.

At the appointed time, I headed for the designated pre-match meeting place which was a craft beer bar in the market.  Graham was already there, and we were soon joined by our friends from Happy Valley.  It turned out to be a very pleasant venue with a good selection of beer.  We all agreed how lovely it was to be back visiting grounds with local fans rather than tourists.  There was no food on offer at the bar, so Ashley went searching and came back with a selection of seafood.  It is decades since I have had whelks and cockles and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Bayo on the run

We headed for the ground and were soon in place.  Apparently, Rob Edwards had come to greet the travelling Hornets that had arrived early.  Needless to say, I missed him.

Team news was that Kamara returned from suspension to replace Gaspar and Manaj was making his first start in place of João Pedro, who had a slight injury.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Cathcart, Sierralta, Kabasele; Sema, Kayembe, Choudhury, Kamara; Manaj, Asprilla, Bayo.

Being unaware of which shirt we were wearing, I donned my home shirt, only to see the subs come out to take their places in the dugout wearing white shorts and blue socks.  So, I changed into the away shirt and was properly attired for kick-off.

Asprilla kicked off the game and then realised that he had forgotten to take the knee, so the game was stopped and restarted after the ceremonial gesture had taken place. 

Challenging at a corner

The first chance of the game went to the home side as a volley from Browne was met by a decent save from Bachmann.  The first chance for the Hornets came as Bayo met a cross from Manaj but his shot was blocked for a corner that came to nothing.  The travelling fans were furious as a Preston break appeared to follow a handball, but it was stopped by a tremendous tackle from Choudhury, who I am loving more and more with each game that I see.  The Hornets then had a chance after a deflection in the midfield caused the ball to break to Bayo who advanced on goal and really should have done better than shooting straight at Woodman in the Preston goal.  Then a terrible pass from Kayembe was intercepted allowing Parrott to break forward but his shot was easily gathered by Bachmann.  At this point, my attention was bizarrely distracted by a man with a pie.  I had seen a wrapping for a potato and meat pie, the order of the ingredients being rather telling, but this guy had a potato and butter pie.  I was intrigued and a little baffled.  He laughed and said that he had to try it and reported back at half time that it was very tasty.  After 20 minutes, there was a drinks break which was followed by the first substitution for the home side as Cunningham replaced Hughes who had picked up an injury. 

Bachmann takes a free kick

The home side had a great chance to take the lead as Ledson unleashed a shot from distance that was stopped by a terrific save from Bachmann.  Bizarrely, the home fans then started a chant of “You’re just a sh*t Ben Foster.”  The corner that followed was met with some head tennis before being punched clear by Bachmann.  There was relief in the away end as a dangerous looking chip into the Watford box was missed by Parrott and caught by Bachmann.  There was more danger for the Hornets as a looping shot from Brady, which appeared to be a bit wayward, remained in play, Bachmann failed to make the catch but had been fouled as he went to gather it, so a free kick was given.  The home side had a great chance to take the lead just before the half hour but the shot from distance by Ledson rebounded off the post.  At the other end a decent cross from Kamara was punched clear by Woodman.  Then Asprilla picked up the ball in midfield and released Bayo who fed Manaj whose shot was blocked.  Manaj then appeared to be pulled down in the box, but nothing was given.  Another Preston attack was foiled when Sema prevented Potts doing any damage by marshalling his run which allowed the ball to roll through to Bachmann.  There was a great chance for the Hornets when Bayo found Asprilla who played the ball back to Kayembe who beat a couple of challenges before shooting high and wide of the target.  The Hornets had one final chance to take the lead before the break when a corner from Sema was met by the head of Sierralta, but his header was weak and easily caught by Woodman. 

Hamza Choudhury

It had been an entertaining half of football.  The home side dominated the early exchanges, but the Hornets came into the game, had the best of the later chances and really should have taken the lead through Bayo.  There had been some lovely play, Asprilla particularly impressed and was benefiting from some great link ups with Cathcart.

The first action of note in the second half was a wonderful run from Kamara, who made it to the bye-line, but ran out of space and the ball went out of play.  The home side should have taken the lead when Ledson crossed for Browne who beat the defence and unleashed a shot from close range, but Bachmann was equal to it.  Then the Hornets had a great chance of their own to take the lead when Asprilla played a lovely ball to Manaj in space, he advanced and delayed taking the shot and I assumed he was finding the perfect position, but he shot over the target when he had only the keeper to beat provoking despair in the away end.  At the other end a shot from Parrott was blocked by Kabasele.  The home side made a second substitution at this point bringing Riis on for Johnson.  Then Kayembe released Sema who advanced before putting in a low cross that was blocked for a throw.  The throw-in was taken quickly and reached Kayembe who shot wide of the near post. 

Kamara takes a throw-in

The Hornets launched a couple of dangerous balls into the Preston box before Kayembe put in a decent cross but there was no Watford player to get on the end of it.  The Hornets had a terrific chance to open the scoring when Manaj received a lovely ball over the top from Asprilla, but he was at an angle and could only direct his shot high and wide.  He looked up seemingly hoping for a flag to cover his embarrassment.  Then Kayembe released Bayo who broke forward, did really well to fight off the attentions of Lindsay, but could only find the side netting with his shot.  The home side made a couple of late substitutions with Browne and Ledson making way for Woodburn and McCann.  There was fear of a late winner for the hosts as Parrott got into a dangerous position, but he could only chip the ball into the arms of Bachmann.  Asprilla took a knock and was replaced by Gosling.  Then Sema broke forward before pulling the ball back to Kamara whose shot was caught by Woodman.  At the other end Riis looked to attack the Watford goal but, under challenge from Kamara, he could only find the side netting.  The last change of the game came as Hungbo replaced Manaj.  There was four minutes of added time.  There were half chances for both sides as McCann had a shot from the edge of the box that was blocked and Kabasele met a cross from Kamara with a header that cleared the bar.  So, the game finished goalless but had been much more entertaining than the score suggests.

Ken Sema waiting to take a free kick

Just before full time a youngster came and sat behind me and promptly started a stream of negative comments.  When I told him to stop moaning, he responded that we were rubbish, and I had my head in the sand if I thought otherwise.  I really can’t bear these entitled kids (and adults) who, if we are not blowing the opposition away, take it upon themselves to berate the players.  He was certainly not watching the same game that I was.  Preston are a decent team.  They are unbeaten so far this season and are yet to concede a goal after five league games.  This game remained goalless through a combination of another sterling performance from Dan Bachmann and wasteful finishing from Manaj and Bayo.  While they were both disappointing in front of goal, at least they were getting into position to cause problems.  Asprilla was brilliant again both in attack and getting back to defend.  He is going to be some player.

Unlike my young friend, I am loving this season so far.  The games are competitive and (mostly) entertaining, the players are putting in a lot of effort, playing for each other and for the crowd and we are back watching football in stadia full of fans rather than tourists.  Rob Edwards is certainly doing all the right things, one of which is making sure that the fans feel appreciated after the game as he rounds up all of the players and makes sure that they come to applaud those who have made the journey.  On Saturday this appreciation was greatly deserved.  The coaches left Watford at 7am.  The Norfolk ‘Orns had also left early morning, as one of their party was taking part in a match against Preston fans that the Watford lads lost.  Many people drove up, including Big Mick who had to hire a car to make the journey.  I hope that most of those that travelled thought that it was worth the effort. The Hornets are unbeaten after five tough games and currently lie second in the Championship, I am very happy with that.

A Decent Point at St Andrews

Troy at St Andrews (sob!)

My company is closed for the Summer break this week, so I was able to travel up to Birmingham mid-afternoon.  I had arranged to meet up with Mike, who had travelled up in the morning for a visit to the museum.  We met and headed for the pub.  It is a while since we have been there, so we took a few wrong turns and had a walking tour of Digbeth before we arrived for our well-deserved pint.  As is becoming a bit of a theme, we partook of the local pork scratchings, “Porky Rinders”, which were all right but not up to the standard that we are used to.  The pub was soon full of familiar faces enjoying the real ales.  We left for the ground a little later than was sensible and ended up having to abandon the queue for food in order not to miss kick-off.  On arrival at St Andrews, I had to take a moment as I saw the huge portrait of Troy Deeney at the stadium.  I know that he is a Birmingham boy, but he is still ours in so many ways.

Team news was that there were three enforced changes from the Burnley game with the suspended Kamara and injured Cleverley and Sarr (apparently) replaced by Kabasele, Asprilla and Bayo.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Cathcart, Sierralta, Kabasele; Sema, Choudhury, Kayembe, Gaspar; João Pedro, Asprilla, Bayo.  It was rather sad to see Troy Deeney in a blue shirt and John Eustace in the home dugout.  Both of them are so well loved by Watford fans.

Challenging at a corner

At West Brom last week, a couple of the WoW group had arrived late and found that their seats had been occupied, so they were displaced.  Birmingham had been made aware of this so we arrived to find a steward checking our names off his list before he would allow us to occupy our rather good seats.

The first chance of the game went to the Hornets as Asprilla tried a shot from outside the area that cleared the bar.  Kabasele was the next to try his luck with a long range shot that flew over the target.  The Hornets continued to threaten as Bayo won a free kick in a dangerous position.  Sema took the set piece which was easily caught by the Birmingham keeper, Ruddy.  The Hornets should have taken the lead on 13 minutes when João Pedro broke forward and reached the bye-line before crossing for Bayo whose header flew wide when he really should have hit the target.  The first chance for the home side came from a counterattack, Bacuna advanced and fed Hogan who was one-on-one with Bachmann who made a good save, although the flag was up anyway so it wouldn’t have counted.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead from a Sema corner, which Cathcart headed back to Bayo whose shot was blocked and the ball was somehow scrambled away.  Watford were left to rue that miss when Hogan broke forward before cutting the ball back to Hall who beat Bachmann to put the home side in the lead. 

Choudhury calling the shots

The Hornets looked to break back straight away from a Sema free kick, but Bayo’s header was poor and easily cleared.  The Hornets had a great chance to equalise when João Pedro played a through ball to Gaspar whose shot beat Ruddy but was cleared off the line.  Watford threatened again as a cross from Choudhury was deflected for a corner from which Sema’s delivery was headed wide by Sierralta.  At the other end, Placheta beat Choudhury before taking a shot that flew wide of the near post.  Then Deeney had his first chance of the evening.  It would have really hurt to see him score against us, so it was a relief to see his shot easily caught by Bachmann.  There was some concern for Sema when he was caught in a challenge with Williams and appeared to be in some considerable pain but, thankfully, after some treatment, he was able to continue.  At the end of the half, Choudhury got into conflict with Eustace by the home dugout.  We all know that isn’t a good idea and the incident ended with the (current) Watford man being cautioned. 

So, we reached half time a goal down.  It had been a decent half of football, with Watford dominating the possession but not creating enough goal chances.

Celebrating the goal

The first chance of the second half went to the home side with a shot from Hogan that was easily gathered by Bachmann.  At the other end, a close range shot from João Pedro was blocked.  Ten minutes into the second half Edwards made his first change bringing Manaj on for Bayo.   The Hornets drew level on 63 minutes as Gaspar broke forward and put a cross in, Ruddy got a hand to it, but the ball fell to Sema who blasted it goalwards and it took a deflection off Manaj to beat Ruddy and spark a joyous celebration among the travelling faithful.  The Hornets attacked again with a great run from João Pedro that was let down by a poor pass which was too far in front of Gaspar and drifted out for a goal kick.  Watford had another chance to take the lead when a corner from Sema was cleared to Kayembe on the edge of the box, but he shot wide of the far post.  Deeney then had a great chance to regain the lead for the home side as he met a cross from Williams with a shot that Bachmann had to push over the bar.  With 15 minutes remaining, Edwards made his second substitution replacing Asprilla with Gosling.  The home side also made a change bringing Chang on for the goalscorer, Hall.   The first booking for the home side went to Sanderson, who was cautioned for a sliding tackle on Gosling.  The home side had a chance to grab a winner following a corner that was met with a defensive header which fell to Placheta who shot high and wide.  Eustace made two late substitutions with Hogan making way for Jutkiewicz and Leko replacing Deeney, who left the field to loud cheers from the travelling Hornets.  João Pedro should have won the game for the Hornets when he received a lovely pass from Manaj, he had space and time to place his shot but hit it wide to the despair of those in the away end.  There were two late changes for the Hornets as Keinan Davis made his debut in place of Kayembe and Hungbo came on for Sema.  Hungbo looked to make an early impression with a tremendous run down the left that was stopped by a push from Williams.  Hungbo took the free kick himself which was met by the head of Cathcart whose effort cleared the bar.  That was the last chance of the game, and the final whistle went with the Hornets gaining another valuable away point and remaining unbeaten so far this season.

Hungbo lines up a free kick

As at the other games this season, Rob Edwards and the players came over to applaud the fans and took some time over it, which was massively appreciated.  We have yet to have a Saturday afternoon match this season, so the fans are making huge efforts to get to these games, and it is good to see that recognised.  Troy Deeney’s lap of the ground also included the away end, and he was rewarded with his chant being belted out and the knowledge that he is still adored by the Hornet faithful.

Mike and I headed back to the Anchor (now that we knew where it was) and met Billy there for the post-match analysis.  We were all quite happy with the performance.  There are a number of new faces in the squad, so this is still a team in transition, but the hard work and the organisation are impressing.  The main frustration was that we did not test Ruddy enough, but that wasn’t for want of trying.  Despite an identical result, this was a much better performance than at the Hawthorns last week and the travelling Hornets left St Andrews with smiles on their faces. The games are coming thick and fast, so we don’t have long to wait for our trip to Preston, who are also unbeaten so far.  It will be another good test.

Beating the Clarets Under the Lights

Birthday boy, Tom Cleverley

Friday evening and I thought that I was arriving early at the West Herts only to find that the members’ bar was already packed, and our party were gathered at a table in the middle.  It was good to see the return of Don and Trond who had not joined us during the building works.  It was also lovely to see Tim Brennan, the founder of WML, with his daughters Jemima and Rebecca.  Trond was especially happy to see them as it gave him a chance to speak Norwegian.  I was also delighted at the return of Drummy’s jerk chicken baguette, which is just gorgeous.  At one point we were joined by a Burnley fan who was quite taken aback when Richard started talking to him about the delights of benny and hot.

Team news was that there were two changes from the West Brom game.  As Dennis closed in on a move to Forest his place was taken by new signing Choudhury, and Kabasele made way for Gaspar in defence.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Kamara, Cathcart, Sierralta, Gaspar; Choudhury, Cleverley, Kayembe; Sema, João Pedro, Sarr.

The goal celebration cut short by Tom’s injury

The first action of note came from a free kick by Cleverley, the ball reached Choudhury whose shot was blocked.  The away fans were already getting on Dan Bachmann’s case with a chant of “You’re just a sh*t Ben Foster.”  The visitors were nearly the architects of their own downfall when a terrible clearance from keeper Muric went straight to Sarr, but he was closed down before he could get a shot away.  The game reached the drinks break without either side creating a goal chance.  After the refreshments, Cleverley released Sarr, whose cross for João Pedro was cut out.  The Hornets continued to create chances as João Pedro played a lovely cross-field ball to Sarr whose shot from distance was well over the target.  With a minute to go in the first half the visitors had their first goal attempt of the evening as the ball dropped to Costelloe, but his shot was well over the bar.  The Hornets broke the deadlock in time added on at the end of the half.  Sarr played in Sema who got to the byeline before pulling the ball back for Cleverley to run on to and slot in at the near post.  There were wild celebrations that were tempered somewhat when it was apparent that Tom had injured himself in the process.

Gaspar takes a throw-in

It was very pleasing to go in at half time ahead after a much better showing than on Monday at West Brom.  There hadn’t been much goalmouth action, but the Hornets had been in control.

At the break, Tim Coombs looked back to the recent Junior Hornets’ day and had a chat with Ann Swanson.  She was very positive saying that she is buzzing to be back involved.  She thinks that Rob will be a big asset to the club.  She said that the players had all been brilliant with the Junior Hornets and revealed that Troost-Ekong is her favourite.

Each side made a change at the restart.  Sadly, birthday boy Cleverley was unable to continue so was replaced by Gosling, while Cork came on for Costelloe for the visitors.  The Hornets launched the first attack of the half with a Gosling free kick that was met with a defensive header to win a corner that came to nothing.  The visitors should have equalised when Maatsen played Brownhill in on goal, but his effort was blocked by Bachmann’s legs.  Watford attacked again as Sarr played the ball across to Sema who played a through ball to Kamara whose cross was put out for a corner that also came to nothing.  João Pedro then showed some skill in taking the ball down but his shot from distance was blocked for another corner that again failed to beat the first man. 

Kamara launching the ball

The next chance fell to the visitors after the Hornets failed to clear a ball into the box, it fell to Bastien on the edge of the area, but his shot cleared the bar.  The visitors had another chance to level the game when a long throw reached Brownhill on the edge of the area but, again, the shot flew well over the bar.  Burnley threatened again when Maatsen crossed for Barnes who was under the ball and could only manage a looping header that was easily gathered by Bachmann.  That was the Burnley man’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Rodriguez to cheers from the Watford crowd, he really is rather unpleasant.  At the same time Manuel made way for Tella.  The Hornets also made a change as Bayo came on to make his debut in place of Sarr.  I think every Watford fan wondered if that will be the last time that we see him.  The visitors had a great chance to draw level as a deep cross from Maatsen reached Brownhill whose shot was blocked at the near post by the legs of Bachmann.  The visitors then made another change bringing Vitinho on for Bastien.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery when Bachmann was unable to hold on to a cross from Taylor, but Bayo was on hand to make the clearance.  With 10 minutes remaining, Edwards made a third change bringing Asprilla, who really looks like a youthful Ashley Young, on for João Pedro. 

New boy Vakoun Bayo

Then disaster befell the Hornets, Kamara lost out to Vitinho who tried to break forward but was dragged back by the Watford man.  There was no surprise when he was shown a red card.  There was some sympathy from the Watford faithful as he had taken one for the team, so he was cheered off the field and given a hug and a sympathetic kiss on the top of his head by Bachmann as he made his way off the field.  Burnley had been in the ascendancy in the second half, so playing the last 10 minutes with 10 men was going to be challenging.  Edwards responded to the sending off by bringing Kabasele on for Choudhury, who had had a good game.  Brownhill took the resultant free kick and was frustrated by a flying save from Bachmann.  A rare second half attack by the Hornets was stopped when Brownhill fouled Gosling and was booked for his trouble.  Then Sema tried to release Bayo, but the Burnley keeper charged out of his box to make the interception.  At this point, the atmosphere was incredible as the Vicarage Road faithful were loudly backing their team.  Asprilla earned a yellow card on his debut for a foul on Maatsen.  The resultant free kick was headed clear by Cathcart.  The visitors threatened again with a shot that was stopped by a brilliant save from Bachmann, the rebound was poked wide, but the offside flag was up anyway.  There were five minutes of added time to survive.  It looked as though Burnley would finally make the breakthrough when a cross from Vitinho found Brownhil, but his shot rebounded off the crossbar, much to our relief.  The visitors created one final chance with a shot from McNally, but Bachmann fell onto the ball and the final whistle went on another home victory for the Hornets.

Man of the match, Dan Bachmann

Rob Edwards continued to endear himself to the fans by “doing a Troy”, walking a lap of the ground, starting with the Family Stand, to applaud all the fans.  On this occasion we deserved it as we had certainly been a twelfth man that evening.

It wasn’t a classic performance, but it was head and shoulders above what we saw at the Hawthorns on Monday.  The Hornets had the better of the first half and, while it was mostly one way traffic in the second, there were still some impressive signs from the home side.  Dan Bachmann was, again, my man of the match and I was delighted that he made the Burnley fans eat their words.  The defence was very well organised and there was a much better showing from the midfield.  I was very impressed with our new boy, Choudhury, who appears to be an excellent addition.  We didn’t get to see a lot from Bayo or Asprilla, but their time will come.

I bumped into Becky, Dominic and Duncan at the Junction, so had some good company on the way home which was a perfect way to end the evening.

So, at least overnight, the Hornets top the Championship table.  We have had three games against very difficult opponents, so to be unbeaten with seven points on the board is very pleasing at this stage.  There is a passion back in the team and in the stands and that is so welcome after the horror of last season.  Football is fun again.

A Very Fortunate Point at the Hawthorns

Local pork scratchings – not to be underestimated

It was not a good start to my trip to West Brom when I arrived at Euston to find that my train had been cancelled.  Thankfully I had arrived early and was able to take the train that left 15 minutes earlier instead.  On arrival into Birmingham, I checked into my hotel, went and had something to eat and then headed for the Hawthorns.  I decided to take the metro tram, which was full of a combination of visitors for the Commonwealth Games and locals.  When I arrived at the Hawthorns station only a couple of other people got off.  It is five years since I last visited but, on leaving the station, it all looked familiar, and I remembered to take the alleyway that leads to the steep slope up to the away turnstiles.

On arrival, I saw Chris, our new SLO, who I berated about the lack of information from the club about the Rotherham away tickets.  It was a bit unfair as he was blameless in this regard having given me plenty of notice for the WoW block booking. 

After entering the stadium, I caught up with Janice.  Then, as it was a warm evening, I queued to get a drink and when I saw that they had their own pork scratchings, I had to partake.

Man of the match Dan Bachmann

I went to have a chat with Don and, when he invited me to join him in the disabled area, decided to offer my seat in the WoW area to Kate, who had made a late decision to come and so was sitting on her own.  I also caught up with Mike, who told me that his West Brom supporting friends were very worried about this fixture.  I also saw Tim who told me that he had given up his ticket to the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony to come to this game.  I hoped that he had made the right choice.

Team news was that there were no changes from the Sheffield United game, so the starting line-up was Bachmann; Cathcart, Sierralta, Kabasele; Kamara, Cleverley, Kayembe, Sema; Sarr, Dennis, João Pedro.

Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause in memory of Bobby Hope who was an FA Cup winner with the Baggies.  That was impeccably observed but, sadly, was followed by some morons around me booing the taking of the knee and loud shouts of “You stinky gyppo” from the hard of thinking.  This was going to be a long night.

Celebrating Sarr’s magnificent strike

The home side started brilliantly.  A ball into the Watford box resulted in some head tennis as the Watford defence failed to clear the ball and it fell to Furlong who unleashed a powerful shot that was met by a good save from Bachmann.  From the resulting corner, Grant should have opened the scoring with a close range shot but, again, Bachmann was equal to it.  It was all West Brom and the resulting corner was headed out by Kabasele to Dennis, who lost out allowing Diangana to cross for Ajayi who headed over the bar.  Inexplicably, after 12 minutes, the Hornets were ahead.  Having not been out of our own half, when Sarr received the ball he decided not to bother to cross the halfway line as he had spotted Button off his line, so looped a shot over him and in.  We were the other end of the ground and seeing the ball hitting the net took a while to sink in, so my celebration was a little delayed but very joyous when it came.  Bachmann’s goal celebration would have made Heurelho Gomes proud.  Sadly, the goal did not herald a change in fortunes for the Hornets as it was still one way traffic.  Although, every time Sarr got the ball, the travelling Hornets were yelling “Shooooot” but he wasn’t likely to try that shot from distance again.  On 19 minutes, the hosts had a great chance to equalise as Wallace crossed for Grant but he turned it behind.  Almost immediately the West Brom man had another chance to level the game when Diangana played him in, but Kabasele made a great block to stop the shot and concede a corner. 

Goalscorer Sarr

There was a break in the game as Kaba had taken a bash to the mouth, as evidenced by the blood-soaked tissues that the physio was handling and the fact that he needed to change his shirt.  He was still booed by the home fans, presumably for perceived play-acting.  The home side continued to threaten the Watford goal, next from a long throw that was headed wide.  They should have taken the lead when Grant broke forward and into the box, but Sierralta was back to make a superb tackle.  Just after the half hour mark, the Hornets had their first attacking move of note since the goal as a ball from João Pedro took a deflection off a defender and fell kindly for Sarr who went on a run before crossing into the box, but Kamara shot wide.  Bachmann saved the Hornets again when a cross from Furlong was met by a shot from Swift which needed a brilliant save to keep it out, the ball came back to Grant who headed over.  Next a bicycle kick from Diangana flew wide.  There was a rare attack from the Hornets as Kayembe intercepted the ball in the midfield and played a lovely long pass over the top to Sarr whose shot was saved at the near post.  The first booking of the game went to Molumby for a foul on Dennis.  There were four minutes of added time at the end of the half and the home side finally got the equaliser that they deserved.  Diangana played a through ball to Grant who took a touch before firing past Bachmann.  The home fans launched into a chorus of The Lord’s my Shepherd and the away fans feared annihilation in the second half. 

Joao Pedro and Dennis

It had been a dreadful half of football for the Hornets who were completely dominated by the home side.  A wonder goal from Sarr gave us parity at the break, but I feared for the second half.

At half time, the West Brom Ladies did a lap of the pitch and were greeted by jeers from a section of the travelling fans.  A middle-aged bloke behind me yelled “Oo, sexy” at them.  I let him know what I thought of his intervention and was saddened to see that he was accompanied by his young daughter.

The second half began with an attack from the Hornets as a great ball from Dennis released Sarr, but there was no one to get on the end of the cross.  Normal service then resumed as Diangana found Townsend who took a shot from a narrow angle that was blocked by Bachmann.  Then a corner was knocked out to Grant who shot over the bar.  Another dangerous cross from the home side was repelled by a flick header from Kamara. 

Gaspar making his debut

A promising attack from the Hornets came to nothing after Dennis found João Pedro, who was muscled off the ball by Ajayi and the ball ran out of play.  At the other end, Townsend got his head to a corner but directed it over the bar, although the flag was up for offside anyway.  A promising move saw Cleverley feed Sarr who advanced before hitting a disappointing cross-cum-shot well wide of the far post.  At the other end Wallace broke forward and crossed for Swift whose shot looped up and was easily gathered by Bachmann.  An attempt to break forward by João Pedro was stopped by a block from Furlong who was booked for his trouble.  Then Cleverley played the ball out to Dennis who crossed for João Pedro whose shot was high and wide.  The Hornets had an unexpected chance to regain the lead when Sarr picked up a loose ball and broke into the box where he was tripped.  The referee paused before pointing to the spot.  There was some discussion about who would take the penalty and eventually Sarr stepped up and hit an awful soft shot, trying to place it but just hitting it straight at the keeper.  João Pedro seemed to be fouled as he followed up, but the referee waved play on.  Kabasele was the next to be booked for a foul on Wallace.  The home side had a chance to take the lead through a header from Grant, but it was weak and easy for Bachmann. 

Cathcart takes a throw-in

With 13 minutes to go, each side made a substitution.  Kamara made way for Gaspar to make his debut for the Hornets.  Then Yokuslu came on for Livermore for the home side.  A lovely touch from João Pedro allowed him to bring the ball down on the wing but his pass to Dennis was easily intercepted.  Rob Edwards then made two more substitutions with Sierralta and Dennis replaced by Troost-Ekong and Manaj.  The home side had a late chance to grab all three points as a Wallace corner was met by the head of Ajayi, but his effort cleared the bar.  There was a rash of late substitutions as Reach and Phillips replaced Diangana and Furlong for the home side and Sarr made way for Gosling for the Hornets.  There was five minutes of added time, which saw no action of note and the full-time whistle went on a totally undeserved point for the Hornets.  

Interestingly, given the constant moaning of those around me during the game, there were no boos on the final whistle.  Rob and the players came over to applaud the travelling fans and did so for some time.  There was a young boy near me with a sign saying that it was his first game and asking for a shirt.  Kabasele came over the hoardings to hand his shirt to him.  Kamara threw his into the crowd.  Then Troost-Ekong came over to the same family, so the brother got his shirt.

Rey Manaj

On the way out I bumped into a couple of the regulars who were heading back to the city centre for a beer before catching the 11:59 train home.  I headed back on the tram to my hotel and took solace in a glass of malbec and the pork scratchings, which were really rather good.  I also watched Sarr’s goal on repeat to try to eradicate the memory of the other 89 minutes.

It had been a dreadful performance from the Hornets.  The problems stemmed from the midfield, which was completely overrun.  There had been waves and waves of West Brom attacks and only a sterling performance from Bachmann in goal stopped it being a cricket score.  After his impressive showing against United, Dennis was back to his poor form.  Sarr came in for a lot of criticism for the poor penalty, but his goal was a thing of beauty, and he was very close to scoring the winner. 

But, in a game in which the Hornets were totally overwhelmed, we came away with a point and nearly won all three.  When the fixtures came out, I was concerned about our difficult start.  The fact that we already have 4 points should be celebrated.  We have some new blood in the form of Gaspar and Manaj who may well be starting very soon.  Early signs from them have been good.  We have another difficult test against Burnley on Friday.  I will be fascinated to see how that game goes.  

My final thought goes to Tim who must really be regretting giving up his ticket for the closing ceremony.  I hope that his loyalty is repaid this season.

An Opening Day Win at the Vic

Bachmann taking a goal kick

The first day of August and the first day of the new season.  We had to watch our rivals competing over the weekend before finally getting our chance on a Monday night under the lights.  But first a visit to the West Herts to experience the new members’ bar on the upper floor.  It is a lovely space, although it needs more than two people behind the bar on a matchday.  I got there early as Mike, Richard, Pete and Julie were to enjoy hospitality on the Community Trust table in the SEJ Suite, so I wanted to have a quick drink with them before they went posh.  That left just Jacque and I at the poor table.  Jacque was still buzzing from her visit to Wembley for the Euros final.  What an experience that was.  We were eventually joined by my family group, and it was lovely to see Glenn, and not just because he came bearing pork scratchings and sweeties.

Then off to the Vic.  There was no queue to get in and my newly downloaded season ticket worked perfectly.  That is always a relief at the first game.

Inside the ground there is a new ordering system for food and drink at terminals.  Needless to say, it was a pain to use, and they only had the vegan pies left, but at least the pie was quite tasty when I finally managed to order and pay for it.

Sierralta picking his pass

The starting line-up for our first game of the season was Bachmann; Cathcart, Sierralta, Kabasele; Kamara, Cleverley, Kayembe, Sema; Sarr, Dennis, João Pedro.  I have to say that I wasn’t expecting to see Dennis or Sarr in a Watford shirt again.  I just hoped they would be working to put themselves in the shop window.

As the teams came out, there was a lovely moment for the Women of Watford as Caiden was one of the mascots.  Caiden has struggled in the past to attend games and was eased into it via visits to the sensory room.  With his mum, Lisa, he has attended a couple of away games with the WoW group and his growing confidence meant that he felt able to be a mascot.  Both he and Lisa had a lovely evening by all accounts. 

It has to be said that, given it is only 4 weeks since the Elton John concerts, and how magnificent they were, I thought that the pitch looked amazing.

Kayembe weighing up his options as Sierralta looks on

There was a tremendous atmosphere prior to kick-off and a bright start for the Hornets as Dennis broke down the left and crossed for Sarr whose shot found the side netting.  Then João Pedro released Kamara who went on a great run, his cross was cleared for a corner that came to nothing.  Dennis broke forward and took a shot that was deflected and looped into the arms of Foderingham in the United goal.  The first booking of the game went to Clark for a foul on Dennis, who really didn’t need to roll over that many times 😊.  Then some great work from Sema took him to the by-line before passing to Sarr who found Dennis, but the shot was blocked.  On 19 minutes, the visitors had their first chance of the game with a shot from Berge that took a nasty deflection, but Bachmann was down to make the save.  The Hornets threatened again when a cross from Kamara was met by the head of Dennis, but he was under the ball and it looped over the bar.  Then Sarr chipped the ball to Dennis in the box, the Nigerian was taken down, but the referee waved play on.  While he was still protesting, Sierralta fouled Ndiaye provoking a bout of handbags.  Both Sierralta and Fleck were cautioned for their part in the melee. 

Dennis taking instruction from Cleverley

A lovely move between Dennis and João Pedro finished with a ball to Sema in the box but his shot was deflected wide.  From the corner, Cleverley squared the ball to Kayembe whose shot from distance was deflected over the bar.  At the other end, a dangerous cross by Jebbison was headed on by Cathcart and then out by Kamara.  The visitors should have taken the lead when Ndiaye broke into the box holding off Kamara, he took a shot from a narrow angle, but Bachmann made a fairly comfortable save.  At the other end some lovely passing finished with a ball from Sarr to Kamara whose shot was claimed by Foderingham.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead when a cross from Sema was met by the head of João Pedro, but Foderingham was able to make the save.  At the other end, the visitors almost broke the deadlock as Baldock broke forward before finding Jebbison on the edge of the box, his shot was heading in and had to be tipped over by Bachmann.  There was a second booking for the Hornets as Cleverley slipped as he tackled Ndiaye.  It seemed rather unfair as there was no malice in the tackle.  The last chance of the half fell to the visitors as Norwood’s free kick was met by Egan whose header cleared the bar.  So, we reached the break goalless after a pleasingly energetic performance from the Hornets. 

Celebrating Joao Pedro’s goal

The half time entertainment on the big screen was a video showing the development of Vicarage Road over its hundred-year history, which was fascinating.  The special guest was Adlène Guedioura, who I always had a soft spot for.  He talked happily about his time at Watford, particularly *that* goal against Arsenal and his reminiscences of the day that we won promotion were lovely.  I had a quick visit to the bathroom and bumped into Amy.  I was surprised to see her as I thought she sat in the Family Stand.  It turned out that she and her companion take a tour of the ground at half time visiting their friends in all the stands, which is rather lovely.

The first action of the second half was a yellow card for João Pedro.  He had been knocked off his feet and off the pitch, was given nothing by the referee so decided to exact revenge himself and was duly punished for it.  The visitors made the first substitution as an injury to Stevens meant he had to be replaced by Lowe.  The Hornets took the lead on 56 minutes.  The goal came from a corner to the visitors which was played low to the edge of the box, the shot was blocked and Kamara broke forward, the ball reached Sarr who squared it for João Pedro who blasted the ball past Foderingham and into the net in front of the Rookery to send us all wild.  João Pedro’s celebration was particularly entertaining as he danced in front of the 1881. 

New boy Rey Manaj

The Hornets threatened to increase their lead when a cross from João Pedro dropped to Kamara, but his shot was well over the bar.  At the other end a dangerous looking shot across the Watford goal flew well wide.  Dennis should have done better when João Pedro found him in the box, but he hung on to the ball too long before taking a shot so was tackled.  Half-way through the second half the visitors made a triple substitution with Clark, Norwood and Jebbison replaced by Osborn, Khadra and Brewster.  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead when Sema played the ball back to Sarr on the edge of the box, he turned and shot wide.  At this point there was a commotion in the away end with fans there and at the Vicarage Road end of the SEJ calling for the game to stop, presumably for a medical emergency.  It was a while before the referee took action and the break in the game was brief.  The news today was that the fan affected was on their way home after a night in Watford General, which is great news.  The fifth substitution for the visitors saw Ndiaye make way for Billy Sharp who, in the dim and distant past, was touted as “the answer” for Watford.  The Hornets then made their first change with Manaj coming on to make his debut in place of Sarr.  The visitors had a great chance to equalise as a free kick from Fleck was headed back across goal by Egan but, thankfully, it flew wide.  The Blades threatened again with a cross into the box, but Bachmann came to meet it.  At the other end, Watford’s new boy, Manaj, had a chance to make a dream start when he received a pass from Kamara and hit a low shot but the United keeper was equal to it.  The second change for the Hornets saw Gosling on for João Pedro who left the field to a tremendous ovation.  The fourth official indicated six minutes of added time.  There was one last chance for the Hornets to increase their lead when Dennis had the ball in a good position on the left, Manaj was waiting in space for a pass, but the Nigerian held onto it too long and the chance went begging.  No matter, the final whistle went, and Watford recorded their first home win since November last year.

Kabasele running the show

After the final whistle, the players all came over to applaud the fans and were joined by the manager, fist pumping, so all was right in the Rookery world.

It was a happy crowd leaving Vicarage Road and my day got even better, as I made slow progress up Occupation Road, I saw Lloyd Doyley.  He spotted me and said, “Hello” and I was so thrilled that it wasn’t until they had walked past that I realised he was accompanied by Adrian Mariappa.

Last season was soul destroying, so I am very happy to be reporting on a very entertaining performance.  My first reaction was that it was nice to see a team who appeared to have met each other.  I was particularly impressed with the organisation throughout the team.  Every player had a job and they all stuck to it.  Passes generally found another player in a yellow shirt.  They fought for every ball and refused to see any cause as lost.  Energy and passion were what we were crying out for last season, it was so good to see them back.  Sarr, Dennis and João Pedro were unplayable up front.  Let’s hope that we can keep them and that they continue to play like that.  They will be giving Championship defences nightmares.  Equally, much as there has been much moaning about our defence on social media, I thought they were well organised and really restricted the chances for Sheffield United.  

So far, Rob Edwards has the lads playing as a team and playing some lovely football.  The smiles are back at Vicarage Road.  Long may that last.