Fun in the Sun with Flores

Quique back in the Watford dug-out

I hate it when matches are moved to a Sunday.  It completely changes the pattern of the weekend and is very disconcerting.  However, the change of time for this game did have the benefit that I was able to take up the offer of hospitality for the Ashes game on Saturday.  Although I must admit to checking the fixture list while on the train to the Oval, just to make sure that Watford were not playing.  I was further reassured when I spotted Johnno in the queue for the coffee.  I was desperate to ask him his opinion on the changes at the club but resisted as I didn’t want to spoil his day.

As usual when there is a change in routine, I wasn’t sure what time to arrive in the West Herts.  I aimed for soon after 1pm and was pleased (and unsurprised) to see Don and Jacque already at our usual table.  Needless to say the primary topic of conversation was the change in head coach.  The departure of Javi had seemed inevitable after the Newcastle game, but it was very sad.  He has left us with some very happy memories, not just of the football but of what a lovely man he was.  He will always have a place in my heart.  The return of Flores was a total shock.  He was another lovely chap and his season was a lot of fun, but it had run out of steam in much the same way that Javi’s did, so I wondered what extra he had to offer and had been feeling a bit numb about it all last week.  One benefit of his return was that we wouldn’t have to learn a new song for the head coach.

Rita and GT

There was an added poignancy to the occasion as the game was taking place on what would have been GT’s 75th birthday, so I made the effort to say hello to his statue before the game.

Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Newcastle game with Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu in for Cathcart (who was injured), Janmaat and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Dawson, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes, Cleverley, Deulofeu; Gray.  The selection caused some puzzlement among the inhabitants of the West Herts.  The decision not to put Welbeck on the bench elicited a lot of comment.

But, as we took our seats in a packed Rookery to see the teams take the field to Z-cars (hoorah!), the atmosphere was very positive and the crowd was soon chanting the name of Quique Sanchez Flores.

Gathering for a corner

The game started brightly enough for the Hornets who created an early chance as Deulofeu curled a shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at Leno in the Arsenal goal.  The visitors created their first chance soon after, but Özil’s free-kick was headed clear by Dawson.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead in the 11th minute as Cleverley hit a powerful shot that required a flying save from Leno to keep it out.  From the corner, the ball reached Cleverley again, but his curling shot was easily caught by Leno.  Watford had another chance as a gorgeous cross-field pass found Deulofeu on the wing, he played in Holebas, but the shot was poor.  At the other end, Guendouzi released Pépé who advanced and shot wide of the far post.  The visitors took the lead in the 21st minute.  Hughes appeared to be fouled in the midfield and the Watford players stopped, anticipating the whistle, while Kolašinac broke forward before finding Aubameyang who fired past Foster.  While the Watford players protested, the goal was (presumably) checked via VAR and was confirmed, to loud boos from the Watford faithful.  It was a devastating blow as the goal had been totally against the run of play.  Sadly, as has happened far too often, this seemed to drain confidence from the Watford players and a terrible pass from Kabasele allowed the visitors to attack again, this time the shot from Aubameyang was deflected for a corner.

Handbags

The Gunners were two up after 31 minutes as Özil played in Maitland-Niles, who squared for Aubameyang who had an easy tap in for his second.  It was a decently worked goal, but the Watford defence had gone completely missing and the game looked lost.  Watford had a chance to pull one back as Femenía crossed for Hughes, but the shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A mistake from the visitors almost gifted the Hornets a goal, but the shot from Deulofeu was blocked and the follow-up from Gray hit the side netting.  The first booking of the game went to Kolašinac for a poor foul on Hughes.  Sadly, the free kick from Holebas was straight at Leno.  It all looked very promising when Deulofeu went on a dangerous run, but he was pushed wide and ran out of space.  Just before half time, there was a bit of handbags which led to Holebas and Guendouzi being booked.  We could see that José was complaining about an elbow. TV pictures showed that this had come from Pépé, which started the melee, but the instigator escaped without punishment.  The half time whistle went to a chorus of boos aimed at the officials.

At half time, I was feeling utterly miserable.  A friend came for a chat.  She is normally very measured and level-headed, so I was a little surprised to hear her say that we were being cheated out of the game but, judging by the half time boos, there were many that agreed with her.

Doucoure congratulates Cleverley on his goal

I cheered up a little when Jay DeMerit appeared as the half time guest.  He spoke about how the “Rise and Shine” film (on which I am credited as an Executive Producer) had led to a number of ventures including camps for youngsters that combine sporting pursuits with leadership training.  It was lovely to see him back at Vicarage Road.

The second half started with a run from Femenía that finished with a cross that was an easy catch for Leno.  Then Deulofeu found Hughes who, under challenge, put his shot over the bar.  A promising move by the Hornets finished with a dreadful shot from Doucouré, which drifted out for a throw.  The Hornets pulled a goal back on 53 minutes after a dreadful mistake from the visitors.  Leno tried a short goal kick to Sokratis, he was challenged by Deulofeu, the ball broke to Cleverley who finished past Leno to raise the temperature at the (already rather warm) Vic.  Suddenly all was right with the world and there was a new confidence both on the pitch and in the stands.  Immediately after the goal, Flores made his first change bringing Sarr on for Gray.  This would be interesting (we hoped).  There was another caution for the Hornets as Femenía was booked for a foul on Özil.

Pereyra enjoys the cheers from the Rookery

Deulofeu had a great chance to level the game after cutting in from the left, but his shot was just wide of the far post.  Femenía then tried his luck with a shot from the right, but it cleared the bar.  Emery made his first substitution bringing Willock on for Ceballos.  The visitors had a rare second half chance as Aubameyang tried a shot from distance, but it was easily dealt with by Foster.  Just after the hour mark, Flores made his second change replacing Hughes with Pereyra.  There was an absolutely gorgeous chance for an equaliser as Deulofeu played the ball through the legs of Guendouzi to Sarr who turned and shot just wide.  He may have missed the target, but that brought a huge smile to my face.  Femenía then went on a threatening run and put in a great cross, Pereyra met it with a back heel that rolled wide of the target.  Arsenal made a second substitution bringing Torreira on for Guendouzi.  Deulofeu had another chance to level the score, but his shot was deflected wide.  The corner was deep and just too high for Kabasele whose header was wide of the target.  Emery made his final substitution replacing Özil with Nelson.  The substitute almost made the perfect start, but his shot from outside the area was easily gathered by Foster.  There was danger for the Hornets as Doucouré lost out allowing an Arsenal break, but he redeemed himself by regaining the ball with a great tackle in the box.  This allowed the Hornets to mount a break of their own which finished with a shot from Deulofeu but, again, it was straight at the keeper.

Sarr in the Arsenal box

Flores made his final substitution replacing Holebas with Janmaat.  Arsenal had a chance to increase their lead through a powerful shot from Torreira, but Foster was equal to it.  Instead, at the other end, Pereyra was tripped by Luiz and the referee pointed to the spot.  From the middle of the Rookery it appeared that the foul had taken place outside the box, so we held our breath as the referee checked with his mate at VAR headquarters, when he received the verdict and pointed to the spot we cheered, then remembered that Deeney was injured.  Pereyra stepped up and placed the ball on the spot, sent Leno the wrong way and hit the back of the net sending the Watford fans wild with joy.  There were nine minutes remaining at this point and the Hornets were going for the victory as Janmaat played a lovely cross to Cleverley whose shot was blocked before Deulofeu hit the rebound just wide.  Cleverley then received a pass from Doucouré and hit a shot that was deflected over the bar via the head of Luiz.  The corner was played out to Janmaat whose shot was high and wide.  Arsenal had a rare chance as the ball was played to Xhaka at the back post but he couldn’t control.  Cleverley had a shot blocked allowing Willock to break but Capoue pulled him over and was booked for his trouble.  From the free kick, Willock made his way into the Watford box and I had a horrible feeling that all our heroics would be for nothing, but Kabasele was on hand to stop him shooting.  There was one final chance for the Hornets to snatch the victory as Doucouré went on a tremendous run before exchanging passes with Sarr but his shot was low and easily caught by Leno.

Holebas takes a corner

The final whistle went to rapturous cheers.  As the players applauded the crowd, Quique’s name was being sung and he responded with a broad smile and an enthusiastic wave.

There were broad smiles among the crowd who gathered at the West Herts.  It seems that I wasn’t the only one who had been miserable at half time, as Jacque mentioned that she had seriously thought about going home at that point.  Of course, she didn’t and was rewarded with a thoroughly enjoyable game.

The second half had been a sustained onslaught on the Arsenal goal, but I was still surprised to hear that we had 31 shots on goal, something that would have made GT very happy. It was a tremendous performance all round.  Deulofeu, who I often find incredibly frustrating, had a wonderful afternoon and was a constant threat to the Arsenal defence.  Pereyra was another who was on his game and was a joy to watch.  Cleverley was absolutely magnificent, running the show and he deserved more than the one goal.  But it was probably the introduction of Sarr that ultimately changed the game.  He is clearly an incredible talent and his presence meant that there was finally an outlet for the excellent build-up play that has been a feature of most of our games this season.  A couple of his moves were just a joy to watch and I am really looking forward to seeing more from him.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  My report from Newcastle was among the most miserable that I have written, but Sunday’s game reminded me why I go to football.  It was a joyous afternoon of football and showed what this team can do.  Despite the slow start, I am now much more confident for the rest of the season.  Well, maybe after we get the Man City game out of the way.

A Slog on the Tyne

The statue of Bobby Robson that caused my fall

After a promising performance in midweek, I was feeling a bit more positive on the long journey up to Newcastle.  My mood was improved immensely by the gorgeous dog who was accompanying the woman sitting the other side of the aisle from me.

I arrived at the pub a little later than is my habit, by this I mean that it was already open, and was surprised to find that it was not as busy as it usually is, so our party plus the Happy Valley and North West Horns were able to gather in the lovely alcove.  As usual, the beer and the ambience were wonderful, setting us up nicely for the trek uphill to the ground.  As we arrived at St James’ Park, my companions were extolling the virtues of the stadium and I was admiring the statue of Bobby Robson, so I completely missed the fact that there was a kerb in front of me and went flying.  It was mostly my pride that was hurt, but my bruised knees made me start to consider taking the lift up the 14 flights to our seats.  The woman who searched my bag at the turnstiles told me I was gorgeous, which was Geordie for, “You are old and safe looking, so I won’t search your person.”  We entered through the turnstiles and I looked for the lift, quickly realising that it was actually behind the turnstiles in the next block.  So we started up the stairs.  Alice was counting the steps, calling out milestones, as I just counted the flights.  I would have yelled, “Yay, 14!!” at the top if I had any breath left.  As we took our seats, I was thankful that I had recently taken delivery of new prescription distance glasses as it meant that I had a remote possibility of recognising some of the Watford players.

The view from the away end with no zoom employed

The team news had come through in the pub and was …. Interesting.  Gracia had made three changes from the West Ham game, with Kabasele, Janmaat and Pereyra in for Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu.  I was surprised that Capoue had been dropped, but this was apparently due to illness.  What was more surprising was that Femenía was still in the team, although the formation had been changed to three at the back.  Playing as a wing-back rather than in a back four would likely be a better use of his skills.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Kabasele; Femenía, Janmaat; Cleverley, Doucouré, Hughes; Pereyra, Gray.

Due to a clash of colours, the lads were resplendent in our green away shirt from last season.  Thankfully this news had been communicated before I left home, so I was able to bring the correct shirt with me (sad, I know).

 

Celebrating the opener from Hughes

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a great run before picking out Cleverley, his shot was blocked, but rebounded to Hughes who finished past Dúbravka to send the travelling Hornets wild with joy.  The home side had a chance to break back almost immediately, Kabasele missed the chance to clear a cross from Atsu leaving Almirón with only the keeper to beat, but Foster came out and made the clearance.  Femenía had a great chance to increase Watford’s lead after the ball fell to him on the edge of the area, but his effort was just over the bar.  Then Pereyra found Gray, who really should have grabbed a second for the Hornets, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Newcastle won a free kick some distance from goal, Longstaff lofted the ball into the box and Foster punched for a corner.  Doucouré was the first into the referee’s book for what looked to be a clumsy challenge on Atsu.  He was soon joined by Hayden who was booked for taking down Pereyra.  Hayden’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he raced into the Watford box to latch on to a pass but was frustrated by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  From the corner, Cathcart made a double block on shots from Joelinton and Hayden.  Almirón had the ball in the Watford net after rounding Foster, but he had been flagged offside as he started his run.  It was clear that he had seen the flag before putting the ball in the net, so I don’t know why he wasn’t booked.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead when a corner from Femenía was knocked on to Dawson whose attempted bicycle kick was blocked.  Newcastle equalised on 41 minutes after a counterattack finished with Krafth’s cross being knocked down by Hayden to Schär who scored past Foster.  It was a scrappy goal and so frustrating to concede.  Late in the half, there was a booking for each side as both Dawson and Dummett were cautioned for rash tackles.

A corner from Femenia

The Watford fans were not happy at half time.  Despite a promising start, it had been a dreadful half of football with each team scoring with their only on target shot.  Watford spent far too much time trying to find Gray with long balls that he was never going to win, and the passing was generally poor.  A friend commented that it was the sort of game in which both teams were likely to be booed off at half time.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second half.

We were to be disappointed.  The home side had an early chance to take the lead as Dawson gave the ball away allowing Almirón to release Atsu, but the shot was terrible and straight at Foster.  Cathcart was the next to be booked for a foul on Almirón.  Newcastle should have done better from the resulting free kick as Schär got on the end of Longstaff’s delivery, but the header was awful and didn’t trouble Foster.  The home side created a much better chance soon after as Atsu ran the length of the field before cutting the ball back to Almirón, but Kabasele put in an excellent block to stop the shot.  Newcastle had a great chance to take the lead as Hayden unleashed a powerful shot from distance which Foster did well to turn over the bar.

Goalscorer, Hughes, leaves Janmaat to take the throw

At this point, an hour into the game, the travelling Hornets started chanting “We want subs,” but Gracia was unmoved by our plea.  Newcastle threatened again, this time with a shot through a crowd of legs that Foster was down to save.  The Hornets had their first half chance of the second period when the ball bobbled through to Cleverley who had time to control and pick his shot but snatched at a volley which flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Joelinton went down in the box after a challenge, but the referee deemed the tackle to be fair.  There was a rare decent move from the Hornets as Doucouré broke forward, but his cross was deflected to Dúbravka.  Gracia finally made a double substitution with 20 minutes to go, and it was not the change that the crowd had been calling for as Doucouré made way for Chalobah and Success replaced Hughes.  I have to admit that even I booed the removal of Hughes who had been the best player on the pitch.  Will left the field on the side opposite the dugout, so walked in front of the away fans and his name was sung with some gusto.  Success showed his worth to us naysayers as he received a ball over the top and put in a low cross for Gray, but it was intercepted.  Not satisfied with the changes so far, the away fans were chanting for Deulofeu to make an appearance.  Bruce made his first change at this point bringing Manquillo on for Krafth.

Roberto Pereyra

Watford created a decent chance as Cleverley put in a lovely cross for Success who headed goalwards, but Dúbravka pushed the ball out for a corner.  Dawson met the delivery with a header that was blocked, the ball rebounded to Chalobah whose shot was closed down.  Each side made a substitution with 10 minutes to go as Muto came on for Atsu and the travelling fans finally got their wish as Deulofeu came on in place of Gray.  The home side looked as though they were going to take the lead as a low cross from a corner led to a scramble in the Watford box, it seemed inevitable that the ball would be turned into the net, so I was massively relieved when Foster claimed the ball.  The next chance fell to the Hornets as a shot from Cleverley took a wicked deflection off one of his teammates and flew just wide.  It has to be said that, had the ball flown into the net, a flukey winner would have been in keeping with the poor quality of the game.  Newcastle made a final change as Fernández replaced Schär.  The Hornets had a late chance to grab a winner as Success played a lovely ball to Pereyra whose shot was decent, but Dúbravka was able to make the save.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side, Chalobah had appeared to be fouled and was waiting for a free kick as Muto escaped downfield, but the Newcastle man was tracked all the way by Cathcart and could only find the side netting with his shot.  Despite 5 minutes of added time, there were no further chances and the game finished in a draw.

Nathaniel Chalobah

Our first point of the season should have been cause for celebration, but the performance was so disappointing that it was hard to muster any enthusiasm.  It was a pretty terrible game of football between two teams who struggled to string more than a couple of passes together.  So many Watford attacks broke down after a long ball to Gray, or rather, the defender marking Gray, which is no criticism of Andre at all as he is not tall enough to outjump the defenders.  Either that or a pass was hit straight at a defender.  It was a much poorer performance than against either West Ham or Everton, although not as abject as the Brighton showing.  But, at the end of a challenging week, this did not improve my mood at all and left me wondering where our next points would come from.  Particularly as our next two games are home to Arsenal and away to Manchester City.  While I will, of course, be in attendance at both, I am also planning to do other things on those weekends so that I have something to distract me from the football as I am not expecting any enjoyment from either game.  I just hope that the lads prove me wrong.

Second String Impress in the Cup

Gomes back at Vicarage Road

After a busy and frustrating day at work followed by a sweltering train journey, it was a relief finally to get to Watford and think only about football.  On leaving the station, the Coventry fans were already making their presence felt as they appeared to have taken over the pub formerly known as The Flag and were in very good voice.  Leaving them behind, I was soon in the West Herts for a well-earned pint.  It has to be said that the club was not particularly busy, so we were not overly concerned at leaving a little later than we usually do, after all there wouldn’t be any queues to get in to the ground.  As we turned into Occupation Road, our assumption was shown to be rather rash as Richard joined a longer than usual line to get into the SEJ and I was horrified to see a queue from the back of the Rookery reaching half-way up Occupation Road.  I had my fingers crossed that the crowd was heading for the ticket office rather than the turnstiles.  Thankfully it was and I was in the ground in plenty of time for kick-off.

I met up with the family in our usual seats.  Our Cate had brought her goddaughter, Evie, for her first game.  Seeing her resplendent in yellow shirt and yellow, red and black face-paint made me smile and just hope that the lads would do us proud in front of her.

The first sight of the Vicarage Road stand was impressive.  Coventry had been given the whole end and their fans had come in droves, which was great to see.

Gathering for a corner

The team news had come through in the West Herts and there had been a game of “guess the line-up”.  It has to be said that nobody was scoring highly.  I was probably alone in welcoming the selection of Gomes in goal but, after his incredible service to us, I couldn’t bear the thought of his last game being the cup final.

The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Foulquier; Pereyra, Chalobah, Quina, Sarr; Welbeck, Success.  Watford Academy graduate, Brandon Mason, started for the visitors.

The first thing that I noted down was some lovely footwork from Quina, but the first chance of the game fell to the visitors as the Watford defence stopped, expecting a free kick to be awarded to Coventry, but the referee played advantage allowing O’Hare to break forward and unleash a shot that was wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played in Welbeck, but the shot was high and wide.  The best chance of the game so far came on the half hour with a cracking shot from Pereyra that required a smart save by Wilson in the Coventry goal.  The resulting corner tested the keeper, but he managed to make the catch at the second attempt.

Goalscorer Sarr

The Hornets took the lead in the 36th minute when Success played a perfect through ball for Sarr who shot across Wilson into the opposite corner to score on his full debut.  At this point, the “How sh*t must you be …” song rang out from our fans.  That took the post-goal smile off my face.  Why do fans spend so much energy abusing the opposition instead of supporting their own team?  There was a scare for the Hornets when Chalobah missed a tackle allowing Kelly to break forward, but his shot from distance was well over the target.  The visitors had a chance to level the game in time added on at the end of the half as Dabo broke forward, but salvation came in the unexpected form of Success who was back to stop the shot and concede a corner that came to nothing.

At half-time, Marvin Sordell, who had previously played for both sides, was the guest on the field.  I well remember watching him as a youngster and have been saddened by news of his mental health struggles over the years which have led to his premature retirement from the game.  I am delighted that he was given a tremendous reception as he walked along the front of the Rookery.

Celebrating Janmaat’s goal

The visitors made a change at half-time replacing Mason with McCallum.  They also had the first chance of the half, but a tackle from Janmaat ensured that a dangerous through ball into the box came to nothing.   Sarr looked to have lost the ball, due to a heavy touch, but raced down the wing after it and was able to put in a cross for Welbeck who had a couple of defenders on him so was unable to shoot.  Welbeck had another chance soon after when the ball came back to him via Janmaat, but his overhead kick was wide of the target.  A poor back pass from Mariappa nearly put the Hornets in trouble, but Gomes was out quickly to make the clearance.  Sarr went on another run and crossed, this time for Quina, but the youngster skyed his shot.  Coventry threatened with a low cross from Eccles, but Gomes was able to make the save.  Watford threatened again after a cross from Foulquier was blocked but fell to Chalobah whose shot was deflected over the target.    Ten minutes into the half, Watford scored a second goal as Success found Janmaat who advanced and hit a lovely shot into the top corner.  I breathed a sigh of relief at this point.  I know that 2-0 is a dangerous score, but surely the game was now ours.  Watford continued to attack as Sarr went on a brilliant run before crossing for Success whose shot was blocked.

Congratulating Penaranda after his wonder goal

Coventry made a second substitution bringing Godden on for Kastaneer.  The substitute tried to make a name for himself, but his shot was well over the bar.  Each side made a change on 64 minutes as Peñaranda replaced Pereyra for the home side and Eccles made way for Shipley for the visitors.  There was another lovely move from the Hornets as Sarr released Janmatt who found Welbeck who appeared to get the ball caught under his feet before shooting just wide.  The third goal came on 69 minutes and was a beauty from Peñaranda who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and powered it into the top corner.  Gracia introduced another new face as Sarr was replaced by Dele-Bashiru, who almost scored with his first touch of the game after receiving a lovely pass from Success, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The only caution of the game went to Dabo, who was booked for a foul on Success.  Chalobah stepped up to take the free kick and it was a wonderful attempt, but Wilson made the save.  Peñaranda had a chance to increase the lead further, but his shot cleared the bar.  Another lovely move involving Peñaranda and Janmaat deserved a better outcome, but the shot from the Dutchman cleared the bar.  A rare second half attack from the visitors finished with O’Hare going down after a series of challenges, but nothing was given.  The Hornets had one last chance in the game as Janmaat went on a lovely run before putting in a cross, but there was no Watford man to get on the end of it and it was headed clear.

Tom Dele-Bashiru

So at last a win, our first since the trip to Huddersfield in April.  It may have been against lower division opposition, but it was convincing and therapeutic.  All three goals were gorgeous, and it was great to see Sarr and Peñaranda getting their first goals for the club.  It was also pleasing to see a clean sheet at last.  A lot of the football was impressive, demonstrating the depth of our squad, but the only player that I would consider for a start on Saturday is Janmaat who was superb.  That said, I look forward to Sarr and Welbeck gaining full fitness as they will be a lot of fun to watch.

A special mention must go to the Coventry fans who, despite having little to cheer, were loud and proud in support of their team throughout the game.

But the most important news of the evening was that Evie enjoyed her first football match.  She would love to come again, although my suggestion that, as she is now our lucky mascot, she should make the trip to Newcastle fell on deaf ears, and that was before she heard about the steps to the away end.  Youngsters!!

A Goal at Last, but No Points

Gathering for a corner

After the poor start to the season, the last thing that I needed to hear before this game was that Deeney was out after surgery and Doucouré and Pereyra were both doubtful due to injury.  I had not been very hopeful anyway, but any vestiges of confidence disappeared completely.

I arrived at the West Herts at my usual time to see Don already in place, the rest of our crew gathered slowly.  When the team news came through, a bloke at the other end of the table told his friends that they wouldn’t want to see it.  So, I was rather relieved to discover that Gracia had been forced to make only the two changes with Cleverley and Gray coming in for Pereyra and Deeney.  Doucouré had passed a late fitness test.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Dawson, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Hughes; Gray.  Record signing, Sarr, was to make his first appearance on the bench.

As the teams came out, the Audentior banner was run up the centre of the Rookery.

After the past few games, when Foster has been wearing a disturbing shade of orange, it was good to see him sporting a blue shirt.  Maybe this would herald a change in our fortunes.

Cleverley congraulates Gray on his goal

Those hopes were dashed in a mad first couple of minutes.  First Deulofeu tumbled in the West Ham box, the penalty appeal was waved away.  The visitors then broke down the other end of the pitch, Cathcart put in a welcome tackle, but the ball broke to Lanzini who went down under a challenge from Doucouré and the referee pointed to the spot.  The crowd in the Rookery behind the goal, tried their best to put Noble off, but he sent Foster the wrong way and the visitors were ahead.  The Hornets had a great chance for an equaliser when Femenía surged down the wing, the ball reached Deulofeu by way of Hughes and Gray, but his shot hit the top of the crossbar, I felt that he should have done better.  Watford had a really good spell of possession at this point, but the next chance fell to the visitors as Anderson broke forward and found Lanzini whose flicked shot was just wide.  From the goal kick, Watford had a great chance to level the score, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked by Diop.  A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Doucouré being put behind for a corner which came to nothing.  The equaliser came in the 17th minute when Hughes played in Gray who shot across Fabianski into the opposite corner.  It was lovely to have a goal to celebrate at last and, given the positive way that we were playing, I now felt that we could get something from this game.

Cleverley getting into position while Kiko is distracted

Gray had a decent chance to grab a second soon after, but his shot was wild and flew high and wide.  At the other end, West Ham’s record signing Haller attempted an overhead kick, but Foster was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, there was a break in the game for the players to take on water and cool down a bit.  The rehydration was certainly needed, as the game had been end-to-end and played at quite a pace.  The match restarted with a decent chance for the Hornets as Holebas put a great cross in for Gray, but the shot was terrible and flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Anderson tried his luck with a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.  The corner was met by the head of Ogbonna, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  There were appeals for a penalty as Gray appeared to be fouled in the box while attempting to get on the end of a cross from Holebas.  It was clear that the referee was checking via VAR, but he indicated that the previously awarded throw-in should go ahead.  Watford created another good chance as Deulofeu played the ball out to Femenía, who put in a lovely cross for Doucouré whose header was deflected for a corner.  The delivery from Holebas fell to Cleverley who shanked it way over the bar.  The visitors should have increased their lead from a corner as Anderson’s shot came back off the inside of the far post, much to my relief.

So, the half-time whistle went with the score level.  It had been an entertaining half of football with some lovely play from the Hornets but, as is so often the case, the finishing was wasteful.

During the break, there was a presentation about the WFC Community Trust’s Golden Memories programme.  This is aimed at people with mild to moderate dementia and “will use a host of memorabilia and magic moments to stimulate the senses and evoke personal memories”.  This was introduced by Hannah Foster who is the contact point for the programme (Hannah.foster@watfordfc.com) with a guest appearance by Watford legend Tom Walley, who is suffering from dementia.  I was delighted at the reception that Tom was given as he waved appreciatively to the crowd.

Capoue and Cleverley wait for the ball in

The first attack of the second half came from the Hornets, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked with a number in the Rookery claiming that it was stopped by a hand.  The referee did not agree.  At the other end Yarmolenko tried a looping shot, but Foster parried and then gathered at the second attempt.  The Hornets should have taken the lead ten minutes into the half when a lovely ball from Deulofeu released Gray who rounded the goalkeeper before crossing for Hughes, who looked to have an easy tap in from close range but managed to knock the ball wide.  West Ham made their first substitution as Antonio replaced Yarmolenko.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact as he bore down on goal, but Foster came out to block the shot and then followed up to make a tackle outside the box and clear the ball.  Watford had another excellent chance as Hughes played a lovely ball back to Deulofeu in the box, but the shot was straight at Fabianski.  The first booking of the game went to Holebas (of course) for a poor tackle on Antonio.  A minute later, the visitors retook the lead with a goal that was gifted to them by poor defending.  Anderson was allowed to waltz into the box without a challenge before pulling the ball back for Haller to score.  It was incredibly dispiriting after some excellent attacking work by the Hornets.  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Gray whose effort was just wide of the far post.

Sarr and Welbeck waiting to come on

The Hornets threatened again after Cleverley made a tackle in midfield and advanced down the wing, the ball found its way to Deulofeu whose shot was easily caught by Fabianski.  A nasty looking foul on Cleverley was not penalised, allowing the visitors to break, the resultant shot was deflected for a corner.  Antonio was allowed a free header from Anderson’s delivery, Foster made an excellent save to keep it out, but he conceded another corner.  Again, from the corner, Foster was equal to the header from Antonio, but he could only tip it onto the bar and Haller scored the rebound.  While all this was going on, Welbeck and Sarr had been on the sidelines waiting to come on.  They finally replaced Deulofeu and Hughes, but it looked like the substitutions were too late for the Hornets.  Welbeck’s first meaningful attack was stopped short as he was taken down by Ogbonna, who was booked for his trouble.  The visitors made a second substitution with Fornals replacing Anderson who angered the home fans by walking across the pitch instead of leaving at the touchline where he had been standing.  Some good work from Sarr created a chance for Cleverley who spun and shot just over the target.  Cleverley then turned provider, playing in Doucouré whose shot was saved by Fabianski.  Watford continued to create chances as a corner reached Gray, who held off the defender before hitting a shot that was just wide of the target.  Each side made a final substitution as Quina replaced Cleverley for the home side and Lanzini made way for Sanchez for the visitors.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit after a foul on Welbeck, but the free kick from Holebas was cleared to Capoue whose shot from distance flew over the bar.  The final whistle went to boos from a good number of the home fans who had remained in the ground.

Our first sight of record signing, Sarr

Back at the West Herts, our numbers were depleted as some of our group had made a rapid departure.  But, as Jacque and I were going to have to get trains home that were likely to be packed with celebrating West Ham fans, we decided to have a couple of drinks to let the crowds disperse.

The post-match mood was sombre.  As last week against Everton, we faced a team that we could and should have beaten, but we were undone by our lack of clinical finishing and the generosity of our defence.  Dawson is getting a lot of criticism, but he was left exposed by Femenía who certainly adds to our attacking options but is so often missing in defence.  I was encouraged by a lot of the forward play but, too often, the players wait for the perfect sight of goal and end up losing out to a defender.

As I sat there sulking, I commented to one of the West Herts regulars that I hate football.  This started a conversation in which the complaints about the current performances were followed by reminiscences of watching football in the Furphy years, terrible pitches and away trips to Workington and Torquay with less than friendly welcomes from the locals.  We then got on to a discussion of recent owners and how close we were to not having a club at all and suddenly the day’s defeat didn’t seem so bad.  I have watched with horror the goings on at Bolton and Bury in recent months.  Knowing how easily that could have been our fate, I find it hard to get too despondent about a couple of Premier League defeats.  I have every confidence that we can turn this poor run of form around and in years to come we will be looking back on these as the good old days.

 

Another Defeat at Goodison Park

Troy leading the team out at Goodison Park

As is usual for games in Liverpool, I went up on Friday to see an old friend.  Lots of catching up and a scary amount of reminiscing about a play that we were involved in during sixth form and a pub that we both worked in.  The locals were a cast of characters whose names and catch phrases we both remembered, while struggling to recall what play I saw last week (actually, it was Blues in the Night at the Kiln Theatre, very good).

Saturday lunchtime, I bid them farewell before heading to the designated pub.  As planned, I arrived just before 1 and was greeted with questions about where on earth I had been to be so late.  Our travelling group was rather depleted for this game, but we were joined by the Happy Valley crowd so the turnout was respectable.  As usual, both the beer and the food were excellent, but we were a little concerned that there was no sign of the shuttle buses to the ground that are usually lined up outside.  On leaving the pub we spotted a steward who directed us to the new boarding place, so we were at Goodison in plenty of time.  As we passed through the fan zone, it was lovely to hear Z-cars, even if it wasn’t for us.

Foster takes a free kick

Team news was that Gracia had made only one change from the Brighton game with Pereyra in for Gray.  So, Watford’s starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  Dropping Gray seemed a bit harsh after his great pre-season, it wasn’t his fault that he had no service last week.  That said, it was pleasing to see both Quina and Welbeck on the bench.  The home side had Richarlison in the starting line-up and, of course, our previous manager in the dug-out.

Everton had placed flags at each seat in the home stands which were to be waved as the players emerged from the tunnel.  It has to be said that they were not a patch on the flags at Vicarage Road.  Maybe we were unlucky with our positioning, but we were surrounded by some of the worst of our fan base and started the game with our ears being assaulted by an abusive song aimed at Silva.  Now I have no love at all for the man, but he won’t give a damn what we think about him (that was obvious when he left), neither will the Everton fans, so chanting abuse at him is totally futile and detracts from supporting our own team.

Roberto Pereyra

The Hornets started well and had an early chance as Deulofeu won a tackle in the midfield, then hared upfield before trying to play Deeney in, but, unfortunately, the pass was overhit.  The Watford defence were guilty of complacency as they paid no attention when an Everton corner looked to be rolling out on the opposite side of the goal, they had missed the presence of Digne who managed to keep the ball in before shooting just wide of the near post.   Everton took the lead in the 10th minute and it was too easy.  Digne found Bernard on the left, he cut inside, moved the ball onto his right foot and slotted it just inside the near post.  At the time, it looked as though Foster should have done better, but his view was likely blocked by the defenders and it seems that the shot also took a deflection.  But it was not a good start and, given our record at Goodison Park, I was not hopeful.  The first booking of the game also went to the home side as Coleman was cautioned for a foul on Pereyra.  Watford had a great chance to score an equaliser as a deep corner from Holebas was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort rebounded off the crossbar.  There was a half-hearted appeal for a penalty from the home side as Calvert-Lewin tumbled in the box, but the referee was having none of it and VAR didn’t get involved.  At this point the chants for Danny Welbeck started in the away end.

Lining up to meet a free kick

The next caution of the game was earned by Capoue for a foul on former teammate, Richarlison.  The lively Deulofeu made another foray into the Everton box, but was crowded out by the defence.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position as Hughes was fouled on the edge of the box, but Holebas wasted the chance with his delivery flying wide of the far post.  Watford also had a shout for a penalty as Deulofeu went down in the box.  On this occasion VAR was invoked, which prompted a loud voice behind me to declare that they were never going to give the penalty as they wouldn’t humiliate the referee.  I must say that this was a new take on VAR for me.  Maybe they had a point, though, as the penalty wasn’t given.  The Hornets had a great chance to draw level as Deeney played the ball back to Capoue whose powerful shot required a decent save from Pickford to keep it out.   At the other end, Richarlison should have extended the lead for the home side as he got on the end of a free kick from Sigurdsson and was allowed a free header which, thankfully, cleared the bar.  Some good work from Pereyra on the left led to him winning a free kick.  The delivery from Deulofeu was excellent, but Capoue was unable to connect so the chance went begging.  In time added on at the end of the half, Hughes found Deeney whose shot was blocked, he claimed by a hand, but the referee wasn’t moved.

So we reached half time a goal down, although the performance from the Hornets was considerably better than last week, and we were unlucky to be behind.  As the substitutes came out to warm-up during the break, there were cheers and applause for Welbeck.

Deulofeu prepares to take a free kick

The second half started with a card for Gomes for a foul on Capoue.  Watford had a great chance to equalise when Capoue broke forward and found Deulofeu, who played a lovely ball through to Deeney, who was one on one with the goalkeeper, but his shot was blocked by Pickford’s face.  So frustrating (and painful for the Everton keeper).   Holebas then picked up his booking, again for a foul on Richarlison.  The young Brazilian had a chance to extend their lead but, again, his header from a free kick was over the bar.  On the hour mark, Pereyra wasted a decent attack by theatrically falling to the ground due to the presence of Sigurdsson.  It was a pathetic dive and thoroughly deserving of the yellow card that was brandished. The first substitution was made by the home side as Walcott replaced Richarlison, the former Watford man leaving the field to jeers from the hard of thinking among the away crowd.  Another decent chance for the Hornets ended with a bit of head tennis as Doucouré knocked the ball on to Pereyra whose effort cleared the bar.  Gracia made his first substitution on 67 minutes bringing Welbeck on for his debut in place of Hughes.  Danny’s first touch was less than accomplished and, hey presto, the ‘answer’ was transformed into a donkey in the eyes of some in our vicinity.

Welbeck waits for the ball to drop

For the home side Kean replaced Calvert-Lewin and, almost immediately, Silva was forced to make his final substitution as an injury to Digne meant he had to be replaced by Holgate.  Welbeck’s next contribution was decent enough as he found Deulofeu but the Spaniard’s shot was well over the bar.  That was Gerry’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Cleverley and, in contrast to the jeering of Richarlison by a large number of those in the away end, he was applauded off by the Everton fans.  Watford wasted another chance to get back on terms when Femenía put in a decent cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to meet it, so it was an easy catch for Pickford.  Gracia made a final change for the Hornets bringing Gray on for Capoue, meaning there were 3 strikers on the pitch.  Unfortunately, it did not lead to a goal with the best chance coming when a shot from Deeney was blocked and broke to Doucouré but his shot was well wide of the target.  Everton had a chance to increase their lead when Kean went on a dangerous run but, as so often in this game, the shot was well wide.  Kean had another chance to increase the Everton lead in time added on and, from my vantage point, I thought that the ball was in the net and had been ruled out for offside.  Replays showed that it had rolled just the other side of the post.  The final whistle went on a narrow defeat and, thankfully, there was just a smattering of boos.

Etienne Capoue

We headed back into town for a quick drink prior to catching the train home.  The post-match consensus was that we were unlucky not to get a point from the game.  While it wasn’t a great performance, it was considerably better than the previous week and there were certainly some positives.  The midfield looked far more effective, particularly Deulofeu, but the defence remained fragile.  The two Craigs do not seem to be gelling.  That said, Everton’s shooting was pretty woeful throughout the game.   The biggest disappointment was that they were there for the taking, but we couldn’t capitalise as their defence was the difference between the teams.

There was also some discussion of the away crowd.  The protracted and pathetic abuse of Silva and Richarlison contrasted badly with the warm reception that the Everton fans gave both Deulofeu and Cleverley.  Then, when they weren’t abusing former players, they turned on ours.  Dawson seems to be a particular target for the boo boys at the moment, but what really rankled was the moaning about Welbeck.  He is clearly rusty and will take a while to get back to fitness, but he looks like he will be a great asset to us.  I am already excited about his partnership with Deeney, and there were some early signs that they are already forming an understanding.

So we finish the weekend bottom of the Premier League due to our name starting with W, although the table is not worth a look until at least four games have been played.  I hope at that stage things are looking a bit brighter or I might have to stop going to away games as the moaning is bad for my health.

 

Disappointing Defeat to Start the Season

Sarr visits the lower GT

During the week, I changed trains at Embankment station and found myself looking at a poster for Sky Sports which featured a large photo of Troy Deeney.  I sat staring at it, feeling ridiculously proud.  I am sure that when Troy was working as a brickie he never imagined himself as captain of a Premier League team and that he would be a poster boy for Sky.  But he has worked incredibly hard for his success and has become a real role model.  I am delighted for him and a poster like this will always make me smile.

After the appetiser last week, it was back to the West Herts to prepare for a proper football match.  Our party gradually gathered and the mood was positive.  The transfer window has been a good one for us.  The arrival of both Sarr and Welbeck this week was very welcome.  The Welbeck signing came out of nowhere and seems to be an excellent piece of business.  Added to that, we have kept all of our key players, so come into this season stronger than we finished last.  Then, to make us all even happier, sweetie man, Glenn, arrived with a bag of freshly made pork scratchings that he gets from his local butcher.  They are absolutely gorgeous and always welcome.  The one negative for me going into the new season was the introduction of VAR.  I have always been against the technology.  Football is not a game that stops and starts, so is not suited to lengthy reviews.  I have experienced them as a baseball fan in the US, and never been convinced that they always lead to ‘correct’ decisions.  Also the idea that the spontaneity of goal celebrations may be impacted due to the wait for confirmation really bothers me.  If the lino has his flag down, I am gone.  My first experience of VAR in the Premier League was watching the West Ham vs Man City game in the West Herts and the interruptions were attracting a lot of negative comment and irritating me immensely.

Gathering for a corner

As Trond was away, I had the honour of accompanying Don to the ground.  As we reached the disabled entrance, the young steward who, to be fair to her, had never seen me before asked if I was into football.  “Well, I’m a season ticket holder and have been coming here for 40 years, so ….”  She looked suitably embarrassed.  Entering through the opposite end of the Rookery to normal, I was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym.  It was like old times, I must admit that I still miss seeing her in Bill Mainwood’s programme hut.

Team news was that there would not be debuts for either of the new signings with the only change from the Real Sociedad game being the return of Deulofeu in place of Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Feminía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu; Gray, Deeney.  Even if we weren’t to see them on the pitch, Welbeck and Sarr were introduced to the crowd before the game and were given a very warm welcome.

Just before the teams took to the field, Z-cars rang out and was greeted with cheers throughout the ground.  At last the club have seen sense.  I wasn’t to know at that point, that it would be the highlight of the afternoon.

Holebas takes a throw in

The game started positively and there was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu showed some quick feet to get himself into position and then took a shot from the edge of the area which was well over the crossbar.  The first shot on target fell to the visitors, but Locadia’s effort was straight at Foster.  The Hornets immediately launched a counter attack, Deeney was tackled, the ball fell to Hughes, who was also closed down, the ball fell to Deeney again, he managed to get in a shot, but it was easily saved by Ryan.  There was a great chance for the visitors as Stephens played the ball out to Propper whose shot was only just over the crossbar.  Watford then had a great opportunity as the ball broke to Deulofeu who charged into the box, but was tracked all the way by Duffy and eventually went down under a challenge.  He called for a penalty, but his appeal was waved away.  Brighton took the lead with a bizarre goal.  From the other end of the pitch, it appeared that the initial cross was going out for a goal kick when Holebas headed it back in, it reached Groß whose cross was turned in by Doucouré.  It was a poor goal to concede, but there was plenty of time to recover and Watford tried to break back immediately as Doucouré looked to make amends by finding Hughes in the box, but Will was being challenged and could only shoot wide of the near post.  The visitors looked to increase their lead when a dangerous looking cross came in from Groß, Foster did well to make the catch as Murray challenged.  At the other end Capoue tried a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  Capoue then played Femenía in, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  The Spaniard had another chance from the set piece as Ryan’s punch dropped to him, but this time his shot cleared the bar.  Watford nearly grabbed an equaliser before half time as a free kick from Holebas appeared to be heading for the goal until Ryan stretched to get a hand to it and keep it out.

Deulofeu and Capoue

It had been a disappointing half of football, but we were only a goal down and I was hopeful that the second half would see a similar turnaround to the previous week.

For half time entertainment, we had the introduction of the dizzy kicks competition.  Bizarrely, it was won by the only bloke who failed to score.  He was given the win due to getting the loudest cheer from the crowd!!  Now, not that I am biased as I know one of the lads who was defeated, but the rules need to be examined as that can’t be right.

Gracia made a substitution at the break bringing a bleached blond Pereyra on for Deulofeu.  I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this change, replacing like with like, but was happy to see Roberto tracking back and fighting for possession.  The Hornets should have drawn level early in the half as Femenía nipped in while a defender was shepherding the ball out, he dribbled around him on the by-line before pulling the ball back for Gray whose shot was blocked on the line by a combination of Dunk and Ryan.

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was brought down on the edge of the box.  Pereyra took the free kick, which hit the wall prompting him to shout for a penalty.  I had already moved on when the scoreboard informed us that VAR was checking for the penalty, and then confirmed that it was not a penalty.  It all seemed rather pointless.  If a penalty is awarded, I want to see the referee pointing to the spot and, if not, waving it away, the series of statements on the big screen just irritated me.  Brighton made a double substitution on 64 minutes with Andone and Maupay replacing Locadia and Murray.  The visitors got a second goal almost immediately as Holebas failed to stop a cross from Groß allowing Andone to score with his first touch of the game.  At this point, the Brighton fans started a chant of “We’re gonna win the league.”  Watford tried to reduce the deficit with a deep cross that was met by the head of Dawson, but Ryan was equal to it.  Gracia made another substitution as Success replaced Gray, again this seemed like an odd change as the problem was not the finishing but the creation of chances.  Sure enough, it was the visitors who got a third as a through ball was played to Maupay who rounded Foster to score on his debut.  At this point there were loud boos from the Watford fans and the ground started to empty.  Success was almost gifted a chance to get one back through a terrible back pass from Dunk, but Ryan was first to the ball.  There was one last chance to spare our blushes as Pereyra was tripped on the edge of the box and Dunk received the first booking of the game.  Pereyra’s free kick rebounded off the wall, the follow-up reached Dawson but, again, the shot was blocked on the line.  When 4 minutes of added time was announced, there were loud boos from the Watford fans.  The only action during added time was the appearance of Bernardo in place of March for the visitors.

Pereyra and Capoue prepare for a free kick

The final whistle went to boos from the Watford faithful and, while the Brighton players spent some time celebrating with their fans, the Watford players disappeared pretty quickly.  But, fair play to Deeney, he did his usual lap of the pitch to applaud the fans in each stand and, despite the anger and disappointment in the crowd, he was warmly applauded for it.

The crowd back at the West Herts were subdued.  It had been a very disappointing performance with nothing to redeem it.  Hughton-era Brighton were difficult to play against as they defended resolutely, and that hasn’t changed under the new manager.  They gave the Watford players no space in which to play and this team has always struggled against teams who close them down.  The midfield was smothered and any promising passages of play finished with passes going astray.  But Potter has added some attacking prowess, so Brighton look to be a much better team than they were last season and we were all taken a little by surprise.  The main disappointment, though, was the fact that we have so much talent in the team but were given a completely lacklustre performance.  I was also disappointed in the substitutions.  Given how the midfield was struggling, it seemed pointless to replace Deulofeu with Pereyra, I thought that Cleverley would have been a better bet as he could offer something different.  Also, given that Gray has been on fire in pre-season, it seemed unlikely that Success would be a better bet up front.  Anyway, with a visit to Everton next week (we never win there), I am trying to convince myself that we can’t possibly be that bad two weeks in a row.  But, if we are, at least Everton is a cracking day out.

 

A Win at Last in the Graham Taylor Cup

Happy memories of meeting GT and Rita

Having been unable to make the trip to Austria and then being in the US for work last week, this was my first game of this pre-season and I was really looking forward to seeing some live football.  As much as anything, I wished to displace the memory of the Cup Final as the last game that I had seen.  The flashbacks are still a cause of some distress.  While on the train, I received a message from Don (well before midday) informing me that the West Herts was open.  I arrived at my usual time to find Don at “our” table and all was right with the world.

We headed for the ground earlier than usual with the intention of buying this season’s new shirts (although I am not a fan as yet, and the shirts without a pre-printed name and number were hard to find).  As we arrived at the stadium, it was lovely to bump into Dave M and Miles for a catch up.  Then Olly Wicken appeared brandishing the new Watford Treasury, which saved me heading back down Vicarage Road to find a copy.  If you don’t already have one, it really is a magnificent publication.

This being the GT memorial game, there was time to pay respects to the great man and to admire the yellow and red flowers that had been placed in his hands, which was rather lovely.

A family photo with GT last season

Once inside the ground, we headed for our usual spot in the Rookery (if not our usual seats).  The first notable difference was the big screens which have been added to the Vicarage Road and Rookery Stands.  They look very good and should be visible from all areas of the ground.  Hopes that Z-cars would be reinstated were cruelly dashed as the players took the field to “I’m Still Standing” and, as has happened at all games since the change, the pulse failed to quicken.  I remain baffled at this decision which has no apparent benefit but has been a detriment to the matchday experience for many.

Before the game, Rita Taylor and her grandson, Jake, were on the pitch for the minute’s applause for GT.  They were then introduced to the players as GT’s favourite song, Buddy Holly’s Raining in my Heart, was played over the tannoy.  I must admit to having tears in my eyes at this point.

Hughes holding on to the ball

Watford’s starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Sema; Gray, Deeney.

Real Sociedad were playing in green shirts that looked very similar to our last season’s away shirts, which did give an impression of two Watford XIs lining up in a practice match.

The visitors almost made the perfect start as a cross from Ødegaard was headed goalwards by Willian José and it took a very good save from Foster to keep the game goalless.  Real Sociedad threatened again with a shot from Merino that flew over the bar.  The visitors should have taken the lead when the ball was played through to Oyarzabel, Foster was out of his goal so the Real man had an open net to aim at, but he opted to flick the ball goalwards and it was with some relief that we saw it roll wide of the far post.  Watford’s first shot on goal came after 20 minutes with a shot from distance on the left from Holebas, but the Real keeper, Remiro, was down to make the save.  The visitors had another decent chance with a shot from distance from Merino that was just wide of the target.

Holebas and Doucoure prepare for a free kick

The breakthrough came when Zaldúa bounced off Sema in the box and the referee, Craig Pawson, pointed to the spot.  There was some moaning near me in the Rookery but, while it may have been soft, it was a definite penalty.  The crowd behind the goal in the Rookery tried to put Oyarzabel off, but he sent Foster the wrong way to give the visitors a deserved lead.  Watford tried to hit back as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Dawson, but the keeper was equal to it.  The visitors then won a free kick in a dangerous position, Ødegaard hit his effort through the wall, but Foster gathered easily.  Real Sociedad should have increased their lead on the stroke of half time as Merino met a corner from Ødegaard with a header that rebounded off the inside of the far post to safety.

The half time whistle went after a half in which the visitors had most of the possession, but the Watford defence had been solid.  Foster had pulled off a couple of decent saves and the first impression of Craig Dawson was a very good one.

Hughes, the provider, congratulates Gray on his goal

Those who spent too long at the bar/concessions/loo at half time missed the equaliser that came 3 minutes into the second half.  Hughes played a lovely through ball to Gray who held off the defender and finished (apparently with the help of a deflection).  Ten minutes into the second half, the Hornets had a great chance to take the lead as the ball broke to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked, the ball rebounded to Deeney but his shot was well over the target.  The visitors had another chance with a shot from Portu that hit the side netting.  The resulting goal kick was taken down by Deeney who fed Gray, but the shot was well wide of the far post.   Real Sociedad almost capitalised on a mistake by Doucouré which allowed Isak to escape upfield, he passed to José, who was frustrated by Foster, but the ball broke back to Isak whose shot was cleared off the line by Holebas.  Isak had another chance to regain the lead for the visitors soon after, but Foster made the stop.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead with three shots in quick succession, but the efforts from Deeney and Sema were blocked, while Remiro saved Capoue’s effort.  The visitors had made numerous changes, but Gracia waited until the 76th minute to make his first substitution, replacing Sema with Cleverley.  He then brought Janmaat on for Holebas (I still don’t recognise Janmaat without curls).  Just when it appeared that the GT game would end in a draw yet again, Capoue played a lovely ball over the top to Gray who ran on, beat the defender and finished past Remiro to send the Watford fans home happy.

Deeney and Doucoure congratulate Gray after scoring the winning goal

After the full-time whistle, Rita and Jake were back on the pitch to present a salver to the visitors and the trophy to Troy Deeney.  There were smiles all round and it was lovely to see the warmth in the interaction between Troy and Rita, who are old friends by now.

On the way out of the Rookery, I was delighted to bump into an old friend from my days of taking the supporter’s coaches.  She doesn’t go to many away games these days meaning that our paths rarely cross, so it was a real treat to see her.

On the way back up Occupation Road, there were the usual crowds outside the players’ entrance.  It has to be said that Janmaat was allowed to disappear without much fuss, but Deulofeu was kept rather longer.  I suspect that this was a result of people wanting photos of his outfit, which was an interesting choice with matching top and trousers which to me looked as though they were made from his grandmother’s curtains, although I am not a dedicated follower of fashion.

Craig Dawson

Back in the West Herts, the post-match consensus was that it had been a very enjoyable game.  Real Sociedad had been good opposition and, with their pace and attacking prowess in the first half, it looked as though we would be well beaten, but a decent defensive performance kept the score down.  The Hornets put in a considerably better performance in the second half and were well worthy of the win.  Gray was particularly impressive up front, always willing and he took his two goals very well indeed.  While pre-season results are meaningless, it is good for morale to start the season following a win.

Bring on the Brighton.