As always, a kick-off at an odd time on a Sunday puts my pre-match routine completely out. I planned to get to the West Herts at about 11 and was delighted that I achieved my aim. The streets of Watford were absolutely deserted as I walked there and I thought I would be the first to arrive, but Jacque was already at a table and there were a good few others sitting around, some of whom had arrived at 10, when they opened, “to get a table”. I think the strange kick-off time had confused the caterers as the jerk chicken was very late in being ready, but it was delivered with a smile in the nick of time.
We arrived in the ground at our usual time, just before kick-off, which meant that we missed the introduction of the new manager and the Player and Supporter of the Season awards. The fact that Kamara, who has only been with us since January, won the popular vote, tells you everything about this season. I voted for Ben Foster, who came second, but it had been a close thing for me.
Team news had been that there were no changes from the Everton game, but there was a late injury to Samir who was then replaced by Cathcart. So, the starting XI was Foster, Ngakia, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Kayembe, Gosling, Sissoko; Kalu, Sema, João Pedro.
The Hornets took an early lead as a Kalu corner hit Tielemans and dropped to João Pedro whose shot deflected in off Castagne to send the Watford fans wild. Oh, it was wonderful to celebrate a goal. The visitors looked to hit back immediately with a shot across goal from Dewsbury-Hall to which Maddison was unable to apply the finishing touch. The Hornets could have increased their lead when a corner from Sema fell to Masina, but his effort came back off the bar. Soon after, a cross from Ngakia was prodded goalwards by João Pedro who was denied by a great save from Ward in the Leicester goal. At the other end, Maddison tried a shot from distance, but it was well over the target. The visitors were level on 18 minutes, a defensive header from Cathcart dropped to Tielemens who squared for Maddison to beat Foster. Leicester’s second came from another terrible bit of defending, Kayembe played a loose ball to Maddison who played a lofted pass to Vardy, Foster came out to meet it, missed and Vardy headed it over him and into the net. At the other end, João Pedro chipped the ball into the box, it was deflected to Gosling who shot just over the bar. The visitors had a great chance to increase their lead, but Castagne shot well over the bar. Then Vardy released Castagne who advanced and shot but his effort was blocked by Foster. Leicester continued to threaten as a corner was cleared but only as far as Dewsbury-Hall who crossed for Castagne who headed wide of the target. At the other end, João Pedro played a lovely through ball to Gosling, but Castagne made the block. Then João Pedro tried a shot from the edge of the area that cleared the bar. Kalu had a great chance to equalise when confusion in the Leicester defence left him in a dangerous position, but he mishit the shot and the chance went begging.
So, we went into half time 2-1 down, while Norwich were ahead against Wolves. If the scores stayed the same, the Hornets would be bottom of the table at the end of the game.
There were a couple more awards presented during the break. First Shaq Forde won Young Player of the Season, which was presented to him by Jimmy Gilligan. Then Luther, who had been given a tremendous reception as he walked along the front of the Rookery, presented the Goal of the Season award to Cucho for his terrific bicycle kick against Arsenal.
At the start of the second half, Player of the Season, Kamara, replaced Gosling. For the visitors, Mendy made way for Albrighton. Leicester scored immediately after the restart as a deep cross from Albrighton was volleyed home by Barnes. The Hornets looked to hit back as a free kick from Sema was met by the head of João Pedro whose effort was over the bar. João Pedro threatened again with a shot from outside the area that was caught by Ward. At the other end Dewsbury-Hall played a lovely through ball for Vardy who shot into the side netting. The first booking of the game went to Tielemans for a foul on João Pedro. Kalu took the resultant free kick, but it was an easy catch for Ward.
Just before the hour mark Rodgers made a second substitution bringing Amartey on for Evans. The visitors then had a decent chance to score a fourth with a shot from distance by Dewsbury-Hall that flew just past the near post. Leicester threatened again with a cross from Maddison that was met by a diving header from Barnes which flew well wide of the target. At the other end, Sissoko played a lovely ball to João Pedro in the box, he unleashed a fierce shot that required a good save from Ward to keep it out. Sadly, the resultant corner was terrible. The Hornets had a half chance to pull one back with a ball into the box which was just too far in front of Kamara for him to apply the finishing touch. Instead, the visitors broke down the other end, Cathcart missed a long ball over the top from Barnes, Vardy got in behind the defence and latched onto it to beat Foster. The Hornets threatened to hit back with a cross from Ngakia that Ward had to be alert to push around the post. The resultant corner was headed over by Kabasele. Then a great cross from Ngakia was headed clear before it reached João Pedro who was lurking behind the defender. From a short corner, João Pedro had another decent shot, this one was caught by Ward. Then Kalu broke forward and played a lovely ball to João Pedro who unleashed another powerful shot but, again, it was met by a good save from Ward to keep it out. The Hornets continued to threaten the Leicester goal when a corner from Sema was headed just wide by Kabasele. With 10 minutes remaining, both sides made a change. Etebo replaced Sema for the Hornets and Daka came on for Vardy for the visitors. With 5 minutes to go, Leicester scored a fifth as Etebo lost the ball in the midfield, Maddison found Barnes who shot across Foster to compound the misery of the Hornet faithful. At this point the Leicester fans started a chorus of “Watford get battered everywhere they go,” the home fans joined in, much to my displeasure, although it was difficult to argue with the sentiment. The visitors had one last chance in time added on, as Barnes played a lovely ball to Daka whose powerful shot needed an impressive save from Foster to keep it out. The final whistle went to boos from the home stands.
The players did a lap of honour in front of the few that were left in the ground. It was a very muted affair compared to the usual end of season parade. On this occasion the players, very sensibly, kept their children out of the spotlight. There were cheers for Ben Foster on what would be his last appearance in a Watford shirt at Vicarage Road.
We said goodbye to our neighbours in the Rookery, wished them all a happy Summer and trudged back to the West Herts for the post-match inquest.
A defeat of that magnitude feels just awful, even though the scoreline flattered the visitors. It certainly seemed that nothing dropped for the Hornets. Ward was impressive in the Leicester goal, João Pedro certainly should have had more than just the one goal. The youngster put in a great shift and came away with a lot of credit. The defence on the other hand was awful. Mistakes galore making it too easy for Leicester’s brilliant front line. The aggregate score in the three games against Leicester this season has been 13-4, so it will be a relief not to have to face them next season.
Our home record of W2, D2, L15 has been dreadful. This was highlighted when Glenn pointed out that in the latter part of this season, he has driven 2600 miles to see us win a single point. But, as the beer flowed and we started chatting to those around us, the conversation took a philosophical turn. The fans there have all been supporting the Hornets for more years than we care to remember. Players and managers come and go, but the fans are a constant. We will see the same faces home and away next season, whatever is happening on the pitch. Win or lose, we will have a good day out with lovely people and that is what makes it all worthwhile.