We are still Family

Meeting Watford legend Ann Swanson

Having experienced 3 defeats before the international break, I approached this game with some trepidation.  West Ham have struggled so far this season, but they have a good squad and there was concern that the appointment of David Moyes would provide the “new manager bounce” that so often occurs.  There was also the worry that the speculation regarding Silva’s future could have an adverse impact on the team and there were certain fans on social media speculating about the crowd giving the coach a hard time.  As so often, I despair at the mentality of certain football fans.

But, before the trip to Vicarage Road, there were serious things to deal with at the West Herts.  “The game” was being played.  A glorified game of snap during which the first few to match cards pick from an array of beautifully wrapped gifts placed on the table, once those are gone it is a dog-eat-dog scenario and there are various little factions who plot against each other.  At the end of each round, the “winners” get to open their prizes, which are usually utter rubbish (by design) although the theme of this game was “J” which led to an inordinate number of jaffa cakes being on offer and the shocking revelation that one of our number doesn’t like jaffa cakes.  I am still reeling from that news.  As always, absent friends were toasted as we played.  Dee and Toddy were always enthusiastic players.

When the game was done, Alice introduced me to Jeff, one of the Denver Horns, who told me that he reads this blog.  It is always lovely to meet fellow Hornets and hear about their matchday experiences.  Having travelled so far, we were hoping that he was in for an enjoyable afternoon.

Celebrating the goal from Hughes (he is in there somewhere)

It is the 25th anniversary of Watford’s Community and Education Trust and the club had chosen this game to celebrate.  As part of the commemorations, they had invited Ann Swanson back as guest of honour.  Ann had run the Junior Hornets back in the 80s and her efforts in ensuring that youngsters had a safe environment in which to watch football helped a whole generation of fans develop a love for the game, many of whom are now bringing the next generation along.  While I am too old to have been part of this group, I did want to shake her hand and thank her for all that she had done.  While waiting, it was lovely to hear her greet a guy with, “You’re one of my Junior Hornets.”  She seemed thrilled, but the warmth of the young man’s greeting showed the great esteem in which she is held by her former charges.

Team news was that Holebas and Carrillo were making way for Mariappa and Zeegelaar, who was making his debut.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.

The game had barely kicked off when there was a lengthy delay as Zeegelaar required treatment after making contact with Carroll’s elbow.  He was down for a considerable time, so it was looking like possibly the shortest debut in history but, thankfully, after treatment he was fit to continue (with added nose plugs).  Watford took the lead in the 11th minute, Zeegelaar’s cross led to some pinball in the box, before Hughes buried it.  It was a tremendous strike and I couldn’t have been happier for him.

Britos and Carroll

West Ham created a chance soon after as Carroll met a cross from Zabaleta, but Gomes was equal to the shot.  Just before the half hour, Carroll had survived a couple of tackles when Richarlison appeared and took the ball off him, and was hacked down for his trouble.  It was a petulant reaction and not his first infringement of the afternoon, so there was some annoyance among the Watford fans when he was only shown a yellow card.  That annoyance turned to anger soon after as Britos was booked for a late tackle on Kouyaté.  The fury was somewhat misplaced as Britos deserved the booking, but it did look a tad harsh in the light of Carroll’s infringements.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead as Hughes played the ball out to Gray, but his cross-cum-shot from a narrow angle was easily gathered by Hart.  There was a better chance soon after as a terrific shot from Richarlison was saved, the rebound reached Femenía who shot just wide of the far post.  The petulance from the West Ham players wasn’t confined to Carroll as Arnautovic also reacted to being tackled by Cleverley by hacking him down and was booked.  Back to the beautiful game, there followed a lovely series of passes from the Watford players with Olé ringing out around the ground until the ball reached Britos and it was “Oh dear” as he launched the ball into Row Z.  The next West Ham booking went to Obiang for a trip on Hughes.

Gomes was a hero in goal

West Ham really should have equalized with 3 minutes to go to half time, as Noble played a through ball to Kouyaté, who only had Gomes to beat but, with heads already dropping in the Rookery, the Watford keeper managed to turn the shot around the post.  From the corner Watford broke upfield and Femenía crossed for Hughes whose volley was over the bar.  West Ham had another great chance to draw level in time added on at the end of the half, but Gomes was magnificent, first reacting brilliantly to stop a header from Arnautovic, then instinctively blocking the follow-up and catching the third attempt.  Those of us standing behind the goal who witnessed the saves were just looking at each other in disbelief that he had kept the ball out of the net.  Watford had a final chance to increase their lead just before half time, but Richarlison’s shot was just wide of the far post.

It had been a thoroughly entertaining half of football and, while Watford were good value for their lead, there had been a couple of golden chances for the visitors towards the end and the crowd were singing the name of Gomes in adoration.

Half time saw Ann Swanson being introduced on the pitch.  She spoke warmly about her time at the club and particularly the relationships with both GT and Elton who were great advocates and supporters of the Junior Hornets.  She received a tremendous ovation, which was just lovely.

A blurred Richarlison still celebrating after scoring

Watford had a great chance to increase their lead early in the second half as Femenía crossed for Gray, but Reid got a foot in to stop the shot.  At the other end a cross from Arnautovic was turned over the bar by Kouyaté.  Watford threatened again as Hughes played the ball back to Doucouré who hit a cracking shot that was just wide of the target.  Hughes then tried a shot himself, but it took a slight deflection off a West Ham head and was easy for Hart.  Gray was the next to try his luck, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford should have increased their lead as Mariappa met the delivery from Hughes with a header that Hart did well to keep out, it dropped to Richarlison who was almost on the goal line, I still have no idea how he didn’t turn it in but, somehow, the ball was cleared.  The young Brazilian made up for that mistake soon after as he went on a run before shooting across Hart and into the far corner.  His celebration showed how much it meant to him and was almost as passionate as that of my sister, who is married to a West Ham fan.  The goal certainly calmed some nerves in the home crowd and from that moment on, West Ham never looked like getting anything from the game.  The first change for the visitors came on 65 minutes with Sakho replacing Carroll who went off to boos from both ends of the ground and chants of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” from his own fans.

Cleverley, Richarlison and Kabasele

A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Doucouré that was saved by Hart.  The Watford fans were in a good mood at this point and thoughts turned to the man in the dugout whose name was chanted followed by a chorus of “Marco Silva, we want you to stay.”  There was another long break in the game following a nasty injury to Arnautovic, who was clearly in a lot of pain clutching his arm.  Thankfully, the stretcher wasn’t required and the post-match news was that he had broken a thumb, but he had to be replaced by Masuaku.  West Ham had a great chance to pull one back with a low shot from Lanzini, but Kabasele was there to clear it off the line.  At this point the away end vented their frustration starting with chants against Brady and Sullivan (I assume that they had started with Gold, but I missed that one) followed by “You destroyed our  *** club.”  I couldn’t help but sympathise, the move to Stratford seems to have ripped the soul from the club.  Back on the pitch, Zeegelaar, who had had a great game, took the ball down brilliantly on the wing and put in a lovely low cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to connect.  West Ham’s captain was the next to see yellow as Noble was booked for a trip on Richarlison.  Silva waited until the last five minutes of normal time to make his first substitution, bringing Pereyra on for Hughes.  The guy who sits next to me commented, “One magician for another,” which perfectly summed up the terrific performance from Hughes.  As this change was being made, there was a signal to the bench that Femenía was unable to continue, so he was replaced by Holebas.  Due to the injuries in the second half, there was 8 minutes of added time, but the only scoring chance worthy of note fell to the Hornets as Richarlison curled a shot just wide of the far post.  There was just time for Carrillo, fresh from racking up a boat load of air miles travelling to Peru’s World Cup qualification games against New Zealand, to come on in place of Gray.  Attention at this point turned to the TV studio adjacent to the Rookery.  The sight of Ighalo having his make-up done before appearing for the post-match analysis prompted changes of “Oghalo-oh!”  As he looked out smiling, the whole of the Rookery waved at him.  He waved back.  All rather lovely.

Zeegelaar directing Doucoure

The final whistle went to jubilation in the stands.  Watford back to winning ways and in some style.  The coach and players were applauded off with special adulation directed at Gomes as he made his usual lap of the pitch.  We had to reign our happiness in a little as we were meeting my brother-in-law, my sister already having received a message from her Watford-fanatic daughter telling her to “be nice to Dad.”  Mark’s gracious comment was “At least my second team won.”

Back to the West Herts and it was all smiles.  It had been a thoroughly enjoyable team performance with some stand out individuals.  Zeegelaar had impressed greatly on his debut.  Cleverley had recovered from his last minute penalty miss at Goodsion Park with an assured performance in the centre of the park.  Gomes was absolutely brilliant in goal.  But the most impressive showing came from Hughes.  I had been thrilled when we bought him and rather sad that he seemed to have dropped into obscurity, but he was biding his time.  He put in a decent showing against Everton but was absolutely brilliant in this game and the goal was a just reward.  With players coming back from injury, apart from the goal keeping position, we now seem players who can slot in to any position without a loss of quality, which bodes very well for the rest of the season.

But the last comment should go to the Community Trust.  They have been a massive part of the club for a long time now.  From Ann Swanson’s work with the Junior Hornets in the 80s, this has grown into a huge asset for the local community.  Current Director, Rob Smith, has been tireless in growing the Trust for many years and it was rather fitting that Britt Assombalonga, who was discovered at one of the Trust’s schemes, scored for Middlesbrough on Sunday.  In these days when football seems to be all about money, it is great to see that the Trust is still valued at the club and the commemorative t-shirt, designed by 11 year-old Codie Snaith, which declares “We are Family” summed it up perfectly.

An Evening with The Rocket Men

I have been lucky enough to attend all of the Tales from the Vicarage events and have loved every moment of them.  As I do for away games, I have always bought the block of tickets for our party.  So, when it was announced that there would be two events going on sale on the same day, I went into a blind panic.  I had recently started working in an open plan office and knew from experience that buying tickets for this event was an operation that needed full concentration and I certainly wasn’t confident about getting decent seats for two events on the same day, so Richard was drafted in to get the tickets for tonight while I booked a conference room to secure the tickets for Johnny Barnes.  Having heard that this event sold out in ten minutes, my working day only started in earnest when I received the message from Richard that our seats were secured.

The John Barnes evening had been wonderful but, for those of us of a certain age, this was the main event.  The Rocket Men.  The players who had played their part in each division as we rose from Division 4 to runners up in the top flight.  Luther Blissett, Ian Bolton, Ross Jenkins and Steve Sherwood.  Names that still quicken my pulse as I remember the incredible heights that they achieved while giving us brilliant entertainment.

As we were about to enter the auditorium to find our seats, I looked up to see Rita and Karen Taylor.  I gasped, “It is so lovely to see you here.”  I was rewarded with a smile and kiss from Rita.  As we welcomed Karen she told us what comfort they had derived from the love they had been shown by Watford fans after Graham’s passing.  It is so wonderful to see Rita and her family as honoured guests at events such as this, but their presence was an early indication that, as much as being about the players, this was an evening about Graham Taylor.

Luther and Ross together again

As always, Adam Leventhal started the evening with a “You ‘Orns” from each section of the theatre and then as a whole.  He told the crowd that GT’s family were in attendance, so this would be a tribute to them.  Those in attendance did Rita and family proud with a series of choruses of “You ‘Orns” the like of which have never been heard before.

The legends were introduced by the voice of Hornet Heaven, Colin Mace, who filled us in with some background to their greatness.

Luther is always good value and, since GT’s passing, he has been incredible in sharing memories and appreciation of the great man.  He described his time at Watford as playing football with his mates.  One of his stories was of being booked for dissent.  He was fined a week’s wages and told that would double the next time.  Much like not having cramp, you did not do dissent at this club under GT.  Having been warned about his conduct, Luther was never booked for dissent again.  Luther’s brace at Man United in 1978 was shown on the big screen.  Those goals are always a joy to watch, but the added interest was the discussion about the preparation for the game.  They were instructed to play their own game, making it hard for Man U and ensuring the win.  Luther brought along a Solvite shirt that he could still fit in to and wore during the second half (although he revealed that the Iveco shirt was his favourite).  He also brought his Golden Boot, which was presented to him in Italy.  He still regrets that he wasn’t around for that 83/84 season, it must have been awful to be a spectator at the Cup Final.  I was certainly gutted to see him walking around the pitch on the day rather than appearing on it.

Ross Jenkins

I will always remember the day that Ross Jenkins visited Watford after a long time away and was introduced on the pitch.  He was given a tremendous reception and was genuinely surprised that the fans remembered him with such affection.  As he looked in amazement at the adoring crowd, those of us giving the ovation were thinking, “Ross Jenkins, we are not worthy!!”  His acceptance speech when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame reflected his feelings on that day.  In all of his responses to questions on this evening, Ross was very circumspect.  Oli Phillips said he had to spend a good few days in Spain getting his story.  It has to be said that the photographs shown of their time together did not make it look like a chore.  Luther had talked about bookings, so there was some discussion of Ross’s only ever booking.  It is still viewed as a miscarriage of justice.  Ross said that the achievements of those days have led to Watford being where they are now.  He was not afraid to say that there must be a lot of fans in the audience who had not been impressed with him when he first came to the club.  He hoped that he had proven his worth over the years.  I heard no murmur of dissent at this point.  His prized possession was his testimonial brochure that he had extracted from his parents’ loft.

Ian Bolton

As Luther and Ross had spent time talking about how many goals they had scored, Ian Bolton chipped in to talk about his goal scoring exploits.  Of course, his main contribution was his pinpoint passes that would have been lauded if he had played for a more fashionable club.  Ian’s greatest goal was shown, a wonderful effort from a tight angle after an overlapping run out of defence.  He revealed that he had been yelling at Cally not to pass to him as he was exhausted, but pass he did and that peach of a goal is there to be enjoyed by all of us.  Ian said that there was not one of his team mates that he didn’t like.  GT’s scrupulous approach to player recruitment was credited with ensuring that the team were not only good players, but good characters and that ensured the team spirit.

Steve Sherwood was the quietest of the four, but I don’t think that he stopped smiling the whole evening.  He clearly loved his time at Watford and adored the players that he worked with.  He said it had been a wonderful time and that he missed it.  As the others were talking about their goals, he wasn’t to be outdone and his goal at Highfield Road was analysed.  I still regret the fact that I had a ticket for that game but wimped out of traveling on my own, so missed that historic moment.  After every observation that Steve made I thought, “What a Gentleman!”  No more so than when he was asked about Andy Gray’s assault at Wembley.  “He was just doing his job.”  Steve was very disappointed that GT didn’t play him in the FA Cup semi-final in 1987, he said that he was fit to play and that was possibly GT’s only mistake.

With Steve Sherwood a few years ago

Elton’s great involvement in the club was discussed and this led to the players singing backing vocals on a couple of songs on his “A Single Man” album.  They were taken for a day out, having no idea where they were going, and ended up at a recording studio.  Apparently, Andy Rankin was the only player who could sing, but they did a decent job as a chorus.  They showed some footage from an Australian music show.  I could have sworn that the footage shown on the Big Match was recorded in the studio, but I have just watched the show online and it was the same footage.  It has to be said that there was an audible gasp of adoration from the crowd when Pat Molloy appeared on the screen.  Ian Bolton’s treasured possession was a Gold Disc for this album.  This had been presented to all of the players involved and is displayed in pride of place in Bolton’s home.  This achievement was slightly tarnished when he visited Elton’s home and saw platinum discs propped up in corners.

The questions from the audience provoked some interesting anecdotes.

The Rocket Men

Elton’s famous parties were mentioned.  The players made clear that they only ever went to the Watford staff party.  This was an event for the staff and their families.  It was gratifying to hear that everyone working at the club was invited to this party, including the tea ladies.  There was a lovely story about Albert McClenaghan (he of the infamous throw-in) losing sight of the car that he was following so just stopping on a roundabout to have a picnic with his family.  They were eventually rescued and taken to Elton’s.  Ross described the parties as “Being in first class when you weren’t used to first class.”  The catering was such that when the food ran out, it would be replenished and the footballers, not used to such a world, didn’t know how to deal with this.  They said it was a wild time with people ending up upside down in hedges.  The day after the party was always left free!

Another question that provoked some discussion was the best story about Steve Harrison.  There was much muttering and shaking of heads.  Steve Sherwood started a story about a trip to Jamaica and the others interjected to ask if he was sure.  It ended up being a story of Harrison appearing on the baggage carousel, funny and just perfect for the evening.

With GT and Rita at Shendish

Then they got started on modern football.  There were a number of comments on negative tactics from high profile teams that were anathema to men coached by GT to entertain.  Also, zonal marking was described as an excuse to abdicate responsibility.  The consensus was that football was better before the invention of the Premier League.

The theme of the evening was togetherness and teamwork.  These players succeeded as they were all working for each other and loved being together and Graham Taylor was the inspiration behind this.  They also paid tribute to the fans and all of those in attendance were made to feel that we were a key part of that successful team.

As they took their applause to a standing ovation, there was a group hug that left barely a dry eye in the house.  Ross Jenkins clearly didn’t want to leave the stage, so the rest of the Rocket Men were called back for a further curtain call.  If you could have bottled the love in that room it would have the sweetest perfume you have ever smelled.

With Ross and Luther the night Ross was inducted into the Hall of Fame

At the end of the evening we belted upstairs to get our books signed.  What was rather lovely was that two members of our party were getting their books dedicated to some younger fans of their acquaintance.  They may not have lived through those wonderful days, but their elders wanted to ensure that they knew the history and why Watford are where they are now.

Our party were desperately missing Toddy, who would have loved this evening.  Farzana had brought some of Toddy’s memorial badges along to hand out to friends that had not been able to attend his funeral.  As Luther had tweeted about Toddy, he was also given a badge and the emotion on his face when he received it brought tears to my eyes yet again.

After a wonderful evening, Richard and I retired for a night cap at the hotel.  As we sat chatting, Ross and his wife appeared looking for tea and biscuits.  He saw our scarves and acknowledged us.  My desire to accost him was stopped by a realisation that it was late and he had given us enough of his time.  So I was delighted when he reappeared and came over to chat.  Ross talked about the reception after GT’s funeral and how all the players were there and that they had all been friends together remembering their manager.  He then carried on the theme about modern football, talking about the teams that he liked to watch and those he didn’t.  His main gripe was that football is now all about winning with no concern about entertaining the fans, which he felt was wrong,  He was chatting to us for ages as I gazed adoringly at him with a stupid grin on my face.  When he said his goodbyes it was with a wave and “I have a busy day tomorrow.”

I have said it before and I will say it again and again.  I love being a Watford fan.

Cruel Defeat in the Z-Cars Derby

Poppy display at the box office

One of my oldest and dearest friends lives on Merseyside, so I took the opportunity of the game away at Everton to spend a weekend by the seaside.  Saturday afternoon we had a lovely walk along the beach to Southport finishing in the Arts Centre there.  As we enjoyed some refreshments, it was approaching 3pm and I had my usual panic that I was supposed to be somewhere else.  My phone took an age to connect and confirm that ours was not one of the games that had kicked off and I could happily spend the rest of my afternoon wandering around the exhibitions.

Having heard of the travel chaos on the West Coast line on Sunday, it was a relief to have a short trip on local rail to meet up with friends.  The pre-match pub appeared surprisingly empty until I made my way to the back room and found it packed with Hornets.  At the appointed time, we piled out of the pub on to the bus to the ground, where we found ourselves sitting with some young Everton fans who bemoaned their season so far and, a little surprisingly for me, the loss of Tom Cleverley.

On arrival at Goodison Park, the steward outside the turnstiles was lovely, although I suspect that her decision not to perform a thorough search of my bag was influenced by my pointing out that my huge rucksack was full of dirty clothes.  After taking our seats, I was rather perturbed to see a man in a Sparta Prague hat a couple of rows behind me.  Talk about a bad omen.  I fixed him with a very cross stare, but he remained oblivious.

Will Hughes making his first league start for the Hornets

Team news was two changes from the Stoke game with Hughes making his first league start for the Hornets in place of Capoue and Gray in for the suspended Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucouré; Carrillo, Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.  As the Watford team was announced, Cleverley’s name was cheered by the home fans, which was rather lovely, as was seeing the team run out to Z-cars at an away ground.  I know that piece of music has more significance in Liverpool than Watford, but it still makes me feel at home.

Just before kick-off, they held a minute’s silence for Remembrance Day, but the accompanying rendition of the last post caused some confusion meaning the crowd erupted when the music finished while the players and officials were still standing with bowed heads.

Once the game kicked off, there was an early chance for the visitors as Femenía crossed for Richarlison who was unable to connect.  There was very little action then until the 21st minute when Everton broke and Gomes reacted well to stop the shot from Baines.  The home side had another chance after Carrillo lost out in midfield allowing Davies to advance on goal, but he decided to shoot from distance and his effort was high and wide.  It was Watford’s turn to attack then as Hughes played the ball out to Femenía whose low cross went begging.  The Spaniard then went for goal himself but his shot from distance flew well over the bar.

Celebrating Richarlison’s goal with an over- attentive steward

Watford’s best chance of the half came from a lovely move as Gray held off a defender, turned and advanced before feeding Richarlison who beat the goalkeeper, but his shot, from an acute angle, hit the side netting.  Doucouré was the next to threaten but, in the process, he lost his 100% record of scoring from shots on target as Pickford made the save.

As has been the case a number of times this season, it had been a rather dull first half.  The Hornets had a good spell late on, but didn’t test Pickford in the Everton goal.

Watford started the second half brilliantly as Gray fed Carrillo who passed to Richarlison, the young Brazilian rounded the keeper and found the net to send the away fans crazy, with the possible exception of those who had not returned from getting their half time refreshments.  The visitors threatened again as Holebas crossed from a deep position, but Gray was unable to connect.  Jose then tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  Everton really should have equalized after Niasse beat Britos and crossed for Sigurdsson, but Gomes pulled off a great save to frustrate the Icelander, Rooney hit a follow-up shot, but Gomes was equal to that as well.  Sadly the Watford keeper was injured while performing his heroics.  He was down receiving treatment for a considerable time before emerging with a bandage around his head.  Brief hopes that he would carry on were dashed when he was escorted to the dugout and replaced by Karnezis, making his Watford debut.  Everton also made their first substitution at this time, replacing Baningime with Lookman.

Gray jostling for position in the Everton box

The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Gray went on a run and put in a decent cross for Hughes, but Will met it at an angle and couldn’t direct his header towards the goal.  But Watford were not to be denied for long and the second goal came on 63 minutes when Kabasele rose to meet a corner from Holebas and headed home.  At this point, the Everton fans started streaming out and it all looked very positive for the Hornets.  However, there was a note of caution from a young boy behind us who nervously commented that there were 26 minutes left.  I thought that he was rather young to be so fatalistic, but there turned out to be a wise head on those young shoulders as Everton pulled a goal back within minutes.   Niasse advanced towards the Watford box and, for some inexplicable reason, Karnezis decided to come out of his box to meet him, the Everton man skipped around him and was facing an open goal, Kabasele slid in to make a tackle but the ball drifted in to the net.  It has to be said that, had Niasse missed, the ref would have had to give a penalty and Kabasele would probably have been sent off.  It went from bad to worse on 73 minutes as a shot from Kenny was blocked by Holebas for a corner which Baines delivered and Calvert-Lewin (on for Rooney) headed home for the equaliser.

Femenia takes a throw in

Watford’s injury woes continued as Kabasele went down in the Everton box and stayed down as the game continued for some time.  After he finally received treatment, he left the field on a stretcher and Mariappa came on in his place.  Watford pushed to regain the lead and Richarlison should have done better from a Holebas corner, but he headed over the target.  Then Hughes put in a low cross that was blocked when maybe a shot would have been the better option.  Watford had another chance from a corner but this time it was Mariappa who headed wide.  Then disaster struck as Holebas chased Lennon and appeared to slip and take him down just inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  Had Gomes still been in goal, I would have hoped for a penalty save, but Baines made no mistake and Watford, from being two goals ahead found themselves going in to time added on a goal down.  When the fourth official indicated that there would be 12 minutes added time, there was no predicting the final score.  Three minutes into injury time, Okaka emerged from the wilderness to replace Hughes, even though Holebas was still limping after the challenge on Lennon (thankfully, he soon ran it off).  The Italian substitute had an opportunity to show Silva what he had been missing as he went for a cross into the box, but Pickford made the save before he could connect.  Watford were given a lifeline as Pickford took Richarlison down in the box.  I was a little surprised when Cleverley stepped up to take the spot kick and totally devastated when he hit it well wide of the target.

Carrillo and Kabasele challenging

The final whistle was met with jubilation from the Everton fans and disbelief from the travelling Hornets.  I am assured that it was a great game for the neutral, for those of us who bleed yellow, it was incredibly painful.  Watford looked to be cruising and would probably have won had Gomes not been injured.  The two penalties pretty much summed up our day.  Conceding an unnecessary penalty due to a player slipping, then being awarded one that was nailed on and failing to covert.

The day didn’t get any better when we arrived back at Lime Street to find that both the train that I was booked on and the previous train (the 18:47, which should have left already) were delayed and there was a massive queue already in place.  By the time that we left Liverpool, the train was transporting those booked on three different services, so was a little cosy.  I found myself surrounded by a Liverpool fan and two Everton fans who, to be fair, couldn’t have been more pleasant.  We were soon joined by Jim White of Sky Sports/Talksport, who was fresh from the Everton boardroom and was pressed by a number of people for his opinions on the managerial rumours that were going around.  He was happy to chat and pose for selfies and it ended up being a very pleasant journey.  I even found myself sharing photos with the lad next to me as he showed one of him (as a small boy) with the last trophy that Everton had won and I dug out an even older one of me before the cup final.

It is very hard to take any conclusions from that game.  The defence didn’t cover themselves in glory, but it was the departure of Gomes that precipitated the collapse.  Had Cleverley not hit such a terrible penalty, we would have left Liverpool with another point (one that I would have been happy with before the game).  So we go into the international break on the back of three defeats and knowing that we will face a West Ham team trying to impress their new manager.  After the wonderful start to the season, the last few games have been a cruel reality check.  It will be very interesting to see if the players have the character to turn it around.  Now what shall I do at 3pm next Saturday?

 

Stymied by Stoke

The piper plays Flowers of the Forest

Back to Vicarage Road again and, after a busy week, it was lovely to sit down with the crowd for the pre-match pint.  I bumped into someone that I hadn’t seen for a while, a regular who had almost given up in the dark days at the end of Mazzarri’s reign.  He was all smiles again, thoroughly enjoying the football as we all are.  I must admit that, going into this game I was less confident than last week against Chelsea.  There is something about Stoke and their negative style of play that made me think that we could struggle.

Since it was the last game before Remembrance Day, there was a piper on the pitch to play Flowers of the Forest.  This was followed by a minute’s silence.  Both were observed impeccably by the crowd.

Team news was two changes for the Hornets with Capoue and Carrillo coming in for Mariappa and Pereyra.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Holebas, Britos, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Cleverley, Doucouré; Richarlison, Deeney, Carrillo.

Rare first half action in the Stoke box

There was a slow start to the game, with Watford having most of the possession but being given little space by the visitors.  So it was a bit of a shock when Stoke took the lead on 16 minutes after a corner from Shaqiri reached Fletcher on the edge of the box from where he powered a shot through the bodies in the box and past Gomes.  You couldn’t help thinking that, having taken the lead, Stoke would make it difficult for us.  There was certainly little in the way of goal attempts in the half.  The first half chance came as Holebas played a ball into the box for Deeney, who was unable to reach it.   A Cleverley corner was headed on by Britos, to Capoue who tried and failed to finish, but was in an offside position anyway.  Watford’s best chance of the game so far came in the 38th minute as Cleverley played a lovely ball to Deeney who tried to place his shot, which drifted wide.

That was it for the first half.  The whistle was greeted with a few boos from the Rookery.  Who are these people?  It hadn’t been pretty, but any football had been played by the home side.

The beautiful game did make an appearance during the half time penalty shoot-out when a young girl from Holy Rood floated a perfect chip over the keeper.  Sign her up!

Capoue and Holebas prepare for a short corner

The second half started at a cracking pace.  The first chance came as Doucouré played a gorgeous ball to Femenía who went on a run and crossed for Deeney, but Shawcross got a block in to prevent the shot.  The next chance followed the same pattern starting with a beautiful ball from Doucouré and finishing with Shawcross clearing before Deeney could shoot.  Next a cross from Holebas was flicked on by Deeney to Capoue, who couldn’t quite reach it to apply the finish.  Watford came closer still as Holebas played a cross-field pass to Carrillo who cut the ball back to Richarlison, but the angle was too acute for the Brazilian and his shot hit the side netting.  The first substitution came just before the hour mark as Gray replaced Capoue.  Stoke could have increased their lead when, completely against the run of play, there was a forward break from Sobhi, he cut the ball back to Allen who shot just wide of the target when he should have done better.  Watford continued to threaten as Cleverley advanced and put in a decent cross, but Butland’s fist reached the ball just before Richarlison’s head.  Another chance for the young Brazilian went begging as a cross from Britos reached him, but he couldn’t get a proper connection for the header and it flew wide.  Watford also should have done better with the next chance as a cross from Carrillo reached Gray, but he mishit the shot and it went wide of the near post.

Fisticuffs by the dugouts

Stoke’s first change came as Berahino replaced Sobhi in a substitution that seemed to take an age (they had been wasting time from soon after they scored).  Watford’s next chance came from a corner, but Doucouré’s shot was blocked and the ball was deflected over the target.  The second substitution for the Hornets came as Carrillo was replaced by Hughes, making his debut for the Hornets.  A rare attack by the visitors finished as Choupo-Moting shot straight at Gomes.  Watford had another decent chance as a lovely ball into the box from Doucouré was flicked on by the head of Gray, but Deeney couldn’t reach it to turn it in.  There was danger at the other end as a cross from Shaqiri wasn’t cut out but, even as Gomes hesitated, he did enough to cause Berahino to shoot wide.  Watford threatened again as Gray met a cross from Cleverley with a header that flew on to the roof of the net.  Soon after, it all kicked off on the sideline.  I don’t know what provoked it, but it seemed to start with Doucoure and Diouf who, in photographic evidence obtained from a friend in the SEJ stand, squared up to each other before everyone else got involved, including some members of the Stoke coaching staff, but it was only the initial perpetrators who were cautioned.  After the dust settled, Stoke made another substitution replacing Shaqiri with Adam.  There was another scuffle after Stoke had put the ball out when one of their players went down with cramp in their box.  It had appeared to be an attempt to waste time and the ball was, quite rightly in my opinion, not returned to them.  This incensed Allen who went for Deeney and it all got rather unpleasant.  The two men were booked, but the television pictures of the altercation suggest that Deeney may incur further punishment for his reaction, which would be unfortunate.  Watford had one last chance to win a point as Hughes found Gray, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  As it was late into time added on, Gomes came up to join the attack and was nearly caught out as Stoke broke upfield, Gomes was unable to tackle Adam, who advanced with an open goal to aim at but found the far post instead, much to the amusement of the Rookery faithful.

Doucoure on the ball

There were boos again at the final whistle, although most of these appeared to be aimed at the opposition.  Richarlison, Britos and Holebas had collapsed to the turf on full time with the latter staying prone with his shirt over his head for some considerable time.

It was a disappointing afternoon.  The football was horrible but, credit to Stoke, they played their game very well and we didn’t play ours.  The second half was much better as Watford attacked at pace, but the Stoke defence were very well organized and Butland didn’t have a save to make.  Special credit must go to Zouma, who had a great game keeping Richarlison very quiet.

As we walked up Occupation Road, a familiar face passed us, and I couldn’t help wondering if Pereyra would have made a difference, but it was one of those afternoons.

Back in the West Herts and the post-match analysis focussed on how horrible Stoke were to watch.  All very true, but you have to find a way past these teams and we failed to do that.  The positive is that this is one of very few games that have not been entertaining so far this season.  So let us put this one behind us and look forward to Goodison Park next Sunday.

 

Robbery at the Bridge

Toddy’s bunting

Toddy’s funeral took place on Wednesday.  It has to be said that his family and many friends gave him a magnificent send off and it was fitting that the wake was held in the Captain’s bar at Vicarage Road.  The help given to Toddy’s family by his friends at the club, especially Dave Messenger, has been outstanding and a testament to what he meant to the people there.

Due to some friends travelling in to London from distance and arriving early, I made a late choice to find a pre-match establishment in which to meet up.  So I found myself at 9:50 with a group of other Hornets waiting for the pub to open.  When we were finally admitted, it was only to find that they were not serving beer until 11.  However, the breakfast menu looked good, so I decided to have a coffee and something to eat.  I must say that smoked salmon, avocado and scrambled eggs is not my usual pre-match meal, but it was very nice indeed.  I then headed to another pub (for beer) and met some of our party at the bar.  It was a good crowd that gathered before kick-off, and rather lovely to be joined by Watford’s matchday announcers, Tim Coombs and Emma Saunders, travelling as fans for the day along with Emma’s Watford supporting family.

Gathering for a corner

Despite the weather warnings that had come due to Storm Brian (what sort of name is Brian for a storm?) it was a pleasant walk to the ground.  We saw signs for the Upper Shed so passed through security (a cursory look in my bag) only to find that we were at the entrance to the home section of the ground.  When we reached the away entrance, the security was considerably stiffer.  We had to negotiate repeating phalanxes of stewards before the final search.  I pointed out to the woman searching me that a physical search had not been deemed necessary at the home end, but she was having none of it.  I wonder if they ever find anything (apart from Mike’s Swiss Army knife).

To the seats and Dave M had secured a cracking view for the City Orns and was kindly sitting at the end of our row to keep an eye on us. Team news was just one change from the Arsenal game with Deeney, who had done so well after coming on as substitute, replacing Gray.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison.

Holebas takes a free kick

After the recent runs of form for both Watford and Chelsea, we travelled to Stamford Bridge in an uncharacteristically positive mood.  But disaster struck after 12 minutes.  The ball clearly went out for a goal kick to the visitors, but the lino wasn’t paying attention.  He hesitated before making the decision, decided to take the advice of the Chelsea fans sitting behind him and awarded a corner. The delivery was taken short and found its way to Pedro who powered in off the far post, much to the anger of the travelling Hornets who let the linesman know exactly what they thought of him.  As did Jose Holebas, who was booked for his trouble.  The home side should have been two goals ahead side soon after as Fàbregas found himself in space with only Gomes to beat, but he tried to chip the keeper who reached up a hand and snuffed out the danger.  There was then a booking for either side, Mariappa for a foul on Hazard and Rüdiger for tripping Richarlison.  Both fouls looked rather soft.  Chelsea then had a couple of half chances.  Pedro tried a shot from distance that flew just wide of the far post.  Then David Luiz tried another shot from distance, but it was straight at Gomes.

Doucoure haring down the pitch to celebrate with the Watford fans

Watford came into the game on the half hour when Cleverley curled a free-kick over the wall and Courtois had to be smart to push the shot wide of the target.  Richarlison then threatened for the first time, firing over from outside the area.  The Brazilian then exchanged passes with Doucouré before shooting straight at Courtois.  At the other end, Luiz tried a shot from outside the area, but Gomes pushed the ball clear.  In time added on at the end of the half, Watford won a thrown-in in line with the penalty box.  I couldn’t believe that the players were taking so much time to take it.  First Femenía left the ball for Holebas, who took his time finding his space, he even had an aborted run-up.  I was sure that he had delayed too long and the ref would blow for half time as soon as he released the ball.  But he didn’t, it dropped for Doucouré, who fired past Courtois and the Hornets were level on the stroke of half time.  Gomes did his usual goal celebration in front of the Watford fans and Doucouré ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with us.

So it was honours even at half time, which was certainly no more than Watford deserved.

Celebrating Pereyra’s goal

Chelsea had a great chance to strike back at the start of the second half, but Mariappa was on hand to turn Azpilicueta’s cross over the bar from close range.  Then Femenía crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked allowing Chelsea to break and Pedro to send a shot from distance wide of the target.  Richarlison had a great chance to put Watford into the lead as he received a cross from Femenía, but he was a bit off balance and hit it with his left foot so it flew wide.  Had he been able to get it on to his other foot, it would have been in the net.  But the Hornets weren’t to be denied for long as a fantastic move finished with Richarlison finding Pereyra in space and he didn’t miss.  This time, the players were able to celebrate right in front of us before running to the dug-out and celebrating with the manager and the subs (and Pereyra with the medical staff).  It should have been 3-1 soon afterwards as Britos crossed for Richarlison, but the Brazilian headed just wide.  There was another booking for the home side as Morata was cautioned for a foul on Kabasele before being replaced with Batshuayi.  Sadly, Pereyra’s day was over soon after, as he took a knock winning a corner and had to be replaced by Carrillo.  The referee, who had done us no favours all afternoon allowed the corner to be taken before Carrillo came on.  The substitute made an early impression as he received a pass from Deeney before cutting back to Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide.  The home side made another substitution replacing Alonso with Willian.

A corner at the Shed end

With 20 minutes to go, and completely against the run of play, the home side levelled as Pedro crossed for Batshuayi to head past Gomes.  Watford looked to strike back as a Cleverley free-kick was met by the head of Kabasele who, sadly, directed the ball straight at the keeper.  The visitors then had another chance, this time from a corner but, again, Richarlison headed wide.  With 10 minutes to go Silva made rather an odd substitution replacing Deeney with Watson.  Chelsea had a great chance with a low free kick that reached Batshuayi who tuned it over the bar.  At the other end, Femenía’s cross was headed wide by Kabasele.  But it was the home side who took the lead as a cross from Willian reached Azpilicueta who headed home.  My reaction at the time was that this was a travesty.  The Chelsea fans started singing “That’s why we’re Champions’ which did make me laugh.  The arrogance, when they should have been somewhat shame-faced.  Silva made one last roll of the dice replacing Mariappa with Gray.  But it was Chelsea that made the further breakthrough.  There was time wasting both on and off the pitch as the ball was caught by an idiot in the crowd who decided to hold on to it, while Gomes waited for it to be returned.  There were two stewards within feet of the fool, but neither of them moved to allow the game to continue.  But more important for the outcome of the game was a moment of madness on the pitch as Britos dallied with the ball on the edge of the Watford area, then gave it away allowing Batshuayi to advance and score Chelsea’s fourth.  A scoreline that was extremely flattering to the home side.

Cleverley lines up a free kick

I was furious at the end of the game.  But we had been our own worst enemies.  In this division you cannot expect to win games if you don’t take your chances.  Watford missed some sitters, while Chelsea were clinical.

But, what the hell, there have been enough occasions in recent years when I have left Stamford Bridge fuming because we had been humiliated.  On this occasion, we were easily the equal of the home side and deserved at least a point.

When we were promoted, I really didn’t believe that we would find ourselves in such a position.  We are sixth in the table on merit, having already played 4 of the “top 6” and only been second best to Manchester City.  So I will continue to enjoy the football whether we win or lose and marvel at what a great team we are currently watching.

Silencing the Gunners

Richarlison inspired by a cuddle from my niece

My niece was unwell last week, so was home from university for a few days to recuperate.  She decided to make a trip to St Albans and found herself captured on Heurelho Gomes’ Instagram live.  A cuddle from both Richarlison and Gomes certainly helped hasten her recovery, the photos with them were gorgeous and made her aunt smile.  I don’t have a photo with Richarlison yet!

The evening kick-off on Saturday meant that I was arriving in the West Herts at the time that I am usually leaving for the ground.  An odd and unsettling feeling, but the other Watford fans in the bar reassured me that I hadn’t misunderstood the kick-off time.  Given the two away games and the international break, this was the first home game since Toddy passed away, so it was a sombre crowd that gathered.  There was a huge contingent of Norfolk Horns in attendance and Toddy’s son, Chris, came along, which was just lovely.  I doubt he has ever been hugged so much before.  Glasses were raised, happy memories exchanged and there was a determination to sing our hearts out for Toddy as well as the lads.

Team news was three changes with Britos, Pereyra and Gray coming in for Capoue, Carrillo and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Mariappa, Britos; Femenía, Doucouré, Cleverley, Holebas; Pereyra, Gray, Richarlison.  A change in formation to 3-4-3.  The Watford connection at Arsenal came in the shape of former loanee, Hector Bellerin.

Holebas preparing for a throw-in

We arrived in the Rookery to find that the large flag was already in place.  It certainly looked magnificent in the photos.  Well done, yet again, to the 1881 for a fantastic display.

The first action of the game anywhere near the goal came as an Arsenal cross was missed by the head of Lacazette before being headed clear.  At the other end a cut back from Richarlison was blocked by Mertesacker before it reached Gray.  A better chance for the Hornets came as Holebas found Doucouré on the left, he delivered a decent cross that was headed just wide by Pereyra.  Twenty minutes into the game, there was more action in the stands than on the pitch as it appeared to kick off for the second time in the Rookery, presumably due to the presence of away fans in the home stand.  I hoped that the Arsenal fan who was sitting next to me would get the message about making his allegiance obvious.  Back on the pitch, Femenía crossed for Richarlison, but the ball was too far in front of the Brazilian and he was unable to apply the finish.  Then Richarlison got his head to a ball in the midfield before racing towards the penalty area, but Bellerin was able to get back to stop him from shooting.

Mariappa, Pereyra and Richarlison in the box

Arsenal’s first goal attempt came just before the half hour as Elneny tried a shot from distance that flew just over the bar.  Then Welbeck received the ball in the box in a dangerous position, but was stopped by a terrific block from Holebas.  The visitors came closer as Iwobi tried a curling shot, but Gomes was equal to it.  At this point the bloke behind us, who spends 90 minutes loudly spouting drivel, commented, “You’ve got to be more intelligent.”  Oh, the irony!   Watford threatened as a cross was met by Richarlison, but the header was poor and flew wide.  Some good work from Holebas led to a corner, the delivery from Xhaka was met by Mertesacker who was allowed a free header which he hit past Gomes to put the visitors in the lead.  Arsenal had their tails up now as Xhaka tried a shot that was blocked, Bellerin shot wide from the follow-up.  Xhaka threatened again, but this time his shot was caught by Gomes.  In time added on at the end of the half, Pereyra crossed for Richarlison, he crossed back in to the box, but Cech gathered.

It had been a fairly dull first half, the goal being the only shot on target.  Arsenal were slightly fortunate to have the lead, but had made the most of their chance from a set piece.

Celebrating Deeney’s penalty

Watford started the second half well and Richarlison was the first to threaten as he cut in from the left and curled a shot just wide of the target.  A lovely ball over the top from Cleverley to Gray deserved more than to be cut out by Mertesacker.  A cross from Holebas had to be tipped wide by Cech as Doucouré was challenging.  Wenger made the first personnel change on the hour, bringing Özil on for Welbeck.  There were shouts from the Rookery for a penalty as there appeared to be a handball in the box, but the referee blew up for an earlier free kick.  Silva then made a tactical change bringing Deeney and Carrillo on for Gray and Mariappa, who had been excellent yet again, and changing to 4 at the back.  Arsenal had a great chance of a second goal as a shot from Iwobi was flying in until Gomes made a fingertip save to keep it out.  Arsenal’s second change saw Giroud come on in place of Lacazette.  Özil really should have scored a second for the visitors as he found himself in space with only Gomes to beat, but the Watford keeper kept him out.  At the other end, Richarlison broke into the box where he was tripped by Bellerin and the referee pointed to the spot.  My Arsenal-supporting neighbour didn’t do himself any favours at this point by indicating that he thought it was a dive.  I may have made him feel less than welcome.  Deeney stepped up, sent Cech the wrong way and levelled the scores.

Another mad celebration with fists in the way

Watford had a great chance for a second soon after as Richarlison broke into the box again, but his shot hit the side netting.  A dangerous looking Arsenal attack was stopped by Britos who calmly came away with the ball.  Silva made his final change as Pereyra, who looked exhausted, was replaced by Capoue.  The Frenchman was soon in action with a shot that came off the head of Mertesacker and rebounded off the post.  The last substitution for the visitors saw Holding replace Koscielny.  Richarlison had another decent chance as he received a throw from Holebas, turned and volleyed over the bar.  Richarlison then found Carrillo whose shot was also too high.  A rare second half chance for Arsenal came from a corner, Britos headed the ball clear but only as far as Monreal who, thankfully, shot over the bar.  But the momentum was with the home side and when the fourth official indicated 4 minutes of time added on, the Vicarage Road faithful roared their encouragement.  The winner wasn’t pretty, but who cares.  There was a bit of pinball in the box as a series of shots were blocked before the ball fell to Cleverley who powered it into the roof of the net causing total pandemonium in the Rookery.  There were screams and hugs and smiles.  The Arsenal fan redeemed himself as he said that we deserved it as we’d been the better team in the second half.  The visitors had a chance to grab a point as a cross from Özil was met by the head of Giroud, but Gomes gathered safely and the final whistle went to confirm the win for the Hornets.

Doucoure and Mariappa

There were joyous scenes at the final whistle.  Phones were out with the Premier League table displayed showing Watford in the heady heights of fourth.  There were breathless discussions, heads shaking and “How good was that?”  The people that sit around us have been there for more years than I care to remember and we have suffered some very bad times together, so it is lovely to see all these people smiling and enjoying the football as much as we are.

We were being driven home by an Arsenal fan, who did his best to bring us down by telling us that the television verdict was that Richarlison had dived and could well face a retrospective ban.  I have to say that hadn’t been my view from behind the goal and the footage on Match of the Day certainly appeared to show contact.  It may have been a soft penalty, but it seemed legitimate.  When we arrived back at my sister’s she told us that Troy had given his shirt to a little lad who looked absolutely delighted (I have seen the footage on Twitter and the boy and his Dad couldn’t have looked happier).  We then listened in interest as Troy spoke with great honesty and insight about the game and his career.  I was highly amused to hear that his son, Myles, had texted that he hated him after scoring against his team, Arsenal.

Carrillo

It was a magnificent performance.  Yet another last minute goal, the third in successive games, underlines the resilience of this team.  The football is a joy to watch and the players are all working as a team.  It is hard to pick players out, but Cleverley has been a rock for weeks now and it was lovely to see him get a goal to crown an impressive performance.  Deeney also deserves praise.  He could have sulked being left out of the team, but he came on and made a difference, Arsenal found his physical presence hard to cope with and he wasn’t going to miss that penalty.

After we lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final in 2007, I was invited on to Radio Five for a programme that featured Rogan Taylor, on which I bemoaned the fact that the young Watford fans of today would never experience the highs that I had following the Watford team in the early 80s.  It turns out that I was wrong and I couldn’t be happier.

A Last Minute Equaliser is a Great Cure for Jet-lag

Richarlison

I had to travel to the US this week for a meeting in Maryland on Friday morning.  Flights were booked to ensure that I was back in plenty of time to get to the match.  Imagine my frustration when I arrived at the airport to find that there was a delay of two hours.  I spent the extra time at the airport obsessively checking the train times for the next morning.  I needn’t have worried.  After arriving at Heathrow at 8am, I had time to go home for a quick shower, a change of clothes, pick up my football shirt (I had my match and train tickets with me) and was still in the pre-match pub before 1.  My party were already in place.  It was my first chance to catch up with a number of friends since Toddy’s passing so, needless to say, stories were exchanged, there was laughter and tears and glasses raised to our much missed friend.

When the team news came through there was much discussion of the only change from the Swansea game as Deeney was chosen in place of the previous week’s goalscorer, Gray.  To me the change made sense as, against a Pulis team, Deeney’s strength would be more important than Gray’s pace.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Deeney.  Former Watford loanee and player of the season, Ben Foster, was in goal for the Baggies.

Come dancing in the West Brom box

Watford started the game very well without creating too much in front of goal.  The first chance came with a dangerous looking cross from Holebas which evaded all of the Watford heads in the box.  The home side’s first real attack came after a quick break, my nerves were jangling as the Watford defence were trying to play the ball out, but kept giving it away, finally Cleverley wellied it upfield to cheers from the travelling Hornets.  West Brom took the lead in the 18th minute, against the run of play, when Rondón received a through ball and broke into the box, Kabasele didn’t do enough to put him off and he finished past Gomes.  Watford looked rattled and conceded again soon after, Rondón was released, played the ball in to Gibbs whose shot was put behind for a corner which was flicked on by Doucouré for Evans to touch home.  After brilliant start in which the Hornets were playing some lovely football, I was reeling that we were two goals down.  At this point I wished I’d stayed at home and rested after my transatlantic journey.  West Brom had a chance to increase their lead after Carrillo lost out in midfield, allowing them to make another quick break, but this time the hopeful shot from Rodriguez cleared the bar.  But this Watford team is nothing if not resilient and were soon asserting themselves again and, on the half hour, a looping cross reached Richarlison but his header was straight at Foster.

Cleverley takes a free kick

At the other end, a corner from Brunt was headed just over the bar by Hegazi.  Deeney did well to hold off a defender on the edge of the West Brom box before passing to Richarlison, he crossed for Carrillo who was in acres of space in the middle of the goal, the ball just needed to bounce off him for the goal, but he managed to head high and wide when it looked much easier to score.  He tried to redeem himself as he crossed for Richarlison whose header was put out for a corner.  This was much better from Watford and we pulled a goal back on 37 minutes as Deeney flicked the ball on to Richarlison, who found Doucouré, the Frenchman hesitated but he was just picking his moment before firing the ball past Foster into the opposite corner.  Watford were in the ascendency now and Cleverley played the ball out to Capoue whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The visitors came even closer to an equalizer as Capoue played a deep cross to Richarlison whose header was just over the target.  The Brazilian had one more chance to get on the scoresheet before half time as Cleverley played a great cross-field ball to him, but he curled his shot just wide of the target.

Deeney and Cleverley challenge Gareth Barry

It had been an odd first half.  Watford were brilliant in the first and last 15 minutes, but fell apart in the middle allowing the home side to take the lead.  On the balance of play it was hard to believe that Watford were losing the game, but Doucouré’s goal and the resurgence at the end to the half had given us hope of getting something out of the game.

It was Diversity Day at The Hawthorns, so we were treated to some bhangra music from the Dhol Blasters followed by the appearance of a Chinese dragon on the field.  It certainly made a change from children challenging mascots (not that there is anything wrong with that).

As Ben Foster took his place in goal in front of the away end at the start of the second half, he was greeted with very warm applause for which he showed his appreciation.  The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gomes dropped to save a shot from Phillips.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, never gives the ball away …

But the Hornets were soon dominating again, starting when a cross from Cleverley was headed clear and fell to Capoue whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The Frenchman had another chance soon after with a thunderbolt that must have left bruises on Gareth Barry who got in the way.  Then Carrillo tried a cross-cum-shot that was gathered by Foster.  There was a rash of substitutions around the hour mark with Phillips and Brunt replaced by McClean and Livermore for the home side while Pereyra come on for Capoue for the visitors.  Watford threatened again as Kabasele just failed to connect with a lovely corner from Holebas.  Cleverley then played a lovely ball to Holebas who made the wrong decision in going for goal from an acute angle when he should have cut the ball back.  Doucouré intercepted the ball in midfield and advanced before crossing for Richarlison who headed just wide.  The young Brazilian then battled into the box with three defenders in attendance, he still managed to put in a cross, but it was too high for his team mates.  Pulis made his final change as Rondón made way for Robson-Kanu who was immediately in action playing in McClean who broke forward to shoot, Gomes made the save, he spilled the ball but, thankfully Mariappa was alert and put the ball out for a corner.

In position to score the equaliser

With 15 minutes to go, Silva made another change bringing Gray on for Carrillo.  Watford continued to push for the equaliser as a lovely through ball released Richarlison, he was tackled and the ball broke to Gray whose shot was blocked.  We were getting so close, it was incredibly frustrating.  Richarlison tried another shot from the left that was straight at Foster.  The first booking of the game came in the 87th minute as Livermore was cautioned for a foul on Gray.  After a long period of Watford pressure, there was a scare as a cross found McClean in a great position to make the game safe for the Baggies, but Holebas blocked the shot.  In the last minute of time added on, Watford won a free kick on the left.  Gomes came up to join the attack.  Holebas delivered the corner and Richarlison headed home with his countryman on his shoulder trying his very best to get to the ball for his first goal for the club!  A goal from Gomes would have been something else, but this still provoked a mental celebration in the away end, shouts and screams, smiles and hugs.  Gomes always celebrates goals in a spectacular manner, but he is usually on his own.  This time he was at the right end but, as he celebrated with Deeney in front of the away fans, the rest of his team mates had run to the dugout to celebrate with the subs and the coaching staff.  Both were wonderful to see.

Pereyra and Kabasele

The celebrations at the final whistle were joyous.  The whole squad came over to join us as we sang their praises.  Shirts, gloves and boots were thrown into the crowd, Doucouré being the only player who left the field wearing his shirt (maybe he didn’t have a vest on underneath).  A draw was the very least we deserved from that game and it was gained by a never say die attitude that I haven’t seen in many years.

After my overnight journey, I really should have gone straight home, but my friends, the Happy Valley Horns, were having a drink in town, so …..  It was Angela’s first game of the season.  She was mightily impressed and I was able to assure her that the positive elements of the performance were typical of this season.  This is a team with skill and spirit and I am loving this season so far.

We go into the international break in the top half of the table, unbeaten on the road and watching some of the best football that I have ever seen from a Watford team.  There was a very interesting interview with Tom Cleverley in The Times this week in which he remarked of Silva, “He’s got the balance perfect: he’s approachable but there’s a fear factor about him.”  He sounds like Gino’s perfect coach and long may this continue.