Despite the tremendous performance and result against Millwall on Boxing Day, the visit of QPR would be a completely different prospect and I approached the game with some trepidation. The derby nature of this match was indicated by the increased Police presence at the Junction and the huge Met Police van in Shady Lane, which I assume had brought the horses to town. Pre-match we heard rumours of trouble in the town centre pubs and I was told that there were QPR youngsters chanting in the Rookery concourse but, fortunately, I didn’t witness any trouble either inside or outside the ground.
Team news was of injuries to Anya and Forestieri, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Bellerin, McGugan, Thorne, Murray, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.
It was the visitors who had the first shot on goal, in the 6th minute, although I use that term loosely as Kranjcar’s attempt almost hit me as it flew into the Rookery. The Croatian was responsible for the next two shots that I noted: a curler that was easily gathered by Almunia and then another that went wide of the far post. Watford’s first goal attempt came on 21 minutes as the ball broke to Fabbrini who fed McGugan, but his shot was wayward and didn’t come near to troubling Green. Then a cross from Cassetti was chested goalwards by Deeney, but was easily caught by Green. At the other end Hoilett put in a cross which flew over the heads of all gathered in the Watford box. Soon after, the ball was given away to Kranjcar, but his shot was wide of the target. Then Fabbrini attempted a
run into the QPR box but was met with a robust, but fair, tackle. Just before the half hour came Watford’s best move of the game so far as Bellerin passed to Deeney who exchanged passes with Murray as they advanced towards the QPR goal. Murray shot from just outside the box but Green was able to gather the ball safely. Then there was danger at the other end as Thorne gave the ball away to Hoilett who exchanged passes with Kranjcar who found space to shoot between two Watford defenders, but his shot was just wide. Next Phillips skipped through the defence but shot wide of the near post. On 38 minutes, Angella was booked for knocking Kranjcar over in the centre circle. With five minutes remaining, Carroll delivered a dangerous cross into the box which Almunia parried, the ball bounced about dangerously in the resulting melee and was cleared after which Almunia required treatment. There was one final goal chance in time added on as Phillips played a low cross in from the right towards Hoilett, but Doyley was on hand to stop the shot, the ball reached Carroll on the left, who crossed it in again, but Hoilett could not connect and we reached half-time goalless. It hadn’t been pretty, but both teams were defending effectively.
At the start of the second half, Thorne released McGugan, who was battling the attentions of two defenders as he shot from distance way over the bar. Almunia was called into action to punch a shot from Phillips clear. On 51 minutes, Deeney and Fabbrini exchanged passes, the Italian shot goalwards but Green was down to gather the ball. On 58 minutes, there was a great move down the pitch ending with Deeney putting a through ball to Cassetti who hit a cross off Assou-Ekotto to win a corner. Angella connected with McGugan’s corner, but his header was over the bar. On the hour, Phillips was booked for a foul on Fabbrini. It was good to see the referee take some action at last as he had let a lot go, including some ridiculously blatant pushes. Barton was then booked as he took Thorne down, although from the other end of the ground it appeared that Thorne
fell over him and that booking looked rather harsh, even if it was Barton. With 20 minutes to go, Johnson replaced Carroll. On his first foray into the box, he was accompanied by Angella and Doyley who gave him no space to cross or shoot so the ball went out for a goal kick. Benayoun was then replaced by O’Neil. Johnson was on the attack again soon after as he ran on to a through ball from Kranjcar, but he was flagged offside. More substitutions followed as Acuna replaced Fabbrini and Hoilett made way for Traore. Soon after, McGugan attempted an audacious back heel, but Deeney wasn’t expecting it and stopped his run so the chance was gone. Then Murray unleashed a long range shot that took a deflection, but Green was behind it. Acuna was then booked for what appeared to be
a tame foul. A spell of attack and counter-attack finished with a back header by Phillips that was well wide of the target. Then Johnson met a cross from Phillips with a header that flew wide, but the linesman had his flag raised anyway. With 4 minutes remaining, Battocchio replaced Murray. In time added on, a free-kick by Barton was deflected into the side netting. The resultant corner was punched clear by Almunia. The final action was a cross from Deeney on the run which flew well wide.
It has to be said that this game did not deliver much in the way of entertainment, but it was a very pleasing point and I came away immensely impressed by our defensive efforts against a team that will likely win automatic promotion this season.