I felt like Franny-no-mates at Euston on Saturday morning as there was not another Watford scarf or shirt anywhere to be seen. I hate that when I’m travelling to an away game as I find myself wondering if I’ve got the wrong day/time/venue. Thankfully, when the train stopped at Milton Keynes, my usual travelling companions appeared and the journey passed with discussions of games recent and in distant memory. Every stop on the way to Manchester elicited different recollections. As we changed trains, they were discussing going for pre-match beers in Manchester, but I’d arranged to meet friends in a pub near the stadium and convinced them that there was somewhere to get a drink in that wasteland. When we arrived at Horwich Parkway and they found themselves walking through a deserted industrial area, I sensed that they were doubting my word. But we turned a corner and there was the promised pub just a short walk to the ground and everyone was happy. On reaching the Reebok, we found Section H which was marked on our tickets, but all the turnstiles in that section were closed. Thankfully we soon found the ‘proper’ entrance for the away fans. There were no female stewards outside the ground, so I escaped the frisking, and the friendly male steward who searched my bag was only interested in whether I had any chocolate. The inevitable question about flares seemed to be an afterthought.
Team news was that we would see Park’s debut. The starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Anya, Merkel, Tözsér, Murray, Faraoni, Park and Deeney. As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I was puzzled that I could only see Bolton players then noticed that there were two tunnels. It was one of those days.
Jutkiewicz gave Watford an early scare as he broke into the box but Almunia was quickly down to save at his feet. Tözsér delivered a lovely free kick for Watford but Baptiste put it out for a corner which came to nothing. At this stage, Cassetti spent some time off the pitch receiving treatment and came back with his leg strapped up. Bolton threatened again as Davies played a through ball to Mason who was one-on-one with Almunia but the Spaniard got down to thwart him. From the corner, Mason headed over the bar. At the other end, Angella met a free-kick from Tözsér with a header
that was straight at Bogdan. Then Anya broke down the left and put in a cross from the bye-line, Deeney headed goalwards and Bogdan pulled off a smart save to keep it out. From the corner, the ball broke to Mason who ran the length of the pitch before Ekstrand tackled him in our box to prevent a shot. Mason threatened again as he latched on to a ball over the top into the area but this time Faraoni was on hand to make a saving tackle. From the corner Mason’s header was straight at Almunia. Then a backheader fell to Deeney on the edge of the box, but his shot was horrible, flying well wide of the near post. It was all rather frantic, but had been quite entertaining. On 23 minutes, Bolton made a substitution replacing the injured Pratley with Danns. Soon after, Faraoni intercepted a clearance and went for goal, but Bogdan was on hand to save again. Murray then played a lovely ball to Faraoni whose progress was stopped on the edge of the box by a foul from Medo, who earned a yellow card. Tözsér’s free-kick cannoned off the wall, his follow-up was
narrowly wide, rippling the side-netting from the outside. The masked man, Ream, then took a free-kick which was met with a header from Jutkiewicz straight at Almunia. Just before the half hour, Danns tried a looping shot but, again, it was straight at Almunia. Watford’s next attack finished with a shot from Murray that was well wide of the target. On 33 minutes, Medo beat Merkel on the right and fed Jutkiewicz, who looked well offside as he hit a shot off the crossbar and then the follow-up past Almunia. I thought he would be booked for time wasting, but the referee brought play back for a free-kick, presumably for a foul by Merkel in the build-up. From the free kick, Spearing crossed for Jutkiewicz who turned and shot past Almunia to put the home side a goal up. The anger in
the away area at this turn of events was mainly aimed at the ‘cheating’ referee. Five minutes before half time, Ream took a free-kick which Wheater headed over the bar. Soon after Faraoni was penalized for hand ball and stupidly protested. The referee let him know in no uncertain terms why he had blown up and pointed out the fouls that he had committed up to that point. We were two goals down just before half time as Mason outran the defence and placed his shot under Almunia and into the net. At this point, Graham was texting to update one of our friends. He said he only needed two words … ‘Dreadful defending.’ The other female in our party articulated the two words that had come immediately to her mind. They were the same as mine and a lot less polite than Graham’s.
Straight from kick-off in the second half, Jutkiewicz broke forward but Faraoni was on hand to clear. Soon after, Cassetti’s injury got the better of him and he was replaced by Pudil with Ekstrand taking up position in the middle of the back three. On 55 minutes, Ekstrand pulled Danns over then yelled at the ref when he penalised him and received his tenth booking of the season. Medo took the free kick putting it just over the bar. Just before the hour, Jutkiewicz crossed for Danns whose volley was caught by Almunia. On the hour, Sannino made a double substitution replacing Merkel and Park, both of whom had been disappointing, with Battocchio and Ranegie. The chances were still coming for the home side as Mason played a low ball across the box, but Faraoni was on hand to clear. At the other end Ranegie headed a ball towards Deeney, it came back to him off a defender
and he shot tamely wide. From another Bolton corner, a weak header from Wheater was easy for Almunia. For the visitors, a long ball from Angella reached Deeney, but he couldn’t control it and was tackled so the ball went out for a corner. From the set piece, Battocchio received the ball on the edge of the area and, to the exasperation of the travelling Hornets, just launched it way over the bar. At the other end, the ball fell to Danns on the edge of the Watford area, but his shot was also well over. Pudil then played the ball into the box, it was cleared as far as Murray who unleashed a decent shot but it was blocked by Bogdan. Battocchio tried another shot from distance but it just looped into Bogdan’s arms. Bolton’s next attack started when Ranegie lost the ball to Danns, he released Mason who was one-on-one with Almunia but the Spaniard dropped to block at his feet. A cross from Anya was met with a header from Ranegie that was cleared. With 12 minutes remaining, Davies was replaced by Chung-Yong Lee. Into the last ten minutes, Anya
went on a run and crossed for Ranegie, but Bogdan was first to the ball. Then Bolton seemed to play the ball about in our box for an age before it was finally cleared. With four minutes left on the clock, Trotter replaced the excellent Mason. Watford pushed again as Ranegie passed to Deeney in the box, but there were two defenders on him and the ball was cut out. Then Ranegie and Deeney both battled challenges to keep possession but when the ball was played to Pudil, he just gave it away. Then Battocchio found Deeney whose shot was blocked, Anya’s follow-up cross was cleared. The board went up indicating 6 minutes of time added on at which point Faraoni passed the ball into Bogdan’s arms and I just wished that we could do what the curlers did and put an end to the misery. In time added on, Angella was booked for taking Trotter down on the edge of the area. The free kick came straight back off the wall. Frustration got the best of Faraoni as he jostled with Ream who was trying to waste some time by the corner flag and the Italian was booked for his actions. The final action of the game was Ekstrand lumping the ball into the box where it was caught by Bogdan.
The final whistle went to boos from the travelling fans. I didn’t boo but neither did I applaud at the end. That display was not worth taking my hands out of my pockets. To be fair, I’d enjoyed the first half hour of the game. But once Bolton scored the rest had been just dreadful. A number of people commented after the game that if Deeney’s early header had gone in, it would have hit Bolton’s confidence and the game would have been totally different. But it didn’t and we were left with a long trip home wondering why this talented team is putting in such abject performances.
Still, to end on a positive note, the Nat Lofthouse statue is lovely.