When I arrived in Doncaster, it was a beautiful Spring afternoon. My pathetic sense of direction meant that I took a bit of a detour on the way to the hotel. Parts of the town centre were quite attractive, but the overall impression was of a depressed place with nothing going for it. Except, perhaps, a one-legged man playing a recorder who lifted my spirits, so I threw a few bob into his collecting tin. As I walked past the designated pre-match pub, there was a bloke slumped on the ground with two police officers trying to help him as he ranted and launched his wallet into the middle of the road. Thankfully, the coast was clear when I returned and our pre-match gathering was delightful despite the pub running out of our chosen beverage on more than one occasion.
Team news was that Bond was in goal, replacing Almunia, who was ill, and Merkel was in for Murray who has a groin strain. So the starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cassetti, Doyley, Pudil, Merkel, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney. I was a bit disappointed not to see Forestieri make a start, but he had a place on the bench. As the teams emerged for kick-off, it was noted that we were wearing yellow shorts. Somehow these didn’t look as unpleasant as they have on previous outings.
Watford were the first to threaten as a cross from Anya was headed back across goal towards Deeney who couldn’t quite get on the end of it. Then Tözsér and Merkel combined to find Ranegie whose shot came back off the defender. Merkel then played a one-two with Deeney before unleashing a shot that Johnstone did well to keep out. In the 18th minute, there was a tackle on Ranegie. As the referee walked over, I assumed that he was about to penalize the Doncaster player, but chants of ‘off, off, off’ from the home crowd indicated otherwise. The Swede had kicked out and was immediately shown a red card. He had been a hero in the Blackpool game, so this was more than
frustrating. The remaining 10 players tried manfully. Troy received the ball in midfield and launched a speculative shot that was easy for the keeper. Then a scare in the Watford box as an attempted clearance by Angella flew straight up into the air, Bond flapped at it but didn’t make a decent contact, fortunately the ball was eventually cleared. The respite was brief as Doncaster took the lead in the next move. Coppinger put in a cross that was met by Brown, who was allowed a free header that flew past Bond into the goal in front of us. We wobbled a bit after the goal. Cotterill went on a run and hit a shot that swerved away from the goal. Angella was booked for a high foul on Brown, who lay down as if he was mortally injured until the card came out. Doncaster threatened again, but Bond pulled off a good save from a free-kick and then got a hand to
the corner to keep it out. Watford then had a chance as a Tözsér free-kick was repelled as far as Angella whose shot was blocked. Then a lovely Watford move finished with a ball to Doyley in an attacking position where he did really well to win a corner. Tözsér’s delivery was met with a header from Angella that was just wide of the near post with the Italian complaining that he was being held. Then the home side conceded a goal kick right in front of the linesman who, instead, indicated a corner. I’m not usually one to get on the back of officials, but at that point it felt like it was 10 versus 14 on the pitch. This feeling was intensified just before half time. Deeney challenged the keeper following a poor back pass, pushed the ball past him and was goal side when the keeper threw him to the ground. As we waited for the penalty and red card, the referee did nothing. Absolutely baffling. At half-time, the fury of the travelling Hornets was equally apportioned to Ranegie and the ref.
At the start of the second half, Johnstone came out to take up his position in the goal at the end of the ground occupied by the away fans. Usual practice among Watford fans is to applaud the goalie on arrival, but Johnstone was greeted with shouts of “cheat”. Early in the half Duffy went down like he had been shot after a challenge from Cassetti who was booked more for the apparent outcome than the challenge itself. A couple of minutes later Tözsér was about to take a shot as his heel was clipped. A free-kick was given but, despite this appearing to be denial of a goalscoring opportunity, there was no card. Merkel took the free-kick, which cannoned back off the crossbar then fell to Deeney who hit it over the bar. Another lovely move had Cassetti, Tözsér and Anya
combining to feed Pudil whose low cross was easily gathered by Johnstone. Then Coppinger went on a run for Doncaster, but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Pudil. Just before the hour was up, Merkel, who’d had a great second half, was replaced by Forestieri. Tözsér was the next player to find his way into the referee’s book presumably for protesting the award of a free-kick to Doncaster. Forestieri made an immediate impression, beating a couple of players before finding Battocchio on the edge of the box and then running in to receive the cross but a defender got his head to it first. For Doncaster, Cotterill tried a shot from the edge of the area that was well over the crossbar. At this point, attention was distracted from the pitch to action in the stand. A group of burly men with “Crowd Safety” on their jackets, who made me feel anything but safe, had already
taken one trip up the steps beside me. On their second trip they returned dragging (and I mean dragging) a young fellow out apparently for banging on the metal wall at the back of the stand. There had been no trouble in the stand at all but, suddenly, there was aggression and anger all provoked by heavy-handed stewards. Thankfully, there was soon something to distract us on the pitch. Our equalizer was a thing of beauty. Pudil made a brilliant tackle in our area to thwart Billy Sharp, we launched a counter attack that finished with Forestieri aiming a lovely chip into the path of Anya who hit it at an angle past Johnstone. Ikechi’s celebration was short as he ran back to retrieve the ball and get on with the game. Straight from kick-off, Doncaster tried to restore their lead as a shot
from Sharp hit the net, but fortunately for us it was the outside of the net. Forestieri broke forward again and was cynically fouled by Keegan, who was booked for his trouble. Forestieri then found Deeney in the area, but McCullough was on hand to put in a tackle. With 15 minutes to go there was a real let off for the visitors as there was a bit of a scramble in the box but no Doncaster player could apply the finishing touch. The home side should have regained the lead in the next move as Duffy’s low cross beat Bond and reached Brown who had an empty net to aim at but managed to put the ball wide. Then Doyley was robbed and Wellens hit a lovely shot that was brilliantly saved by Bond. Keegan was the next to try for the winner but his shot was cleared off the line by Deeney. Bond then
pulled off another brilliant save to deny Duffy from a free kick. Cotterill then shot through a crowded box, but Bond was behind it and gathered safely. Cotterill threatened again as he went on a run and shot wide of the far post. With a couple of minutes of normal time remaining, Battocchio was replaced by Faraoni. Pudil tried to advance down the left, was fouled, got the ball back and was then hacked down by Coppinger who was booked. Doncaster had thrown everything at the tiring 10 men of Watford since we’d scored the equalizer. They finally made the breakthrough in time added on when Bond parried a shot from Duffy into the path of Sharp who made no mistake. Tempers boiled over as Pudil was fouled and there was a bit of handbags for which Wellens was booked. Faraoni was booked soon after, maybe for the same action but at this point the ref was handing cards out like sweets. Watford had one last chance to win a point from the free-kick but Angella did not make a good connection with Tözsér’s delivery and the ball flew over the bar.
The players were clearly devastated at the final whistle. They had given everything in that second half and earned the appreciation of the travelling fans who were loud and proud in supporting them. Pudil and Angella came over to give their shirts to kids in the crowd. Pudil was not so kind to the advertising hoarding.
There was a nasty atmosphere outside the ground, so I removed my scarf immediately. As we reached the car park where my friends had parked we saw a group of Doncaster yobs running out having attacked some young Watford fans and then smashed the windscreen of their car. As the Watford lads went back to their damaged car, the local yobs strolled away with the big stewards who had been so active in the away end conspicuous by their absence. A nasty end to a horrible evening, which left me wishing relegation on Doncaster so I never have to go back.