Pre-match gatherings before midweek home games are always a rather subdued affair as those of us who neither live nor work in Watford have rushed to get there after work. So it was a pleasure to be joined by Rod and his son, Luke, who were on holiday from New Zealand and had Toddy on hand to ensure that they experienced the best that the UK has to offer.
Team news was that Beppe had made 4 changes from Saturday with Ekstrand, Hoban, Murray and Merkel in for Belkalem, Faraoni, Battocchio and McGugan. The changes sounded a bit odd until we realised that Ekstrand and Hoban would go into the back three
with Cassetti taking up Faraoni’s position as right wing-back. The starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Pudil, Merkel, Tözsér, Murray, Cassetti, Anya and Deeney. Lee Williamson started for the visitors and was given a decent reception by the home crowd. In fact it was a warmer welcome than he had in some games when he played for us. But more on that theme later.
Blackburn almost scored in the first minute but Almunia leapt to get a hand to a speculative shot from Kane. At the other end, Angella met a corner from Anya with a header that flew wide. The first goal came in the third
minute and from an unexpected source as a throw-in from Anya was flicked on by Merkel to Cassetti who knocked the ball past Robinson. It was a goal that brought a smile to all our faces as much for the goalscorer as the goal. The visitors almost struck back immediately as Gestede was one-on-one with Almunia, but the keeper stood strong to make the save. Gestede had another chance soon after with a header from a corner that flew over the bar. At the other end Murray tried a shot from distance that was just wide of the far post. Then Tözsér played a ball over the top to Deeney, who beat the defender but shot into the side netting. Rovers equalized on 27 minutes, Almunia came to punch a free-kick clear but it fell to Dunn who shot into the opposite corner. Rovers could have taken the lead as Gestede met a long throw from Spurr with a header that he glanced just wide of the target. Just before half time, Almunia was first to a cross into the box so Gestede came in hard and knocked him flying. Rhodes picked up the loose ball and put it in the net, but it was long after the referee had blown up for the foul. In time added on Kilgallon met a corner from Conway with a header but Almunia was equal to it.
As Robinson came out to take his place in the goal at the Rookery end at the start of the second half, it was really nice to see him applauding the home crowd before we greeted him. The teams were all in position before the officials appeared and he endeared himself even further by chivvying along the lino who was checking his net. We thought we’d regained the lead soon after the start of the second half as Pudil played a one-two with Anya who passed the ball back to Deeney who buried it past Robinson. Our celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag. My brother-in-law, who was listening to the lovely Jon Marks, informed us that it was Anya had been flagged offside but that Jon had seen a replay, courtesy of the Blackburn analyst, which showed that he was nothing of the sort. Deeney then turned provider with a pass to Anya who shot wide of the far post.
Deeney had the ball in the box again but was challenged and the ball broke to Cassetti who juggled it before finding Murray whose shot was deflected. Then Pudil and Tözsér exchanged passes before crossing for Deeney who was crowded out before he could shoot. Battocchio replaced Murray after an hour. On 64 minutes, we were a goal down as Hoban lost the ball to Dunn in the box, he played it into the path of Conway who slotted past Almunia. We were not behind for long as Kane handled Anya’s cross and the referee pointed to the spot. Deeney made no mistake hitting the ball to Robinson’s right as the keeper went the wrong way. McGugan replaced Hoban and then boos from the Rookery greeted Diakité as he prepared to come on for Merkel. The loanee had received the
same treatment at Wigan. It really baffles me why a section of our fans would rather abuse their own player than support the team. As it so happened, he had his best showing so far in a Watford shirt and, although he was involved in a yellow card incident, he was the victim having been fouled by Evans. The visitors threatened as Rhodes tried his luck with a shot from the right which Almunia claimed. Then Kane was booked for a foul on McGugan. Watford’s third goal came with a couple of minutes to go and was a joy to behold as Anya released Battocchio, who had a lot of ground to cover before he reached the edge of the box and unleashed a shot that flew past Robinson into the goal at the Rookery end. By way of celebration, he was buried under a crowd of players plus a certain mascot.
We wondered where the referee found 6 minutes to add on and, half way through the additional period, the visitors equalized as a Gestede header hit the inside of Almunia’s right-hand post and bounced across the goal into the net on the opposite side. The frustration in the stands was equalled on the pitch at the final whistle as Deeney aimed a kick at a goalpost. But Angella went one better. He was furious and took it out on Pudil aiming a verbal volley that left the Czech defender standing in the middle of the penalty area appearing to tell his team mates that he wasn’t going back into the dressing room until Gabriele had calmed down.
For the second home game in a row, there were complaints about the entertainment value from a game in which we’d scored three goals. The consensus was that it was the most boring 6 goal “thriller” that we’d ever seen. It is an odd time as most of the people that I know like the manager and most of the players but there is something missing on the pitch. We have watched much worse football than this and cheered the teams on, but maybe the gorgeous football that we saw for much of last season has spoiled us. At this point the season is over for us so we can relax in the upcoming games, the next of which is probably my favourite away day of the season.