I woke up on Saturday feeling distinctly unwell, having had a cold for a couple of days. I was so tempted to put the covers over my head and stay there for the day, but I dosed myself up with cold medication and made the journey to Pride Park. I shouldn’t have bothered.
Team news was a couple of surprising changes as Almunia, Angella and Abdi all missed out due to injury and were replaced by Bond, Doyley and Battocchio. Jakubiak was back from Braintree to take a place on the bench. The starting line-up was Bond, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Doyley, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Riera, Ranegie and Deeney, who was captain for the day. Watford old boy, Forsyth, started for Derby alongside previous loanee, Thorne, and Hemel’s Lee Grant whose finest hour, I’m led to believe, was playing for a (Watford fanzine) CYHSYF team. The much missed John Eustace was on the bench.
It was all go in the fourth minute of the game with a booking and a goal. First Cassetti received a yellow card for a foul on Russell. Then Battocchio played a through ball to Deeney, who appeared out of nowhere to hit the ball into the roof of the net. This season, we have had a nasty habit of sitting back and defending early leads with disastrous consequences. I feared a repeat of that scenario but, rather than sitting back, we just stopped playing. Deeney was in action at the other end soon after getting in a block as Ward turned and shot. Then Forsyth cut the ball back, but it was cleared by Cassetti for a corner from which Ward’s shot was high and wide. Ward was the danger man again as he skipped around a tackle from Ekstrand, advanced and shot wide of the far post. Riera was
the second Watford player to be booked, but I didn’t see the challenge. Derby really should have scored as we failed to clear a corner and the ball dropped to Martin, but he shot wide when he appeared to have an empty goal to aim at. Martin had another decent chance with a cross to the near post, but Ekstrand’s attentions ensured he missed the target. Watford finally made another attacking break twenty minutes after the goal, but McGugan’s shot from distance flew well over the bar. Just before the half hour, Derby got their equalizer as Watford failed to deal with a cross into the box, Pudil could only head the ball on to Hendrick who poked it past Bond. The home side could have taken the lead soon after as Ranegie dwelt too long on the ball and was robbed by Thorne who played
in Ward whose shot was saved by the feet of Bond. A back heel to Derby player of the season, Bryson, teed him up to shoot but Pudil blocked his attempt. Ward then got the ball in the box, and seemed to be there for ages before he found space for a shot that flew just wide. In the 40th minute, a rare Watford attack saw McGugan play a one-two with Ranegie, his first shot was blocked, the follow-up went behind the goal. Our ball retention had been appalling and another misplaced pass allowed Forsyth to set up Hendrick who shot wide. In time added on McGugan fed Riera whose shot was blocked, the rebound looked about to fall to Battocchio in a great position for a shot, but McGugan picked it up and crossed for Ranegie whose header was too high.
That had been a truly shocking first half performance from Watford. How we were level was a complete mystery. “They are already on holiday” was the consensus in the concourse.
As the crowd returned to their seats for the second half there was a bizarre scuffle a couple of rows in front of me which was broken up by friends of the combatants. I have no idea what started it, but one of those involved who, at first glance, appeared to be a gentle grandfatherly type, then spent the next five minutes offering a 30 year-old out. Quite how he thought this would end well for him is a mystery to me and to his mates who were practically sitting on him to stop him causing any more trouble.
Watford started the second half brightly as a Deeney shot from distance looped into Grant’s arms. Then a header from Ekstrand reached Ranegie whose attempt was blocked. At this point, it was sad to see Ekstrand being carried off the pitch, he was replaced by Hoban.
However, it was hard to concentrate on matters on the pitch as the pensioner hoolie was still carrying on in front of us and the stewards waded in. To be fair, the stewards dealt brilliantly with the incident and allowed the friends to act as peacemakers rather than just
dragging people out as is so often the case. On the pitch, a cross from Pudil really should have been dealt with, but was allowed to roll across in front of goal but sadly Deeney couldn’t get a touch to turn it goalwards. It was then McGugan’s turn to limp off and be replaced by Anya. Derby went a goal up on the hour mark as Bryson and Russell exchanged passes before finding Forsyth who powered the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the box. Derby were immediately on a mission to increase their lead as Cassetti was robbed, Bond blocked Martin’s effort and Russell’s follow-up was wide of the far post. Then a shot from Hendrick bobbled wide and a cross was met by a header from Ward that was just wide of the far post. Martin then curled a shot wide from the edge of the box. I was too busy trying to make out the number of the striker (gold on black and white stripes is a nightmare), so completely missed Cassetti’s sending off after getting a second yellow for a foul in the build-up. As that will probably be the last time we’ll see him in a Watford shirt, it was a very sad way to end to his time with us.
Quite unbelievably, we were level on 70 minutes. Anya went on a run into the box and crossed for Ranegie to head past Grant. This was one of those goals that you celebrate with a certain embarrassment as it was so completely undeserved. Derby immediately tried to strike back as Riera was robbed by Ward in the box, but his shot was saved by Bond. Russell then tried a shot from the edge of the area which was blocked. There was then a rash of substitutions as Ward and Russell were replaced by Dawkins and Bamford for the home side while Faraoni came on for Ranegie for the Hornets. Anya tried another cross, but Deeney couldn’t reach it and it went out for a throw. I missed Derby’s third goal as the pensioner hoolie decided to launch his attack at this point, so I was distracted by the revolting sight of his builder’s bum as he sat down in front of me before grabbing the neck of the 30 year old’s father who was sitting quietly with his wife and, it has to be said, still had 10 years or more on the idiot if he’d decided to take
him up on his offer of a scrap. Pensioner hoolie’s mates tried to intervene, but this time the stewards were justified in ushering him out. I hope to goodness that bloke has neither a wife nor a cat as I would fear for them when he got home. Back to the game, the replay on the screen showed that the Derby goal had been a shot from distance by Hendrick. With five minutes to go the score became a fairer reflection of the game as Derby scored their fourth when Bryson received a pass from Dawkins then played a through ball to Martin who shot past Bond. That was Martin’s last action of the game as he made way for Hughes. Watford tried to reduce the deficit as Faraoni met a Tözsér corner with a header at the near post that was blocked by Grant. In time added on, Bryson tried a shot from the edge of the area but Bond pulled off a good save to keep the score respectable. For the visitors, Pudil broke forward but his shot was high and wide. At the final whistle we were well beaten and I couldn’t bring myself to applaud the team as the
performance had been dreadful. After applauding the crowd, Deeney came over to the away end and gave away his wristbands. When he saw a couple of disappointed kids, he took his boots off and made a present of them before leaving the pitch in his socks.
Travelling home with Mick, who generally takes defeat very badly, it was me who had the “raving hump” about the game. All that money shelled out on a day that would have been better spent wrapped in a blanket with a mug of lemsip. Mick also reminded me that we’d only won 4 away games this season (and I missed one of those). But, as we passed through the British countryside on the train journey home, I felt rather sad that this was the last of my Saturdays out following the team until next season. Despite the disappointment of the game, the days out are always good due to the lovely people that follow our team (with the notable exception of pensioner hoolie). I’m already looking forward to next season.