After the dreadful performance on Boxing Day, you have to question the wisdom of getting up bright and early for a trip to Wales two days later. My travelling companions for the game were the Norwegian contingent and WML stalwarts from the early days, Tim and Trond. Tim was visiting from his home in Vietnam, with his lovely daughter, Jemima, who arrived decked out in Watford gear. The pre-match venue was an arts centre which treated me to a couple of pints of Rosie’s Pig and a lovely Catalan-style fish stew. Not your usual pre-football meal, but much appreciated on a cold day.
In contrast to Friday’s downpour, the walk to the ground was under a clear blue sky. We soon encountered a local who asked us to be gentle with them. He then changed his mind and said that a number of home fans were hoping for a tonking which would hasten the demise of their “clueless” manager. I reflected that I could have been listening to a Watford fan in the aftermath of the Wolves game. The merchandise stalls on the way to the ground were selling nothing but blue and white scarves. Tan’s attempts to turn them red are on a hiding to nothing.
There was much consternation in the away concourse when the team news came through as Jokanovic had made six changes from Friday. Although there was logic in all the changes, six seemed a step too far. The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Pudil, Abdi, Munari, Guedioura, Paredes, Forestieri and Ighalo. The announcement that the referee was Stuart Atwell was greeted with boos from the travelling Hornets.
Watford had a chance to take the lead in the second minute as a lovely passing move finished with a powerful shot from Abdi that Marshall did well to push over. At the other end, a Cardiff free-kick appeared to be headed on by Guedioura but Morrison’s cross was cleared. The Watford fans had been in good voice at the start of the game and soon started baiting the home fans with “Is this a library?” I couldn’t help feeling sad at this as Ninian Park had always been an intimidating cauldron of noise. These new soulless bowls just kill the atmosphere.
Cardiff threatened again as Whittingham hit a free kick wide. I don’t know what the significance of the 19th minute was for the Cardiff fans, but at that point they stood and displayed their blue and white scarves just as Whittingham delivered a free kick that was headed home by Le Fondre. Watford tried to hit back as Forestieri found Guedioura in the box, he was knocked over and felt it should have been a penalty so grabbed the ball. Atwell signalled a free-kick and delivered a ticking off. Paredes had been ineffectual in the opening quarter of the game but in the 23rd minute he delivered a cross that Ighalo volleyed over the bar. At the other end Noone hit a shot from the edge of the box that flew wide of the near post. Hoban gave the ball away to Jones who squared the ball for Le Fondre whose shot was weak and easy for Gomes to gather. Just before the half hour, Watford started to dominate. First a shot from Guedioura that was over the target. Then Pudil and Forestieri exchanged passes but the Czech’s shot was also well over the bar. A lovely cross by Guedioura was headed out for a corner by Jones.
Guedioura played a free kick to Paredes whose cross was disappointingly hit straight at a defender. Ighalo crossed for Forestieri, but he failed to capitalize and the ball was cleared. I was making a note of this when I heard a noise and looked up to see the ball hitting the back of the net. I hate it when that happens. I now know that the ball had reached Munari who chipped it into the box for Guedioura to volley home. The goal seemed to instil confidence in the visitors whose passing improved immensely. Watford took the lead as the clock started for injury time when a Pudil cross was headed home by Ighalo.
It had been a weird first half. We’d started well and completely dominated possession, but had done nothing with it. The crowd had been on their feet chanting early in the game but by the half hour mark had fallen into silence and I had slumped to my seat in frustration at what I was watching. Suddenly we scored two goals, the mood on the pitch and in the stands improved and we ended the half on our feet celebrating.
There was a warning from Cardiff at the start of the second period as Whittingham’s shot was blocked by Cathcart, it rebounded to Morrison who shot over the bar. A lovely ball was played to Forestieri on the left, he dribbled into the box but couldn’t decide whether to shoot or pass so dithered on the ball until he was tackled. The ball came back in and Guedioura was running on to it, but he was stretching so could only poke it wide. Ighalo showed some silky skills with a couple of drag backs before a shot from an acute angle that Marshall blocked, it fell to Guedioura whose shot was gathered by Marshall. Forestieri tried a shot from distance that was parried by Marshall. Watford came close to increasing their lead as Abdi played the ball out to Guedioura who crossed for Ighalo but his shot was blocked at the post. On the hour Slade made two substitutions with Adeyemi and Gunnarsson making way for Harris and Ralls. This move was greeted with a chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing,” from the home fans.
After a rare mistake from Guedioura, the travelling Hornets started chanting his name. We were rewarded as he received the ball 25 yards out and smashed it in off the underside of the bar. Cue mental celebrations in the away stand and a smug feeling that we deserved an assist for that one. The chant changed to “Sign him up” at that point. We thought the fourth was coming a couple of minutes later as Forestieri ran on to a through ball from Paredes and had only the keeper to beat, but the linesman’s flag was up as he knocked it into the net. There was a rare foray into the Watford box as a couple of Cardiff corners came to nothing, the second was punched clear by Gomes, who was fouled in the process. Jokanovic made his first substitution on 70 minutes replacing Paredes with Anya. Anya’s first contribution was a run down the right, he beat his man and whipped in a cross that rebounded to Guedioura whose shot was blocked and went out for a corner. Watford could have increased their lead from the set piece, but Hoban directed his header over the bar. At the other end a shot from distance from Noone curled wide of the near post. Both sides made a substitution on 77 minutes, Macheda coming on for Le Fondre and Tözsér replacing Abdi for the visitors.
Watford’s final substitution saw Forestieri make way for Deeney for the last 10 minutes. Troy made an immediate impact as he crossed for Angella to head the fourth past Marshall. Into time added on, Watford were still looking to increase the lead as Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo but the Nigerian was flagged offside. Cardiff broke down the other end where Noone crossed for Jones to head home to reduce the deficit although there were very few Cardiff fans left in the stadium to cheer their goal. There was one last chance for each side. Deeney broke forward and crossed for Ighalo to volley goalwards, but Marshall was behind the ball. At the other end a dangerous looking shot from distance from Noone flew just wide of the far post. So Watford finished the game worthy winners.
What a difference a couple of days makes, as the travelling Hornets cheered their heroes off at the end of the game. Guedioura was my man of the match, not just for the goals but for some strong tackles he made in the midfield. That game marked the end of his loan spell. I hope that it isn’t the last we see of him in a Watford shirt. After the last two games, I can’t begin to predict what will happen in the new year, I just hope that it brings much happiness to my fellow hornets.