Monday afternoon saw part 2 of the Easter promotion challenge. After the drama of the game at Pride Park, the nerves were kicking in again for the visit of Middlesbrough. Due to the lunchtime kick-off, the West Herts was not open before the game so, for the first time in many years, I was at the ground before the gates opened. When I gained access to the stadium, I saw that Roy and the 1881 lads were placing large flags throughout the Rookery.
Team news was that there were three changes with Anya, Tözsér and Paredes replacing Vydra, Layun and the suspended Motta. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Tözsér, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney. It was good to see both Vydra and Adbi on the bench in case they were needed.
The crowd was swelled by a group from Genk who were supporting their former players, Pudil, Tozser and Vossen. The were cheers when each of the players’ names was announced and enthusiastic applause for Daniel Pudil’s warm up runs down the touchline during the game.
The tension ratcheted up before kick-off. The “We are Watford” video was shown and then the players emerged to a wall of noise and a great spectacle from the flags. The Middlesbrough fans had one small banner about “Belief” which looked pitiful in comparison. Round one to the Hornets then.
There was a tentative start to the game from both sides. The first goal attempt came after 9 minutes and fell to the home side as Deeney headed a cross from Anya over the bar. For the visitors, Leadbitter tried to catch Gomes out with an audacious free kick from distance, but the Watford keeper was equal to it. Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Anya played a one-two with Ighalo and unleashed a shot that was saved by the feet of the Boro keeper. Angella was the next to threaten the Boro goal, but his header from a Tözsér corner went wide. The first card of the afternoon was shown to Boro’s Reach for a hack on Tözsér. Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and fired a shot from distance that was wide of the target.
Watford almost pushed the self-destruct button in taking a quick free kick that was cut out and allowed the visitors to launch a counter attack that finished with a shot from Bamford which, thankfully, was blocked. Soon after, a cross from Friend was volleyed goalwards by Tomlin but Gomes was behind the shot. On 36 minutes, Watford took the lead in some style as Guedioura played a gorgeous long pass to Deeney in the box who hit the ball past Konstantopoulos into the far corner. Cue mayhem in the home stands. That goal gave Deeney the distinction of being the first Watford player to score 20 or more goals in three consecutive seasons. Quite a remarkable record. On 44 minutes, the Watford fans rose to their feet for the tremendous ovation of support for Nic Cruwys who remains in the thoughts of all of us.
If truth be told, there had been very little action of note in the first half. But we had scored a terrific goal and, given the levels of fatigue after Friday’s game, I had been very impressed at the work rate of the Watford players. They were giving the visitors no space, nor any time on the ball. To distract us from our worries about the second half, there was a half-time egg and spoon race between Harry Hornet and a Nando’s chicken. Needless to say, our Harry won by a country mile. Hopefully that was to be a good omen.
Watford had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half. Ighalo released Guedioura who found Anya, but his cross went begging due to the lack of any Watford player in the box. Boro then threatened the Watford goal as a cross from Friend was turned just wide by Adomah. At the other end, Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo whose shot was easily caught by Konstantopoulos. Watford’s first substitution came on the hour mark when Cathcart was replaced by Connolly. Watford had another chance to increase their lead as the ball fell to Watson outside the area but his shot was deflected wide. From the corner, Angella headed over the bar. My notes about the next incident read, “Watson to Ighalo, wallop!” which does a great disservice to the Nigerian who did brilliantly to beat Woodgate and hit the target. In mitigation, I would say that my goal celebration probably left my brain starved of oxygen. I had been counting down the minutes in the second half until that point. The second goal gave us some breathing room.
The goal was Ighalo’s last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Vydra. We now have strikers on 20 and 19 goals for the season, so why not give Matej a chance to improve his tally. Middlesbrough tried to strike back as Friend broke into the Watford box but there was Tommie Hoban to make a quite brilliant tackle. Reach tried a hopeful shot from distance that was well wide of the far post. Then Kike got under a header that flew well over the bar. Deeney was the next to try a shot from distance that was deflected wide. From the corner, Troy headed the ball out to Guedioura whose dipping shot was goalbound until it was tipped over by Konstantopoulos. Into the last 10 minutes, Friend shot well wide of the far post. Middlesbrough’s best chance of pulling a goal back came with a ball over the top to Kike who unleashed a shot that Gomes pushed out for a corner. The final Watford substitution saw Layun come on for Guedioura who was given a rapturous ovation as he left the pitch. The final whistle went to loud cheers and waving flags.
It had been a terrific performance from the Hornets who, once we went ahead, had never really looked like anything other than winners. It had been an equally superb performance in the stands where the fans got behind the team throughout the game.
So, before the rest of the division kicked off, Watford topped the table. Later results did not go our way, but we will have taken a lot of confidence from our performances this weekend, which will set us in good stead for the run-in. There is a lot of football still to be played, and will be plenty more twists in the tale before May 2nd. Let’s just enjoy the football and continue the terrific support.