After the post-match excitement of last week, it had been another long wait for the Championship decider. It was all in our own hands. Win today and we were champions.
It was an earlier than usual start due to the lunchtime kick-off and, when I arrived in Watford, there were only a smattering of Watford shirts around, but the red and yellow bunting outside The Flag was a nice touch. On arrival at the West Herts, there was already a decent crowd in there calming their nerves with a liquid breakfast. When we left for the ground, you could already hear the roars from Vicarage Road.
There was a depressing sign of things to come with hawkers selling Premier League tat in Vicarage Road, although I didn’t actually see any ticket touts. We have that treat awaiting us. There was a tremendous atmosphere inside the ground. A message from Elton John was shown on the big screen. Then, as the players came out, the Rookery held up a foil display organized by the 1881. The other stands had flags, streamers, ticker tape and balloons. It was a tremendous spectacle and lovely to see four stands swathed in yellow.
Team news was three changes with Motta in for Paredes, Layun replacing Guedioura, whose loan period expired last week and Vydra preferred to Ighalo up front. The starting line-up was Gomes, Connolly, Cathcart, Angella, Anya, Abdi, Watson, Layun, Motta, Vydra and Deeney.
Watford made a bright start as Abdi played a lovely ball out to Motta on the right wing, he crossed for Layun whose shot was blocked. At the other end, Lavery headed the ball in the direction of Lee but Gomes leapt salmon-like to pluck the ball from the air. Watford had a very good shout for a penalty as Watson won the ball and played in Deeney, who broke into the box and tried to dribble around Kirkland who took his legs from under him. From the other end of the ground, it was hard to see how it could be anything other than a penalty, but Lee Probert thought otherwise. In the 12th minute, as planned, there was a chant of “We’ve got Lloydinho.” Sad to think that, with his contract expiring this Summer, we may never see Lloyd in a Watford shirt again. Deeney was the next to win the ball back, he passed to Vydra whose shot was blocked by Kirkland.
Watford took the lead after 25 minutes as Deeney broke through, his shot was saved but the ball rebounded to Vydra, who headed home. We could have had a second soon after as Watson, again, won a ball in midfield, he passed to Deeney who played the ball out to Anya on the left but Ikechi’s shot was into the side netting. A corner from Abdi was headed over by Angella. Then Vydra played a short pass to Deeney who crossed for Abdi who just touched the ball wide. Deeney battled into the box and tried a chip which drifted wide of the goal. A rare chance for the visitors as a free-kick found Lees in the box, but his header was well wide. Watford should have increased their lead from a lovely move as Deeney played the ball out to Motta who crossed for Abdi who really should have scored, but put it wide. Abdi then released Motta who advanced down the wing and into the box where he should have squared for Deeney or Vydra but instead hit a weak shot that was easy for Kirkland. The 44th minute was marked with applause for Nic Cruwys from every stand in the ground including the away end. In the last minutes of the half, a crossfield ball found Anya, but there was no Watford player in the box to meet his cross. The ball eventually found its way to Layun who shot just wide. So the half-time whistle went with Watford a goal to the good. It had been a tremendous performance from the Hornets who fought for every ball and restricted the opposition to the odd breakaway. But the finishing had been wasteful. We should have been 3 or 4 goals ahead and I just hoped that we wouldn’t live to rue those misses.
At half time, it was lovely to see Guedioura on the pitch presenting the Club Hero award to Mary Thompson, a very worthy recipient. Cate and I also visited Casey Evans to buy some of the wristbands that she was selling in aid of the Nic Cruwys fund. A lovely effort, which raised £200.
The players had to wait a long time on the pitch before the second half kicked off, presumably to keep time with the TV games. Watford had an early attack as Connolly played a gorgeous dink to Deeney whose shot was blocked by Buxton, who needed treatment afterwards. From the eventual corner, the ball came out to Layun whose shot from outside the box was well wide of the target. At the other end Maguire attempted a shot that flew well over the bar. Anya crossed for Motta who delayed his shot so was closed down when a welly may well have been a better option. A Vydra cross was met with a powerful header from Deeney that was wide of the far post. Then Abdi played a ball over the top for Vydra to run on to, but Kirkland got there first. Another ball was played over the top, this time for Deeney but Kirkland was out of his area to clear. Vydra gave the ball away in midfield, but the Wednesday player could not get the better of the Watford defence and the ball was shepherded out for a goal kick. Watford’s first substitution saw Motta replaced by Paredes. Abdi crossed into the box for Deeney, who chested the ball down, but the flag was up for offside. Jokanovic made a second substitution with 20 minutes to go replacing Anya with Tözsér. Deeney fed Abdi who was bearing down on goal, but Kirkland was down to block the shot. Watford’s final substitution saw Ighalo replacing Vydra who left the field to a standing ovation.
With five minutes to go, people started streaming down the steps of the Rookery to gather pitchside for an invasion. It all seemed a bit premature as there was still only one goal in it. Then a flare was thrown on the pitch. A steward went to retrieve it and another was thrown at him. The rest of the Rookery let the idiot who threw the flares know exactly what they thought of him. In the final minutes of the game, Abdi played a ball into the box for Ighalo, but he couldn’t reach it. In time added on, we gave away a stupid free kick in a dangerous position. There was a delay before the kick could be taken as a moron had wandered on to the pitch. The free-kick was met with a defensive header, but we couldn’t get the ball clear and my heart broke when I saw the ball hit the net. Watford tried to regain the lead with a tremendous shot from Tözsér that required a good save from Kirkland to keep it out. Watford won a succession of corners which were hampered by the fans on the goalline. The final whistle went with a Wednesday player breaking forward and Gomes still upfield after the corners.
There was a huge pitch invasion. I have to say that, while I am all for pitch invasions when the game is over, it was disappointing to see how many people were more concerned with getting selfies on the pitch than with the result of the game. I felt totally deflated and, talking to many people afterwards, that was a common feeling. Eventually the pitch was cleared and the players came out. Jon Marks interviewed a number of them on the pitch and eventually reached Troy Deeney who said how p*ssed off he was but then launched into a chant of “Watford FC” which brought a smile back to my face.
It was a sombre post match gathering, as it had all been a bit of an anti-climax. We had made enough chances to have won several games and ended up losing the title to Wednesday’s only on-target shot. But there was time to reflect on the tremendous job that the team and the staff have done this season. The team is talented, hard-working and they play for each other with a great team spirit. In years to come this will be a squad that is regarded with much affection. It will be a hard job next season, but I believe that we already have a number of players who will shine in the Premier League. It will be an exciting new adventure. We now have the Summer to recover and get ourselves ready. When are the fixtures out???