In the run up to this game, having had two weeks to stew after the visit to City, we’d had lots of time to agonize about our lack of goals. At the Tales from the Vicarage event, Troy Deeney had been rather dismissive of his “goal drought” and said that they would come. However, having not had a shot on target in the last two games and having seen Deeney’s frustration, you couldn’t help but worry about the visit of Swansea who had had a decent start to the season and came into this game in 4th place and unbeaten.
Team news was just the one change with Anya in for Holebas. The starting XI was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Behrami, Abdi, Ighalo, Jurado, Deeney. Former loanee jack Cork started for the visitors.
Watford’s first attack came after a spell of patient build-up play that was beginning to frustrate when the ball reached Anya and he went on a run before playing the ball out to Jurado whose cross was blocked. The first goal attempt came when a cross from Anya was headed clear but only as far as Prödl who blasted just over the bar. Then a cross from Nyom was deflected to Deeney on the edge of the box, but his shot was blocked. Abdi looked certain to score until his shot took a wicked deflection that sent it wide of the target. Jurado took the corner, but it was a poor effort that didn’t beat the first man. Troy stole the ball from a Swansea player’s feet before advancing and whipping in a cross that Fabianski gathered before it reached the head of Ighalo. Swansea’s first threat on the Watford goal came on 20 minutes as a shot from Gomis was met by a flying save from Gomes who pushed the ball clear of the goal before gathering it safely. Watford continued to threaten as a free kick from Prödl was headed out to Abdi who unleashed a volley that flew high and wide.
On 23 minutes, I was convinced that we would open the scoring as Deeney got the ball on the edge of the box and, from our vantage point behind the goal, the path to the bottom corner opened up, so there were heads in hands in the Rookery when the shot curled wide. Capoue played a lovely ball to Jurado in the box, but the Spaniard took one touch too many and was dispossessed. Swansea could have taken the lead as Anya was dispossessed by the corner flag, Ayew cut in and crossed for Gomis, who was tumbling so his shot from close range shot was easily caught by Gomes. At the other end, Ighalo battled into the Swansea box and, much to the frustration of the Rookery faithful and his captain, tried a shot from a narrow angle that was saved by the feet of Fabianski when a cut back to Deeney would have been a better option. Soon after, a cross from Anya was just missed by Deeney as he came flying at the ball. Watford put themselves in trouble just before half time as the ball was lost on the right and a cross reached Gomis whose shot drew a great save from Gomes who wasn’t to know that the offside flag was up.
So, again, we reached half time scoreless, but this had been a really positive performance from the Hornets who had the best of the chances. It was particularly pleasing to see Deeney playing an effective role in the hole behind Ighalo with the two front men linking up in a way that we haven’t seen in the past couple of games. During the interval, Jay DeMerit was interviewed on the pitch talking about his happy memories of his time at Watford. Lovely to see him again.
The second half started with a period of possession for the visitors, but they didn’t create any goal scoring opportunities, the first shot of the half falling to Abdi whose shot rolled towards goal where Fabianski saved easily at the near post. Then Deeney’s shot from a Nyom cross was blocked. Deeney was in action again as he held the ball up before feeding Ighalo whose shot was just wide of the post. Just before the hour mark, Gomes launched a ball upfield that Deeney headed on to Ighalo who shot past Fabianski to send those inside Vicarage Road wild. That goal had been coming, but it was a great relief to finally break the home duck. Spirits were dampened soon after as the Hornets were reduced to 10 men. There was some confusion in the Rookery as it appeared that Behrami had been fouled by Ayew and that the card was being brandished at the Swansea man, but it was the Watford man who left the field and pictures later showed a stamp by Behrami had caused his departure. It was a worrying development as Behrami had been excellent.
This could very well have been a turning point and it is great credit to the lads that it wasn’t. Flores’ immediate response to the sending off was to sacrifice Abdi for Watson. Thankfully Watford continued to attack as a cross from Anya was only cleared as far as Jurado whose shot was blocked, the ball found its way to Capoue whose shot across goal flew wide. Watford’s second substitution saw Berghuis replace Ighalo. The next action was in the Watford box as Éder came flying in to challenge Gomes and left the keeper in a heap on the ground. Thankfully, after a short period of treatment, he was able to continue. Shelvey attempted an exchange of passes with Montero but the return ball was cut out by Watson. Swansea’s next goal attempt was a shot from distance by Fernandez that landed in Row TT of the Rookery almost hitting a child whose Dad was on a final warning from his mother about keeping him out of danger. Capoue continued to impress as he broke into the box but his low shot was saved. There were shouts of ‘handball’ from the Rookery as Ki controlled the ball and passed to Fernandez whose shot was well over the bar.
Capoue was again on the attack as he pirouetted to shrug off the attentions of a defender and went on a run that deserved more than a blocked shot at the end of it. With 7 minutes remaining, Flores replaced Deeney with Diamanti leaving us with no strikers on the pitch and a clear mandate to defend the lead, which is always risky at 1-0. As the minutes ticked down, the nerves increased so it was a relief when a ball from Naughton to Shelvey was intercepted by Anya who took it out of the danger area. Swansea’s best chance of the game came in the last minute of normal time as a powerful shot from Shelvey was blocked by Gomes who spilled the ball before pouncing to gather as Éder closed in. The announcement that the fourth official had indicated seven minutes of injury time prompted an increase in both the heart rates of the Rookery faithful and the volume of the chants, which had already been quite impressive. Jurado broke forward and crossed for Berghuis who had two shots on goal, both of which were blocked by Fabianski. There was a bit of a frantic scramble in the Watford box, with the home defence unable to clear so it was a relief when Fernandez headed over the target to loud cheers from the Rookery. As the Hornets broke down the other end, there was a cry from behind me “We don’t need another goal, just keep it there,” which they duly did.
As injury time ticked on, Watford fans in all the stands were on their feet loudly encouraging their heroes and as the final whistle went there were rapturous cheers and the feeling that we had all played our part in that victory. My niece declared that it had been the longest 7 minutes of her life and, judging by the exhausted looks of those around us, that was a popular opinion. There was loud applause, singing and flags waving as the players made their way around the ground applauding the fans. Then, as we made a move to leave, “Gold” came blasting over the tannoy meaning one last rendition of “Ighalo-oh” before we went home. On the way out through the concourse there were groups standing around the televisions just waiting to see confirmation of our 12th place in the table which was greeted with cheers.
Outside the ground there was an unpleasant atmosphere as the Swansea fans were as niggly and aggressive as their team had been, but we were soon back to the West Herts and the smiles couldn’t have been wider as we reflected on the game. There had been a far more positive approach and the partnership of Deeney and Ighalo looked back to its best. The only player that drew any criticism was Jurado who is yet to convince, his set pieces were just awful. Still, it is churlish to criticise, as this was one of those games that reminds me why I go to football. A tremendous performance on the pitch and a wonderful supportive atmosphere in the stands. Bring on Newcastle.