I was up at the crack of dawn again for the trip to Newcastle. In my desire not to miss the train I had booked, tickets for which had cost a small fortune despite booking as soon as the fixture date was confirmed, I was at Kings Cross an hour before it was due to leave. The upside of this is that it meant I bumped into Jon Marks and had time for a chat about our season so far. The main theme was the fact that, unlike our last season in the Premier League, this time we are not travelling to every away game with a sense of impending doom. Given the form of Newcastle this season, this game was definitely winnable. It was only when he left that I realized that I hadn’t congratulated him on his tremendous celebration at the end of the Swansea game.
Newcastle really is a beautiful city. The (circuitous) route to the designated pre-match pub took me down the steps at the side of the castle allowing a bit of sightseeing. I arrived at the pub just after the doors had opened, so was able to grab a little section for our party to fill and I was soon joined by the usual suspects. Among those in the same hostelry was Dave, our Supporter Liaison Officer, who took time to talk with a number of the North West Horns who were present.
The journey from the pub to the ground is not long, but it is all uphill, which was more painful due to the knowledge that on arrival we would have to climb 14 flights of stairs to reach level 7. My memory of our last visit was that we were so high up that I could barely recognize the players. In fact, I recall reading somewhere that it is a quarter of a mile from the back of the away end to the centre circle, so I had brought my binoculars. Outside the ground, I was drawn to a statue (I do love statues) that purported to be of Bobby Robson but, to my mind, was not a great likeness.
Team news was that the only change was the replacement of the suspended Behrami with Ben Watson. So the starting 11 was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.
In the run up to the game, the Newcastle Chronicle had an article which included the paragraph, “Let’s face it, Watford are pygmies living in a land of giants. They deserve huge credit for achieving what they have, but clubs like Newcastle, with 50,000 fans bellowing them on, ought to sweep them contemptuously aside.” The words made my blood boil, but meant that Flores didn’t need to dig too deep to get inspiration for the pre-match team talk.
As the team prepared for kick off I was both surprised and encouraged to see the players acknowledging our chants. It was a relief that they could hear us from such a distance.
Watford had the best of the early exchanges with Ighalo getting an early sight of goal as he beat his man on the edge of the box, turned and shot wide of the near post. He went even closer soon after, shooting just wide after Abdi headed the ball down to him. There was danger at the other end as a Newcastle cross was only helped on by Cathcart and Cisse prodded the ball past Gomes who, thankfully, scrambled back to smother it before it reached the goal. The visitors were ahead after 10 minutes as Abdi won the ball on the wing, it found its way to Ighalo via Capoue and Deeney and the Nigerian hit it into the bottom corner to a send the travelling Hornets on level 7 into ecstasy. Goal celebrations at that elevation were a bit dodgy and the chap in the row in front nearly went tumbling, but managed to regain his balance before any damage was done. There then followed a period of bouncing from the happy Hornets up in the gods.
Newcastle looked to strike back almost immediately with a quick counter attack by Sissoko who played the ball out to Cisse but the shot was into the side netting. The home side had another chance as Haidara cut the ball back to Sissoko but the cross evaded both Thauvin’s head and the goal. Ighalo was taken down as he tried to break, howls for a foul were quietened when the ball broke to Jurado who found Abdi, he teed up Deeney whose shot curled just wide of the target. Jurado had the ball on the edge of the box, but failed to test Krul with a shot that was weak and straight at the keeper. Ighalo received the ball from a throw-in before breaking free of the defence but his shot was also straight at Krul. Just before the half hour Watford were two goals ahead as a long pass from Prödl was beautifully controlled by Deeney before he played a through ball to Ighalo who rounded the keeper and found the net. It was a lovely goal and, after chanting in praise of the scorer, the travelling Hornets also acknowledged Deeney’s contribution. Full back, Nyom, went on a stunning run and, with no better idea of what to do just belted the ball at a defender to win a corner. Jurado had the ball in the Newcastle box but didn’t seem to want to shoot and the lack of other options meant the chance went begging. A Newcastle break was stopped by a cynical foul from Abdi who was booked for his trouble. Newcastle looked to pull one back through Perez but his shot from distance flew over the bar. Then a shot from Thauvin was parried by Gomes, the ball fell to Anya who went on a run upfield but, with nobody accompanying him, he had no outlet. Just before half time, a ball into the Watford box bounced off a defender and out for a corner prompting loud cheers from the home fans that summed up how little they had had to applaud in the first half. In time added on, Nyom released Ighalo but Krul was quickly out of his box to clear the danger. The half time whistle went to boos from the Newcastle fans. In contrast, the travelling Hornets were delighted with their two goal lead and the very assured performance of their team.
The visitors had the first chance of the second half through Deeney, whose shot was deflected for a corner. But it was the home side who struck next, pulling a goal back just after the hour mark as Janmaat exchanged passes with Sissoko before shooting past Gomes. Watford tried to restore the two goal lead as Ighalo found Deeney in the box but he was tackled before he could line up a shot. Newcastle’s goalscorer, Janmaat, very nearly grabbed an equalizer, but Gomes was equal to the shot and pushed the ball around the post. The Dutchman then turned provider with a cross that de Jong headed wide. Flores made his first substitution with 15 minutes to go with Berghuis coming on for Abdi. The substitute went on a run through the middle and passed to Nyom whose cross was wild. A counter attack by the home side finished with a shot from de Jong that Gomes got down to save. Watford’s second substitution saw Ake coming on for Jurado, a change which was welcomed by the fans in the away end as the Spaniard had had another disappointing game. An attempt to break by Wijnaldum was stopped as he was pulled back by Capoue, who was cautioned. With three minutes remaining on the clock, Guedioura replaced Watson much to the delight of the travelling Hornets who had been calling for his introduction for some time.
Newcastle’s first caution went to Colback who received a yellow card for a trip on Ighalo as he tried to break. In all honesty, this did us a favour as Odion appeared to be running out of steam and this ensured that we kept possession and a little more time was used up. Berghuis cut the ball back to Nyom on the right wing, he charged into the box but his shot was high and wide. I had been counting down the seconds since Newcastle’s goal, so was relieved that there was only 4 minutes of added time this week. Thankfully, the only chance of an equalizer in this period came with a shot from Mbemba that went harmlessly across the goal and wide. The final whistle went to boos from the home fans and loud cheers from Hornets up in the gods. The joy on the faces of the players and coaching staff as they celebrated reflected that of the fans in level 7. I swear we floated back down those 14 flights.
So, back to back wins in the Premier League, both of them thoroughly good performances. Although, as this is Watford, they never make it easy for us and that second half had been a bit painful to watch at times. Especially occasions when we had a good spell of possession but didn’t seem to want to increase the goal tally. While Ighalo will receive the plaudits for his goals, it was his great interaction with Deeney that left the biggest smile on my face. They are back to their best. We missed Behrami in midfield and I was, again, disappointed with Jurado but, all in all, it was another impressive performance from a team that looks like it belongs at this level. I am starting to like Premier League football.