When the ticket prices for this game were announced, I sent the usual message to my regular travelling companions to see who wanted tickets only to receive a raft of refusals due to the excessively high price. Luckily for me, I have a lovely niece who has never been to Stamford Bridge and was very excited at the prospect. I thought long and hard before inviting her, as recent trips to Chelsea have meant pretty brutal defeats and I didn’t want to give her the worst Christmas present ever. As it was Boxing Day and there were no trains, I decided to go on the club coach for the first time in a number of years. It was nice to catch up with some old friends and, as luck would have it, we ended up sitting close to a couple of friends for the short journey to West London. As we approached the turnstiles, Amelia asked if they didn’t want us to go in as there were lines of stewards blocking our path. Thankfully, our turkey sandwiches passed the inspection and we were allowed entry.
Team news was that the only change was the replacement of the ineligible Aké with Holebas. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo. Prior to kick-off there was a nice tribute to Don Howe who, sadly, died this week.
Most Watford fans I know were pretty unhappy when Mourinho left, as Chelsea’s current position in the table seems to have more to do with the players’ dislike of Jose than any lack of talent. The consensus was that, following their win against Sunderland and the appointment of Hiddink, we could be in for a very difficult game. The home side certainly started very well and had an early chance as Costa met a corner from Pedro but diverted it over the bar. Soon after Willian had a shot from the edge of the area that was blocked by Britos for a corner. The home side completely dominated the first 10 minutes, but Watford then gained a foothold in the game and the first chance for the visitors was a shot from Jurado that was put out for a corner. Then Deeney fed Ighalo who was tripped on the edge of the box, but the foul was given the other way. Some good build-up play finished with a cross from Holebas that was put out for a corner. Jurado then found Ighalo in a great position in front of goal, but he completely mishit his shot and it flew well wide. There was danger at the other end as Costa broke forward, but Gomes was out to save at his feet. Deeney, again, found Ighalo in the box but, in the words of the bloke behind me, he took one scoop too many and the ball went out for a goal kick. A dangerous cross from Holebas was calmly chested back to Courtois in the Chelsea goal.
Holebas then exchanged passes with Deeney on the wing and whipped in another cross that was put out for a corner. From Watson’s delivery, Ighalo had a free header but directed it wide of the target. There was another decent chance for Watford as Jurado went on a great run and crossed for Ighalo whose shot unfortunately bounced off Deeney to safety. Then Watson intercepted a pass in the midfield and fed Abdi whose shot from distance was high and wide. Just after the half hour mark, Chelsea took the lead against the run of play. Costa broke forward and tried a cross that was put out for a corner from which Terry headed the ball down, it bounced off Cahill’s back and dropped for Costa to rifle home. It was a cruel blow at a time in the game when Watford had been on top. The Watford heads dropped a bit after the goal and I feared that Chelsea would increase their lead. Willian, who had been a menace down the Chelsea right, broke forward, but his cross was deflected wide by Britos. Then Oscar received a cross from Ivanovich that he hit wide.
Watford hit back just before half time after Ighalo was brought down just outside the box. Jurado took the free-kick which deflected off the wall for a corner. Watson’s delivery looked like it would come to nothing until it was handled by Matic. It was a nonsensical thing to do as no Watford player was anywhere near the ball, but the referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Deeney stepped up and coolly sent Courtois the wrong way to draw the Hornets level. It was no more than we deserved and there was a spot of joyful bouncing in the away end. The home side had a couple of chances to regain the lead in the dying minutes of the half. First when Britos fouled Costa just outside the box and received a card for his trouble. Willian took the free kick which flew a mile over the bar. Then a heart-stopping moment as Pedro broke forward and put in a cross that evaded all the Watford defenders in the box but, thankfully, no Chelsea player could get near it either and it flew wide of the far post.
So honours even at half time after an exciting and pretty even half.
Hiddink made a change at half time bringing Mikel on for Fabregas. There was an early scare for the Hornets as Azpilicueta was allowed to get into the Watford box, but his cross was cleared. At the other end, Jurado played a ball out to Holebas whose cross was put out for a corner. Nothing came of the set piece as Deeney was floored in the box, but the referee saw no infringement. A break by Chelsea was stopped by Cathcart, who earned a yellow card for the foul. From a Chelsea corner, there were shouts of hand ball from the home fans as a shot was blocked, but it had been a hopeful shout and nothing was given. Capoue had a great chance to take the lead for the visitors with two stunning shots in quick succession, the first saved by Courtois, the second blocked by Terry. The disappointment didn’t last too long, however, as a minute later Ighalo dribbled into the box and hit a shot past Courtois from an angle. Cue mayhem in the away end and the trademark Ighalo celebration by the corner flag right in front of us. The celebration again continued with a spot of bouncing and chants of “We’re all going on a European tour”. The Chelsea fans had another go at winning a penalty for their side after Oscar took a tumble as the ball was rolling harmlessly through to Gomes. Thankfully the referee was unmoved by the shouts. Back on his feet, Oscar played the ball back to Pedro whose shot was blocked brilliantly by Watson. Another cross from Willian was claimed by Gomes. Willian threatened again as he ran on to a lovely cross-field ball but Gomes saved the resulting shot.
The home side were level on 64 minutes after Jurado lost the ball in midfield, Willian played a through ball to Costa who finished past Gomes to claim his and Chelsea’s second. This prompted chants of “We are staying up” from some of the Chelsea fans near us. Good on them! Chelsea had a decent chance to take the lead with a dangerous cross from Oscar that Costa nearly finished, but the attentions of Gomes and two defenders were enough to make him put the ball wide. There were a series of substitutions as Behrami and Anya replaced Abdi and Jurado for the visitors and Hazard came on for Pedro for the home side. With 15 minutes remaining, Willian went down rather easily on the edge of the box, but justice was done as he fired the ball well over the bar. Watford nearly handed Chelsea the three points as Behrami made a rash challenge on Hazard and the referee pointed to the spot. There were chants of “Heurelho Gomes Baby” ringing out in the away end, but he didn’t need to get involved as Oscar slipped just as he was about to hit the penalty and put the ball into orbit sparking yet more celebrations in the Watford end. More Chelsea gamesmanship as a decision to award a throw-in to the Hornets was revised after Ivanovich rolled about a bit, the referee over-ruled his linesman and gave a free kick and a yellow card to Holebas. Soon after, Behrami also found his way into the referee’s book, this time deservedly, after a poor challenge on Azpilicueta.
A lovely break by Anya was stopped by the linesman’s flag. Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Ighalo and Deeney both broke into the box, Odion was the first take a shot that was blocked and rebounded to Troy, whose follow-up was also blocked. A nasty tackle on Cathcart earned Costa a yellow card with the Hornet faithful screaming for a red. As we reached injury time, the home fans were streaming out while the visitors were on their feet chanting “Watford FC” encouraging the lads to go for a winner. There was a final substitution in time added on as Deeney made way for Guedioura, handing the captain’s armband to Ben Watson on his way off. There was one last chance to win the game and it fell to the home side, so it was a relief to see Mikel hit a shot just wide.
The final whistle went to the customary celebrations. I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing Flores with a huge smile on his face hugging his players (and the odd member of the opposition) and then waving and blowing a kiss to the fans in the away stand. As we got back on the coach for the journey home, there were big smiles. Although it is a measure of the season that we’ve had that there was disappointment that we hadn’t taken all three points and concern that we’d shown the opposition a bit too much respect at the start. Certainly we had misplaced more passes than usual. To reflect on the positives, we are in 7th position, 3 points off the Champions League places and 12 points from the relegation zone (Don asked me to check that one). Already we have taken 4 points from the first two of our ‘difficult Christmas fixtures’ and even I am moving from my usually super cautious viewpoint and acknowledging that we could get something from the next two games. But, even if we don’t, it will still have been a remarkable start to the season. Best of all, I didn’t spoil Amelia’s Christmas and the memory of bouncing with her at Stamford Bridge is one to be treasured.