There’s no rest for the wicked so, two days after the trip to Stamford Bridge, we were back at Vicarage Road for the game against Spurs. I arrived at the West Herts early doors to see Don and a number of others milling around outside as the doors were not yet open. My reason for getting there early was that I had completely forgotten to get a calendar this year. I always have a Watford calendar on my office wall at work, so it was essential that was rectified. I am not a shopper, I only ever venture into town when I have something particular to buy, so it is a while since I’ve been in the Hornet shop and my calendar ended up costing me over £150 as other Watford related delights caught my eye. I walked to the ground with Karoline and other members of the Vicarage Roadies and we reflected on the Boxing Day game and the season so far, both topics bringing smiles to our faces. On reaching Vicarage Road, a smartly dressed man caught my eye and then asked if I had any spare tickets. Don’t you love the Premier League?
Today was going to be a very tough test and it was amusing to reflect that three matches into the run of Christmas games that we had all been dreading at the start of the season, this was the first one in which we would face a club above us in the table.
Team news was that Aké regained his place in the side and Nyom was rested in favour of Anya. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo. The Tottenham team included former loanee, Danny Rose. When I got to my seat, I found one of the 1881 flags that hadn’t been claimed by anyone else so I joined in the pre-match flag waving.
There was a lively start from the visitors as Kane came running into the box but was stopped by a great tackle from Aké. The next tackle of note was less impressive as Alli slid through Capoue to earn himself a yellow card. Watford’s first goal attempt came as Ighalo connected with a cross from Anya, but he was poorly positioned and directed his header wide, although the flag was up for offside anyway. The next threat from the visitors came from a cross from Trippier that was headed clear by Watson. Watford then had a couple of decent chances both of which fell to Capoue. The first came from a corner that was cleared to the Frenchman, who shot high and wide. Then Watson found Deeney whose shot was blocked, again it dropped to Capoue who shot well wide of the target prompting chants of “that’s why we sold you” from the Tottenham fans. The visitors took the lead on 16 minutes as Cathcart lingered too long on a ball in the midfield, Lamela stole it and advanced upfield, Britos stood off and allowed him to shoot past Gomes. It was a gift of a goal, but it is hard to criticise Cathcart who has been a rock this season.
Spurs threatened again as Kane broke forward, fighting off the attentions of Cathcart, he cut the ball back to Lamela who mishit his shot which flew well wide of the target. At the other end, Deeney flicked the ball to Ighalo in the box, but Dier was on hand to clear. Then Deeney connected with a cross from Capoue and headed it down for Ighalo, but the defenders closed him down and prevented the shot. The Nigerian had another chance soon after as Jurado played the ball out to Aké on the left wing, he crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide. For the visitors, Alli tried a shot from distance that was well wide. Rose tackled Abdi and fed Kane who advanced on goal but his shot was well over the target. Jurado tried a low shot from distance but Lloris was down to save. Gomes was called into action to deal with a cross-cum-shot from Trippier that he pushed clear. At the other end Lloris had to deal with a cross from Aké that was also tipped clear. It was almost half time when Jurado found Abdi on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked, but the ball wasn’t cleared and suddenly Ighalo had the ball and was beyond the defence and shooting past Lloris. Just remarkable. Tottenham had a chance just before half time as a defensive header by Deeney reached Trippier, but he could only shoot wide.
So we reached half time level. Spurs had done a good job of snuffing out Watford’s attack but, apart from the goal which was the result of poor defending from Watford, Gomes had not been tested.
At the start of the second half, Behrami replaced Abdi. Spurs had also made a change just before the end of the first half replacing the injured Dembélé with Erikson. The first action of note in the second period was the award of a yellow card to Britos for a foul on Trippier. The tackle was right in front of Flores who did not look impressed with the decision. Erikson played a ball over the top to Kane, but the England man shot straight at Gomes. Watford fans’ impression of the referee was not improved when Jurado was booked for a foul on Alli that could easily have gone the other way. Just before the hour mark, Kane met a cross from Trippier with a diving header that flew wide of the target. Flores made his second substitution soon after bringing Prödl on for Britos. Watford’s first goal attempt of the half came as a Cathcart free kick was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared. On the hour, the Hornets were reduced to ten men. From our angle in the Rookery, Aké appeared to make a good tackle on Lamela who went down dramatically, the Spurs players surrounded the referee and the youngster was shown a red card. Deeney was then shown a yellow for protesting. Subsequent television pictures indicated that the foot was high, but Lamela’s dramatic fall wasn’t the first time that we had seen theatrics from the Spurs players so, subsequently, every touch by a visitor was booed.
The mood in the home end was not helped when Ighalo was penalized for trying to shake off the attentions of a Spurs defender as he tried to break down the right. Odion was also shown a yellow card, I can only think that he had let the lino know exactly what he thought of him. Thankfully I wasn’t on the pitch as my reaction would have earned me a straight red. I wasn’t the only one to be angry as the Rookery rang out with “You’ve only got 12 men.” Each side made a substitution as Nyom replaced Jurado and Son came on for Carroll. Spurs threatened for the first time since the sending off as Erikson played the ball through to Son, but Gomes was out to save at his feet. There were cheers from the home fans as the referee finally gave a free kick Watford’s way, although he really couldn’t ignore Alderweireld’s wrestling move on Capoue which finished with the Frenchman being thrown to the ground and the Spurs man’s name in the referee’s book. Watford had a great chance to take the lead as a corner from Watson was headed goalwards by Deeney, Lloris punched the ball into the air which led to a goalmouth scramble but it was eventually cleared. Danny Rose was the next to earn the wrath of the Watford faithful as he went down near the Watford box in an attempt to stop an attack by Deeney. The referee had words. With 5 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford had a series of corners and thought they had scored when Watson’s delivery was cleared from inside the goal by Lloris, but the ref’s watch didn’t go off so the ball can’t fully have crossed the line.
As Watford had looked the most likely winners, it was heartbreaking to see the ball in the net at the other end as a cross from Trippier reached Son who back-heeled the ball past Gomes. I was looking for a flag that never came and replays showed that my instincts were correct. The guy standing next to me just shook his head and lamented “after all that wonderful defending.” My comments were written in my notebook and have had to be omitted from this report on the grounds of decency. In time added on, Deeney had a chance to grab a point for the Hornets but his shot was blocked and the points went to North London. There were boos for the referee at the final whistle. Ighalo collapsed to the ground in disappointment (and exhaustion) and was helped to his feet by Flores who then went to the referee and had a few words. The officials left the pitch to loud boos that were accompanied by applause for the efforts of the players. Once he had reached the tunnel, the cheers started for the disappointed players who were still out applauding the crowd.
The result felt like a great injustice. After Ake’s sending off I had feared that Spurs would take control, but the Hornets had defended magnificently and the visitors had never really looked like getting a winner so for them to win it at the death seemed so unfair. This game felt like a flashback to our last visit to the top division when decisions seemed to go against us and every mistake was punished. But the fact that it has taken until the 19th game of the season for me to feel like that is a cause for celebration.
The next game will be very interesting. In the game away at Man City we set up to defend and hardly crossed the half way line. Facing them at home is likely to be a much different proposition and one I am relishing, even if I’m not expecting anything from the game. But our season does not depend on our results against teams like City and Spurs and, if the second half of the season is anything like as good as the first half, we are in for a treat.
Happy New Year!