Due to being busy at work and my niece having a driving lesson, there was no time to join the pre-match gathering with the City ‘Orns, so it was straight to Upton Park. Leaving the station you have the walk down Green Street, which has a great character and is a lot less terrifying than it was in the 80s. One drawback of an evening kick-off is that you miss the market experience. I considered getting a beverage inside the ground but the crush in the concourse persuaded me to go straight to my seat. My friend, Boyd, attending his last game before returning to the US, was already in his seat and showed me his photos of the statues outside, which made me regret walking straight to the away end.
When the team news came through, it was unsurprising to hear that Flores had made seven changes from the West Brom game. I thought that the team selection would give us a good idea of who would play in the semi-final, so the fact that he had included Gomes suggested that Pantilimon would start at Wembley. But I find it hard to believe that Cathcart won’t make the cut. The starting XI was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Prödl, Paredes, Behrami, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado, Guedioura and Amrabat. The major question among fans about the team was where were the strikers. The answer ‘Amrabat’ was not accepted by many. Once the pre match bubbles, both physical and in song form, were dealt with, it was time to kick off.
The home side took the lead in the 11th minute with the first shot of the game as Carroll floated balletically into the area to connect with a cross from Payet and poke the ball past Gomes. From our perspective behind the goal it looked like a poor goal to give away. When the replay was shown on the big screen from the side on perspective, there was a glimpse of someone in an offside position before the image went blank and they decided to show it from behind the striker instead. I must admit that I thought at this stage that we could be on the end of a rout. The next action did nothing to quell this fear as Payet’s shot was blocked and Gomes had to save the follow-up from Sakho, although the flag was up for offside. Watford’s first shot came in the 17th minute when Jurado went on a run and Adrian had to push his shot clear. Watford were involved in another good move which finished with a cross from Guedioura that was headed clear before it reached Jurado. Jurado went on another run before cutting along the byline and pulling ball back for Abdi who couldn’t finish. The first booking was earned by Prödl for a foul on Sakho. Payet took the resulting free kick, hitting his shot through the wall but Gomes caught it comfortably.
A promising move by the visitors broke down when Behrami lost the ball on the edge of the box, West Ham launched a counter attack which ended with a shot from Payet that flew over the target. At the other end Adrian saved after a turn and shot by Amrabat. West Ham really should have increased their lead when Payet broke into the box and curled a shot just over the bar. On 38 minutes, a picture of Dylan Tombides was shown on the big screen and Watford fans joined the home crowd in a minute’s applause in memory of this young Hammer who died of testicular cancer two years ago (check ‘em lads!) It was rather nice to see Sakho joining in the applause. A Watford attack came to nothing when Guedioura’s cross met the head of a defender before Abdi could connect. West Ham had a great chance to increase their lead as Carroll played the ball back to Sakho whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes. But they got their second goal just before half time when Holebas jumped into a challenge and flattened Kouyate prompting the referee to point to the spot. It was a stupid penalty to concede. Gomes was not to continue his penalty-saving heroics as Noble sent him the wrong way. The Hammers should have scored a third goal in time added on after Lanzini got into the box but, thankfully, he hit his shot wide.
So we reached the interval two goals down, which was a bit harsh as it had been a decent performance from the Hornets but we were lacking a goal threat. At the interval all that is wrong with modern football was encapsulated in the sight of a tourist in a half and half scarf taking photos with a selfie stick. I can’t believe that made me nostalgic for the days when a trip to the Boleyn meant a police escort with horses taking us back to the tube station to catch an away fans’ tube straight back to Euston Square.
West Ham had a chance in the first minute of the second half as Sakho ghosted in but he put his shot wide. At the other end a cross from Paredes was just too high for the leap of Abdi. Jurado went on a great run before playing a square ball just in front of Abdi who was stretching to reach it so directed his shot over the bar. On 52 minutes West Ham were awarded another penalty, this time for a trip by Abdi on Antonio on the edge of the box. Again Noble stepped up and this time he hit the penalty down the middle over the diving Gomes. Flores made a double substitution soon after bringing Berghuis and Anya on for Jurado and Guedioura. Most of the singing in the Watford end to that point had been repetitious renditions of the Behrami song to the tune of La Bamba.
Since it is a relatively new/little used ditty, it seemed as if the crowd were indulging in some singing practice. So it was good to have a bit of variety introduced with the appearance of the young Dutchman prompting a few choruses of “Berg-huis in the middle of our street.” Catchy and easy to learn, it brought a smile to my face. As did the performance of young Steven who was involved in Watford’s goal as his free kick was volleyed home by Prödl. There was no celebration by the Watford players, they just headed back to the centre circle. West Ham looked to regain their three goal lead as a corner was headed back by Carroll to Reid but the shot was deflected wide. Berghuis had a great chance to cut the deficit further as he appeared in the West Ham box, but his shot hit the side netting. Watford picked up a couple of bookings as both Suárez and Amrabat were cautioned for fouls. Flores made his final substitution with 14 minutes to go, and it was a surprise to see Deeney coming on to replace Abdi. I can’t have been the only Watford fan horrified at the thought that our captain and talisman may get an injury and miss the semi-final. Bilic also made a change bringing Moses on for Sakho. Watford could have pulled another goal back as Berghuis played a lovely through ball for Anya, but Adrian reached it first. Berghuis played provider again playing the ball out to Anya, who should have tried an early shot but took the ball too far wide and his cross went begging.
As I was distracted by a steward dealing with a beach ball on the pitch, Gomes was busy saving a shot from Moses. Gomes was in action again coming out to unnerve Lanzini and ensure that his shot missed the target. West Ham’s second substitution saw Andy Carroll making way for Emenike. On 90 minutes, Anya got to the by line and shot goalwards, but Adrian was equal to it. Watford won a late penalty as Ogbonna fouled Prödl in the box. Deeney looked confident as he stepped up, but I jinxed it by getting my camera out and Adrian made the save. In time added on Amrabat was sent off for a second yellow after tripping Reid. A silly thing to do with the opportunity to play at Wembley on the horizon. The final whistle went to sighs of relief that none of our key players had picked up injuries and comments that we had won the double header on away goals. I felt that 3-1 was a bit harsh on us as we had played some nice football while West Ham had not gone for it as I would have expected.
I was rather sad to leave the Boleyn ground for the last time. It is a city centre ground (my cousins grew up in the street that continues on from Green Street and went to school next door) and the structure inside ensures that the crowd is close to the pitch which usually means a good atmosphere. So I was disappointed that at this game it was all rather muted. Very odd given that they still have a European place to play for. I fear that the Olympic Park will be another in the pantheon of soulless bowls and not a fun place to visit at all.
Despite the defeat, we finished the evening in 12th position with an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to. This game had been a distraction and an irritation as both the players and fans prepared themselves for the big one on Sunday. Troy has talked in the build-up of the chance to make themselves Watford legends. I would argue that he is already there, but leading the team out for an FA Cup final would cement that for him. I do hope he gets that chance.