I know that a lot of people have no interest in pre-season friendlies, but I love them. It is a chance to catch up with old friends, get familiar with current players’ new hair styles and have a first look at any new players. It is also a chance to watch your team in a game when the result doesn’t really matter, so you can just enjoy yourself.
When I checked Woking FC’s website for directions to the ground, I was a little perturbed to see a statement in bold text stating that, for personal safety reasons, they recommended that ‘unaccompanied women and children’ did not attempt the 15 minute walk from the railway station to the ground but took a taxi instead. I pondered the danger while remembering walks back to hotels in Burnley and Doncaster after evening games and decided that I would take my chances in Woking.
I am pleased to say that my walk through leafy Surrey passed without incident and, on arrival at the ground, I heard my name called and turned to see Dee and Mike who had just arrived. When we passed through the turnstiles we spotted Don, Trond and Gavin and all was right with the World. Prior to kick-off, Don and co. were joined by Troy Deeney who Don quizzed about the pre-season tour. Troy was not playing because of a knock but said he’d done three training sessions that day. As always, he was very willing to chat and pose for photos. One guy asked if he was going to stay. “I’ve just signed a new contract, what more can I do?”
Before the teams were announced, I wondered how many players I would recognize, but the starting line-up contained no newcomers and no new hair styles as Gomes, Nyom, Britos, Hoban, Anya, Capoue, Suarez, Berghuis, Amrabat, Ighalo and Vydra, lined up in a 3-5-2 formation.
We were stationed in the large stand behind the goal that Watford attacked in the first half and, after a quiet start to the game, there was suddenly a flurry of activity in front of us as Britos twice met Berghuis corners with headers, the first of which was cleared off the line, the second saved by the Woking keeper, Poke. Suarez then tested the keeper with a volley from distance which required a decent save to deny the Spaniard. Ighalo was the next to threaten from a corner, but I watch goalbound headers from Ighalo more in hope than expectation, so was not surprised to see Poke make the save.
The Hornets took the lead on 20 minutes as Anya cut the ball back to Berghuis whose shot took a deflection and ended up in the back of the net off the gloves of Poke. It had been all Watford to this point so it was slightly irritating when the home side equalized soon after. They won a free kick in a dangerous position, Gomes got his hand to the initial shot, but the loose ball was turned in. I must admit that, at the time, I was rather distracted by the beautiful Red Kite that was soaring over the field, I hope that the same was not the case with the Watford defence. The visitors had an excellent chance to regain the lead as Ighalo played a one-two with Capoue but his shot was well over the target. The pitch had been cutting up rather badly so we were then treated to the sight of Capoue on groundsman duty, replacing the divots. Les Simmons would have been impressed. Ighalo tried to meet a Berghuis cross with a spectacular shot and missed completely. In the last minute of the half, Woking had another free kick in a dangerous position but, with no Kite to help, it missed the target.
The start of the second half saw six substitutions with Arlauskis, Guedioura, Watson and Oularé coming on and a first chance to see Doucouré and Sinclair in Watford shirts. Sinclair made a lively start as he turned in the box and forced a save before heading a cross from Anya over the bar. Then Doucouré had a chance with a shot from distance. Mazzarri made further substitutions during the half with Holebas coming on for Amrabat and Hoban replaced by Success. The enthusiasm to see the young Nigerian play was slightly tempered by the fact that he was wearing Lloydy’s no 12 shirt (sob!) Arlauskis was called into action to deal with a cracking shot from Kretzschmar that he parried with both hands. An assured save that was in contrast to much of his performance. His tendency to come charging out of goal to intercept balls that the defence is already dealing with was not doing my delicate nerves a lot of good. Late in the game Britos made a great saving tackle that prevented a goal opportunity for the home side. Soon after, the final substitution saw the Uruguayan replaced by Charlie Rowan. The last action of the game was a weak shot from Thorburn that was easily saved by Arlauskis and the game ended in a draw.
It had been a game of two halves. The first had been very enjoyable with Watford peppering the Woking goal and being frustrated by a combination of a decent performance from Poke and the 11 men lined up to stop them. It was a shame that we didn’t make more of the chances, but it was a good run out. In contrast, the second half was scrappy featuring a number of players who had only met the previous Monday and it showed. Of the new players, Sinclair looked lively and fashioned a couple of chances. Doucouré also showed up well, although a few times when he appeared to have an opportunity to shoot, he passed to Success instead. The Nigerian was given less time to impress and, given that the overall performance was somewhat chaotic when he came on, it was difficult to form an impression. It was lovely to see Tommy Hoban back in action. Ighalo and Vydra were both in frustrating mode, although Ighalo had the better of the chances that were created.
As we left the ground, the players who had played in the first half were milling around the car park. It was a chance for photos with a group who were all on good form. Ighalo was in a particularly good mood, although his footwear was decidedly dodgy particularly as it was in Luton colours. After a while, the second half team emerged to get on the team bus. Last to emerge was Mazzarri, who I was surprised to see surrounded by stewards although a “Welcome to Watford” was greeted with a smile and “Thank-you,” which was repeated by the man that was identified as his translator, just in case I hadn’t understood the first time.
And so the build up to the new season starts. Who knows what joys and sorrows we have to come, but I am really looking forward to finding out.