Last Thursday, I was invited to an evening at the club at which we were charged with tasting the catering offerings for the new season (who ate all the pies?). We were told that there will be a number of freshly cooked options available including pies, chicken curry and fish and chips. The only vegetarian option is a cheese and potato pie (veggie food doesn’t sell, apparently) and my question about the continuing availability of chicken wraps and ham baps indicated how often I buy food inside the ground as they haven’t been available for at least a season. The tasting only included pies and hot dogs and I must say that the boeuf bourguignon pie was excellent, lots of chunks of beef and a very nice pastry crust. I am also told that the Hornets Ale (a Carlsberg product) was rather good.
Back to the events of Saturday. On our last visit to Southampton (over which we should draw a veil) our party met at a lovely pub which fell down by taking forever to serve the food on a weekday evening. We decided to give them another chance and they delivered. The beer was great, the food was good and was served promptly (and my egg and bacon roll cost less than it would have done from the van outside the ground), the staff were lovely and the company was exceptional. I was a little concerned when young Matt decided to join us, as his occasional attendance in recent times has inevitably resulted in defeat. But our late substitute, Adam, told us that he had never seen us lose at Southampton, so that made me feel a lot better about our prospects.
On arrival at the ground, there was a huge queue at the turnstiles, but it moved very quickly and, as we snaked around, we passed friends, so paused for hugs and kisses with some and smiles and greetings with many. Our catching up was clearly bothering the stewards who told us to move along. It had been announced during the week that the tickets were being subsidised, so that all would cost £20 (following the FSF Twenty’s Plenty campaign). Despite the sponsorship already being printed on the tickets, we were charged full price at the time of sale and the rebate was applied by way of envelopes being handed out at the turnstiles. Call me churlish, but I would have been more impressed if they had just refunded to our credit card accounts as the rebate stunt proved to be an environmental mess as large numbers of envelopes were discarded just inside the turnstiles. In addition to that, some fans were given the wrong sum, which was fine if you were given a tenner when you had bought a concession ticket, but not so good the other way around.
As we took our place low down in the stand, you couldn’t help but contrast the blazing sun to the torrential rain that we experienced on our last visit.
Walter Mazzarri’s first team selection was eagerly awaited and contained a couple of surprises with Amrabat and Behrami, who hadn’t seen a lot of game time in pre-season, being preferred to Anya and Suárez/Watson. The starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.
There was a nervous moment for the Hornets early in the game as Gomes did well to keep out a free kick from Tadić, only for Britos to direct a follow-up goalwards. Thankfully Gomes was able to keep that out as well. Watford took the lead on 9 minutes through our newly discovered goal machine, Capoue. It was a lovely goal as well. A great cross from Amrabat was headed back by Deeney into the path of the onrushing Capoue who buried it past Forster. The first goal of a new season always feels significant and it was great to see this one go to the Hornets. Sadly our first goal of the season was greeted with the first smoke bomb, which I didn’t see but the fragrance is unmistakable. There were few further chances until after the half hour when Long headed a Tadić cross just wide. Soon after Holebas hit a cross-cum-shot that looked dangerous, but ended up on the roof of the net. Redmond had a decent chance of an equalizer but he shot just wide. As the home side threatened late in the half, there was some lovely defending as Prödl put in a great tackle and Cathcart was on hand to clear up. Southampton had one last chance to equalize in the first half with a shot from Cédric that Gomes did well to push to safety.
At half time the mood among the travelling Hornets was good. It had been a decent performance with a lovely goal and some solid defending.
There were no changes of personnel at the start of the second half. Just before the hour mark, a good Watford move broke down allowing Southampton to counter attack finishing with a shot from Redmond that Gomes did very well to keep out. This was followed by a couple of Southampton corners, the second of which was punched by Gomes but only as far as Redmond who volleyed home. Watford could have struck back almost immediately as a back pass was played short to Forster, Deeney ran on but the keeper managed to be first to the ball. The home side also had a chance to increase the lead as Yoshida headed just over.
Mazzarri made a couple of substitutions with Watson coming on for Behrami and Zúñiga making his debut replacing Guedioura. The Colombian is a wing back but, on this occasion, was used in the midfield. With 15 minutes to go, an attempted escape by Long was stopped when Watson dragged him to the ground. There was no surprise when the red card was shown and the Hornets faced a challenging end to the game. From that point on, it was mostly one way traffic with Watford mounting a rearguard action. When Watson was dismissed, it was commented that it ended Vydra’s hopes of any game time and, sure enough, Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Ighalo replaced with Anya. Into the last five minutes and it appeared that Southampton had taken all three points as Redmond again beat Gomes, but the goal was ruled out for what I was reliably informed was the first offside of the game.
At the final whistle, a number of the Watford players collapsed to the floor and, I must admit, that I wanted to follow suit as I had been exhausted watching that second half from the stands. The players came over to thank the travelling fans. They were not joined by Mazzarri, but that is not meant as criticism as he did give the crowd an appreciative wave before disappearing down the tunnel. He is rather animated in the dugout and could bring us some entertainment on that score this season.
At the end of the game most Watford fans were happy with the point and impressed that we’d managed to hold out with ten men. The positives in the game were that we defended well and the goal was a thing of beauty. The negative for me was the irritation that I felt in the second half every time we played a ball forward in hope rather than expectation that inevitably was cleared causing us to have to defend again. We have a very difficult few games coming up, so the Watford faithful will have to be patient as any points during this period will be a bonus. Still, it is always good to start the season with a point and Matt is now welcome to come to future games, so it’s all good.