As we waited for the doors to open at the West Herts, we were thoroughly entertained by a fellow fan who knew Stuart Attwell’s father. Apparently he had been a referee and encouraged his boys down that route rather than actually playing the game, which all sounded rather sad and explains a lot. There was also a meeting of the Burnley survivors who reflected on their Monday evening. It has to be said that those of us who gathered in the Cricket Club concluded that it had been a cracking evening until the football started. However there was a lot of sympathy for Don, who had taken the coach, so he didn’t have the pre-match fun and wasn’t home until after 4am. That certainly convinced me that spending a night in Burnley was the right decision.
In the run up to the match, there had been concern about widespread injuries to our defenders. Also, after the Burnley defeat, a lot of fans were calling for Ighalo and Amrabat to be dropped, so Mazzarri’s selection was hotly anticipated. It wasn’t a great surprise to hear that the only two changes were those enforced by injuries to Cathcart and Britos who made way for Zúñiga and Kaboul who, thankfully, was fit to play. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Zúñiga, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue; Pereyra; Deeney and Ighalo. Former loanee, Nathan Aké, was named on the Bournemouth bench and was given a very warm reception by the Watford fans.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about Watford wearing their change kit at away games on many occasions when there is no clash with the home team. Those unhappy with this cite the fact that we have a very distinctive kit and lose some advantage when not playing in yellow, so it was interesting to note that the “Cherries” walked out at Vicarage road wearing blue.
Watford started the game well and had a very early chance as Deeney flicked the ball on to Ighalo whose instinctive shot flew wide of the far post. There was then a bizarre incident as Prödl was knocked flying and punched the ball as he went down. When Mike Dean blew the whistle the Watford fans were expecting a free kick to go our way, instead Bournemouth were awarded the free kick and Prödl was cautioned for deliberate hand ball. Mazzarri was furious at the decision although, if the referee didn’t believe that there had been a foul, then deliberate hand ball was the correct decision. It could have cost Watford dearly as Gomes had to be smart to tip the free kick clear. Bournemouth’s first caution was earned by Wilshere for a cynical foul on Zúñiga.
Watford had another chance to open the scoring as Ighalo laid the ball back to Holebas, but the shot was well wide of the target. I was rather surprised soon afterwards to see sarcastic celebrations from the Bournemouth fans on winning a free kick. Given that the Rookery had witnessed a disproportionate amount of soft fouls being given against their team, seemingly every time one of the Bournemouth players dropped to the ground, it was a perfect example of how two sets of fans can see games completely differently. Bournemouth took the lead just after the half hour as the Watford defence failed to stop a break down the right, Stanislas crossed and Wilson headed past Gomes, who will likely be disappointed as it appeared that he could have stopped the shot. It was (another) frustrating goal to concede, made all the more annoying as Wilson decided to goad the crowd in the Rookery by way of celebration. Watford had a great chance to equalize as Ighalo exchanged passes with Capoue, then did some good work holding the ball up before passing to Amrabat whose shot was saved by Boruc, the ball rebounded to the Dutchman but Boruc also saved the follow-up. At the break in play, Smith was booked for a nasty foul on Holebas in the build-up. There was a scare for the Hornets as Prödl allowed Wilson to win the ball, he passed back to Surman whose shot was, thankfully, well over the bar. The visitors earned another caution, this time for Francis who had taken Capoue out. Watford had a further chance to equalize in time added on at the end of the half, but Kaboul’s header was gathered by Boruc.
It had been a frustrating half, but the Watford performance was a considerable improvement on the Burnley game and I felt that we were unlucky to be behind. Interestingly, Amrabat who had been berated on Monday and whose inclusion was rather unpopular was playing very well.
Watford made an excellent start to the second half as a free kick from Holebas was met with a header from Prödl that flew well wide of the target. That was followed by a corner that Prödl headed on to Deeney who attempted a spectacular acrobatic kick that flew over the bar. The Hornets were level soon after as Amrabat received a throw in before brilliantly beating a defender and skipping along the byline then cutting the ball back to Deeney who beat Boruc to score his 99th goal for the Hornets. It was a gorgeous goal. The visitors had a great chance to regain the lead almost immediately so it was a relief to see Wilshere’s shot hit the post. Just before the hour, Isaac Success replaced Ighalo. Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Amrabat crossed for Deeney whose header was saved on the line by Boruc.
We were then treated to another strange decision from Mike Dean as two Bournemouth players collided allowing Amrabat to come away with the ball, but the referee deemed the Dutchman to have committed a foul and awarded the visitors a free kick. Eddie Howe made his first substitution bringing Josh King on for Jordan Ibe. The substitute made an immediate impact, coming away with the ball after a mistake from Holebas, and going on a run before unleashing a shot from distance that took a deflection to beat Gomes. It was very disappointing to be behind again when we’d made such a good start to the half. But we weren’t behind for long. A foul on Success led to a free-kick which was beautifully delivered by Holebas for the Nigerian to nod home. Watford fans were celebrating taking the lead soon after as a terrific through ball from Amrabat found Pereyra who crossed for Deeney to head home. I didn’t see the ball cross the line, but Mike Dean appeared to be signalling a goal. Sadly, it soon became apparent that he had actually given a free kick for a foul by Deeney on Boruc. Watford had another great chance soon after as a lovely move finished with a cross from Amrabat that flew a fraction in front of the head of Success. At the other end Pereyra lost out to Smith, he crossed for Wilshere who hit the post for the second time and was substituted almost immediately, making way for Gosling.
Mazzarri’s second substitution saw Guedioura on for Capoue. Given Bournemouth’s talent for winning penalties, my nerves were on edge when Smith was fouled on the edge of the area. Thankfully, only a free kick was awarded, although Stanislas did manage to hit the crossbar. Watford’s last chance to get a winner came as Pereyra played a wonderful crossfield ball to Success who controlled and found space before unleashing a shot which Boruc saved. The final whistle went to appreciative cheers.
In the end a draw was probably a fair result. The game had been pretty even and great entertainment, particularly in the second half. While there was a lot of discussion of Mike Dean’s decision-making after the game, irritating as it was, it did not influence the result. It has to be said that media darlings, Bournemouth, don’t get any more likeable on repeat viewing. We seem to come away from every game angry at their gamesmanship, but they never get called on it. Still, there were many positives to take from the game. Amrabat, when allowed to concentrate on attacking, was a joy to behold. He was a constant menace and his contribution to the first goal was a thing of beauty. Success was wonderful to watch when he came on. He is strong with a brilliant first touch, although I did comment to my neighbour that I wondered if he would be able to maintain that level of performance for ninety minutes. Post-match comments from Mazzarri suggest that he is sceptical about that and has concerns about the lad’s defensive contributions. But that is to be expected for a youngster and he certainly appears to be a very exciting prospect.
So we go into the international break in mid table and looking forward to the rest of the season. Even if our next fixture does mean a Sunday lunchtime in Middlesbrough.