It seemed like an age since we’d last played at Vicarage Road. Indeed, with the international break and two away games, it had been four weeks since the Bournemouth game. So it was nice to be back in the West Herts again on a gorgeous October afternoon.
After we left the club, it was lovely to join the crowds making their way to the game. There is always something special about the sense of anticipation in a pre-match crowd. Also, as it was Watford playing Hull, there was neither a ticket tout nor a half-and-half scarf anywhere to be seen.
Team news was that Mazzarri had made one change bringing Amrabat in for Zúñiga. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo. It was also good to see Janmaat back on the bench after recovering from his injury.
With Hull’s dismal form of late, the perception among some Watford fans was that this would be an easy win for the Hornets, but I have been watching Watford long enough to know that we never win bankers as easily as we should.
After the relevations in the Telegraph about the baffling case of the forged bank letter regarding Gino Pozzo’s finances that is now being investigated by the Football League, it was pleasing to see the 1881 displaying banners in support of the Pozzo family prior to kick off.
Watford started the game like a rocket and the ball was in the Hull box within the first minute, but Amrabat’s cross just evaded Deeney. There were two great chances to take the lead in the fourth minute as, first, a corner was met with a header from Kaboul that slammed off the crossbar and bounced down and out of the goal. Then the ball reached Pereyra who curled a lovely shot that hit the far post. There was another decent chance as Amrabat cut the ball back to Behrami but his shot was rather weak and easily dealt with by Marshall in the Hull goal. Then Amrabat ran at the Hull defence and unleashed a shot that was blocked. Hull’s first real chance came on 20 minutes with a shot from the edge of the box by Mason which was comfortably caught by Gomes. It all calmed down a bit after the frantic start and the home crowd started to get impatient with a shout of “Get him off” aimed at Ighalo as he lost the ball on the half hour.
Dawson appeared to pull Ighalo over on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Deeney who shot wide and the referee seemed satisfied that constituted playing advantage and awarded a goal kick. Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Amrabat crossed for Prödl whose header was just wide of the target. Another lovely move from the home side led to a Pereyra cross that was cleared to Amrabat who shot into the ground causing the ball to bounce up giving Deeney the perfect chance to score his 100th goal for the Hornets but he directed his header wide of the near post. The Hornets had one more opportunity to take the lead just before half time as Ighalo played a one-two with Deeney but the Nigerian appeared a little surprised to get the ball back and shot wide.
It had been an amazing start to the game by the Hornets, who had totally dominated possession without testing the keeper, although the crossbar and post had both taken a thumping.
At half time, Richard Lee was back at Vicarage Road being interviewed and doing the half time draw. He mentioned his goalkeeping business but, oddly, failed to mention coffee. He said how good it was to see Mariappa back at Vicarage Road and that he was looking forward to catching up with him. He was also tasked with presenting Harry Hornet with an “Unsung Hero” award that was greeted with loud and warm applause from the Vicarage Road crowd. Harry has become a Watford legend and can be guaranteed to brighten up even the dullest game at Vicarage Road. It is good to see him receive recognition from outside the club.
Watford had the first chance of the second half as Pereyra played the ball to Amrabat on the wing, Nordin cut it back to the Argentine on the edge of the box from where he hit a disappointing shot over the bar. Hull went on a counter attack finishing with a shot from Hernández that Gomes dropped to save. The first caution of the game went to Behrami for a trip on Clucas who had the beating of him in a brief respite from being roasted by Amrabat. Watford fashioned another promising chance as Pereyra broke forward and crossed for Igahlo who played the ball back to Deeney in the box, but the Hull defenders were present en masse and crowded out the shot. There were then two yellow cards in quick succession first to Mason for a foul on Capoue, then Clucas finally had enough of Amrabat running past him and pulled him down as he tried to escape.
The Dutchman had more joy in his next attack as he went on another cracking run, beating a couple of players before putting in a disappointing cross that didn’t reach Deeney. Another cross from Amrabat was met by a header from Ighalo that was high and wide. Kaboul should have done better when the ball dropped to him in an acre of space but he hit a dreadful shot well wide of the near post and was substituted immediately afterwards, making way for Janmaat, who took up position in the back three. The substitute was in action straight away going on a terrific run down the middle of the field before finding Deeney in the box whose cross was blocked for a corner. Hull’s first change saw Meyler come on for Keane. Amrabat continued to cause the Hull defence problems, holding the ball up before finding Janmaat whose shot was blocked. Just when I was starting to think that this wasn’t our day and Hull would nick it, Watford finally made the breakthrough. After seeing some lovely play throughout the game, it was a shame that the goal was so scrappy. A cross from Janmaat was turned goalwards by Pereyra before being deflected into the net. At first I thought that Deeney had provided the finishing touch and finally scored that elusive 100th goal, but it turned out that Dawson had provided the definitive touch so it was an own goal. A rare foray by the visitors into the Watford box raised concerns that they may draw level, but all action Amrabat was back on defensive duties and snuffed out the danger. That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Zúñiga, leaving the field to rapturous applause. There was a great chance for a second goal as Zúñiga found Ighalo who executed a scoop before blasting a shot into the side netting.
Watford were forced into a late substitution as Kabasele replaced Prödl, who went off holding his thigh. The visitors had a chance to level when they won a corner in time added on, but Mason’s delivery was met by a header from Davies that was nowhere near the target. An equalizer would have been a travesty.
The body language of the Watford players at the final whistle was more in keeping with a defeat than a victory. A number of them were collapsed on the turf. While they had all put in a shift, it was an unusual reaction which indicated some disappointment at the performance. There were a lot of complaints post-match about the lack of a single shot on goal, but I felt that was a bit unfair as it ignores the fact that 7 of their 22 shots were blocked and the goal was a just reward for their persistent attacking. I am probably in the minority, but I was entertained by the game, which featured some tremendous performances. Amrabat was immense on the wing where he spent the entire game beating Clucas and anyone else who attempted to get in his way. He throroughly deserved his Man of the Match award. Pereyra, who has been shackled in recent games, also showed what he could do when he gets some time on the ball. While Deeney and Ighalo had disappointing afternoons, they both had chances that were very close and, had they gone in, would have put a completely different complexion on the game.
So Watford finished the afternoon in seventh place climbing above Manchester United who could only draw with Burnley. Some have questioned whether we are in this position on merit. I seem to remember that Leicester last season had a good number of games in which they defended solidly and nicked a late goal, so I am not going to criticise Watford for doing the same (although this was not one of those games). In my opinion we are seventh on merit and long may we remain in the top half of the table.