One of my closest and longest-standing friends
lives on Merseyside so, when the fixture list came out, I arranged to spend the weekend visiting. I arrived on Friday afternoon a little too early for them to be home from work, so I spent the time I had to kill in the Tate with Klein, Krasiński, Blake and Emin, which was a lovely relaxing start to the weekend. A Saturday spent walking on the beach followed by some sightseeing in the city and the firework display and I was suitably refreshed and ready for whatever was to come on Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday morning, I was treated to a slap-up breakfast before heading in to town. My plan had been to leave my weekend bag in the left luggage at Lime Street Station, so it was a bit of a shock to arrive there to find that signs stating ‘Sorry, full.’ They could not offer an alternative venue beyond finding a local hostel that may keep the bag. I contemplated trying one of the hotels nearby but decided just to hope that they would allow me in at Anfield. On arrival at the pub, I bumped into our award-nominated Supporter Liaison Officer and mentioned my problem. He checked the advice that had been received, which mentioned ‘small bags only’. At that point I threw myself on the mercy of the bar manager who happily took my bag and stowed it away for my return. What a lovely bloke.
A big crowd of Watford fans gathered for the pre-match beers both those who had travelled north and a large contingent of North West Hornets. As I boarded the bus to go from the city centre to Anfield, I headed for the back row of the top deck where there were a number of our faithful but no spare seats. Thankfully my lovely friend, Alice, offered me a seat on her lap that was considerably more comfortable for me than for her, but for which I was very grateful indeed.
Team news was that Mazzarri had made the one enforced change as Janmaat came in for the injured Prödl. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Amrabat, Behrami, Capoue, Pereyra; Deeney and Ighalo.
As this was the closest game to Remembrance Sunday, there was a minute’s silence in memory of the war dead that was impeccably observed.
The pre-match concern had been how our cobbled together defence would cope with the pace of the Liverpool team and the way that the home side started the game provided no comfort to Watford fans. They had an early chance as Lallana went on a great run before crossing for Firmino, whose shot was straight at Gomes in the Watford goal. There was a brief distraction off the field soon after. Anfield is the one ground in the Premier League at which, due to the impact of Hillsborough, none of the home fans stand for long periods of time, so the stewards came to request that those in the lower section of away fans take their seats. A few people did as requested but one man decided to argue the toss with both the steward and a fan who complained of his view being blocked and another came running in from elsewhere to have a go at the steward and the fan, so the majority remained standing ensuring that I could see very little of what went on in the goalmouth just to our left.
Watford’s first chance came on 10 minutes after some decent hold up play from Ighalo, he played the ball out to Amrabat who shot wide. The home side had a great chance to take the lead as Watford failed to clear a corner, the ball fell to Lucas whose shot was stopped by a close range save from Gomes. At the other end, Britos met a Capoue free kick with a header that was easily saved by Karius.
Liverpool came close to opening the scoring with a shot from Coutinho that cannoned back off the crossbar. On 20 minutes, the home side should have taken the lead as Janmaat failed to put in a tackle on Mané who made his way into the box before finding Coutinho, thankfully for the visitors the Brazilian’s shot was off target. Liverpool threatened again as a Milner shot from the edge of the area was caught by Gomes. In a rare attack by the visitors, Amrabat put in a dangerous cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to apply the final touch. Liverpool continued the onslaught, but there was good work from Britos to distract Firmino as a through ball came to him, so he shot wide. Gomes was then called into action, first to stop a shot from Mané that was straight at him, then Milner broke into the box and was stopped by a brave intervention from the Watford keeper that was to have consequences later on. The resultant corner led to Liverpool finally opening the scoring on 27 minutes, as it was met by a lovely header from Mané. There was a brief flurry of activity from the visitors as a Pereyra flick fell just behind Deeney. Then Amrabat crossed to Ighalo in the box, he touched the ball across to Deeney who was unable to connect and the ball rolled through to the keeper. Liverpool were two goals up within a couple of minutes as Coutinho scored with a shot from the edge of the area. There appeared to be some strong words between Mazzarri and Deeney on the sidelines after this goal and Troy came on with instructions for each of his colleagues.
Of more concern at this time was that Gomes was flat on his back in the area and, once it was clear that it wasn’t just a gesture of frustration, the physio was on and a stretcher appeared. The Brazilian eschewed use of the stretcher and hopped off the field to applause from the travelling Hornet faithful and also the Liverpool fans on that side of the pitch, which was much appreciated. Pantilimon took his place and must have been grateful that the peppering of the Watford goal slowed down for a while. There was a brief hope that the visitors would reduce the deficit as a Holebas free kick was cleared only as far as Amrabat who hit a wild shot well over the bar. But the action moved straight down the other end of the field and Can headed Lallana’s cross past Pantilimon for Liverpool’s third goal. Again Watford attempted to strike back as Capoue broke into the box before shooting, but Karius was equal to the effort. The last chance of the half came from the home side as Milner hit a free kick that was kept out of the net by a one handed save from Pantilimon. It was a relief when the half time whistle went. As expected, Liverpool’s pace had been relentless and too much for the Watford defence but, on a positive note, Watford had continued to launch counter-attacks rather than wilting under the pressure.
The first attack of note in the second half came as Coutinho hit an effort from distance that flew just wide. For the visitors Ighalo cut the ball back to Janmaat, but the shot was straight at the Liverpool keeper. The first caution of the game went to Holebas for a clumsy trip on Mané. Liverpool scored their fourth on 57 minutes as a cross from Lallana rolled through the entire Watford defence before being turned in by Firmino, it looked like terrible defending. The fifth goal was scored on the hour as Firmino cut the ball back for Mané to beat Pantilimon. At this point each side made a substitution as Watson replaced Behrami (who had a poor game) for the visitors and Wijnaldum came on for Mané. Watford had their best spell of the game at this point and it is difficult to say whether this was due to the introduction of Watson or the home side relaxing. A cross from Amrabat was nicked from just in front of Ighalo and cleared for a corner which came out to Capoue whose shot was stopped by a decent save from Karius. Another good stop from the Liverpool keeper prevented Britos from pulling a goal back for the Hornets. Liverpool’s second substitution saw Sturridge replacing Lallana. Some great work from Watson, who managed to complete a pass while falling over, started a lovely move which finished with Deeney playing a through ball to Capoue whose shot was stopped on the line. Soon after, the visitors got on the scoresheet as Amrabat cut the ball back to Janmaat who beat Karius to give the travelling Hornets something to celebrate.
Watford continued to attack with a shot from distance from Ighalo that the keeper was equal to. Liverpool could have restored their five goal advantage soon after as a shot from Sturridge rebounded off the crossbar. The second card of the game went to Britos for a foul on Can. Sturridge threated again as he broke forward and unleashed a shot that required a decent save from Pantilimon to keep it out. Mazzarri’s final substitution saw Zúñiga on for Pereyra, while Klopp replaced Coutinho with Ejaria. Sturridge seemed determined to get his name on the scoresheet as he hit a curling shot that appeared to be tipped on to the cross bar. He followed this with a shot from a tight angle that was saved, but Liverpool were not to be denied a sixth goal as Wijnaldum connected with the loose ball to finish past Pantilimon. Watford had one final chance to finish the game on a positive note as a Holebas cross was headed down to Deeney who turned and shot, but the effort was blocked.
When the final whistle went, it was a relief. Very few of the Watford players came to acknowledge the fans, which is understandable, but it was nice to see Amrabat, Watson and Deeney make the effort. Troy had his taken his boots off with the intention of throwing them to someone in the crowd. The stewards had a word which meant that he just handed them to a couple of youngsters at the front, which is a much better option.
I must be mellowing in my old age as this didn’t hurt anything like as much as previous heavy defeats. I think it helped that Watford didn’t just sit back, so there was some attacking play to enjoy. Also, Liverpool were superb and there is no shame in being beaten by a team as good as that. It was one of those games when I really wished that I was a neutral as I would have thoroughly enjoyed Liverpool’s performance. Plus points for the Hornets were that Amrabat had another decent game going forward and we looked a lot stronger in midfield when Watson came on. Ben put in a good showing which also allowed Capoue some freedom, so his performance improved considerably.
A number of us had booked a train home that allowed plenty of time for post-match discussions which were strangely enjoyable given that we had so little to cheer about. I continued my good fortune with great company on the journey home as Miles Jacobson spotted an old friend of his so we were joined by Ray Houghton, who is a hero of mine and turned out to be a delightful man. It was so interesting listening to him and when he kissed me goodbye at the end of the journey, it didn’t feel like such a bad day after all.