After the international break, it was lovely to be back home for the game against Leicester. The week off had provided some precious time to recover from the horror of the defeat to Liverpool, we could only hope that the players had also recovered. There was a lot made pre-game of the fact that we were facing the current champions, but their form so far this season meant that we went into the match hopeful of getting a result.
As we gathered in the West Herts, we made this another sort of game day. Our party occasionally play a game for which everyone brings in a number of wrapped ‘gifts’ with a certain theme. They are placed in the centre of the table then a pack of cards is dealt to the participants. As the cards from a second pack are revealed, if you match that card you take a gift. When all the gifts are gone, you start stealing from other participants. Everyone has their strategy in this game. Some like the gifts in very shiny paper, another, who will remain nameless, targets the girls to steal their gifts. It can get rather rowdy at times. But this game (with the theme being ‘J’) took on a very different tone to usual when five-year-old Holly decided to take part. She was an early winner (never a good thing), but it was a hard-hearted soul who was going to steal from her stash (the look of horror when someone tried was a picture), so she continued to amass gifts while the rest of us swapped the pitiful remainder between ourselves. It has to be said that the unwrapped gifts are not a patch on the shiny packages and she was less than impressed when she opened a set of men’s underwear (jockey shorts) but a stash of jelly babies and jaffa cakes meant that she went home happy.
Mazzarri made two changes from the Liverpool game with Ighalo and the suspended Holebas making way for Zúñiga and Prödl. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Janmaat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Zúñiga; Amrabat and Deeney.
No sooner had we taken our seats after kick-off but we were out of them again as Capoue opened the scoring after Pereyra had broken forward and delivered a cross that was knocked down by Deeney for the Frenchman to hit home. All of a sudden the cobwebs were swept away, the horror of Liverpool was forgotten and football was fun again. I had a slight panic as the ball went in and I realized that my camera and notebook were still in my bag. I am usually able to retrieve them at leisure during the first few minutes of the game. Pereyra impressed again with some lovely skill to beat a defender on the wing. It isn’t often that the big screen shows a replay of a player beating an opponent, but this was well worth repeated viewings. He produced something even better soon afterwards as he cut into the box and curled an exquisite shot into the top corner. Just when it was looking like it would be our day, Vardy broke into the box. He was going nowhere but Britos couldn’t resist putting in a tackle, the Leicester striker went down and the referee pointed to the spot. Despite encouraging chants from the Rookery for Gomes, Mahrez sent him the wrong way and reduced the deficit.
There followed chances from corners at both ends of the field in quick succession. First Kaboul met a delivery from Capoue with a header that flew wide of the near post. Then Albrighton’s corner was headed over the bar by Huth. It had been a breathless first 20 minutes and one of my neighbours commented on the notes that I had made so far hoping that I had the energy to keep up. But it calmed down after that and I was able to notice other aspects of the day such as the fact that there was a huge number of blue and white beanie hats on show in the away end. It was confirmed after the game by some Leicester fans, that these had been left on the seats, a gift from the owner (who regularly plies them with pints and doughnuts). They commented that most of them were on the ground by the end of the game, but one of them had kept his as it was proudly on display on the table in the West Herts. The home side received a couple of bookings, first Zúñiga for a foul on Vardy that looked fairly innocuous (but don’t they always due to his propensity for falling), then a puzzling caution for Britos which could only have been for complaining about the Leicester wall at a free kick. Watford had a great chance to increase the lead in the 37th minute as Deeney went on a run before playing a square ball to Amrabat in the box. Sadly, with the goal at his mercy, the Dutchman failed to connect and the chance went begging. There were boos at half time but, on this occasion, they were aimed at the referee as the performance of the Hornets had been very pleasing indeed.
The start of the second half was considerably calmer and it was the 64th minute before there was a real goal chance as Amrabat battled past a defender to get into the box, cut the ball back for Janmaat whose cross was headed goalwards by Pereyra, but Zieler was able to make the save. Watford had another chance to increase the lead as Pereyra delivered a corner that Kaboul headed just wide. The visitors made the first substitutions bringing Schlupp and Gray on for Fuchs and Okazaki. Another great chance went begging for the Hornets as Capoue delivered a perfect corner, but Prödl failed to connect. Amrabat should have done better as he burst in to the box and hit a quick shot that flew wide when Deeney was in space. Troy could not hide his frustration with his team mate. Leicester’s final substitution saw Albrighton make way for Musa. Leicester had a flurry of chances to grab a late equalizer, but the Hornet defence stood strong blocking all attempts to play the ball into the box. Mazzarri’s first change came in the 87th minute as Amrabat made way for Guedioura. Nordin looked annoyed at being replaced, even though he had been limping after a tackle a little earlier. The final change saw Okaka on for Deeney, again the player leaving the field did not look happy with his manager’s decision. As the fourth official indicated five additional minutes, there were some nerves in the away end, but the only Leicester attempt in time added on was a shot from Vardy that flew high and wide, not troubling Gomes in the Watford goal.
Unlike the end of the game at Liverpool when, understandably, almost all of the players disappeared straight down the tunnel, there was a lap of the stands by the whole team, even those who usually make do with a perfunctory clap towards the crowd. It was appreciated as it gave us a chance to congratulate them all as we celebrated a terrific win.
This was the best performance that Watford have put in for some time. The fast start and the early goals set us up well, but the game could not continue at that pace. However Watford had the best of the later chances and, when challenged, the defence resisted everything that was thrown at them meaning that Gomes didn’t have to make a save worthy of the name. Deeney was more involved than he has been for a few weeks and, had he been a little more selfish, may well have scored his 100th goal. Behrami was back on form in the midfield, which always helps both the attack and the defence. Then there was Pereyra who gave us a couple of moments that were worth the price of admission on their own. Watford now have 18 points from the first 12 games, which is a 10 point improvement on their haul in the same games last season, and are sitting pretty in eighth place in the table and are there on merit. This season is just getting better and better.