For the second week running there was a Watford related event on Friday night. This time it was Tony Coton’s book launch at the Vic. Due to the fire disrupting trains on the Euston-Watford line, I had opted to travel to Watford on the Met line, so was running later than planned. The room was packed when I arrived, but I had been saved a seat in a prime position, so was very grateful to my more punctual friends. The main event had Rich Walker asking Tony a number of questions about his younger days and there were some great stories. I was highly amused to hear that the only game his Mum ever saw was against Southampton as she loved Kevin Keegan. It was really lovely to see that the front cover of his book featured Tony in a Watford shirt. He said that he had insisted on that as it was his happiest time in football. At the break, Tony went around the room signing everybody’s books. He was then given some respite as Steve Harrison took the mic. No interview for Steve, this was stand-up comedy and he was hilarious. Tom Walley was also in attendance, it was so lovely to see him. Mick Harford also made a guest appearance, and some brave Watford souls even went over to talk to him! Hearing Steve Harrison tell Don that he was his hero for following the Hornets all over the place made my heart swell with joy. It was a top evening. and yet another one that made me so happy and proud to be a Hornet.
After the fun of the night before, Saturday morning came far too soon. My cousin, Doreen, who was visiting from New Zealand, had decided to join us for the game. As my niece was heading to university, her season ticket was going spare, so Doreen took her ticket, so at least there was a familiar face in Amelia’s seat. I had arranged to meet Doreen at the West Herts. I wasn’t expecting her to be quite so keen, so was a little shocked to get a message while I was still in the hotel to say she had arrived before the doors had opened. Somehow, I managed to get her and Don to meet so that, when I arrived, they were happily sat at our usual table. It was a pleasure to introduce her to the pre-match experience and the West Herts crew were their usual delightful selves.
Team news was two changes enforced by injury with Janmaat and Mariappa coming in for Kaboul and Femenía. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray.
I had heard that Elton John was at the game and, among the mascots, were his boys, Zachary and Elijah. A fact that Elton announced in an Instagram posting, as proud as any Watford fan on such a momentous occasion.
The game started as it would go on with a series of attacks from the visitors. A couple of off target efforts were followed by a shot from distance by Fernandinho that Gomes dived to save. At this point the heavens opened and a number of people (mostly young lads) from the first few rows of the Rookery vacated their seats to take cover further up the stand. This led us grumpy old folk to mutter about the youth of today and how, in our day, we stood for 90 minutes in torrential rain and liked it! Back on the pitch, De Bruyne played a one-two with Silva before shooting wide. Watford finally had a sniff of the City goal but Richarlison’s shot was weak and easily saved. Doucouré found himself in a great position to open the scoring, but his shot was way off target, his embarrassment slightly tempered as the ball bounced off Kabasele so that it ended up flying not too far wide of the goal. At the other end, Aguero lifted a shot onto the roof of the net. Then Sterling broke into the box, but Kabasele made a brilliant tackle to prevent the shot. There was a brief moment of hope for the Hornets as the ball bounced off Otamendi and it appeared that Gray would break clear, but the ball ran away from him to safety. City threatened again from a corner which reached Aguero who volleyed wide of the near post. There was a worrying moment as Janmaat flew to head the ball clear and his head made contact with a City player. He needed treatment for some time, but he’s hard as nails and was soon back on the pitch.
Watford had an excellent chance to take the lead as a free-kick from Holebas was met by the head of Richarlison, but his effort flew just wide of the target. Three minutes later the visitors took the lead from a similar situation as Aguero headed De Bruyne’s delivery past Gomes. Normal service resumed on the discipline front as Holebas was booked for a late foul on De Bruyne. City were two up on the half hour. Silva’s cross should have been stopped before it reached Aguero who had a simple tap in for his brace. The third goal came on 38 minutes, Watford fans were shouting for a foul in the build-up, that wasn’t given, allowing Aguero to find Jesus who appeared to be offside before he finished past Gomes. A Watford fan in the Lower GT had had enough of the questionable decisions by the linesman on that side and ran down to the perimeter to tell him exactly what he thought. A steward came over to have a word, but the bloke finished his rant and returned to his seat with applause ringing in his ears. A rare moment of pleasure in this game came as the big screen showed Elton in the stands, there was warm applause from the Watford fans, which he acknowledged with a wave and a big smile. Watford had a chance to break back before half time as a ball was played into the City box but the City keeper, Ederson, arrived before Gray, so we reached the break with a three goal deficit.
The respite of half time was welcome. Steve Harrison was the guest drawing the 50-50 tickets and spoke glowingly of his friend, Graham Taylor. Then a nice moment as Dion Pereira and Andrew Eleftheriou were awarded match balls for making their Premier League debuts as players who had come through the Academy. I do hope we see a lot more of these lads in the future.
After the battering of the first half, it was very gratifying that the first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets as Holebas put in a lovely cross, Gray was unable to connect, but the ball came out to Carrillo who shot just wide. Watford fans were screaming for a penalty as Chalobah was kicked in the box (that is not a euphemism), but the referee decided that there was no infringement, a decision that young Nathaniel challenged but his arguments were given short shrift. Watford had another chance from a corner, but Richarlison headed it over the bar. City’s next chance came from a back heel to David Silva whose shot was tipped over impressively by Gomes. But the relief was short-lived as the corner to the far post was headed home by Otamendi. At this point, I groaned, “Please make it stop,” but there was still 25 minutes to go.
There were substitutions for both teams as Jesus and De Bruyne were replaced by Bernardo Silva and Gündoğan for the visitors, Pereyra and Capoue came on for Cleverley and Chalobah for the Hornets. Watford had a great chance to pull one back as a corner was flicked on to Capoue who headed agonisingly wide. Marco Silva made his final substitution with 15 minutes to go bringing Deeney on for Gray. City’s fifth came after a run by Aguero, there was a brief hope that his shot had been cleared off the line by Mariappa, but the referee signalled the goal, Aguero had his hat trick and City were five goals to the good. At this point, many in the home crowd started streaming out. My neighbour in the Rookery said we had better get Amelia back from university. City were not satisfied with only five goals and Sterling had a chance to increase the score but shot just wide. Fair play to the home fans at this point as a loud chant of “Since I was young ….” emanated from the Rookery, including those around me, who aren’t always the loudest. It wasn’t going to get any better for the Hornets, Sterling was tripped in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Sterling took the penalty himself and made no mistake. They could have had a seventh in time added on but a great shot from Aguero was met by an equally great save from Gomes.
At the end of the game, Silva had a long talk with both the referee and the linesman from the GT side. The players looked despondent, but Gomes, despite the disappointment of having conceded six goals, still did his usual lap of the pitch acknowledging the crowd. Doreen was very impressed at this show of character.
It was a sombre group that gathered to drown our sorrows at the West Herts. Before the game I had said that this one was a free hit, but it is never pleasant to see your team so soundly beaten. It really should be a joy watching players as good as City’s, but it isn’t when you care so much about the opposition. There was no anger or bitterness from our crew though. Sometimes you are beaten by the better team and City were truly remarkable. Their passing was precise, but it was their breaking at pace that took your breath away. They were also completely relentless, characterised by the fact that they were still attacking in time added on, despite being six goals ahead. Contrasts were made with the 5-0 defeat to the same team at the end of last season. That had been an abject performance by the Hornets, but this was not. We were well beaten, but the team did try to give it a go. Watford have improved considerably since last season, but so have City and, on this showing, there will be a few more teams on the end of hidings from them this season.
So we just have to put this one behind us and concentrate on putting in good performances against Swansea and West Brom. Those are the games from which we need to get points, and I will travel with optimism. I hope it is not misplaced.