I had to travel to the US this week for a meeting in Maryland on Friday morning. Flights were booked to ensure that I was back in plenty of time to get to the match. Imagine my frustration when I arrived at the airport to find that there was a delay of two hours. I spent the extra time at the airport obsessively checking the train times for the next morning. I needn’t have worried. After arriving at Heathrow at 8am, I had time to go home for a quick shower, a change of clothes, pick up my football shirt (I had my match and train tickets with me) and was still in the pre-match pub before 1. My party were already in place. It was my first chance to catch up with a number of friends since Toddy’s passing so, needless to say, stories were exchanged, there was laughter and tears and glasses raised to our much missed friend.
When the team news came through there was much discussion of the only change from the Swansea game as Deeney was chosen in place of the previous week’s goalscorer, Gray. To me the change made sense as, against a Pulis team, Deeney’s strength would be more important than Gray’s pace. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Deeney. Former Watford loanee and player of the season, Ben Foster, was in goal for the Baggies.
Watford started the game very well without creating too much in front of goal. The first chance came with a dangerous looking cross from Holebas which evaded all of the Watford heads in the box. The home side’s first real attack came after a quick break, my nerves were jangling as the Watford defence were trying to play the ball out, but kept giving it away, finally Cleverley wellied it upfield to cheers from the travelling Hornets. West Brom took the lead in the 18th minute, against the run of play, when Rondón received a through ball and broke into the box, Kabasele didn’t do enough to put him off and he finished past Gomes. Watford looked rattled and conceded again soon after, Rondón was released, played the ball in to Gibbs whose shot was put behind for a corner which was flicked on by Doucouré for Evans to touch home. After brilliant start in which the Hornets were playing some lovely football, I was reeling that we were two goals down. At this point I wished I’d stayed at home and rested after my transatlantic journey. West Brom had a chance to increase their lead after Carrillo lost out in midfield, allowing them to make another quick break, but this time the hopeful shot from Rodriguez cleared the bar. But this Watford team is nothing if not resilient and were soon asserting themselves again and, on the half hour, a looping cross reached Richarlison but his header was straight at Foster.
At the other end, a corner from Brunt was headed just over the bar by Hegazi. Deeney did well to hold off a defender on the edge of the West Brom box before passing to Richarlison, he crossed for Carrillo who was in acres of space in the middle of the goal, the ball just needed to bounce off him for the goal, but he managed to head high and wide when it looked much easier to score. He tried to redeem himself as he crossed for Richarlison whose header was put out for a corner. This was much better from Watford and we pulled a goal back on 37 minutes as Deeney flicked the ball on to Richarlison, who found Doucouré, the Frenchman hesitated but he was just picking his moment before firing the ball past Foster into the opposite corner. Watford were in the ascendency now and Cleverley played the ball out to Capoue whose shot was deflected for a corner. The visitors came even closer to an equalizer as Capoue played a deep cross to Richarlison whose header was just over the target. The Brazilian had one more chance to get on the scoresheet before half time as Cleverley played a great cross-field ball to him, but he curled his shot just wide of the target.
It had been an odd first half. Watford were brilliant in the first and last 15 minutes, but fell apart in the middle allowing the home side to take the lead. On the balance of play it was hard to believe that Watford were losing the game, but Doucouré’s goal and the resurgence at the end to the half had given us hope of getting something out of the game.
It was Diversity Day at The Hawthorns, so we were treated to some bhangra music from the Dhol Blasters followed by the appearance of a Chinese dragon on the field. It certainly made a change from children challenging mascots (not that there is anything wrong with that).
As Ben Foster took his place in goal in front of the away end at the start of the second half, he was greeted with very warm applause for which he showed his appreciation. The first chance of the second half fell to the home side as Gomes dropped to save a shot from Phillips.
But the Hornets were soon dominating again, starting when a cross from Cleverley was headed clear and fell to Capoue whose shot was deflected for a corner. The Frenchman had another chance soon after with a thunderbolt that must have left bruises on Gareth Barry who got in the way. Then Carrillo tried a cross-cum-shot that was gathered by Foster. There was a rash of substitutions around the hour mark with Phillips and Brunt replaced by McClean and Livermore for the home side while Pereyra come on for Capoue for the visitors. Watford threatened again as Kabasele just failed to connect with a lovely corner from Holebas. Cleverley then played a lovely ball to Holebas who made the wrong decision in going for goal from an acute angle when he should have cut the ball back. Doucouré intercepted the ball in midfield and advanced before crossing for Richarlison who headed just wide. The young Brazilian then battled into the box with three defenders in attendance, he still managed to put in a cross, but it was too high for his team mates. Pulis made his final change as Rondón made way for Robson-Kanu who was immediately in action playing in McClean who broke forward to shoot, Gomes made the save, he spilled the ball but, thankfully Mariappa was alert and put the ball out for a corner.
With 15 minutes to go, Silva made another change bringing Gray on for Carrillo. Watford continued to push for the equaliser as a lovely through ball released Richarlison, he was tackled and the ball broke to Gray whose shot was blocked. We were getting so close, it was incredibly frustrating. Richarlison tried another shot from the left that was straight at Foster. The first booking of the game came in the 87th minute as Livermore was cautioned for a foul on Gray. After a long period of Watford pressure, there was a scare as a cross found McClean in a great position to make the game safe for the Baggies, but Holebas blocked the shot. In the last minute of time added on, Watford won a free kick on the left. Gomes came up to join the attack. Holebas delivered the corner and Richarlison headed home with his countryman on his shoulder trying his very best to get to the ball for his first goal for the club! A goal from Gomes would have been something else, but this still provoked a mental celebration in the away end, shouts and screams, smiles and hugs. Gomes always celebrates goals in a spectacular manner, but he is usually on his own. This time he was at the right end but, as he celebrated with Deeney in front of the away fans, the rest of his team mates had run to the dugout to celebrate with the subs and the coaching staff. Both were wonderful to see.
The celebrations at the final whistle were joyous. The whole squad came over to join us as we sang their praises. Shirts, gloves and boots were thrown into the crowd, Doucouré being the only player who left the field wearing his shirt (maybe he didn’t have a vest on underneath). A draw was the very least we deserved from that game and it was gained by a never say die attitude that I haven’t seen in many years.
After my overnight journey, I really should have gone straight home, but my friends, the Happy Valley Horns, were having a drink in town, so ….. It was Angela’s first game of the season. She was mightily impressed and I was able to assure her that the positive elements of the performance were typical of this season. This is a team with skill and spirit and I am loving this season so far.
We go into the international break in the top half of the table, unbeaten on the road and watching some of the best football that I have ever seen from a Watford team. There was a very interesting interview with Tom Cleverley in The Times this week in which he remarked of Silva, “He’s got the balance perfect: he’s approachable but there’s a fear factor about him.” He sounds like Gino’s perfect coach and long may this continue.