Back to Vicarage Road again and, after a busy week, it was lovely to sit down with the crowd for the pre-match pint. I bumped into someone that I hadn’t seen for a while, a regular who had almost given up in the dark days at the end of Mazzarri’s reign. He was all smiles again, thoroughly enjoying the football as we all are. I must admit that, going into this game I was less confident than last week against Chelsea. There is something about Stoke and their negative style of play that made me think that we could struggle.
Since it was the last game before Remembrance Day, there was a piper on the pitch to play Flowers of the Forest. This was followed by a minute’s silence. Both were observed impeccably by the crowd.
Team news was two changes for the Hornets with Capoue and Carrillo coming in for Mariappa and Pereyra. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Holebas, Britos, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Cleverley, Doucouré; Richarlison, Deeney, Carrillo.
There was a slow start to the game, with Watford having most of the possession but being given little space by the visitors. So it was a bit of a shock when Stoke took the lead on 16 minutes after a corner from Shaqiri reached Fletcher on the edge of the box from where he powered a shot through the bodies in the box and past Gomes. You couldn’t help thinking that, having taken the lead, Stoke would make it difficult for us. There was certainly little in the way of goal attempts in the half. The first half chance came as Holebas played a ball into the box for Deeney, who was unable to reach it. A Cleverley corner was headed on by Britos, to Capoue who tried and failed to finish, but was in an offside position anyway. Watford’s best chance of the game so far came in the 38th minute as Cleverley played a lovely ball to Deeney who tried to place his shot, which drifted wide.
That was it for the first half. The whistle was greeted with a few boos from the Rookery. Who are these people? It hadn’t been pretty, but any football had been played by the home side.
The beautiful game did make an appearance during the half time penalty shoot-out when a young girl from Holy Rood floated a perfect chip over the keeper. Sign her up!
The second half started at a cracking pace. The first chance came as Doucouré played a gorgeous ball to Femenía who went on a run and crossed for Deeney, but Shawcross got a block in to prevent the shot. The next chance followed the same pattern starting with a beautiful ball from Doucouré and finishing with Shawcross clearing before Deeney could shoot. Next a cross from Holebas was flicked on by Deeney to Capoue, who couldn’t quite reach it to apply the finish. Watford came closer still as Holebas played a cross-field pass to Carrillo who cut the ball back to Richarlison, but the angle was too acute for the Brazilian and his shot hit the side netting. The first substitution came just before the hour mark as Gray replaced Capoue. Stoke could have increased their lead when, completely against the run of play, there was a forward break from Sobhi, he cut the ball back to Allen who shot just wide of the target when he should have done better. Watford continued to threaten as Cleverley advanced and put in a decent cross, but Butland’s fist reached the ball just before Richarlison’s head. Another chance for the young Brazilian went begging as a cross from Britos reached him, but he couldn’t get a proper connection for the header and it flew wide. Watford also should have done better with the next chance as a cross from Carrillo reached Gray, but he mishit the shot and it went wide of the near post.
Stoke’s first change came as Berahino replaced Sobhi in a substitution that seemed to take an age (they had been wasting time from soon after they scored). Watford’s next chance came from a corner, but Doucouré’s shot was blocked and the ball was deflected over the target. The second substitution for the Hornets came as Carrillo was replaced by Hughes, making his debut for the Hornets. A rare attack by the visitors finished as Choupo-Moting shot straight at Gomes. Watford had another decent chance as a lovely ball into the box from Doucouré was flicked on by the head of Gray, but Deeney couldn’t reach it to turn it in. There was danger at the other end as a cross from Shaqiri wasn’t cut out but, even as Gomes hesitated, he did enough to cause Berahino to shoot wide. Watford threatened again as Gray met a cross from Cleverley with a header that flew on to the roof of the net. Soon after, it all kicked off on the sideline. I don’t know what provoked it, but it seemed to start with Doucoure and Diouf who, in photographic evidence obtained from a friend in the SEJ stand, squared up to each other before everyone else got involved, including some members of the Stoke coaching staff, but it was only the initial perpetrators who were cautioned. After the dust settled, Stoke made another substitution replacing Shaqiri with Adam. There was another scuffle after Stoke had put the ball out when one of their players went down with cramp in their box. It had appeared to be an attempt to waste time and the ball was, quite rightly in my opinion, not returned to them. This incensed Allen who went for Deeney and it all got rather unpleasant. The two men were booked, but the television pictures of the altercation suggest that Deeney may incur further punishment for his reaction, which would be unfortunate. Watford had one last chance to win a point as Hughes found Gray, but the shot was deflected for a corner. As it was late into time added on, Gomes came up to join the attack and was nearly caught out as Stoke broke upfield, Gomes was unable to tackle Adam, who advanced with an open goal to aim at but found the far post instead, much to the amusement of the Rookery faithful.
There were boos again at the final whistle, although most of these appeared to be aimed at the opposition. Richarlison, Britos and Holebas had collapsed to the turf on full time with the latter staying prone with his shirt over his head for some considerable time.
It was a disappointing afternoon. The football was horrible but, credit to Stoke, they played their game very well and we didn’t play ours. The second half was much better as Watford attacked at pace, but the Stoke defence were very well organized and Butland didn’t have a save to make. Special credit must go to Zouma, who had a great game keeping Richarlison very quiet.
As we walked up Occupation Road, a familiar face passed us, and I couldn’t help wondering if Pereyra would have made a difference, but it was one of those afternoons.
Back in the West Herts and the post-match analysis focussed on how horrible Stoke were to watch. All very true, but you have to find a way past these teams and we failed to do that. The positive is that this is one of very few games that have not been entertaining so far this season. So let us put this one behind us and look forward to Goodison Park next Sunday.