After our return to winning ways on Boxing Day, I entered the West Herts on Saturday with a more positive attitude than of late. The Boxing Day absentees were mostly back in attendance and I was delighted to arrive in plenty of time to see Don before he left for the ground. Mike was back from his Christmas trip and, it being a year since we lost lovely Dee, there was a heartfelt toast to absent friends.
Team news was that Silva had made one change from Boxing Day with Okaka coming in for Pereyra, who was fit enough to make the bench. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Okaka. Swansea were facing their first game under new manager, Carlos Carvalhal, so fingers were crossed in the home end that this wouldn’t result in a new lease of life for the struggling team.
The first action of the game was a yellow card for Fernández after he stopped a break by Richarlison. That poor lad must be black and blue by the end of each game. The first chance fell to the visitors as a shot from distance from Ayew rattled the crossbar with Gomes rooted to the spot. But Watford soon had a chance of their own as Okaka headed the ball down to Cleverley who turned and curled a shot just wide of the target.
The home side had another decent chance when Doucouré released Richarlison who advanced before shooting just wide of the far post. Watford took the lead on 11 minutes as Okaka found Richarlison whose shot was parried by Fabianski but the ball rebounded to Carrillo who headed home from close range. I was hopeful that this would calm the Watford nerves and set up a comfortable win for the Hornets, but it all went a bit quiet and the next shot came from a Swansea boot, although the shot from Mesa didn’t trouble Gomes, however it did trouble my sister in Row QQ of the Rookery, who had to duck out of the way to avoid injury. There were a couple of bookings around the half hour mark as Carrillo was cautioned, rather harshly, for tripping Ayew as they battled for the ball. Then Carroll was booked for a pull on Doucouré’s shirt. Kabasele did a sterling job in defence stopping a dangerous looking run by Ayew by getting in front of the Swansea man and shepherding the ball back to Gomes. The effort was well worthy of the applause that it received. Watford threatened again as a deep cross from Janmaat was met by the head of Richarlison, but the Brazilian’s effort was straight at Fabianski. Watford had another chance to increase their lead late in the half as Doucouré shot just wide from the edge of the box. So the Watford team went into the break a goal to the good and looking in control although without really testing Fabianski. Swansea really had been poor and it was apparent why they are in the relegation zone.
The visitors made a change after the break replacing Mesa with Narsingh. The second half started brightly for the Hornets as a dangerous cross almost reached Carrillo, but Fabianski was first to the ball. The Hornets had a great chance to increase their lead as Cleverley released Richarlison whose cross was just inches in front of Okaka’s boot as he slid in. The home side had the ball in the net when a Cleverley corner was headed home by Wagué, but the whistle had already gone for an infringement and the goal was disallowed. Swansea’s second substitution saw McBurnie coming on for Abraham, who appeared to have an injury. Swansea fashioned a rare chance as Mawson met a corner from Carroll and headed just over the bar. Gomes was called on to make his first save of the game on the hour mark, after a shot from Ayew was cleared only as far as Narsingh, but the shot was straight at the Watford keeper. Watford’s first substitution came as Prödl replaced Wagué. The second change saw Okaka making way for Gray. This change came 13 minutes after the first, sadly nothing of interest had happened in that period. The visitors also made a change as Dyer replaced Clucas. Into the last 10 minutes and there was finally something to quicken the pulse as a cross from Richarlison was deflected to Doucouré whose shot was blocked.
Silva’s final change saw Carrillo make way for Pereyra. The Argentine made an immediate impact playing a gorgeous ball to Gray who only had the keeper to beat, I nervously glanced at the lino, but Gray beat himself shooting straight at the keeper with the goal at his mercy, prompting howls from the Rookery. A voice behind me had been expressing his concern at the narrow lead for some time and there was a certain inevitability when the visitors launched a counter attack and a header from McBurnie found Ayew who poked the ball past Gomes. I was hoping that there would be a repeat of the end of the game at the Liberty Stadium when the Hornets snatched a last minute goal to secure the win. Instead, this was Palace all over again as a shot from Dyer was parried by Gomes and Narsingh grabbed the winner. Watford had a chance to reclaim a point in time added on, but Doucouré’s shot was wild and flew well wide of the target.
The reaction of the Watford fans at the final whistle ranged from stunned silence to vociferous anger as a large volley of abuse was directed at the players, who made a quick exit from the pitch, with the admirable exception of Heurelho Gomes who did his usual lap applauding each of the stands. He was given a hero’s ovation by most, apart from one individual at the front of the Rookery who decided to have a go at him. He listened to the concerns and responded, but neither he nor the fan appeared happy with the conclusion.
It is difficult to put into words how I felt after the game. It had been incredibly frustrating as Watford were so much better than their opponents who showed little in the way of threat. But the longer the game stayed at 1-0, the more likely it appeared that Swansea would leave Vicarage Road with at least a point. It had been incredibly dull for most of the ninety minutes and Pete’s observation that the second half appeared as if it was being played at London Colney summed it up perfectly. There was no sense of urgency or pressing to get a second goal and it cost us dearly.
However, thanks to Huddersfield only claiming a point on Saturday, we finish the year in the top half of the table, although we are now nervously looking down rather than up. It is sad to end the year this way after such a terrific start to the season. My niece, who had ended the game slumped forward with her head in her hands followed it up by tweeting “I hate football.” I sympathise with that sentiment and only hope that the return in the new year of some of the missing players will mean an upturn in form and we can enjoy the second half of the season as much as we did the early months.
I wish you and your families a very happy new year and much joy in following the Hornets.