As has become our custom when playing in the North-East, we arranged to meet in Durham on Friday evening. This plan appeared to be threatened when I received an invitation to travel to New York for a work event on Thursday morning. But, despite a hiccup due to a slight delay on my return flight, my travel planning turned out to be spot on. I arrived at Heathrow soon after 9:30am on Friday giving me time to get home for a shower and change of clothes before arriving at Kings Cross in plenty of time for my train at 1:30pm.
The Friday evening meal and drinks were lovely, although the wine flowed a little too freely, for which I have nobody to blame but myself. The walk from the city centre to the railway station in Durham is up a series of flights of steps. I saw it as training for the climb to the away stand in St James’s Park later in the day. On arrival in Newcastle, we had a lovely breakfast followed by a walk along the Tyne which was enlivened by a troupe of teenage girl acrobats, wearing even less than your average Geordie, putting on a display that included some precariously standing on their friends’ shoulders and appearing in distinct danger of being blown into the river. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a bonkers busker who decided to serenade the couples out for a ‘romantic’ walk with a rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” which was unexpected and impressive as he (sort of) hit the high notes.
We were outside the door of our chosen pre-match establishment before they opened and managed to secure a secluded area for our party. As we enjoyed our refreshments, we were visited by a Newcastle fan dropping off flyers detailing the upcoming protests against Mike Ashley. Today’s was an 11th minute brandishing of the leaflet reading “Get out of our Club” and a protest outside the lounge at the end of the game. I was also delighted to be joined by my sister and brother-in-law who had come up on the supporters coach which had arrived in Newcastle uncharacteristically early.
We left in plenty of time to take the stroll uphill to the ground, before scaling the 14 flights to the stand. On arrival, we were less than delighted to discover that our seats were almost at the back requiring us to negotiate another steep flight of steps and ensuring that I had worked off my breakfast prior to kick-off.
Team news was that Gracia had made the one change with Holebas returning in place of Masina. So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Mariappa, Femenía; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Success, Deulofeu.
Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester owner, and the others who lost their lives in the helicopter crash last weekend. The silence spontaneously erupted into applause, which seemed appropriate for a man who had given so much to his community. The contrast with the feelings of the locals for the Newcastle owner was not lost on me.
The first attack of note was made by the home side with a cross that was met by a wayward header from Mariappa that went out for a corner, the delivery of which by Shelvey was cleared by Hughes. At the other end Capoue broke and fed Pereyra who was tackled, the ball fell to Deulofeu whose shot was deflected for a corner. Former Watford loanee, Kenedy, was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that was well wide of the target. Then, as Muto broke forward, a shout of “handball” went up from the travelling Hornets, who took full credit when the referee blew up even though we knew that he couldn’t possibly have heard us.
Pereyra and Holebas then combined brilliantly to get the ball to Hughes in the box, but the ball stuck under his feet and a tackle came in before he could shoot. Watford should have taken the lead after 15 minutes when Mariappa met a Holebas corner with a header that was blocked on the line, the rebound fell to Hughes whose shot was also blocked, Mariappa had a second chance to score but shot just wide of the near post. Newcastle were still causing the Hornets problems and a terrific shot from Diamé needed a good save from Foster to keep it out. A lovely Watford move deserved more as Success found Deulofeu who broke into the box but was tackled before he could shoot. This was followed by another gorgeous passage of play from the Hornets as Pereyra played the ball out to Holebas who put in a low cross for Deulofeu, but the Spaniard snatched at his shot and the ball flew wide of the near post. At the other end, a misplaced pass allowed Kenedy to break, but he was stopped by a brilliant saving tackle by Mariappa. Watford had another great chance to open the scoring as Success broke forward and passed to Deulofeu who was in an acre of space and should have done better with only the keeper to beat, but his shot was wide of the far post.
A decent break from the home side was stopped by some clever defending from Holebas who managed to get in front of the Newcastle man and draw a foul. Holebas was the centre of attention again soon after as he changed his shorts on the sideline. Unfortunately my camera was in my pocket at the time. Watford then won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery from Capoue flew just over the bar. The Frenchman was then booked for a tackle from behind on Muto. Shelvey took the free kick, which was in an equally dangerous position, but his effort was well over the bar. Deulofeu threatened again as he broke down the left, but his shot hit the side netting. Watford had yet another decent chance as Pereyra played Success in, but the shot was blocked. There was a final chance for the Hornets to take the lead before the break when Deulofeu slid the ball through to Success, but Dubravka was equal to the shot. Despite Watford’s numerous chances during the half, that was the first save that the Newcastle keeper had had to make. In the minute added on at the end of the half, Benitez made a substitution bringing Pérez on for Muto, who had taken a knock. A decision that provoked a furious rant from Pete about the sheer pointlessness of the move when he could have had 20 minutes to recover. Needless to say, the half time whistle went with the substitute not having had a touch and the game goalless. It had been a frustrating half for the travelling Hornets. Watford had much the better of the play and had created plenty of chances, Deulofeu could have had a hat trick on his own, but the finishing had been wasteful.
The home side made another injury-enforced change at the break with Lascelles making way for Schär. Watford had a superb chance to take the lead early in the second half when Success fought his way past Yedlin before passing to Pereyra whose shot looked all the way in until the crossbar got in the way. Benitez was forced to make his final substitution only five minutes into the half when Shelvey was replaced by Ki, again due to an injury. Watford had another chance to take the lead from a corner, but Cathcart’s header was just over the bar. Newcastle threatened as Rondón ran on to a through ball, Foster made a brave save, although he needn’t have bothered as the flag had gone up for offside anyway. Foster came to the rescue again, punching a Ritchie corner clear, the ball came back in from Ki, but Foster gathered. Hughes was then booked for a foul on Ki, conceding a free kick in a dangerous position. Ki delivered the free-kick himself and it was headed home by Pérez to give the home side an unexpected lead. Gracia made an immediate change bringing Gray on for Deulofeu.
From the restart Newcastle broke forward, but Foster came out to make the tackle and avert the danger. The home side had a great chance for a second goal soon after as a Kenedy cross was met by a header from Rondón that flew just wide of the target. At the other end, a ball was launched for Success to run on to, but he let it run out of play much to the frustration of the travelling Hornets. Kenedy did well to beat Mariappa and cross for Rondón, but Cathcart was on hand to make a saving header. Success then did really well to break forward and cross for Gray who was stopped by a tackle from Kenedy. Watford’s second substitution saw Hughes make way for Okaka. Watford’s attempts to draw level continued as Pereyra crossed for Gray, but Dubravka was able to gather the ball. A lovely passing move by the Hornets finished with a poor cross and the chance was lost. Gracia made his final substitution replacing Success with Chalobah. I was shocked to hear cheers greeting this change. I tried to be charitable and reason that the cheers must have been for the return of Chalobah, but it was so clear that they weren’t. Now I am not Isaac’s biggest fan, he frustrates me greatly with some of his decision making. A bit more thought allied with his skill and he would be a world beater. He was also getting knocked off the ball a little too easily. But he had worked hard and created some brilliant chances and certainly did not deserve that treatment from his own fans. Watford had a late chance as Doucouré fired across the goal, but there was nobody on hand to turn the ball in.
There had been some theatrical feigning of injury by the Newcastle players (interspersed with bouts of cramp) which culminated in Yedlin going down dramatically after a collision with Pereyra. The Newcastle man was claiming that his opponent had stamped on him. As the Argentine protested, Holebas got involved and it all kicked off on the sideline with Holebas and Schär both being shown a yellow card after the handbags had been put down. The Hornets had one last chance to snatch a point and it was a decent one as Doucouré played the ball back to Okaka who should have scored, but fired over the bar instead and Newcastle gained their first win of the season.
There were a lot of angry Watford fans after the game. There was some justification for this as Newcastle had been very poor and were there for the taking. But the first half performance had been impressive and the Hornets should have been 3 or 4 up at half time. If the Pereyra shot that hit the crossbar early in the second half had gone in, we would have won the game. But Newcastle worked hard, managed to get a goal from a set piece and it seemed to be game over from that point. Still it is very dispiriting to hear so much anger directed at the players who have entertained us wonderfully so far this season. We are half way to safety with less than 30% of the games played, so are already on the way to having a great season. There will be the odd blip, but that shouldn’t derail the support as we are all in this together. It would be great if some of our more volatile supporters could remember that.