FA Cup 3rd round day is always one that I look forward to. While the magic of the cup has been somewhat tarnished over recent years, the prospect of teams from different divisions meeting is always thrilling. When the draw was made, I was just hoping for a new ground to visit, so was a little disappointed when Woking came out of the hat as I have been there twice for pre-season games (including having the memorable experience of seeing Mazzarri escorted back to the team coach by a phalanx of stewards so that he didn’t have to mix with the fans). I soon got over this disappointment and my appetite for the game was only increased when I heard the interview that the “From the Rookery End” guys did with (Woking assistant manager) Martin Tyler at the FSF awards. Martin spoke about Watford in such glowing terms that I was genuinely moved and felt incredibly proud of the club that I support. I only hoped that he (and I) would be feeling equally positive about our club after the game.
As I usually do when Watford are playing on Sunday, I checked the fixtures a ridiculous number of times on Saturday in order to ensure that I hadn’t got the wrong day. Sunday morning I was up early (for me) and off to Woking. Having not seen any football related clothing on the train, my first indication that there was a game going on was when I emerged from the station to see a chap selling half and half scarves (the horror!). We had arranged to meet at a local pub for Sunday lunch, which was a great way to prepare for the game. The place was soon packed with a mix of fans and it has to be said that the locals were a lot more convinced of a comprehensive Watford win than I was.
Since we would be on the terraces, we made sure that we arrived at the ground earlier than is usual for us and we met up with Pete and Freddie at the front of the terrace near the half way line. A perfect spot for watching the game. Pete had been on a beach clean the day before and had come away with a pocket full of shells. He shared them around, starting a new tradition of the lucky shell that was to be carried all the way to Wembley (we can dream).
Team news was that Gracia had made wholesale changes, with Peñaranda finally making his Watford debut. The starting XI was Gomes; Janmaat, Britos, Wilmot, Masina; Cleverley, Chalobah, Quina; Hughes, Success, Peñaranda. It was pleasing to note that the Woking team were wearing numbers 1-11.
Watford started brilliantly with their first chance coming in the first minute of the game as Success tried an overhead kick that sailed over the bar. Quina was the next to trouble the Woking defence with a dangerous run that finished with a shot that was blocked. At this point, with less than 10 minutes gone, the Woking fans behind the goal started a chant of “0-0 to the Cardinals,” fair play to them for that. Peñaranda’s first goal attempt came after he cut inside and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.
Watford continued to threaten as a corner from Hughes was headed down by Britos to Masina whose shot was blocked at the near post to give the visitors another corner. This time the set piece appeared to have come straight from the training ground as Masina played a low ball to Hughes who was running into space in the box and he belted it home to give Watford an early lead. It was a very well taken goal and certainly calmed my nerves. The first caution of the game went to Success, who was adjudged to have dived. The card seemed a little harsh. The Woking fans were at it again soon after as their keeper, Ross, gathered a cross, they started a chant of “We’ve got the ball.” Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as a cross from Janmaat was headed goalwards by Success, but Ross made the save. Quina was the next to threaten but his shot flew over the bar. The first goal attempt for the home side came on 23 minutes as Casey crossed for Gerring who met it with a decent header, but Gomes dropped to make the save. Then Success found Cleverley whose shot was blocked. On the half hour Gerring, who had been on 5Live telling Troy Deeney that he would have to let him know he was there, turned his attentions to Success in the absence of the Watford captain. It was quite a nasty challenge and well worth the booking that he received. Watford had another chance to grab a second from a fantastic free kick by Cleverley, but the shot rebounded off the bar. The last chance of the half came as Quina played the ball back to Hughes who tried to place the shot, which rolled to the keeper, when a welly would have gone in.
So Watford reached half time a goal to the good, after a half that they had completely dominated. It was a shame that we hadn’t scored more of our chances, but we were looking in control of the game.
At half time, I spotted Lionel Birnie standing behind me and took the opportunity to tell him how much I had enjoyed the GT autobiography. I loved the style of the book, with GT telling his own story in a way in which you could hear his voice. The book is a real gift to those of us who loved and admired GT and I wanted to thank Lionel for his work in ensuring that GT’s story was told.
The first action of the second half was the rather thrilling sight of the lino on the opposite side falling backwards over the hoardings. It is dreadfully childish, but you can’t help but laugh when the officials come a cropper. The first real chance of the half fell to the visitors as Peñaranda cut inside and curled a lovely shot just wide of the target. Woking then created their first chance of the half, but Hyde’s header was easily stopped by Gomes.
The home side made their first substitution on the hour as Little replaced Taylor. The substitute made an immediate impact firing a low shot through a crowd of players, but Gomes made the save. With 20 minutes remaining, each side made a double substitution. Bradbury and Hodges replaced Luer and Edser for the home side, while Success and Peñaranda made way for Deeney and Sema for the visitors. Javi’s substitutions proved to be inspired as a couple of minutes later Sema pulled the ball back for Deeney to score Watford’s second goal. The niggling worry in the back of my mind that Woking could grab an equaliser was quelled at this point. The Woking substitute, Bradbury, had briefly been on Watford’s books and Pete was not a fan having known of him from Havant & Waterlooville, where his father had been manager. Pete decided to engage with the player. “Not even your Dad would play you.” A comment which, to be fair to Bradbury, drew a smile. Watford made their final substitution with 10 minutes to go as Hughes made way for Navarro. The Hornets had a good chance to grab a third as Deeney got on the end of a cross from Sema, but his header was blocked. At the other end Bradbury should have reduced the deficit with a header from close range that flew just over the bar. I swear there was fear in his eyes as he looked over to see Pete’s reaction. That was the last action of the game and the whistle went on what had been a comfortable victory for the Hornets.
As we were leaving the ground, someone mentioned that Lloyd Doyley had been in the away end and, perfectly on cue, he appeared from one of the portaloos. We said hello and he shook hands with the guys and greeted me with a kiss. He was then surrounded by Watford fans asking for photos. Never have so many selfies have been taken in front of a toilet. He chatted to us on the way out, talking about his recent move to Billericay. He was accompanied by his son, resplendent in a Watford shirt, and told us that his lad is a regular at Watford but goes with his friends now. That made me very happy.
As we emerged onto the street outside, it was evident that all was not well and I was shocked to witness a couple of punch-ups as if to emphasise the retro feeling of the day and remind me that it wasn’t all good in the olden days.
I bade my farewells to the others and headed for a visit to my Dad’s cousin who lives in the town centre. When I had called to invite myself over, they had told me how the town was thrilled about the visit of Watford and it was nice to hear how much this had meant, although they had been hoping for a replay.
On the journey home, I reflected on the game. While the finishing had been a bit disappointing, the win had been convincing with the Hornets never really looking in any danger. The debut of Peñaranda was decent enough for a lad who has not played for a while and for whom a non-league ground must have been an eye-opener (decent as the ground is). Quina and Wilmot continue to impress when given their opportunities and it was great to see another strong performance from Cleverley. The disappointments were Success, who continues to frustrate more than delight, and Chalobah, who is a shadow of his former self at present.
When I got home, I must say that it gladdened my heart to see Woking’s kind words about our visit on their Twitter feed as well as the photo of the two managers having exchanged bottles of their traditional beverages (sangria and Newcy brown). I had thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon on the terrace, although my aching back didn’t agree with me. I am just hoping that the fourth round draw is kind to us. A trip to Accrington, Newport or Oldham would go down very nicely indeed, although I suspect we will end up at the Etihad.