The Wednesday before this game was the Quiz Night at the football club. It is always a good evening, with an interesting set of questions, but I generally go for the craic. There is a team called the Untouchables, who are not Watford fans but quiz fiends, who turn up every year and usually win, having the trophy presented to them by a football player that they have no interest in. Of late, Shaun Wallace from the Chase has become a regular on one of the teams and another team included Beth Webster, one of the Eggheads, who is a Watford fan. Against all odds, our team (City ‘Orns) ran out winners. I am still not sure quite how this happened, but I was rather pleased with my winner’s medal and the prize of hospitality on New Year’s Day.
Friday night, I had a lovely meal in London with some of our usual crew, so decided to stay over, rather than heading home. This allowed me to spend the morning at the Royal Academy catching the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition before it finished. I reached Euston only slightly later than I usually do, but disruptions to the trains meant that I was still waiting around when a friend arrived and observed that I was late on parade. So late that I arrived at the West Herts to find that Don had already left for the ground. The good news was that there was a free seat at our table and a bag of pork scratchings, which was my appetiser as I waited for my jerk chicken, which was excellent and plentiful and set me up for the afternoon.
Team news was that Quique had made only the two enforced changes from the Tottenham game with Masina and Deulofeu replacing the suspended Holebas and the injured Welbeck. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Cleverley, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu. Bournemouth’s line-up included the lovely Nathan Aké, who had the chance to catch up with his former manager, Quique. It still upsets me that we didn’t manage to sign him.
The Hornets had an excellent start to the game and could have opened the scoring in the first minute as a cross from Deulofeu was parried by the Bournemouth keeper, Ramsdale, Doucouré latched on to the rebound, but could not keep his shot down and it flew over the bar. Bournemouth also had an early chance with a shot from Lerma which was just wide of the target. The Hornets threatened again from a corner, Deulofeu’s delivery almost sneaked in, but hit the post and rebounded to Dawson whose shot was blocked. Pereyra was the next to try his luck with a low shot that was easily gathered by Ramsdale. For the second game in a row, Watford lost a player to injury early in the game. On this occasion it was Tom Cleverley who was forced to leave the field, a big blow to us as he has been magnificent so far this season. Will Hughes came on in his place.
On 15 minutes, Bournemouth had a great chance to take the lead from a corner that was met by the head of Cook, but rebounded off the crossbar. The Watford faithful were yelling for a free kick when Aké pulled Deulofeu to the ground rugby-style but referee, Mike Dean, decided that it was a legitimate challenge. The Hornets threatened again as Janmaat hit a cross into the box, but there was no Watford player to challenge for it, so it was an easy catch for Ramsdale. At the other end, Billing tried a shot, but Foster was equal to it. Then Masina played a lovely cross-field ball to Janmaat who put in a low cross, the ball bounced around the box, but no one could turn it in. Lerma went down under a very benign challenge from Deulofeu, prompting a chant of “Same old Bournemouth, always cheating” from the home fans. Rico took the free kick which was deflected off the wall for a corner. The corner was cleared to Rico whose shot was stopped by a great save from Foster. A good move from the Hornets came to nothing when Gerry passed the ball out to Pereyra who hit a very poor shot that flew high and wide of the target. The first yellow card of the game was awarded to Dawson who was booked for taking down the escaping Callum Wilson. The resulting free kick was blocked. Pereyra and Deulofeu launched another promising break, but this one ended with Deulofeu giving the ball away. The visitors should have taken the lead in the last minute of the half when a cross from King reached Danjuma at the back post, but Foster was able to make a point blank save.
So, we went into half time with the game goalless. After a good start from the Hornets, Bournemouth had the majority of the possession and the better of the chances. After his mistake for the Spurs goal last week, Foster had redeemed himself with a couple of great saves to preserve a clean sheet.
The only change at the break was one of the linos, who had picked up an injury so had to swap places with the fourth official.
The Hornets made a bright start to the second half as Deulofeu went on a dangerous run down the left and put in a shot, but Ramsdale was down to make the save. The next action of note came just before the hour mark when each side made a substitution as Chalobah made way for Gray for the Hornets and Harry Wilson replaced Danjuma for the visitors. The Hornets created a half chance as Deulofeu played a back heel to Gray who couldn’t fashion a shot but managed to win a corner. There was a protracted period of handbags soon after. I am not sure what set it off, but Callum Wilson was booked for his part.
Watford looked to break the deadlock as Gray played a ball through for Deulofeu, but Aké kept pace with the Spaniard and shepherded the ball back to Ramsdale. Doucouré then tried his luck with a shot from distance that was high and wide of the target. The visitors then broke downfield, but it came to nothing as King shot straight at Foster. There was another booking as Rico was penalised for sliding in on Hughes. With 15 minutes remaining, each side made a change with Masina making way for Foulquier for the Hornets and Callum Wilson was replaced by Solanke for the Cherries. The best chance since the start of the half came when the ball broke to Hughes whose shot required a decent save from the Bournemouth keeper. The corner from Deulofeu didn’t beat the wall, but it rebounded to him, he cut in to get into scoring position and hit a terrible shot over the bar. Bournemouth had an appeal for a penalty (of course they did) as Fraser claimed that the ball had hit a Watford arm. The referee did not agree but Deulofeu was booked for dissent in the discussions. There was another booking for the visitors as Billing fouled Pereyra. Watford looked to make the breakthrough with a lovely low cross from Gray that flew across the front of goal, but Deulofeu was unable to reach it to apply the finishing touch.
Watford had a great chance to take the lead when a free kick from Deulofeu was flicked on by Pereyra, Gray was closing in at the far post, but couldn’t get a foot to it. At this point, the rain had become torrential which was obscuring our view of the proceedings on the pitch. Not only that, but the problems with the Rookery roof meant that those in the middle of the stand were standing in the middle of a downpour. Bournemouth were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position and Doucouré was booked when he fouled Lerma on the edge of the box. Harry Wilson took the free kick which hit the outside of the post with Foster a spectator. Wilson was causing the Hornets problems, but an attempt to break forward was stopped by a foul from Hughes, who was booked for his trouble. The Hornets picked up another booking as Pereyra was cautioned for a foul on Smith. In time added on, Bournemouth could have snatched the points when they launched one last break, Fraser tried a shot from a tight angle, but Foster was equal to it and the game ended goalless.
The final whistle was greeted with some half-hearted boos from the home supporters. The Hornets had the better of the second half but, after the promise of the performance against Tottenham, it had proved to be a very disappointing game. The good news is that we are now three games unbeaten and the defence is looking far more solid. Losing Cleverley early in the game was a big blow to us, his replacement, Hughes, was guilty of misplacing a lot of passes, although he also had one of our best chances. But the main problems were with the forward line. While I enjoy watching both Pereyra and Deulofeu, having the two of them upfront seems like a luxury that we cannot afford. Their decision making is often poor. Deulofeu should have done much better with a couple of chances, as should Gray. If they had been more clinical, we would have been much happier after the game. That said, a draw was a fair result, but the wait for a win is getting increasingly concerning.
As we walked up Occupation Road, a young girl was asking her Mum why they were going to Everton mid-week. We have watched this girl grow up and her family are regulars at the away games. They are going because that is what they (and I) do. I just hope that we have something to cheer on Tuesday as this season has been far too short on enjoyment.