The journey to Cardiff started with my first trip to Paddington in some time and my first time on the Elizabeth Line. The new cross-London service is not yet connected up, but the Tottenham Court Road to Paddington leg was pleasingly speedy. The train journey to Cardiff was slightly delayed, but pleasant enough, but it was chucking it down when I arrived in Cardiff and I was very damp indeed when I reached the hotel and I bitterly regretted my decision not to wear waterproof trousers.
The take up for this game among those that I usually book for had been very low (two of us) so when I received a message from Graham to say that he wasn’t going to make it, I knew that I was going to be Franny-no-mates for the evening. I thought that maybe I should find a restaurant for dinner, but decided to go ahead with my visit to our pre-match venue of choice. It is slightly unusual to have pre-match drinks in an arts centre, but the bar has a fine selection of ales, the food is good, it is a short walk to the ground and I do like to support arts venues. When I got to the bar, I noticed that they had Rosie’s Pig cider. When I saw that it was a rhubarb version I had second thoughts, but I tried it and it was actually rather good. I have always loved rhubarb, although it doesn’t love me. Clearly I must take it in the form of cider in future.
Thankfully, by the time I left for the ground the rain had stopped, but my coat was still soaking even after having deposited a pool of water by my chair in the arts centre. I remembered the layout of the ground from previous visit, so trekked to the far side to find the away section. The stewards there were friendly and helpful and I was soon inside where I spotted Don Fraser so I stopped for a chat.
Team news was just the one change from Saturday as Gaspar came in for the suspended Choudhury, with Gosling moving into the midfield. So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Kamara, Sierralta, Troost-Ekong, Gaspar; Kayembe, Gosling; Sarr, João Pedro, Sema; Bayo.
There were some nervous moments in the Watford defence in the first minutes of the game. My heart really didn’t need to witness Bachmann struggling to hold on to the ball in the box while Harris challenged, to my great relief he eventually cleared. Then a short back pass caused problems, as O’Dowda looked to capitalise, but Bachmann was able to make the clearance. The home side took the lead on 9 minutes when Kiprè got on the end of a corner from Ralls and headed home. It was a very slow start by the Hornets and it looked as though we were going to have another poor away showing.
The first Watford attack came on 10 minutes when Kayembe released Sarr but his run was stopped by the linesman’s flag. Then Kayembe won the ball in midfield and crossed for Sarr whose shot was blocked on the edge of the area. The Hornets had a great chance to grab an equaliser from a corner, João Pedro played it short and exchanged passes with Sema before taking a shot that was blocked by the keeper, the ball rebounded to Sema whose shot beat the keeper before being cleared off the line. Then Sema played a brilliant ball to João Pedro in space in the box, he took a couple of touches to set himself up for the shot which gave the defence time to organise and his effort was blocked. A mistake by Romeo allowed João Pedro to come away with the ball, he should have done better with the shot which he chipped into the arms of Allsop. Then Kayembe played a lovely ball to Sarr on the left, he crossed for Bayo who found Gosling whose shot was just over the bar. The Hornets were level on 37 minutes as a corner from Sema was met by Sierralta who headed home sending the away end wild with joy. The Hornets had the chance to grab a second goal when Sarr crossed for Bayo who played it short to Sema whose shot was turned around the post by Allsop. That was the last chance of the half and the Hornets went into the break level and left the field to cheers from the travelling fans.
It was a decent half of football. The first 10 minutes had been terrible for the Hornets, and the early goal seemed to signal that we were in for an unhappy evening in Cardiff. But the goal spurred the Hornets on and they got back in the game, scored a well-deserved equaliser and were in control by the end of the half having had 9 shots on goal, 4 of which were on target.
At the break, the man sitting in front of me commented on my making notes. When I said that I wrote a blog he asked if I was Frances and said that he reads it. So, hello, John!
The home side started the second half strongly as Philogene broke forward, he beat Sierralta to get into the box and hit a shot that Bachmann pushed wide. The Hornets then went on a break of their own, Bayo played the ball out to Gaspar and broke forward to receive the return ball but it was just too far in front of him. A lovely passing move finished with Gosling releasing Sarr who broke into the box and shot just over the target. Then João Pedro went on a great run into the box but pulled up to avoid colliding with the keeper who was able to gather the ball.
The Hornets scored their second just before the hour mark and, again, it came from a corner. Sema’s delivery was headed home by Sarr who celebrated mightily in front of the travelling Hornets. The home side looked to break back as a corner from Ralls was met by the head of Ng, but it was a poor effort that cleared the bar. Cardiff looked to liven things up with a triple substitution as Sawyers, Ojo and Etete came on for Rinomhota, O’Dowda and Harris. The home side then had a decent chance to draw level as Philogene went on a great run into the box but his shot was woeful and flew well wide of the far post. The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead when Sema whipped a free kick into the box, but it was just beyond the reach of Bayo. There were then bookings for each side. Sema was penalised for kicking the ball away at a Cardiff free kick. Then Wintle was cautioned for a foul on Sarr which stopped him breaking forward. The resultant free kick was met by Troost-Ekong who blasted a shot wide of the target. Bilić made his first change at this point bringing Hungbo on in place of Bayo. The home side had a great chance to equalise when Philogene ran through the Watford defence before playing in Ojo whose shot was stopped by the legs of Bachmann. The Hornets looked to break back with a great run by Hungbo whose pass was just too long for Sarr. As the clock hit 90 minutes, Bilić made a defensive substitution bringing Kabasele on for Sarr. The home side also made a change replacing Romeo with Watters. There was five minutes of added time and Cardiff had one final chance to rescue a point as Gaspar lost out allowing a Cardiff player to break into the box, but Bachmann was down to smother the ball. Bilić made one last change bringing Asprilla on for Sema, but there was no more goal action so the Hornets left Wales with a very well deserved three points.
As we left at the end of the game the stewards were very friendly wishing us a safe journey home. I remember after a win at Ninian Park some years ago, being conciliatory to the steward who then told us how delighted she was that we had won as she hated Cardiff! Maybe the stewards all feel that way or maybe they are just unusually pleasant. The new stadium at Cardiff no longer has the intimidating atmosphere of the old ground, it is a much different experience now.
The walk back to the city centre was very pleasant, the rain had stopped, my coat finally seemed to have dried off and I was able to enjoy the sights of the Castle and the Park.
This was a very good showing from the Hornets. Some of the passing from the back can be scary, but when it is executed well it is a joy to watch. João Pedro was absolutely magnificent, he was everywhere. Sarr put in a decent showing and was good value for the goal. The defence were well organised, and it was good to see Gaspar put in a decent shift. Finally we are seeing some consistency from this team, they are working hard and playing as a team. They are doing the dirty work, closing down the opposition, but also showing some great skill going forward. The chants of “sexy football” were well merited.
After three wins on the bounce, the Hornets are now in the play-off places and things are looking a lot happier. Travelling away has not been a lot of fun this season, so those that have persisted thoroughly deserved those two wins. We now have two home games before the trip to Bristol and we must go into those with a higher level of confidence. We have a team capable of beating any team in this division and they are finally proving that.