I went to give blood on Tuesday afternoon. These days they are very mindful of your safety and ask whether you will be doing anything strenuous later in the day. My visit to the football could hardly be described as physically strenuous, but the effect on my nerves was likely to be a different story.
I was in Watford in good time and arrived to find Jacque in place at the West Herts, which was still deserted at that point. I suspected that, with the defeat on Saturday and the game being on television, there would be a low turn-out, but was pleased to see our usual crowd swelled with a niece (mine) and a nephew (Jacque’s) who had made a late decision to buy tickets and come along.
Team news was that there were two changes from the Coventry game as Sierralta and Kamara were suspended after receiving five yellow cards. They were replaced by Kabasele and Asprilla, who allowed Sema to drop into the left back position meaning that both of our full back positions were taken up by midfielders. So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Sema, Kabasele, Troost-Ekong, Gosling; Kayembe, Choudhury; Sarr, João Pedro, Asprilla; Davis. Former Watford youngster Andy Yiadom captained the visitors.
The teams came out for kick-off with Reading wearing a bizarre washed out pink shirt. Surely their blue and white hoops would not clash with our yellow shirts.
As this was the nearest home game to Remembrance Sunday, Bilić and Ince laid wreaths on the touchline and a trumpeter played the Last Post to impeccable silence in the ground.
The first chance of the game fell to the home side after Gosling won a free kick just outside the box. Sema’s delivery hit the wall, the rebound fell back to him and he hit it way over the bar. Then, after a lovely attacking move from the Hornets, Davis played the ball back to Asprilla in the box, his shot was deflected wide. From the resultant corner, João Pedro was pulled down in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. The young Brazilian stepped up to take the penalty himself and coolly sent the keeper the wrong way with his shot into the bottom corner to give the Hornets an early lead. The Hornets threatened again as Sarr met a Kayembe free kick and headed it down, but there was nobody on hand to apply the finishing touch.
The visitors finally launched an attack as Fornah broke into the box but his effort was blocked and the Hornets launched a counter-attack, Davis released Sarr before running into the box to receive the return ball, which came via the head of a defender, his shot was on target, but Lumley made the save. There were nervous moments in the Watford box as a dangerous ball rolled across in front of the goal before reaching Ince, but Sema made a lovely tackle to take the ball off his foot. On the half hour the Reading keeper, Lumley, had to be replaced due to injury. Bouzanis came on in his place. Then Sarr broke forward and found João Pedro in the box, he fed Davis who was unable to get into position to take a shot. Despite Reading’s propensity for fouling any Watford player that they could catch, the first booking of the game went to Asprilla for a rather late foul on Rahman. The visitors had a chance to threaten the Watford goal from a free kick on the left, but the delivery was poor and flew over the opposite corner. The first booking for the visitors went to Ejaria for a foul on João Pedro. The visitors had a chance to break back just before half time when a free kick dropped to Hendricks, but his shot was terrible and flew well wide of the near post. At the other end Asprilla played a lovely through ball to Sarr whose effort was blocked. In time added on at the end of the half, there was a strong appeal for a penalty as Davis was knocked over in the box, but the referee waved play on. The visitors had one last chance to go into the break level with a shot from distance by Ejaria that flew well wide of the far post. So the Hornets went into half time with a very well deserved lead.
The first incident of note in the second half was a booking for Sema as he battled to make up for losing the ball after a short corner. The first chance of the half came from a Reading corner from Fornah which was met by João whose header was wide of the target. At the other end Sema had a shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at the keeper. Reading then made a substitution bringing Loum on for Hutchinson. The Hornets had a decent chance to increase their lead when Choudhury found João Pedro on the edge of the box, he turned and shot but was foiled by a good save from Bouzanis who got a hand to it. On 64 minutes, Bilić made his first change bringing Kalu on for Asprilla. The substitute was in action almost immediately with a cross that Davis just failed to connect with, the Hornets retained possession and Kayembe played a through ball that was just too far in front of Choudhury. There was another booking for the visitors as Rahman was cautioned for pulling Sarr back to prevent a break. A lovely ball from Choudhury found Gosling in the box, but Ejaria blocked his shot. From the resultant corner Sema’s delivery was met by the head of João Pedro, but his effort was wide of the target. Reading had a chance to draw level as a free kick was taken square to Ince on the edge of the box but his shot was just over the bar. Reading earned another booking for a niggling foul as Loum was cautioned for pulling down Kayembe.
The Hornets had a great chance for a second when Kalu played the ball back for João Pedro whose shot was deflected just wide of the target. The visitors then made a double substitution with Méité and Carroll coming on in place of Ejaria and João. The sight of Andy Carroll running towards the Rookery did nothing to calm my increasing nerves. The Hornets were on top but had been far too wasteful in front of goal. The Hornets soon had another great chance to secure the win as Kalu played a ball over the top for Sarr to run on to, the keeper came out to meet him and Sarr chipped goalwards, but Mbengue was there to head clear. With 4 minutes remaining the Hornets scored a second as Bouzanis got a hand to a cross from Sarr but could only pushed the ball out to João Pedro who took his time to let the ball drop and hit a gorgeous half volley home. We were right behind it and celebrated mightily. There was a late double change for the Hornets as Gaspar and Bayo came on in place of Sarr and Davis. The visitors had their first shot on target in time added on as an effort from Ince was blocked and rolled to Bachmann. There was one final change for the Hornets as Dele-Bashiru came on in place of João Pedro who went off to a rapturous ovation with his song being belted out by the home fans. The final whistle then went on a convincing win for the Hornets.
Due to the late hour, there was no time for our usual post-match meet, but I bumped into Dave and Sophie on the way back to the Junction and had a good natter with them. The lack of fitness in the squad was bemoaned as a number of the players do not seem to have 90 minutes in them. It is hoped that the World Cup break will give them time to work on this. But we all praised the organisation of the team who are actually playing together and looking more and more convincing as the season goes on. Slaven Bilić has worked wonders with the players and the football is so much more enjoyable now. The Hornets are creating many more chances and, if you do that, you can afford to miss some.
It was a very enjoyable evening at the Vic. João Pedro impressed again and it was good to see that both of his goals were coolly taken. Choudhury had a masterful game. Every time that he puts in a strong tackle I smile, but he does so much more than that and was the architect of many of our attacks and, if they broke down, he was there to clear up and restart. Kalu had a nice cameo and will definitely add to our options. Sarr and Davis were strong and gave the visiting defence a torrid time. The makeshift defence put in a great show, although they were not given much of a test by a poor Reading team.
So we just have a trip to the West Country before the ridiculous mid-season break. Let us hope that we can keep the momentum going and go into the break in the play-off positions ready to make a serious bid for promotion in the second half of the season. Football is fun again.