A Dreadful Game but a Welcome Point

Lining up for the minute’s silence

I have been a regular visitor to Bristol ever since two of my dearest friends chose to go there for university.  One of them stayed on after graduation and it was she that took me on my first visit to Ashton Gate, which was actually for a Farmers’ Market.  I have been there many times since for football but, due to time spent in different divisions and Covid, I haven’t been there since 2014, so this visit was well overdue.

I travelled to Bristol on Friday afternoon and spent a lovely evening catching up with my friends before we went our separate ways at Saturday lunchtime.  I had originally arranged to meet Jacque at a pub near Bedminster station but, when I looked up the directions, I found out that it didn’t open until 1pm.  The alternate pub that I decided on opened at midday and was only a 15 minute walk from the ground.  When I arrived, I found a very pleasant gastropub with a fine selection of real ales, so I settled down at a table in a corner waiting for Jacque’s arrival.  I knew that it would take her a while to get there from Temple Meads, but started to get worried when there was no sign of her some considerable time after her train had been due to arrive.  When she finally appeared, I found that she had been told that the pub was a 10 minute walk from the station when the reality was that it would take more than half an hour to walk there for someone who knows the way.  No matter, she was soon settled with a pint and all was right with the world.  We were also joined by Jane who was part of our Women of Watford booking.  When the time came, the three of us had a gentle stroll to the ground on what was a lovely November afternoon.    

Bachmann takes a free kick

Team news was that Bilić had made three changes from the Reading game.  Sarr and João Pedro were left on the bench as they were carrying knocks and Asprilla was out with an ankle injury.  Their replacements were Gaspar, Kamara and Kalu, who was making his first start of the season.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Kamara, Kabasele, Troost-Ekong, Gaspar; Choudhury, Kayembe, Gosling; Kalu, Davis, Sema.

As this was the last game prior to Remembrance Sunday there was the usual pre-match tribute to the fallen including a rendition of The Last Post.  Sadly, this was interrupted by some idiots in the Watford end yelling about Luton who were then shouted down by others.  All very unpleasant.

When I was preparing for my trip, I could not find my blue away shirt so was very relieved when I found that the lads would be wearing the black and white third shirt as I had that with me.  Having shared my superstitions about replica shirts with my friend, it was lovely to get a message from her telling me that she had seen two Watford fans, one wearing a yellow shirt and one blue, so that we had all bases covered. 

Challenging for a ball into the box

When we found our seats in the stadium, the guy next to me said that he had come from Somerset and that the Bristol City fans there wanted us to thrash them, so they would get rid of Pearson.  I was fearing that Nigel would be out for revenge after his ignominious sacking. 

The first chance of the game fell to the home side, after a one-two with Wells, Conway hit a soft shot straight at Bachmann.  City then had a very decent chance to take the lead as Wells broke forward and crossed for Conway who had a free header which flew over the bar.  There was then some confusion in the Watford defence as a low cross from Conway was cleared by Kabasele.  Bachmann was standing right behind him but it appeared that there was no call.  There were strong shouts for a penalty for City when a ball into the box was met by a very high boot from Gosling which almost hit Wells in the face, but the referee waved play on.  It has to be said that most of the fans around me would have given it.  The home side had another chance from the cross by Wells which was met with a poor header from former Watford loanee, Weimann, whose effort was off target but caught by Bachmann anyway. 

Joao Pedro challenging for a dropping ball

The half time whistle went to boos after a dreadful half of football.  The Hornets had not had an attack worthy of the name, let alone a shot on goal, although the home side were not much better.  The players all looked as though they had already started their World Cup break. 

At half time the City team of 97-98 were welcomed back for the 25th anniversary of the season in which they won promotion to the second tier.  It was a little ill advised to do that when Watford were visiting as our memory of the corresponding tie that season was of the home fans holding up a banner declaring themselves Champions.  Pride went before a fall and it was the Hornets who topped the division that season on our way to the Premier League.  Still, the first person to be introduced to the crowd was the manager that season, the wonderful John Ward, who was given a very warm reception by the travelling Hornets.

The first action of note in the second half was a decent Watford move as Gaspar exchanged passes with Sema.  It came to nothing but was worthy of mention as the first half-decent play that we had seen in the game.  The first booking of the match went to Gaspar for pulling Wells back as he tried to break forward. 

Sema and Joao Pedro line up a free kick

There were cheers from the travelling fans as João Pedro and Sarr were called back from warming up to get ready to come on.  They replaced Gaspar and Kalu.  The change invigorated the crowd who were cheering for the first time that afternoon.  The home side had another chance from a free kick that Scott played square to Williams who chipped the ball into the box for King, but the shot was straight at Bachmann.  At the other end there was finally a cross into the City box by João Pedro, but Gosling was unable to reach it.  The Hornets were screaming for a foul when Davis was pushed over, but nothing was given and Pring released Conway who broke forward before shooting wide of the far post.  That was the last action from the City man who was replaced by Semenyo.  The home side had an even better chance soon after as a cross by DaSilva was met by Weimann whose header needed a good save from Bachmann to keep it out.  The resultant corner was met by the head of Vyner but Bachmann punched clear.  With 16 minutes remaining, Bilić made another change bringing Bayo on for Sema.  Gosling slipped over with nobody anywhere near him and it was immediately obvious that he was in a lot of pain.  Despite the sight of the stretcher coming on, a nasty element of the home crowd were jeering him, chanting “Let him die”.  I have no trouble with people jeering play-acting but, when a player is clearly quite seriously injured, there is no place for that sort of behaviour.  Gosling was eventually carried off the pitch and was replaced by Cathcart.  In the 83rd minute Watford finally had their first attempt on goal when João Pedro pinged the ball into the box for Bayo whose volley was way over the target.  The travelling Hornets happily sang “We’ve had a shot.”  It wasn’t one to get excited about but was better than nothing.  Davis then tried an exchange of passes with João Pedro but was unable to reach the chip back to him.  A tussle between Scott and Sarr led to a booking for the City man.  I must admit that, at the time, I thought that Sarr was being penalised for pulling his opponent back.  That is how positive I was feeling during the game.  There was 5 minutes of added time and with the last kick of the game, the Hornets fashioned a second chance as Kamara crossed for Bayo who headed wide.  The final whistle went after an utterly appalling game of football    

Joao Pedro on the ball under the watchful eye of the managers

Despite the lack of quality there was one young man sitting near me who had had a wonderful day out.  Paul from the City ‘Orns was there with his son, whose birthday it was and who had been our mascot for the game.  He had a wonderful day meeting his favourite player, Ken Sema, and he said that all of the players had been lovely.  He was beaming, which was so great to see.

We left the ground and went our separate ways.  Jacque headed for the station and I took the walk back to my friend’s house.  On my way back I passed a brewery tap.  I was just thinking that was the sort of place that Jerry would go.  Then I looked at the group of guys standing outside and there was Jerry!

Sadly, as it was the last game before a four week break, it was an utterly awful game of football.  Things brightened up a bit after João Pedro and Sarr came on, but they still only managed two off-target shots in the entire game.  The injury to Gosling looked awful and I was gutted for him after the hard work that he has put in this season.  I hope that his prognosis is not as bad as it seems.  But, to take a positive from the day, a point away is always thankfully taken and it means that we go up a place to 4th going into the World Cup break.  A lofty position that I don’t think any of us would have expected when Bilić took over.  We now have a few football free weeks to recharge our batteries ready for the second half of the season.  Hopefully that will give the players time to work together and to improve their fitness without the punishing schedule of two games a week.  I will enjoy the break, as I am taking a holiday, but I am already looking forward to the trip to Huddersfield, which is usually a cracking day out.

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