I set off for the last match of 2022 with little expectation of entertainment. Thankfully, despite warnings of disruption, the journey was without incident. The train wasn’t too busy, and I spent a very pleasant journey reading Alan Rickman’s diaries which I had received for Christmas. Just before I boarded the train to Swansea, I had spotted Stuart Timperley, but I waited until we arrived to say hello. I was gratified to hear that he was using this trip to catch up with the lovely Julian Winter who is now Chief Executive at Swansea.
I had arrived in Swansea closer to kick-off time than is usually for me and was Franny-no-mates pre-match so decided to have a glass of wine and a pizza in the hotel before leaving for the ground. The pizza took rather longer than I anticipated, so I found myself bolting it down to get some sustenance before heading out. The walk to the ground was surprisingly quiet, clearly there wasn’t going to be a big crowd. On arrival at the stadium, I had forgotten which end we were located so was grateful to a helpful steward who, spotting my scarf, put me on the right path. Inside the ground, I had a quick chat with Don, whose vantage point was rather decent, and then headed to my seat, which was equally so.
Team news was that there were three changes from Boxing Day with Gaspar, Troost-Ekong and Asprilla coming in for Sema, Kamara and João Pedro. So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Cathcart, Troost-Ekong, Kabasele; Ngakia, Dele-Bashiru, Bacuna, Asprilla, Gaspar; Sarr, Davis. The absence of Sema was a surprise, but one of our party had been staying in the same hotel as the Watford squad and had seen him in the physio’s room so had prior knowledge that he would not be involved.
Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s applause for Pelé and for former Swansea player Neil Robinson. The applause started as soon as the tannoy announcer started talking about Pelé and was lengthy and heartfelt. What a sad loss he is for the world of football.
The home side created the first chance of the game when Darling hit a shot from distance, but it was straight at Bachmann. At the other end, a low cross by Ngakia was cleared then, from the resultant throw-in, he put in a deep cross that flew past the far post. The home side threatened again as Cullen went around the back of Kabasele and put in a low cross that Bachmann was down to save.
The Hornets had a decent chance to take the lead when Davis got on the end of a chip from Kabasele, but his header was straight at Benda in the Swansea goal. The first booking of the evening went to Grimes for pulling Davis over. It had been a fairly lively start, but that was followed by a very quiet period and the next chance came on 23 minutes with a shot from distance from Fulton that flew well over the bar. It all kicked off when Bachmann came to catch a free-kick and was knocked flying by a reckless challenge by Darling. Both sets of players reacted to the incident, but it soon calmed down. There was a break in play while Dan received treatment. Thankfully, he was able to resume playing. The travelling Hornets had shouted for a red card, but the referee showed yellow. The Hornets had a chance to open the scoring when Ngakia put a decent cross into the box, but it was met by a very poor header from Sarr that cleared the bar. At the other end, Piroe tried a shot from distance that was caught by Bachmann. Then Cullen got on the end of a cross from Manning and flicked a header wide of the near post. Swansea took the lead in the 39th minute and were gifted the goal. Bachmann was shaping up to launch a long kick, Troost-Ekong came in and played a short pass to Bachmann who returned the ball only for Troost-Ekong to give it away, there was a quick pass to Cullen who played a through ball to Piroe who finished past Bachmann. The home side had a chance to increase their lead before the break when a cross into the box was met by the head of Darling, Bachmann blocked, Grimes followed up, but Bachmann was able to smother the ball.
So, we went into the break a goal down. Swansea thoroughly deserved the lead, but it was very frustrating that the goal had been handed to them on a plate.
The Hornets created the first chance of the second half as Davis found Bacuna in the box, but he was tackled, and the ball went out of play for a goal kick. At the other end Cullen broke into the box and shot, but his effort was high and wide. On the hour, Bilić made a double change bringing Kalu and Bayo on for Cathcart and Asprilla, to bafflement in the away end. The introduction of Kalu initially injected some energy into the attack as he made runs at the home defence, one of which was stopped by a foul from Latibeaudiere who was booked for his trouble. Swansea then made their first substitution bringing Ntcham on for Cundle. Watford’s midfield woes continued as Dele-Bashiru limped off to be replaced by Morris. Then Bachmann was booked for dissent for remonstrating with the referee after he had interrupted a Hornet attack when the ball bounced off him. Swansea scored their second on 74 minutes, a corner reached Darling, his shot was blocked and rebounded to Cullen whose shot through a crowd of players found the net. It was hard to see the Hornets coming back from that. The goal was the last action of the game for Cullen who was replaced by Allen.
The home side scored a third soon after, as a curling Piroe shot from the edge of the area beat the dive of Bachmann. The Hornets tried to take something from the game as Davis played in Ngakia on the overlap, but the shot was blocked. Then Bayo met a Gaspar corner with a header that was parried by the keeper, he met the rebound with a shot but, again, the keeper was behind it. There was still time for the home side to score a fourth. The ball was played to Grimes in the box, Bachmann came to meet him, so he squared for Latibeaudiere who put the ball in the empty net. The Swansea fans were thoroughly enjoying themselves at this point with chants of “Are you Cardiff in disguise” and “You’re getting sacked in the morning.” While a number of Watford fans had already departed, there were a good number left in the ground when the final whistle went and was greeted with a chorus of boos. There was one lovely couple bravely applauding the players, but they were on their own. Most of those still in the ground had stayed to let the players know exactly what they thought of their performance. If they couldn’t hear what was being shouted, they would have had no doubt about the anger as they took in the obscene gestures. While I am not one for booing or berating the players, I couldn’t blame any of my fellow fans after that display.
I made a visit to the Ladies before my walk back to the city centre. There I bumped into Janice, who is a fellow happy clapper. She looked haunted and was completely lost for words. I am struggling too after that performance. While I understand that the squad is completely depleted by injuries, I still expect the team to show a bit of fight. They started quite brightly and Kalu looked lively when he came on, but any positivity soon fizzled out. Given his talent, Sarr should have shone, but he was almost invisible. There is no creativity in the midfield and the loss of Dele-Bashiru just adds to our woes in that regard. But the worst aspect of the evening was that Swansea were really rather poor. They had gone eight games without a win prior to this game and you could see why, but they still absolutely thrashed this Watford side who just did not show up. The home fans were baiting Bilić, but he can’t be blamed for the lack of effort on the pitch. I am really questioning my decision to go to Norwich on Monday. But it is what I do and a day out with the Norfolk ‘Orns is always fun. I will certainly make sure that I get there in plenty of time for a couple of pre-match pints.
If you have read this far, I wish you a Happy New Year, although I fear that little of that happiness will come from following the Hornets.