Two Points Lost to the Royals

Oli with Toddy and Don at an end of season dinner

Last week we heard the sad news of the passing of Oli Phillips.  His reports about the Hornets in the Watford Observer were a vital ingredient to my falling in love with the club.  I had the paper on order at the local newsagents and, when I was away at university, my Mum would keep the pile of papers for my return.  Later, when I was on the board of the Supporters’ Trust, Oli was very helpful to me, calling from France to chat through his knowledge of some of the behind the scenes stuff that we were looking into.  It is fitting that the Media Suite at Vicarage Road has been named after Oli and I am so glad that he was made aware of it before he died.

On Saturday, it was a fairly leisurely start to the day as we had only a short trip to Reading.  I had intended to arrive early to grab a table in the pub, but was slow getting going and delayed myself further by having to return home as I had forgotten to pick up my ticket.  My progress stalled again at Tottenham Court Road as the Elizabeth Line was closed so it was back on the Northern line and a change to the Bakerloo.  Paddington underground station was a zoo when I arrived and it took forever to get out, so I missed the train that Mike and Jacque were on.  No matter, when I arrived at the pub, most of our party were already in place and had secured a couple of tables for a comfortable gathering.  We had a fan reach out to Women of Watford asking where we were meeting so our numbers were swelled further, and new friends were made.  I also saw Ross from Ayrshire and his daughter there, so all were accounted for.

Martins waiting for the ball to drop

We took the bus to the stadium and arrived to find that the block of seats next to us housed a large group of Junior Hornets.  I saw Helen on the way in with her two children.  She told me that they had spent the morning at a trampoline park and had a tremendous time.  The children had been given fan clappers with “when I was young” printed on them.  I went to speak to Ann Swanson, who was buzzing.  “We’ve brought 300.  It’s just like the old days.”  There were loads of the clappers left, so I took some for the Women of Watford group.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Middlesbrough game with Araújo, Bacuna and Porteous in for Ferreira, Koné and Sierralta.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Kamara, Porteous, Cathcart, Gaspar; Bacuna, Choudhury; Sarr, Davis, Martins; Araújo.

The Hornets dominated the opening exchanges, but the first chance of note came after 16 minutes and was created by the home side, Ince broke forward and unleashed a shot that was pushed wide by Bachmann.  From the corner, Ince put in a cross that was cleared by Sarr. 

Celebrating the first goal

The first chance for the Hornets came soon after as Davis found Sarr who curled a shot wide of the far post.  The Hornets were ahead on 29 minutes as Gaspar played a ball over the top to Araújo who squared for Sarr to poke the ball past Lumley.  A goal away from home in the first half.  How delightful!  Sarr then got on the end of a lovely through ball but was taken down by Mbengue as he tried to escape.  The Reading man was booked for the foul.  The Hornets had a decent chance for a second from a free kick, but the delivery from Martins was caught by Lumley.  There was an even better chance soon after when Araújo received a throw-in from Kamara in the box but could only find the side netting.  A foul on Choudhury prompted a lad in front of me to hold up a yellow card, sadly the referee did not do the same.  The next chance for the home side was again stopped by a great clearance from Sarr, who was putting in a great shift at both ends of the pitch.  Reading had a chance to draw level in time added on at the end of the half when Ince won a free kick just outside the area.  He stepped up to take it himself, but his effort was well over the bar, so the Hornets went into the break with a well-deserved lead.

Porteous looks very happy to have scored

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side with a shot from Hendrick that Bachmann was down to save.  The Hornets then had a great chance when Martins broke forward before playing a lovely ball to Sarr in the box, but Lumley blocked the shot, Gaspar picked up the loose ball and his shot was deflected for a corner.  This lead to the second goal as the delivery from Martins was met by a great header from debutant, Porteous, who celebrated in front of the travelling Hornets who had to make up a song for him on the spot.  The Hornets were very much on top at this point and the next chance came when Gaspar crossed for Sarr whose header was blocked.  The Hornets had the ball in the net again when Sarr ran on to a pass that came through a defender’s legs, but the flag was up curtailing the celebrations.  There were shouts for a penalty from the Reading players when one of their players tumbled in the box, but the referee waved play on.  The Hornets had another great chance to increase their lead when Martins got on the end of a free kick from Porteous and broke forward before unleashing a shot that Lumley saved at the near post.  At the other end, Loum tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Bachmann was down to make the save. 

Challenging at a corner

The Hornets were in charge at this point but then Cathcart and Long tumbled together in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  My immediate reaction had been that Cathcart was the one who was fouled but, of course, it was Long, who has been our nemesis for years and the decision went his way.  Ince stepped up to take the penalty and, although Bachmann went the right way, he put it in just inside the post.  Infuriating.  The Reading fans suddenly started making some noise.  With 20 minutes remaining, each side made substitutions as Azeez replaced Hoilett for the home side, Assombalonga made his return to the club in place of Araújo and João Pedro made his return from injury in place of Davis.  Reading had a great chance to draw level with a shot from distance by Azeez that was punched clear by Bachmann.  Then Sarr ran on to a pass and took a shot that was blocked.  Kamara was booked for what looked like a decent tackle from our vantage point, but I do think that a lot of bookings are very soft.  The Hornets thought they had scored a third, Kamara went on a great run before pulling the ball back to Martins, he shot, and the ball bounced off Lumley into the goal.  It seemed to have been given until the Reading players complained that Assombalonga had got a touch having come back from an offside position.  The referee went to speak to the linesman, and he finally raised his flag indicating an offside.  Two minutes later the home side were level.  A deep corner was met by a volley from Kendrick that beat Bachmann, sending the travelling Hornets into despair.  Bilić made a couple of late substitutions bringing Koné and Adeyemo on for Bacuna and Martins.  At this point, the travelling Hornets were letting the referee know what they thought of his performance.  Paul Ince made a couple of late substitutions bringing Meite and Dann on for Long and Mbengue.  The home side nearly grabbed a late winner with a shot from Hendrick that needed a really good save from Bachmann to keep it out, Meite’s follow-up cleared the bar.  It all kicked off in time added on.  A foul from João Pedro infuriated the Reading players and an all-out brawl started.  Someone must have said something to Choudhury, as he was furious and could not be pacified.  When it finally calmed down, the referee booked the two Watford men, but nobody from the opposition, which seemed like a ridiculous decision.      

Martins prepares to take a corner

The final whistle went on two points lost from a winning position.  It felt like a defeat.  On the way out, everyone was complaining about the referee but, following the penalty, the Watford team had collapsed rather worryingly.  We had enough quality on the pitch to easily beat Reading but week after week, we are not playing to our potential.  One positive was the performance from Porteous who looked solid at the back, took the goal really well and had two different songs by the end of the game.  Sarr also put in an excellent shift and Martins looked great going forward.  But we need to become harder to beat. While we were drowning our sorrows, a couple of guys at the table next to us asked about the game.  It turned out that they were Reading fans who decided to spend the day trainspotting rather than go to the game.  They were a lot happier than we were and there is a lesson in that for us all.

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