Another Two Points Dropped Amid Encouraging Signs

Martins takes a corner as Sarr looks on

I arrived bright and early at the West Herts to find most of our party were already in place.  We were soon joined by Pete and Julie’s daughter, Sarah, who was taking her son to his first game.  I hoped that this would be a good experience for him (and the rest of the family).  He certainly seemed to enjoy his lunch and they then headed to the Junior Hornet fanzone, so that he would at least have some happy memories of the day, whatever happened on the pitch.  Glenn’s tardy arrival in the West Herts was greeted with a shout (not from me) of “Where’s the pig?”  Sadly, he told us that the high price of sunflower oil means that his butcher is no longer making scratchings as they would be prohibitively expensive.  I may have wept at this terrible news.  We had to make do with skittles, which were a very poor alternative.

Team news was that there were three changes from the Reading game with Hoedt, Koné and João Pedro in for Cathcart, Bacuna and Davis.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Kamara, Hoedt, Porteous, Gaspar; Koné, Choudhury; Sarr, João Pedro, Martins; Araújo.  It was interesting to note that João Pedro had been named captain, particularly as he rarely seems to speak English in interviews.  The bench was a joy boasting the returns of Louza, Cleverley, Kabasele and Sema.

Prior to kick-off there was a minute’s silence for those lost in the tragic earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

Captain João Pedro

The Hornets started well, but the first chance of the game went to the visitors as Thomas hit a shot from distance that cleared the bar.  The Hornets then had a terrific chance to open the scoring when João Pedro played a ball over the top to Gaspar, but he took his shot too quickly and it flew well over the bar.  The Hornets threatened again with an absolutely gorgeous move as João Pedro exchanged passes with Martins before sending in a low cross towards Araújo that was stopped by a great interception.  The resultant corner was put out by a defender.  From the second corner, Martin’s delivery was met by the head of Araújo whose effort was just wide of the target.  The first shot on target from the Hornets came when Koné intercepted a clearance and released João Pedro whose shot was held by Pears in the Blackburn goal.  At the other end, a free kick from Morton was met by the head of Wharton, but it was an easy catch for Bachmann.  The visitors took the lead on 24 minutes, and it was down to sloppy defending.  Rankin-Costello ran onto a ball into the box, beat Hoedt and hit a shot that was parried by Bachmann, but Dack was first to the loose ball and found the net.  It was a poor goal to give away and all the more frustrating as the Hornets had had the better of the play but, as is too often the case, were not testing the keeper.  The first booking of the game went to Thomas who went through Kamara.  The Hornets had a chance to hit back when Sarr played a ball into the box for Kamara, but the cross was saved.  The next chance came as Sarr got a touch on a Blackburn pass and the ball ran through to João Pedro who shot just wide of the target.  The first booking for the Hornets went to Choudhury for a foul.  The Hornets had a great chance to equalise before the break when Martins played the ball across to Araújo, he pulled it back for Sarr but Pears was equal to his effort.  So, the Hornets went into the break a goal down but very unlucky to be behind on the balance of play.

The Oliver Phillips Media Suite

At half time, there was a lovely tribute to Oli Phillips.  His family were guests of the club and his daughter said a few words.  Then Andrew French spoke very warmly about Oli who had been both a mentor and a friend.  The dedication of the media suite to his memory was a lovely gesture and the decorations both at the entrance and inside showing Oli wearing his trademark fedora were just gorgeous.

Bilić made a change at the break bringing Davis on for Araújo.  The Hornets started the half with a decent chance as Sarr went on a brilliant run and crossed for João Pedro whose shot was blocked.  Then Kamara found Sarr who unleashed a powerful shot that was parried by Pears before he caught it at the second attempt.  The Hornets should have drawn level from the next attack, Martins played a lovely cross for Davis, he headed it on to Koné who, from our vantage point behind the goal, looked sure to score, but our celebrations were curtailed as the ball flew across goal and past the far post.  The Hornets had another great chance after a corner was cleared to Kamara who hit a powerful shot from distance, but Pears was behind it.  The visitors then earned another booking as Rankin-Costello was cautioned for timewasting.  On the hour, Blackburn made a double substitution with Buckley and Gallagher replacing Morton and Thomas.  At the same time, and of more interest to the Hornet fans, Sema came on in place of Martins and, with no disrespect to Martins, what a sight for sore eyes it was to see Ken back on the pitch.  He was immediately in action breaking up play and making surging runs down the wing.  My heart sank when Dack headed home after a free kick, so I was very relieved to see the linesman flagging for offside.  There was another cheering substitution for the Hornets as Choudhury made way for Cleverley.  The Hornets drew level on 74 minutes as a Sema free kick was headed out but only as far as Hoedt who volleyed home. 

King Ken takes a free kick

The Hornets should have had a second almost immediately as Gaspar went on a run before playing the ball out to Davis who broke into the box and leashed a shot that Pears pushed into the air, Gaspar headed it on to Sarr but his header flew over the bar.  There was another welcome substitution as Koné was replaced by Louza, whose return was met by a roar from the Hornet fans.  At the same time Assombalonga came on in place of João Pedro.  In the 81st minute a picture of Oli Phillips appeared on the big screen and there was a minute’s applause for him which was enthusiastically observed.  The Hornets had one last chance to grab a winner when Davis played the ball out to Sarr, he advanced and put a cross in, but it was caught by Pears.  There was just time for Bilić to earn a booking for telling the fourth official in no uncertain terms what he thought of one of the referee’s decisions before the final whistle went on another disappointing draw for the Hornets. 

The return of Tom Cleverley

While the result was a disappointment, it was a terrific game of football.  Watford completely dominated the second half and with better finishing would have run out as convincing winners.  There were also some very encouraging performances.  João Pedro put in a real captain’s innings.  He was involved in everything, but was also seen talking to the players, encouraging them, and also taking to the referee when needed.  I was impressed.  The returns of Ken Sema, Tom Cleverley and Imran Louza gladdened the heart.  They all added something to the team and it felt like three new signings.  Porteous continues to impress and, while Hoedt was at fault for the goal, he redeemed himself by joining the recent spate of players scoring on their debuts.  After a lot of dull games this season, the last two performances have been very entertaining.  We have a trip to Burnley on Tuesday night and, with their terrific form, we shouldn’t expect to get anything from the game, but it should be a lot more entertaining than those we saw in the Dyche years.  I am really looking forward to it.

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