Another game under the lights and, having dropped out of the play-off places due to playing Monday evening, this was a must win game. I left home in good time and boarded the train at Euston. I had donned my noise-cancelling headphones for a quiet journey when a man sat next to me and asked what my prediction was for the game. “It depends which team turns up.” It turned out that he is a season ticket holder who travels up from Dorset for games and was lovely company for the journey to Watford.
I arrived at the West Herts quite early and it wasn’t too busy, so I got a pint and nabbed a table to wait for the others to arrive. Due to the game being on television, our group was rather depleted, and Mike wondered out loud why he had made the journey from South London, knowing he wouldn’t be home until about midnight, when he could have been relaxed at home in front of the television. Richard, who makes a similar journey, commented that it was much more fun being part of it. We just hoped that would be the case this evening.
Team news was that there was one change from the Burnley game with Morris in for Kamara, who was injured. So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Morris, Hoedt, Porteous, Gaspar; Sema, Choudhury, Koné; João Pedro, Davis, Sarr. The lovely Nathaniel Chalobah started for the visitors.
The Hornets started the game well as a Sema free kick was headed across goal by Koné, but nobody was on hand to turn it in. This was followed by a lovely through ball aimed at Davis but West Brom keeper, Griffiths, was first to the ball. The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring when Albrighton crossed for Thomas-Asante but his header was way off target. The Hornets opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, Gaspar played the ball across to Davis whose shot was blocked, and the ball fell to Sema who turned it in. From the restart, there was a chance for a second as Sarr went on a great run, but his shot was way over the bar. The Hornets threatened again as a shot from Gaspar was blocked and the ball fell to Porteous whose effort was wide of the target. At the other end Wallace broke forward and pulled the ball back to Swift whose effort cleared the bar. The referee then went back and booked Hoedt for a foul in the build-up. The Hornets had another great chance as Sarr picked up a loose ball and found Davis who broke into the box and shot, but Griffiths managed to make the save with his feet. Watford threatened again as Davis got on the end of a decent cross from Morris but his header was wide of the target. Then Koné nicked the ball off Furlong in the midfield and went on a great run, but his shot was blocked. The final chance of the half went to the visitors as a shot from Albrighton was blocked by the face of Sarr, who needed some time to recover. The whistle went on what had been a decent half of football from the Hornets, although we should have been more than one goal ahead.
As it was the Community Trust awareness match, the half time guest was from the Trust and highlighted some of the work that they do in the community. They also announced the next Taylor Trek, a fundraising walk around Watford, which will be held on 15th October. They showed some highlights from last year’s event and the back of our heads featured in the video (my best side).
The visitors were out early for the second half and made two substitutions at the break with Molumby and Diangana coming on in place of Chalobah and Albrighton. West Brom started the half very strongly and Choudhury received an early booking for a foul. The visitors had the first chance of the half from a corner which was met by the head of Furlong whose effort cleared the bar. West Brom’s best chance of the game so far came after Hoedt lost the ball to Wallace, he broke forward and crossed for Swift whose volley was met by a flying punch from Bachmann. A great save. But the visitors equalised from the next move. Watford failed to clear a corner and the ball dropped to Townsend who flicked it home from close range. We were starting to regret not making the most of our chances in the first half. The Hornets looked to hit back immediately as Davis won the ball and fed Sarr whose shot hit the post. At the other end Diangana pulled the ball back for Thomas-Asante to shoot, but Bachmann did brilliantly to push the shot around the post. The visitors threatened again as Wallace met a cross from Townsend with a header that cleared the bar.
West Brom then made another change bringing Dike on for Thomas-Asante. West Brom had a great chance to take the lead when Wallace crossed for Yokuslu, it was a great relief when his header landed on the roof of the net. It was the Hornets who got the next goal, rather against the run of play. A cross from Morris was headed clear but dropped to Koné, his shot was blocked but the ball fell to Sarr who made no mistake. My thought at the time was that we really needed that goal to calm the nerves. But the Hornets then gifted the opposition an equaliser as Bachmann made a mess of a pass to Choudhury, who had to stretch to reach it, the ball fell to Molumby who fed Wallace who beat Bachmann. As if the manner of the goal wasn’t frustrating enough, the news from those who had seen replays was that Wallace was offside. The Hornets had the ball in the net soon after, Griffiths did well to save a shot from Davis and Sema latched on to the loose ball and found the net from a tight angle. But our celebration was rather hopeful as King Ken had been behind the goalline when Davis shot and had run back on the pitch to score, so it was no surprise to see the flag raised. But the Hornets did score a third soon after as Koné picked up the ball on the edge of our area and started a quick break that ended with Sarr playing the ball back to Sema whose shot took a wicked deflection off Pieters and flew past Griffiths, who was completely wrong-footed. The goal was given to Sema, which seemed a little generous, but was deserved after his performance.
With 10 minutes remaining, each side made a substitution with Grant replacing Swift for the visitors and Koné making way for Bacuna for the Hornets. The final change for the Hornets saw Louza come on for Sema, both players were given an ovation by the Hornet faithful. The substitute was involved in the next Watford attack releasing Sarr who crossed for João Pedro whose shot was saved by Griffiths. There was one last change for the Hornets as Assombalonga replaced Davis. I thought it was appropriate on Trust awareness day that a player who was discovered after attending one of the Trust’s football schemes should make an appearance. My heart sank when I saw that there were six minutes of added time, surely we wouldn’t have a repeat of the Burnley game. Thankfully the only chance of note in added time came from the Hornets as Assombalonga went on a storming run that resulted in a shot that was blocked for a corner. So, the full-time whistle went on a very pleasing win for the Hornets. As “I just can’t get enough” rang out over the tannoy, Nigel commented that they probably had to dust it off.
I headed back to the station and bumped into Duncan and Samir on the platform. When we boarded the train, we took a table already occupied by another Watford fan so had a good chance to discuss the game. There was some argument about certain players (Koné hero or villain? I thought neither). But something we could agree about was what an enjoyable match it had been. Watford had been by far the better team in the first half, but the battle of the second half was exhilarating. The Hornets had been their own worst enemies in defence, but had played some lovely football going forward. King Ken was a deserved man of the match, winning even more plaudits with his post-match interview in which his severe speech impediment was very apparent, but he happily spoke to the media. But the best thing about the game was the character that the players had shown when West Brom hit back. In too many matches this season, they have collapsed when things started to go wrong, but this time they fought back, and the 3 points were richly deserved. It was great to be part of the crowd on a night like this, experiencing the ups and the downs together and ultimately celebrating mightily at the end of the game. And that, Mike, is why you made the journey.