A Narrow Defeat in a Competitive Game in Sheffield

Most Watford fans that I know travelled to this game with some anticipation.  Our recent performances have been good and Sheffield United were having a bit of a wobble.  A number of people made a late decision to come along, so there was going to be a decent away crowd.

I got an early train out of London and the peace of my journey was shattered when we arrived at Derby and a load of lads piled on for the first leg of their journey to Barnsley.  No matter, I was in the pub soon after opening time and was surprised to see how busy it was, but the Happy Valleys had been there waiting for the doors to open and had secured a couple of tables in the corner.  Ross (and Zoë) from Ayrshire soon made an appearance.  They had driven to Carlisle to catch their train and left home in temperatures of -5C.  We were then joined by a number of Women of Watford, and by Jane Parr, former photographer at the Watford Observer, who lives in Sheffield.  It was great to catch up with her.

We headed to the ground in good time, although access to the turnstile was blocked by a guy whose electronic ticket was not working.  Probably as he was supposed to be in the home end.  As we took our seats opposite the Tony Currie stand, Graham told a story of lunchtimes at Watford Grammar, when they would go and have a drink in the Supporters Club and play darts with Tony Currie, who was a junior at the time so couldn’t join them for drinks!

So good to see Louza back in the starting line-up

Team news was that there was one change from the West Brom game with the welcome return of Louza to the starting XI in place of Koné.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Morris, Hoedt, Porteous, Gaspar; Choudhury, Louza; Sema, João Pedro, Sarr; Davis.

The Hornets started the game well and, in the third minute, João Pedro crossed for Gaspar at the back post, but the shot was well over the target.  The Hornets threatened again as João Pedro played a lovely through ball to Davis in the box, he was knocked flying, and the ball ran through to the keeper, Foderingham.  The penalty appeal fell on deaf ears.  There was puzzlement as the Hornets won a free kick, but Hoedt was booked for a foul which had presumably happened earlier in the move.  Then McBurnie played a through ball to Ndiaye, Bachmann came out to meet him then changed his mind, retreated and made the save, but the flag was up for offside anyway.  The Hornets had a decent chance to take the lead after they won a free kick in a dangerous position when João Pedro was dragged down by Ahmedhodzic, who was booked for his trouble.  Sema’s deep delivery was met by the head of Davis, whose effort was wide of the target. 

Porteous, Sarr and Louza

The first real chance for the home side fell to Ndiaye whose shot from just inside the area cleared the bar.  The next chance for the Hornets came from a free kick just outside the box.  Louza’s delivery was deep and Hoedt tried to turn it in, but Foderingham made the save.  The home side then had a chance of their own from a corner, the ball came out to Robinson, but his shot was wide of the target.  There was five minutes of added time at the end of the half, I have no idea why.  The Hornets had one last chance to break the deadlock before the break when Gaspar picked up a loose ball and fed João Pedro, he played the ball out to Sarr who won a corner.  Sadly the delivery from the set piece was straight at the keeper, so we reached the interval goalless.  It had been an entertaining half of football.  The home side had put together some decent passing moves but were not testing Bachmann.  Watford had the better of the chances with the best being the header from Davis, but there had not been a shot on target from either side.

The first chance of the second half fell to the home side with a free-kick from Norwood which curled around the wall, but Bachmann was down to make the save.  João Pedro then played a lovely ball over the top to Sarr, but his shot was blocked.  The resultant corner was poor, flying straight into the arms of Foderingham. 

Louza and Sema prepare for a free kick

At the other end, Fleck pulled the ball back for Ahmedhodzic whose shot from just outside the area was inches over the bar.  Just before the hour mark, Bilić made his first substitution bringing Koné, who had done a thorough warm-up at half time, on for Louza.  The Hornets should have scored in the next move, Sarr played the ball to Morris on the left, he put in a lovely cross for João Pedro who should have hit the target with his header but instead flicked the ball towards Davis, who clearly wasn’t expecting the ball to come his way, so it bounced off him leaving Foderingham with an easy catch.  United then made a double substitution bringing Osborn and Doyle on for Lowe and Fleck.  The home side then had the ball in the net when Bogle headed home a cross from Ahmedhodzic, but the flag was immediately raised for offside.  Bachmann was then called into action, first with a flying save to stop a shot from Doyle, before dropping to save the follow-up from Osborn.  At the other end, Koné tried a shot from distance, but it was an easy catch for Foderingham.  The home side took the lead on 73 minutes.  McBurnie played a ball through to Berge whose shot was saved by the legs of Bachmann.  But the resultant corner was met by the head of McBurnie whose effort deflected off Porteous past Bachmann.  From the other end of the ground, the ball appeared to have been cleared but the referee indicated that the ball had crossed the line.  It was a very frustrating way to go behind.  The Hornets tried to hit back as Sarr broke into the box, he tried to square the ball to Davis, but it hit a defender and Foderingham gathered.  Each side made late changes, with Assombalonga and Araújo coming on for Sema and Davis for the Hornets and McBurnie making way for Sharp for the home side.  The Hornets had a chance of an equaliser as Sarr fed João Pedro, but the shot was blocked.  At the other end Berge hit a shot from the edge of the area that flew high and wide.  There was another five minutes of added time and the Hornets had a great chance to rescue a point when they won a late corner.  Bachmann went up to join the fray and, following Koné’s delivery, the ball was bouncing around the box and appeared to be flying in on several occasions before the defence cleared with what turned out to be the last kick of the game.   

Koné lines up a free-kick

It was a frustrating loss in a game that could have gone either way.  It had been very competitive and there had been chances for both sides, but they were generally lacking in quality.  Man of the match for the Hornets was probably Choudhury who was everywhere (as usual), but Joao Pedro also had a good game, creating several chances although he really should have gone for goal with the header that he flicked on to Davis.  The defence were generally solid, but were undone by a momentary lack of concentration.  Morris had another good game, he looks more and more impressive with each outing.

We headed back to the pub to drown our sorrows.  There we met a United fan who shared our view that it had been anybody’s game and was always going to turn on a moment of luck.  As we reflected on the day, and the season so far, there was a lack of enthusiasm for the play-offs or for us to get promoted.  We are not strong enough and another season of consolidation and growth would be preferable to getting beaten every week.  Anyway, most of us old folk quite like going to games in the Championship.

I thought that I had timed my journey home to avoid being on a train packed with noisy football fans, but the first part of my journey home was again interrupted by the Derby boys, who were surprisingly jolly given that they had fallen to a 4-1 defeat.  I guess there is a lesson there.  Derby have a much more glorious history than we do, but the current crop of young fans is far too young to have experienced those times so are not too dispirited by a bad loss to Barnsley and were happily planning trips to Peterborough.  We should all learn some of that humility.  Although that comes from someone who is missing trips to Barnsley and Peterborough, which tend to be cracking days out.

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