I was in Watford bright and early for the game but was still greeted with “What time do you call this?” by the time-keeping steward at the gates of the West Herts. I thought that 5:15 was very respectable. Once inside, I had to choose whether to occupy one of the larger tables or one that seated 4. I opted for the larger one in the hope of company that evening, which eventually appeared in the person(s) of Richard and Rod, so the small table would have sufficed. We had a pleasant pre-match chat before heading to the ground at the appointed hour. Although it turned out that we had mistimed our departure as I heard Z-cars ringing out as I was walking down Occupation Road, even though it was only 7:41. Thankfully there were no crowds at the turnstiles, and I managed to get to my seat in time for kick-off.
Team news was that Wilder had made one change from Saturday with Koné coming in for Bacuna. So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Kamara, Hoedt, Porteous, Andrews; João Pedro, Louza, Choudhury, Koné, Sarr; Davis.
I was a gorgeous evening and the game started well for the Hornets who took the lead after 10 minutes when Louza chipped the ball to Davis at the back post, he headed it down to Sarr who prodded it past Allsop. The visitors looked to hit back as O’Dowda went on a run down the left, but he was being tracked by Andrews all the way. The run ended with the Cardiff man tumbling in the box after a nudge from Andrews and the referee indicating a goal kick.
On 23 minutes, there was a pause in the game so that the players who were fasting for Ramadan could break their fast. The Hornets almost played themselves into trouble as a poor header from Hoedt, originally intended for Bachmann, was picked up by Kaba whose lob over Bachmann also cleared the bar. The visitors were level just after the half hour, Rinomhota played a lovely ball to Etete who jinked into the box and shot through a group of static defenders into the far corner. The Hornets had been dominating possession, but not creating chances, but it was still a surprise to find the score level. It was even more of a shock when the visitors took the lead a couple of minutes later. The Hornets failed to clear a corner, Wintle’s shot was blocked by Choudhury and the ball fell to Kipré who found the net. The first booking of the game went to Etete for a nasty challenge on Porteous. This was followed by a bit of handbags and Hoedt also found his way into the referee’s book. The visitors scored a third before half time. Ng crossed into the box, Kaba chested the ball down and hit an overhead kick that beat Bachmann and sparked a loud chant of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt.” At this point there was a pitch invasion to applause from many in the Rookery. The miscreant was soon returned to the other side of the hoardings. Back on the pitch a corner from Louza was punched clear by Allsop, it dropped to Choudhury whose shot was blocked. The visitors had a chance to grab a fourth in time added on as a corner reached McGuinness who poked the ball just wide. The half time whistle went to loud boos and chants of “We want our club back,” which sounded strange coming from a child who wasn’t born when the Pozzos took over the club.
It had been a dreadful half of football. As too often, an early goal was followed by lots of pretty possession with no goal-scoring chances created and then a complete collapse when the visitors scored. It was hard to see the Hornets coming back from this.
Wilder made a change at the break bringing Sema on in place of Koné. The Watford players were booed when they came out for the second half. The Hornets had a decent chance at the start of the half as João Pedro chipped the ball into the box for Davis, but Allsop was first to the ball. Then, following a free kick, Davis hit a cross in front of the goal, but Sarr was unable to reach it. Louza had the next chance with a curling shot that was blocked. Then Choudhury played a ball over the top for Davis, but Allsop was out to make the block. With 25 minutes remaining, Wilder made a double substitution bringing Ngakia and Asprilla on for Andrews and Kamara. Again, Andrews was warmly applauded as he walked along the front of the Rookery. Sarr was the next to try to get a goal back but two crosses in succession were blocked. The visitors then made a double substitution bringing Sawyers and Wickham on for Rinomhota and Etete.
The Hornets had a decent chance to pull one back when João Pedro played a lovely ball over the top to Sema but he could not find the target from a tight angle. At the other end a free kick from Ng was gathered by Bachmann. The Hornet chances were becoming more desperate as João Pedro tried a shot from distance that flew over my head in the middle of the Rookery. Then Louza chipped the ball into the box for João Pedro, but Allsop was equal to the header. The visitors made a final change as Harris came on in place of Kaba. The Hornets had another chance to reduce the deficit when Asprilla crossed for Sarr, but the header was blocked. Then a lovely ball from Louza found Sarr in the box, but Allsop again made the save. Sarr had one more chance to score a second when he met a cross from Asprilla with a header, but the delivery had been a bit high and he could only direct it over the bar. The Hornets had one last chance to finish the game on a positive note when Porteous fed Sarr who played the ball out to Ngakia, but the shot was straight at Allsop and the Hornets fell to an embarrassing defeat against struggling opposition.
I honestly don’t know what to say about the match, it was utterly dreadful. As soon as the visitors scored their second, the Hornets never looked like getting back in the game. The ground was half empty at kick-off and almost deserted at the final whistle. I thought about leaving early myself, it was that bad. A number of fans gathered at the front of the Rookery at the end, although they didn’t seem to be shouting, just gesturing at the players who were not going to come anywhere near them. They applauded the crowd from the middle of the pitch and then walked off.
Thankfully, I had a painless journey home and, to compound the misery, I listened to Chris Wilder’s interview which summed up what I have thought all season. The guy next to me asked why we had replaced Bilić given that Wilder had done no better. Only Gino knows the answer to that as it has been obvious all season that the head coach has not been the problem. The playing squad is a group of individuals who do not play as a team and seem unable to execute a game plan. Added to that, the confidence is paper thin, so any setbacks lead to a collapse. A number of people were chanting “We want our club back.” Sadly, it seems already to have gone back to pre-Pozzo times when we watched a struggling team in a half empty stadium, only these days the players are paid considerably more than they were in those days and such performances are unforgivable. I will be travelling to both Hull and Sunderland and am relieved to have gigs to go to on both weekends and a trip to the seaside in between, so I am guaranteed some fun. Also, we have the Women’s Cup Final on Sunday, which I hope provides us with something to cheer about. This season can’t finish quick enough.