A Positive End to a Difficult Season

Hamza Choudhury

I arrived at the West Herts bright and early to find that it was oddly quiet, but I did have company as Graham was already there.  Gradually, the rest of our party gathered to be fed and watered before the game.  Glenn appeared with the last scratchings of the season, so we did have a treat before a game that promised little.

The previous day, Watford Women had a convincing win at Billericay and Ipswich did them a favour by beating Oxford, so the Women ended the season as champions of the National League Southern Premier Division.  Sadly, there is still one more game in their season as they have a promotion play-off against Nottingham Forest who won the Northern Division.  The game will be played in Milton Keynes on 20th May and will be a great chance for revenge after the narrow Cup defeat.  The Women’s championship was celebrated on the pitch before the game and Megan Chandler was given the women’s player of the season award.

The men’s player of the season award was given to João Pedro.  It was thoroughly deserved, but tinged with sadness, as his move to Brighton had been confirmed during the week.  It seems like a great move for him to a well-run club where he will get the opportunity to play.  It has been a pleasure to watch him develop and I wish him well in his future career.

Young player of the season, Morris, takes a throw-in

Ismaïla Sarr won the goal of the season for his tremendous strike from the halfway line away to West Brom.  The young player of the season award was given to James Morris in his breakthrough season.  The supporter of the season went to Geoff Wicken, which was very well deserved after his tremendous work on the book and the celebrations for 100 Years at the Vic.  

Team news was that Wilder had made two changes from the Sunderland game with Hoedt and Koné coming in for Kamara and Asprilla.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Sema, Hoedt, Kabasele, Porteous, Andrews; Koné, Louza, Choudhury; Sarr, Davis.

In honour of the coronation, the national anthem was played before kick-off.

The visitors started brilliantly as, after 20 seconds, Pearson unleashed a brutal shot that needed a decent save from Bachmann to keep it out.  The Watford keeper was in action again soon after, repelling a shot from an acute angle by Tymon.  The Hornets then had a great chance to open the scoring as Louza played a gorgeous ball through the defence for Sarr who was one-on-one with the goalkeeper, Šarkić, who managed to get a touch to the shot and deflect it wide.  The resultant corner was met by the head of Kabasele, whose effort was caught by the keeper. 

Challenging at a corner

The Hornets threatened again as Louza played another lovely pass, this time to Davis who got into position to take the shot which was deflected over the bar.  From the corner, Louza’s delivery was again met by the head of Kabasele, but his effort was wide of the target.  Then a miskick from Porteous gifted the ball to the opposition, the ball reached Smallbone in the box and it needed another great save from Bachmann to keep the shot out.  At the other end, Sema went on a surging run into the box, his shot was saved, and the ball dropped to Andrews whose shot, under challenge, flew high and wide.  The visitors had another decent chance to open the scoring when Campbell played the ball back to Tymon whose shot was met by another good save from Bachmann.  The resultant corner was headed goalwards by Jagielka, but Bachmann made the save.  The Hornets threatened again as Andrews went on a great run before playing a ball to Sarr in the box, his shot was saved at the near post.  The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring when a cross into the Watford box was met by a volley from Powell, but his effort was over the bar, and the flag was up for offside, so it wouldn’t have counted.  The next chance for the Hornets came when Andrews played a lovely ball to Davis, who couldn’t sort his feet out in order to get a shot in, so he returned the ball to Andrews whose shot was deflected wide.  At the other end, Kabasele blocked a cross but could not prevent the ball reaching Smallbone, whose shot was just wide of the near post.  The visitors threatened again as Smallbone crossed for Powell whose header was saved by Bachmann.  Then a misplaced pass gave Davis a chance, but his shot was blocked by a defender.  The last chance of the half fell to the visitors as Tymon broke forward, but his cross was blocked by Bachmann with Campbell lurking at the back post.  So, the half finished goalless.  It had been an end-to-end game but, from my perspective behind the goal, which may have been misleading, it seemed that Bachmann had been the busiest keeper.  He had certainly pulled off some crucial saves.

Celebrating Louza’s goal

At half time, there was a celebration of a decade since *that* goal.  Almunia, Anya and Pudil were on hand with their memories of the day and they were joined by Johnny Phillips, whose Sky commentary still makes me laugh.

The first incident of note in the second half was a booking for Pearson for throwing the ball away.  The first attack came as Louza went on a run into the box, but failed to shoot and the ball ran through to Šarkić.  It was 20 minutes into the half before either side created a chance and it was Campbell for the visitors who tried a shot from the edge of the area which flew well over the bar.  At this point, Wilder made a double substitution with Araújo and Morris coming on in place of Koné and Kabasele and a change to 4-4-2.  The Hornets took the lead soon after.  Louza played a ball to Sarr in the box, he took a tumble under a challenge from Šarkić and was appealing for a penalty, but Davis picked the ball up and played it back to Louza who curled a gorgeous shot in off the post.  I think, prior to the goal, we had all been resigned to this game finishing goalless, so it was even more of a shock when the Hornets scored a second.  Sema went on one of his battling runs, before playing the ball to Davis whose shot hit the far corner. 

Sema congratulates Davis on his goal

Stoke made a change at this point with Thompson making way for Baker.  The substitute was immediately involved with a header from the edge of the area that cleared the bar.  The visitors had another chance to get a goal back with a shot from distance by Powell, but Bachmann was equal to it.  At the other end, Sarr went on a great run and put in a decent cross that was turned wide before it reached Araújo.  The visitors threatened again as a corner was met with a defensive header and the ball dropped to Pearson who shot over the bar.  Wilder made another double substitution at this point bringing Blake and Grieves on for Sarr and Sema.  It was gratifying that Sarr was given a tremendous ovation as he left the field.  I don’t think any of us are expecting to see him in a Watford shirt again, so it was lovely to give him a good send off.  The visitors made a late change bringing Taylor on in place of Campbell.  At this point, the stewards who gather behind the hoarding at the front of the Rookery before the final whistle were supplemented by a number standing in front of the hoarding, meaning that the view for anyone in a wheelchair or unable to stand was blocked.  There were some complaints, but they were not moving.  There was a decent late move for the Hornets as Blake released Davis on the wing, he crossed for Araújo whose shot was blocked.  That was the last involvement for Davis as he was replaced by Bacuna.  There was one last chance for the Hornets to increase their lead as Hoedt tried a shot from distance, but it was well wide of the target and the final whistle went on a creditable two goal win that left the Hornets in 11th place in the division, ridiculously only 6 points off the play-offs.

Man of the match, Louza, takes a free kick

There were a good number in the Rookery for the end of season lap of honour and it was all very good hearted.  Kamara was clearly waving goodbye.  Someone behind me asked where Sarr was, and we had to point out that he was still only halfway down the Lower GT stand as he and Sema were signing autographs.  There was no sign of João Pedro who had said his goodbyes before the game before being picked up in a helicopter and whisked to Brighton to be presented at half time in their match.  Bachmann’s children were having a kick-about and King Ken’s little one was blowing kisses to the crowd.  It ended up being a surprisingly lovely end to what had often been a miserable season.

Our party had decided to have an end of season meal at L’Artista and, on arrival, it was unsurprising to see a lot of yellow shirts, but it was lovely to see some very familiar faces including someone that I used to see regularly at away games, that I haven’t seen for years.  It was great to catch up.  Then we settled down for some lovely Italian food and wine, while keeping an eye on the door in case Dan Pudil made an appearance.

Post match we were all quite relieved to see this season come to an end.  It is not a season that will live long in the memory, although the win at home against them up the road will remain as a highlight.  This Summer will see a new head coach and some rebuilding of the playing staff, and we will all return in August ready for a new adventure.  But the abiding memories of the season will be the time spent with family and friends.  The lovely group who met for dinner after the game would never have met were it not for the football club and it is the camaraderie and the friendships that make watching terrible football worthwhile.

Thank you to all who have read my reports this season.  Many have been written through gritted teeth and it has been hard to find positives on a lot of occasions.  But we ended the season with a win, and I spent time with a lot of lovely people, so I am going into the close season with a smile on my face.

2 thoughts on “A Positive End to a Difficult Season

  1. John

    Thanks for another excellent season of wonderful match reports and hearing about your adventures across the country in as you say what has been a very average below par season .

    Enjoy the “summer break”!

    And hopefully for better things in 2023/24!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s