Category Archives: Watford FC

Rainbows on a Happier Day at the Vic

Hayden Mullins

My journey to Watford took slightly longer than usual as I hadn’t factored in the strike timetable on the final leg of the journey.  As we arrived at the Junction, a Palace fan tried to engage a fella in front of me regarding our prospects for the game.  I responded that I wasn’t expecting anything, he countered that we always beat them.  We concluded that we would both be happy with a point and went our separate ways wishing each other well.

After that surprisingly pleasant encounter I headed for the West Herts and arrived just before Don left for the ground.  It being the 10th anniversary of that amazing goal, glasses were raised with the toast “Happy Doyley Day.”  Needless to say, there was also a lot of discussion about our new head coach.  I have to say that I am happy with the appointment and the consensus of our group was that Pearson is just what we need at the moment.  He did great things at Leicester and was credited with building the team that won the Premier League.  He will also take no nonsense and we certainly need that attitude.  As we watched Duncan Ferguson’s Everton beat Chelsea and recoiled in terror every time the camera gave a close up of big Dunc, I could only hope that Nigel would have the same effect at Watford.

Kiko Femenia leaving Zaha for a moment to take a throw-in

As it was Watford’s “Rainbow Laces” match, there was a rainbow carpet welcoming all to the Hornet shop and there were Premier League representatives handing out laces to passing fans.  I took some and just need to find a pair of boots with which to wear them.

Due to the late appointment of Pearson, Hayden Mullins was in charge again, facing his former club.  Team news was that he had made two changes from the Leicester game with Kabasele and Pereyra coming in for Mariappa and Hughes.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré; Pereyra, Deulofeu, Sarr; Deeney.  In the opposition dug out was our old friend and hero Ray Lewington.  I love to see him back at Vicarage Road.

I was not in the ground in time to see Pearson introduced to the crowd, but I was there when Emma asked us to thank Hayden Mullins for his stewardship while we were between managers.  He was rewarded with very warm applause from the crowd and responded in kind.

Capoue on the ball

There was a great early chance for the Hornets as Sarr turned and broke forward before playing in Femenía who crossed for Deeney who was unable to make a decent contact.  At the other end, the visitors threatened but Ayew’s cross was hit straight to Foster.  The Hornets gifted the visitors with a great chance to take the lead when a mishit clearance reached McArthur who should have done better but, thankfully, shot wide of the far post.  The home side then had a great chance of their own as Femenía put a lovely cross in for Sarr, who tried to turn the ball in at the near post, but it was blocked for a corner.  Sarr again executed a lovely turn and run but, on this occasion, his cross was headed to safety.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the Palace box, but Pereyra’s delivery was straight at the wall.  The first booking of the game went to Doucouré, who stuck a leg out to bring Ayew down.  Off the field, there were complaints of bullying in the Rookery as Trevor, who sits in front of us and is a QPR fan (his wife is Watford), objected to the number of people wishing him “Happy Doyley Day”!  Kabasele and Zaha tangled, there was some afters and the Palace man was penalised and booked, much to the amusement of the Watford faithful.  There was then the ridiculous sight of Cathcart being shown a yellow card for a pass because Milivojevic had challenged him as he kicked the ball and had fallen over Cathcart’s feet.  The first half ended with a lovely move from the Hornets that finished with Deulofeu playing a square ball to Sarr who shot well over the target.

So, we reached the break with the game goalless and without a shot on target, but it had been a very positive half of football from the Hornets.

Deulofeu takes a corner

At half time, representatives from the Proud Hornets and Proud and Palace were interviewed about their groups’ efforts to ensure that LGBT+ supporters feel welcome at football matches.  The Hornets representative was particularly enthusiastic about the rainbow display in the Rookery at this time last year that they worked on with the 1881.  It was very impressive and a really positive gesture towards inclusivity.

The visitors made a change at the break bringing Riedewald on for Schlupp.  The Hornets had two goal chances in the first couple of minutes of the second half.  First a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Doucouré, but the header was an easy save for Guaita in the Palace goal.  Then Pereyra played in Deulofeu but, again, the shot was straight at the Palace keeper.  The next chance fell to Capoue, but his shot from outside the area was high and wide.  Deulofeu looked as though he would open the scoring as he escaped from the Palace defence, but his shot was just wide of the near post.  My heart was in my mouth when Masina and Zaha tangled in the box, but it was the Palace man that was adjudged to have been the aggressor.  At this point the Palace fans were expressing their ire regarding the referee, the Watford faithful responded with “This referee’s all right!”.

Pereyra, Deulofeu and Masina line up a free kick

Watford threatened again as Deulofeu played a short corner to Pereyra who played a return pass, but the curling effort from Geri was easy for Guaita.  At the other end, Zaha found McArthur whose shot was well over the target.  A promising run by Deulofeu was stopped by a foul from Tomkins that earned a yellow card.  Palace then made their second substitution bringing Benteke on for Townsend.  A lovely ball into the Palace box from Deulofeu appeared to be heading for the near post but Guaita was lurking and Sarr just failed to turn it in at close range.  Into the final 15 minutes of the game and Mullins made two substitutions in quick succession with Gray and Chalobah replacing Pereyra and Doucouré.  Between the substitutions, McArthur made a foray into the Watford box but was stopped by a great tackle from Kabasele.  The visitors then had their best chance of the game with a powerful shot from Ayew that just cleared the bar.  Watford were still fighting to make the breakthrough and Sarr played a cross to Deulofeu which was a little too deep so narrowed the angle for Geri who crossed back for Ismaïla, who could only head wide under a challenge from Cahill.  The final substitution for Palace saw Kouyaté replaced by McCarthy.

Femenia, Doucoure and Sarr

Sarr had yet another chance to open the scoring, but his shot was turned wide by Cahill.  A corner was then played back in by Cathcart to Sarr but the shot was high and wide.  The game was getting rather tetchy and Femenía was the next to go into the referee’s book after hauling Zaha down.  From the free kick, Watford cleared and launched a counter-attack as Sarr powered downfield before crossing for Gray who was coming into the box at speed and could only shoot straight at Guaita.  There were shouts for a penalty when Deeney was pulled over by Cahill as he tried to reach a cross into the box by Masina.  The referee waved play on but, soon after, Deeney was awarded a free kick for a much more innocuous foul on the wing and was clearly asking the referee why that was an infringement when the one in the box wasn’t.  He appeared dissatisfied with the explanation.  There had been an ongoing niggle between Capoue and Zaha and the Watford man was finally cautioned for a push on his opponent to stop him escaping.  It was a very “Capoue” foul.  Watford had a final chance to grab the winner as a shot from Deeney was caught by Guaita while Sarr challenged.  The youngster went down in the incident and was lying on the goalline.  Gray and Deeney told him in no uncertain terms to get on with the game and Troy dragged him to his feet with a force that could have dislocated his shoulder!!  That was the last chance of the game which remained goalless despite the efforts of the Hornets.

Graham Stack congratulating Ben Foster at the end of the game

The game finished with some unresolved handbags.  Zaha was still arguing about how hard done by he had been as Chalobah put an arm around him and accompanied him off.

Back to the West Herts and the smiles were back on our faces.  That had been a much better performance from the Hornets who looked like a cohesive team and worked very hard.  The defence had been well-organised and the much maligned Femenía had put in an excellent performance keeping Zaha very quiet and contributing to his frustration.  Sarr had again put in a great performance and is finally showing us what he can do.  It was also pleasing to see Deulofeu put in a considerably better showing than he had in midweek.  It is great to see Deeney back, his leadership makes such a difference to the team even if he isn’t scoring.  All in all, it had been an enjoyable afternoon at the Vic and we haven’t had many of those this season.

So, while we are still at the foot of the table, I find myself feeling much more positive about our prospects for the rest of the season, even if the next two games are unlikely to be a lot of fun.

No Points, but Some Positive Signs

A nice welcome from our hosts

I worked at home in the morning before heading into London to catch the train to Leicester.  There had been problems on the line earlier on, so my arrival was slightly delayed, but I was still in the hotel in time to call in to my last meeting of the day and was in the pub before 5:30.  Our party was severely depleted with only Pete and I making the journey.  The pub was also pleasantly empty so we were able to have a couple of drinks (I moved on to wine from the beer) and something to eat in relative comfort.  As we headed to the ground, I began to question whether the game was going ahead as when we reached within 5 minutes of the stadium, there were no other football supporters to be seen.  As we got slightly closer, the other fans appeared.

In the past, I have had some very unpleasant experiences with Leicester stewards, but I have to say that the woman who performed the search at the turnstile was very friendly and pleasant.  Once inside, I decided to try to go and see Don in the disabled area.  This was a somewhat risky endeavour as a previous request to a steward to do this a few years ago was met with the response that I would be arrested if I stepped on to the perimeter around the ground.  At the time, I was with a friend who is a serving Police officer who was more patient than I would have been with the steward in question.  The woman that I spoke to on this occasion was much nicer and let me through.  I hadn’t realised when I made the request that the disabled fans were located in with the Leicester crowd.  I wasn’t wearing colours at the time, but still restricted myself to a quick hello, before making a rapid retreat.  How awful for the disabled fans.

The rainbow laces arch

With the departure of Flores, U23 coach, Hayden Mullins, was in charge of the first team for this match.  Team news was that he had made just the one change from the defeat to Southampton with Deeney returning to the starting line-up in place of Holebas, who had picked up an injury.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Sarr, Deulofeu; Deeney.

It was lovely to see Troy leading the team out, it has been far too long.  The Premier League arch (or whatever it is) was coloured in keeping with the fact that this was the rainbow laces game, a stand against homophobia in football.  Although, given the silly boots that the players wear these days, rainbow laces seem terribly outdated.  Or am I overthinking this?  The other thing that caught my eye before kick-off was Femenía changing into a long-sleeved shirt.   Roy Clare would never have stood for that.

Ben Foster takes a free kick

The home side had an early attack as Vardy broke forward and cut the ball back for Pérez whose shot was over the target, but the flag was up anyway.  The Watford fans were on form with an early chant of “Brendan Rodgers, he’ll walk out on you.”  There was a very promising attack from the Hornets as Sarr raced forward with Deulofeu alongside him, he played in the Spaniard who got the ball tangled up in his feet before running in to a defender and the ball went out for a corner that came to nothing.  At the other end Barnes exchanged passes with Maddison before shooting from a tight angle, from where he could only find the side netting.  A nice move from the Hornets finished with Sarr finding Deeney just outside the box, but the shot was blocked.  Leicester threatened again when Barnes broke into the box, but Foster was able to block the shot.  On 38 minutes, the home side appealed for a penalty as Vardy went down in the box.  The referee was having none of it and booked the Leicester man for simulation.  However, in the VAR era, that means nothing, so we had to wait while the VAR check was done which confirmed the on-pitch decision, although those watching the live stream were not convinced.  A promising break by Sarr stopped when he was taken down by Söyüncü who was booked for the foul.  Deulofeu took the free kick which flew wide of the far post.  Watford should have taken the lead just before half time when Deulofeu played the ball back to Hughes, who was in an acre of space, but his shot flew wide of the target.  We were baffled when a goal kick was awarded as the shot must surely have taken a deflection.  Sadly, it transpired that the deflection was off Deeney.  The home side also had a great chance just before half time, but Vardy was unable to get the ball under control and Cathcart was able to usher the ball back to Foster.  So, we reached half time with the game goalless and somewhat lacking in incident.

Deeney and Sarr in the Leicester box

Leicester made a substitution at the break bringing Praet on for Pérez.  The home side won an early free kick when Söyüncü was tripped by Doucouré, who was booked for his trouble.  The delivery dropped to Söyüncü whose shot was over the bar.  Barnes broke into the box, but Foster dropped to block the shot.  Leicester won a penalty in the 53rd minute as Masina fouled Evans.  The arguments from the Watford players were impassioned and protracted, but VAR upheld the decision and Vardy beat Foster to give the Foxes the lead.  The Hornets were almost in more trouble as the ball reached Fuchs in a dangerous position, but Cathcart was able to intervene and turn the shot wide of the target.   Leicester threatened again as Vardy crossed the ball in for Barnes, but Masina did well to put it out for a corner.   Watford tried to hit back as Sarr broke and crossed from a dangerous position, but the cross wasn’t high enough and was headed clear by Söyüncü.  Leicester made a second substitution replacing Tielemans with Choudhury.  Watford won a corner and Hughes stepped up to take it.  He played it short to Deulofeu who returned the ball, Will crossed for Cathcart who flicked the ball goalwards, but it was an easy catch for Schmeichel.  Mullins made his first substitution replacing Deulofeu with Success. Then Justin came on for Barnes and was greeted with chants of “scum” from those that pay more attention to these things than I do.  Surely he should have been lauded for escaping Luton.  Watford made two late changes with Quina replacing Hughes and Gray on for Deeney, who had managed 87 minutes.  There was five minutes of stoppage time during which the Hornets finally had their first shot on target with a shot from Quina from outside the area that was an easy catch for Schmeichel.  But it was the home side who grabbed a late goal as Maddison broke forward and beat Mariappa before shooting past Foster.  It was a cruel end to the game.  I felt very sorry for Don and my other friends in the disabled enclosure as they were surrounded by cheering Leicester fans.  But, after the negativity in the crowd on Saturday, fair play to the travelliing Hornets who were singing “Watford til I die” and “I love you, Watford, I do” at the tops of their voices.

Mariappa, Deeney and Cathcart

At the final whistle, there was a decent away crowd left in the ground and, despite the result, they warmly applauded the players off the pitch.

Pete had made a quick getaway in order to catch the last train home, so I was left alone for the post-match analysis.  I have to say that I felt a lot happier than I did on Saturday.  It had been a much more positive performance overall both on the pitch and in the stands.  I was particularly pleased to see the players still fighting for an equaliser in time added on at the end of the game.  Sarr was a joy to watch, his speed was clearly worrying the Leicester defenders who were resorting to lumping the ball into row Z.  At the back, Masina was very impressive and was unlucky to give away the penalty.  It was also great to see Troy back.  He didn’t do a lot, but his presence gives the team a lift.  So, all in all, there was much to like in a performance against a very good team.  Maybe I shouldn’t write off this season just yet.

Quique’s Last Stand (Again)

Sarr and Doucoure waiting for a ball into the box

A 5:30pm kick-off in Southampton meant a later than usual departure from home.  The train journey, while easy enough, did require four changes in order to get to the pre-match pub.  The penultimate leg was subject to delays due to problems at Clapham Junction, so I spent more time than was desirable sitting in the cold on Basingstoke station and, on boarding the train to Southampton, it was clear from the animated conversations and the cans of Fosters that I was now on  a “football special”.  I met up with the rest of our travelling party at Southampton Airport Parkway and, having missed the hourly connection to St Denys, we piled into a taxi.

As we entered the pub of choice, there was a large group of Watford regulars gathered at the bar.  After greeting them, we headed for a table at the back.  The pub had a decent menu, so I was rather disappointed that, on a matchday, they only offered hot dogs, burgers, chips and peas.  I have to say that my disappointment was misplaced as the hot dog was excellent and it was served with proper chips, so we left for the game replete and ready for whatever the evening would bring.

Our route to the ground took us on a path alongside the River Itchen.  We have definitely been to evening games here in the past, but clearly not in the Winter as the path was incredibly dark.  Still, we soon emerged and saw the lights of the stadium.

Deulofeu looking animated at a corner, Holebas taking it in his stride

Our seats were at the back of the stand where we met up with Amelia, who had turned down the opportunity for a pre-match pint with her aunt.  As I got my breath back, I was a little concerned when the floodlights dimmed.  When it happened again, I realised that it was in time to the music and we were caught up in a stadium disco light show.  I found it rather off-putting and can only hope that there were no epileptics in the crowd.

Team news was that Quique had made two changes from the defeat to Burnley with Masina and Sarr coming in for Dawson and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Mariappa; Holebas, Doucouré, Capoue, Femenía; Hughes; Sarr, Deulofeu.  There were some concerns about Quique persisting with a back three, given our paucity of fit central defenders.  In a similar vein it was noted that we had only Foulquier on the bench, should one of the starting defenders succumb to injury.

 

A blurred but happy celebration of Sarr’s goal

The Hornets had a great chance to take an early lead as Højbjerg gave away possession to Sarr, but the youngster took his chance too early and shot straight at McCarthy in the Southampton goal.  The Saints’ Captain had an immediate chance to make up for his mistake when the ball dropped to him outside the Watford box, but his shot flew over the bar.  The home side threatened again as Redmond played a one-two with Ings before shooting from distance, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  At this point, very early in the game, the chants ringing out from the away end were, “You’re going down with the Watford”, “We’ll see you in the Championship” and “We only lost 8-0.”  Quite how that was supposed to spur the Watford players on to victory is beyond me.  On the pitch, a short corner was played to Holebas who put in a cross that was met with a defensive header that dropped to Capoue, he crossed back for Doucouré whose header was weak and easily saved by McCarthy.  The Hornets took the lead in the 24th minute, a lovely ball from Capoue released Sarr who advanced and shot across McCarthy into the net.  It was a terrific goal and prompted wild celebrations and lots of hugs in the away end.  I felt massively relieved, hoping that the goal would calm the nerves and set us up nicely.  Sarr was soon in action at the other end of the field repelling a ball into the box with a strong defensive header.  That’s what I like to see.  He had a chance to double Watford’s lead on the half hour as a deep free kick from Holebas found him in space, he volleyed goalwards, but McCarthy made the block and the ball went out for a corner.  The Hornets had another chance soon after, as Deulofeu broke forward and unleashed a shot that was pushed wide by McCarthy.  At the other end a low cross from Bertrand was blocked by Mariappa.  The home side threatened again as Redmond tried a shot from just inside the area, but his effort was over the target.  The Saints had a great chance to grab an equaliser just before half time when a low cross from Soares was flicked towards goal by Ward-Prowse, but the ball drifted just wide of the target.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the home fans, while the travelling Hornets were pretty happy with the state of play.

Doucoure, Cathcart and Masina getting ready to defend a cross into the box

The first action of the second half was a foul by Redmond on Femenía that earned the Southampton man a booking.  Ten minutes into the half Sarr beat a couple of defenders and unleashed a shot from distance which was just over the bar.  Just before the hour mark Southampton made a double substitution with Redmond and Obefami making way for Boufal and Long.  I was glad to see the back of Redmond, who always does well against us, not so glad to see Long coming on.  There was some concern among the away fans when Capoue was knocked to the ground after blocking a shot from Ward-Prowse with his face.  He was initially flat out with his arms outstretched but, once he got his breath back, he was able to continue the game.  Southampton threatened as Djenepo broke forward and crossed for Long who was unable to connect, so the chance went begging.  The Hornets nearly engineered their own downfall as Foster held on to the ball for too long in the box, tried to beat Ings with a Cruyff turn, then both men fell to the ground, I was sure that the referee would point to the spot, so was massively relieved when the outcome was a free-kick.  Needless to say, the relief didn’t kick in immediately as I waited for an intervention from VAR that, thankfully, never came.  With 25 minutes to go, Flores made his first substitution replacing Deulofeu, who had been ineffective, with Gray.  Southampton had their best chance of the game when Boufal cut the ball back to Long (of course) whose shot was stopped by a wonderful save from Foster who tipped the ball onto the bar.  It looked as though Ben’s efforts would be in vain as the big screen indicated that VAR was checking for a penalty for an earlier incident, but the decision was that there was no penalty.  Watford should have scored a second with twenty minutes to go when Gray played a lovely ball back for Sarr who missed the connection and the ball was put out for a corner by Bertrand.  With 15 minutes remaining Quique made a second substitution bringing Chalobah on to replace Hughes who, again, had to leave the field on the opposite side to the dug-out and was given a huge ovation as he walked past the travelling Hornets.

Chalobah back in action

Watford threatened again as Gray ran around the back of the defence and tried to sneak the ball into the net but, instead, hit it straight to the keeper.  Southampton then made their final substitution bringing Valery on in place of Soares.  Southampton should have drawn level when a shot from Ings, that appeared to be going wide, so Foster left it, reached Long who flicked it goalwards but, thankfully, Cathcart was on the line to make the block.  Sadly, Watford’s lead didn’t last much longer as Djenepo advanced and nipped around the back of the defence, as Gray had earlier, but his shot went under Foster and reached Ings who turned it in at close range.  Television pictures showed that Djenepo had used his hand in the build-up (quite an outrageous scoop, if truth be told), but I am not going to complain about VAR in this situation as the goal was a result of poor defending from the Hornets and it felt like it had been coming.  Sadly, at this stage, the confidence drained from both the team and the crowd and none of us believed that we would get anything out of the game.  With less than 10 minutes to go, Flores was lining up his final substitute and my heart sank when I realised that Foulquier was the answer.  To be fair, he was the only defender on the bench and Femenía had picked up an injury, but this was the last straw for a lot of the travelling Watford fans who greeted the decision with loud boos and chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing”.  Prior to the substitution, Capoue had fouled Højbjerg on the edge of the box.  There seemed to be some confusion in the setting up of the wall, or at least the bloke behind me was unhappy with the way that the defenders were lining up.  His concerns proved justified when Ward-Prowse stepped up and curled the free kick over the wall, Foster managed to get his hands to the ball, but could only help it into the net.  At this point, while the home fans celebrated, the travelling Hornets were telling Quique that he would be sacked in the morning.  When the fourth official held up the board indicating that there would be 6 minutes of added time, my only thought was that it was plenty of time for Southampton to get a third.  The Hornets did create a couple of chances in time added on.  First, from a corner, Sarr played the ball back to Gray but he shot wide of the target.  Then one final chance when Foulquier played the ball out to Sarr who took a shot that was pushed over the bar by McCarthy.

Foster up for a late corner

The final whistle went to celebrations among the home fans and total deflation in the away end.  I did have to admire the decency of those among our fans who applauded the players.  My applause was sporadic and half-hearted until Troy came over to thank the crowd.

There was no time for a post-match analysis as I made a swift departure in order to catch the train that would allow me to arrive back in Windsor before 10pm.  Travelling back home on my own, I had plenty of time to think about the game.  Yet again, following a decent first half, the second period had been disappointing, and we had lost to a very poor team.  Once we took the lead, we should have been in control of the game but we didn’t get a second goal and, such is the fragility of the squad’s confidence, once Southampton drew level, we never looked like getting anything from the game.  I always thought that the reappointment of Quique had been an odd move.  While he had a reputation for making us hard to beat early in his first tenure, the final third of the season was a dreadful trudge and that is what we are seeing now.  Despite the injuries, we have enough quality in this squad to be winning more games than we lose.  The fact that we are not has to be down to the coach.  By Sunday morning Quique was gone and I cannot imagine that there were any Watford fans who were saddened by that news.

Gino Pozzo slumming it

Sunday afternoon, at my Dad’s house, it was clear that someone needed to get hold of me.  When I finally answered the call from the private number that I was trying to ignore, I discovered it was someone from FiveLive who wanted to talk about the sacking of Flores.  I told him that I thought it had been an odd appointment in the first place.  He then asked what I thought of the owners.  I had mentioned that I was previously the Press Officer for the Watford Supporters Trust (hence why they had my number) and I assume that he was expecting me to criticise the Pozzos.  But, having been rather too close to the club when we went through those troubled times under the previous owners, I am still incredibly thankful for what the Pozzos have done for our club.  We have a stadium to be proud of with stands named for legends from another era, a team of players of a quality that we have no right to expect and a club that, with ventures like the sensory room and the work of Dave Messenger in connecting with the fans, still feels like a community club off the pitch and not a “foreign-owned Premier League business”.  For that I would still fall on my knees in worship in front of Gino Pozzo.

 

Anti Football Wins the Day

Vicki’s first Watford game

After finally achieving our first win of the season against Norwich, I went into this game feeling uncharacteristically positive.  I had an extra reason to feel positive as my friend, Vicki, was visiting from the US.  I have made it my mission to share my love of Watford with all of my friends, meaning that she first saw the Hornets play in 2010 when she arrived in the UK on an earlier flight than she originally intended in order to take in a pre-season game at Boreham Wood.  This occasion had added significance as it was also the occasion that Toddy bought her first pint in the UK.  Since then she has seen Watford a couple of other times including another pre-season at Wealdstone when she met Lloydy and Mapps.  Her most recent game was in 2013 when, following a midweek win against Doncaster, she made the trip to Barnsley.  I had strongly advised her against going to that game.  No visitor from the US looks at possible destinations in the UK and plumps for Barnsley and we never win there anyway.  She was determined and ended up having a cracking day out with a great pub, fantastic company and a 5-1 Watford win.  This would be her first Premier League game and she was very much looking forward to it.

Capoue plays the ball

I decided not to subject Vicki to the convoluted train journey, especially as there was disruption at Euston, so I drove to the West Herts.  We arrived to find our party at the usual table.  It was a flying visit for a couple of them as Mike had been offered the use of the Community Trust table in the Elton John Suite, so the prawn sandwich brigade had a swift drink and then headed for their posh seats, while we enjoyed a proper football lunch of burger/hot dog and chips.  While we waited for our food to arrive, Glenn appeared with his bag of treats.  Vicki looked sceptical as the bag of pork scratchings appeared on the table but was persuaded to try one.  “Oh, they are really good.”

We headed to the ground at the usual time.  Needless to say, the touts decided to give this one a miss.  Once inside the Rookery, I showed Vicki to our seats and sped around to the GT stand to take a bag of sweets to Don, who had left for the game before Glenn arrived.

Deulofeu lines up a free kick

Team news was that Quique had made three enforced changes from the win at Norwich with Kabasele (suspended), Janmaat and Pereyra (both injured) making way for Mariappa, Femenía and Gray.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Holebas, Capoue, Doucouré,  Femenía; Hughes; Gray, Deulofeu.  Deeney was again on the bench, this time accompanied by exciting prospects Ismaïla Sarr and Tom Dele-Bashiru.

Just before kick-off someone observed that Dyche had swapped ends so the Hornets would be defending the Rookery in the second half.  And so the torture began.

Three minutes into the game Burnley were already indulging in time-wasting and Sean Dyche had just had his first rant at the fourth official.  Watford had the first chance of note as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort flew past the top corner.  The next chance for the Hornets came when Capoue released Holebas who crossed for Doucouré at the back post, but the header back towards goal was cleared.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was hacked down by Tarkowski.  Sadly, Deulofeu curled the set piece into the arms of Pope.

Capoue giving instructions to Hughes

Deulofeu’s next effort was more impressive, he robbed Tarkowski before belting into the box and taking a shot, but Pope made a superb save with his feet.  Burnley’s first attack of note came after 20 minutes when they won a corner.  The delivery from McNeil was deep and flew straight out of play.  The first booking of the game came when Gray went up for a header with Tarkowski, who went down clutching his face and the Watford man was cautioned.  The Hornets won another free kick in a good position after Tarkowski handled the ball.  There were protracted complaints from the Burnley players leading to a booking for Mee.  Deulofeu took the free kick and hit it straight into the wall.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead after Gray broke forward before finding Femenía on the right, Kiko tried a shot but Mee stuck a foot out and managed to turn it back to Pope.  Another decent chance went begging as Deulofeu played the ball back to Capoue whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post.  A lovely exchange of passes between Hughes and Doucouré finished with a shot from a narrow angle from Will that was blocked for a corner.  Hearing some applause at the front of the Rookery, I looked down to see Jay DeMerit making his way around for the half time interview.  A shot from Cathcart was blocked to shouts of handball from the Watford faithful, but the VAR check confirmed that the block was legitimate.  Then there was some concern as Dawson went down with what appeared to be a head injury.  He didn’t move for quite some time, which is always a bad sign.  Thankfully, he was able to walk off the field, but he couldn’t continue and was replaced by Masina.  This was now the sixth league game in a row in which we have been forced to make a substitution in the first half.  Into the five minute of added time and Deulofeu tried a run into the box that was stopped by a judicious foul by Tarkowski on the edge of the area.  The free kick from Deulofeu was on-target but kept out by a great one-handed save from Pope.  So, we reached half-time goalless, although the Hornets had much the better of the half and would have been ahead but for two excellent saves from Pope.  Burnley had defended well, but their efforts in attack resulted in only one (off-target) shot in the whole of the first half.

Jay DeMerit back at the Vic

The half-time interview was with Jay DeMerit, who had been at Vicarage Road on Friday evening for the European Premiere of a short film, “Game Changer”, which was an episode of the US animated show for children, LaGolda, which encourages kids to accept everyone for who they are and promotes inclusiveness in football and wider society.  This particular episode was in support of LGBTQ youth.  Also in attendance, and being interviewed, was Executive Producer, Judy Reyes.  Both Judy and Jay spoke positively about how the club had allowed them to promote their message of inclusivity, which seemed only too right given that Elton John is such an important part of our club.  They then went and had their photo taken with the children who took part in the half-time penalty shoot-out, who had been playing with a rainbow football.  It was only after the game that I realised that Judy Reyes played Carla in “Scrubs”.  I loved that show and was a big fan of hers.

The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when the ball broke to Capoue whose shot was deflected over the bar.  The home side threatened again as a cross from Capoue was headed goalwards by Mariappa, but his effort was blocked.  Mapps was then in action at the other end of the pitch, heading clear while under pressure from Mee.

The return of Deeney

The visitors took the lead from the resultant corner as Tarkowski’s header was blocked, Foster got stuck in the traffic in the box and was unable to intervene as Wood buried the rebound.  The goal was scored in the 53rd minute from the first on-target shot by the visitors.  After the goal the Burnley fans started a chant that I thought was “sexy football” but at a later rendition I heard “anti-football” which was much more accurate.  Flores decided to bring on the cavalry at this point replacing Gray with Deeney who took to the field to a huge ovation.  The Hornets had a chance to break back when they won a free kick in a dangerous position after Tarkowski fouled Capoue on the edge of the box.  Again the Burnley players protested the decision and Westwood was booked for dissent.  Capoue took the free kick himself, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well over the bar.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead, but Foster blocked the shot from Hendrick and the follow-up from Bardsley was hit over the bar.  Flores made his final sub with a quarter of the match remaining, bringing Sarr on in place of Hughes.  As Pope wasted time retrieving the ball for a goal kick, Deulofeu placed the ball in position on the edge of the six yard box.  Needless to say, Pope wasted more time moving the ball to the other side of the area, much to the annoyance of the fans behind him in the Rookery.

Captain Capoue

Another decent chance for the Hornets came to nothing as Capoue released Holebas who cut inside but shot straight at Pope.  At the other end, a cross was chested down to Barnes who shot over the target.  With 15 minutes remaining, there were chances at both ends of the pitch.  First a corner from Westwood appeared to be heading for the net, but Foster punched clear allowing Deulofeu to break forward, he played Doucouré in, but the shot was high and wide.  Dyche then made his only substitution of the game replacing Wood with Rodriguez.  The Burnley substitute almost made an immediate impact as he hit a powerful shot that came off the underside of the bar, but the ball bounced off the line and was headed over by Cathcart.  The visitors appealed for a penalty when Barnes appeared to run into Holebas, the referee waved play on and the Hornets broke down the other end.  When the ball went out of play, it was announced that VAR was checking the penalty.  When the decision came through, the referee pointed back up the field and the players returned to the Rookery end of the field.  Barnes took the spot kick, Foster got a hand to it to push it onto the post but it bounced back and into the net.  The authorities had said that they would be giving the fans in the stadium more information about the VAR decisions and, sure enough, the big screen showed footage of the challenge which clearly showed Holebas kicking Barnes so, much to my annoyance, it was the correct decision.  To add insult to injury, the visitors scored a third goal when a Burnley free kick reached Tarkowski whose first effort drew a good save from Foster, but the rebound found the net.  The traveling Burnley fans burst into a chorus of “Andre, what’s the score?” while the majority of the home fans headed for the exits.  There was a chance for a consolation goal as a powerful shot from Deulofeu hit the crossbar, but it wasn’t to be and the game finished in a humiliating defeat for the Hornets.  As if that wasn’t enough, Norwich won and Southampton drew so we finished the afternoon back at the foot of the table.

Preparing for a free kick

There wasn’t much enthusiasm at the end of the game, but Troy did his usual lap of the pitch and was warmly applauded by the few who were still in the ground.

Due to the many early leavers, the trip up Occupation Road was somewhat quicker than usual.  When we arrived back at the West Herts, Pete assured me that I didn’t have to write the blog.  That was certainly a tempting thought.  As we muttered miserably about what we had seen that afternoon, the folk from the posh seats joined us.  I have to say that an afternoon of drinking wine in hospitality meant that they were considerably jollier than the rest of us.  On the way home, Vicki was very apologetic about not having brought us luck when it should have been me apologising having subjected her to that game and being utterly miserable all afternoon.

It is very hard to articulate my feelings about that game.  Burnley were dreadful but still managed to beat us 3-0.  The first half performance had been decent with the Hornets totally dominating.  I would bemoan the fact that they didn’t turn the dominance into goals, but we would have been two up but for a couple of excellent saves by Pope.  The loss of Dawson just before half time certainly made a difference.  He had been solid in the middle of the back three and was just what we needed against a team like Burnley.  The second half had started well but once the first goal went in, despite the fact that it was horribly scrappy, the confidence disappeared and we never really looked like getting back in the game.

It is hard to see where we go from here.  We have played a number of very poor teams this season and failed to pick up points from most of them.  We have a squad with a lot of talent but are suffering with both injuries and a lack of confidence.  I am trying to hold on to the thought that this team is too good to go down but, as the weeks go on, it is harder and harder to convince myself that we will survive.

 

Two Goals, Three Points and a Hug from Pat Nevin

Capoue back in action (at a distance)

Another week meant another televised game, although I am not sure that the world was begging to see Watford take on Norwich in a bottom of the table clash.  I left work at lunchtime for the short walk to Liverpool Street and arrived in Norwich mid-afternoon.  The Norfolk ‘Orns were starting their pub crawl for Amy’s birthday eve rather early, but our party had sensibly decided to meet up with them on the last leg of their tour.

The last time we were in Norwich, I seem to recall it was a lovely evening and we sat outside the pub.  No chance of that on this occasion.  The walk to the pub was longer than I remembered but, on arrival, I was pleased to find Pete already there.  The beer menu was interesting.  There were lots of ciders, but the dry offerings were all a bit strong for me, so I went for a pint of blonde bitter.  I was briefly distracted by the rhubarb and custard sour beer.  I was very surprised to hear that it was selling rather well.  I really should have asked for a taste.

Cathcart, Dawson and Holebas getting advice from Dean Austin

Paul had just asked where the Norfolk ‘Orns were when the pub door opened, and Glenn appeared followed by a large number of his compatriots.  The peace was shattered.  They were all very merry already, but had not yet moved on to their traditional sambuca.  When that appears, you know that it is getting very messy.  I was introduced to one of the Norfolk crowd that I hadn’t met before.  Graham had been an apprentice groundsman working under Les Simmons in the early days of the Elton John/GT era.  He had some interesting stories of his encounters with those three great men.  He then started talking about the Norwich fans that they had met earlier in the afternoon and how little confidence they had in their team.  He surmised that we would win the game, based on the fact that our fans were more confident.  I have to say that I wasn’t convinced as my confidence was very low based on my experiences following the Hornets so far this season.

While in the pub, somebody told me that the child of a friend had chatted to (referee) Andre Marriner in the ground.  I heard “in the Crown” and wondered what on earth the ref was doing in the pub before the game, although that would explain some of the refereeing decisions that we have seen this season.

Gathering for a corner

Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Chelsea game with Holebas, Hughes and the very welcome return of Capoue in place of Masina, Gray and Chalobah.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Kabasele, Dawson; Holebas, Doucouré, Capoue, Janmaat; Hughes; Pereyra, Deulofeu.  Even better news was that Deeney was on the bench.  We have missed him terribly.

We set off in good time to get to the ground for the 8pm kick-off.  But, having only had a toastie in the pub, Pete and I decided to get a pie in the ground, so were cutting it fine as we headed for our seats.  The steps into the stand were blocked as people had stopped to listen to the Last Post.  Once the minute’s silence was over, we were able to move but, when I emerged into the stand, the game had already kicked off.  As I climbed the steps to my seat, the crowd reaction around me indicated that we were attacking.  I turned around in time to see Deulofeu bursting into the box and finishing past Krul, so celebrated that goal by leaping up and down in the gangway.  An early goal was just what we needed to settle our nerves.  We continued positively and another run from Deulofeu resulted in a corner.  The delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Janmaat whose effort just cleared the bar.

Foster takes a goal kick

Pereyra then played a lovely cross-field ball to Holebas who tried a shot from distance which was blocked.  Watford had a great chance to grab a second in the 12th minute as a cross from Janmaat found Deulofeu in the box, but his shot was wide of the target.  The first real threat from Norwich came as Hernández broke forward before cutting the ball back to Pukki, but Cathcart was on hand to make the block.  Then Stiepermann played a dangerous through ball to Hernández, but Foster was out to smother the shot.  Watford had a great chance to increase their lead when the ball broke to Hughes who advanced and shot, but his effort was just wide of the target.  Then Pereyra found himself in a great position but wouldn’t attempt a shot.  Doucouré was more adventurous, but his shot was deflected into the arms of Krul.  Norwich looked sure to level the score when McLean crossed for Hernández but the shot, from point blank range, was saved by Foster, although the flag was up so it wouldn’t have counted anyway.  Watford were forced to make a substitution due to injury yet again, this time it was Pereyra who could not continue and made way for Gray.  Andre almost made an immediate impact as he got on the end of a cross from Hughes, turned and shot but it was deflected wide.  At the other end, a cross from Hernández was met by the head of McLean, but it was an easy save for Foster.  The Hornets threatened again as Holebas played the ball back to Capoue who hit a lovely shot, but it was wide of the target.  At the other end, Pukki cut the ball back to Buendía whose shot was dreadful, flying high and wide of the target.  The home side had a decent chance to draw level just before half time as the ball was flicked to Pukki but the volley was straight at Foster, so the half time whistle went with the Hornets in the lead.

Gray congratulated on his goal

Doucouré had the first chance of the second half with a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected over the bar.  The first booking of the game went to Kabasele who was cautioned for pulling back Hernández.  The Hornets scored a second after 52 minutes.  Deulofeu advanced down the left, his first attempt at a cross was blocked, the second was gorgeous and dropped for Gray who volleyed home.  Suddenly it felt much more comfortable.  The first substitution came on the hour as the home side decided to ring the changes, Buendía and Stiepermann were replaced by Cantwell and Drmic.  The home side had a chance to pull a goal back soon after when Lewis tried a shot from distance that was pushed around the post by Foster.  The resultant corner was met by a Watford head and the danger was over.  My heart sank as Kabasele saw a second yellow card for a silly push on Drmic.  He was on his way to the dressing room before the referee had the card out of his pocket.  It was an unnecessary foul and we would now have to play 25 minutes with 10 men.  The home side reacted positively to having an extra man on the field and we heard the Norwich fans, who are usually very vocal, for the first time during the evening.  There was a very harsh booking for Hughes who was cautioned for colliding with an opponent as he won a header.

Dawson, Janmaat and Kabasele in the Norwich box

Flores then made a tactical substitution.  Having lost Kabasele, he sacrificed Deulofeu for Mariappa.  Norwich had a great chance to get a goal back as McLean unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the box, but it was met with a great save from Foster.  Norwich youngster, Cantwell, then broke into the box but his shot was blocked.  My nerves were tested when a cross into the Watford box was turned wide of the target by Janmaat.  From my angle, it looked as though he was going to turn the ball into his own net, but he knew what he was doing.  Cantwell’s corner was met by Lewis whose shot was high and wide.  With 10 minutes to go, Norwich made their final substitution bringing Vrancic on for Lewis.  Watford should have ensured the win when Hughes played a cross-field ball to Gray, but Andre had too much time to think about his shot and lifted it over the target.  With five minutes remaining of normal time, a frustrated Vrancic was booked for a nasty foul on Capoue in the Watford box.  Watford’s final change came with 2 minutes left on the clock as Holebas made way for Masina.  By this point the Watford fans, who had been in good voice all evening, were particularly confident and a chant of “We’re gonna win the league” rang out in the away end.  As 5 minutes of time was added, I had everything crossed that we would keep a clean sheet.  Thankfully the only event of note in added time was Masina getting booked for a foul on Aarons.  The final whistle went to great celebrations in the away end and joyful chants of “We’re not bottom any more.”

Holebas and Doucoure Prepare for a Corner

There were smiles and hugs and celebrations among the Watford fans.  We have waited far too long for that victory and it was well deserved.  While the game was not a classic, once Watford took the lead we looked comfortable.  Deulofeu can be very frustrating, but he took his goal brilliantly and his assist for Gray’s goal was a thing of beauty (very reminiscent of the goal against Wolves in the cup semi-final).  It was wonderful to see Capoue back in the team and his presence in the midfield allowed Doucouré to put in his best performance for some time.  The defence was solid, and the lads did very well to keep their shape and organisation with only 10 men on the pitch.  With Capoue and Deeney both returning to fitness, the future is looking a lot brighter and we can go into the international break feeling much more positive about our prospects for the season.

Richard was staying at the hotel attached to the ground, so we all went there for a post-match celebratory glass or two of Malbec.  When the Norwich fans who had been drowning their sorrows at the next table disappeared, they were replaced by a group of youngsters who clearly were not football fans.  When they were joined by an older guy, we realised that they were media types who had been working on the various broadcasts of the match as the older guy was Pat Nevin.  Now I have had a crush on Pat Nevin for decades, so came over all unnecessary at being in such close proximity, but I knew I wouldn’t have the nerve to speak to him.  We sat there for an hour or so trying not to stare (and failing miserably).  As we prepared to leave, Richard took the plunge and said hello to Pat.  The rest of us took a deep breath before joining him and were treated to a good twenty minutes of Pat chatting with us about Watford (too good to go down), meeting Elton John, being a footballer in the days when someone like him was considered to be a weirdo (I’m not a weirdo, they are weirdos), his friendship with John Peel.  He was absolutely delightful company, so warm and interesting.  He told us that he has just completed writing an autobiography (the first of three volumes).  That promises to be a fascinating read and will definitely be on a birthday/Christmas list in the near future.

We have had some tough trips this season, but Friday night in Norwich had 2 goals, 3 points, a clean sheet, great company and a hug from Pat Nevin to finish it off.  What could be better?

Ben Foster Almost a Hero in Both Boxes

Daryl Janmaat

Our games this season have been mostly Saturday 3pm kick-offs, which has been a bit of a relief, but the visit of Chelsea meant an evening game and the stress that change to the matchday routine causes.  Having a commitment in Hertfordshire on Sunday meant that I decided to drive to Watford and stay over after the game.  This meant that I was leaving home horribly late for a matchday and arriving in Watford around normal kick-off time.  Thankfully, I arrived to very light traffic so knew that I hadn’t made a mistake.  I arrived at the West Herts just as Don was leaving for the ground so got to say Hello and congratulate him on his appearance in the club’s anti hate crime video which I had only caught up with this week.  Our usual crowd were depleted, but Elaine was there having been forced to take a detour for some Christmas shopping when she was alerted to the late kick-off, the news of which had passed her by.

We left the West Herts a bit later than was comfortable so, despite my recurring thought that I should really stay in the pub, I was rushing so that I wouldn’t miss kick-off.  We arrived in Vicarage Road to be greeted with a number of touts and one merchandise stand that had exclusively Chelsea scarves and tat, which irritated me immensely.

Our complaints about the leak in the Rookery roof had led to us being relocated for this game, so we headed for the SEJ stand where our seats were in the area where the players’ families are usually located.  My sister’s opinion when I arrived was, “The view is great, but it is a bit touristy.”

Ben Foster takes a goal kick

Team news was that Quique had made only the one enforced change from the Bournemouth game with Gray replacing the injured Cleverley.  Masina retained his place with Holebas left on the bench.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Masina, Chalobah, Doucouré, Janmaat; Pereyra, Deulofeu; Gray.  There appeared to be a change in shape with Pereyra and Deulofeu playing behind Gray who was in the lone striker role.

Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to remember the fallen as this was the nearest home game to Remembrance Day.

The game did not start well for the Hornets as, in the fifth minute, Jorginho played a lovely defence-splitting pass to Abraham who ran on and finished past Foster.  There was a cheer from a lad sitting behind us, which irritated me immensely, and then Abraham slid to celebrate in front of us and I was moved to suggest to him that he celebrated somewhere else (I’m paraphrasing here).  It was not the start that we wanted or needed.  Chelsea had another chance soon after with a free kick from Mount that flew over the bar.  Ten minutes into the game, after it had been clear for a while that Cathcart was struggling, he went down needing treatment.  It was a concerning sight.

Mariappa takes a throw-in

Watford’s first goal attempt came on 14 minutes when a ball rebounded to Pereyra, he unleashed a shot but Kepa, in the Chelsea goal, was equal to it.  Abraham had a chance to increase Chelsea’s lead after a shot from Mount was deflected into his path, but this time Foster made a great save from close range.  From a corner Pulisic was left alone and Foster made a brilliant save to tip the header wide.  Twenty minutes into the game, Cathcart was unable to continue and was replaced with Mariappa.  This is the fourth game in a row that we have been forced into an early change.  There was a rare Watford attack as Janmaat released Gray, but Tomori made a tackle to stop the shot.  Then Chalobah tried a shot from distance, but, again, Tomori was on hand this time making a headed clearance.  On 38 minutes, the Hornets had a great chance to grab an equaliser as, from a corner, the ball was played out to Deulofeu who hit a lovely shot that curled just wide of the far post.  The Hornets had another late chance in the half with a shot from Doucouré which was blocked.  At the other end, Foster prevented the visitors extending their lead before half time as he tipped a shot from Mount onto the crossbar.

Steve Sherwood, the half time guest

So, despite going behind so early, we reached half time only a goal down thanks to some heroics from Foster.  It was also encouraging to note that the attacking play had been a little more promising late in the half.  The first half time interview was with a Kenyan Maasai warrior.  I missed the start, so I am not sure what the context was and why he was a Watford fan, but it was lovely to see him wearing our colours.  Then we were promised a Watford legend.  I saw this guy being escorted round and tried to work out when he had played for us.  I couldn’t put a name to the face and realised why when he was introduced as being from American Airlines, who are a new partner for the club.  He was there to meet a fan who had won two free tickets to any destination in the US.  It turned out that she and her husband were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, so it was a timely treat.  Finally, I spotted Steve Sherwood coming past us, and all was right with my world.  He is a proper legend.

 

Nathaniel Chalobah

The second half started with a caution for Kabasele for a foul on Emerson.  The Hornets also had the first chance of the half as Deulofeu sped into the Chelsea area and squared for Gray whose shot was blocked.  I was then more than a little distracted as Seb Prödl had appeared and taken a seat behind us for the second half.  How on earth was I supposed to concentrate on the game?  The visitors threatened again as Willian broke forward and squared for Mount whose powerful shot drew a decent save from Foster.  Chelsea scored their second goal ten minutes into the half, a through ball released Abraham who cut the ball back to Pulisic who finished from six yards out.  It was a simple goal and a frustrating one.  The visitors had a chance to increase their lead further as Pulisic had a shot across goal, but Foster was able to get a foot to it to keep it out.  Then a cross from Azpilicueta was cleared to Kovacic whose shot was straight at Foster.  Chelsea should have had a third when a cross-cum-shot from Kovacic reached Abraham, but he was unable to turn it in.  Watford made their second substitution half-way through the second half bringing Hughes on in place of Chalobah.  Nate tried to head straight for the dugout, but the referee indicated that he should leave the field on the GT side of the ground.  This had the benefit (for him) of sending him past the Chelsea fans who greeted him with warm applause.

Deulofeu waits to take the penalty

Janmaat was booked for a foul on Pulisic before putting a cross over for Hughes whose header had no power and was easily dealt with by Kepa.  Chelsea had another decent chance with a shot from Mount, but Foster dropped to make the save.  When the board went up for Watford’s final substitution indicating that Janmaat was to make way for Femenía, boos rang out through Vicarage Road.  The boos stopped long enough for Janmaat to be cheered as he left the field, but started again as Femenía was introduced, and Quique was serenaded with “You don’t know what you’re doing.”  The boos were clearly born of frustration at Quique swapping full backs when we were two goals down and Success was sitting on the bench.  Even so, it seemed unfair on Femenía as he took the brunt of the boos.  There was then an extraordinary occurrence.  Deulofeu broke into the box, was challenged and the ball went just the wrong side of the post.  The referee indicated a goal kick, while we were shouting for a corner.  Then it became apparent that the referee was checking with the VAR.  Surely VAR don’t make decisions regarding corners.  Then it came up on the big screen “VAR checking penalty”.  I took this with a pinch of salt as there was no way that it would be awarded to us.  The decision took an age to come through and finally, the big screen announced the penalty and the referee pointed to the spot.  It turned out that Jorginho was adjudged to have tripped Geri as he tried to take the shot.  Having seen footage of it, there was contact, but it was nowhere near as clear cut as the challenge at Spurs which wasn’t given.  There was disbelief around us.  “We only wanted a corner.”  Deulofeu stepped up but had to wait an age to take it as Azpilicueta continued to argue with the ref.  When Geri finally got the chance to take the shot, he sent the keeper the wrong way and, suddenly and unexpectedly, Watford were back in the game.

No time to celebrate, Deulofeu returns the ball for the restart

The next booking for the Hornets went to Dawson for a robust challenge on Emerson.  It looked like a decent tackle to win the ball, but the man went down due to the challenge and those tackles are sadly no longer permitted.  Lampard made his first change bringing Hudson-Odoi on for Pulisic.  Watford were looking to draw level when Masina tried a shot from distance, but it was nowhere near the target.  With two minutes left on the clock, Batshuayi replaced Abraham.  He has scored every time he has faced the Hornets, so Mariappa was taking no chances and was booked for pulling him back.  The visitors won a late free kick, which Jorginho delayed until the referee cautioned him for time wasting.  Batshuayi was determined to maintain his goal scoring record against the Hornets so went on a dangerous run but his shot was blocked by Masina.  Pleasingly, Watford were continuing to attack, the next chance came from Doucouré who went on a run and took an early shot, but it was blocked.  Doucouré had another chance when he met a cross from Deulofeu, but his header was blocked.  Chelsea made their last substitution in time added on as James came on for Willian who dawdled off the field.  Watford had a couple of late chances to snatch a point.  First, Masina met a cross from Femenía with a header that flew wide of the near post.  Then, in the last minute of the game, Doucouré was fouled by Mount, who was booked for his trouble.  Foster came up for the free kick.  Deulofeu’s delivery was flicked on by Doucouré and we were all on our feet as Foster’s diving header looked to have won us a point, but Kepa managed to keep it out and the final whistle went on another defeat for the Hornets.

Gathering to defend a set piece

We headed back to the West Herts for a post-match drink where we were joined by a colleague of Jacque’s who is a Chelsea fan and was quite complimentary about the Hornets.  I have to say that it was a much better performance than midweek, but we are still far too weak up front.  I have my doubts about whether Success is the answer, but at least it would have shown some attacking intent to have brought him on late in the game.  Instead, Gray struggled again.  However, I have to say that Foster’s late header meant I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face.

While we didn’t expect anything from this game, as the current Chelsea team are playing rather well, the wait for a win is becoming increasingly concerning.  We are not cut adrift yet, but we desperately need a win to kick start our season before it is too late.  We now have a run of games from which we should be expected to pick up some points, starting with the trip to Carrow Road on Friday.  It is the birthday of Amy, one of the Norfolk ‘Orns, next weekend, so they will be out in force.  It promises to get very messy off the pitch, we can only hope that the lads on the pitch give her a birthday to remember (in a good way).

Should Have Stayed in the Pub with Prowsey

A rather gorgeous quilt at St George’s Hall

During the weeks that the rail companies are expecting leaves on the line my morning train to work leaves two minutes earlier than usual.  For someone who needs every minute in the mornings, this causes me issues.  As I prepared to leave the house with my bag packed for the overnight stay in Liverpool, I realised that I had forgotten something so, by the time I left, I was cutting it very fine.  Sure enough, I arrived at the station to see the train start to pull out.  As I had half an hour to wait for the next one, I decided to collect my tickets for the journey to Liverpool.  That was my second mistake of the morning as my credit card was damaged and became stuck in the machine, much to the displeasure of the woman in the ticket office.  At that point, I boarded my train, sat down with a coffee and hoped that was the end of my bad luck for the day.

After a shorter than anticipated morning at work, I arrived at Euston where I bumped into Mick Smithers, our Police liaison officer.  I almost didn’t recognise him as he was in civvies.  We had a chat speculating on the likely small away attendance and then went our separate ways.  I caught up with Adam, my travelling companion for the day, on the train and we settled down for the journey north.

As we arrived too early to head for the pub, I tried to do something cultural.  I didn’t fancy the clothing exhibition at the Walker, so headed for St George’s Hall as we believed there was a photography exhibition there.  The signage wasn’t good, so we scaled the three flights, had a look around the courtroom and into the gallery before descending and finding that the exhibition was on the ground floor.  It was diverting enough, but I found myself spending more time with the educational display about crime and punishment in Victorian Liverpool.  Of particular interest there were the cautionary tales of the punishment of habitual drunks, most of whom appeared to be female.   With this still fresh in my mind, we headed for the pub where we met up with Mike.

While sitting in the pub, we saw a man knocking on the window trying to attract someone’s attention.  The young lad sitting behind us went out to see him and returned to inform us that he had been summoned to see the Watford team boarding their coach which was parked opposite the pub.  It was only about 75 minutes to kick-off, so it seemed that they were also cutting it a bit fine.

Gomes back in goal

I am a big fan of the musician Ian Prowse of Amsterdam and Pele.  It just so happens that Mike is a friend of his, having worked with him on an educational video some years ago.  Ian had promised to drop in to say hello, but as time went on it appeared that he had found something better to do.  Just as we had given up on him, he appeared and told a few stories as only Scousers (and the Irish) can.  It was very tempting to get another drink and stay in the pub with him, but we dutifully headed to the ground at the appointed hour.

The seats that we had been allocated were at the back of the stand, so the view was somewhat restricted by the low roof.  Luckily, due to the small crowd, we were able to find seats at the front of the block where we could see most of the pitch (around the pillars) and at least we could sit when the ball was down our end.

Team news was that Quique had made eight changes but was sticking with first team players.  The starting line-up was Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Cathcart; Foulquier, Chalobah, Quina, Hughes, Femenía; Pereyra, Gray.  Dalby, who has been impressing in the U23s had travelled with the team but only made the bench.

Kiko takes a throw-in

Everton had an early chance as a counter-attack finished with a shot from Kean that was blocked by Cathcart.  A mistake from Richarlison was greeted with jeers from the travelling Watford fans, which set the tone for the game as he was booed every time he touched the ball.  The animosity towards that young lad really baffles me.  Watford’s first chance came in the 17th minute, a low cross from Pereyra reached Quina at the far post, but he couldn’t sort his feet out and could only turn his shot wide.  It was a very cagey first half, so the next action of note was after half an hour.  Pereyra intercepted the ball, found Chalobah, who hesitated before shooting and was crowded out, the ball broke to Foulquier who won a throw.  The throw-in reached Pereyra, whose shot was very poor.  The fact that this uninspiring passage of play was deemed worthy of note highlights how poor the rest of the half had been.  At the other end a cross from Iwobi was easily caught by Gomes.  Each side was forced to make a substitution towards the end of the half.  Quina, who had been struggling for a while, made way for Doucouré and Mina was replaced by Keane.  The home side had a chance to open the scoring just before half time when Hornets gave the ball away on the edge of the box allowing Iwobi to get in a shot, but Gomes made the catch.

Pereyra prepares to take a corner

So the half ended goalless.  It had been a very dull half of football, and the cagey approach had led to a shout from behind me of “Don’t play for 0-0, it’s a cup game.”  There were some suggesting that the game should go straight to penalties rather than making us sit through another half of tedium, but we weren’t to be so lucky.

Everton made their second substitution at the break as Walcott replaced Kean.  On 54 minutes, Watford had the best chance of the game so far, and their first shot on target, as Gray went on a run before hitting a powerful shot that required a good save from Pickford to keep it out.  Then Gray tried to play Doucouré in, but it was a poor pass that was easily dealt with.  Everton had a decent chance from a Digne free kick, Keane had a free header, but he headed downwards and it bounced into the arms of Gomes.  Then Hughes picked up a loose ball and released Gray who played a square ball which went begging.    At the other end, Digne tried a low shot, but Gomes was down to gather.  The home side should have taken the lead when Richarlison cut the ball back to Gomes but the shot was cleared off the line by Mariappa.  Watford made another substitution bringing Kabasele on for Prödl.

Dmitri Foulquier

The second half was much livelier than the first but, unfortunately, it was the home side who were creating the most threat.  Their next chance came from a shot from Iwobi that rebounded off the crossbar.  Flores made his final change and it became clear that we were not to see U23 goal machine, Sam Dalby, instead Deulofeu replaced Pereyra.  The Spaniard took to the field to applause from the Everton fans.  That warm greeting for former players used to be the practice among Watford fans, I don’t know when we morphed into a group who jeer nastily.  The first booking of the game went to Doucouré for a foul on Gomes.  Digne took the free kick which was deflected off the Watford wall and, again, the crossbar saved us.  Everton took the lead in the 72nd minute as Walcott crossed for Holgate to head home.  The goal was greeted with a sense of resignation in the away end.  It had been coming and, given what had gone before, it seemed highly unlikely that Watford would get back into the game.  Silva made his final substitution bringing Tosun on in place of Calvert-Lewin.  Everton won a free kick in a dangerous position but, before they could take it, Hughes required treatment, which was of some concern as the Hornets had already used all of their substitutes.  When the free kick was eventually taken, it was a terrible delivery that flew wide of the near post.  As the game reached the 90 minute mark, Mariappa was booked for a clumsy tackle.  He protested the decision, I have no idea why.  There was 4 minutes of added time which was not welcomed in the away end.  The Hornets did have a half chance to draw level when Deulofeu exchanged passes with Chalobah, but his shot was straight at a defender.  Instead Everton broke downfield and Tosun fed Richarlison who finished past his mentor, Gomes, to seal the win for the Toffees.  The travelling Watford fans streamed out at that point.  I did stay around long enough to applaud the team off.  There was some consolation for the fans who had stayed to the bitter end as a number of the players came over to give away their shirts.

Deulofeu comes over to take a corner

We headed back to the pub a disappointed bunch.  It had been a miserable performance.  Everton were very poor, but we were worse.  Apart from the Gray shot early in the second half, we didn’t look likely to test Pickford.  That is what I am finding so frustrating this season.  Even if we are short on strikers, we have players who can create chances and they aren’t doing so.  The cup defeat means that we can now concentrate on the league, but I am increasingly concerned that this is a relegation season in the making.  We often joke about staying in the pub rather than going to the game and I couldn’t help thinking that we would have had a lot more entertainment if we had continued drinking with Prowsey.

On Wednesday, I had a lazy morning but caught a train in time to get to work for the afternoon.  At least that was the plan, but a combination of a broken-down train on the line and signal failure meant that I didn’t arrive back in London until after 3:30, so ended up having to book another half day off work for a game that certainly wasn’t worth using that much holiday.  This was certainly not the best trip I have ever been on.