Tag Archives: Aaron Cresswell

Disappointing Afternoon at the London Stadium

Capoue and Holebas taking a free kick

After the cold night out in Stoke, I started feeling unwell.  At first I thought it was the late night that was catching up with me, but I felt worse and worse as the week went on and spent the whole weekend curled up on the sofa.  I haven’t missed a game all season and agonised about not going to the Chelsea game on Monday.  But I had seen so many people laid really low with that nasty cold/flu, that I had to conclude that a night in the freezing cold was really not a good idea, so decided to stay at home and follow the game from there.  Of all the games to miss, I am still devastated.

I also had a different type of match day on Saturday.  My brother-in-law is a West Ham season ticket holder and my Watford supporting sister was coming to the game with me, so I had spent Friday evening at theirs and, due to dog walking duties, we ended up leaving for the game at a time when I would usually be in the pub.  I was having a bit of a panic about missing kick-off, but we arrived in plenty of time to have some pre-match refreshments inside the ground while catching up with the usual suspects.

Team news was that Gracia had named the same starting XI who performed so well against Chelsea, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Janmaat, Doucouré, Capoue, Zeegelaar; Deulofeu, Deeney, Richarlison.

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the first chance of the game as the ball was laid back to Capoue whose shot was blocked for a corner.  The delivery was met by the head of Mariappa, but Adrian made the save.  The first chance for the home side came as Arnautovic went on a run into the box, he was tackled by a combination of Prödl and Mariappa and, with the home fans appealing for a penalty, the ball broke to Mário whose shot was saved by Karnezis.  It all went quiet then until the half hour mark when Hernandez headed home from Mário’s free kick.  The bubble machine was in full celebratory force before it was noticed that the linesman had flagged for offside.  Watford immediately broke down the other end of the field and Capoue unleashed a shot that Adrian fumbled before gathering, much to his relief.  Arnautovic should have opened the scoring with a shot from close range that Karnezis did brilliantly to block.  But the Hammers took the lead a minute later as Antonio crossed for Hernandez who was left with a free header when Zeegelaar fell over.  It had been coming, but it was a very soft goal to give away.  So we reached half time with West Ham in a deserved lead.

Deulofeu and Pereyra waiting for the referee to get out of the way of their free kick

Watford had the first chance of the second half when a corner was met by the head of Deeney, but he headed it down into a crowd of players and it was cleared.  At the other end, a corner was headed goalwards by Kouyaté forcing Prödl to head over from under his own bar.  Gracia made his first substitution on 55 minutes replacing Zeegelaar with Pereyra.  Watford had a terrific chance to grab the equaliser when Deulofeu won a free kick just outside the area.  He took it himself, launching a marvellous shot over the wall which Adrian did very well to keep out.  Then Holebas broke forward and found Deeney in a great position in the box, but the referee blew up for a foul and the chance was gone.  Another decent move from the Hornets finished with a cross from Pereyra that was easily gathered by Adrian.  Hernandez looked sure to secure the three points for the Hammers when he broke into the Watford box, but Karnezis smothered the danger.  Watford’s second substitution surprisingly saw Lukebakio making his debut in place of Deulofeu, who I would have kept on as he always looked as though he could cause problems.  Watford had another chance to level from a corner but Prödl’s header was just over the bar.  The Hammers scored their second soon after as a goalmouth scramble finished with a clearance that rebounded to Arnautovic, who crowned a superb performance with a somewhat scrappy goal.

Lukebakio on his debut

Watford tried to strike back as Richarlison turned and shot straight at Adrian.  Lukebakio was the next to try his luck with a shot from distance that flew over the target.  Gracia’s final substitution saw Gray come on for Richarlison.  Moyes had also made late substitutions with Mário, Arnautovic and Hernandez making way for Byram, Rice and Hugill.  Watford were still trying to pull one back and had a decent chance as a cross from Holebas was met by the head of Mariappa, but the effort was blocked.  The Hornets had one final chance as Gray got into a decent position, but his header was poor and the game finished with a comfortable win for the home side.

Watford had played considerably better in the second half but, while it could be said that the score was a little flattering to the hosts, some poor defending and equally poor finishing meant that it felt as though the Hornets didn’t deserve anything from the game.

The results elsewhere over the weekend now mean that Watford, in 11th place, are only 4 points off the relegation zone.  It is a bizarre position to be in and it is a bit of a relief that we now have a week off to give some of the injured players a chance to recover.  It has been a tough few weeks, but our squad has to be better than at least three of the other teams below us.  The next few weeks will be fascinating.

 

We are still Family

Meeting Watford legend Ann Swanson

Having experienced 3 defeats before the international break, I approached this game with some trepidation.  West Ham have struggled so far this season, but they have a good squad and there was concern that the appointment of David Moyes would provide the “new manager bounce” that so often occurs.  There was also the worry that the speculation regarding Silva’s future could have an adverse impact on the team and there were certain fans on social media speculating about the crowd giving the coach a hard time.  As so often, I despair at the mentality of certain football fans.

But, before the trip to Vicarage Road, there were serious things to deal with at the West Herts.  “The game” was being played.  A glorified game of snap during which the first few to match cards pick from an array of beautifully wrapped gifts placed on the table, once those are gone it is a dog-eat-dog scenario and there are various little factions who plot against each other.  At the end of each round, the “winners” get to open their prizes, which are usually utter rubbish (by design) although the theme of this game was “J” which led to an inordinate number of jaffa cakes being on offer and the shocking revelation that one of our number doesn’t like jaffa cakes.  I am still reeling from that news.  As always, absent friends were toasted as we played.  Dee and Toddy were always enthusiastic players.

When the game was done, Alice introduced me to Jeff, one of the Denver Horns, who told me that he reads this blog.  It is always lovely to meet fellow Hornets and hear about their matchday experiences.  Having travelled so far, we were hoping that he was in for an enjoyable afternoon.

Celebrating the goal from Hughes (he is in there somewhere)

It is the 25th anniversary of Watford’s Community and Education Trust and the club had chosen this game to celebrate.  As part of the commemorations, they had invited Ann Swanson back as guest of honour.  Ann had run the Junior Hornets back in the 80s and her efforts in ensuring that youngsters had a safe environment in which to watch football helped a whole generation of fans develop a love for the game, many of whom are now bringing the next generation along.  While I am too old to have been part of this group, I did want to shake her hand and thank her for all that she had done.  While waiting, it was lovely to hear her greet a guy with, “You’re one of my Junior Hornets.”  She seemed thrilled, but the warmth of the young man’s greeting showed the great esteem in which she is held by her former charges.

Team news was that Holebas and Carrillo were making way for Mariappa and Zeegelaar, who was making his debut.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenía, Cleverley, Doucouré, Zeegelaar; Hughes, Richarlison; Gray.

The game had barely kicked off when there was a lengthy delay as Zeegelaar required treatment after making contact with Carroll’s elbow.  He was down for a considerable time, so it was looking like possibly the shortest debut in history but, thankfully, after treatment he was fit to continue (with added nose plugs).  Watford took the lead in the 11th minute, Zeegelaar’s cross led to some pinball in the box, before Hughes buried it.  It was a tremendous strike and I couldn’t have been happier for him.

Britos and Carroll

West Ham created a chance soon after as Carroll met a cross from Zabaleta, but Gomes was equal to the shot.  Just before the half hour, Carroll had survived a couple of tackles when Richarlison appeared and took the ball off him, and was hacked down for his trouble.  It was a petulant reaction and not his first infringement of the afternoon, so there was some annoyance among the Watford fans when he was only shown a yellow card.  That annoyance turned to anger soon after as Britos was booked for a late tackle on Kouyaté.  The fury was somewhat misplaced as Britos deserved the booking, but it did look a tad harsh in the light of Carroll’s infringements.  Watford had a chance to increase their lead as Hughes played the ball out to Gray, but his cross-cum-shot from a narrow angle was easily gathered by Hart.  There was a better chance soon after as a terrific shot from Richarlison was saved, the rebound reached Femenía who shot just wide of the far post.  The petulance from the West Ham players wasn’t confined to Carroll as Arnautovic also reacted to being tackled by Cleverley by hacking him down and was booked.  Back to the beautiful game, there followed a lovely series of passes from the Watford players with Olé ringing out around the ground until the ball reached Britos and it was “Oh dear” as he launched the ball into Row Z.  The next West Ham booking went to Obiang for a trip on Hughes.

Gomes was a hero in goal

West Ham really should have equalized with 3 minutes to go to half time, as Noble played a through ball to Kouyaté, who only had Gomes to beat but, with heads already dropping in the Rookery, the Watford keeper managed to turn the shot around the post.  From the corner Watford broke upfield and Femenía crossed for Hughes whose volley was over the bar.  West Ham had another great chance to draw level in time added on at the end of the half, but Gomes was magnificent, first reacting brilliantly to stop a header from Arnautovic, then instinctively blocking the follow-up and catching the third attempt.  Those of us standing behind the goal who witnessed the saves were just looking at each other in disbelief that he had kept the ball out of the net.  Watford had a final chance to increase their lead just before half time, but Richarlison’s shot was just wide of the far post.

It had been a thoroughly entertaining half of football and, while Watford were good value for their lead, there had been a couple of golden chances for the visitors towards the end and the crowd were singing the name of Gomes in adoration.

Half time saw Ann Swanson being introduced on the pitch.  She spoke warmly about her time at the club and particularly the relationships with both GT and Elton who were great advocates and supporters of the Junior Hornets.  She received a tremendous ovation, which was just lovely.

A blurred Richarlison still celebrating after scoring

Watford had a great chance to increase their lead early in the second half as Femenía crossed for Gray, but Reid got a foot in to stop the shot.  At the other end a cross from Arnautovic was turned over the bar by Kouyaté.  Watford threatened again as Hughes played the ball back to Doucouré who hit a cracking shot that was just wide of the target.  Hughes then tried a shot himself, but it took a slight deflection off a West Ham head and was easy for Hart.  Gray was the next to try his luck, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  Watford should have increased their lead as Mariappa met the delivery from Hughes with a header that Hart did well to keep out, it dropped to Richarlison who was almost on the goal line, I still have no idea how he didn’t turn it in but, somehow, the ball was cleared.  The young Brazilian made up for that mistake soon after as he went on a run before shooting across Hart and into the far corner.  His celebration showed how much it meant to him and was almost as passionate as that of my sister, who is married to a West Ham fan.  The goal certainly calmed some nerves in the home crowd and from that moment on, West Ham never looked like getting anything from the game.  The first change for the visitors came on 65 minutes with Sakho replacing Carroll who went off to boos from both ends of the ground and chants of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” from his own fans.

Cleverley, Richarlison and Kabasele

A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Doucouré that was saved by Hart.  The Watford fans were in a good mood at this point and thoughts turned to the man in the dugout whose name was chanted followed by a chorus of “Marco Silva, we want you to stay.”  There was another long break in the game following a nasty injury to Arnautovic, who was clearly in a lot of pain clutching his arm.  Thankfully, the stretcher wasn’t required and the post-match news was that he had broken a thumb, but he had to be replaced by Masuaku.  West Ham had a great chance to pull one back with a low shot from Lanzini, but Kabasele was there to clear it off the line.  At this point the away end vented their frustration starting with chants against Brady and Sullivan (I assume that they had started with Gold, but I missed that one) followed by “You destroyed our  *** club.”  I couldn’t help but sympathise, the move to Stratford seems to have ripped the soul from the club.  Back on the pitch, Zeegelaar, who had had a great game, took the ball down brilliantly on the wing and put in a lovely low cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to connect.  West Ham’s captain was the next to see yellow as Noble was booked for a trip on Richarlison.  Silva waited until the last five minutes of normal time to make his first substitution, bringing Pereyra on for Hughes.  The guy who sits next to me commented, “One magician for another,” which perfectly summed up the terrific performance from Hughes.  As this change was being made, there was a signal to the bench that Femenía was unable to continue, so he was replaced by Holebas.  Due to the injuries in the second half, there was 8 minutes of added time, but the only scoring chance worthy of note fell to the Hornets as Richarlison curled a shot just wide of the far post.  There was just time for Carrillo, fresh from racking up a boat load of air miles travelling to Peru’s World Cup qualification games against New Zealand, to come on in place of Gray.  Attention at this point turned to the TV studio adjacent to the Rookery.  The sight of Ighalo having his make-up done before appearing for the post-match analysis prompted changes of “Oghalo-oh!”  As he looked out smiling, the whole of the Rookery waved at him.  He waved back.  All rather lovely.

Zeegelaar directing Doucoure

The final whistle went to jubilation in the stands.  Watford back to winning ways and in some style.  The coach and players were applauded off with special adulation directed at Gomes as he made his usual lap of the pitch.  We had to reign our happiness in a little as we were meeting my brother-in-law, my sister already having received a message from her Watford-fanatic daughter telling her to “be nice to Dad.”  Mark’s gracious comment was “At least my second team won.”

Back to the West Herts and it was all smiles.  It had been a thoroughly enjoyable team performance with some stand out individuals.  Zeegelaar had impressed greatly on his debut.  Cleverley had recovered from his last minute penalty miss at Goodsion Park with an assured performance in the centre of the park.  Gomes was absolutely brilliant in goal.  But the most impressive showing came from Hughes.  I had been thrilled when we bought him and rather sad that he seemed to have dropped into obscurity, but he was biding his time.  He put in a decent showing against Everton but was absolutely brilliant in this game and the goal was a just reward.  With players coming back from injury, apart from the goal keeping position, we now seem players who can slot in to any position without a loss of quality, which bodes very well for the rest of the season.

But the last comment should go to the Community Trust.  They have been a massive part of the club for a long time now.  From Ann Swanson’s work with the Junior Hornets in the 80s, this has grown into a huge asset for the local community.  Current Director, Rob Smith, has been tireless in growing the Trust for many years and it was rather fitting that Britt Assombalonga, who was discovered at one of the Trust’s schemes, scored for Middlesbrough on Sunday.  In these days when football seems to be all about money, it is great to see that the Trust is still valued at the club and the commemorative t-shirt, designed by 11 year-old Codie Snaith, which declares “We are Family” summed it up perfectly.

Few Chances but a Decent Point

Niang challenging for a header

Niang challenging for a header

After a week free of live football, with the distraction of the thrills and spills of the FA Cup, it was great to be back at a game, although there was the usual stress that comes with a late kick-off as I worry that I have misremembered the kick-off time and will arrive in Watford with the game already underway or over. Thankfully, my journey took me down Vicarage Road at 3pm, where it was clear that they were preparing for a match but it was some time before kick-off. My smug feeling was soon wiped out as I arrived at the West Herts to find that it was already packed and my companions remarked that they didn’t think I was coming, being a part-timer. I was so insulted that I had to have a pint to calm down.

As with our previous game, we had happy memories of the reverse fixture early in the season, but West Ham had been on a good run of form recently so I wasn’t at all hopeful of a similar result. On the positive side, the results in the games earlier in the day meant that we wouldn’t finish the evening below 13th in the table.

Holebas takes a throw in

Holebas takes a throw in

Team news was two changes with Cathcart and Prödl making way for Janmaat and Behrami. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Behrami, Capoue; Zárate, Deeney and Niang.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets. In the second minute, Cleverley played a ball over the top to Deeney who found Zárate in the box, the Argentine was bundled over by Kouyaté and the referee pointed to the spot. Deeney stepped up and powered the ball to Randolph’s right and into the bottom corner. There was a great chance to double the lead soon after as Niang won the ball in the midfield, went on a run and unleashed a powerful shot from outside the area that flew just over the target. At the other end a dangerous cross from Antonio was cleared by Britos in the middle of the box although, from our vantage point behind the goal, it looked as though it just bounced off the Watford man and could have flown anywhere. The first 15 minutes had contained some wonderful passing from the Hornets that, at one point, prompted a standing ovation. Capoue was the next to threaten the West Ham goal with a lovely turn and a shot that was just wide of the target.

Lining up for a corner

Lining up for a corner

The visitors had a decent chance to draw level as Arbeloa played the ball back to Snodgrass in the box, but Kaboul made a great block to avert the danger. Snodgrass threatened again, but this time his cut back in the box only reached Gomes. The West Ham man tried his luck again with a shot from distance that flew way over the bar. The visitors won a free kick in a dangerous position as Janmaat fouled Antonio on the left of the box earning himself a yellow card for his trouble. But Lanzini’s delivery was terrible, flying high and wide. As the half wound down, my gaze was drawn to the TV studio to our left where the pundits were having their hair and make-up done, the first time that I have seen beauty treatments in a football ground. In time added on at the end of the half, there was a dangerous chance for an equalizer as a cross-cum-shot from Cresswell was parried by Gomes, fortunately Holebas was the first to the loose ball and made the clearance. As I had been watching the action in the goal area, I had completely missed Zárate going down with an injury. It was quickly apparent that he was in a bad way as he received oxygen and, after a considerable period of treatment, the physios very carefully strapped him to the stretcher before they carried him off. Very worrying indeed. As he left the field, it was very gratifying to see the West Ham fans on their feet applauding and singing the name of their former player. He was replaced by Doucouré, much to the displeasure of those around me who would much rather have seen Success brought on. The last action of the half was a booking for Antonio for a nasty foul on Behrami that could easily have led to a sending off.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

So Watford went in at the break with a one goal lead after a fairly even half. The Hornets had started brilliantly and played some lovely football, particularly in the first fifteen minutes, but, the penalty aside, neither keeper had to make a save worthy of the name.

Saturday was Academy Day at Vicarage Road and at half time Brandon Mason and Michael Folivi received commemorative match balls marking their Premier League debuts. Brandon said that he hoped to kick on and contribute a lot more to the first team. We all hope that comes to pass.

Early in the second half, the visitors were appealing for a penalty as Kouyaté and Niang tangled in the Watford box, but the decision was given to the home side. Mazzarri was forced into a second substitution due to injury as Janmaat made way for Cathcart. West Ham had a great chance to draw level on the hour mark as a free kick was headed back across goal and met with a header from Fonte that was kept out by a wonderful flying save from Gomes.  The first substitution for the visitors saw Snodgrass replaced by Ayew.

Cleverley taking a free kick

Cleverley taking a free kick

Watford had been sitting far too deep in the second half and, while they had done a great job of frustrating the Hammers, it is always a dangerous tactic. It looked to have backfired as a Cresswell cross was headed just wide of the target by Antonio. Then, with the Watford fans on their feet for the minute’s applause for GT on the 72nd minute, Antonio went on a surging run, his shot bounced off both posts rebounding to Ayew who finished past Gomes. It was frustrating, but had been coming as the Hammers had dominated possession in the second half. Just as I started to worry that the visitors would get a second and win the game, Mazzarri made a late substitution bringing Success on for Niang who, after a very bright start had completely disappeared. It was a very popular change among the Watford crowd and the excitement in the stands extended to the pitch as a lovely quick passing move finished with Success breaking into the box where, sadly, Reid was on hand to stop him. The Hammers finished the game with 10 men as Antonio went down in the box and handled the ball earning a second yellow card. Britos could have won the game for the Hornets as he rose to meet a corner, but he was being challenged and the header flew just over. I was pleasantly surprised when the fourth official indicated that there were only three minutes of added time. Watford should have scored right at the death as a corner from Cleverley led to a bit of pinball, finishing with Deeney heading the ball down to Success who shot just wide from a couple of yards out.

A draw was a fair result and I would certainly have taken a point before the game, but I was disappointed that we didn’t build on a lovely start to the game when the visitors looked distinctly second best. But we have come a long way if a draw against West Ham is a bit of a disappointment. Mid table obscurity will do me just fine.

Our Last Visit to the Boleyn

Cathcart and Prodl bonding before kick off

Cathcart and Prodl bonding before kick off

Due to being busy at work and my niece having a driving lesson, there was no time to join the pre-match gathering with the City ‘Orns, so it was straight to Upton Park.  Leaving the station you have the walk down Green Street, which has a great character and is a lot less terrifying than it was in the 80s.  One drawback of an evening kick-off is that you miss the market experience.  I considered getting a beverage inside the ground but the crush in the concourse persuaded me to go straight to my seat.  My friend, Boyd, attending his last game before returning to the US, was already in his seat and showed me his photos of the statues outside, which made me regret walking straight to the away end.

When the team news came through, it was unsurprising to hear that Flores had made seven changes from the West Brom game.  I thought that the team selection would give us a good idea of who would play in the semi-final, so the fact that he had included Gomes suggested that Pantilimon would start at Wembley.  But I find it hard to believe that Cathcart won’t make the cut.  The starting XI was Gomes, Holebas, Cathcart, Prödl, Paredes, Behrami, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado, Guedioura and Amrabat.  The major question among fans about the team was where were the strikers.  The answer ‘Amrabat’ was not accepted by many.  Once the pre match bubbles, both physical and in song form, were dealt with, it was time to kick off.

Suarez on the ball

Suarez on the ball

The home side took the lead in the 11th minute with the first shot of the game as Carroll floated balletically into the area to connect with a cross from Payet and poke the ball past Gomes.  From our perspective behind the goal it looked like a poor goal to give away.  When the replay was shown on the big screen from the side on perspective, there was a glimpse of someone in an offside position before the image went blank and they decided to show it from behind the striker instead.  I must admit that I thought at this stage that we could be on the end of a rout.  The next action did nothing to quell this fear as Payet’s shot was blocked and Gomes had to save the follow-up from Sakho, although the flag was up for offside.  Watford’s first shot came in the 17th minute when Jurado went on a run and Adrian had to push his shot clear.   Watford were involved in another good move which finished with a cross from Guedioura that was headed clear before it reached Jurado.  Jurado went on another run before cutting along the byline and pulling ball back for Abdi who couldn’t finish.  The first booking was earned by Prödl for a foul on Sakho.  Payet took the resulting free kick, hitting his shot through the wall but Gomes caught it comfortably.

Guedioura's free kick position marked

Guedioura’s free kick position marked

A promising move by the visitors broke down when Behrami lost the ball on the edge of the box, West Ham launched a counter attack which ended with a shot from Payet that flew over the target.  At the other end Adrian saved after a turn and shot by Amrabat.  West Ham really should have increased their lead when Payet broke into the box and curled a shot just over the bar.  On 38 minutes, a picture of Dylan Tombides was shown on the big screen and Watford fans joined the home crowd in a minute’s applause in memory of this young Hammer who died of testicular cancer two years ago (check ‘em lads!)  It was rather nice to see Sakho joining in the applause.  A Watford attack came to nothing when Guedioura’s cross met the head of a defender before Abdi could connect.  West Ham had a great chance to increase their lead as Carroll played the ball back to Sakho whose shot was tipped around the post by Gomes.  But they got their second goal just before half time when Holebas jumped into a challenge and flattened Kouyate prompting the referee to point to the spot.  It was a stupid penalty to concede.  Gomes was not to continue his penalty-saving heroics as Noble sent him the wrong way.  The Hammers should have scored a third goal in time added on after Lanzini got into the box but, thankfully, he hit his shot wide.

Challenging in the West Ham box

Challenging in the West Ham box

So we reached the interval two goals down, which was a bit harsh as it had been a decent performance from the Hornets but we were lacking a goal threat.  At the interval all that is wrong with modern football was encapsulated in the sight of a tourist in a half and half scarf taking photos with a selfie stick.  I can’t believe that made me nostalgic for the days when a trip to the Boleyn meant a police escort with horses taking us back to the tube station to catch an away fans’ tube straight back to Euston Square.

West Ham had a chance in the first minute of the second half as Sakho ghosted in but he put his shot wide.  At the other end a cross from Paredes was just too high for the leap of Abdi.  Jurado went on a great run before playing a square ball just in front of Abdi who was stretching to reach it so directed his shot over the bar.  On 52 minutes West Ham were awarded another penalty, this time for a trip by Abdi on Antonio on the edge of the box.  Again Noble stepped up and this time he hit the penalty down the middle over the diving Gomes.  Flores made a double substitution soon after bringing Berghuis and Anya on for Jurado and Guedioura.  Most of the singing in the Watford end to that point had been repetitious renditions of the Behrami song to the tune of La Bamba.

Berghuis taking a free kick

Berghuis taking a free kick

Since it is a relatively new/little used ditty, it seemed as if the crowd were indulging in some singing practice.  So it was good to have a bit of variety introduced with the appearance of the young Dutchman prompting a few choruses of “Berg-huis in the middle of our street.”  Catchy and easy to learn, it brought a smile to my face.  As did the performance of young Steven who was involved in Watford’s goal as his free kick was volleyed home by Prödl.  There was no celebration by the Watford players, they just headed back to the centre circle.  West Ham looked to regain their three goal lead as a corner was headed back by Carroll to Reid but the shot was deflected wide.  Berghuis had a great chance to cut the deficit further as he appeared in the West Ham box, but his shot hit the side netting.  Watford picked up a couple of bookings as both Suárez and Amrabat were cautioned for fouls.  Flores made his final substitution with 14 minutes to go, and it was a surprise to see Deeney coming on to replace Abdi.  I can’t have been the only Watford fan horrified at the thought that our captain and talisman may get an injury and miss the semi-final.  Bilic also made a change bringing Moses on for Sakho.  Watford could have pulled another goal back as Berghuis played a lovely through ball for Anya, but Adrian reached it first.  Berghuis played provider again playing the ball out to Anya, who should have tried an early shot but took the ball too far wide and his cross went begging.

Deeney looking relaxed before the penalty

Deeney looking relaxed before the penalty

As I was distracted by a steward dealing with a beach ball on the pitch, Gomes was busy saving a shot from Moses.  Gomes was in action again coming out to unnerve Lanzini and ensure that his shot missed the target.  West Ham’s second substitution saw Andy Carroll making way for Emenike.  On 90 minutes, Anya got to the by line and shot goalwards, but Adrian was equal to it.  Watford won a late penalty as Ogbonna fouled Prödl in the box.  Deeney looked confident as he stepped up, but I jinxed it by getting my camera out and Adrian made the save.  In time added on Amrabat was sent off for a second yellow after tripping Reid.  A silly thing to do with the opportunity to play at Wembley on the horizon.  The final whistle went to sighs of relief that none of our key players had picked up injuries and comments that we had won the double header on away goals.  I felt that 3-1 was a bit harsh on us as we had played some nice football while West Ham had not gone for it as I would have expected.

I was rather sad to leave the Boleyn ground for the last time.  It is a city centre ground (my cousins grew up in the street that continues on from Green Street and went to school next door) and the structure inside ensures that the crowd is close to the pitch which usually means a good atmosphere.  So I was disappointed that at this game it was all rather muted.  Very odd given that they still have a European place to play for.  I fear that the Olympic Park will be another in the pantheon of soulless bowls and not a fun place to visit at all.

Despite the defeat, we finished the evening in 12th position with an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to.  This game had been a distraction and an irritation as both the players and fans prepared themselves for the big one on Sunday.  Troy has talked in the build-up of the chance to make themselves Watford legends.  I would argue that he is already there, but leading the team out for an FA Cup final would cement that for him.  I do hope he gets that chance.

Quique, Quique, Give us a Hug

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

After a tremendous win and a rather lovely day out in Stoke, we were back home for the visit of West Ham.  I didn’t hold out much hope of getting anything out of this game as the visitors were flying high in the table and came in to the game unbeaten in their last 7 Premier League matches.  My one ray of hope was that their results against teams that they were ‘supposed’ to beat had not been impressive.

The pre-match gathering at the West Herts was joined by Al Gick who, for a number of years, was our Football Intelligence Officer, so a familiar face at away games looking out for us.  It was great to be able to buy him a pint at last.  As we enjoyed our drinks, we were entertained by the lunchtime match on the TV.  Each Liverpool goal was loudly cheered, not because we have any love for Liverpool (I still haven’t forgiven Rush for that dive), but because it ensured that Chelsea would remain below us in the table for another week.

Flores named an unchanged team, so the starting line up was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Anya, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.

Watson takes a corner

Watson takes a corner

West Ham had the first chance of the game as Payet hit a shot that Gomes dropped to gather.  The Rookery was, as always since the foundation of the 1881, in good voice and there was an early rendition of the Flores song.  During the week, Quique had said that when he heard that song he wanted to “jump into the stand and hug every fan one by one.”  I sung my heart out, so was a tad disappointed when he remained on the touchline.  Still there was plenty to enjoy on the pitch.  An impressive period of Watford play finished with a Watson corner which Deeney flicked on to Ighalo who tried an overhead kick which was easy for the West Ham keeper, Adrian, to deal with.  Watford had a strong shout for a penalty on 10 minutes as a corner from Watson was headed goalwards by Aké, the keeper saved and the ball dropped to Deeney whose shot was handled by Carroll, but the referee waved the appeals away.  Adrian almost came to regret trying to dribble in his own box as Ighalo challenged, but he just managed the clearance in time.  Watford then had a long spell of pressure without creating any chance worthy of the name and I feared we might live to regret that as Moses broke down the right but he dragged his shot well wide of the far post.  Watford immediately had the ball down the other end, Ighalo broke into the box and won a corner which reached Deeney who shot over the target.  Soon after, a Watson free-kick was met with a header from Britos which flew over the bar.

Celebrating the first goal

Celebrating the first goal

A ball over the top from Deeney seemed to have released Anya, but his first touch was heavy and Adrian was able to put the ball out for a corner.  Watford continued to threaten the West Ham goal as shots from Abdi and Ighalo were blocked in quick succession.  Ighalo was looking determined to continue his goal and assist record as he beat three players to get into the box before finding Abdi who was tackled before he could get a shot in.  Much as I was loving the performance, I was beginning to get a bit nervous that we were not finishing our chances.  My nerves were calmed in the 38th minute as a free-kick reached Aké, who appeared to have lost the ball to Carroll, but the West Ham man inexplicably decided to play it on the byline, instead of wellying it to safety which gave Aké the opportunity to rob him and cross for Ighalo who turned the ball in from close range.  There were some suggestions that the last touch had gone to an opposition player, but it looked like Ighalo’s goal from the middle of the Rookery.  The visitors had a chance to equalize as a free kick from Payet was headed goalwards by Kouyaté, but Gomes caught easily.  The final chance of the half went to the home side as a corner reached Abdi, but the shot was blocked.

We were very happy Hornets at half time.  Not only were we a goal ahead, but it had been a very impressive performance indeed.

Congratulating Ighalo on his second goal

Congratulating Ighalo on his second goal

Bilic made two changes at half time bringing on Valencia and Zarate for Lanzini and Moses.  But it was Watford who made the brighter start to the half and, within two minutes of the restart, Ighalo grabbed his second as he received a cross from Anya, and switched feet before hitting a gorgeous shot into the top corner.  Ighalo had a chance for the hat trick soon after as Deeney headed the ball down to him, but his shot was blocked.  Capoue then did well to beat a defender and square the ball for Deeney whose shot was high and wide.  Capoue and Anya were involved in the next attack, taking it in turns to pass to each other and then have a shot that was blocked.  Ighalo turned provider, finding Aké in space, but the youngster’s shot was well wide of the target.  A ball over the top from Abdi found Deeney who couldn’t control and it ran through to the keeper.  A rare attack from the visitors ended with a cross from Payet that went begging as Valencia’s leap failed to meet it.  Back at the other end, Deeney found Abdi who shot over the bar.  On the hour, the visitors had a great opportunity to reduce the deficit as Carroll connected with a ball into the box from Payet, but his volley was woeful and flew wide of the near post.  Soon after, Valencia fell in the box after a challenge by Britos, there was some handbags with Capoue, but no action was taken by the referee.  The first booking of the game went to Nyom who took Valencia down to stop a West Ham break.  The resulting free kick was dreadful, flying straight into the arms of Gomes.

Gomes celebrating the second goal

Gomes celebrating the second goal

Watford’s first substitution came on 67 minutes as Paredes replaced Anya.  Watford very nearly pushed the self-destruct button soon after as Cathcart, who has been a rock in defence this season, played a dreadful back pass to Gomes which was intercepted by Valencia, so there was relief when the shot came back off the post.  The ball reached Carroll who fell in the box, but the penalty appeals were, again, waved away.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the Rookery who felt like we got away with that one.  Watford resumed their attack as Capoue had a shot blocked and the follow up from Paredes flew just wide of the near post.  But it wasn’t all Watford as a dangerous cross from Jenkinson was met with a terrific header from Cathcart to direct the ball over the bar.  Collins met the resultant corner with a header that was caught by Gomes.  With 15 minutes to go, Abdi was replaced by Behrami.  Almen had put in another great performance, it is such a joy to see him play at this level, and went off to the sound of the crowd loudly singing his name.  But Behrami is a formidable replacement, and it was lovely to see the West Ham fans applauding their former player on to the pitch.  At the same time West Ham’s captain, Noble, was replaced by Jelavic.  Whenever I see Noble, I recall a comment from Ray Winstone that he loved players like Noble who took their boots off after a game and walked back to their aunt’s house.  I know that Noble is West Ham through and through but, in the 80s, I was also able to walk from the Boleyn ground to my aunt and uncle’s house, so it is no guarantee.

Ake takes a throw in

Ake takes a throw in

Another cross from Payet was met by a header from Carroll that didn’t trouble Gomes.  The second Watford player to go into the referee’s book was Aké who was booked for what looked like a soft foul on Valencia.  The visitors’ frustration was manifested as Collins went through the back of Ighalo.  It was a nasty challenge, so the referee brandished the red card and the visitors finished the game with 10 men.  Odion was down receiving treatment for a while, but managed to limp off and was available for post match interviews, so I hope those are good signs.  His replacement was Guedioura.  There were a couple of late chances for the home side.  First Paredes broke into the box, but Adrian was out to save at his feet.  Then, in time added on, Paredes crossed for Deeney to head the ball goalwards, but a defender was on hand to head clear.

On the final whistle, there was rapture in the home stands.  This win was particularly sweet for our party as my niece is the product of a mixed marriage so was very happy to be able to return home to her Hammer father with her head held high.  As usual, Troy was the last man in the post match lap of honour.  When he reached the Rookery he threw his boots into the stands.  The first was launched into the 1881, the other came flying towards me and, after a bit of a scramble, ended up in the hands of the lovely man who sits next to me.  A nice souvenir of a wonderful game.

Anya on the ball

Anya on the ball

When we gathered back at the West Herts the usual pleasure at a win was magnified by joy at the sheer quality of the performance.  We had bettered West Ham in every area of the field and were thoroughly deserving of the win, which could have been more convincing.  What is even better is that this team is constantly improving.  The caution of the early season play has been replaced with a greater willingness to attack, while still keeping the defence tight.  There was one incident in the game when the visitors launched a counter attack and we looked stretched, but the defence was soon marshalled again and the West Ham players were frustrated.  The success is down to the fact that the players are working as a team.  While Deeney and Ighalo’s names are on everyone’s lips, there are no stars out there, everyone is doing their jobs and the fact that the likes of Cathcart and Watson are getting a lot of plaudits from the regulars for quietly going about their unfashionable jobs says it all.  Watson has been taking set pieces for the past couple of games and we are finally getting some decent balls into the box adding to our attacking threat.  We have a couple of difficult games coming up, but recent performances have given us hope that we could get something from these matches.  It is also reassuring that we have a points cushion that means that a couple of bad results won’t put us in the relegation zone.  That is a great position to be in at this point of the season.

There is an At Your Place event, coming up on Wednesday, which is likely to be a very happy occasion.  Post match, it was suggested that we don’t ask any questions at all, but just sing the Flores song for three hours.  This sounds like a very good idea.  It’ll certainly give him plenty of time to hug us all.

A Win with no Caveats

Abdi on the attack

Abdi on the attack

There was a cricket match going on at the West Herts, which is always a sad sight as it means that the season is nearly over.  When I arrived to get my programme from Doreen at the Bill Mainwood programme hut, she had run out.  This interruption to my pre-match routine always puts my nerves on edge as I assume that the rest of the afternoon will go equally badly.

Team news was that Sannino had made one change with Ranegie replacing the injured Anya.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Angella, Ekstrand, Hoban, Riera, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Faraoni, Ranegie and Deeney.

Riera being congratulated on his goal

Riera being congratulated on his goal

The first goalmouth action was an odd juggling match at the left hand post between Almunia and Wordsworth which, fortunately, ended with Manuel knocking the ball out for a corner.  A lovely Watford breakaway started with Riera passing to Faraoni who advanced and played a through ball for Ranegie who was stopped by a brilliant tackle on the edge of the box.  There was danger at the other end of the pitch as a shot rebounded off Ekstrand to Williams whose shot was blocked by Almunia.  Watford took the lead on 21 minutes with a lovely goal, which started with a brilliant interception by Hoban who found McGugan, he released Riera who advanced before cutting inside and curling a wonderful

Tozser takes a corner

Tozser takes a corner

shot into the corner.  From kick-off, Ipswich tried to strike back as Williams broke into the box and played a low cross that nobody could get on the end of.  Abdi played in Ranegie, who mishit a shot which fell to Riera but his shot flew past the far post.  Then Deeney did well to hold the ball up before passing to McGugan who whipped in a cross that was put out for a corner just before it reached Ranegie.

At half time, it was great to see my lovely friend, Sarah, on the pitch with the NCS youngsters who had raised money for the Teenage Cancer Trust with an event at the museum.

Deeney congratulates Angella

Deeney congratulates Angella

Ipswich started the second half brightly as Nouble broke into the box and fired a shot over the bar.  Watford nerves were jangling as a ball bounced dangerously around the box before being cleared off the line by Hoban.  Then McGugan released Deeney who controlled the ball before shooting, but his effort was straight at Gerken.  The visitors were level five minutes into the half as a cross from Nouble was flicked past Almunia by Wordsworth who was wandering lonely as a cloud in our box.  Soon after, Deeney was prevented from reaching an Angella cross by a push that went unpunished.  Angella then made a rare error in losing out to Murphy who was stopped by a great saving tackle from Ekstrand.  Angella was booked soon after for a push on Williams who had been winding him

Tozser breaks into the box to set up McGugan

Tozser breaks into the box to set up McGugan

up for a while and whose play-acting was seriously getting on my nerves.  Just after the hour mark, Ipswich should have taken the lead as a header from Hyam was pushed up onto the bar by Almunia and bounced out.  After these scares, it was a relief to see Watford score again as Angella appeared out of nowhere to nod a Tözsér free-kick past Gerken.  His mental celebration is becoming a bit of a trademark, but always makes me smile.  We had hardly sat down from celebrating that goal when Tözsér broke into the box and cut the ball back to McGugan who shot past Gerken into the far corner for Watford’s third.  Given the start that Ipswich had made to the half, they must have wondered what had hit them.  It was Watford who looked like increasing the lead as Angella bust a gut

McGugan congratulated by his team mates

McGugan congratulated by his team mates

to get on the end of a Tözsér corner at the far post, but didn’t quite make it.  Then McGugan did really well to keep the ball in play on the sideline, cut in but shot well over.  With 10 minutes remaining, Abdi was replaced by Battocchio, it was so good to see the youngster make such a rapid recovery from what had looked like a nasty injury two weeks ago.  Green replaced Wordsworth for the visitors.  A ball over the top from Tözsér was won in the air by Deeney who continued to fight off the attentions of the defender before getting in a cross that deserved more than to be blocked.  The evil Williams went down theatrically again and this time earned Tözsér a booking.  As a fan in the stands most of my shouting is reserved for encouraging our lads so I was greeted with open mouthed surprise from my sister and our neighbours in the row in front as I let Williams know in no

Angella  challenges almost out of shot :-)

Angella challenges almost out of shot 🙂

uncertain terms what I thought of him.  Sannino made another substitution as Pudil replaced Riera.  A Williams cross was met with a header by Nouble that the attentions of Hoban ensured was directed over the bar.  There was a final rash of substitutions as Murray replaced McGugan for the home side while Hyam and the obnoxious Williams were replaced by Watford’s old friend, Hunt, and Taylor for the visitors.  In the final minute of the game, Hunt tried a shot from distance which bounced off the roof of the net.  Then Ranegie and Murray combined to feed Battocchio, whose shot was blocked and rebounded to Murray who volleyed just over.  After the start that Ipswich had to the half, I had been concerned that this would be another disappointing afternoon, but the two quick goals killed them off and they didn’t muster another chance worthy of the name.

Post match congratulations

Post match congratulations

In recent games, I have been drawn to watching Gabriele Angella’s reaction at the end of the match.  When we lose, he is livid and his team mates are better staying well out of his way.  But at the end of this game he joined a number of the others in front of the Lower Rous.  It was so lovely to see so many players signing autographs and Gabriele was the last to leave.

We have had a couple of decent home wins recently in which any praise of the team has been tempered with comments regarding the poor quality of the opposition.  The win over Ipswich had no such caveat.  They are a decent team and we thoroughly deserved that win.

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

After the news of Zola’s resignation this week, our party travelled to Ipswich with rather heavy hearts.  Last season was a lot of fun and, while this one has been disappointing so far, there is a feeling of a story only half told for which we will never know the ending.

The new man in the dugout

The new man in the dugout

The team lined up with a 3-5-2 formation and the first piece of good news was that Sannino’s first game would feature Lloyd Doyley and would see the return of Angella after injury.  The new gaffer also put Almunia back in goal.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Pudil, Murray, Thorne, McGugan, Cassetti, Fabbrini and Deeney.  Our new manager was looking very elegant on the touchline, although I thought that the club really should have provided him with a coat to cover his smart suit in the pouring rain.

The welcome return of Doyley

The welcome return of Doyley

The first action of note was a McGugan free-kick at some distance from the goal, which was disappointingly soft and straight at Gerken.  On 15 minutes, Cassetti beat a defender on the wing and put in a cross that was met with a headed clearance.  Then Murphy tried a cross into the Watford box, but Almunia came out to punch clear.  On 21 minutes, a free-kick from McGugan was cleared only as far as Angella whose shot flew well over the bar.  Then McGoldrick threatened down the other end dribbling into the box and flicking the ball harmlessly past the far post.  On 25 minutes, Deeney headed a Cassetti cross back to Fabbrini whose shot rebounded off the corner of the post and the crossbar.  Then a shot from Cresswell was blocked by Ekstrand for the first corner of the game.  The first really dangerous on target attempt came just before the half hour from

A pass to Murray

A pass to Murray

McGoldrick whose shot was tipped over by Almunia.  From the corner, Murphy headed the ball to Nouble whose header went over the bar.  Then McGugan played a one-two with Fabbrini, but delayed too long before shooting and was tackled.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Murphy headed wide from a McGoldrick cross.  On 39 minutes, Ipswich tried a free-kick routine which clearly needs more practice as Skuse passed to McGoldrick on the left of the box, presumably to avoid the wall but he blasted the ball over the bar.  Then McGoldrick fed Cresswell who crossed into the box, but there was nobody to get on the end of it and the ball drifted wide.  Just before half time, Nouble broke through the defence and unleashed a shot that Almunia parried.  So we reached half-time goalless, without a single Watford shot on target.  On the way back to the stand at the end of the half time break, one of the screens was showing the score as 2-0 to Watford.  If only.

Thorne on defensive duties

Thorne on defensive duties

Early in the second half, McGugan played a through ball to Pudil who crossed for Fabbrini, but the Italian was closed down before he could shoot.  Then it was Fabbrini’s turn to play a through ball to Murray whose shot was put out for a corner by Gerken.  On 55 minutes, this was our first shot on target.  On the hour Pudil fouled Chambers who rolled over a few times prompting shouts of “off, off, off” from the home crowd which seemed to convince the referee to show a yellow card.  On 66 minutes, Fabbrini passed back to McGugan, who played a lovely through ball to Deeney, but Troy was well offside. 

Lloydy on the attack

Lloydy on the attack

Then McGugan battled to keep the ball on the wing and put in a cross for Deeney to run on to, but his shot rebounded off a defender.  On 70 minutes, a nothing ball into the box bounced up and hit Angella’s arm and the referee pointed to the spot.  The Watford players surrounded the ref to argue their case and Ekstrand was booked for his protests.  McGoldrick stepped up to take the spot kick and buried the ball in the bottom corner to shouts of “cheat” from the travelling Hornets.  With 15 minutes remaining, Battocchio replaced Murray.   There were shouts for a penalty at the other end as a Deeney cross appeared to be carried in the box before being cleared, but the referee didn’t give it. 

Troy celebrates his goal

Troy celebrates his goal

With 10 minutes remaining Anya replaced Pudil.  The equalizer came soon after as a cross from Cassetti was deflected into the path of Deeney, but he still did really well to reach it and prod it past Gerken.  At this point some idiot child let off a smoke bomb at the top of the stand.  Despite how windy it was, the stand is quite enclosed so the smoke took quite some time to dissipate.  I wasn’t particularly close to it and it made me cough so I can only hope that it choked the idiot who set it off.  On the pitch Forestieri replaced Fabbrini.  With a couple of minutes remaining, Ipswich had a great chance to win the game as Almunia parried a shot from McGoldrick only as far as Hyams whose header crashed back off the crossbar.  Then Watford had their own chance to win it as McGugan passed to Anya on the wing but he curled his shot wide of the far post.  In injury time McGugan put the ball into the box but neither Deeney nor Battocchio could get on the end of it. 

Thanking the fans

Thanking the fans

So, everything changes, everything stays the same.  That was our fifth away draw in a row and we only had two shots on target.  Sannino has only been with the club for 4 days so it will be some time before see his how his team will play.  We certainly looked tighter at the back, but the return of Angella and Doyley contributed to that and our forward line still appears unconvincing.  The visits of Millwall and QPR to Vicarage Road will be very interesting.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2014.