Tag Archives: Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Heurelho Helps Us to Wembley

The GT Stand before the game

I had to travel to the US for work again this week.  Leaving after the City game and returning on Thursday morning, meant I didn’t have too much time to prepare for this match.  The crucial thing was not forgetting the paper ticket that had been sent out.  This was taken with me to the US as I was scared that jet-leg would lead to me leaving it in a drawer.

Due to the early kick-off, I decided to stay in London overnight on Friday.  On waking, and before I had really had time to think about my plans for the day, the nerves had already kicked in.  I caught the 9:24 from Euston to Watford and settled down with a coffee while noting that others on the train had already started on the beer.  Contemplating which podcast should accompany me, I decided to have another listen to the previous week’s From the Rookery End.  If I needed any more inspiration for the day, the rallying cry from the Parkin men, Mike and Arlo, certainly did the job.  As I passed Wembley on the train, I stared at the arch.  The new stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for us, but that has to change one of these days and I wanted the chance to return (although I wish it wasn’t for a semi-final, those should be at Villa Park).  When the train emptied at the Junction, as it often does, it made a nice change to see that those disembarking were fans of football rather than Harry Potter.

Heurelho Gomes

I reached the West Herts a few minutes before the doors were due to open at 10 and there was already quite a crowd waiting.  When the doors opened, we took up position at ‘our’ table and were soon enjoying a pint and a bacon roll.  Breakfast of Champions.

Just to spite us, the clock there was running 30 minutes slow, but we noticed early enough to ensure that we left in plenty of time.  As we walked along Vicarage Road among the crowds, the anticipation built.  I noted that Wolfie had already sold out of programmes and hoped that my usual lady still had some left when I entered the ground (she did).  As we turned the corner into Occupation Road, I glanced over at the statue and knew that I had to greet GT.  I went over and took his hand, knowing that today would be a day he would have savoured.

The 1881 had put incredible efforts into making sure that there would be a tremendous atmosphere.  When we took our seats, the ground was already full of people waving flags.  The big screen was showing footage of earlier quarter-finals.  I enjoyed watching John Barnes lobbing Tony Coton in 1984, but it is the Arsenal game in 1987 that always comes to mind.  I loved that day out at Highbury.

Jose Holebas on the ball

The Palace fans had been given their required allocation, no more, no less.  Due to problems with segregation in the Vicarage Road end, this meant that the Palace fans were housed in two blocks in the stand with a netting area between them and a banner wishing the Hindu community Happy Holi India for their festival on Thursday this week.  It was an odd sight and one that had infuriated the visiting fans.

Team news was that Gracia had chosen what most would consider to be his strongest team with the exception of Gomes coming in for Foster for what would probably be his last game at Vicarage Road.  What a game to go out on.  It was interesting that Femenía had been chosen in place of Janmaat, who had done well recently.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The major news for Palace was that Zaha would miss the game through injury.  While he is undoubtedly a very talented player, he often seems to go missing.  So I wasn’t sure that his absence would have a major effect on the game, although it may have changed Harry Hornet’s game plan.  Of course, the lovely Ray Lew was back at Vicarage Road in the opposition dug out.  He managed us through times of penury, but still took us to an FA Cup semi-final.  He will always be a legend to me for that.

As the teams came out, the flags waved in the home stands, there were streamers and the Legends banner was unfurled from the Upper GT stand, meaning that Nigel Gibbs found himself sitting under his picture.  That had to be a good omen.

Doucoure and Pereyra

My niece, Maddie, had enjoyed the Leicester game so much that she made a late decision to come to this one.  Her seat was in a part of the Rookery away from the rest of us, but she hung around just in case one of the seats in our section remained unoccupied.  That didn’t happen, but the crowd in the Rookery forgot to sit down, so the extra person in our row was not apparent and we were able to enjoy the match together.

The game kicked off and the Rookery were in good voice singing “Is that all you take away” to the Palace fans, before launching into “Heurelho Gomes baby” for our veteran keeper.  He was in action early in the game as the first goal chance fell to the visitors as Townsend played the ball back to Milivojevic whose shot was saved by Gomes, although it was off target anyway.  Watford’s first action of note came from a free kick, Holebas floated it into the box where McArthur took Hughes down, but the referee. Kevin Friend, waved away our appeals for a penalty.  After a quarter of an hour, there was a break in play as the players burst a number of red and blue balloons that were invading the pitch in the corner in front of the Family Stand.  Having found a pitchfork somewhere, Harry joined in with some enthusiasm.

Capoue giving thanks for his goal

Watford’s first chance of the game came as Deulofeu burst into the box and shot from a narrow angle, but the Palace keeper, Guaita, stood tall and blocked the shot.  Palace won a free kick in a dangerous position, but Gomes rose to make a comfortable catch.  Watford then had a spell when they were in and around the Palace box, but couldn’t fashion a shot on target.  Instead we won a series of corners and, as each one was repelled, I hoped that we wouldn’t regret missing those chances.  Then, from yet another corner, the ball fell to Capoue and he knocked it into the net to send us all crazy.  Just what we needed to settle the nerves a bit.  The Hornets could have had a second as Deulofeu advanced into the box and hit a gorgeous shot but Guaita did brilliantly to get a hand to it and keep it out.  The first booking of the game went to Milivojevic for a foul on Hughes.  Watford had another great chance to increase their lead as Deulofeu hit a free kick over the wall, but Guaita was down to make the save.  Palace made a rare foray into the Watford half as Townsend broke forward, but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Holebas who was injured in the process.  Thankfully, he was able to continue after treatment.  Palace had a chance to equalise just before half time as Wan-Bissaka chipped the ball to Meyer but the shot was weak and easily gathered by Gomes.  The visitors had one last attack in time added on but Deulofeu was back to make a superb tackle on McArthur and avert the danger.  An unexpected and very welcome showing in defence from young Gerry.

Holebas and Pereyra line up a free kick

So we went into half time in a deserved lead.  It had been a dominant performance from the Hornets, who were not giving their opponents any space to play.  We should really have been further ahead, but I was happy with what I had seen.

Half time and the first talking point was a hornet onesie that was being worn by a woman in the Rookery.  It was an interesting fashion choice.  Back to the official entertainment and the special guest was Tommy Smith who was asked about his appearances in previous cup quarter finals.   His goal from the game against Burnley was shown, I couldn’t help remembering that Ray Lew then left him out for the semi-final after Chopra’s heroics in another game against Burnley.  Tommy had also played in the game against Plymouth in 2007 (as had Mariappa).  I had forgotten that game, until he mentioned it.  It was truly dire.

 

A tremendous showing by Femenia

Watford had to make a substitution at the break as Holebas was unable to continue, so was replaced by Masina.  The Hornets had the first attack of the second half as a poor goal kick from Gomes was rescued and flicked on to Deulofeu who put in a decent cross, but nobody was on hand to connect with it.  Then a Palace corner was flicked goalwards by Meyer, but Gomes pulled off an excellent save to deny him.  Masina was booked after taking Meyer down soon after executing another robust challenge.  Townsend took the free kick and it was on target, but Gomes tipped it over the bar.  Batshuayi should have done better when he received a ball from Schlupp, but he knocked it wide of the near post.  He did much better soon after as Mariappa dwelled on the ball instead of clearing it, the Palace man nipped in to dispossess him and shoot across Gomes into the opposite corner to draw the game level.  It was a howler from Mariappa, who would have been devastated given his history at Palace.  At this point, the nerves set in with a vengeance again.  Surely Palace wouldn’t snatch this from us.  Watford had a chance to regain their lead as Deeney played the ball back to Deulofeu but his shot was straight at the keeper.  The Hornets had another great chance as Guaita punched a cross from Masina only as far as Pereyra, his shot was saved but Doucouré could only put the follow-up over the bar.

Deep in conversation after Gray’s goal

Gracia then made his first unforced substitution bringing Gray on for Hughes.  I dare not say it out loud, but my mind was screaming “super sub!”  A lovely exchange of passes deserved a better finish than a cross from Doucouré that was too heavy and went out for a goal kick.  The second goal for the Hornets was a thing of beauty as Pereyra dinked a ball over to Gray who finished past Guaita sending the Watford fans crazy again and also giving us the opportunity to see a Gomes celebration in front of the Rookery for what may well be the last time.  With 10 minutes remaining, I was hoping that we would hold on, but the visitors then won a free kick in a dangerous position.  I held my breath as Milivojevic stepped up to take it, my joyous shout of “into the wall” may have been stating the obvious but it indicated my profound relief.  Hodgson made a substitution at this point, replacing McArthur with Benteke.  Watford could have grabbed a third, but Deeney’s powerful shot was parried by Guaita and Wan-Bissaka managed to clear as Deulofeu closed in on the rebound.  The Hornets had another great chance as Cathcart met a corner with a header that was cleared off the line by Milivojevic.  Gracia made his final change bringing Cleverly on for Deulofeu who left the field to an ovation and some laughter as, when the referee went over to tell him to speed up his departure from the pitch, he innocently turned and shook his hand.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, the visitors had a chance to take the game into extra time when a corner reached Tomkins, who seemed to be taken by surprise and turned it wide of the near post.  Late into time added on and the visitors really should have been level as the ball fell to Wan-Bissaka and we watched despairingly as his shot appeared to be heading for the opposite corner before rolling wide.  I noted something in my notebook at this point, but my hand was shaking so much that it is totally illegible.  When the whistle went to confirm our place in the semi-final, Vicarage Road erupted with joy.

Harry Hornet in his Superman cape

I was distracted at the sight of Harry Hornet running on wearing a Superman style cape, so missed the moment when Gracia warmly embraced Gomes.  The keeper was then hugged by Deeney and it was apparent that he was in tears.  The crowd were cheering him on and he was very emotional in his response.  It was lovely to see the mutual respect between the player and the crowd.  Finally, as he always used to, he brought his sons on to the pitch to enjoy the applause with him.  While this was going on, the tannoy had Que Sera Sera playing and the Watford crowd were singing along with gusto.  It was all fabulous.

Normally we stay to applaud the last player off the pitch, so the stands are empty by the time we leave (everyone is in Occupation Road).  It is a mark of how much this win meant that when the pitch emptied the stand was still full and, for the first time in years, we had to wait to leave our row.

As we reached the Hornet shop we noticed that they already had t-shirts commemorating the semi-final in the window.  Being a sucker for that sort of thing, we all went in and bought the shirts.  Then came out and had a family photo with GT.

A family photo with GT

When I finally got back to the West Herts, my group were happily sitting outside celebrating the victory.  It is hard to analyse a game when the result is all that counts, but it had been a great performance from the Hornets and the win was well deserved.  Deeney may not have scored, but he had put in a great Captain’s performance which was noted by us all.  I have to say that I had almost forgotten how good Femenía is, he had a tremendous game and certainly justified his inclusion.  While enjoying our celebratory beers, I had a quick read of the BBC online match report and was a little taken aback to see a comment to the effect that the win mean that we had reached “only” our sixth semi-final.  Actually it is our seventh, but we are a small town club and to have reached seven semi-finals is actually a tremendous achievement.  I am still pinching myself.

When I finally decided to head for home, the walk through the town centre to the station was to the sound of Watford fans singing Que Sera Sera.  It was a lovely feeling.

The draw for the semi-final took place when I was in the car driving home this afternoon.  When Alan Green announced that Watford were playing Wolves, I screamed with relief.  They will not be easy opponents, they are a very good side.  But at least we go into the game knowing that it is winnable and that is all that you can ask at this stage.  Troy has been on the losing side in a previous semi-final at Wembley and he will certainly not want to repeat that experience.  It should be a great day out.

I am still buzzing after that win.  Over the past 40 years, I have many wonderful days following the Hornets, but also some very miserable ones.  We go week in, week out, sometimes travelling a long distance to see our team badly beaten, but days like this make it all worthwhile.  There is a tremendous spirit around the club at the moment, so I hope that we can sell out our allocation and roar the boys on to a cup final.  That would be a fitting end to what has been a wonderful season.

Honouring GT at Selhurst Park

Meeting GT

Saturday marked the second anniversary of GT’s passing, so my early morning perusal of social media was full of my Watford friends paying tribute to our hero.  All the happy memories and lovely photos brought both a tear to my eye and a smile to my face.

On the train travelling to the game I usually have noise-cancelling headphones on and listen to a podcast, the choice on the way to Selhurst Park being the previous week’s Danny Baker show.  On arrival at Twickenham, I was distracted as a familiar looking woman boarded the train and sat in the row in front of me.  I took my headphones off in order to hear her speak and, as I had thought, it was Jane Horrocks.  I am going to see her in the Pinter plays at the theatre of the same name on Monday, so was curious to hear any backstage gossip.  Sadly the conversation seemed to revolve around cold sores and tight boots.  The glamour of the actor’s life.

Deeney, Mariappa, Cathcart and Capoue

I arrived at the designated pre-match meeting place rather early, so I had it all to myself.  It was a café rather than a pub and, as my late arrival at the station on the way to game meant that I hadn’t had a coffee yet, I was immediately drawn to the coffee with cinnamon and chili that was on the menu.  My first instinct that this may be a little brutal on an empty stomach went out of the window when I asked for a whisky to be added.  The lovely woman serving me said that she had already had someone in who had whisky in their hot chocolate, so I didn’t feel like a complete lush.  Anyway, when my innocent-looking cafetiere arrived, my choice was vindicated.  It was warming and gorgeous.  As the others in my party arrived, all started with a tea or coffee, but we soon moved on to a bottle of Georgian red wine (really), which was rather sweet so had to be washed down with some merlot.  This was accompanied some rather delicious Polish food (the others went for the beef stew, I had the mixed pierogies).  All rather lovely.  From the café it was a short walk to Selhurst Park, a ground that I rather like, while being very aware that opinion is shared by a very small minority of away fans.

Team news was that Gracia had made one change from the Bournemouth game with Hughes in for Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Pereyra, Doucouré; Deulofeu and Deeney.  Crystal Palace had the unloved ex-Watford loanee, Townsend, in their starting line-up and the much-loved Ray Lew in their dugout.

Ben Foster launching the ball upfield

As we were taking our seats, which were at the front of the stand, I was a bit surprised to see that there was a group of young lads standing on the steps at either side of the gangway, blocking the way.  This looked like a recipe for trouble, but I assumed that the stewards would notice and clear the access.

Watford fans had been encouraged to bring scarves to the game in honour of GT, and these were raised in tribute as the teams came out.

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets who should have taken the lead in the third minute when Deulofeu broke into the box and unleashed a shot which hit the post, Pereyra looked sure to score the rebound, but his shot also hit the post.  The first chance for the home side fell to our old friend, Zaha, who cut inside before shooting straight at Foster.  At this point, I was distracted by the sight of Javi having a very animated conversation with the fourth official.  He appeared really unhappy about something, which seemed to be out of character.  This may or may not have been related to the subsequent appearance of two Watford physios on the pitch when there did not appear to be an injury.  They were there to take off a very reluctant Hughes.  We speculated that he must have a cut that needed attention, but it seems that he had taken a blow to the head and was showing signs of concussion.  So, 20 minutes into the game, he was replaced by Sema.

Troy Deeney

Palace then had a couple of chances to take the lead.  First Milivojević crossed for Ayew but the header was over the bar.  The next to try his luck was Kouyaté with a shot from distance that also missed the target.  Watford’s next chance to open the scoring came on 34 minutes as Deeney met a cross from Holebas with a header that flew just over the bar.  At the other end, Palace had a decent chance from a corner, it appeared that the header from Tomkins had missed the target, but Foster had got a touch to it, so the home side were awarded another corner.  From the set piece, there was an almighty scramble which ended with Doucouré blasting the ball off Cathcart into the net.  Foster got a hand to the ball to push it away, but it had clearly already crossed the line.  Not a good way to concede.  The Palace fans started goading us with “It’s just like Wembley.”  The only similarity being the poorness of the game.  When Palace score there is a call and response with the tannoy announcer naming the goal scorer and then repeating the first name so that the crowd can yell the surname.  They did something on this occasion but I must have been mistaken in thinking that they shouted ‘Own’ with the crowd shouting ‘Goal’!  Watford tried to break back immediately as Deulofeu went on a run before shooting wide of the near post.  In the last minute of the half, Palace were forced to substitute their goalkeeper, replacing Guaita with Hennessey.  The home side had a chance to increase their lead before the break as a shot from outside the area by Milivojević took a couple of deflections, but Foster was equal to it.  Watford then had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery was dreadful and we went into the break a goal down.

Pereyra and Deeney preparing for a free kick

So the football had been pretty awful, but the behaviour among the away fans was even worse.  We were sitting near the front, just behind the area that I assumed had been designated for those less able to stand.  A couple of men, one right at the front, were standing at the start of the game and were politely asked if they would sit so as not to block the view of those who did not wish to/were not able to stand.  The reaction of both of them was aggressive and abusive.  One eventually moved, but the other, who was mostly seated, still spent the whole game arguing with the elderly couple sitting behind him.  It was a very unpleasant distraction and made it difficult to concentrate on the game.  At half time, I noticed another row going on in the block next to us and friends who had braved the concourse at half time said that there were arguments going on throughout the stand.

Palace had the first chance of the second half as Zaha broke clear, but he couldn’t beat Foster.  Watford then had a decent chance as Capoue fired through a crowd, but his shot was deflected for a corner.  A cross from Doucouré only needed a touch from Mariappa to draw the Hornets level, but he couldn’t connect.

Cool Craig Cathcart doesn’t want congratulations after scoring. We have a game to win.

Just before the hour mark there was a flypast of parakeets from behind our stand.  As we were wearing our green away kit, I was hoping that this might be a good omen.  The first booking of the game went to Femenía who ran into Zaha to stop a break.  It was a stupid foul.  Palace should have increased their lead as Milivojević hit a volley from distance that took a superb save to keep it out, although it looked as though Foster’s good work would be in vain as the ball broke to Ayew who found Zaha with an open goal in front of him, but young Wilf managed to miss, much to the amusement of the travelling Hornets.  He must have been mightily relieved that the flag was already up for offside.  The second caution for the Hornets came after Townsend robbed Sema and tried to escape but was knocked over for his trouble.  On 67 minutes, the Hornets drew level as a deep corner from Holebas found Cathcart rising to head past Hennessey and cancel out his unfortunate own goal earlier on.  Needless to say, the lads who had been gathering in the gangway took the opportunity to bundle down to the front.  This would surely be an indication to the stewards that some action was needed and a group of stewards gathered and walked up the steps of the gangway, but made no effort to move anyone who was standing blocking the way, which seemed ridiculous.  Gracia made a second substitution at this point with Sema (who was a substitute himself) making way for Cleverley.

Cleverley getting a well deserved smacker from Capoue

The home side should have regained the lead almost immediately as a low cross from Zaha only needed a touch from McArthur to beat Foster, but the Palace man managed to miss.  At the other end, Deulofeu went on a great run before cutting the ball back to Deeney whose shot was cleared off the line.  Watford took the lead on 74 minutes when Cleverley hit a half volley into the net.  It was a fantastic strike and I couldn’t quite believe that we were in the lead.  But the joy of our goal celebration was cut short as the bundle for this one was worse than the first as others got in on the act and people located on the end of rows were being knocked flying.  It was dangerous and unpleasant.  Palace made two late changes bringing Benteke and Schlupp on for McArthur and Ayew.  Watford looked to increase their lead as Deulofeu went on a great run that was stopped by Milivojević, conceding a free kick on the edge of the area and earning himself a yellow card.  Palace had a great chance to equalise in the last minute of normal time as a cross from Townsend led to a scramble in the Watford box but, on this occasion, the ball ended up in Foster’s arms.  Another chance for Palace was thwarted as a dangerous looking break by Zaha was stopped by a gorgeous tackle from Femenía.  Gorgeous and brave as he was on a yellow card at the time.  Into the four minutes of time added on and Pereyra was booked for time wasting and, soon after, replaced by Masina (to waste some time!)   Cleverley was booked for a clumsy foul on Wan-Bassaka and we held our breath as Palace took the free kick and exhaled when it came to nothing.  The last action of the game could have seen the Hornets increase their lead as Deulofeu found Doucouré whose shot hit the stanchion.  The final whistle went and there were great celebrations in the Watford end, although the over-exuberance among some of the youngsters made this quite unpleasant for a number of the older fans.  As the players came over to celebrate with the fans, we greeted them with “One Graham Taylor” as the scarves were held aloft.

Deulofeu studying the ball

After the game we headed back to our café where we found that they were almost out of red wine (oops), all that was left was an open bottle.  So we had that to fuel our post-match deliberations.  It had been a dreadful game of football, but a win over Palace brought a smile to all of our faces.  After we went behind it had been a gutsy performance and one that GT would have enjoyed.  Given how wonderful Craig Cathcart has been this season, it seemed unfair that he had been unwittingly responsible for the Palace goal, so I was delighted that he got the equaliser.  I was also thrilled that Cleverley grabbed the winner.  He has had a hard time with injuries, so it is great to see him back playing and contributing.  I hope that he is soon a regular starter.

So we are now seventh in the table with 32 points.  Before the game Pete had commented that 32 points might be enough this season and, if you assume that Newcastle will not improve their current points per game tally over the rest of the season, it will be.  But, given how disappointing we have been after new year in recent seasons, I really hope that we continue to impress and maybe we can achieve our highest points tally and position since the 80s.

Back home watching Match of the Day I notice, during the interview with Javi Gracia, that he is wearing a Graham Taylor matchday badge on his jacket.  I must admit that made me cry.  Javi has been a joy since he arrived at Vicarage Road.  His football is enjoyable and his conduct is exemplary.  I think that GT would have loved him and, from me, there can be no higher praise.